Price of Rice was His Life


As a Keralite, I often used to take pride in my culture and used to boast about how wonderful my State is and how sweet the lifestyle there is. No longer do I feel this pride.

The other day I was reading about how a tribal man named Madhu was lynched to death for ‘allegedly’ stealing some rice from a nearby shop. Even if those ‘allegations’ were true, who has the right to kill someone for stealing food? What is the point of speaking so much about the literacy rates and standards of living, if we cannot empathize with someone who is starving? Where are we headed?

For those who do not know who Madhu was, he was a member of one of the several ‘Adivasi Oorus’ or tribal villages in the Attappady region of Palakkad district of Kerala. Last Thursday afternoon, he was dragged out of a cave where he used to reside, and was stripped naked. Some of the attackers beat him up, while some others clicked selfies and recorded videos of the incident. The video clearly showed the culprits checking his bag and verbally abusing him. Madhu was then taken to the town square where he was further humiliated in front of a larger crowd. Later, he was taken into police custody. On his way to the police station, he vomited and showed symptoms of internal organ injury. Soon, he was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he later succumbed to death. The murder of a tribal man for allegedly stealing some rice to feed his hunger happened in a country where people can flee abroad after committing bank frauds with billions of taxpayers’ money. Apparently, we live in a society where wilful defaults have more dignity that hunger and poverty.

The incident portrays the tribal situation in several parts of the country, including states with relatively higher standards of living, like Kerala. The southern State, in fact, enjoys the highest rank on the Human Development Index (HDI) of all States in the country with a cumulative score of 0.72, which is far beyond the national average of 0.4. Though the State still has an infant secondary sector, economic well-being is a reality with a majority of the population living much above the poverty line. However, Kerala has been notorious for internal segregation; several instances of religious, caste-based, and cultural tensions have been witnessed in the recent past.

The most disheartening fact is that the tribal man was killed over accusations of stealing rice. How could that be fair and just, given the root cause and the way people responded to it. Yes, indeed it is a crime to steal something; at the same time, who gave authority to those sixteen ‘criminals’ to beat a man to death? Who gave them the power to take law and order in their hands? Above all, how inhuman is it to kill someone who committed the ‘crime of stealing food’ while the society is cold-minded about tax evaders and bank fraudsters? The culprits even went to the extent of recording the entire ‘event’ on their mobile phones and later posted it on various social media networks. Many shared those videos, before they were finally removed by the authorities.

This is not the first time that we have come across the news of such hooliganism. In fact, we have been listening to such news since the time of independence. Every now and then, scams have surfaced to the attention of the public and a clear majority of the culprits have evaded any punitive measures. Indeed, Indian society has become somewhat accomodative towards  such anomalies. New ways of societal segregation loom over India. Caste hierarchy is largely being replaced by class hierarchy, with the rich coming on the top strata and the poor occupying the bottom. This incident and several such in the recent past also narrate volumes about the law and order situation; people are taking public control into their hands, rather than waiting for the authorities to act. The situation is disheartening, to say the least.

200 years ago, when Swami Vivekananda visited Kerala and experienced the perverted, rigid social hierarchy in the State, he called it a ‘lunatic asylum’– Would his opinion be any different today?

– Contributed by Jiss Palelil

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