“Hiba Fathima, the 13-year-old daughter of my son, weeps and questions why justice for her father is elusive,” recounts Salim, the father of slain SDPI leader K.S. Shan.
A fresh political controversy surrounding the judiciary and the state government surfaced in Kerala’s Alappuzha district after the delay in the commencement of the trial and the appointment of a prosecutor in the murder case of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) leader K.S. Shan. The controversial imposition of the death penalty on 15 Muslims convicted in the murder case of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ranjith Sreenivasan added fuel to the fire.
After a comparatively swift trial, on January 30, 2024, Mavelikara Additional District Sessions Court-I Judge Sreedevi V.G. sentenced capital punishment to 15 individuals associated with the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI) and its political arm, SDPI, for their involvement in the murder of Ranjith. According to Kerala Police, BJP OBC morcha state secretary 40-year-old Advocate Ranjith was murdered on the morning of December 19, 2021, in retaliation for the murder of Shan.
38-year-old Shan, one of the five state secretaries of SDPI, was hacked to death on the night of December 18, 2021, by Hindu nationalists associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after the car of the assailants knocked his bike down at Kuppezham Junction in Mannancherry, Alappuzha.
Highlighting the double justice meted out, the family of Shan, who was murdered first, criticized the judiciary for its sluggish pace in starting the trial of Shan’s murder case, despite chargesheets for both back-to-back political murders that rocked the state being submitted on the same day. The public also heavily criticized the disparity between the 13 Hindu assailants of Shan, who are all out on bail, and the death penalty given to the 15 Muslim assailants of Ranjith.
Widow of Shan and mother of his children, 13-year-old Hiba Fathima and 7-year-old Liba Fathima, 34-year-old Fansila told Maktoob, “This is definitely a case of double justice, and we are experiencing this bias from the police, judiciary, and the government from the beginning onwards. When everyone arrested in my husband’s murder, which occurred first, is freely roaming on bail, and the trial of my husband’s murder is delayed intentionally, the accused in Ranjith’s case were swiftly found guilty and sentenced to death by the judiciary. After the court pronounced its verdict within a short time, the society itself observed the selective interests of the judiciary and the disparity in justice. Let the society discuss why only the trial of Shan’s murder did not begin even though the chargesheet of both murders was submitted on the same day.”
Fansila added, “Though I cannot fill the vacuum left by Shan as their father, keeping aside my sorrows, I am now living the role of both father and mother to my children who have still not recovered from the trauma. My eldest daughter came running to me crying and asked whether the assailants of her father would be brought to justice. Most of the time, I fail to answer her and get helpless in front of her.”
Emphasizing the contrasts between the background and investigation of Shan’s murder and Ranjith’s murder, 63-year-old Shan’s father, Salim H, told Maktoob, “The murder of Shan and Ranjith shocked the conscience of Kerala. Ranjith’s family is financially well-off and politically strong. We are a poor family, and it was Shan who was the only educated in our family. He graduated in law but didn’t enroll. I am an auto-rickshaw driver, and our livelihood depended mainly on his earnings. His party doesn’t have an MLA or MP, and they are comparatively small compared to Ranjith’s party. The reality showed that both families were treated differently by the system. In Ranjith’s case, those involved in the conspiracy, the assailants, and the individuals who facilitated the crime were swiftly apprehended. But on the other hand, the police have not arrested anyone apart from 13 assailants in Shan’s case. It is said in the FIR report itself that the conspiracy hatched to kill Shan was done in the district Kariyavah office. But the police have not investigated and caught the people who conspired. This itself shows the biased handling of Shan’s case compared to the Ranjith case.”
Fansila added, “I am sure that senior leaders of the RSS were involved in plotting the murder of my husband. He was murdered in a well-planned way after surveilling his movements for months. There are serious lapses on the side of the police.”
“My son was brutally hacked and had 70 wounds with 40 incisions caused by hacking on his body. It is one of the horrific political murders after TP Chandrasekharan’s murder. Even though the appointment of the prosecutor and the commencement of the trial are belated, both society and our family anticipate a verdict in favor of us from Alappuzha Additional District and Sessions Court-III within the legal framework in Shan’s case. We hope the judiciary will serve us justice, and if we don’t get justice from the lower court, we will appeal to the High court. The government and the judicial system could have set a good example if both Shan’s and Ranjith’s murder cases were tried, and the murderers punished without any bias at the same time. The society should discuss whether our family has got the justice ensured by the Indian constitution,” recounts Salim.
Fansila told Maktoob, “The public prosecutor initially appointed by the government in the Shan case, Jayan, voluntarily withdrew from the case without giving any explanation. We are sure that he was politically pressured to withdraw from the case. But we don’t know who pressured him to do so. The second advocate that we suggested was not approved by the government. Now the present prosecutor, P.P. Harris, was only appointed by the government a week before the sentence was given in Ranjith’s case to avoid controversy over the delayed appointment of the prosecutor in Shan’s case. The government intentionally delayed the appointment of a prosecutor.”
Advocate P.P Haris, the newly appointed special public prosecutor in Shan’s case, told Maktoob, “From my side, I won’t do anything to delay the case.” Haris, who was also the lawyer for the accused in the Ranjith murder case, slammed the verdict awarding the death sentence. He said, “This case does not fall under the category of the rarest of the rare murder as mentioned by the judge. It is just another common political murder seen in Kerala. The evidence mentioned by the special public prosecutor that the hit list having the name of Ranjith allegedly made by PFI was found on the mobile phone of an accused’s wife. We hope that this evidence does not get valid in higher courts.”
The Ranjith murder case is the first in Kerala where all the accused, even the conspirators, have been sentenced to death. Discussions on abolishing the death penalty resurfaced in the wake of this sentence. However, the given sentence in this case was criticized because it had never been given to the convicts of other political murder cases in Kerala, despite the brutality being more severe. Referring to the proscribed PFI, one of the court’s reasons for sentencing the accused to death in the Ranjith murder case was their membership in the banned organization. Advocate Ameen Hassan criticized this reason on Facebook, stating that it is a legal error on the part of the court. He wrote that the criterion for sentencing, focusing on the organization’s ban, which happened after the crime was committed, is legally incorrect. The special public prosecutor of the Ranjith murder case, Prathap G Padickal, is an RSS member and state committee member of BJP legal cell.
Narrating the situation at home after Shan died, Salim told Maktoob, “There are 8 members in our family now, including my divorced daughter, her two children, my wife, Shan’s wife, and their two children. Shan’s eldest daughter is aware of the situation and asks questions to us about the case. She might also be having discussions with her school friends about it. His youngest daughter is not completely aware of the situation because of her young age and often cries to see him. I have age-related ailments, and the absence of Shan has made the financial condition of our family difficult. Though friends of Shan and SDPI continue to help us, now I have to work hard amidst my health conditions for my family.”
In a press release on the double justice issue, SDPI state president Muvattupuzha Ashraf Moulavi stated, “The central government is ruled by the Sangh Parivar, which denies justice and civil rights to the underprivileged and religious minorities. It is foolish to expect justice from them. But what is more dangerous is that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government in Kerala, which claims to uphold secularism, is also implementing the interests of the Sangh Parivar with the same spirit. Ashraf Moulavi told Maktoob, “The nexus between the Left government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Sangh Parivar is behind the double justice being done in the murders in Alappuzha.”
SDPI state committee member and Alappuzha native, M.M. Tahir told Maktoob, “Not only were the bail pleas of 6 assailants of Shan not opposed by the government-appointed additional public prosecutor, the government also asked to grant bail for them. One of the assailants of Shan, Sreenath, was also convicted in the murder of Students Federation of India (SFI) Kollam area joint secretary Ajayaprasad on July 20, 2007.”
He further alleged, “Top leaders of the Sangh Parivar are definitely involved in Shan’s murder, and they camped in Alappuzha district hatching the murder. Valsan Thillankeri and Pratheesh Vishwanath had attended meetings and regularly visited the native place of Shan the days before Shan was killed. There is a school named Gayathri in Manacherry that was visited by these Sangh Parivar leaders for conducting weapons training. We have even informed the local police and intelligence bureau about it, but no actions were taken.”
In response to the additional public prosecutor’s position, which refrained from objecting to the bail granted to Shan’s assailants, Salim said, “The prosecution might have interests in getting them released.” He added, “From prior experience, we hope and pray that the present prosecutor doesn’t withdraw from the case.”
Salim also refuted the police report that the trigger for the murder of Shan was the murder of RSS cadre Nandukrishna by SDPI men at Vayalar in Alappuzha on February 24, 2021. He told Maktoob, “My son is not even accused by the police in the murder case of Nandu. Nandu died allegedly during a scuffle between SDPI and RSS, which took place during a procession. The murder of Shan has no connection with Nandu’s murder, and those who raise this allegation are trying to divert from the discussions of fresh political violence committed by RSS. My son has no cases against him for political violence and murders.”
Salim, who was the local secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) during his youth, told the reporter that political discussions on ideologies should be held, but political violence and murders must be strictly discouraged. He also said that instances of double justice will only encourage common people to disbelieve in the judiciary, and if state organs, including the judiciary and police, are biased, then there will be unrest among youth.
“My son who helped the people was popular and well-received by the masses. As a father, I am proud of my son who stood against injustice. I am not only talking for my son. I am also representing the common poor people who are fighting for justice. In our case, justice is delayed, but it should not be repeated any more, and no one should experience what our family went through. Our message is that justice must not be denied and delayed,” Salim added.
Meanwhile, the Kerala police announced that they have made four arrests and registered cases against individuals for allegedly spreading hatred on social media regarding the verdict in the Ranjith case. Tahir informed the reporter that the criticisms were about the disparity in justice. On Wednesday, the police registered a non-bailable case under IPC 153(A) against SDPI leader Naseer Mon Khaleel. Indian National Congress leader Azad and SDPI Alappuzha district committee leader Jayaraj were also booked under IPC 153.