This is the photo is of Rajan, son of Professor Eachara Varrier (also spelt Warrier), a final year student of Regional Engineering College, Kozhikode in 1976. People in Kerala mention him simply as Rajan, the boy who was “rolled” by Kerala Police until his testes burst. There were no eye witnesses apart from policemen to the tragic end of the promising young man – perhaps a few among them had later boasted how they ‘rolled’ out the young life.
Now ‘rolling’ is a special form of torture invented in self-styled God’s Own Country. The victim is tied on his back to a hard wooden bench, and a perfectly cylindrical and some five-foot long iron pestle is placed on his thighs. A heavy policeman sits on each end of the pestle, side-saddle, as if on a see-saw, and rolls the pestle from the victim’s hip to knees. Not for the purpose of interrogation to elicit any information, only for the pleasure of inflicting maximum agony. While the victim screams, the policemen kick the ground to roll the pestle and discuss the weather and whisper the unique raping style of their immediate superior.
As was the custom, Rajan’s interrogation was to take place after the rolling protocol. IGP Jayaram Padikkal who till then sat on a chair and watched the fun was to poke into the fractured and swollen thighs with a sharp tool and ask : “Who stole a rifle from Kakkayam Police station?”
In all probability, Rajan couldn’t plead, pitifully, “Please, Sir, i do not know, I wasn’t there,” as the other youngsters did.. He was already dead.
There are many men, now in their late fifties or early sixties, to prove that was what happened. Their scarred thighs bear witness.
The pompously ranked deputy inspector general of police who ordered and oversaw the rolling operation is said to have been trained in Scotland Yard. When you finish reading this You would agree that the officers of NYPD and even those in Guantanamo Bay need the special training.
It happened during the infamous Emergency, a notoriously illegal and Banana-Republic-type strategy employed by Indira Gandhi to perpetuate her rule in the Country after a High court found her guilty of corruption, overturned her election and disqualified her from all elected posts, including that of the Prime Minister of democratic India.
Why was Rajan picked up? Policemen in Kerala, as all over the rest of the Country, were getting hold of anyone who criticised emergency or was suspected of murmuring against it, and making them disappear for good. The previous night, a police station had been attacked by young communist rebels called Naxalites. Rajan was not a Naxalite and was not among those who committed the act, but since his father Prof. Varrier was known to have Communist leanings he became a natural suspect. Even more probably, K. karunakaran, the then Home Minister and a hardened devotee of Indira Gandhi and the presiding god of Guruvayoor temple in equal measure, had named him when the investigating officer, Deputy Inspector General of Police Jayaram Padikkal was looking for scapegoats. Kerala Police, wary of the difficulties in searching out real culprits of a crime, are always on the lookout for scapegoats. If you do not believe that, click to read this story of a planted murder weapon
There always existed gross enmity between Kerala’s Congress-party men and Communists. In Kerala’s curious practice of democracy they unseated each other in alternate elections. Karunakaran and Varrier were from the same town, Trichur. That Professor Varrier was not an active communist did not matter, but he had once saved the life of Mr. Achutha Menon, a communist leader. During the ongoing emergency, Congress man Karunakaran was a subordinate Home Minister and by a twist of coalition politics, Communist Achutha Menon was the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister feared his Home Minister, the Home minister hated his Chief Minister, much as he hated all Communists. All through emergency, Karunakaran and his handyman in police, Deputy General of Police Jayaram Padikkal, ran the government with iron hands while the Chief Minister, the once famously brave Communist C. Achutha Menon remained a frightened bystander. Perhaps the memory of the treatment he had been meted out as a revolutionary under Congress governments during the early days of Congress rule had rankled him.
“I will do everything possible, you know our relationship,” Karunakaran had assured Varrier when the latter approached him with folded hands for help in finding his son. The relationship was attributed to the fact Karunakaran was of the Marar caste closely related to Varrier caste. and both were from the same town. In India, caste affinity is supposed to mean close relationship but also, if you will, fraternal animosity. Karunakaran was lying; he already knew that Rajan was dead. In public meetings, Karunakaran claimed that Rajan was under police custody for a serious crime.
An exasperated Eachara Varrier filed a habeas corpus in Kerala High Court, demanding that his son who was supposed to have been in custody, be produced before the court. In the case, the High Court had to deal with patently false witnesses, unreliable and vague written statements from Government Respondents and utter falsehood from the state police– the arm of the judiciary. The Inspector General of Police stated on affidavit that Rajan was not taken on custody at all, that relying on information received from other students that ‘petitioner’s son Rajan was affording facilities and shelter to some of the extremists, police was looking for him. But by the time that information was received the police could not locate him as, by that time he had made himself scarce”.
Actually, in the morning when Rajan was forced into police jeep, several students had been eye witnesses to it. Furthermore, the Home Minister, under whom the Police department functions, had announced in election meetings that Rajan was in detention because he was involved in a murder case. In India, eye witnesses do not come forward to give evidence for fear of harassment If they do give evidence, they turn hostile under duress or enticement -usually both – during the inevitable appeal.
In its order, the bench consisting of two judges thus noted:
“A heart broken father, with his wife mentally deranged, with his home made desolate after the disappearance of his only son, with his two daughters grief stricken after this tragedy, has, after approaching the high dignitaries of the State and the Centre taken refuge in this Court as a last resort requesting this Court to exercise its sacred duty to cause the production of his son who disappeared from 1.3.1976.”
The helpless Justice S. Poti concluded his order with much sympathy towards the petitioner Varrier and rebuke to the Respondents, concluded his order with a ‘fervent hope and little else :
“It is unfortunate that the respondents have not viewed the matter with the sense of responsibility expected of them at least when their attention was drawn to the serious situation. We once again reiterate that such responsibility cannot be disowned as if it is some stray act of some police officers somewhere. We do fervently hope that the guilty would meet with punishment though it is not our province to impose any.”
Justice Khalid, Poti’s brother judge, gave a concurring, and equally toothless order.
The learned judges’ hopes did not materialise. Although Karunakaran had to resign his Home Minister’s job under public pressure after the emergency was lifted, he later became chief minister twice and lived long enough to make a bogus claim that the party men had offered him Prime Minister’s chair after Indira Gandhi’s death. Scotland Yard-trained .Jayaram Padikkal, notorious for his cruel ways, was convicted, but later acquitted by the appeal court for want of evidence. They couldn’t find the body of Rajan.
Rajan’s mother lived a mental wreck for 24 years, wondering why her son hadn’t come home. She died, entrusting her husband with a plateful of rice on a customary plantain leaf – Rajan’s favourite lunch at home – to serve him as soon as he came home. His habeas corpus having resulted in a pious but futile order, Prof. Varrier persisted with more letters and appeals to any and all that mattered, became an active champion of human rights cause during his advanced years, losing hope, but never giving up, till he died a poor and broken man in April 2006. The poignant story of his futile struggle for justice was written in tears by himself in Malayalam : “Memories of a Father”. The translation by Neelam is available in print. I found a an e-version in this link
When told of Eachara Varrier’s death, Karunakaran asked : Who is Eachara Varrier? His son K. Muralidharan, whom he wanted to see elevated to the position of the chief minister, now roams in Kerala’s political wilderness, a living joke for television comedians and newspaper cartoonists.
Why do I bring up this old story now? A few hours ago I read in the e-version of Mathrubhoomi, Kerala’s popular newspaper, that the contract driver who drove the dead body of Rajan thirty-eight years ago has now come out with the revelation that Rajan’s tortured and mutilated body was first dumped in an ice chamber and later ground and fed to pigs in a government factory, ‘Meat Products of India’, Koothattukulam.
If you can’t produce the dead body of a victim, you can’t convict a man for murder. That’s the law. Jayaram Padikkal went on to become the Director General of Police in God’s Own Country.