Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Killing of Left Student Activist Underlines Need to Keep Religious Fundamentalism Out of Campuses

Subin Dennis |
The murder of SFI activist Abhimanyu brings to light how dangerous outfits like the Popular Front of India are, and the need for democratic sections to fight them with more seriousness.
Abhimanyu, SFI leader who was killed by Popular Front of India

Abhimanyu, SFI leader who was killed by Popular Front of India

The scenes at Maharajas College, Ernakulam (Kerala, India) on Monday were heart-breaking. The body of Abhimanyu, a second year B.Sc. student of the college, who was murdered by criminals belonging to the Popular Front of India (PFI), had been brought there for the public to pay respects. Amid the large crowd which gathered to catch a glimpse of the slain young man, his mother sat, wearing a green jacket. Her cry, "Naan petta makane..." (“The son I gave birth to…”) pierced the air every now and then. Abhimanyu's friends and comrades raised slogans in his memory:

"A martyr doesn't die! You will live through us,
Through the blood that flows in us."

There was hardly anybody watching who couldn't be shaken by the emotionally charged atmosphere.

The 20-year old boy, a member of the Idukki District Committee of the Students' Federation of India (SFI), was attacked by a gang of PFI members who barged into the hostel during the wee hours of Monday, 2 July 2018. Arjun and Vineeth, two other SFI activists, were also hospitalised with injuries sustained as a result of the attack. The condition of Arjun, whose liver was injured by the stab, continues to be critical at the time of writing this report.

Abhimanyu was the son of Manoharan and Poopathy, Tamil peasants from an Adivasi community in Vattavada in the Idukki district of Kerala. He was the youngest of their three children. His brother Parijith does farm work, while his sister Kausalya is working in a textile company, both having dropped out after Std. X due to financial difficulties. The family chose to send Abhimanyu, who was good with studies, to college. Living in a single-room house, they had to borrow money to meet the expenses for his education. Now their dreams lay shattered, crushed under the jackboots of PFI goons.

SFI leader Abhimanyu who was murdered by Popular Front of India

Abhimanyu's house at Vattavada, Idukki

The assault

The assault on the SFI activists was clearly a pre-meditated one. Abhimanyu was held in position by a PFI man from behind, while another person stabbed him. He died on the spot. Three PFI members have been arrested in the case. One of them is an office-bearer of the Campus Front of India (CFI, the student wing of the PFI) in CMS College, Kottayam.

The SFI had booked one of the walls in the college campus to write text welcoming freshers. But CFI activists wrote their slogans on the very same wall, to which SFI activists retaliated by writing “Vargeeya vaadam thulayatte” (“Death to communalism”) on top of the CFI’s text.

The response of the PFI/CFI was horrendous. The assault on SFI activists was carried out by a gang of about 20 PFI members. Out of them, one is a student of Maharajas College, and another, mentioned earlier, is from CMS College. The rest are all outsiders, PFI members trained in violence. As should be evident, this is an act of terrorism. Calling it an incident of “campus violence” or the outcome of campus politics (as the right-wing media has been claiming) is completely misplaced.

Abhimanyu, the SFI leader from Maharaja's College who was murdered by Popular Front of India

Wall writings in Maharajas College which CFI-PFI used as justification for the killing of SFI leader Abhimanyu. The text in red says: “Death to communalism”.

What is the Popular Front of India?

The Popular Front of India is an organisation which has gained notoriety for its politics of hatred and moral policing, for the single-mindedness with which it tries to spread communal venom in society, and for its willingness to employ terror tactics to achieve its aims.

This organisation was earlier known in Kerala as the National Development Front (NDF), and merged with like-minded organisations from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 2006 to form the Popular Front of India. Apart from the student wing CFI, it also has a political party affiliated to it, known as the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). All these are offsprings of the doctrine of Political Islam put forward by Syed Abul A'la Maududi who founded the Jamaat e-Islami, South Asia's largest Islamist fundamentalist organisation.

The Jamaat e-Islami – founded by Abul Ala Maududi – is the fountainhead of the forces which champion Islamism (or right-wing “Political Islam”) in the Indian subcontinent.

Maududi wanted to overthrow all man-made systems (democracy, socialism, whatever it be) and install an "Islamic state" on earth. As Javed Anand points out, he also served as an important inspiration for Islamist ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for whom violence was part of the acceptable means to achieve the objective. Following Qutb's hanging by a military court set up by Nasser, many of his followers fled to Saudi Arabia. There Qutbism fused with Wahhabism, and as Saudi became flush with petrodollars, it started pouring money into religious institutions all over the world to promote this intolerant ideology.

On the one hand, the objective conditions for the growth of Islamist fundamentalism were provided by imperialist wars that massacred millions and devastated several countries (and in the case of most parts of India, widespread discrimination, deprivation & witch-hunt of Muslims and orchestrated communal pogroms and riots). On the other hand, the subjective conditions were provided by Maududism-Qutbism-Wahhabism, primarily financed by Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the US.

The NDF itself was a successor to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which emerged from the stable of the Jamaat e-Islami.

The magazine Communalism Combat, edited by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, had reported way back in 1999 that the NDF was unleashing "a reign of Taliban-style terror on co-religionists, women especially" and that "they use strong-arm tactics, threaten and beat up their victims and try to enforce a Taliban-like social code". This is the same politics that they have been continuing to date.

The incident that catapulted the Popular Front of India to country-wide infamy, however, came in July 2010, when its goons cut off the hand of T.J.Joseph, a college lecturer, for setting a question paper which had a passage on 'padachon' (the creator). Not just secular organisations, but also the vast majority of Muslim organisations had vehemently condemned the incident at the time. These included the Indian Union Muslim League, the AP the AP and EK sects of Sunni Muslims, Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, Nadvathul Mujahideen, Muslim Educational Society, Jamiatul Ulama, Kerala Muslim Jamaat Federation, South Kerala Jamiatul Ulama, Samastha Kerala Sunni Student Federation and the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham.

For these Muslim organisations, the link between the PFI and the Maududist ideology peddled by the Jamaat e-Islami was clear. Thus on 31 July 2010, they issued an appeal to the people and resolved to fight against “fundamentalist and extremist outfits like the Popular Front of India and the Jamaat e-Islami”.

By this time (mid-2010), 16 comrades of the CPI(M) and its mass/class organisations had already lost their lives in attacks by PFI. The only communal outfit that had slaughtered even more cadres of the Left in Kerala had been, and continues to be, the RSS.

In the subsequent years, the PFI and its affiliated organisations have been trying to earn respectability, by allying with various identitarian groups and post-modernist intellectuals. They have been building up an ecosystem of people and institutions to nurture each other ideologically and organisationally.

In certain university campuses outside Kerala, some "ultra-left" organisations have also allied with the Campus Front of India and the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), the student wing of the Jamaat e-Islami. The Democratic Students Union (an outfit of "Maoist" sympathisers) in JNU, for instance, had justified the attack on TJ Joseph in 2010.

Most of these groups and intellectuals who are part of the identitarian / post-modernist / religious fundamentalist ecosystem have chosen to remain silent for now, while some Popular Front ideologues have even gone ahead and justified the gruesome murder of Abhimanyu.

The apologists of the PFI have claimed that the murder was a response to the SFI “not allowing other organisations to function in the campus”. The vacuity of this claim is evident in the fact that multiple student organisations have been contesting the elections in the college freely for many decades. Organisations such as the Kerala Students Union (KSU) – the students wing of the Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) – and the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) have been contesting elections against the SFI and winning seats. The KSU had very recently held a football competition in the campus on the occasion of World Cup Football 2018, and it was a team which included Abhimanyu that won it. It should be plain to see that this is not a campus with murderous animosity among students.

A total of 38 student activists have been killed in Kerala since 1971, out of which 33 have been from the SFI. The SFI martyrs were killed by KSU, RSS-ABVP, or Islamist outfits like PFI/CFI. There has never been a case of any student having been killed by SFI activists.

A danger less appreciated

Most people who would call themselves democratic-minded or progressive in India have no doubts about the danger posed by the Hindutva – the ideology of right-wing “Political Hinduism” – and by the organisations that seek to propagate it. These organisations, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have as their aim the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu State) in which non-Hindus would be second class citizens. In such a state, women and people belonging to “lower castes” would remain subjugated by those at the top of the patriarchal-Brahmanical order which would rule over the rest. To achieve their aims, the Hindutva forces are willing to employ all kinds of strategies and tactics, including fomenting communal riots, setting up educational institutions to propagate sectarian venom among students, and straight-forward terrorist violence.

These are fairly obvious and well-known to democratic sections in India. What is often not recognised is the danger of minority communalism, which acts as a complement to majority communalism. Many intellectuals, particularly those swayed by postmodernism, tend to be taken in by the propaganda of the Islamists, who portray themselves the champions of the “unity of the oppressed”. The reality, however, remains that majority communalism and minority communalism feed into each other, and in an objective sense, the Hindutva and Islamist forces are bound together in the “unity of the communal forces”.

Institutions and media outlets floated by the Islamist forces bolster their well-funded propaganda. But in spite of all these, they have failed to win mass support in Kerala. The number of Muslims who vote for the Left in Kerala is several times higher than the number who vote for outfits floated by Islamist forces. The students of Kerala too have kept them at an arm’s distance, resolute in the understanding that the intolerant worldview of these forces have no place in a democratic society. The CFI in Maharajas College, with reportedly just four members in the campus, chose an utterly sinister path to compensate for their lack of support among students.

Like so many other students from economically and socially deprived backgrounds, Abhimanyu too had gravitated towards the SFI. Like so many of them, he found in it, a new community to proudly belong to, the strength to make his voice heard, a fraternal feeling towards the toiling people of the world, and the dream of building a better society.

His comrades, inconsolable at his demise, found the spirit to valiantly assert:

"The slogans you raised – we would fulfil on this earth."

People raising slogans at Maharajas College, Ernakulam as the SFI flag is draped on the body of Abhimanyu.

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram