By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is an unredeeming tale of man’s inhumanity to man; of unspeakable brutality of bureaucrats who batten themselves on human misery.
Kerala woke up to a horrendous human tragedy when 57-year-old farmer, Kavilpurayidathil Joy, hanged himself, unable to endure the harassment by a callous bureaucrat. All that Joy wanted to do was pay the tax on his land so that he can sell the property to meet the marriage and educational expenses of his youngest daughter. But he could not do that because the babu Sileesh Thomas, now in the eye of a storm, would not collect the tax unless Joy bribed him. The tension was too much for the soft-spoken man who committed suicide in front of the village office at Chambanoda in Kozhikode district.
Shocked and angry villagers laid siege to the office. It was only after the district collector announced on-the-spot suspension of the concerned official that they relented.
It was not as if the tragedy unfolded in isolation. It happened in full public gaze. Joy took the extreme step after being made to run from pillar to post for over 18 months! What compounds the enormity of the crime is the fact that Joy had declared a month ago that he would end his life in front of the village office unless justice was done to him. In fact, he had handed over a letter signalling his intent to the guilty official. But the unfeeling bureaucrat refused to mend his ways.
It is also a searing indictment of the systemic savagery which snuffled out the life of an innocent man. That it happened in a state like Kerala where the awareness of human rights is at its highest is a sad commentary on the way the system works.
True, a vigilance probe has been ordered into the shocking incident. And the collector has recommended that a member of Joy’s family should be given a government job. That is all right. But a lot more needs to be done if such human tragedies are not to recur.
Of paramount importance is the need to overhaul the functioning of village level setups, the focal point of bureaucrats’ contacts with the common man. Former Chief Secretary and a member of the Administrative Reforms Commission, C P Nair hit the nail on the head when he said that nothing short of dismissal of the village officer and the village assistant who were responsible for the incident would do. Only such condign punishment, provision for which exists in the Constitution, can prove an effective deterrent, he pointed out.
The Opposition United democratic Front led by the Congress and the BJP have, unsurprisingly, sought to extract political mileage out of the incident. But the stark reality is that both UDF and LDF governments have been guilty of insensitivity to the farmers’ plight.
This, then, is not the time to play politics or politicise the tragedy. The need is to ensure that the corrupt officials are shown the door. In this connection the service organisations and trade unions also have a role to play. They should expel if members of their organisations or unions harass the general public for bribes.
That such tainted officials continue to retain their jobs despite their corrupt ways shows the government in poor light. Obviously they enjoy political protection, but for which they could not have survived. The reported admission of the village assistant in the Joy suicide episode that he was under pressure from politicians not to clear the farmer’s file is self-explanatory.
Whatever the denouement, the suicide of Joy has traumatised Kerala. It will remain a indelible blot on Keralites’ conscience. The least the government can do is to take his family under its wings and ensure its future care. That the government is thinking on these lines is the only silver lining in an otherwise dark horizon. (IPA Service)