The Kerala government on Wednesday sanctioned a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to be paid to the kin of Arikkad Varghese, a Naxalite leader, who was shot dead by the police 51 years ago.
The cabinet approved the recommendation of the secretary-level committee to compensate his family. The amount would be disbursed to the siblings of Varghese who was killed in the Thirunelli forest in northern Kerala in 1970.
The importance of being Naxal Varghese
The case of Arikkad Varghese, alias Sakhav Varghese, is an unusual episode in the history of Kerala, for being murdered by the police in a fake encounter, and the truth remained concealed for nearly 30 years.
Varghese, born on June 14, 1938, was a political activist of the 1960s who fought relentlessly to guard the tribals in the Wayanad area (which was formed into a district in 1980) from the exploitation of the feudal lords and the police system which then aided the exploitation. He was so popular that the downtrodden trusted addressed him as Sakhav (Comrade), regarding him as their saviour.
He was a firebrand leader and office bearer of the CPI (M), which was formed in 1964, who turned to Naxalism drawing inspiration from the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal in 1967, termed Vasanthathinteh Idimuzhakkam (Thunder in Spring).
The heyday of Naxalism in Kerala was from 1968 to 1976. In 1968, the movement began to sprout in the state when Naxals attacked police stations.
The Naxalites killed many landlords and distributed the assets gained from them to the poor. During the period, the state witnessed major incidents of Naxal violence, including the Thalasseri and Pulpally (1968), Kuttiyadi (1969) and Kayanna (1976) police station attacks.
On November 22, 1968, a group of armed guerrillas made an unsuccessful attempt to attack the Thalassery police station to steal weapons. 48 hours later, on November 24, 1968, another group, under the leadership of Varghese, targeted the Malabar Special Police Camp in Pulpally (present Wayanad district) set up to deal with the farmers who were agitating against the eviction by Pulpally Devaswom authorities. Two policemen, a wireless operator and a sub-inspector were killed in the attack. Later, the group attacked the farms of two local landlords and distributed the food grains there to the tribals.
On February 17, 1970, Varghese sought shelter and food at a person’s house. However, he was taken into custody after someone informed the police while he was sleeping. His body was later found at Koomparakuni near Thirunelli police station. The Church refused to bury the body of the 31-year-old. Hence it was later buried at his ancestral home at Ozhukkan Moola in Vellamunda.
How did it turn into a controversy?
The death of Varghese became a sensational case when police constable P Ramachandran Nair, after retiring from service, confessed in a media interview in 1998 that it was he who had shot dead Varghese on February 18, 1970, on instructions from K Lakshmana, the-then deputy superintendent of police.
Nair said Varghese was taken to the Thirunelli forest after his capture by police and shot dead. Nair added that a gun was planted on the body to portray that he had been killed in an encounter with the police. The constable revealed that the deputy superintendent of police had threatened to finish him off if he refused to shoot the Naxalite and that he was forced to follow the order due to the threat to his life. Following Nair’s confession, Varghese’s family demanded a CBI probe into the matter which was granted in 1999.
Nair, the first accused in the case, was ready to receive whatever punishment the court decided and expressed the same in public. However, he passed away in 2006.
The CBI was assisted in the case by the evidence submitted by Nair’s colleague and retired constable AKM Haneefa, who was one of the police personnel present at the site when Nair shot Varghese to death.
Four decades after the sensational murder, on October 28, 2010, a special CBI court, in a historic judgement, held K Lakshmana guilty of compelling Ramachandran Nair to shoot Varghese and he was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of ten thousand rupees.
Lakshmana’s colleague P Vijayan, who retired as DGP, was acquitted in the case after being given the benefit of doubt. The verdict was later upheld by the Kerala High Court. Later, Lakshmana was released from jail following the remission of the sentence by the government in exercise of powers conferred under Article 161 of the Constitution of India and relevant provisions of Kerala Prison Rules.
Left government and the affidavit
The present LDF government, which has drawn flak over eight encounter deaths during its tenure so far, had informed the High Court that it will consider granting compensation to the legal heirs of the Naxal leader. In an affidavit, the government had earlier taken the stand that the conviction by the lower court was not a ground for seeking compensation for Varghese’s death and the alleged state brutality which was not in existence at any point of time.
In an affidavit filed by the home department submitted on July 22, 2016, in response to a petition filed by Varghese’s relatives seeking compensation for his murder, the government said Varghese was the leader of a Naxal group that committed several murders and dacoities in Wayanad in the 1970s. The government had stated that the investigating agency or the special court could not find any reason to deny the fact that Varghese was a criminal involved in murder and dacoity cases in the Wayanad area. However, the government withdrew the affidavit during the pendency of the case. Meanwhile, relatives again approached the government seeking compensation and it took a favourable stand.
Justice A Nagaresh of the Kerala High Court on January 29, 2021, issued the order while disposing of the petition filed by the brothers and younger sisters of Varghese seeking to declare that they are legally entitled to be compensated with an amount of Rs 50 lakh with interest, for the loss of reputation, goodwill, care and protection cause
Who will get the amount?
His brothers A Thomas and A Joseph and sisters Mariyakutty and Annamma will get the compensation as the family had moved the High Court after it came to light that Varghese was killed by the police in a false encounter. The court directed the family to submit a memorandum to the government seeking compensation.
Thalappavu, a 2008 film, was based on the events related to Varghese’s killing and the mental trauma of the constable afterwards.
In the film, Prithviraj Sukumaran played a character similar to Varghese’s, directed by Madhupal and written by Babu Janardhanan. It sympathetically portrayed the social and political issues of the Naxalite era in the state. Actor director Lal played the character similar to Ramachandran Nair.