You may not have heard of Sadanandan Master. One dark night in 1994, days short of his sister’s wedding, the school-teacher in Kerala was pulled out of a bus by CPI(M) workers and pinned to the ground. His face was slammed into the mud and his legs severed from his body with an axe. Last month, in the same week that Kanhaiya Kumar became a symbol of free speech, a younger man from the RSS, Sujith, was dragged out of his home and hacked to death in front of his parents and mentally challenged brother. As his frantic cries sliced through another dark night, Kanhaiya’s speech was being played on loop and the CPI(M) raised his right to free speech in Parliament. You may, therefore, be excused for not having heard of Sujith either—not when he lived, especially not when he died. Sujith’s death was taken away from him, much like his life.
A few days after Sujith’s murder, a young auto driver, Biju, from the RSS again, was attacked whilst ferrying schoolchildren, leaving him battling for life and the children traumatised. But these children, although scarred, will survive and reach adulthood, much like the 40 students in 1999 who watched as the gentle Jayakrishnan Master was hacked to death during class. Traumatised children? Yes, but not enough for a little boy to identify one of the main accused by his hairstyle as the killer—a CPI(M) worker.
These aren’t random acts or cases of mob fury, the way the loquacious Kanhaiya defines the 1984 Sikh “riots” while recommending that we read history. These are targeted attacks and they have a history, even if mostly documented by tongue. Remember, the RSS, as the accusation stands, has no “intellectuals”! But for those who liken the violence in Kannur to a Bloods vs Crips streetgang-style vendetta saga, the date to roll back to is April 28, 1969—the day of the first killing, of Vadikkal Ramakrishnan, an RSS worker, who was on his way home. His crime? He’d switched sides. This is a consistent casting call: the ones topping the hit list are those who “betray”. Betrayal has bloody consequences in this land of “party villages”—fiefdoms of enforced ideology where the mildest response to those who veer from Marxism is throwing faeces and dirt into their wells.
Every decade has a tombstone for a milestone. The name for the 1970s is Pannunda Chandran, a college student killed in an RSS shakha. The date: September 2, 1978. More names, more dates, but this one sets the context, an oft-used ruse to explain the murders of RSS workers: the 1978 context was an upswing in support for the RSS because of its resistance during the Emergency.
The bodycount mounted and history turned a corner: this sordid and bloody saga was not to remain a one-sided contact sport, and when the government refused to intervene, it became retaliatory, transforming beautiful Kannur into the Sicily of India, with vendetta as its official sport. One at which the CPI(M) still wins.
Since February, there has already been one fatality and two near-fatal attacks on RSS workers. They pass without comment because primetime is only for Kanhaiya and his contemplations. Meanwhile, Sujith is quietly cremated in a ceremony that has a “secular” turnout. The clarion call for civil rights in Delhi is amplified, the human rights violations in Kerala muted. Ghettoising murder helps explain it better, especially when the losing side holds an ideology that is abhorrent to the powers that control the discourse.
Amal, a pracharak and most recent victim of this violence, has just regained speech and managed to remember his name, an insignificant development, because the microphones will never reach him. But what of the all-important spurts of “free speech”? Like the one M.M. Mani, a veteran CPI(M) leader, had in 2012 when he waxed nostalgic about the 1980s and the planned killings of opponents! That’s free speech one must support, because in this time of skewed discourse, free speech only has hope of being heard when it tumbles from the lips of those who claim to stand for the oppressed and against intolerance.
(Advaita Kala, an award-winning screenwriter and novelist, is working on a book on the RSS.)
In Kerala, during the Emergency, many CPI(M) and RSS workers were jailed together for organising resistance. In jail, many a Marxist switched sides to the Sangh and the rivalry took a sanguinary turn.