3:13 pm - Sunday December 16, 2536

Here, party decides who you can love, live with

Surely, this can’t be what Marx meant by a dictatorship of the proletariat. But comrades lording over many north Kerala villages have this version firmly in place, no matter if the state doesn’t quite wither away.

These are north Kerala’s ‘party villages’, overwhelmingly Red and run firmly by the local CPM cadre.

Local apparatchiks here have often decided who the cops should arrest and let off, who should be allowed to buy or sell what property to whom, which village youth should unite in marriage, whose wedding or funeral the villagers may go to, which bourgeoise newspapers the folks could read.

Even, who must be cut off from life, isolated and harassed for not falling in line.

 

No one had told Vineetha Kottai about it, when she decided to chuck her job teaching Economics at Mumbai’s MULV College and her apartment in Andheri (East), to return to Pathiripetta-Kunnummel, a pastoral party village off Kozhikode. She had lost her husband, a senior physician with the Indian Red Cross, and her invalid mother lived alone in the village. Returning after 17 years with her two young sons, she hoped to live off the five fertile acres of coconut, arecanut and pepper groves around their home on a steep hillock.

She soon found that a local party leader had encroached on a good portion of her small but prime land, and her mother could do nothing about it. ‘‘They hadn’t expected that I would return,’’ she says.

Pleading with the influential comrade—said to own two large granite quarries nearby—did not work and only invited trouble: Vineetha’s 14-year-old son got severely beaten up on the village road.

Vineetha went to court. The CPM ordered her to withdraw the cases or face consequences. When she stood her ground, the local CPM committee ordered a ‘blockade’—party lingo for ostracising—against her, to isolate her family. Villagers were forbidden to help or communicate with this family. They were asked not to buy their crops or sell them anything, even work on their land. The comrades amused themselves heckling them when they ventured out, Vineetha’s sons were abused and chased. To drive the point home further, her home was regularly stoned at nights, the telephone lines were cut and not allowed to be restored. The ordeal began in 1996.

Over the next nine years, the grove around Vineetha’s home grew wild with no worker ready to help out, creepers and wild grass almost enveloping the house. ‘‘We’d been completely marooned all these years. My mother died meanwhile, and the trauma soon got on to my kids. They stopped going to school—they were scared of even moving out of the house,’’ says Vineetha.

 

Three years ago, her son Hrishikesh couldn’t take it anymore. He jumped into their well, and was fished out with a fractured spine and crushed skull. ‘‘For a month, he was in the ICU at the Kozhikode Medical College hospital. I used up the last of our money to treat him, and couldn’t even think of selling the home since the CPM forbade it’’ recalled Vineetha. Moved by her plight, a former branch secretary of the CPM, D Kelappan, pleaded with the party to lift the ‘blockade’, but the local CPM MLA, A Kanaran, refused.

Vineetha took her sons to Ulhasnagar in Mumbai where she had a small flat. She stayed there and got her son treated, then sold the flat to pay off debts, and returned. ‘‘I decided to take them on, come what may. I put up my sons in residential schools far away, bought a dog to keep me company, and began living alone.’’

The partymen moved the labour court saying that ‘‘landlord’’ Vineetha had illegally sacked five local people working on her land—including the wife of the quarry owner-comrade. The plea was that they be re-hired, or compensated. ‘‘I said I’ll take them back, though none of them had worked on our land. They obviously didn’t expect that, and backed out: They aren’t used to toiling,’’ she says.

A few months ago, the CPM was forced to declare that it was lifting the blockade against the family, after some human rights bodies noticed the issue in some local newspapers; and threatened to take it up at the national level. The cases she filed are now in the Kerala High Court.

Nothing escapes the party’s scan in these villages, not even conjugal relations. Three km away, in Vannathipoyil, the comrades have landed themselves in a Catch-22. The party wanted Chandran, a local comrades’s NRI son, to marry Bina, daughter of another comrade, the village carpenter. Chandran reportedly made her pregnant five years ago when she was still in school, and then got her to abort at a village clinic. The party had made him exchange engagement rings with the girl and also took photographs for the record. For good measure, they also made him sign a virtual MoU with the party to marry her—she was barely 15 then. The NRI, however, decided to thumb his nose at the party, quietly wed another village girl last fortnight, and then flew off.

But the issue had hit local headlines even before Chandran’s marriage. Anweshi, a prominent women’s outfit headed by former Naxalite K Ajitha, and others organisations had got the girl and her relatives to stage a fortnight-long sit-in in front of Chandran’s home demanding marriage. Very soon, other political parties were sending leaders to the Red village to pledge support.

Now, the comrades couldn’t lose face or have the issue hijacked by backing out of the commitment. So they did one better—got Bina to go in and physically occupy Chandran’s home.

With the party breathing down on them and Bina in their home, Chandran’s parents fled the village. His father, a card-holding party worker, was promptly expelled. The party then declared that the girl will stay there until the NRI flew back and married her to honour the five-year-old MoU. ‘‘It’s a party decision and it can’t be questioned. He must marry Bina,’’ asserts K K Dineshan, the CPM’s local committee secretary.

The party often plays the moral police if cupid dares to strike in Red villages. ‘‘We have summoned the families and got married at least half a dozen couples having affairs in these parts,’’ said a party worker in Kayakkodi panchayat. The party villages—there are scores of them—are mostly spread over Kozhikode and Kannur districts.

The control is sustained by many ways. Most of the cooperative banks and societies are controlled by the party, and are still the major source of credit in many of these villages. Another is the police: Whenever the Left front assumes power in Kerala after every Congress government, the local party offices invariably get into their act. They decide who should be made the accused in criminal cases, and the police are handed the list.

Above Article was Published in The Indian Express Dated on March 23rd 2005

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