Campus violence in Kerala has triggered several, often narrowly focused, debates on whether or not politics should be permitted in institutions of higher learning, but seldom has a murder on a campus touched off polemics touching on larger questions of politics such as identity and antagonisms gaining ground in the State’s socio-political arena. The killing of Abhimanyu, a leader of the Students Federation of India (SFI) at the Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, has occasioned a debate like none before, bringing out the deep divisions among the intelligentsia and, equally importantly, embarrassing SFI and the CPI(M) for the delay in nabbing the key accused in the murder case.
The CPI(M) and SFI find themselves on the back foot because the State police have not succeeded in catching up with the key accused in the Abhimanyu murder case even a fortnight after the incident. When Simon Britto, a living martyr of the party, aired his strong resentment about the police not nabbing the Campus Front activists who are alleged to have stabbed Abhimanyu to death and CPI(M) Anglo-Indian nominee John Fernandez’ wife put up a Facebook post giving resonance to the nagging suspicion of some in Kochi that PFI/SDPI/Campus Front elements might be getting protection from the CPI(M) itself, the debate could not but get murky. Amidst all this has come the intellectual debate on the real character of the SDPI and how to view them in the emerging socio-political context of the State.
Rush of posts
In a rush of posts on social media, Dalit writer K.K. Baburaj had insisted that the Abhimanyu murder was being used by ‘cultural Draculas’ to preach new sermons. The murder, he said, was being used as ‘an opportunity for the upper, lower castes, the Marxists and the Sangh Parivar to fuse into one and rally against a common Muslim enemy.’ But Mr. Baburaj’s standpoint has not cut much ice with Sunny M. Kapikad, another prominent Dalit intellectual. “It’s dangerous for self-respecting Dalits and Muslims alike,” he says.
His contention is that the locus, social position, of the 19-year-old murdered student should be at the centre of the political discussion for a rightful share of the resources for the community. An alumnus of Maharaja’s where he had taken on the SFI ideologically, Mr. Kapikad remembers staying on fast, to the chagrin of the SFI unit, in solidarity with the Gwalior Rayons agitation led by GROW Vasu, a former Communist who now heads the Social Democratic Trade Union of the SDPI.
“They are mercenaries,” says social critic M.N. Karassery, while speaking of the public intellectuals, including some Dalit thinkers, who have sought to raise the issue of Islamophobia when PFI/SDPI/Campus Front are faced with sharp criticism over Abhimanyu’s murder. “When you wax eloquent about Hindutva terror, why are you so blind to Islamic fundamentalism, the caste hierarchies in practice among Indian Muslims and the anti-women positions manifest in things like inheritance of property? It’s foolish, therefore, to say Dalits facing caste oppression can be on the same page as Muslims in India,” he says.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member M.A. Baby feels that the SDPI/PFI’s scheme is to build a terror plot around a political narrative involving sections of ‘motivated or credulous’ Dalits and religious minorities in order to turn the tables on the CPI(M) for its secular stances. A ban would not be a deterrent against such outfits, as it would only delay their end, he says. The cure, the CPI(M) believes, lies in social engineering and creating a groundswell of resistance at the grassroots. “The party is planning protests across 2,000 centres in the State to expose the “communal politics of SDPI and their ploy to polarise Kerala society with terror.”
Late last week, the CPI(M) had screened a video clipping of T.J. Joseph, lecturer at Newman College, Thodupuzha, whose hand was chopped by SDPI activists alleging disrespect to Prophet Mohammed in a question paper set by him, at a protest meet here. A Maharaja’s College alumnus, he was shown cautioning youth against the spectre of blind faith and bigotry. Still nagged by the festering wounds of memory, he told The Hindu: “Religion is a private affair. When society realises this, we will have a strong defence against fundamentalism and religious terror.”