Kottayam: Puthuppally will vote to elect its new representative in the Kerala assembly on Tuesday. The democratic exercise ironically coincides with the memories of an authoritarian brutality the land witnessed eight decades ago.
The eve of the bypoll – September 4 – marked the 85th anniversary of an incident known as the Puthuppally Shooting in Kerala’s pre-independent history.
One man, Kuttikkal (Ambukattil) Kunjappan, was killed and three others were injured in the 1938 incident as the army of erstwhile Travancore opened fire at the people who gathered at Puthuppally to attend a protest meeting as part of the State Congress’ agitation for responsible government in the princely state.
Kunjappan, a daily wager who had gone to attend the meeting, died on the spot in the army firing.
Those who sustained injuries were Erikad V T Cheriyan, Vakathanam Mavelil Kuruvila Ulahannan and Manganam Nadepallikkuzhy Oommen Pappy.
On Monday, UDF candidate, Chandy Oommen, began his election campaign by offering tributes to Kunjappan at his tomb at Nilakkal Orthodox Church, Puthuppally.
Ten years ago, in 2013, when the 75th anniversary of the historic incident was observed, Chandy’s father Oommen Chandy was the Chief Minister of Kerala. Addressing the function, Oommen Chandy had described the incident as a defining moment in his political entry.
He said the memories of the shooting were passed on from one generation to the other and it could have prompted people like him to turn to political activism.
The State Congress’ Puthuppally march and meeting seeking the removal of C P Ramaswamy Iyer as the Diwan of Travancore took place just four days after the army suppressed a similar agitation at Neyyattinkara in Thiruvananthapuram. Seven people were killed in the shooting there.
Anticipating the protest at Puthuppally, a large posse of soldiers had camped in Kottayam a day before. The protesters were warned that the soldiers would open fire if they found it necessary to disperse the crowds.
According to reports, around 2,000 people took out a protest march and nearly 10,000 attended the public meeting, which ended peacefully. The crowd dispersed in different directions. A large group of people, however, shouted slogans while returning through the Puthuppally junction. The police started beating them up with lathis alleging that the protesters pelted them with stones. The clash escalated leading to the soldiers opening fire at the protesters.
In a 2013 Manorama report, T J Mathew Thoppil, a retired college professor, remembered that the whole incident was orchestrated by the police. Mathew, who turned 100 in 2013, had taken part in the protest. He said the stones were pelted by goons who were deployed by the police to undermine the protest.