Horses That Walk Backwards – Samkutty Pattomkary

Mr. Prakash Karat, how far behind are you and your crew walking?!
asks theatre director SAMKUTTY PATTOMKARY

[As the Chengara struggle reached a new phase, the CPI-M in Kerala organized a Dalit convention in Kochi – 51 years too late says the author. J Devika has posted updates on the struggle in recent days, as also a translation of Sunny Kapicadu’s speech at the historic night-vigil on 7 March 2008, in Kafila earlier.]

In more than 80 years of communist history in Kerala, for the first time, a communist chief minister has declared today (16-8-2008) that the caste system is strongly alive in Kerala! It took 51 years, starting from EMS in 1957, for the communist rulers to understand the caste system in Kerala. Anyway, on this ‘auspicious’ occasion of such a revelation for the Kerala CPM people, let them be reminded of some more facts.

1. How do you judge the principles of EMS Namboothirippad who believed to have understood the ‘agricultural laborer’ more than Ayyankali who led the anti-caste movements and social reformation in Kerala?

[Ayyankali is one of the important Dalit leaders of the past who sought the liberation of Dalits and also their right over agricultural land. It must be remembered that land reforms in Kerala, as in West Bengal – have been no different from anywhere else, being simply tenancy reforms, thus leaving Dalits out completely. Thus those who were left out traditionally for ritually sanctioned reasons, were considered by the communists too as being unworthy of land ownership! – AN]

2. How do you explain the conversion of Sree Narayana Guru’s anti-caste thought into Toddy Tappers Union by the Communist Program in Kerala?

3. Is there anything new in your scheduled castes program today in Kerala than what Gandhi articulated in terms of harijan sewa long ago?

4. If you’ve called for the abolition of caste system, as you’ve declared today in Kochi convention, why didn’t you call the upper crust of Nair/Syrian Christian/Namboothiri members of the party also and ask them to fight against caste system in Kerala? You should have taken an oath along with those members that no one in the party would do anything in your private and public lives that would perpetuate the caste system. Instead of doing that you called the so-called scheduled castes who have been the victims of this system!

So friends, on 16-8-2008 when the ‘CPM scheduled castes’ convention was staged, as we expected, Prakash Karat himself appeared. He presented some viewpoints as ‘something new’ as follows;

1. The struggle against the caste system is part of the class struggle [Interesting!]

2. Abolition of caste system remains an unfulfilled responsibility

3. Dalits are the worst affected section of people by the globalisation and liberalization policies

4. Scheduled castes and tribes should be given reservation in the private sector is what the party’s stand.

The fact that the caste system is a social evil is something which is known to even a small child. Caste in India, as a system, works in all spheres of social life in India. In the Indian life, including that of the communists, 90% of the daily exchanges are based on values determined by castes. Then, how would the class struggle and struggle against the caste system be defined by Prakash Karat? Does it mean that class is caste?

Second issue he raises is that the abolition of caste system remains an issue to be resolved. Does it remain an issue to be resolved outside the party? Has it been resolved within the party? If ‘yes’ is your answer for the latter, can you explain it through the history of communists in Kerala? If ‘no’ is your answer, will you bring in the ‘CPM scheduled castes and tribes’ to power positions within the party now onwards? By the way, let us leave alone those who had lived ‘as communists’ until yesterday and became the ‘scheduled castes’ on this fine morning. What about those who had already died thinking they were communists, Mr. Prakash Karat?

Whatever, a new category of ‘CPM scheduled castes’ has appeared! Their difference from other scheduled castes would be that they believe in the ‘class (?)’ also. Thirdly, Prakash Karat sees the plight of dalits as the worst affected lot of glaobalisation and liberalisation. How did the dalits who put up intense struggles for social powers and rights in the beginning of 1900s, become the worst afflicted by the globalisation and liberalisation policies which came after the mid century? Can Prakash Karat explain the role of the leftist thoughts that held power from 1957 and after in this especial plight of dalits in Kerala? Why the dalits who were the proletariat had been pushed so far out in the communist dominated Kerala? Scheduled castes and tribes should be given reservation in the private sector is his next declaration. It’s a decade-long demand of the lower sections in Kerala to ensure reservation in the private sectors where the UDF and LDF were competing to privatize the revenue, education and health sectors especially. Even after holding power for such a long time, not having implemented this in Kerala, what a shame to casually say that you like this
idea, Mr. Prakash Karat?

Now let us come to the point. What you have tried to masquerade by this convention are these. It is the present struggle of dalits and adivasis in Chengara. It has been more than a year since this struggle for land has started. More than 30,000 landless people are involved in this struggle right there. Mr. Prakash Karat, your stock of comrades including the Harrison workers are putting up blockade in Chengara. 3 young women of the Chengara struggle had been raped. Your home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan must be involved in instructing the police to suppress the protesters and social activists who try to help and support them. Why didn’t you bring these heinous acts under your ruling front for even a discussion in the convention?

When those landless dalits and adivasis who struggle without getting food and ammunitions in a war-like situation created by the blockade with the support of your ruling administration, what anti-caste declarations are you making? If anyone tries to resist the goondas supported by your administration, your police forces unleash terror on them and this goonda politics is what the balance sheet of your long history in Kerala. Are you trying to say that you’re not aware of this? Mr. Prakash Karat, how far behind are you walking!!

12 thoughts on “Horses That Walk Backwards – Samkutty Pattomkary”

  1. Sharp questions.Would you pl send them directly to Prakash and other PB members in CPM so that they strive to arrive at some theoretical answers.It is easy to organise hundreds of mass meetings as the one in Kochi;but to address the real Dalit questions is very difficult.That is why the communist movement in India is retarding.Life in Delhi is very comfortable!


  2. Justice for Chengara Land Struggle

    Please all those who are concerned join us for a Protest at Kerala Bhavan:

    Also tell your friends and bring as many people as possible.

    Voices of protest in Delhi will surely make a difference

    Assemble in front of Kerala Bhavan on Saturday 23rd August 2008
    Time: 2.30 pm


  3. Issue of caste in contemporary India is something which requires more and more genuine and objective studies. In all those terms and programs of the state and the language and network of individuals and polical parties who propagate ideas, it is rare that one addresses caste system as a deep-rooted, multi-faceted value system with enough self-reflexive thinking and analysis at various levels. The irony is that it is possible to preach about social change in public gatherings and practice caste values in all significant areas of Indian lives. The author here persuasively directs to look through Chengara struggle at the caste intricacies in the social history of Kerala. Good piece. Bravo!


  4. a correction:
    the convention was called Scheduled Caste Convention and not Dalit Convention. Comrades are afraid to use the word DAlit. The fear of the uprising of the downtrodden threatens not only Brahminism but also Marxism of all kinds including that of CPI M… The tragedy is that those who wait for the Godot (true Marxism) also resort to look down at Dalits and Adivasis as “uncivilised people to be uplifted to the mainstream” and thereby denying their subjectivity. The “Illigitimate” claims of ‘identity’ and community are override by “legitimate” questions of ‘land’ and ‘labour’. Else the civil society will not come out to support. The power realtions in neoliberal era has extended to other terrains, but Dalits are compelled to remain with the question of land and labour. the disinterest shown by civil society when Dalits try to extnd Dalit Question to other “elite” terrains shows the split caste publics and the extnded caste power relations


  5. Thanks, Ranju Radha, for this very important correction. And also for the additional point that you make regarding the reduction of Dalit identity issues to those of ‘land’ and ‘labour’ by something you call civil society. I am not sure you include us within your larger rubric of civil society but you might want to know that elsewhere on this blog, we have written on Dalit capitalism, Dalit espousal of English and the controversy that erupted around it, as well as on other issues that deal exclusively with identity-related issues. We do not write simply on land and labour issues.


  6. I was not trying to point finger at any one in particular. And it was certainly not about you. Rather one can take it as my self critical comment. The chengara issue has been successful in generating a debate and could muster enough support. Even at a rhetorical level CPI (M) supports it (See minister A K Balan’s statement “We will give land to landless tribals”). It seems that the leftist framework within Kerala, a struggle of Dalits and Adivasis gets legitimacy only if waged for land or labour. ( I am indebted to many for this idea). See how C K Janu has been criticised when Adivasi identity was invoked. And I don’t want to make the mistake thinking that I am above all these only bz I am concerned about Dalit/Adivasi issues. The “gaze” remains and it s challenge . Even Dalit politics has to take it up at least polemically.


  7. Ranju Radha,

    Thats an unwarranted swipe at Marxism!

    The CPIM is a statist party. It recognizes populations through state categories. Scheduled castes is one such. For people steeped in CPIM’s rhetoric in Kerala and West Bengal it may seem counterintuitive, but the party’s idea of working class itself is a state category. Take away the party’s legally registered trade unions and it has no working class left. Samkutty is of course right to points out that the SNG’s anticaste movement made no sense to the CPIM until it turned it into chethu thozhilali unions. The point here however is not that the CPIM understands ezhava caste in terms of unmarked ‘labor’. It understands it in terms of a registered trade union with so many members.!

    What does this have to do with Marxism of any kind leave alone all kinds ? ‘

    It follows then that in Kerala, or in Bengal, or anywhere else, the CPIM has to necessarily attach other atributes like landlessness or unemployment or illiteracy or whatever to the dalit or to the adivasi.

    The state enumerates deficiencies and gives caste certificates so that holders of those certificates can become eligible for preferential allotment in land, jobs and education. That is what a developmental state can give. That is why castes and tribes are scheduled. That is what the CPIM can fight for. If that is not what the fight is about, then the CPIM has little to offer. So it forcibly turns everything into something that it can understand. And people are some times willing to be turned into something that the party understands, because there are benefits.

    I am actually curious to know if you see the ‘dalit’ self representation by itself as signaling an uprising of the downtrodden, an outright rejection of these state authorized forms of politics practiced by the CPIM and all other parliamentary political parties. Is there anyone saying we dont want caste cetificates ?

    I am sure it is more – much much more than fighting for jobs, land assignments and college admissions and legislations on atrocities against scheduled caste acts and prosecutions and so on. But is it a rejection ? Is it radically different ? How ?


  8. 1) I am not sure whether CPI M comrades will agree to wht u have said. i thought their leftist world s more universal and global. at least thts wht they use to proclaim
    2) Do u think that reservation and in that case caste certificate is a certificate for deficiency? Brahmincally hegemonic state would prefer to imagine it so. but i dont think Dalits would like to think so
    3)enagement of Dalits with the state has always been strategic. and one should remember that it s not the welfare state,but the struggles waged by Dalits that complled State to intrduce measures to ensure equal opportunity and representation.
    rejecting that history would end up erasing/denying the agency of Dalits. That s what exactly CPI M would like to do and so as our “intellectual class/caste”.
    what we miss is the very visible form of Dalit/Adivasi self uprising— in muthanga, chengara etc— and THE WE would prefer to see only the “landlessness” and issue of “labour” or “worker” (as argued by some Marxsts)
    rejecting caste certificate need not imply a radical self. and Dalits would certainly would not want to be wooed like that. Dalits are capable of understandng the politcs behind that “radical” self. They have outrightly rejected such mean proposals.
    and more importantly, fighting for jobs, college admissions, media, land, against atrocities are all part of the struggle. rejecting these ‘immediate’ goals and embracing only the universal/grand categories of struggle which does not even address the Dalit/Adivasi self and history would be suicidal. Dalit utopia need not be a class determinstic one. They are capable of imagining it their own. Let us not deny that agency. howver, it s better to remember that it makes no differnce for Dalits even if one does so. as they r no more dependnt on the generous WE.
    The struggles of Dalits/Adivasis (even that for caste certifiates) cant be reduced to a begging bowl. u seems to think so.


  9. If CPM wants to really fight for ensuring equal participation and opportunities for scheduled castes and tribes, it’s a very late ‘declaration’ as Samkutty has pointed out (better late than never though). It’s certainly part of that struggle which the dalits had started long ago and something which Ambedkar had been instrumental in making a constitutional obligation for Independent India.

    If CPM wants to fight against the caste system, their tools for such fight, I mean the class analyses, had proved insufficient and they need to address contextually in India, what it is to be marginalized and oppressed in caste terms very thoroughly. One has to listen to the worst sufferers of the system, and ask oneself how s/he is contributing to the perpetuation of such a system. I think when Samkutty wondered why the CPM did not take an oath along with all the members of the party to fight against the caste system, he must’ve precisely meant the fight to be waged in oneself primarily rather than settling down to ‘uplifting and reforming others’ as if the evils of caste system are some monsters hovering outside. To me it appears quite natural that in the specific context of Kerala, dalit intelligentsia engage in a debate with the proponents of class theory, for the latter held sway over ‘revolutionary’ ideas regarding social change. And, in the specific struggle of Chengara now, dalits and adivasis are posed against the ruling left front and they had based their struggle on the question of land, knowing well that it is them who are left out time and again in the land reforms in Kerala. Land here, is not a limiting factor, but a basic element to assert the right to resources for dalits and adivasis.

    Dalit uprising has been happening in India for a long time in many forms and the emphasis on ‘self representation’ is a vital aspect of it, no doubt. Chengara struggle started from the independent assertion of dalits and adivasis, and many other agencies joined or extended support thereafter. The signatories to the online petition for Chengara and the comments therein are also testimonies to the wider and varied forms of support it is gaining for the health of democracy, I hope.

    What I suspect is not the class/caste debate which I find a necessary engagement particularly in the context of Kerala but the tendencies to undermine the dalit uprising and its leadership by those who have better access and links with the media, pushing the question of caste oppression again to the back seat.


  10. A brief update on Chengara:

    On 30 August 2008, a dalit–bahujan solidarity march and meet were conducted; the procession of around 2000 people carrying food and medicines for the protesters of Chengara started from Payyanam and were blocked by the Police at Konnappara near Chengara, following which the processionists sat on the road and blockaded the transport.

    Participants of this march included dalit activists K.K Kochu, Sunny M Kapikkadu, M.D Thomas, K Ambujakshan (State President of Kerala Dalit Panthers), Sreeraman Koyyon (leader of Adivasi Gotra Jana Sabha, AGJS), P. Ramabhadran (President, Kerala Dalit Federation), Rekha Raj of Panchami Dalit Feminist Collective, Niranam Bhadrasanam Bishop Mar Geevarghese Koorilose and Maya S of Sthreevedi.

    The trade unions (CPM, Congress and BJP combined) have announced their Chengara march for the eviction of the protesters on 3rd September. Meanwhile, the CPIM owned ‘ Vismaya Amusement Park ’ (!) was inaugurated in Kannur yesterday; Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan was conspicuous, as usual, by his absence on the occasion.

    In the complete vacuum of ideological and political opposition to the anti-democratic policies of the CPM –led govt. in Kerala, in the continuing socio-cultural segregation of dalits and adivasis in the state and, in the absence of a “radical left” similar to those who have been vehemently supporting land struggles of dalits and adivasis in some other parts in India, the Chengara struggle puts forward a strong case of alternate democratic movement led by dalits and adivasis in Kerala. If the Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyuktha Vedi (SJVSV) and its supporters can mobilize the dalit-bahujan forces from across the state in larger numbers in the coming days, that would mark a significant turn in Kerala politics;

    It is a pity however that a dalit leader like Mayawati who projects herself as a national leader with her ‘brand of power politics’ doesn’t seem to be much interested in movements such as Chengara that has sprung up from dalits and adivasis at the grass roots level – a big question mark on the anti-caste credentials of the budding BSP in the state.


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