Crude country bombs of Kerala's Kannur and their unintended targets - Hindustan Times
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Crude country bombs of Kerala's Kannur and their unintended targets

Apr 14, 2024 07:04 PM IST

In volatile Kannur, political cadres target each other with weapons and bystanders and non-actors get hurt in the process. This has been happening since the 70s

During the early hours of Friday, April 5, an IED detonated in Panur, approximately 35 km from Mattannur. K. Sheril, a 35-year-old CPI (M) worker, succumbed instantly to the wounds inflicted by the crude bomb, and Sheril’s accomplices, Vineesh and Vinod, were admitted to a private hospital in Thalassery. Both have lost the use of their hands. Ashwanth, another person present during the making of the IED was also admitted — all three are card-carrying members of Communist Party of India (Marxist), the police said.

A crude bomb attack at the RSS office in Kerala's Kannur district in July 2022( ANI) PREMIUM
A crude bomb attack at the RSS office in Kerala's Kannur district in July 2022( ANI)

The explosion occurred at approximately 1.30 am on the rooftop of an under-construction building close to Vineesh's home. According to the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Panur police, the explosion occurred during the process of making bombs.

Vineesh is the son of Nanu, a prominent local leader of the CPI (M), which is the ruling party in the state. However, the party maintained that it has no affiliation with the people accused of manufacturing the bombs, and that they were past members who were expelled for indiscipline. Pictures of Sheril, who was killed in the explosion, with senior party leaders K. K. Shailaja, the party's candidate in the Vatakara Lok Sabha constituency, and CPI (M) state committee member P Jayarajan are circulating online.

Speaking to the press in Thiruvananthapuram on April 7, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who also holds the home portfolio, denied his party's role in the explosion.

Bomb culture

In volatile Kannur, cadres of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and CPI (M) have reportedly deployed crude country bombs to target each other as political adversaries for at least four decades in the district, and often bystanders and political non-actors also end up getting hurt in the process.

On August 25, 1999, CPI (M) leader P Jayarajan was brutally attacked by belligerent BJP cadres who stormed into his residence carrying weapons and explosives. They chopped off his hands and hurled bombs to create an atmosphere of terror in his home.

The following year, primary school teacher and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader K T Jayakrishnan was hacked to death by CPI (M) workers who detonated explosives in his classroom instilling fear among the students there.

In another incident in 1998, a nine-year-old ragpicker lost an eye.

“It has been almost a quarter century since I lost my left hand and right eye when a crude bomb concealed in a steel container exploded near Panur. As a ragpicker from Tamil Nadu, I had been rummaging through garbage to find something valuable and chanced upon the container. I thought it was worth enough to provide me and my mother with food for a few days and was taking the box to a shop when the bomb inside went off, blowing away my hand and eye,” recalled Poornachandran, who works as a lower division clerk at a music college under the Kerala government, and is an established vocalist in Carnatic music.

Ashna, a 6-year-old, had to undergo a leg amputation after a country bomb attack by Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP assailants targeted her grandfather, a Congress worker, while she was playing nearby. Ashna is now a physician in a government-run hospital, and uses a prosthetic limb.

Two years ago, Fazal Haq (52) and his son Shaheedul (24) found a lunch box abandoned in an empty plot of land close to their rented house at Kasimedu on the outskirts of Mattannur municipality in Kerala's northern Kannur district.

The duo hailing from Dima Hasao in Assam attempted to open the lunch box after taking it home. A powerful detonation followed resulting in the immediate death of both men. The Kerala home department facilitated the return of the bodies to their hometown on July 7, 2022.

The Haqs were not involved in any political activity and worked as ragpickers and other low-wage menial jobs to earn a living. Several months on and the police investigation is still ongoing. No arrests have been made so far.

The United Democratic Front (UDF), has raised the issue of tracing those who manufactured the bombs, twice in the state assembly. The Congress-led front ascribed their deaths to the bomb culture — a term used by leader of opposition V D Satheesan — that is widespread in the northern Kasargod and Kannur districts, where violent politics is rampant.

According to journalist K. A. Antony who has studied Kannur's escalating political violence, the bomb culture can be traced back to the 1960s, when low-income beedi workers in the region attempted to violently fight the crackdown on them by mega beedi trading corporations based in Mangalore in southern Karnataka. However, by the early 1980s, country explosives had transformed into a substantial socio-political menace.

“Most of those in Kannur who produce and detonate country bombs are also notorious for their inefficiency. Numerous instances occurred in which the explosives were directed towards erroneous targets. Additionally, there were several incidents in which explosives detonated during manufacture, resulting in fatalities among those who were involved in the process,” Antony said.

Last September, an explosion while manufacturing resulted in the grievous injuries of three individuals, including one who lost both hands. The incident occurred in Ponnyam village, where members of the CPI (M) and the BJP-RSS have been at odds. Even animals are not spared. Five years ago, two street dogs were decapitated after country bombs concealed in a garbage can exploded near them.

CCTV footage of a man throwing a crude bomb at the CPI(M) headquarters in Kerala's northern district, in 2022(HT)
CCTV footage of a man throwing a crude bomb at the CPI(M) headquarters in Kerala's northern district, in 2022(HT)

Political murders

Political observers assert that the first incidence of political murder in Kannur happened on April 29, 1969. Sangh Parivar activist Vadikkal Ramakrishnan was allegedly murdered with an axe by CPI (M) members in retaliation for his role in the repeated detonation of country bombs in the area.

A second instance of terror-inducing country bombings occurred in 1976, when alleged RSS cadres hacked to death CPI (M) worker Kulangarath Raghavan of Panthakkappara.

Although Thadathil Balan, a worker of the CPI (M), was also murdered with lethal weapons in 1979, it was after the attackers incited fear by hurling explosives.

“Despite all the progressive moorings, Kannur's political scene is still engulfed by revenge and retaliation. Almost all victims of the blood-thirsty politics of Kannur hail from lower income families and they are getting killed by rivals or being subjected to accidental explosion of crude bombs. Political parties must desist from operating hit squads and giving them training on bombs. Women of the region are the real sufferers as their bread winning family members are either being killed or landing up in jail,” said J Devika, academic, writer and activist, who researched on the political violence in Kannur.

“Typically, crude explosives are employed to sow fear. Initially, it will undermine the target's resolve to resist the assault. The resounding detonation will impede individuals from rescuing the intended victim or opposing the assailants,” explained Kannur-based Gandhian activist Aneesh Thillankeri.

“During the explosion, the smoke emanating from the bombs will obstruct the ability of witnesses to discern the identities of the individuals responsible," he added.

The rudimentary explosives are made of iron screws and shards of glass. “Maximising the pain is the objective,” Antony said. 

Aluminium powder, potassium chlorite, and ammonium nitrate are among the components of explosives, and their production requires extensive expertise. Steel containers increase the explosive force. Manufacturing hideouts include desolate plots, forested regions, and hill slopes as well as vacant houses. The police said that such gangs frequently purchase material from quarry operators in the district, who import such products to blast rocky terrains.

According to police reports, the majority of incidents involving country bombs occur in villages affiliated either with the BJP-RSS or the CPI(M). Kizhoor, Panur, Koothuparamba, Iritty, Chockli, and Ponnyam are among these.

“Everybody blames police for the bomb culture in Kannur. In March 2009, the then Kannur district police superintendent, N Sreejith, had a narrow escape from country bombs lobbed at him. The attackers always enjoy political patronage, and that affects the investigation. Whenever violence occurs, police are stopped from arresting the real culprits and certain people will surrender and own up to the attack, as per directions of their concerned political party. They will be absolved by the court during trial for lack of evidence, and the real culprit is seldom brought to book,” said N Subhash Babu, a retired police superintendent of Kannur.

According to him, criminal leaders patronise violent politics, and exploit the sentiments of the young cadres who hail from poor families.

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