The RB Sreekumar you didn’t know: Exclusive insights
There are multiple answers to the question who is R B Sreekumar — he is a police officer who fought against the system to which he was supposed to be obedient as per service terms; a human rights defender who fought a long battle for the victims of the Gujarat riots; and, a police officer who got promoted to the position of DGP of a state after retirement.
For former colleagues, he was a Hindu scholar, a champion of spirituality ‘who used Hindu scripts against the misuse of Hindu Scripts’ by the Sangh Parivar. He identified himself as an Ambedkarite at times. He had once written to the chief minister of Kerala to incorporate the scholarly works of Ambedkar in the school curriculum. In the letter written to Kerala’s chief minister on September 12, 2017, he demanded the inclusion of ‘The annihilation of Caste’ as a text book.
Sometimes he identified himself as a ‘Gandhian’ and wrote articles like ‘Practising seven sins assailed by Mahatma Gandhi and the plight of India’. He also spoke against patriarchy that is rooted in ‘regressive customs glorified by sacred books’ pulling the women backwards. In July 2017, he wrote to the Prime Minister to declare ‘Thirukural’, the Tamil classic, as the ‘national book of India’.
Clearly, Sreekumar is a man of many shades. In Kerala, where he was born and brought up, he is also remembered for ‘wrong reasons’. He is allegedly involved in the incidents that lead to the arrest of ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan in the espionage case. On the one side, he is loved by everyone who stands by the ideals of secularism and human rights, on the other, there are a few who are sceptical about him for the role he allegedly played in the infamous ISRO espionage case.
Career in Gujarat
Sreekumar, a 1971 batch IPS officer, spent his entire career from 1972 to 2007 (till retirement) in the Gujarat cadre. Despite having his education in Kerala, he was little known in his own state until he shot up in fame by refusing to toe the line drawn by the then-Gujarat government. He was reportedly instructed by the then BJP government in Gujarat not to testify against the government before Nanavati-Shah Commission inquiring into the 2002 carnage. He not only testified against the government, but also submitted a report to the Election Commission citing that 154 out of 182 constituencies in the state were affected by riots. This went against the government’s report that the law-and-order situation was under control and peace was maintained. Sreekumar’s report torpedoed the BJP’s plan for an early election in the state.
Since then, Sreekumar has stood consistently by his view that the then Gujarat government let the riots happen by staying mute. He alleged that the chief minister convened a meeting of senior officers on February 27, 2002, to ‘let Hindus to vent out their anger’. Though Nanavati Commission gave a clean chit to Modi, Sreekumar, joining hands with Teesta Setalvad, continued helping riot victims to fight for justice.
Inviting displeasure of the political bosses makes life tough for any civil servant. So was the case with Sreekumar. As he refused to follow the instructions of the government, the Gujarat government issued a letter to him on September 24, 2004, claiming that his promotion to the post of ADGP was wrong. As reported by Tehelka magazine, the letter blamed Sreekumar failed to report the facts about a chargesheet pending against him while he was on central deputation. Despite this overtly clear displeasure expressed by the then Gujarat government, Sreekumar went ahead with his second affidavit before the Nanavati Commission (on October 6, 2004) and deposed against the government regarding the alleged conspiracy in the riot. This move put an end to his career.
In February 2005, the Gujarat government issued an order promoting three police officers to the higher level, including one person who was junior in service to Sreekumar. On the day of his retirement in 2007, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) ruled that he should be promoted to the position of DGP. This order was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008.
The ISRO espionage case
As for the ISRO espionage case of 1994, Sreekumar was the deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau when Nambi Narayanan and others were booked in the case. Narayanan believes that officers, including Sreekumar, played a role in framing him. Narayanan was later given a clean chit by the Supreme Court in 2018.
The court not only ordered a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for Narayanan but also formed a committee, headed by Justice D K Jain, to look into the detail of the wrong-doings by the cops. The report of Justice Jain committee was sent to the CBI and appropriate action in the matter was recommended. CBI then filed an FIR against 18 persons, including all cops involved in the investigation. Sreekumar also was listed as an accused in the case. The Kerala High Court granted his petition for anticipatory bail last year.
When the case was going on, Sreekumar had told The Federal that he had nothing to do with the arrest of Narayanan, neither with the alleged torture that the scientist had to go through. Sreekumar said that he interrogated only Sasikumar, another scientist involved in the case, and had not even met Narayanan.
A scholar of scriptures
Many of his former colleagues and friends testify that Sreekumar is a scholar in Hindu philosophy. “He was a man who used to quote Bhagavad Gita to criticise the BJP and RSS. His knowledge was his strength,” says a former police officer who worked with Sreekumar. In a letter written to the Kerala chief minister in 2017, Sreekumar demanded that people belonging to all castes should be eligible for appointment as priests across all temples. He argued that ‘the intrinsically cardinal scriptures of Hinduism (Upanishads and Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita) do not validate birth-based caste system.
In the letter written to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in 2017, of which he sent a copy to The Federal too, he wrote: “The lopsided comprehension and skewed interpretation of Purusha Sukta of Rig Veda by caste Hindu speculators had only resulted in the creation of Smritis of Manu, Yagnavalkya, Parashara and Shankar, providing sanctity to caste discrimination and gender prejudice and consequent victimisation of the lower caste”.
Even after retirement, Sreekumar continued living in Gandhi Nagar in Gujarat. He did not shift to Kerala where the BJP does not have much influence. “I am safe here as the people around love me. I cannot abruptly close the legal battle leaving the victims behind and shifting to Kerala. I don’t prefer to do that,” he told The Federal in a conversation a few months ago.