Excerpt from Kannur; Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics by Ullekh NP

Hindustan Times | ByUllekh NP
Jun 25, 2018 05:27 PM IST

This horrifying and moving excerpt documents how the CPI(M) and the RSS are caught in a vicious cycle of retributive violence in north Kerala

223pp, ₹499, Penguin
223pp, ₹499, Penguin

Vignettes of Grief and Rage

The storm has left behind colossal sorrow, and the bitterness is infectious.

Though his wife had raised eyebrows over the length of their names, C.V. Dhanaraj insisted that his sons, eight years apart, be called Vivekananda and Vidyananda. Sajini had heard of Dhanaraj as a known local activist of the CPI(M) years before they actually met. A natural leader with a disarming, jaunty smile, Dhanaraj befriended Sajini after they started working at a cooperative bank in the neighbourhood. By the time the two got married on 30 January 2005, he had shifted to the construction business and all that the young wife looked forward to was upward mobility and a peaceful life.

BJP National President Amit Shah during the Janaraksha Yatra against the political violence in Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram in October 2017. (PTI)
BJP National President Amit Shah during the Janaraksha Yatra against the political violence in Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram in October 2017. (PTI)

However, on 11 July 2016, around 9.30 p.m., her dreams were shattered as forty-one-year-old Dhanaraj lay bleeding to death in the shed behind their house. A few minutes earlier, he had dropped off a companion who was riding pillion on his bike less than a kilometre away. When his bike slowed down to a halt in front of his house, seven assailants wielding machetes struck their deadly blows. Instead of running into the house and endangering his family, he ran behind to the shed —where the family stored household items such as firewood — in a final race to cling on to life under the cover of darkness. But it was too late. His assailants left nothing to chance. The last five minutes of his life ended in a pool of hot blood and warm flesh.

Sajini heard the commotion and rushed out to see a gang vanish; she even managed to grab an attacker’s hand as he pulled away. Then she darted forward, hoping not to see what she would soon see. Her momentary hope was that Kunnoru, their village at the foothills of the Ezhimala Naval Academy, had not seen any political violence—and why would her beloved husband be the target of a mercenary attack? Of course, Dhanaraj had received threats for organizing youths in an area not far from a few RSS pockets. (The police say there are ‘RSS villages’ nearby, such as Kakkampara and Mottakunnu, and antisocial elements there have direct access to killer squads from Mangalore.) Dhanaraj’s party had taken the threats seriously and had insisted that he be accompanied by someone—and that someone was with him less than a kilometre from his home.

Sajini and Dhanaraj were not just partners in life but also very good friends. They chatted about their children and friends after supper; that night Sajini had finished preparing dinner and was waiting for her husband. Instead, she ended up waiting for his funeral where her dearest man was draped in a red shawl and taken to the pyre by CPI(M) volunteers dressed in red and khaki uniforms, with a band squad in tow.

Mourning women can get hardened. Dhanaraj’s mother, Madhavi, who had begged the killers to spare her son that night, now doesn’t care about visitors at home. She ignores everyone — friends, family, strangers. She has withdrawn into herself, having lost her only son, the other two children being daughters who are married and live far away. The local CPI(M) leaders say that the mother is sometimes ‘nasty’ with strangers, especially scribes. Mothers who lose their sons have their own ways of coping, especially once the grief has disappeared from their faces and gone deeper within.

Sajini, too, isn’t pleased about the attention: she knows speaking to journalists will not allay her grief. She has gone back to work at the bank because, eleven years into her marriage, she has two sons to tend for, and wants to see her husband’s dream come true: a good education for them. The CPI(M) is currently building a new house for her next to the older one so that the family can start afresh.

CPI (M) workers paint a wall in Kozhikode ahead of the 2016 assembly elections. (PTI)
CPI (M) workers paint a wall in Kozhikode ahead of the 2016 assembly elections. (PTI)

Sajini pats her younger son on his head and stares into his face, her motherly devotion and love momentarily eclipsing her worries about them. Behind her, on the discoloured wall, hangs a picture of Dhanaraj in a dusty frame. Unlike typical Marxist households, one cannot immediately spot photos of Lenin, Stalin, Che Guevara and others here. But the sight of a young widow and her grieving mother-in-law seated beneath photos of their beloved dead is sickeningly commonplace.

After a while, Sajini stops answering my questions. ‘Nothing can bring my husband back,’ she says, dry-eyed.


Within three hours after the assailants, allegedly with links to the RSS, slayed Dhanaraj, whom a police officer describes as a likeable but hard-nosed CPI(M) worker with a bit of aggression about him, a leader of the BMS was murdered in Payyanur in a revenge attack. The modus operandi was along expected lines: hurl country-made bombs and then stab the target to death.

Ullekh NP (Courtesy the author)
Ullekh NP (Courtesy the author)

The victim, C.K. Ramachandran, was an autorickshaw driver. That night, he had had dinner with his wife, Rajini, and their teenaged twins, thirteen-year-old Devangana and Devadathan. Upset after seeing the news on TV about Dhanaraj’s murder, he had gone to bed. It wasn’t long before a bomb went off outside their house and the attackers began to target the main door after going on a rampage of destruction outside, crushing his autorickshaw into pulp with sticks. The couple pushed themselves against the door so that it couldn’t be breached. But their efforts proved futile. When the enraged men broke in, Rajini pleaded—she has repeated the claim in TV interviews, including to Manorama TV— with one of them, Nandakumar, whom she knew well, and asked him to leave her man alone. ‘Nandan, if you tell them, they won’t hurt him,’ she implored.

However, none of that helped. Nandan shoved her away and, in the process, her nightdress tore. Then they pounced on Ramachandran, knifed him repeatedly and left him to die before he reached the hospital. Not a single soul came to their aid, for obvious reasons.

Rajini’s children had seen it all happen right in front of them. But they still hope their father may return from a long journey, some day.

In another related ritual of murder, almost a year later in May 2017, thirty-five-year-old Choorakkadu Biju, an RSS functionary and the twelfth accused in the murder of Dhanaraj, was chased by a silver Innova and hacked to death. He was riding pillion on a bike and was intercepted and killed on a bridge at Palakkode near Payyanur. As his bike lay whirring, the killers got away, the roar of their Innova fading into the distance. Before Biju’s death, the CPI(M) and the RSS had come together to talk peace.

The talks didn’t stop more deaths—in Kannur, there is a euphemism for such revenge killings: goal scoring.

*Excerpt used with permission from Penguin Random House

This excerpt from Chapter 2, Vignettes of Grief and Rage, has been edited.

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