Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia




I. Overview.. 1

II. Human rights violations by law enforcement personnel. 1

i. Arbitrary deprivation of the right to life. 1

ii. Arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. 1

III. Atrocities against indigenous peoples. 2

IV. Farmers’ death. 2

I. Overview

Ruled by the Congress Party, Kerala despite having no internal armed conflict continues to witness serious human rights violations by the law enforcement personnel. The use of electric shock batons against students of Pariyaram Medical College campus during a lathi-charge on 18 October 2004 indicates the use of illegal and disproportionate force. The police have also been responsible for custodial death, arbitrary arrest, detention and torture.

Land alienation of the Adivasis, indigenous peoples is a serious problem. There have also been reports of sexual exploitation of tribal girls and killing of children by unwed tribal mothers.

Extreme poverty and burden of debt forced many farmers to commit suicide by consuming pesticides. As many as 17 farmers committed suicide in March and April 2004 with 11 farmers in Wayanad district, 2 in Kannur district, and one each in Kasargod, Palakkad, Kottayam and Idukki districts.

The weak functioning of the State Human Rights Commission remained a serious concern. On 11 March 2004, the Kerala High Court temporarily stayed the functioning of the State Human Rights Commission until a full Commission was constituted as provided under Section 21 of the Human Rights Protection Act of 1993. The court held that the appointment of the two members without constituting a five-member full Commission was not in accordance with law. [1]

II. Human rights violations by law enforcement personnel

i. Arbitrary deprivation of the right to life

The law enforcement personnel continued to be responsible for serious human rights violations including arbitrary deprivation of the right to life. The custodial deaths have been consistently rising in Kerala. The National Human Rights Commission registered 20 custodial deaths in 1999-2000 in Kerala, 27 in 2000-2001, 37 in 2001-2002 and 54 in 2002-2003. [2]

On 16 May 2004, A.P. Sajeev of Kodannur NSS Nagar, Thrissur, died in police custody after being taken into custody by a traffic police team along with his pillion rider, V.J. Manoj of Kodannur, on charges of drunken driving from Kizhakkumpattukara in the city.  Sajeev allegedly refused to accompany the police to the station for breath analysis but he was taken to the police station in the jeep of the Flying Squad. The police stated that he was taken to the Thrissur Medical College Hospital when he complained of chest pain, but died before reaching the hospital. Manoj alleged that the police had tortured Sajeev in the jeep. [3]

On 12 October 2004, a 30-year-old man, Shibu, a driver reportedly died in the police custody of the Thrissur Town West Police Station in Kerala. Shibu was found dead in the toilet of the police station after he along with two other men was arrested and detained at the Thrissur Town West Police Station on the charges of possessing cannabis on 11 October 2004. The police claimed to have seized 3 kilograms of cannabis at the time of the arrest. The family members of the deceased, however, alleged that Shibu had no criminal record and had been in a good condition at the time of his arrest. They alleged that he had died due to brutal torture while the police claimed that the victim had committed suicide out of shame. The victim’s family alleged that they saw the victim’s body having cuts and bruises, indicating that he had been brutally tortured prior to his death. There were allegedly blood clots on many parts of his body and cuts and bruises on his head, ear, chest and abdomen. The post-mortem was reportedly carried out by a police surgeon. [4]

ii. Arbitrary arrest, detention and torture

The Kerala Police resorted to torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment. The police also used electric shock batons during lathi charge.

Three youth, two of them identified as Iqbal and Bava, were allegedly illegally detained and assaulted by the police at the Bantwal police station in Mangalore district on 11 and 12 January 2004. Bantwal police had registered a case against three on a complaint from Rathnakar Shetty, the main accused in the murder of Isubu, a petty trader at Kalladka. But all the youth obtained anticipatory bail, under which they needed to present themselves at the station every Sunday. The police allegedly detained them for nearly five hours on 11 January 2004 without obtaining their signatures and directed them to come back the next day. On 12 January 2004 the youth were allegedly assaulted at the police station for 12 hours. Bava had to be operated upon in a private hospital. The PUCL Mangalore district unit claimed that Iqbal was not even an accused. [5]  

On 15 January 2004, Mohammed Siddique, a laboratory technician in Malappuram, was allegedly picked up by the Malappuram police from his house in connection with his marriage with Femina, daughter of a wealthy businessman, without the consent of her family members in December 2003. He was kept in illegal detention till 21 January 2004 and was tortured during his detention. He allegedly suffered from serious internal injuries, which were certified by a doctor. The police told him that he would be released only after the marriage was cancelled and he signed some blank papers. On 15 January 2004, Mohammed’s mother lodged a complaint before the District Collector as well as the Superintendent of Police, but no action was initiated. The next day i.e. on 16 January 2004, she filed a write petition (Cr No.16 of 2004) before the High Court of Kerala to have her son produced in court as the police had earlier denied the arrest. The police finally produced the victim before the court on 21 January 2004 and the court ordered him to be released after executing a bond worth Rs. 25,000/- and with a condition not to leave the State without sanction from the court. The court directed the Manjeri District Sessions judge to conduct an inquiry into the alleged torture of the victim by the Malappuram police during detention. [6]

On 18 October 2004, police allegedly used electric shock batons during lathi charge on protesting student activists who were waving black flags at a visiting minister at the Pariyaram Medical College campus, Kannur. Some of the demonstrators were stripped of their dhotis and the electric shock batons were used at sensitive parts. [7]

Impunity is one of the root causes of continued violations by the State Police. On 4 February 2004, the Kerala Lok Ayukta recommended to Director General of Police to order a departmental enquiry into the actions of the head constable Sugathan of Ettumanoor Police Station, Kottayam for torturing one P.K. Joy, a small-scale merchant on 26 April 2003. But no action was taken. With no other option, Joy had to file a petition before the Kerala High Court on 3 May 2004. [8]

III. Atrocities against indigenous peoples

While Kerala did not witness any major violent incident like the killings at Muthanga on February 2003, the Adivasis, indigenous and tribal peoples, continued to be exploited by “non-tribals” who have been gradually usurping their lands.

On 18 October 2004, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed three charge sheets against 184 persons after its investigation into the police's violent repression of landless adivasis' occupation of land in the Muthanga Wildlife Reserve on 19 February 2005.  The Adivasis were protesting against the government's failure to comply with an agreement made to provide 53,000 landless Adivasi families with up to 5 acres of land and include these areas under the Vth Schedule of the Constitution. Under the first charge sheet, 21 persons have been charged with murder. The second charge-sheet pertained to trespassing in the reserve. The third is regarding the forest officials' detention when they and others were caught red-handed setting fire to the forests so that the blame could be put on the agitating adivasis and this could then be used as a pretext to forcibly evict them.

The CBI, however, absolved the police, forest officials and the mafia of any crime or human rights violations. The CBI has stated that the agitation was initially peaceful. Later, erecting check-points and not allowing forest officials entry into the forest placed impediments on the normal functioning of forest officials. The CBI stated that the use of force by the police was after all legal formalities had been observed. C.K Janu, the adivasi leader, has approached the Kerala High Court to appoint a special investigative team to unearth the truth. [9]

The government of Kerala however has taken little measures to provide the lands to the Adivasis as land alienation continues.Over 500 hectares of tribal land spreading across 28 tribal settlements in the Thiruvananthapuram forest territorial division have been reportedly “alienated”. [10]

In 1998, sixty-one Kani families in the Vettikkavu settlement in the Peringamala area of Thiruvananthapuram forest territorial division were given assistance under a scheme of the Rubber Board to grow rubber trees in their landholdings. When the rubber trees became ripe for tapping, non-tribals gradually began to usurp the lands of the tribals in exchange for a meager sum of money. The land alienation at the Theviyarkunnu settlement in the Chooliyamala area of the territorial division is reportedly so complete that not a single tribal family is found there now. A stretch of 118 hectares of tribal land in this settlement is entirely with wealthy non-tribals. [11]

There have also been reports of sexual exploitation of the tribal women. According to official estimates, there are about 300 unwed mothers in Wayanad district. For the victims, the raising of these children has not only been a challenge but also a psychological trauma. Girls who become pregnant before marriage are ex-communicated. Though the Kerala Women’s Commission’s initiative by enforcing DNA tests has reportedly checked the widespread sexual exploitation of the tribal women to some extent, the victims continued to suffer in silence. A Malayalam weekly magazine claimed that unwed tribal mothers in remote Tirunelli forests in Wayanad district had been killing their children “frequently”. [12]

IV. Farmers’ death

Extreme poverty and burden of debt forced many farmers to commit suicide by consuming pesticides.

On 3 April 2004, three farmers reportedly committed suicide. One of them was identified as Mathew Thomas, who consumed pesticide in front of the public at Mundakkayam town in Kottayam district. The others reportedly took the extreme step due to harassment by the goondas, anti-social elements, employed by private banks. [13]

At least 17 farmers committed suicide due to crop loss in drought in April and May 2004. The farmers include 11 from Wayanad district, 2 from Kannur district, and one each in Kasargod, Palakkad, Kottayam and Idukki districts. The state government reportedly paid Rs 50,000 each to the families of 11 farmers who died in Wayanad district. [14] Following the death of three more farmers on 3 April 2004, the state government reportedly declared a six-month moratorium on farm loans, and doubled the relief package for drought-hit farmers depending on their crop loss. [15] On 31 May 2004, National Human Rights Commission issued a suo motu notice to the state government. [16]

[1] . Kerala HC stays functioning of SHRC, The Central Chronicle, 12 March 2004

[2] . Please refer to the NHRC Annual Reports for respective years.

[3] . Custodial death: SI, four constables suspended, The Hindu, 18 May 2004

[4] .

[5] . Activists allege police atrocity at Bantwal, The Hindu, 21 January 2004

[6] .

[7] .

[8] .

[9] . Indigenous World 2005, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen

[10] . Tribal land alienation rampant, The Hindu, 19 July 2004

[11] . Ibid

[12] . Tribal unwed mothers never kill their kids, The Deccan Herald, 12 June 2004

[13] . Kerala farmers’ suicide toll touches 17, The Deccan Herald, 5 April 2004

[14] . Ibid.

[15] . Ibid.

[16] . Kerala ryots suicides: NHRC seeks report, The Deccan Herald, 1 June 2004