Kerala Police’s Social Media Surveillance Reveals A Double Standard As Hindu Extremists Go Unpunished

P P JASEEM
 
12 Apr 2022 17 min read  Share

Amid allegations that Kerala's Left government is pandering to fundamentalist Hindu groups, our investigation into social media surveillance by the Kerala police shows a double standard and considerable leeway for Hindu extremists calling for violence against Muslims.

A march by the Welfare Party of India to the Sreekandapuram Police station, in Kannur organised protesting the criminal case against its local leader Javid EP for sharing a post on Bulli Bai App in a whatsApp group.

Kozhikode: On 7 January 2022,  when the local media in the northern Kerala district of Kannur reported that the police had booked a man named Javid E P for instigating a riot. The Welfare Party of India's (WPI) local leader, Javid did not immediately realise that it was him.


Three days later, he received a phone call summoning him to the Sreekandapuram Police Station.


His crime?


Javid had shared a Facebook post criticising the obliviousness towards a press conference held by Kerala Muslim activists subjected to the “Bulli Bai” online auction, written by Malayalam film actress Lali P M, in a WhatsApp group named ‘Sreekandapuram Nagara Visheshangal’ (Sreekandapuram City Special), populated with local officials and politicians as well as members of the public.

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The first information report (FIR), registered at Sreekandapuram police station under section 153 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860—provocation with an intent to riot—said, “The accused has shared this post with a malicious intention to create riot and law and order issue in the locality.” A bailable offence, Javid was released in two hours of furnishing two bail bonds.


“There is nothing harmful against any community, a political group, or even the police,” Lali P M told Article 14. “I was criticising the media for not paying enough heed to the issue. The police action seems like an attempt to intimidate a particular community to silence them.”


Although the ruling parties in the state, including the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPI-M) and Communist Party of India (CPI), are nationally known for their position for secularism and against the right-wing movement in the country, there is growing criticism (here and here) that the ruling alliance of the Left in Kerala, led by CPI-M’s Pinarayi Vijayan, is pandering to Hindu right-wing forces and Hindu sentiments.


The criticism has even come from within the parties. Senior leaders like CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI national leader Annie Raja have alleged a nexus between police officials in Kerala and the Sangh Parivar, the rightwing ecosystem in India, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party in power at the Centre.


Kerala BJP state chief K Surendran has said that the police force would have RSS workers as it is a pan-Indian “patriotic popular movement”. K Sudhakaran, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President, told Article14, “It is true that the RSS has its faction in the police.”


A Pattern Of Acting Against Muslims


Following the Alappuzha twin-murders on 19 December 2021, involving one politician from the BJP and the other from the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the Popular Front of India (PFI), regarded an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, the state police chief Anil Kant had directed district police chiefs to book and arrest social media users spreading hate.


The PFI shared  a list with Article 14 on 19 January 2022 of 50 individuals, mostly their own activists,  who they say have been booked for their social media posts for criticising the right-wing ecosystem for targeting Muslims and alleged police inaction since the Alappuzha twin-murder incident.


According to a report in MediaOne TV in January 2022, FIRs have been registered against “90 persons who criticized RSS” across the state in this time period.


We looked at 20 FIRs following the police directive until 20 January 2022 , one month since the Alappuzha twin murder case, sourced from the accused, social activists and the Kerala police website, registered against 24 Muslims, including 20 PFI activists, for posts they had written or shared on social media platforms, alleging they are “provocative and harmful and can create a rift in society”.


Of the 20 cases, 19 were registered suo moto by the Kerala police. The complainant in the FIR registered against Kader Karipody, who has a verified YouTube channel ‘Public Kerala’ with over 1.2 million followers, was a local named Sanjeeva Pulikkoor.


In the same time period, we found at least six posts where right-wing activists were either maligning the Muslim community or threatening them with violence, but no police action was initiated.


Police Deny Allegations Of Bias


Raniya Zulekha, a student activist based in Kannur,  who filed a Right to Information (RTI) application on 29 January 2022  requesting the district police chief of Ernakulam rural for details of the cases registered against cyber hate crimes until 20 January 2022, following the Alppuzuha murder case, said she is still waiting to hear from police stations in the district.


The reply she got from Ernakulam rural cyber crime police station said that three cases were registered against eight people: two right-wing activists and six SDPI activists.


Manoj Abraham, Kerala additional director general of police, refuted allegations of bias, noting that such allegations came from both sides. He justified the surveillance of social media on the grounds that the “law and order situation is suffering due to communal posts”.


“We haven’t taken cases against anyone for merely criticising RSS,” he told Article 14. “Unless there is religiously provocative content in it.” 


Kamini Jaiswal,  a senior advocate practising at the Supreme Court, told Article 14 that the police cases showed how the Kerala police are following a double standard in policing that was visible all over the country.


“These case studies show the double standard of Kerala police,” she said. “What I see here is that Kerala is following this terrible trend which is prevailing in the country. Political parties are not living in the present. They live in the future reckoning how to win the next election. So they appease majoritarian sentiments,” she said.


S Muhammed Irshad, assistant professor at the Centre for Disasters and Development at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, who has been writing about citizenship, exclusion, and identity crisis of Muslims and the political economy of Dalits, said that majoritarian perspectives influence policing, minority movements were regarded as a national security threat, and Kerala's left and liberal political discourses were too weak to engage with the minority and Dalit identity politics.


“The right-wing politics increasingly impinging on police is a fact. So, the two approaches of the police are pretty normal and routine,” he said.


“The state and the police had supported the right-wing campaign on ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’ in Kerala. Everybody knows that these are false allegations; however, state and police are reluctant to stop such campaigns,” he said. “There is Islamophobia in Kerala.”


Criminal Cases Against Muslim Activists


In the eight districts of Kasargod, Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Wayanad, Palakkad, Idukki and Kollam, Muslims have been booked under sections 153 (provocation to intent to riot), 153A (promoting religious enmity) of the IPC and 120(o) (causing nuisance through any means of communication) of the Kerala Police Act.


In one case, 41-year-old Usman Hameed Kattappana, was jailed under section 153A for more than two weeks before he was granted bail by a sessions court for a Facebook post in which he was critical of the RSS after the intelligence unit of the Kerala police reported that the right-wing organisation was planning a riot.


The report said that the RSS planned demonstrations in 142 places across the state, which could trigger communal riots, following which the SDPI was planning similar demonstrations.


Kattappana, the former vice president of SDPI Idukki district, wrote: “According to the intelligence report, RSS tries to organise riots even in the places where people live peacefully in the state. Anyone could easily assume that the Muslims will be the target of such riots as these communal bigots have publicly raised anti-Muslim slogans that there will not be masjids to pray and azan to hear…” 


He wrote that in a scenario where the police do not act, “Muslims would not have any other option, but to decide that the peace should be for all if it prevails there. Otherwise there is no peace at all”.


The FIR, registered at the Kattappana police station, said that his Facebook post is “provocative and harmful and can create a rift in society.”

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‘Left Govt Playing Role Of Hindu Right Wing’


Analysing the post, Haris Beeran, an advocate on record at the Supreme Court of India, and a member of the Kerala-based political party, Indian Union Muslim League, questioned the police action in this case based on Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs State of Andhra Pradesh (1997), in which the apex court mandated the intention to commit the offense—promoting disharmony or feelings of enmity between different religious, racial, language of regional groups or caste or communities—is necessary for Section 153 A.


“It is clear that the accused has not called for any riot or violence against any sect or community, but has only warned about the probability of a riot citing the intelligence report,” said Beeran. “He has expressed the sense of insecurity that Muslims face due to the government’s heedless approach. The accused has also posted screenshots of media reports on the intelligence report.”


Of the 20 FIRs, three were for posts critical of the hate speech given by Valsan Thillankeri, the Kerala president of Hindu Aikya Vedi, a Hindu nationalist movement, on 18 December 2021, where he said, “Thousands of Pillas (referring to the historical Hindu figure of Vaikam Pathnabha Pilla) will wage war with swords to eradicate the jihadis.”


On 7 Jan 2022, Iritty police in Kannur district registered a suo moto case under section 153 against Fayas Punnad, an SDPI activist because of his Facebook post that said Thillankeri had a role in several murder cases and he instigated young minds to carry swords.


The FIR said, “the accused posted provocative messages on Facebook”.


Binoy, circle inspector Iritty police station, said he could not speak on the case as it was sub judice.


Irshad Morayur, an SDPI local leader in Malappuram, was also booked under section 153 of IPC for criticising the investigation of the Kerala police Alappuzha twin-murder case, in Facebook post dated 22 December 2021, claiming they were not pursuing who killed KS Shan, the politician from SDPI, but were arresting SDPI activists in connection with the murder of Ranjit Sreenivasan, the politician from BJP.


Pramod, circle inspector of Kondotty police station, said, “We have considered it a fit case to be registered. We have also filed a chargesheet in the case.”


Sajeer Wayanad, a 41-year-old PFI activist was booked under section 153 A, for sharing a video of another Thillankeri speech that he made on 5 January 2022 in Kannur on his Facebook page that was edited in a way that shows Thillankeri confessing that he was responsible for hate crimes committed against Muslims that took place in the state, which he claims to have received as a WhatsApp forward.


“It was a well thought out decision. It could create enmity between different communities,” said O N Lakshmanan, sub inspector, Panamaram police station in Wayanad.


NP Chekkuty, a veteran journalist and a former Editor-in-Chief of Thejas, a newspaper linked with the PFI, which now only exists online, said the Left government in Kerala “is playing the role of the right-wing.”


“There is a reason behind why the BJP could not politically make inroads in Kerala politics.”   (Of the 140 seats in the Kerala Assembly Election in April 2021, the BJP did not win a single one).


Different Rules Apply?


On 5 January 2022,  Valsan Thillankeri, the Kerala president of Hindu Aikya Vedi, made a speech at a protest march at Kannur in which he said the “PFI continued to attack us, kill our activists. But now we are publicly announcing that we are ready to accept your challenge. We are ready to treat you the way you treat us…  If the government cannot control them, the nationalist movement has the strength to control them the way PFI has to be controlled.”


Following public outrage, an FIR was registered by the Kannur town police for provocative speech and slogans against Thillankeri and 200 people who participated in the march.


However, no FIR was registered against Thillankeri for the hate speech he made on 18 December 2021 in  Alappuzha at a public conference by Hindu Aikya Vedi, where he said that “Hindus will wage war with swords to eradicate the Jihadis.” It was also live streamed on a Facebook page called ‘Vallatholinte Kaavipada’.


“We didn’t register the case against the said speech or the live streaming of it, as we have not received any complaint,” Rejiraj, sub inspector Alappuzha South police station, said.


The Case Of Pratheesh Vishwanath


Pratheesh Vishwanath, founder of Hindu Seva Kendram, in a live video telecast on 19 December 2021,  hours after the twin murder in Alappuzha, Kerala, said,  “If police do not do its job, we will fight Islamic terrorism at any cost till we defeat them.”


While talking about self-defence of Hindus in the video titled ‘why PFI is dangerous to the human kind’ that got more than 3,000 likes and comments and 83,000 views, Vishwanath said:  “You can have love, non-violence, and everything, but like Myanmar (extremist Buddhist nationalist) leader Ashin Wirathu said we cannot sleep with stray dogs. That is a human feeling.”


He said, “We cannot be the scapegoats of the attacks of Islamic Jihadi dogs. If police machinery fails to protect the nation from terrorists, we have to defend ourselves, be vigilant. We also have to seclude and boycott them.”


Two days later, in a Facebook post on 21 December, Vishwanath said: “We could protect this society, culture, and the nation for the last thousand years by sacrificing more lives than the population of terrorists in this country and by taking a lot more lives of terrorists than we have sacrificed. We will ignite this heritage of zeal. We will ensure the failure of the Islamic jihadi terrorism at any cost.”


On 25 December, Vishwanath while commenting on his Facebook post on Kizhakkambalam violence in which many policemen were attacked and a police jeep set ablaze by the migrant workers, said, “The perpetrators seem to be the terrorists from Bangladesh.


Today they attacked the police and tomorrow it will be the members of the public here. We have to be cautious, particularly when Islamic jihadi organizations are making inroads in Kerala.”  


Two days later, the police investigation revealed that clashes stemmed from a dispute about a Christmas Carol music team and had nothing to do with Muslims, but the post still exists without any legal action.


No FIR has been registered against Vishwanath for his posts on 19 December,  21 December and 26 December.


The RTI  filed by Raniya Zulekha, which asked for details of the cases registered against cyber hate crimes until 20 January 2022, showed that that Viswanathan’s online posts after the twin-murder in Alappuzha on 19 December and the cyber-patrolling order have not attracted any case.


The RTI showed that an FIR was registered against Viswanathan on 6 January 2022 for a “provocative” audio he posted on Facebook  on 6 October 2021,  two and half months before the Alappuzha twin-murder and the cyber-patrolling order that followed on 19 December 2021. 


K. Kartik, superintendent of police for Ernakulam rural, declined to comment on why no FIRs were registered against Viswanathan’s recent post.


We also contacted the local police in Aranmula, the native place of Viswanath, where Rajeev, a sub inspector in Aranmula police station, said they have not registered any case against Vishwanath for his recent Facebook posts because they have not received any complaint against him.


Confirming that no case has been registered against him for the speeches he made after the Alappuzha twin-murder incident, Viswanath defended himself by saying that he was “within the limit of legality”.  “I was mentioning democratic and moral way of defending Islamic terrorism,” he told Article 14.


In November 2019, after  Viswanathan posted, “Today is the real Diwali day for us,” following the Ayodhya verdict in favour of the Hindu parties, advocate Ameen Hassan based in Manjeri in Malappuram district had filed a complaint against him to Loknath Behera, then state police chief and the chief minister.


“I had only received an acknowledgement mail of my complaint. The Kerala police didn’t do anything further. They didn’t even register a case against him. It shows how trivially they treat the complaints against Sangh Parivar activists,” said Ameen.


‘Kerala Police Under The Left Rule More Disappointing’


In addition to disparaging posts about “love jihad,” a baseless conspiracy theory that says Muslim men are marrying Hindu women to spread Islam, and halal food, Vishwanathan in 2018  posted an image of knives in the shape of tridents, calling for violence.  “Rashtriya Bajrangdal will distribute weapons within a thousand days to one lakh Hindu youths who are ready to come out to protect Hindu pride,” he said.


When questioned by the the media on why Viswanathan has not been arrested for his hateful posts, the police have said things like he is  not in Kerala, undetectable, or they are waiting for a response from Facebook.


While no FIR was registered against Vishwanath’s “Diwali” post  following the Ayodhya verdict, the Marunadan Malayali, a local media reported that CPI(M) party MLA M Swaraj was booked for his Facebook post on the verdict, saying, “Oh, innocent people, have you expected a different verdict in contemporary India?”


On 26 November 2019, Vishwanath allegedly attacked Bindu Ammini — the first woman of a menstruating age to enter Sabarimala Temple in November 2019 — with chilli-powder.  He was granted anticipatory bail by the Kerala High Court on 5 March 2021.


Ammini, a lecturer at the Kozhikode Government Law College, who has survived physical attacks and a vicious social media campaign orchestrated by the rightwing ecosystem, told Article 14 that the police have not gone beyond “investigation” in a single case.


“Police are favouring the culprits in all these cases. They were adding bailable offences even in the most serious cases to help the accused,” said Ammini. “Kerala police under the Left rule are more disappointing.”


Police Inaction Against BJP Leaders 


There are other right wing activists who have written provocative posts on Facebook and not faced legal action.


On 19 December 2021,  following the murder of BJP politician Ranjit Srinivasan,  Aluva-based Sethu Raj, convenor of BJP IT cell Ernakulam district, shared an image of a BJP protest march held in Ernakulam with the following message on Facebook:  “We are expecting death while holding this (BJP) flag. But beware, not a single death will be in vain. It will definitely be paid back.”


Sethu Raj told Article 14 that police have not registered any case against him.


On 4 January 2022, Sandeep Vajaspathy, the BJP state spokesperson, live streamed a BJP rally on his Facebook commemorating Sathyesh, a youth leader allegedly killed by CPM workers in 2006, in which rightwing activists said, “Pinarayi Vijayan will be chopped into pieces. Remains will be given to street dogs.”


As per the FIR in the case, “500 individuals under the leadership of seven BJP activists” were booked for obstructing public way under Section 283 of the IPC, 4(2)(e) of Kerala Epidemic Disease Act and 3(e) of Kerala Epidemic Disease  Corona Virus Disease Additional Regulations, but no one was booked for the instigating speech and inflammatory chants under any other non-bailable offence, even though the police acknowledged in the media that the slogans were raised and ensured that they will add relevant sections accordingly.


The police did not take any legal action against Vajaspathy who live-streamed the rally on Facebook.


Brijukumar, Kodungallur circle inspector, said, “I have to look into the files once again on what procedure we followed with regard to the Facebook post. I think one or two people who shared that post have been booked somewhere.”


T G Mohandas, state convenor of the BJP Intellectual Cell, in April 2018, called for riots at a public conference held in Paravur, Kochi, Ernakulam.


Although some media outlets reported him saying “Hindu won’t get justice until they are not rioting in the streets”, Mohandas faced no legal repercussions and he appears for the BJP in television news debates.


‘Double Standard Of The Kerala Police’


In September 2019, the Kerala police registered an FIR under sections 153A of IPC and 120 (o) of Kerala Police Act against an All-India Radio- Akashavani employee K R Indira for an anti-Muslim Facebook post.


"Muslim women are giving birth like pigs,” wrote Indira, calling for a “Holocaust” against Muslims. “They should be sterilised by giving contraceptives in piped water.”


At the time, the police in Thrissur district were forced to register an FIR under immense public pressure, but Indira was never arrested, and two years later, the police claim the investigation is still underway.


An RTI application filed by MR Vipin Das, one of the complainants against Indira, said the police were waiting for an official reply from Facebook.

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“The police have done nothing on the complaint against the hate monger K R Indira for the last two years,” Vipin said. “I will approach the Kerala High Court against the double standard of the Kerala police.”


(PP Jaseem is a freelance journalist covering law, human rights and Indian minorities.)