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Arikkad Varghese: Death Anniversary of An Immortal Comrade

February 18, 2023 marks the fifty-third anniversary of the first encounter killing in Kerala. This was also one of the earliest encounters in independent India. Arikkad Varghese was the man who was brutally murdered fifty-three years ago, a man who was part of the revolutionary struggle in Kerala and who had led the Adivasis in Wayanad against the exploitation of the feudal lords.

Arikkad Varghese (1938-1970)

Naxalbari and the Anti-feudal Struggle

In the 1960s, the Adivasis and Dalits of the Wayanad region in Kerala had to face the brutal exploitation of the feudal elements. Rape of the women who worked for the feudal lords was commonplace. Due to intense exploitation and oppression, suicides among these communities in the region became a regular occurrence. During this period, the international communist movement saw a massive break. This was due to the Communist Party of China (CPC) breaking away from the social imperialist and revisionist Khrushchevite clique which had been dominating the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In India, this led to multiple splits during the 1960s, with the Communist Party of India (CPI) siding with the CPSU line while another section, dubbing itself Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) broke away from it. CPM was superficially upholding the Chinese line but detraction from it led to them undertaking a “centrist” approach. It was at this point that a group of communists who had split away from CPM decided to follow the path of agrarian revolution, later on going on to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI ML).

Charu Majumdar (centre) and his comrades from Naxalbari uprising

In Kerala, Varghese left the CPM to follow the line of the comrades who were participating in the Naxalbari uprising. Comrade Varghese worked in the leadership of a movement that wanted to end the brutal exploitation and oppression in the region, ready to sacrifice his life for the oppressed masses. The feudal base in Kerala created conditions of bonded labour for the landless peasantry who were paid with a minuscule share of the grains they harvested. Feudalism also fostered repressive practices-newly-wed Adivasi women were sent to the big landlord they worked for on their wedding nights wherein these landlords committed horrific acts of rape and sexual oppression. Feudalism in India functions on the lines of caste and the big landlords maintain their hegemony over vast areas of the country while preserving these caste-based relations.

The Naxalbari revolution recognised the struggle against semi-feudalism as the principle contradiction, therefore, provided a step forward in concretely tackling feudalism. Varghese and his comrades organised the Adivasis against the exploitative landlords, urging the understanding that the revolution was not a choice for the oppressed masses in Wayanad but the only option they had to ensure a dignified life for themselves. Thus, the revolutionary movement against the feudal landlords started.

Fascist Offensive

The state machinery in the region, formed by the local feudal landlord class, was engaged in the active defense of feudalism. The police acted as the henchmen of the landlords and to protect their own self-interest, the police helped suppress the quest to ensure the rights of the oppressed groups. In this time, Arikkad Varghese had led a police station attack to gain weapons for their struggle. Varghese and his comrades in Kerala tried to improve the material condition of the oppressed classes by redistributing the wealth of the landlords among the oppressed groups.

Sam Manekshaw and Indira Gandhi, principle planners of Operation Steeplechase

By 1970, the Indian state went on to employ the fascist offensive tactic under the name of Operation Steeplechase. This operation aimed to eradicate the entire movement, not only in Kerala but across India. Due to strong police suppression, Varghese went into hiding. Unfortunately, an informant betrayed the movement by letting the police know about him and he was arrested. Varghese’s body was later found near the Pulpalli police station.

Twenty-eight years later, a police constable by the name of P. Ramachandran Nair has admitted that Comrade Varghese was killed under the orders of I.G Lakshmana. He endured severe torture before he was killed. Nair stated that he picked up Varghese from a house and hand-cuffed him. From there, Varghese was taken to a forest where he was shot dead by Nair, who claimed that he was forced to follow the order upon the threat to his own life by his superior officers. Even when death became inevitable, Com. Varghese did not lose his revolutionary spirit and the last words that came out of his mouth were revolutionary slogans. It is popularly believed that Varghese died saying,

“Maoism Zindabad! May the revolution succeed!”

The Struggle Remains

The encounter killing of Arikkad Varghese shows that democracy in India is a façade. A democratic country must follow proper judicial process and Varghese did not get the opportunity to present his case before the court. An unarmed political prisoner was murdered by the state. The murder of our comrade also reveals the true nature of the so-called anti-fascist Parliamentary left and the Congress party. These parties were in state power when the movement was going on. They orchestrated Operation Steeplechase, wherein the state openly murdered countless revolutionaries like Varghese. Any communist party suppressing a movement which fights for the democratic rights of the oppressed and exploited is not a communist party in practice but collaborators with fascism itself, as the parliamentary left revealed itself to be.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) paramilitary forces in Chattisgarh

Varghese is one among thousands who have been murdered by the Indian state which claims to be the “world’s largest democracy.” Since 2018, one case of encounter killing is registered every three days in India. The overall numbers of the same have witnessed a69.5% increase, with Chattisgarh being the state with the highest number of cases when it comes to encounter killings. What started as the fascist Operation Steeplechase during Varghese’s times transformed into Operation Greenhunt and has now taken the form of Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar under the current Brahmanical Hindutva fascist regime.

The death anniversary of a martyr serves as a reminder of the larger struggle he was a part of. The revolution undertaken by Varghese did not finish the task of overturning the semi-colonial, semi-feudal Indian state and establishing New Democracy. It must not be forgotten that the conditions of oppression that Varghese fought against continue to maintain a firm hold over Indian society. Comrade Varghese was only one among the thousands of encounter killings undertaken by this state, and collectively, they offer the clear idea that as long as this undemocratic state continues to exist, more comrades will be brutally murdered and the blood on the hands of the Indian state will continue to showcase the undemocratic and exploitative character of the state.

by Mukundan, Student of Law, O.P. Jindal Global University

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  1. Rajesh Tyagi (leader of Workers Socialist Party)

    Very good work! I agree with everything here.


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