When Chinthu Pradeep and his brother Chandu, both fishermen working in the Azheekal port of Karunagappally, a municipality in Kerala’s Kollam city, left to rescue those stranded in the floods that swept the state, they were prepared to incur the resulting losses. “We would have made Rs 10,000–12,000,” Chandu told me. “This is the time when we have a lot of work. At the end of this month, work will reduce.” But as Kerala’s flood waters recede and its survivors begin the struggle to resume their daily lives, the ugly political violence of the state appears to be one of the first things returning to the fore. When the brothers left for the rescue operations, they expected to make up for the lost time at the sea upon their return. But on the evening of 25 August, in an incident that has since gained media attention in the state, Chinthu was attacked with swords by activists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. With grave wounds on both hands, his future now appears bleak.
I met Chinthu and his family at a private hospital in Ernakulam district, though the family lives in Kakkathuruthu, an island in Karunagappally's Alappad village. He had returned to Karunagappally on 24 August, after five days of rescue operations in the districts of Alappuzha and Idukki, during which he said the team had saved around 350 people. The next evening, Chinthu and his friend Arun Das, who was also part of the rescue team and is a resident of Alappad village, left Das’s house to go to Alumkadavu, another village in Karunagappally, to buy gifts for the festival of Onam. “There is nothing available in our village, so I had to go to buy sweets and other things for children,” Chinthu said. At around 7 pm, they left on Das’s bike, with Chinthu sitting pillion. On their way, while driving past a small library named after the former president APJ Abdul Kalam, they were attacked.
“There were five or six of them,” Chinthu recalled at the hospital, where he lay on a bed with both his hands heavily bandaged and suspended in the air. Almost everyone I spoke to, including Chinthu, Chandu, and the local residents of Karunagappally, told me that local RSS workers were known to spend time outside the library building every evening. According to Das, as they approached the library, “a young man, holding an iron rod, walked to the middle of the road.” He continued, “I was riding the bike and stopped. He approached us, extending the rod towards us. Before I could ask what was going on, a team of six or seven carrying swords rushed towards us and yelled, ‘Stab and kill him!’” Both Chinthu and Das got off the bike and started running.
Das recalled that he ran ahead quickly, and when he turned to look behind him, he saw that the attackers were “were brandishing the swords as they ran behind Chinthu.” In that moment, he said, Chinthu also turned around, and seeing that a sword was about to hit his neck, he “grabbed it with his hand.” Das continued, “I saw that he started to bleed. But they hadn't left him. They were hitting him with the rod and with the blunt side of the swords.”
Chinthu believed that the attack was premeditated because the group was carrying weapons. “Two of them were carrying swords, one was carrying a rod.” Das, on the other hand, said “there were eight or nine people—of whom, five or six had swords.” According to Chinthu, “they produced the weapons within five minutes, suddenly, from one side of the library.” He described the attack: “They were stabbing me even as I ran. I could see them clearly under the street light. They first stabbed my left, and then my right hand.” Das added, “They had surrounded him and it looked like they would stab and kill him.” He tried to pull Chinthu out, but “at this time, I got beaten myself with an iron rod.” At that moment, “two–three speeding bikes came from behind,” and the attackers fled upon seeing them. One of the men riding the bikes, who was also a resident of Alappad, then rushed Chinthu to a hospital in the locality.After receiving immediate treatment at the local hospital, he was brought to the hospital in Ernakulam in an ambulance, where he is still admitted.