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Lynching of Indigenous Man in India's Kerala Exposes Intolerance Towards Minorities

Madhu Chindakki, 30, was killed by a mob in Kerala. Screenshot from YouTube video by Crazywoods

The brutal lynching of an indigenous man in the Indian state of Kerala on February 22, 2018, has sent shockwaves across the state and the whole country.

Madhu Chindakki, an indigenous man, was beaten for more than four hours by a mob of 15 or more people after he was accused of theft. Police transported him to a local hospital, where the 30-year-old succumbed to his injuries.

His death is one more in a string of mob violence in Kerala in recent years, usually targeted at women and minority groups who don't enjoy much, if any, political clout, such as transgender people, members of the Adivasi indigenous communities, members of the Dalit (“oppressed”) caste, immigrant workers, or Muslims. The perpetrators often photograph and record the lynchings, and later circulate the visuals on social media.

The Kerala police reportedly have apprehended more than 10 people in connection with the killing:

Some have accused mainstream media of ignoring the case until the social media erupted in protest.

‘Systemic violence perpetrated against various marginalised communities’

Magare Bhupali, from Delhi, who is an elected representative of the Jawaharlal Nehru University's Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment, wrote on Facebook about Chindakki's death and placed it in its context:

Sharing message received from Sunija (Student from TISS)..
Madhu Chindakki, 27-year-old Adivasi youth, was brutally murdered by a violent mob for alleged theft on Thursday, 22-02-2018 in Agaly, Attappadi, Kerala. The perpetrators clicked selfies with the victim before beating him to death. These photos are being circulated in social media as well. […]
Madhu's murder is not a singular incident, it is part of systemic violence perpetrated against various marginalised communities in the “progressive” Kerala.

The indigenous communities of Kerala, known as “Adivasis“, have struggled for their land rights for decades. TA Ameerudheen recapped the history recently for independent news and analysis site scroll.in:

[Adivasis] traditionally occupied and cultivated large tracts of forestland in Wayanad, Palakkad, Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts. But in the 1970s, they started losing these lands to non-Adivasis. The majority of Adivasis were soon rendered landless. Losing their lands also drove them to starvation.

In 1975, the state government passed a law promising to give them back their lands. But in the following years, both the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front regimes failed to implement this law.

In 2003, five were killed, including an officer, when police fired on a protest of Adivasis in Muthanga village, who were calling attention to delays in the distribution of land from the local government.

Praveena Kanngagattu, a Ph.D. scholar at University of Hyderabad, thought that some people were trying to explain Chindakki's killing away and not taking into account this terrible history:

വിശപ്പ്, കറുപ്പ് എന്നൊക്കെ പറഞ്ഞ് കാൽപനിക വിരിപ്പുമായി വരുന്ന “മനുഷ്യരെ”; …..ആദിവാസി ആയതുകൊണ്ട് മാത്രമാണ് മധു കൊല്ലപ്പെട്ടത്.

People who are trying to find romanticised reasons for the murder, it is only because he was an Adivasi, he was killed.

Binesh Balan, who studies a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Sussex in the UK and hails from the Adivasi community, observed that the same people who call themselves “civilised” or “urban dwellers” while disparaging indigenous communities are the ones who robbed Chindakki of his life:

ഞങ്ങളെയെല്ലാം അതിജീവിക്കാൻ പഠിപ്പിച്ചത് കാടിന്റെ നിയമമാണ്.. നാട് ചതിച്ചാലും കാട് ചതിക്കില്ല.. കാരണം അടിച്ചമർത്തുക എന്നത് നാടിന്റെ നിയമമാണല്ലോ.. അതുകൊണ്ട്‌, “കാടത്തം” എന്ന വാക്ക്‌ ഞാൻ “നാടത്തം” എന്നു തിരിച്ചു പറയാൻ അഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നു..

The forest taught us how to survive. Even if civilization fails, the forests never failed us. Because oppression is a tool only of the urban societies. So, when I am accusing you as “urban dwellers” whenever you mock us as ‘tribals’ or ‘savages’.

Asha Rani, who is a Ph.D. scholar at the Mahatma Gandhi University's School of International Relations, argued that some people's outcry over the killing was hypocritical, as they have perpetrated wrongdoings against the Adivasis:

ആദിവാസിക്ക് വേണ്ടത് ‘കഞ്ഞി വീത്തലും’ സൗജന്യ ഭക്ഷണവും അല്ല പട്ടിണിമാറ്റാൻ.. സ്വന്തം ഭൂമിയിൽ നിന്നും വനത്തിൽ നിന്നും കുടിയിറക്കപ്പെട്ട ജനതക്ക് വേണ്ടത് അവരുടെ അവകാശങ്ങളാണ് , അവരിൽ നിന്ന് കെെയ്യേറ്റക്കാർ മോഷ്ടിച്ച് കൊണ്ട് പോയ മുതലുകളാണ്… വിശപ്പു ഗാഥകളുടെ ഉടമകൾ മനപൂർവ്വം മറന്ന് പോകുന്നത് ഈ ചൂഷണത്തെപറ്റി പറയാനാണ്…
സൗജന്യ റേഷനും പഴന്തുണിയും കാത്തൊരു ജനതയെ മതിലുകൾ കെട്ടിത്തിരിച്ചിരിച്ചു സൂക്ഷിച്ച് വയ്ക്കേണ്ടത് ആരുടെ താത്പര്യമാണ്…

The Adivasis do not need charity or free food. What they need is ownership and land rights. People who are crying foul now, are the same people who snatched away lands from them. They are conveniently forgetting this. To put the Adivasi communities under poverty schemes and to keep them out of their lands is to protect others interests.

Swathi Manalodiparambil from Kerala's Waynad district, explained the existence of systematic and structural prejudices, racism and casteism:

A casteist mob murdered an Adivasi youth accusing of theft. It's a normalised death for few of the mainstream Malayalam media. […] We have teachers accusing the Adivasi kids that they are coming to school for having free midday meal. A number of us serve them food in portico or the place reserved to them on backyard thinking that there some kind of dirt in them which can't be cleaned up. It's time to address the what make us think in this way is Caste. […] It's important to be open about the subtle violence we perpetuate on them every day, let's reflect on ourselves.

Deaths such as Chindakki's have usually been followed by outrage, only to quickly disappear from social media timelines. The fight cannot be sustained solely by the few groups and activists who regularly work on these issues. For justice to be achieved, it is important that a wider selection of people speak out and continue to do so.

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