14 years ago, on May 17, 2009, the police action in Beemapalli, a coastal region in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, resulted in the killing of six Muslims including a 16-year-old boy and left over 50 others injured.
The incident, known as the second largest police shooting in the southern state, was deeply troubling as it raised concerns of state-sponsored violence targeting Muslims. Many have alleged that the Muslim fisher community in the region has yet to receive the justice they deserve.
The incident occurred after a scuffle broke out between the people of Beemapalli and nearby Cheriyathura over a man who reportedly refused to pay his tea bill. Talks were held between the two parties in the presence of the sub-Collector, who reportedly ordered the arrest of the goon, but it did not happen. Early the next morning, there was a heavy armed police presence in the neighboring areas of Cheriyathura and Valiyathura, as people were out on the roads following the challenge of the goon that he wouldn’t let the celebration of ‘Urs’ (a local festival in the masjid) take place the following month. When the goon again began to create trouble, people flocked to the beach and refused to disperse.
It was during this chaotic situation that the police opened fire around 2.30 pm, killing five Muslims on the spot and another one in the hospital. Among the 52 injured, 27 had bullet injuries, according to the fact-finding report of the NCHRO.
The victims who lost their lives on the day were Seydali (24), Ahmedali (45), Abdul Hameed (27), Badusha (34), Abdul Ghani (55), and Firose (16).
Four policemen were suspended, and the city police commissioner was transferred. A judicial commission headed by district judge K Ramakrishnan investigated the shooting, and the Commission submitted a report to then-chief minister Oommen Chandy in January 2012. However, the report of the Justice Ramakrishnan Commission that conducted a probe into the incident has not been made public yet.
The judicial commission report rejected allegations that the police firing was unjustifiable and concluded that it was the police action that prevented a large-scale communal riot. However, the Beemapally Muslim Jama-Ath Action committee rejected the judicial commission report by saying “The Ramakrishnan Commission report has not offered any justice to the victims. In fact, it has portrayed people from the Muslim community in bad light” and demanded strong action against the policemen involved.
Following the report, the state government requested the CBI to investigate the explosives found at the location. The Central Bureau of Investigation filed a closure report four years later in 2013, saying no links could be established between the riots and explosives.
“On May 17, 2009, the Kerala police entered the Muslim residential area of Beemapally and shot six men and injured more than fifty others. They also killed a 16-year-old boy, Firoz, by attacking him with a bayonet. The police claimed it was done to control the “communally inspired mob” of Beemapally that was trying to attack the neighbouring Latin Catholic community and the Church. However, the fact-finding reports by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation tell a different story. Their findings said there were no “communal conflicts” at that point in Beemapally,” said Malayali scholar Ashraf Kunnummal who has closely studied the Beemapally firings.
“The Beemapally police shooting happened when CPM leader V S Achuthanandan was the chief minister and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan the home minister under the LDF. The Judicial Commission Report by Justice Ramakrishnan was shelved by the LDF until 2011. The subsequent UDF government also didn’t want to discuss the commission report in the assembly. Moreover, the crime branch approached the Trivandrum First Class Judicial Magistrate to drop cases against police officers involved and there was no criticism from either side of the political spectrum.”
The plot of the 2021 Malayalam film Malik is supposedly based on Beemapalli firing. Director Mahesh Narayanan had said that the movie was “taken from surroundings but it’s still a fictional place with fictional characters.”.
However, the people of Beemapally alleged that the film had factual discrepancies that pinned the blame on the Muslim community.
“The political context of the movie is problematised because of its specific location in the politics and history of state violence in Kerala. The disagreement arises in the way it problematises the state violence against Beemapally’s Muslim fishermen,” said Ashraf.