The death of 23 year old Dalit boy named Kevin P Joseph recently has snowballed into a political controversy in Kerala, with the state assembly being adjourned over the incident just a few days ago. A victim of honour killing, Joseph’s body was found mutilated near a stream on the morning of May 28, with eyes gouged out and deep cuts near the neck. Both Joseph and the girl, Neenu Chacko, registered for marriage at the sub-registrar’s office, against the wishes of the girl’s family who hailed from an affluent family. It was further reported that the police was already aware of the threats from Chacko’s family, but they decided to ‘lie low’. They allegedly did not take any immediate action even after Kevin was abducted a few days before his body was found. A lot of accusations have been brought up in the past few years by both the opposition and other social activists, regarding the ‘deep rooted’ connection of the state police and the state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s party i.e. CPI(M). They allege that no immediate action is taken by the police if the perpetrators happen to be involved with the ruling party.

As reports suggest, Kevin was abducted from his house by a group of men which included the Thenmala Unit Secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), whose parent party is the CPI(M). According to the state police, another member of DYFI too was involved in the abduction and murder, based on which arrests have been now made. The couple was reportedly threatened by the girl’s family after both of them had eloped. Three days later, the tragic incident took place.

There are many things admirable about a state where school students have reportedly refused to disclose their caste and religious identity, not to its very high literacy rate. But the frequent incidents of violence resulting from caste tensions – even among Christians— are not among those things. Such events pose a challenge to the progressive narratives that the Left in Kerala presents, especially when their party members get involved in the murder of a 23-year-old.

Looking back historically, Kerala was one of the regions in South India which witnessed significant conversion of the local population into Christianity through the work of missionaries. Different methods of conversion were adopted by different Jesuit Missions for conversion of both the Brahmin community as well as the ‘Dalit’ community in order to assimilate them into Christianity. A lot of scholarly works have focused on how the Jesuit missions in South India embraced many norms of the Brahmin society and thereby converted many people belonging to the “upper castes”. And although these conversions effected an overall dilution of caste identities compared to their rigid form in the Hindu society, the converted Brahmins still continued with their old ways and mingled little with the Christians they considered to be of “low castes”. And despite the mobility within the various sects of Christianity in Kerala, the Syrian Christians usually consider themselves to be of the highest status as they trace their lineage back to the Namboothiri and Nair families. Whereas the other sects like the New Christians are dubbed ‘low castes’ by the more powerful groups and their lineage is traced to marginal tribal communities. As such, the New Christians or “Dalit Christians”, as they are referred to, who comprises of various protestant sects have historically looked down upon by the other sects .The casteism that used pervade local society continued to exist within Christianity too. The glaring evidence of such casteism is a tragic incident like that of Kevin’s death.

The role of the CPI(M) in the recent case of caste related violence particularly appears questionable. The party has brushed off the allegations of party’s complicity in the perpetuation of caste-violence.

Surabhi Singh, a freelance journalist was not only bullied online for sharing her perspective on this story on Facebook, but was also asked to take it down immediately. While talking to The Citizen, Singh said, “The bloodied body of Kevin reminds us that communism has been unable to address the elephant in its room i.e caste. Kevin’s murder by his wife’s family members who are also members of the DYFI only reinforces the Manuvadi dichotomy that no matter how many faiths you convert or re-convert to, caste doesn’t leave your side. With the CPI (M) claiming to support inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Kerala practices caste in its modernized form, ironically enough, with perpetrators being from across religions and political lines. The very fact that Neenu’s mother is a Muslim and her father is a Christian makes this gruesome killing problematic at several levels. In fact the upper caste solidarity among the Muslim League, Nair society and the Mar Thoma Bishops under the banner of Vimochana Samaram (Liberation Struggle) is a classic example of how the state with 100% literacy has failed to prevent the status quo of caste supremacy.”

On sharing this perspective on social media, Singh said, “I have people telling me to take down the narrative of Christian Marxist identity of the perpetrators in my Facebook post and include the fact that the girl’s relatives were Muslims. What actually no one wants to hear or see or even talk is the fact that Kevin was a Dalith and Neenu belonged to upper caste.”

The Citizen tried to reach out to several CPI (M) members from Kerala, they refused to put forward any statement.

“Although casteism is not as prevalent in Christianity as it is in Hinduism, but it is a long and complicated story. The affluent and powerful communities suppressing the weak ones is no exception to any society anyway. But never has it turned this barbaric in the form of honor killing where innocent lives were being taken away in the name of inter caste and interfaith marriages in Kerala like it has panned out in the recent times. Also, people from outside Kerala might not know much, but ‘Left Political Goondaism’ is a term used quite often in Kerala by the public. The otherwise literate and progressive society of Kerala needs to wake up and make sure that such horrific crimes are not repeated anymore.” – said a student from Kerala currently studying in Delhi on being asked about the recent incident by The Citizen.

According to reports, as many as 14 people have been booked so far for Kevin’s murder, which also includes Neenu’s parents and brother along with several DYFI members. There have been widespread protests throughout and beyond Kottayam after this incident while the Chief Minister Vijayan has also termed it an ‘unfortunate’ event that should have never happened. Vijayan has also requested the opposition on the floor of the assembly to consider them as only ‘accused’ and not politicize the matter.

Kevin is however now only one among hundreds who fell prey to the spike in honor killing in India in recent years. According to Hindustan Times, as many as 251 cases of honour killing were registered in 2015 alone and the number has only increased over the past three years. And the dearth of widespread measures to address this gruesome crime continues to make many lives vulnerable to the passions of caste.

(Cover Photo: Kevin Joseph's father Joseph Jacob trying to console Neenu)