KOCHI: For Karattu Moni Asokan, the eldest son of a toddy tapper, it was nothing unusual to become a Communist as he was a native of Kannukettisseri on the outskirts of Vaikom, a Communist bastion. However, he went a step further: He became a rationalist. As a child, during his early morning temple visits, Asokan used to ask himself about the existence of God. Later, he rejected religious beliefs and became an atheist.
But, now he is being branded as a sympathiser of the Sangh Parivar after he objected to his only daughter Akhila embracing Islam to become Hadiya and married a youth from that community without his knowledge. The 57-year-old former member of the Armed Service Corps, who is in the eye of a storm, talks to Chandrakanth Viswanath on his daughter, family, belief and life at his house, which is guarded by the police and CCTV cameras. Excerpts from the interview.
Q. We would not have met if you were not part of this controversy as you were leading an ordinary life with your wife and daughter. How were those times?
A. I grew up in an ordinary family along with two brothers and five sisters. My father was a toddy tapper. He took good care of our big family to the best of his ability. I joined the Army at the age of 19 to support my family. My brothers and I used to give our income to our father who spent it wisely. Thus, we could raise our family and marry off all our sisters. I returned to Kerala at the age of 40 after retiring from service as a Naik. I joined the Armed Forces Tribunal in Kochi as a peon on an annual contract for eight years. I resigned from there a year ago. Now, my priority is the safety of my daughter. My pension is sufficient for me to survive.
Q.How was your daughter’s relationship with you and your wife?
A. I was the eldest of eight children and we grew up braving many a hardship. Hence, my wife Ponnamma and I wanted our child to enjoy her life and decided to have only one child. Akhi, (as he addresses Akhila alias Hadiya) was closer to me than to her mother. We were like friends and used to communicate almost anything. Since she was not a bright student, we had to support her at every stage of her education after SSLC.
Q.How then did she join the BHMS course?
A. I was worried about her future. So, I was looking for a course that would ensure her a decent living. My brother-in-law told me about this course. Only thing was that we had to pay a donation.
Q. How did you manage the amount? Heard you did not even take a loan.
A. I was never a spendthrift and had enough savings. My plan was to keep the pension amount for me and my wife and the salary for the daughter’s studies. Even my ATM card was with her and she could even lend money to her classmates.
Q. How was her life after reaching Salem?
A. We used to talk to her daily. She would come down even if I had a minor problem.
Q. Did you notice any change in her while she was studying at Salem?
A. No. Once a classmate’s father told me over the phone to take her away from the college as she came to the institution covering her head. Following this, I told my wife to inform her I met with an accident. On hearing the news, she panicked and wanted to meet me. However, her classmate Jaseena, who accompanied Akhi from the college, took her to her home at Perinthalmanna.
Q. You were an atheist and your wife a religious person. Did you ever object to her belief? What was your daughter’s attitude towards religion?
A. Akhi always supported my view of God and religion. She seldom went to temples, that too after her mother forced her to. Though I don’t like excessive devotion, I let my wife follow her path and am not against her belief.
Q.There are many allegations against you.
A.What kind of allegations?
Q. There are allegations you curtailed your daughter’s freedom.
A. I don’t understand what human rights they are talking about. I don’t want my daughter’s life to be ruined. Do you think I don’t have right to ensure a better life for her? Six months into the course, Akhi returned from college as she was unable to continue with her studies. Two of her close friends came home and advised her. ‘We don’t have a father like yours to support us,’ they told her and convinced her to continue her studies. I did not have a life outside my family, especially my daughter. She was my best friend. And now it seems, my best friend has deceived me. But, I don’t want to believe like that. I think someone else forced her to do so.
Q. How do you meet the huge expense for the legal battle?
A. This is not my money. Whatever I have earned is for my daughter. So, it is her money that is being spent now.
Q. How was the support from the political parties on the issue?
A. Though I did not engage in party activities, I was a fellow traveller of the CPI. When this issue started, K Ajith (of CPI) was the local MLA. Though he tried to support me, it did not yield any result. However, I am thankful to him. Except for Ajith, none of the local leaders of the Communist parties did even ask me about what was happening. CPI leader Annie Raja wanted to meet me after the Supreme Court issued its order. But, I was not interested. Earlier too, she had come here to meet Akhi in the wake of the High Court verdict.
Q. How did you fight this battle?
A. I filed the first habeas corpus after taking advice from my senior colleagues at the court where I was working. Gopan Chettan (Vaikom Gopakumar, social worker and a former functionary of the RSS) sent a person to inform me he wanted to meet me. However, I could meet him only after two months. Later, he supported me in every step.
Q. Now, you are being labelled as a Sangh Parivar sympathiser. How do you see that?
A. I was a fellow traveller of the Left and a rationalist. Yet, none except Gopan chettan supported me during the crisis. He is my strength. Later, many people came to support me after he stood behind me. I don’t entertain any kind of sympathy from anyone. I get many phone calls from strangers, extending their support. Anyway, now that they have applied that ‘kuri’ (tilak) on my forehead, let it be there.
Q. The other day we heard on TV your daughter saying for the past six months she was living with whom she hates the most. She was at your home during that period. What is your take on this?
A. Someone had told me about this. She might have had the police security in mind while saying this. I don’t think my daughter will make such a statement against me or her