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9 Years of Beemapally, Remembering the Brutal Murder of Muslims by Kerala Police (Image: MediaOne TV, YouTube)

May 17 marked the 9th anniversary of the Beemapally firing that killed six Muslims who were residents of the area. It was on the same day, in 2009 that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) police opened indiscriminate fire on the Muslims of Beemapally who were mostly fisherfolk, killing 6 people. 27 people were wounded in the firing. Most of them were wounded by gunshots.

In an independent fact-finding that was carried out by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and National Council for Human Rights Organization (NCHRO) it was found that the police used a fight that a local thug had in the place as an excuse to open fire in Beemapally.

V S Achuthanandan, the then CM and the then Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had themselves said that the police had made a mistake in Beemapally.

It was perhaps for the first time in the history of Kerala that a police firing of this nature took place against the people. The state functions under strict guidelines that permit the use of guns only in extremely unavoidable situations. In Beemapally, not only were such circumstances absent but the ones shot were all onlookers and residents of the area who were not involved in any kind of trouble.

The first person to have got shot by the police was Firoz, a 16-year-old boy who was playing cricket at the beach. Media had released visuals showing Firoz being dragged away from the site by the police. Later a communal angle was given to the operation, making it look as if it was communal tension between two groups that prompted the police to open fire. It is said that the police stopped firing only because they ran out of bullets.

Beemapally and Cheriyathura are two areas of fisherfolk in Thiruvananthapuram. These are a kilometre and a half away from each other. Beemapally is a Muslim populated area and Cheriyathura is a Latin Catholic populated area. On the previous day of the incident, on May 16, 2009, a local thug by the name Shibu (known as ‘Kombu’ Shibu in the area) had got into a street fight. Such fights are common in these areas and it ended when Shibu was beaten up by the public.

Shibu later returned at night and set fire to some boats in Beemapally. District Collector Sanjay Kaul who sensed a scope for communal violence reached the place and convened a Peace Committee Meeting. It was assured that Shibu would be arrested that very night. This was not done.

The next morning, on 7th, Shibu appeared again and this worsened the situation. This is when the police promptly appeared and opened fire on the residents of Beemapally. The firing started at 2 pm. Sub Collector K Biju reached the place at around 4 p.m. But the police report says that they opened fire under the instruction of the sub-collector. A P George was the police Commissioner at the time.

The collector had given testimony before District judge K Ramakrishnan saying it was without the permission of the Executive Magistrate that the police opened fire. Neither the then CPI(M) government nor the Congress government that came after them published the report submitted by judge Ramakrishnan. The Crime Branch probe that was launched was dropped midway.

The government had promised Rs. 10 lakhs as compensation to the families of those who were killed. But most of the people who were killed were the bread earners of the family.

The police then tried to build a narrative through media that the firing had happened in Cheriyathura. Since all the people who were shot dead were Muslims, it appeared as though the Muslims had deliberately invaded Cheriyathura to create a problem. The police officers who were responsible for the incident were kept under suspension for some time but were later posted elsewhere with promotions.

City Police Commissioner M.R. Ajith Kumar later justified the firing before the District Judge repeating the police version that it was communal clashes that led to the firing.

However, the inquiry report by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) made it clear that the firing was not justified. The 12 member team including members senior journalist B.R.P. Bhaskar, PUCL State functionaries P. Chandrasekhar, P.A. Pouran and Jacob V. Lazer found that the police had not followed the set series of procedures before ordering the firing.

Beemappally police firing was also noted for the deafening silence regarding it in media. Except for a few independent efforts by journalists and activists, a violation of this magnitude was ignored by the mainstream media. In addition to it, the area itself continues to be painted as a hub of anti-social activities in popular culture and other narratives.

The brutal murders were remembered on its ninth anniversary in Kerala which is currently ruled by the same CPI(M) who carried out the operation.

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