Kerala anti-conversion activist expresses regret over 2018 assault

Gopinath (left) confronts the pastor in the 2018 video

Puliparambil Gopinath, a Hindutva activist who shot to fame last year after roughing up a team of Christian evangelists in Kodungallur in Kerala, has publicly expressed his regret at his past political choices and blamed Hindutva organizations for failing to support their workers in their hour of need.

Gopinath, also known as Gopinath Kodungallur in reference to his place of origin, spent over six months in prison due to cases related to the assault. He has variously been described as a BJP worker, an RSS worker and a Rashtriya Bajrang Dal worker by the media.

Soon after the assault, the young businessman was hailed by a section of the population for leading a team of Hindutva activists to physically prevent the distribution of Christian evangelical pamphlets in Hindu homes in his hometown.

Door-to-door campaigning for converting Hindus to Islam and Christianity is a sensitive topic in Kerala, where about 27% of the population is Muslim and another 23% is Christian. In 2017, the Kerala Police arrested a team of Islamic evangelists for distributing pamphlets that portrayed Hindu religious practices as uncivilized.

Soon after the scuffle with the pastor, Gopinath and team — confident of support from Hindu organizations — even circulated a video in which they were shown threatening a pastor and two of his assistants at the spot.

But, said Gopinath, when it came to routine legal requirements such as posting for bail and fighting the ensuing case, it was his family members — who had opposed his actions in the first place — who had to get involved, he said in a Facebook post.

“Those who had publicly proclaimed that they will support any Hindu in their fight against [conversion activities of] other religions were nowhere to be seen,” Gopinath said, responding to queries from his former Hindutva colleagues on Facebook. “They said: You won’t be able to get bail from the High Court. Only the Supreme Court can help you now.”

He said he was able to get bail only after his father, with the help of some former Sangh parivar workers, were able to convince the pastor to withdraw the assault case last month.

“The organization and workers, who promised to be with me no matter what, did not show even as much consideration as the pastor who withdrew the case. Hence, I feel this is the right decision,” he said, announcing that he was stepping down as the district head of Rashtriya Bajrang Dal.

“Support and backing has to show in actions on the ground, not on Facebook,” he added, in a Facebook post.

Gopinath, who runs a bike rental business in Kodungallur, said three of his Yamaha R15 motorbikes were confiscated by the police, besides his smartphones that have been surrendered in the court.

“There was no organization to help me recover those bikes that were taken and trashed by the police without any reason,” he said, adding that he didn’t want anyone that he brought into the Hindutva movement to go through the hardships that he faced.

The former volunteer’s post drew mixed reaction online, with many expressing their support for his decision, while a small section expressed their disagreement that he was publicly criticizing his former organization.

“We entered the organization overruling the warnings and opposition from our own families. We never wanted any title or post. The organization is what we have always fought for,” commented Rahul Parambikulangara under Gopinath’s post.

“But there are some people in leadership positions who are destroying the organization. Neat clothes and making speeches do not make a leader. If you understand that, it will be good,” he said.

“I have done many things on the basis of assurances given by these leaders. But when they led to cases being filed against me, it has always been my father who came to the police station to get me released,” he added.

The Hindutva movement in Kerala comprises various organizations.

The oldest and most powerful is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization). Others include Praveen Togadia’s AHP — to which Rashtriya Bajrang Dal is affiliated to — as well as Hindu Aikya Vedi (Forum for Hindu Unity).

Many ground level Hindutva workers associate themselves with multiple organizations. However, of late, several Hindutva leaders — especially those who hail from the Ezhava community — have increasingly shown a preference for Togadia’s AHP, led by Pratheesh Visvanathan.