15 years on, wounds of police firing still sting Beemapally

6 people died and 52 were injured in the police action on May 17, 2009; Portrayal of the incident in pop culture has hurt local businesses too, say residents.
Beemapally beach in Thiruvananthapuram where the police firing occurred in 2009.
Beemapally beach in Thiruvananthapuram where the police firing occurred in 2009.Photo | B P Deepu

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : Nizam, a native of Beemapally, was 26 when a stray bullet from a police gun altered his life forever. He lost his right leg.

Fifteen years later, Nizam, now 41, drives an autorickshaw to provide for his girls Noura and Riyana, who study in Class 7 and 10, respectively. And he waits, with diminishing hope, for an artificial limb. He is placed 14th in the priority list of the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital.

“Fifteen years. I’m still not a priority, they say,” says Nizam with a sigh.

Nizam is among the 52 people who were injured in the police firing at Beemapally on May 17, 2009. Six people died in the police action that left the state deeply disturbed.

At the time, the police claimed that some people from Beemapally, which has Muslims in majority, hurled bombs at Cheriyathura, which lies just on the other side of the narrow road by the sea and has a sizable population of Latin Catholics. The police also said the plan was to destroy the local church. However, none were reported injured at Cheriyathura, and no cases were registered.

Immediately after the firing, the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) dismissed the police’s claims. It was also found that no police officer had been injured, and that the cops fired 70 bullets without an official order.

It all started on May 8 when Kombu Shibu, an alleged troublemaker hailing from Cheriyathura, refused to pay at Peer Muhammad’s shop in Beemapally. The residents allege his actions were deliberate, a plot to create tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities. On May 16, he clashed with locals, threatening to disrupt the May 25 Uroos festival at Beemapally Masjid.

Soon after, then District Collector Sanjay Kaul called for a peace meeting and assured all that Shibu will be arrested by night. It did not happen. The same night, the boats of some residents were set ablaze by unidentified persons.

On May 17, Shibu and his gang returned, leading to further tensions at Beemapally and Cheriyathura. Between 2.30 and 3pm, the police, without an order of the executive magistrate and the collector, opened fire in Beemapally.

Six persons, Ahammad Ali, Seyyadali, Abdul Hakkim, Badusha, Ahamad Khani and 17-year-old Firos, were killed.

“Firos was dragged through the road after being shot. How inhumane is that? We cannot forget that. The 23,000 people of Beemapally will not forget it,” says a resident, not wishing to be identified.

Abubakkar, vice-president of Beemapally Jamaath, says he would never claim the police intervention was unnecessary. However, it should not have been so harsh, he says. “As you can see, we share amicable relations; this is how things are at any time of the day,” he says.

Majida, the daughter of Ahammad Ali, who was among those killed, says a day before, on May 16, the Lok Sabha election results were announced.

“Shashi Tharoor won from Thiruvananthapuram. He never visited us,” she says.

The police outpost set up at Beemapally after the 2009 firing
The police outpost set up at Beemapally after the 2009 firingPhoto | B P Deepu

In fact, four of the deceased were those who had gone out to see what was happening. Many were allegedly shot in the back. Even those who rushed the injured to the hospital were reportedly targeted.

“All of us initially thought that firecrackers were being burst post elections. On hearing the first shot, my father went outside. He was shot in the stomach and leg,” says Majida.

Beema, Ahammad’s wife, says the Oommen Chandy government that came to power later provided `1 lakh to all the victims. “The compensation will not pay our rents, it won’t build us a house, it won’t help me marry off my kids. We lost the breadwinner of our house. Nothing can compensate for that loss,” says Beema.

Badusha, another deceased, had come home from Saudi Arabia just days before the incident. According to one of his relatives, he too went outside after hearing loud noises.

“The bullet hit his jaw and exited through his brain. We never recovered from the shock of his death. Compensation was given, but that was it,” said the relative, not wishing to be named. Yahiya, like Nizam, was also injured in the police firing. Shot in the abdomen, he continues to be treated for two blocks in the heart and other cardiac ailments caused by the wound.

A fisherman, he had to stop going into the sea after the incident, and took up jobs as an unskilled labourer. He later set up a stationery shop. “I have two kids to raise. There is nothing to do but survive,” rues Yahiya.

The then Left government led by V S Achuthananthan provided a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the victims kin. However, the people of Beemapally strongly feel no action was taken against the police officers responsible. Though several officers were suspended, they were later reinstated.

Even after a decade-and-half, many residents have been struggling to find jobs, and allege that the government has turned a blind eye towards them. “The Matysafed Net factory is just behind the mosque. The government did not employ any of us there, even as sweepers. That is how they ignored us,” alleges Beemapally native Ahamed.

The incident and its portrayal in pop culture has hurt local businesses too.

“Films show smuggling taking place from the seas here. People think it is real. I have never seen or heard about smuggling being reported in Beemapally. However, such falsehoods hit us hard,” says Abubakkar.

For Nizam, who lives in a rented, almost dilapidated house, the hope for an artificial limb, which costs Rs 5 lakh, is fading. The jamaath had raised and provided him with Rs 1 lakh. “But at least I have one leg. There are people who have neither. Let them get an artificial limb first,” he says. While he says he is managing to meet his day-to-day expenses, the future is uncertain. I am now striving hard to make ends meet,” he says.

“Three days after the firing, they compensated us with money to silence us. None came after that. That compensation can never make up for the loss each family endured,” recalls Nizam. Talking about Firos, the youth who died, he says, “Firos’ mother was in shock for four years. We can never be compensated for the mental agony they (the police) caused us. When I was hospitalised after the firing, the police threatened me to drop the matter. Still, I filed a complaint, but the matter never reached the court. Were I financially capable, I would have pursued it,” he says.

Meanwhile, residents of Cheriyathura say Shibu initiated the violence and that all the deceased were from Beemapally. However, the bond between the two communities was never affected, they say.

“We were close and remain so. This is Abu, I am Stephen, and we’re going fishing. That’s it,” says the Cheriyathura resident. He recalls how a week after the firing, Uroos was held and members of his church and every local resident came forward with support. “It has been like that and will stay like that,” he says.

Abubakkar agrees. “Politicians view us only as vote banks. So, though all of us (people of Beemapally and Cheriyathura) live in harmony, they keep bringing up the violence and other issues. However, it cannot break our bond. We are neighbours first. We share our businesses. That dynamics never changed, and never will,” he says.

He was not a troublemaker: Shibu’s mother

Lilly Antony, the mother of Kombu Shibu, says her son, who died exactly five years after the incident, was never a troublemaker. “Almost 18 months and numerous sessions later, the court declared him not guilty. Shibu was not a troublemaker. He suffered greatly. The police haunted him until death. However, he never feared them,” says Lilly, who runs a small shop behind Beemapally. According to her, the locals have not neglected her. “We are happy. We never spread either hate or praise about the incident,” she says.

Police fired to control violent crowd: Ex-DGP

Former DGP Jacob Punnoose says the incident occurred in Cheriyathura, not Beemapally. “Following the release of the movie Malik, it came to be known as Beemapally firing, which is an effort to give the incident a communal angle,” says Jacob. “I witnessed burning of houses and huts first-hand. The police fired shots to control the violent crowd. Arguing that the officers should have waited for official orders to fire is pointless when the situation had already worsened to widespread violence. The crowd also attacked the police. The right to self-defence applies to everyone involved,” he says.

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