If Agali’s Madhu were to return, all you could do was to fall at his feet to beg for forgiveness. You would not dare to look him in the eyes.
Madhu was stunted by years of poverty, misery and humiliation. The shabby clothes he wore could not hide his emaciation. His face bore all the signs of the tortures offered by the hellhole he lived. He was just one among the many miserable existences in Attappadi and Wayanad.
Still a group of people thought it just to beat him to death. Little did they realize that they were fattened by the same system that deprived the indigenous inhabitants of everything. Madhu’s tormentors did not just materialize from some dark corner of the world. They are the standard bearers of Kerala’s great cultural legacy.
That mob might have contained educated persons and even political activists. They are the representatives of an average Malayali who is waiting for a chance to unleash death by forming into a mob. Even if you were not physically present among the mob which lynched the hapless tribesman, you cannot wash your hands of his blood. The real criminal is Kerala’s changed psyche. Madhu’s death was only the latest in a chain of similar incidents.
A migrant laborer was beaten to death by a mob recently because someone suspected him of abducting children. He had come to Kerala ready to do any work for whatever pittance offered to him and ready to eat whatever was put on his plate. He had a mouthful of hard-earned rice when the mob pranced on him.
The thrill experienced by the attackers when they kicked around a starving man is worth recording for posterity.
We also witnessed a group of women taking their turns to beat up a mentally challenged woman. Nothing surprises us in Kerala nowadays.
The lynching of a youngster in the Perumbavoor bus stand is also fresh in memory. Raghu was accused of being a pickpocket. Even unborn children are not spared by angry mobs.
Mute spectators by night, mob by day
Where do these mobs draw their motivation from?
When a law student in Perumbavoor screamed her lungs out for help, no one came to fight off the rapist. As the train passenger who looked the other way when a fellow traveler was being molested, or as an eyewitness who refused to testify against a torturer, you are an accomplice.
Just a week ago, activists of a prominent party hacked to death a helpless youngster. There could be more of such atrocities that remain unknown
We always recorded our shock at the lynching of Dalits and the poor in faraway places such as Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. We expressed impotent rage against the perpetrators. Even then, people were starving to death in Attappadi and Wayanad.
While the middle class in Kerala fattened itself (They ate excessively, indulged in luxury, did little work and found no time to perform yoga!), the poor became more impoverished. The poor in Kerala lead a more miserable life than the poor who lived 50 years ago.
We needed emaciated bodies to contrast our well-fed bodies with. We needed uncivilized groups to define our culture. We needed miseries to heighten our happiness. We needed the 'other' to humiliate and torture.
The 'other' includes indigenous people, migrant laborers, mentally challenged and transgenders. We ruthlessly beat them into submission.
When thieves cry foul
Madhu was accused of stealing food. That was the sole reason for condemning him to summary execution. Some of the executioners happily rallied behind people who stole crores of rupees and took pride in their association.
Claiming morsels of food is never theft, especially in a land where people get away with shocking crimes. There is hardly anyone in this country who is not tainted by corruption. If we go on administering justice by the same scales used for Madhu, we would be left without half of our population.
Madhu was no thief. He was the victim of a society who systematically robbed him of everything.
Violence is looking for a vent in Kerala. Any party or outfit which assured that vent is sure to find many followers.
We are bombarded with violence and calls for violence. Television sops are training sessions for women criminals. Movies try to excel in portraying violence. Social media is forever cheering violent behavior. Political parties let loose criminal elements by assuring them of bail and protection.
The poet nailed it when he wrote that life was a wail flitting between suicide and murder.
(The author is a renowned poet, literary and cultural critic.)