Saturday, June 22, 2024

On this day, fifteen years ago, Kerala Police killed six Muslims, including a minor; no justice yet

Fifteen years ago, on May 17, 2009, the day after the 2009 general election results were announced, Beemapally, a coastal town in the capital city of Trivandrum with a predominantly lower-caste converted Muslim majority, lost six Muslim lives in the largest police firing recorded in Kerala.

This massacre, which occurred when CPI(M) stalwart V.S. Achuthanandan was Chief Minister and the late Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was Home Minister, went uncondemned by the collective conscience of Kerala, with the victims being blamed.

Beemapally is named after the mosque that houses the tombs of traditional physicians Syedunnisa Beema Beevi and her son, Syedu Shuhada Maheen Abubacker, who arrived from Arabia in the 14th century.

The Beemapally Muslims have faced social, economic, and political exclusion, reinforced by Islamophobia, casteism, and racism, since the time of monarchical Travancore. This exclusion dates back to when the upper-caste king Marthanda Varma killed Maheen and their ancestors, who were lower-caste Hindus that had converted after resisting the oppressive system.

 The police firing

Twenty-eight-year-old James, aka Kombu Shibu, was a notorious goon from the predominantly Latin Catholic area of Cheriyathura, known for regularly causing trouble at Beemapally. He threatened people by claiming to be HIV-positive, cutting his hand with a blade, and smearing his blood to scare them.

On May 8, he refused to pay the bill at Peer Muhammad’s shop, and on May 16, a confrontation erupted with Beemapally locals when Shibu tried to extort money from Nizammudin, who was parking his car. During the scuffle, he threatened to disrupt the Uroos on May 25, the annual festival commemorating Beema Beevi’s death. Despite promises from the district administration to the mosque committee, the police did not arrest Shibu. On the night of May 16, he set fire to locals’ boats, escalating community tensions.

The next day, on May 17, around 400 police personnel were deployed on the roads of Cheriyathura and Valiyathura bordering Beemapally. Shibu and his gang returned to Beemapally, causing more trouble in the presence of police by stopping buses carrying pilgrims to the mosque. Beemapally residents gathered at the road to the beach, which separates Beemapally and Cheriyathura on the Valiyathura-Poonthura road. They refused to disperse, and suddenly, without permission from the District Collector and in violation of the Kerala Police Manual 1970, the police fired at them between 2:30 pm and 3:00 pm.

The firing resulted in the deaths of Ahammad Ali, Seyyadali, Abdul Hakkim, and Badusha on the spot, and Ahamad Khani and Firos, a minor, in the hospital. Fifty-two people were injured, with 27 of them sustaining gunshot wounds. Shibu, who died in 2014, was only arrested on May 18. Compensation of 10 lakhs and a job were offered by the government to the families of the six killed, but they are still awaiting justice.

“Being Muslims was our crime,” said Majida, daughter of Ahammad Ali

Ali, a 45-year-old fisherman shot dead, lost his means of livelihood the day before the firing.

Majida, aged 34, told Maktoob, “Country boat and fishing nets used by my father and 40 other people were burned by Shibu and his accomplices on May 16 night. My father accompanied the owner of the boat to the station and filed a complaint. The next day, on the day of firing, my father was sleeping during the day. Upon hearing loud sounds, my aunt woke him up around noon. Initially, we thought it was the sound of crackers used for the election celebrations. Finding the sound strange, rubbing his eyes, Father went out to check. He was shot in the stomach and leg. I was only 20 years old when he was killed.”

She added, “We are not responsible for the violence. Only we were affected, so how can we be labeled as rioters? They lied that we threw bombs to attack Christians. Police justified the firing by emphasizing this lie. In the name of the search, police even misbehaved with Muslim women and caused damage to houses. We are sure that all this happened with the government’s sanction. Muslims are not safe anywhere, even in Kerala. This is hate against our religion.”

She told the reporter that Shashi Tharoor, who had won as the MP from their constituency in 2009, had never visited them. She added, “People who died in the Ockhi cyclone were given more compensation than the families of Muslims who were killed by the state despite their innocence. We were not given a home despite promises by the government”.

“We were supporters of CPI (M), but lost trust in them and every other party after the killing. We used to abstain from voting, but this time we voted only to defeat the BJP and as proof of living in this country despite no party doing good for us. We don’t have a house of our own. We want a house and everyone behind this massacre to be punished. We want the government to clear up the communal accusations against us,” said Majida.

“Police propagated a communal narrative against Muslims,” says son of deceased Ahamad Khani

“Police propagated a communal narrative against Muslims to hide the facts and justify the firing,” said 26-year-old Al Ameen, the youngest son of Ahamad Khani working as a delivery boy. 

Khani, aged 57, who ran a grocery shop, was standing on top of a stone, urging people to disperse and save themselves when the police began firing. He was hit in the eye and succumbed to injuries 4 days later in the hospital. Ameen’s brother, Maheen, was also hit by shrapnel in his chest. 

Ameen, who lost his mother in 2022, told this reporter, “I didn’t vote in this election. I am dissatisfied with the system. I don’t believe justice will be served, especially considering the backlog of pending cases where people await justice. I’ve lost faith in all political parties.”

“There’s a prevalent communal narrative against Beemapally in our society, often exacerbated by the actions of the police. When a Beemapallikkaran (a resident of Beemapalli) is accused of even a minor offence, the police subject us to mistreatment. Police put a blanket accusation on Beemapally and perceive us as anti-social”, frustrated Ameen said. 

“Islamophobia led to the deaths of these 6 Muslimsa”: Sister of Sayyadali

“Beemapally residents neither attacked Christians nor the police. Then, how can it be labeled a riot? We believe that Islamophobia led to the deaths of these 6 Muslims”, the 37-year-old younger sister of Seyyadali, Nabeesath told Maktoob.

Seyyadali, aged 24, worked as an ustad at a mosque before he started a shop to support his family after his father’s health declined.

“On that fateful day, Seyyadali came home from the shop to have lunch. Upon hearing about the standoff, he went there to inquire about the situation. He was shot in the chest, succumbing to his injuries after reciting prayers. I witnessed people carrying my son’s lifeless body,” recounted 63-year-old Ramla Beevi tearfully, his mother, who runs a small grocery shop alongside her 3 daughters, next to their house in a ghetto.

“Within a year of his murder, our father passed away. We are residing in a dilapidated, leaky house with 19 members, including his 2 sisters and their children. We lack sufficient documents for our current house. One sister’s husband passed away from cancer, and the other sister’s husband is battling ailments, requiring 30 lakhs for treatment. My husband abandoned me. Our situation is dire and unimaginable. We were promised 3 cents of land for our house, but the government has not fulfilled its promise. All 6 killed belonged to poor Muslim families. We want the house they promised and officers to get punished,” shared Nabeesath, with Maktoob.

“Why should I vote when we are not benefiting from the government?” questioned Nabeesath, who refrained from voting in the Lok Sabha elections.

“Murderers of my father are living happily without being punished,” says Badusha’s daughter

“The murderers of my father are living happily without being punished. I don’t trust this system,” expressed Abusana, a 20-year-old daughter of Badusha, to Maktoob.

Badusha, aged 40, who was employed in Saudi Arabia, returned home to meet his 2-year-old son for the first time. He was killed on the 18th day of his arrival. Like others, Badusha, who rushed to the spot upon hearing loud noises, was shot in the jaw and the bullet exited through the brain. 

Beema, Badusha’s sister-in-law, said, “Muslims were selectively targeted and killed on that day. If Muslims are killed, the government doesn’t have anything to worry about. After providing compensation, they abandoned us. Who gave the police orders to fire? The government never initiated a fair investigation into this incident. If the media restarts the discussion on this injustice, it will be really helpful for us. If such an incident happened somewhere else in the country to some other community, things would not be like this.”

Yasooka, Badusha’s father-in-law, stated, “The incidents that led to the firing were not a communal issue between the Christian and Muslim communities, only a scuffle between residents of Beemapally and Shibu”.

 “No amount of money can undo the injustice”: Abdul Hakim’s wife

“No amount of money can undo the injustice,” recounted 39-year-old Shamsul, the wife of Hakkim.

Hakkim, aged 29, a painter, was killed after being shot in the back when he went out from his sister’s house to check upon hearing gunfire. 

Shamsul, who lives with her 3 children, told Maktoob, “I was only 24 years old, and my youngest child was just 22 days old when my husband was killed. On the day before the firing, it was his niece’s wedding. So, on the day of the firing, he was at his sister’s house managing things.”

Shamsul typically avoids discussing the incident and told the reporter that none of them have watched the 2021 Malayalam movie Malik,which received criticism for its portrayal of the Beemapally firing.

Blaming the state, she added, “The state is not doing anything for the betterment of society. We have not received justice. Will they do anything good for people? I don’t trust this state.”

Dismissing every party as selfish for their inaction, Hiba, the eldest daughter of Hakkim, aged 21, told the reporter, “Innocents like my father should not be punished, and the police should be held accountable for their crimes.”

Anwar, a relative of Hakkim who witnessed the firing, told Maktoob, “I barely escaped unhurt. It was the police who escalated the situation. If they had arrested Shibu on May 16, 6 lives would not have been lost. Instead of arresting him, the police killed the complainants, the Muslims. Police didn’t use rubber bullets, batons, tear gas, or water cannons to disperse the crowd. I saw all the bodies; the bullets exited the victims’ bodies as they ran away from the police. All 6 had upper body injuries, and Firoz was brutally tortured. The Achuthanandan government acted irresponsibly and their actions were purely communal.”

With a laugh, Anwar added, “For the government, criticizing their communal acts is deemed communal.”

All the 5 families mentioned the brutality in the killing of Firos, the youngest and minor victim of this massacre. 

“All those officers involved in the murder of my son were promoted”: Father of 16-year-old Firos

“All those officers involved in the murder of my son were promoted,” said Ismail, the father of Firos, to Maktoob.

Ismail was working in Saudi  when his youngest son, 16-year-old Firos, was killed. Firos, who had gone to play cricket at the beach, was shot in the leg. Then, he was bayoneted, beaten with the gun’s butt, dragged across the beach, and finally thrown into a jeep. A video shot by locals showed Firos being dragged on the beach by the police. Ismail saw this video on tv without realizing it was his son. 

He told Maktoob, “Upon hearing gunfire, my son, who was playing, went to check what was happening.  My two older sons, Ibrahim and Riyaz, also went. They both were asked to run away from the area by our relatives. Unfortunately, Firos was in front and couldn’t escape. He would have been alive if he had been taken to hospital on time. Instead, they kept him in a jeep. He was severely tortured by those dogs (police)”.

He added, “I left my job in Saudi after losing him. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral as I was only able to arrive later. We weren’t even in a state to check whether he had graduated or not when his class 10 results came out after his passing.”

Beema, the mother of Firos, told the reporter, “The only thing that bothers me is that I couldn’t give water to my dying son. He asked me for water, but the doctors didn’t allow it as he was taken for surgery. That’s where my son passed away. I want his killers to be punished”.

Shangumugham Assistant Commissioner Suresh Kumar, DCRB Assistant Commissioner E Sharafuddin, Poonthura CI K Pradeep Kumar, and Valiyathura SI Johnson were suspended, then reinstated and promoted. IG Vinson M Paul and DCP AV George faced disciplinary transfers for namesake.

DGP Jacob Punnoose claimed that police fired to prevent armed Beemapally Muslims from attacking the Christians and the church of Cheriyathura. Muslims were accused of having foreign support and possessing Neogel 90 gelatin sticks. The CBI investigated the explosives and filed a closure report, unable to determine how the explosives reached Cheriyathura or identify those responsible. Locals had alleged that it was the police who placed the explosives to implicate Muslims. 

District Judge K Ramakrishnan was appointed on August 9, 2009, to investigate the firing. On May 16, 2012, the report was submitted to then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, supporting the police narrative. The report, which also criticized the suspension of officers and blamed Muslims, was rejected by the Beemapally Muslim Jama-Ath Action Council. 

Among the injured, Muhammad Salim, Ibrahim Salim, and Abushaman died within 4 years while undergoing treatment. Many are still living with pain and unable to earn a living.

The portrayal of the Beemapally massacre as the Cheriyathura firing, implying that Christians were attacked by Muslims, by print and visual media, and their adherence to the state’s narrative, exposed the hate against Beemapally and Muslims. Thejas and Madhyamam were the media outlets that did justice in reporting the facts. Manorama reported that Muslims used a rocket launcher against the police, and other media helped police to propagate their version. 

 Findings by human rights organisation

The fact-finding investigation led by the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) on May 21, 2009, dismissed the police version and specifically criticized DCP AV George. The report also mentioned testimonies of people claiming that police burned boats and attacked houses. The report exposed the contradictions in police claims and stated that none of the officers were injured. It further reported that police fired 70 bullets in total with the intent to kill, and stopped only when the bullets ran out, suggesting a planned massacre. Those who were fishing at the shore, relaxing on the beach, playing cricket, checking the commotion, and attempting to rescue the fallen were all shot by the police. Contrary to initial unity, the report mentioned the shift by the Christian community in favor of the police. Highlighting the aiding of Shibu by police, the report suggested a state conspiracy and raised concerns about  communalization within the Kerala police based on the Gujarat model.

Despite the victims coming from depressed class and caste backgrounds, none of the political parties addressing class and caste politics have addressed the Beemapally massacre, and it was excluded from the collective memory of ‘progressive circles’ because the victims were Muslims.

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