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Just the other day, a group of 10-15 people apprehended Madhu, who was accused of stealing rice from a local store.

The 27-year old Madhu, a tribal, hailed from the Attapadi region of Palakkad district in India’s southern state of Kerala, which is ironically called ‘God’s own country’. According to his family consisting of his mother and sister, Madhu was mentally unstable, and had been living in a cave in the forest. A group of 10-15 people went into the forest. After rounding him up, they stripped him, and tied his hands with his inner wear before physically attacking him. The wounded man, who was later handed to the police died on the way to the local police station.  The mob, lived up to the times by not forgetting to  take a selfie with the helpless-looking haggardly, unkempt and hungry man, almost resembling a lunatic with his hands tied with his inner wear, that went viral on the social media and the press.    The gruesome incident that amounted to lynching shocked a state that boasts of ‘100% literacy’. The shameful incident ought not to have happened in a supposedly enlightened state, with a literate citizenry. The man who was killed was a tribal and belonged to one of the Scheduled Tribes, included among the ‘socially backward’ within the various social strata of Indian society. Smelling blood, the ‘God sent opportunity’ was utilized to the hilt by vote-hungry political parties and their cronies, who promptly went for the jugular. After all, a tribal belonging to a socially backward tribe had been killed! The opposition right mauled the ruling left. The ruling LDF (Left Democratic Front), caught on the back foot was left stranded and red-faced, fishing for answers. The centre- right, desperate to set foot on the state somehow electorally, too attacked the left. The tiny state almost drowned in crocodile tears shed by the opportunistic politician, who indulged in theatrics, reserved for such incidents to maximum extent possible. Suddenly, there were a whole lot of people, cutting across various sections of Kerala’s society, ‘concerned’ about a hungry tribal’s murder at the hands of a mob, who decided to take law into its hands. In the meantime, the postmortem report of the slain attributed head injury and broken ribs as cause of his death. Based on this, 16 people accused in the heinous murder, that had Kerala raise an outcry were arrested and produced before the court of law.

In a supposedly civil society like Kerala no one, except the state, under judicial orders has any right to take the life of another, no matter the provocation.

But Madhu, a tribal did not seem to possess that umbrage offered by civility for some reason.

His gory murder by a few, who decided to take law into their hands, sheds light on some uncomfortable realities:

  • Kerala had recently been at the receiving end of audacious burglaries. Some of them were executed in broad daylight almost defying the custodians of law and order in the state. These had the police at their wit’s end, and the citizens panic-stricken, with their confidence in the state badly shaken. Their lives and property abruptly seemed unsafe and insecure. The commercial city of Kochi bore the brunt of such daring burglaries. A 10-member gang broke into a house at Thripunithura, a suburb of Kochi. The gang had the head of the family bound and injured him on his head, before proceeding to injure his wife and two children. They then decamped with a handsome bounty of 50 sovereigns of gold. Almost the next day, an unidentified gang broke into a house at Aluva, another suburb of Kochi to escape only after taking possession of 100 sovereigns of gold and Rs. 1 lakh. Very soon, a comparatively minor heist unfolded in Kochi, when a house was broken into and looted of 5 sovereigns of gold. As a fallout, these daring burglaries succeeding in denying the citizens of their confidence in the police, and the government, who were supposed to have taken remedial measures to restore their confidence through suitable and prompt action. None was forthcoming, except the usual promises by the Police Chief, and the Chief Minister of ‘suitable action to bring the situation under control’. The only option before the panic-stricken citizens of ‘God’s own country’ was to protect their lives and precious possessions by taking law into their hands. This was inevitable. It is in this background that Madhu decided to steal rice to satiate his hunger. The citizens themselves decided to nab him and incapacitate him by thrashing him, before handing him over to the police. The panic that gripped the citizens is no excuse to commit the murder, which is by no means less heinous, by any stretch of imagination.  In fact, the irrefutable fact remains that no citizen has the right to take the life of another, whatever the provocation might be. Madhu’s murder thus exposed the failure of the state on two fronts (a) to protect the life and property of its citizens, who were increasingly being banished to the mercy of daring burglars, who seemed to care three hoots for the custodians of law and order, and (b) to feed a tribal, who subsisted in abject penury in a cave deep inside the forests, which pooh-poohed Kerala’s claim as the most progressive Indian state going by measurable variables like Quality of Life Index, Education, peaceful society and vastly superior health standards, which had the state earn the tagline ‘God’s own country’ embellishing her.
  • Madhu’s murder furthered one of the most abominable and repulsive practices among self-serving and indifferent politicians, who make the best use of such incidents, be it a tragedy of such magnitude- to shed crocodile tears, an act which cannot be more superficial, ill-meant, hypocritical and theatrical, meant to garner votes of the likes of the victim and the society he belongs to- in this instance, a poor tribal belonging to one of India’s poorest section of her society. Politicians of every hue shed crocodile tears, made statements they hardly meant, and shorn of honesty. All of a sudden, a dead Madhu and his family had for company, scores of well-wishers and the ‘truly concerned’. The press made a beeline to his lowly habitat, into which until the day of his murder, no one cared to step in. they had to telecast without fail, the grief and reactions of Madhu’s bereaved family. They had a competition at hand- to be the first to announce Madhu’s murder and its ramifications. Where were these sympathizers, when Madhu was loitering deep inside the forests, unable to satisfy himself with at least one square meal? What’s these ‘good Samaritans’ to a dead man, after all? The murder of a tribal for stealing rice could certainly have been avoided if they had chosen to feed him when he was hungry. To satiate his hunger through a healthy, uncorrupt and middlemen-free public Distribution System, which ensures the truly deserving and the needy receive what is theirs, and only theirs.
  • What can be done, if any, to prevent another unsavory murder of the kind from unfolding in this state, and for that matter, in this country, again?
  1. Why not hone the Public Distribution System, to ensure that food at cheap price reaches the intended beneficiaries- those subsisting below the poverty Line like Madhu? Middlemen and money-avaricious elements living out of food intended for the likes of Madhu must promptly be shown the door. Machiavellian measures like linking the Aadhar card with the ration card to avail services of the PDS, which amounts to political arm-twisting and jingoism must be done away with.
  2. Why not teeth its police with adequate technology and all that it take to halt the burglars’ audacious and daring run on their tracks?
  3. Cannot those politicians who abjectly failed to prevent Madhu’s death in the country, at least move their lackadaisical fingers to better the lot of the likes of Madhu, and for God’s sake keep away from shedding those hypocritical crocodile tears?