“How can I live in peace when members of the gang who hacked my husband to death are roaming freely in my neighbourhood?” asked Kunhikkambrath Rajani, a resident of Annur village in Kerala’s Kannur district.

On July 11, 2016, Rajani’s husband Choovatta Kunhiveedu Ramachandran, 54, was killed in their home by men suspected to be members of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). Ramachandran drove an autorickshaw and was a local leader of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the trade union of the Sangh Parivar. The police said his was a retaliatory killing: a few hours earlier, Sangh Parivar workers had murdered local CPI(M) leader Chooleri Veettil Dhanaraj, 40, in front of his wife and children in Ramanthali, about 10 km away.

“I am living in fear of another attack by communists this July 11,” said Rajani, 43. “Last year, they torched homes of BJP workers who had condoled with me after my husband’s murder.”

Rajani is among dozens of people whose family members have been killed over the decades for their political affiliations in Kannur, the coastal district infamous for long-running bloody political strife. So pervasive is the violence, which began in the early 1970s, that when Pinarayi Vijayan’s Left Democratic Front government assumed office on May 26, 2016, it said that ending the conflict would be among its top priorities. The effort began in earnest with leaders of all political groups agreeing to find a solution, but evidence suggests it has not yielded much. Kannur witnessed 69 political killings between 2000 and 2016.

In the two years since May 2016, at least 11 such murders have taken place. That figure would go up to 12 if one includes the murder of Kannippoyil Babu in Mahe, an enclave of Puducherry on the Arabian Sea wedged between Kerala’s Kannur and Kozhikode districts. Of the 12, seven belonged to the Sangh Parivar, four to the CPI(M) and one to the Congress.

Kunhikkambrath Rajani's husband was killed in July 2016. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Nearly 50 km south of Annur, Suchitra, 44, is being treated for a range of ailments at Paduvilayi in Vengad gram panchayat. She has diabetes, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism and hypertension. She has been ill since her husband Valankichal Mohanan, 55, a CPI(M) leader, was hacked to death on October 10, 2016, by alleged Sangh Parivar workers in the toddy shop in which he worked.

“Why did they kill him?” she asked. “Didn’t they know that he had helped many BJP workers in our village? He was planning to finish building our house when they killed him. I am living only to look after my children now.”

In Edayannur, 10 km north of Paduvilayi, CP Muhammed, 53, has been spending the fasting days of Ramzan praying at his home. “I am praying for my son to find place in paradise,” he said. “Our prayers are answered during this holy month.”

Muhammad is in mourning since February 12, 2018, when his only son, School Parambu Shuhaib, 29, a Youth Congress leader, was hacked to death by suspected CPI(M) workers at a roadside eatery in Mattannur. “He was our only son and only breadwinner,” the grieving father said. “Who will look after me and my wife now?”

Valankichal Mohanan was killed in this toddy shop in Vengad. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

As the Left Democratic Front government celebrated its second anniversary, Scroll.in visited the families of the 12 people who had been victims of political violence during Pinarayi Vijayan’s tenure. Several of them were unhappy with the investigations, alleging the police had not arrested the leaders who instigated the killings but only the foot soldiers who carried them out. Many had received some assistance from the parties the victims were associated with, but almost all said they lived in fear of further violence.

School Parambu Shuhaib's father CP Muhammed at his home in Edayannur. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Old enmity 

Kannur is a CPI(M) stronghold. Of the district’s 11 Assembly seats, the party won seven in 2016. It holds the Kannur Lok Sabha seat as well. It is no surprise then that as many as eight leaders from Kannur are on the CPI(M)’s 95-member Central Committee, the party’s national apex decision-making body.

The party’s primary electoral rival in Kannur is the Congress, which got two of the Assembly seats in 2016. The BJP is nowhere on the electoral scene, having never won even a municipal election. The larger Sangh Parivar, though, has established a significant organisational and ideological presence. The Indian Union Muslim League and the Popular Front of India, formerly known as the National Development Front, also enjoy sizeable support. All these groups have lost cadres in the violence. Of the 69 people killed between 2000 and 2016, as many as 31 belonged to the Sangh Parivar, 30 to the CPI(M), five to the Indian Union Muslim League, and two to the Popular Front. One person killed by political workers did not have any known affiliation.

The communists allege that the Sangh has killed 66 of their comrades so far, starting with UK Kunhiraman in 1972. The Sangh, on the other hand, accuses the communists of murdering 85 of its members, beginning with Vadikkal Ramakrishnan, a Jan Sangh worker, in April 1969.

No faith in police

When it comes to trusting the police, there is a sharp divide between the families of slain political workers who belonged to the CPI(M) and those from other parties.

The police claimed to have filed chargesheets in 10 of the murders and said trials would begin soon. But the relatives of the murdered Sangh Parivar and Congress workers were not satisfied. They said the police have only arrested foot soldiers.

MC Baby, who lives in Andalur near Thalassery, said the police have not followed the conspiracy angle in her husband Ezhuthan Santosh’s killing. “I am not at all happy,” she said. “They must find out why CPI(M) workers killed my husband.” Santosh, a Sangh Parivar worker, was hacked to death inside their home on January 18, 2017. He was alone at the time.

According to the chargesheet, filed on April 12, 2017, Santosh was murdered by a group of eight CPI(M) workers – Mithun, 22, Nithul Ramesh, 23, Vaishnav, 18, Rohin, 31, Prajul, 25, Shamin, 26, Rijesh, 27, and Ajesh, 28. Santosh was not involved in any criminal activity, the chargesheet noted, and his murder was not planned. It was a spontaneous attack to avenge an assault earlier that day by alleged Sangh Parivar workers on members of the Students Federation of India, the CPI(M)’s student wing, at Government Brennen College.

Baby, however, claimed that the police have already been informed that Santosh had been receiving death threats. “My husband had criticised local CPI(M) leaders for selecting communist members and sympathisers for the government’s agriculture aid, irking our ward member in Dharmadam gram panchayat,” she alleged. “Santosh has also contested the gram panchayat election and collected 130 votes, so CPI(M) leaders found him a threat. The mastermind of his killing is still at large.”

Only an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Investigation Agency, she said, “can bring the conspirators to book”.

Baby said she has been living in fear since the alleged murderers were released on bail. “When I go out to water my vegetable farm, they stare at me and make lewd comments,” she alleged. “I am living in fear these days.”

Ezhuthan Santosh’s wife MC Baby. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

The Sangh Parivar backed Baby’s demand for an inquiry by a national agency. “The CPI(M) is in power and its leaders have been scuttling an impartial investigation,” alleged senior RSS leader P Rajesh. “Hence, we are demanding an investigation by the NIA or the CBI.”

He pointed to a previous case in which senior CPI(M) leader P Jayarajan was chargesheeted for murder only after the CBI took over the investigation. The case pertains to the September 2014 murder of Kathirur Manoj at Kathirur near Thalassery. The RSS worker was the prime accused in an attempt to assassinate Jayarajan on August 25, 1999.

KC Narayani, 59, whose son KC Remid was killed in 2002 and husband Uthaman in October 2016, both by suspected CPI(M) cadres, blamed the police for the unending bloodbath in Kannur. “The police are chiefly responsible,” she said. “Inefficiency is the hallmark of the police. The culture of killing political opponents would end only if the police nab the top political leaders who plan the murders.”

KC Remid was hacked to death inside his home in Pinarayi. Photo TA Ameerudheen

The BJP has publicly expressed its lack of trust in the investigations conducted by the Kerala police and asked the central government to bring in the National Investigation Agency. The Centre has not yet taken a decision.

The Congress too is pressing for a CBI inquiry into the murder of its worker Shuhaib. His father Muhammed has petitioned the Supreme Court with the same demand. The court will consider his request in July.

Muhammad said he was unhappy with the police investigation. “They are being controlled by the CPI(M),” he alleged. “In Shuhaib’s case, they haven’t arrested the mastermind who ordered the murder. We will not get justice from them. That is why I have approached the apex court. I hope that we will get a favourable verdict.”

Payyath Mavila Padmini, 55, whose son Vineesh was killed in September 2016, said she would not get justice until the person who had ordered the murder was arrested. “The police haven’t arrested the mastermind,” she said, sobbing.

Payyath Mavila Vineesh's mother PM Padmini at her home in Thillankery. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Shyma, 45, has not worked since her son was hacked to death on January 19, 2018, allegedly by workers of the Social Democratic Party of India, the political wing of the Popular Front. Shyamaprasad, 24, a student at the Industrial Training Institute in Kakkayangad, was chief instructor at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha in Chittaripparambu. Shyma, a daily wage labourer, would return from work on her son’s mortorbike. “His memories haunt me everyday,” she said. “I think I cannot go to work any more.”

She alleged that because hers was a “Sangh Parivar family”, the “police controlled by the CPI(M) will not find the real culprits” behind her son’s murder.

A hoarding in his village pays tribute to Shyamaprasad, an instructor at an RSS shakha who was killed in January this year. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Relatives of the slain CPI(M) workers, on the other hand, were satisfied with the police’s investigation, but asked for speedy trials. Suchitra said she would get justice only if the assailants were convicted. “I am sure God will eventually punish the members of RSS killer gang,” she said.

Geetha, whose husband Raveendran was murdered in May 2016, said the police acted quickly to arrest the suspected killers. “I hope the trial starts soon and the guilty are punished.”

CV Raveendran's wife Geetha at her home in Pinarayi gram panchayat. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Political support

As always since the violence started over four decades ago, families on both sides have received support from the parties the victims were associated with.

“After Vineesh’s death, Sangh Parivar is taking care of all my needs,” said Padmini. “They deposited Rs 10 lakh in my account. They are now building a new home for me. I hope to shift there soon.”

The Sangh Parivar has given Rs 10 lakh each to the families of Vineesh, Ramachandran, Remid, Santosh, Biju and Shyamaprasad, and is taking care of their children’s education. A Sangh Parivar functionary in Kannur said the money came from the central leadership.

Shyamaprasad’s mother acknowledged the Sangh Parivar’s support, but asked, “Can this money get my son back?”

Baby said she would have committed suicide if the Sangh Parivar had not come to her help. “How could I manage my children’s studies without the support of the Sangh Parivar?” she asked. “My elder son is now studying in Delhi and my daughter is in Class 10. The party deposited Rs 10 lakh in their accounts. I cannot run my house with income from agriculture alone. The Sangh Parivar’s support keeps me going.”

The CPI(M) too provided Rs 10 lakh each to the families of Raveendran, Dhanaraj and Mohanan, but the money was collected as donations from the public. Dhanraj’s wife was also given a permanent job at the Kunnaru Coperative Bank, run by the CPI(M). Mohanan’s son Mithun was similarly employed at the Anjarakkandy Cooperative Bank. The party is now collecting money to build a home for Babu’s family. “He was as building contractor, but he could not fulfil his dream of building his own house,” said CPI(M) leader Rajeevan. “We will complete the house for our beloved comrade.”

PV Purushothaman at his son Choorakkad Biju's memorial in Ramanthali. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Brewing trouble

Families on both sides are apprehensive of further violence even as many of them appeared to support retaliatory killings. “I am not worried if somebody avenges my son’s killing,” said Padmini. “I would call it natural justice.”

PV Purushothaman, father of the slain Sangh Parivar worker Choorakkad Biju, said he was praying for “ample punishment” for his son’s killers. “I won’t be surprised if someone avenges his death,” he added. Biju, an accused in Dhanaraj’s murder, was killed at Ramanthali in May 2017.

From May 12 to 19, the CPI(M) observed the second death anniversary of Raveendran at Company Motta in Pinarayi. The programme, attended by several prominent leaders, was also intended to showcase the party’s strength and influence through marches by volunteers, drama and dance shows, and a football tournament. The village was decorated with buntings, flags, posters and hoardings. Some hoardings issued a warning to Raveendran’s killers: “We will not forget anything.” Near the entrance to the village, the party’s supporters wrote “RSS-banned area” on a compound wall, an ominous warning to the Sangh Parivar’s workers.

A hoarding erected to mark the second death anniversary of CV Raveendran in Pinarayi says, 'We will not forget anything.' Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

In New Mahe, Prambath Shamej’s friends threatened to take the law into their own hands “if things go on like this”. Shamej, a Sangh Parivar worker, was murdered on May 7 this year, barely half an hour after the killing of the ruling party’s Kannippoyil Babu in Mahe. “We are not acting now,” said Pratheesh, a Sangh Parivar worker. “It does not mean that we cannot carry out revenge attacks. Don’t test our patience.”

In fact, even villagers without apparent political affiliation foresee “revenge killings” for last month’s murders. “Revenge attacks are common in Kannur,” said a New Mahe resident, Raghavan. “I won’t be surprised if it happens in our village soon. The attack will most likely happen when the accused comes out of prison on bail.”

Kannippoyil Babu's wife and relatives receive his body in Mahe. Photo credit: Vijay Kumar

The village has been tense since Shamej’s murder. Abdulla, who runs a grocery store in Kannavam is a worried man. “What did the perpetrators achieve by killing Shyamaprasad?” he asked. “The murder has shattered peace in our village. Anything can happen now. I feel some political parties are preparing the ground for action.”

Some of the bereaved families, however, called for an end to the violence. “All parties should strive to bring peace in Kannur,” said Muhammed. “Parents should not lose children or wives their husbands just because of their political affiliation.”

Dhanaraj’s wife Sajini, a poet, said she had hoped the violence would end with her husband’s killing. “But my hopes faded as the bloodshed continued,” she rued.

“We must now end this bloodbath for our younger generation. I became a widow at 33. I don’t want to see any more widows in Kannur.”

CV Dhanaraj's wife NV Sajini. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen