Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ayyappa Panicker passed away

Dr. Ayyappa Panicker(1930-2006) was one of those rare breed of people you would call vocational intellectuals, the ones that you are aware of their appearances in magazines, award committees and the stellar academic achievements but never identified with their work or persona like say some one like O.V.Viajayan or a Borker or Khandekar.

Though regarded a prominent poet attributed with architecting modern Malayalam poetry, he is a ubiquitous man of letters who was active in a lot of movements from behind. He completed B.A Honors from University college, Trivandrum, received Ph.D from Indiana University, for his dissertation on Robert Lowell's poetry. In 1980, he was appointed Professor in the Institute of English and Head of the Department and continued to hold the post till his retirement. The University Grants Commission made him National Lecturer in 1984-85 and he gave lectures in the universities of Gorakhpur, Kolhapur, Karnataka and Bangalore. He was a visiting Professor at Jadavpur University, Calcutta.

"In 1981-82 he did Postdoctoral Research in Yale University (five months) and Harvard University (four months). During this time he visited around 25 Universities in the U.S and became acquainted with internationally renowned poets like James Dickey, John Hollander, Czeslaw Milosz and Allen Ginsberg as well as scholars like Cleanth Brooks, Harold Bloom, Charles Feidelson,Jr., Frederic Jameson and others. "

I quoted this from his website and apparently he was an insider and was regarded as the point man for Indian culture and specifically malayalam literature and art with international reputation. Inevitably he traveled all over the world and attended countless seminars and represnted Indian Literature and Culture. He was also a major endorser of writers and specialised in writing "forwards" for many established writers and sometimes beginners too. No wonder he used to remind us a lot of Harold Bloom.

His contributions in criticism are regarded higly in the fields of comparative literature, especially for poetry in malayalam with English and other Indian languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Hindi, Telugu and Bengali. He was also a lifelong celebrity as an English and Linguistics teacher. He effortlessly went along with the essentially leftist intelligentsia in Delhi and Kerala. In short he lived a worthy life that deserved a lot of official obituaries and a little bit of personal ones too from an obscure outsider like me :) May his soul rest in peace and glory.

His website
Some of his poems

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Custodial deaths and Third world citizens

Sushil Kumar, a telephone operator was arrested by Police in Delhi and two days later he was declared dead. The post-mortem report said that the shock of the beating had triggered a heart attack leading to his death. Police said he had died of “natural causes''. The same month Sukhvinder, who had been accused of sheltering alleged ISI agents, died in police custody.

Mr. Udayakumar, a 28-year-old man, arrested was arrested from a park in Kerala along with his companion on grounds of suspicious circumstances, died due to severe internal injuries when he was severely beaten by policemen.

Nagender, was a driver. He was an accused in a fatal motor accident case. A non-bail able warrant was issued when he did not turn up in court. When he was produced before the criminal court, he escaped from the police custody. He was immediately apprehended and remanded to judicial custody, where he died under suspicious circumstance.

Kamal Sharma was a guard of a cement godown in Jangal Basti at Fansideoa, Darjeeling District, West Bengal. On 6 February 2004, the owner of the cement godown, Mr. Dilip Das, lodged a complaint to Fansideoa Police Station that Rs. 92,000 was stolen from his residence. The police arrested Kamal Sharma as a suspect without any reliable evidence on 6 February 2004 and took him to the police station. No stolen money was found in Kamal Sharma's possession. He was later found dead in custody.

We tend to display a lot of apathy for overzealous human rights activists. But take a look at the news mentioned above and there are countless such deathly rituals in progress in police stations around the country. Dates and names don’t matter. Google for “custodial death” and you will find the distinguished position of India in this genre.

The spectacle of dehumanization at work in police stations around the country is no longer news nor does it elicit shock or anger from us. The layman in you is probably relieved that it was somebody else. You could be walking in a park or waiting for the commuter train or an unlikely suspect in a robbery case. As long as you are on your own without political clout or money, you run the risk of being snapped up from your life and the world could suddenly turn upside down for you. Or you could even be a student who mocked the home minister of a state in political overtones ended up in torture cells and vanished without a trace. Remember the notorious Rajan case during “Emergency” in Kerala?

Governments have changed, political faces have changed and the media are on an overdrive to cover anything sensational. Tragically the slaughter-culture in police thana has never been curtailed and is on an alarming rise. The victims of custodial deaths are powerless citizens of the country. Mere impression of your status as the “insignificant voter”, in the mind of a cop throws you in mortal fear. There must any number of pathologically violent cops in India who need to be identified and weeded out.

The euphemistic “rates” for police and abuse of political influence have created a widening gap between “law abiding” citizens and the poor underprivileged. Torture is the natural means of investigation when it comes to the latter category. The delays in courts, negligence of higher ranking officials to inspect illegal and prolonged custody of suspects, general lack of awareness of law among the common people are exploited to the core.

The stigma of poverty follows everywhere. The simple exercise of power by a policeman over common citizens can lead up to third degree torture and death with no access to redress grievances. Sometimes they are just expedient pawns of a larger conspiracy to hide the real but influential culprits. A little bribe is all it takes to deprive a poor man of his life.

There are several reasons that I can think of:

  • Lack of relevant training and willingness to enforce code of conduct from authorities.
  • Economic status of the country and individual. The statistics of custodial deaths are staggering for third world countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • A subculture of the community where it is OK to use violence as a means for perceived justice.
  • Ignorance of legal procedures among common people and to some extent among lower order policemen.
  • Intervention of political interests and politicization of police force.
  • Ill-planned work schedule and lack of resources for lower order police force where they are forced to be on job for way more than 8 hours everyday.
  • Terrorism laws being misused to act on poor minority (read Muslim) suspects with impunity.
  • Lack of communication and relationship between police force and neighborhood watch (if any) groups.
  • Traditional police force unable to cope with changing lifestyle and rapid development of suburban and urban areas.

The biggest motivation behind all these killings is a belief that the custodial deaths could never punish the perpetrator. Until this notion changes, there will be custodial deaths. The irony is that if you take away the uniform, the perpetrators would look exactly the same as the victim – faceless, apologetic and limp.