KOLLAM: The rise of Tillery Shaji (27), who was killed in an encounter with the police at Mangalore on Thursday, as a notorious freelance muscleman of Kollam city eight years ago owes much to the campus politics at the local S.N. College. Though not a student there, he was, in fact, instrumental in triggering the Students Federation of India-led strike at the college in the year 2000 which turned into a major political issue between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam. The police said that the teenager used to carry with him a dagger and never hesitated to whip it out at his adversaries. According to the police, a section of the Congress in Kollam used him to settle scores with the SFI on the campus.
In 1999, despite the SFI having an upper hand in the college, a candidate of the Kerala Students Union (KSU), students arm of the Congress, got elected to the chairman’s post. For some days, the chairman-elect was scared to enter the college following threats from the SFI cadre. Shaji was soon deputed as his bodyguard and the chairman could move freely on the campus.
Shaji’s continued presence on the campus annoyed the SFI and it launched several agitations against it. One such agitation turned violent when a group of SFI activists damaged college property. That led to the dismissal of five SFI activists from the college and it resulted in the major strike.
Shaji saw his role on the campus as a money-earner. Beyond the campus, there were others interested in utilising his services. This saw him don the role of a `CC gang’ leader and soon there were a flood of offers before him for settling financial and property disputes. He fixed his price but often those who engaged him defaulted the payment. This often led to him attacking those who had used him.
In one such incident at Mukkam near Mayyanad, he got trapped when a group of daring youngsters overpowered him and handed him over to the Kollam East police. At that time he was wanted by the Kollam East police in connection with seven criminal cases. But soon his relatives moved court. Knowing this, the East police secretly handed him over to the Kanhangad police in Kasaragod since he was wanted there in a connection with a criminal case. When the case came before the court there were no records to show that Shaji was taken into custody by the Kollam East police.
The case pertained to a dispute between boxing teams of Kollam and Kanhangad. Shaji was hired by a section of the boxers from Kollam and he brutally assaulted a Kanhangad boxer there. From the Kanhangad police station, he was hospitalised and from there he absconded to reach Mangalore.
Mangalore has had a big student community from Kerala and Shaji began using the hostels there as the base for his operations. He used students as his gang members and recently six of them were arrested by the Mangalore police for being involved in extortion cases. It was following their interrogation that the Mangalore police learnt that Shaji was their leader and a hunt began for him.
Meanwhile, for Bakrid, Shaji is reported to have reached Kollam with an Italian woman. Both of them stayed in a hotel in the city for three days. Learning about it, two policemen from the Mangalore police arrived here to track him but in vain. . But that was the first time that the Mangalore police managed to get his photograph.