Sunday, May 31, 2009

The revolutionary in twilight mode

Naxalite N. Somadethan spent 15 years in prison for his beliefs and actions. Today, he lives a quiet life with his family

By Shevlin Sebastian

In April, 1970, Naxalite Somadethan took shelter in a house in Mavelikara. However, following a tip-off, the police raided the house and he was arrested and charged with murder, conspiracy and stealing guns.

“The police wanted me to reveal the place where the five guns were hidden,” says Somadethan. When he refused to respond, he was subjected to torture.

He was made to lie on a bench, with his hands and feet handcuffed.

Two constables used the long mace, which is used to pound flour, and rolled it from the knees upwards.

“I experienced a tremendous pain,” he says. “It was so intense that I found it difficult to breathe, and lost consciousness. Later I was told that one of the possible side-effects is suffocation and death.”

The next day his thighs swelled up. The police used a nail to poke the muscles. The pain was again unbearable.

Somadethan says that in the infamous case of engineering student P. Rajan, he probably died in police custody because of this method of torture.

Later Somadethan was forced to lie down inside an ice-box which contained several cubes. “My body became frozen within half an hour,” he says. On other occasions he received electrocution. A plug was connected to a socket and the open wire was applied to the soles of his feet.

“It was excruciating,” he says.

Frequently, rifle butts were used to hit him on the ribs.

Somadethan vomited blood a few times. During this period, he was rarely given any food. Once he was given two sweet flour balls to eat after three days of torture.

Eventually, Somadethan revealed a few secrets. He was part of a Naxalite team that murdered two landlords. “But I was not directly involved in the killings,” he says.

He admitted that Naxalites resorted to violence to achieve their aims. “We believed in the annihilation of class enemies,” he says. The Naxalites realised that the law-enforcement forces were concentrated in the cities and towns. So, they wanted to draw the police into the interiors, and attack them. “The idea was to develop a civil war,” he says.

Somadethan speaks about all this in a serene environment. His house, on one and a half acres of property, in the village of Karukachal, fifteen kilometres from Changanacherry, is surrounded by rubber trees, banana and tapioca plants.

On a late Saturday afternoon the sunlight is glinting off the leaves, which looks a stunning green, thanks to recent monsoon rains which have washed away the dust. A cow moos in a nearby shed, while hens cackle in the courtyard.

Somadethan continues with his tale. After three months of torture he was finally produced before the magistrate at Devikulam. Eventually, he was jailed for life and spent 16 years in various jails in Kerala.

He came out in 1985, at the age of 43, married a 30-year old woman, Shailaja, and has two children, Suryajyoti, 22, and Sumesh, 20. He has spent the last 20 years being a trade union leader, a teacher, a farmer, and even owned a motor vehicle repair shop.

Asked whether he has any regrets, Somadethan says, “None at all. There is no prescribed way to achieve anything. I won’t say violence should be condemned. Life is like the flow of a river. It depends on each person how he wants to live it.”

(The Indian Express, Chennai)


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