THE scenes at Maharajas College, Ernakulam on July 2 were heart-breaking. The body of Abhimanyu, a second year B.Sc. student of the college, who was murdered by criminals belonging to the Popular Front of India (PFI), had been brought there for the public to pay respects. Amid the large crowd which gathered to catch a glimpse of the slain young man, his mother sat, wearing a green jacket. Her cry, "Naan petta makane..." (“The son I gave birth to…”) pierced the air every now and then. Abhimanyu's friends and comrades raised slogans in his memory:
"A martyr doesn't die! You will live through us,
Through the blood that flows in us."
There was hardly anybody watching who couldn't be shaken by the emotionally charged atmosphere.
The 20-year old boy, a member of the Idukki district committee of the Students' Federation of India (SFI), was attacked by a gang of PFI members who barged into the hostel during the wee hours of Monday, July 2. Arjun and Vineeth, two other SFI activists, were also hospitalised with injuries sustained as a result of the attack. The condition of Arjun, whose liver was injured by the stab, continues to be critical at the time of writing this report.
Abhimanyu was the son of Manoharan and Poopathy, Tamil peasants from an adivasi community in Vattavada in the Idukki district of Kerala. He was the youngest of their three children. His brother Parijith does farm work, while his sister Kausalya is working in a textile company, both having dropped out after Std. X due to financial difficulties. The family chose to send Abhimanyu, who was good with studies, to college. Living in a single-room house, they had to borrow money to meet the expenses for his education. Now their dreams lay shattered, crushed under the jackboots of PFI goons.
The assault on the SFI activists was clearly a pre-meditated one. Abhimanyu was held in position by a PFI man from behind, while another person stabbed him. He died on the spot. Three PFI members have been arrested in the case. One of them is an office-bearer of the Campus Front of India (CFI, the student wing of the PFI) in CMS College, Kottayam.
The assault on SFI activists was carried out by a gang of about 20 PFI members. Out of them, one is a student of Maharajas College, and another, mentioned earlier, is from CMS College. The rest are all outsiders, PFI members trained in violence. As should be evident, this is an act of terrorism. Calling it an incident of “campus violence” or the outcome of campus politics (as the right-wing media has been claiming) is completely misplaced.
The Popular Front of India is an organisation which has gained notoriety for its politics of hatred and moral policing, for the single-mindedness with which it tries to spread communal venom in society, and for its willingness to employ terror tactics to achieve its aims.
This organisation was earlier known in Kerala as the National Development Front (NDF), and merged with like-minded organisations from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 2006 to form the Popular Front of India. Apart from the student wing CFI, it also has a political party affiliated to it, known as the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
The incident that catapulted the Popular Front of India to country-wide infamy, however, came in July 2010, when its goons cut off the hand of T J Joseph, a college lecturer, for setting a question paper which had a passage on 'padachon' (the creator). Not just secular organisations, but also the vast majority of Muslim organisations had vehemently condemned the incident at the time.
For these Muslim organisations, the link between the PFI and the Maududist ideology peddled by the Jamaat e-Islami was clear. Thus on 31 July 2010, they issued an appeal to the people and resolved to fight against “fundamentalist and extremist outfits like the Popular Front of India and the Jamaat e-Islami”.
By this time (mid-2010), 16 comrades of the CPI(M) and its mass/class organisations had already lost their lives in attacks by PFI. The only communal outfit that had slaughtered even more cadres of the Left in Kerala had been, and continues to be, the RSS.
In the subsequent years, the PFI and its affiliated organisations have been trying to earn respectability, by allying with various identitarian groups and post-modernist intellectuals. They have been building up an ecosystem of people and institutions to nurture each other ideologically and organisationally.
The apologists of the PFI have claimed that the murder was a response to the SFI “not allowing other organisations to function in the campus”. The vacuity of this claim is evident in the fact that multiple student organisations have been contesting the elections in the college freely for many decades. Organisations such as the Kerala Students Union (KSU) – the students wing of the Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) – and the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) have been contesting elections against the SFI and winning seats. The KSU had very recently held a football competition in the campus on the occasion of World Cup Football 2018, and it was a team which included Abhimanyu that won it. It should be plain to see that this is not a campus with murderous animosity among students.
A total of 38 student activists have been killed in Kerala since 1971, out of which 34 have been from the SFI. The SFI martyrs were killed by KSU, RSS-ABVP, or Islamist outfits like PFI/CFI. There has never been a case of any student having been killed by SFI activists.
Most people who would call themselves democratic-minded or progressive in India have no doubts about the danger posed by the Hindutva – the ideology of right-wing “Political Hinduism” – and by the organisations that seek to propagate it. These organisations, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have as their aim the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu State) in which non-Hindus would be second class citizens. In such a state, women and people belonging to “lower castes” would remain subjugated by those at the top of the patriarchal-Brahmanical order which would rule over the rest. To achieve their aims, the Hindutva forces are willing to employ all kinds of strategies and tactics, including fomenting communal riots, setting up educational institutions to propagate sectarian venom among students, and straight-forward terrorist violence.
These are fairly obvious and well-known to democratic sections in India. What is often not recognised is the danger of minority communalism, which acts as a complement to majority communalism. Many intellectuals, particularly those swayed by postmodernism, tend to be taken in by the propaganda of the Islamists, who portray themselves the champions of the “unity of the oppressed”. The reality, however, remains that majority communalism and minority communalism feed into each other, and in an objective sense, the Hindutva and Islamist forces are bound together in the “unity of the communal forces”.
Institutions and media outlets floated by the Islamist forces bolster their well-funded propaganda. But in spite of all these, they have failed to win mass support in Kerala. The number of Muslims who vote for the Left in Kerala is several times higher than the number who vote for outfits floated by Islamist forces. The students of Kerala too have kept them at an arm’s distance, resolute in the understanding that the intolerant worldview of these forces have no place in a democratic society. The CFI in Maharajas College, with reportedly just four members in the campus, chose an utterly sinister path to compensate for their lack of support among students.
Like so many other students from economically and socially deprived backgrounds, Abhimanyu too had gravitated towards the SFI. Like so many of them, he found in it, a new community to proudly belong to, the strength to make his voice heard, a fraternal feeling towards the toiling people of the world, and the dream of building a better society.
His comrades, inconsolable at his demise, found the spirit to valiantly assert:
"The slogans you raised – we would fulfil on this earth."