Veteran human rights defender Ayinoor Vasu, popularly known as GROW Vasu, was arrested by the Kerala Police on Saturday, sparking outrage from various sections and rights activists.
The 94-year-old was sent to jail for fourteen days by a local court in Kozhikode district in a seven-year-old case after he refused to cooperate with bail procedures, citing his political views against the government on extrajudicial murders of Maoists.
The arrest was made in the case registered in November 2016 by the Kozhikode Medical College police station, under the accusations of unlawful assembly and obstruction of police in the discharge of their duty against the protest by Vasu and other human rights activists in front of the mortuary of the Kozhikode Medical College. They were protesting against the extrajudicial killing of two ailing CPI (Maoist) cadres, Kuppu Devaraj and Ajitha.
Kuppu Devaraj, who was a Central committee member, was killed along with Ajitha in an alleged encounter by Thunderbolt commandos on November 24, 2016, in the Karulai forest of Nilambur, Malappuram district. Along with various regional and national-based human rights organisations, the Communist Party of India (CPI), who is also an ally of the left democratic front (LDF) coalition government in Kerala, slammed the encounter as staged and held the Kerala government responsible for the murder.
When police arrested Vasu Saturday morning, citing the long-pending warrant against him, Vasu demanded the police to withdraw the case against his democratic protest and declined to take the station bail. When he was produced before the Kunnamangalam court by the police, Vasu informed the magistrate that he will be representing himself in the case without any lawyer. When the court ordered him to pay a penalty of ten thousand rupees, Vasu refused and told, “The case should be filed against the officers involved in the extra-judicial encounters and not against those who protested and condoled the fake encounter.”
He also spoke against extra-judicial killings in the court and said that it is his right to protest against injustice. When the magistrate, VP Abdul Sathar, released Vasu considering the age in spite of him not admitting to the alleged crime, Vasu, who refused to sign the bail documents to get released as his sign of protest against the authorities, was sent to Puthiyara sub jail.
Many lawyers, old companions, police officers, and activists tried to persuade him not to get jailed by agreeing to the bail, but Vasu stood strong on his political position that protesting is not a crime.
On the day of the alleged encounter, Vasu had told the media, “We believe this as a fake encounter, and when journalists were not allowed in the area after the encounter, that raised suspicions. I’m ready to approach the court for a judicial inquiry as there is no other way to know what happened.”
Vasu, who also later attempted to visit the alleged encounter spot on December 3, 2016, along with fact-finding team members from various civil rights organisations of south India, got cornered and manhandled by Sangh Parivar cadres. In several conversations, he drew parallels between the Nilambur encounter and the fake encounter of his companion, Naxalite Varghese.
When asked about the arrest of Vasu, who is respectfully addressed as Vasuettan in society, lawyer Thushar Nirmal told Maktoob, “What Vasuettan demanded was to initiate an inquiry on the alleged encounter and register FIR against the officers involved in it. His demand was based on guidelines put forward by the Supreme Court in the judgment on PUCL Vs State of Maharashtra and others in 2014. This is a democratic demand of his and arrest is made using flimsy excuses and charges.”
Social activist CP Rasheed, who spoke with Vasu over the phone before being sent to jail, told Maktoob, “Vasuettan told me, those who killed 8 people (referring to 8 killed Maoist cadres) are not booked. Why should I pay a fine for not doing anything wrong?”
Rasheed added, “Ruling CPI(M), who spoke for Fr. Stan Swamy, has now jailed a nonagenarian suffering from asthma and other ailments. The Kerala government boasted of withdrawing cases against anti NRC CAA protestors, but it didn’t. Even cases were registered against the people who protested against the farm bills. Recently a case was registered against 10 people, including the PUCL state secretary, by Manjeri police for protesting against atrocities by Kerala police. Every government’s approach is that only mainstream political parties should hold protests, and others who protest against injustice will be prosecuted. Vasuettan, who was firmly at the forefront of the protest, was arrested and jailed by Pinarayi’s police as an act of revenge. The question raised by Vasuettan in court is his question to the state, and his refusal to cooperate with the bail is his protest.”
Vasu, who was initially part of CPI(M) and its district volunteer captain, later joined the Naxalite movement following the 1967 Naxalbari revolt. He played a vital role in several armed actions against police stations and the annihilation of feudal landlords. After spending seven years in imprisonment at the Kannur Central Jail, he started selling umbrellas for a living.
The name ‘GROW’ joined him after being the trade union leader of Gwalior Rayons Organisation of Workers (GROW), which trembled Birla’s rayon pulp and fiber factory. He was also involved in the famous public trial by Naxalites of corrupt doctors of Kozhikode Medical College. Despite his old age and ailments, Vasu travels all over Kerala and is at the forefront of all public protests for the marginalized people, including Anti NRC-CAA and various protests of the working class. He has criticized the Kerala government led by Pinarayi Vijayan for following the footsteps of Narendra Modi’s regime.
Editor of the monthly magazine Maruvaaku, Ambika, who took her protest to social media, told Maktoob, “Arrest of Vasuettan is state violence. The state is abrogating the democratic right to protest against such extrajudicial murders, and this is unconstitutional. This eagerness to arrest and put a man close to the age of 95 in jail is unacceptable for whatever reason. He’s not a murderer or anti-social. He is a human rights activist who has stood with the oppressed people for the last eight decades and fought for their liberation.”
PUCL Kerala state secretary, Adv PA Pouran, who had also raised objections against the 2016 alleged encounter, termed the arrest of Vasu as illegal, arbitrary, and against all the accepted principles of jurisprudence.
He told Maktoob, “Kerala unit of PUCL had taken up the alleged Nilambur encounter with the top brass of Kerala police to register a case against the police officers responsible for the gruesome murder of the two innocent, immobile unarmed persons under the guise of an encounter in the light of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court. But, instead of registering a case and proceeding against the concerned police officers, they took my statement and kept the file closed.”
The arrest has sparked outrage against the Kerala government, and prominent people, including journalists, social activists, artists, political leaders, academics, and former political prisoners, have demanded his release and quashing of the case.
Razik Raheem, who was acquitted in the fabricated Panayikulam SIMI camp UA(P)A case, told Maktoob, “At a time when many in the cultural and social field are celebrating the old age of life by celebrating nonagenarian, Vasuettan went to jail at the age of 94 declaring that he was not ready to make a compromise against unfair legal proceedings.”
On 30 July, at Kozhikode and in different districts in the coming days, protest meets are being announced by activists in support of Vasu.