Prospective career boost silenced teachers at Pookode campus where SFI has the last word

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Second-year student JS Sidharthan was found dead on February 18, and he was allegedly subjected to brutal assault for three days before his death. Photo: Special arrangement.

The Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) campus at Pookode in Wayanad is a different world, like the one depicted in the blockbuster movie, KGF.

Unlike other campuses, a group of students — not authorities — are the decision-makers at Pookode. The teachers and other authorities are a helpless lot, with a majority of them servile to political parties. The servility is reflected in their attitude towards the students.

The remaining lot are either frightened or apprehensive about their career prospects. These factors help a group of students to run riot on the campus.

Second-year student JS Sidharthan was found dead on February 18, and he was allegedly subjected to brutal assault for three days before his death. Even as the student was being assaulted on the campus, a group of teachers was busily engaged in discussion on promotions.

Others might have preferred to remain silent and turn a blind eye towards the brutality, probably to avoid possible reprisal since the promotions were being decided, a teacher, who requested anonymity, said.

The death of Sidharthan has raised several questions. Who is responsible for the degradation of the Pookode campus? What is happening on the campus under the leadership of the SFI, now trying to project the deceased student as one of its own? Why did the teachers remain silent?

The central courtyard at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) hostel where Sidharthan was reportedly assaulted by the SFI leaders. Photo: Manorama Online.

Unrivalled SFI
The KVASU campus is spread over 110 acres — a mini KGF dotted with rocks and barren knolls. The road meanders through the bushy landscape, where isolated buildings stand still. The hostel is located in this area.

The university has nine hostels for male, and female students, and interns. Students live in staff quarters as well. Teachers and other staff members join the students frequently to have a swig in public. News does not travel beyond the campus without the knowledge of those inside.

Wild animals have often strayed onto the campus. The presence of Maoists had been reported from the forest abutting the university. Maoists had once planted a fake bomb at the campus gate.

The campus is free for all despite a demand to beef up the security. Anyone could enter the campus without being questioned. The authorities allow the classrooms, hostel room, and auditorium for major SFI meetings attended by the organisation's district leaders. Some teachers even inaugurate the SFI's political campaigns.  

There are very few campuses in Kerala that grant total freedom for organisational work like KVASU. Since there are no outfits other than the SFI, most students are members of the Left organisation. The SFI in Kerala has the most number of members in KVASU.

Ragging is not new to the Pookode campus. Though a complaint was made last year, it was quashed since it was found to be baseless.

The Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) hostel. Photo: Manorama Online.

The irony of being SFI
The SFI has adopted an anti-ragging stand and has held several awareness campaigns. Still, the SFI activists, including its leaders, were involved in assaulting Sidharthan.

The hostel committee, too, is headed by the SFI. The party's unit committee office and the union office function out of the university's building. Hostel rooms, too, look like SFI offices with pictures of Che Guevera, Bhagat Singh, Marx and Lenin adorning their walls.

The hostel building is modelled on a nalukettu, traditional Kerala architecture. Sidharthan was attacked in the building since there was none to supervise the hostel. The anti-ragging squad later found that the student was brutally beaten up for three days.

Teachers who later learnt about the torture said they could not sleep peacefully. He was beaten up in hostel room number 21, the inner courtyard, near the water tank, and on a hill located on the university premises.

He was beaten up with belts and kicked down, and even those sleeping in their rooms were woken up and forced to attack Sidharthan. He was beaten and kicked all over his body. Those who refused to beat him were threatened with attacking the student. Some students returned to their rooms crying after beating Sidharthan.

The student's tormentors forced all residents of the hostel into the inner courtyard to witness the mob trial of Sidharthan. He was made to mop the floor. The student was tormented for three days without providing him food or water.

As many as 98 students were deposed before the investigators. Non-Kerala students told the investigators that Sidharthan was stripped, tied up, and 'tried' in the shuttle badminton court. Several other students have been keeping mum fearing reprisal.

The Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) campus at Pookode in Wayanad. Photo: Special arrangement.

Kangaroo courts
The Opposition students' unions alleged that SFI has been holding a court on the campus, and a few leaders decided the functioning of the campus. Issues have been simmering before Valentine's Day. The 'charge' against Sidharthan was that he had danced with a female student, and professed his love for her.

Meanwhile, a female student lodged a complaint against Sidharthan. The internal complaints committee received her complaint after Sidharthan's death. The complaint was later closed since Sidharthan's version could not be recorded. The police, too, are not probing the complaint.

The campus' 31-member SFI unit included a secretary, president, two joint secretaries, as many vice presidents, three executive members and two invitees. The unit has 15 female students, including a joint secretary and a vice president. Besides, a majority of the 720 students of the university are members of the SFI, which conducts mass membership campaigns.

Meanwhile, photographs of Sidharthan attending the SFI's programmes are being widely circulated on social media. The SFI said it made Sidharth its first-year representative, and the deceased used to take photographs of its programmes.

The organisation further added that since it holds mass membership campaigns, it could not take responsibility for the actions of all members. The outfit said it is responsible only for the actions of its office-bearers and unit committee members.

The SFI unit committee has not yet intervened organisationally in the Pookode incident. Instead, it has been explaining to the cadres that the crime was committed by a few individuals — and washing its hands of the incident.

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