Welcome to Kerala’s Haven of Ease and Vice — Chengara

Make no mistake — this is not my assessment. I’ve just borrowed it from our Chief Minister, the redoubtable V.S. Achuthananadan, the foremost of (official) revolutionaries in Kerala, whose memories of struggle stretch back right up to the workers’ uprising of the 1940s in south Kerala, the Punnapra-Vayalar, celebrated in communist myth and legend.  In September this year it appeared as if the CPM was ready to negotiate with the protestors, but nothing has really moved. The latter have hung firm in their resolve, it requires a rather strange imagination to read that as evidence for ‘peace and prosperity’ at Chengara. The Congress has now emerged, after much slumber, with support for the struggle, and V.M. Sudheeran, one of the most popular and respected leaders of the Congress, has sharply condemned the CM’s statement (below).

In a debate on the earlier posts on kafila about Chengara, someone in Kerala called me a ‘somewhat irresponsible well-heeled revolutionary’. He was right, maybe. Maybe it takes a working-class hero to appreciate the pleasures of engaging in ‘revolutionary struggle’ in heavy thundershowers, without enough potable water or shelter, without any steady income, hedged in by the road blockade that the government of Kerala is powerless to remove. Perhaps the suspension of citizenship and the expanded version of illegal custody at Chengara are palatable and pleasurable to those who have been steeled by struggle, who know that citizenship and welfare are nothing but bourgeois charades. Yes, is there not a serious deficit of heroism among ‘well-heeled revolutionaries’, who do not realise that true pleasure, luxury, and vice  are to be found precisely in suffering in struggle? Therefore well-heeled revolutionaries ought to take refuge in ashes and sackcloth.

Below is the translation of VS’ statement on the Chengara land struggle, which appeared in the Mathrubhumi a few days back, which has aroused considerable protest all over. VS has returned to his earlier position with a vengeance, hellbent on misrepresenting the demands of the protestors, actually pretending that all the negotiations that took place in between are non-existent.

Mathrubhumi, Thiruvananthapuram, 24 Oct 2008:

The chief minister V. S. Achuthanandan accused the protestors at Chengara of leading a life of gluttony and pleasure, stealing rubber worth 1 lakh rupees, which belongs to the owner of the plantation. The leader of the protestors, Laha Gopalan, has opened up the possibility of such living there. Therefore the government requires more time to evict those engaged in illegal agitation at the plantation, he said, replying to a question in the press meet following the ministerial meeting. It is not true that the government had initiated no steps to end the Chengara struggle. The CM had invited their representative Laha Gopalan to talks. The latter was told that the struggle was not right. The High Court has ordered that the protestors should be evicted. The government can implement the eviction only very carefully and peaceably, and on the basis of the Court’s judgement. This is stated in the text of the judgement. The government wishes that not a drop of blood is shed there. The police is also intervening very carefully there. When the police approach the area, the protestors fold  two long towels and clamber up the trees, wrap one around their necks, and wind another around the tree. And then they have a gala time, feasting with the [money from] stolen rubber. Life is lavish. They’re asking for five acres and five lakh rupees. This can’t be allowed. But at the same time, the government had agreed to consider their applications too, at the time when government land will be distributed to the landless. The deserving will get not less than 10 cents of land. They were asked to put in applications in their respective districts. But the protestors did not heed these requests, the CM said.

26 thoughts on “Welcome to Kerala’s Haven of Ease and Vice — Chengara”

  1. when it comes to issues of politics achuthanathan fail more than most of the other politician. perhaps its time he realize that idealism is impossible in politics, and what matters is what is being done at the end of the day. Or perhaps he has realized that but unfortunately for him its too late, and he himself has when in opposition and in history made so many idealistic movements, that will surely make his fall at this stage inevitable. as for the chengara people by apologies, no achuthananthan is not gonna help u out here and nor is the LDF, coz u dont work in factories where we can make strikes….


  2. i have been reading polemics from both sides for quite some time now, in fact.
    i read an interview with Laha Gopalan in madhyamam recently… just as many of my friends, im also sufficiently confused i must say. i have a few questions to those who may be better informed.
    -why are the ‘leaders’ so particular about 5 acres?? do they have any idea about the average per capita land holding pattern in kerala?
    -it beats me why such a struggle will have the leaders charging ‘membership fees’ for the so-called prospective beneficiaries.
    -what is your take on the promise of 4 lakh rupees to anyone who would commit suicide ‘for the struggle’ in case there is police action? Incentivisation of suicide, in this world or the next -how much is it desireable?


  3. Dear Alex

    I don’t think you should be worried about the 5 acre-demand. In all democratic struggles in history people have put forth their demands — and continue to do so, which may appear unreasonable to others who may have their own reason for feeling so. The strength of democracy, however, is that there will be space for negotiation and change. In the case of Chengara, the 5 acre demand should be viewed in the context of the exclusion of dalit people from the possession of cultivable land during the land reforms of the 1970s — which can’t be 2 or 3 or 10 cents. But that does not mean that the leaders of the struggle will remain entirely inflexible if the government sincerely commits itself to the demand for cultivable land. The demands tend to turn rigid precisely when the space for democratic negotiation is closed off, as is happening in Kerala now.

    Your second point about ‘membership fees’ — I don’t know where the information is from, but to my knowledge — and I have closely followed the struggle — whatever pooling of resources that has happened at Chengara can’t be called ‘membership fees’. Besides, why do we think that political struggles can happen without any resources. In India’s own history, even the most revered Gandhian struggles were reliant on financial support by nationalists and contributions from activists — from the outside. And I marvel at the general mood of contempt about membership fees in this context alone — when we are now paying ‘fees’ for almost all welfare schemes. ‘Beneficiary contributions’ and for neoliberal welfare schemes and loans are perfectly normal to us; contributions to political parties are so easily tolerated (albeit with cynical shrugs) — but the leaders of the absolutely-poor collecting money for carrying on the struggle are condemned ! And if the people at the struggle site were so rich, why is it not that the sensation-hungry media hasn’t broken a dozens stories of rich-people-pretending-to-be-poor yet? Why does not the CITU take teams of reporters who could then report on such fraud? To date, they have discovered activists possessing minimal amounts of land — it is not even clear whether these activists are actually claimants.

    Your third point about threatening suicide — struggles have their tactics — and really poor people have few defenses against the police and the power of the state. I do not think such statements should be read flat-literally. Given that VS himself warned Laha of ‘police with thorns and horns’ some months back, do you think those people have a chance if the police are allowed in?

    Lastly, I want to make it clear that supporters of the land struggle are interested primarily in opening democratic negotiations and effective steps. Land redistribution, we know, cannot be done overnight — but the government’s position is still unclear, and so the protestors will not vacate the estate until a firm commitment is made. I don’t blame them for lack of faith — the fate that befell the adivasi land struggle is something we all know.


  4. I don’t think VS require a testimony from the” new generation revolutionaries like devika (who draws handsome salaries at the month end, and knows how to be in media attention).Most of the chengara leaders are financially sound and they are getting very good media support too. There is no doubt that, chengara factor will play a crucial role in determining Left’s testimony in next election (Only because, people of kerala, were beautifully misled by our media and part time revolutionaries like C.R Neelakadans.
    Mr.Devika should ask Mr.Sudheeran, how many acres of land he /his party distributed last time?. This very VM.Sudheerawas in our political arena for that last 4 decades.
    The present government in kerala is doing their best for the tribals.Anybody who Is
    Genuinely approaching this topic (not as mean for bread and butter) will see the government’s effort in uplifting marginalized.


  5. True. The “uplift” agenda of CPI M has been visible in many parts of KErala. It was visible when CITU people burnt the auto of Chitralekha, a Dalit woman; C K Janu may be the right person to tell abt CPI M’s love for Adivasis (not tribals dear); Chengara is a classic example of the left fascism and their sympathy for “poor landless” Harrison (bz of this only HArrison encroached land na!!); the story of the “uplift” is so stale. NO takers for such fairy tales now.


  6. Dear Madam Devika,

    Thank you for the very long reply. To me it means that my doubts were somewhat legitimate. Thanks for clarifying but despite your explanation, they remain.

    I am happy that you are honest enough to admit that the “demands tend to turn rigid”. Many supporting the struggle are not so honest.
    I used ‘membership fees” because it was made clear by Mr LAha Gopalan on occassions that in order to be part of the struggle as a future beneficiary, this payment was a pre-condition. It was not contempt as you make it out to be. I was just flagging an issue.

    I have heard that the govt had promised 1 acre of land during the negotiations. And it was outrightly rejected by the ‘leaders’ of the poor. I dont know how many poor people in kerala can actually afford to reject such an offer. If it was tactic, well and good. But what is the next step?

    also, is there a disjoint between your espousal of ” space for democratic negotiation” and justification of suicide as a ‘tactic’ since “really poor people have few defenses against the police and the power of the state.”??

    Please see that i am not trying to undermine the struggle or your arguments in support of it/ against cpi (m) or both. I am just confused as to how much one should go unqualified in support or in opposition. Hope you understand.


  7. I have been working in Oman for the past 7 years.I always dreamt to buy a land plot for me. After lot of struggle with 70% finance from HDFC I bought 9 cents of land in kollam.
    And It pains me a lot when I read jdevika very arrogantly justifying Laha Gopalan and his brigade of invaders. Who is directly taking law in their hands and threatening and holding the state in ransom.

    If JDEVIKA is determined to support them blindly. Think…… tomorrow if your own sun stands on top a mango tree with a can of kerosene threatening you to burn himself if you don’t buy him a IPhone which is his basic necessity for communication with his spoilt friends.

    You may bend to his demand because it may be your only son or one among your children whom you can count with your fingers.

    But the head of the state cannot bend to the demands of a spoilt son and set a bad example.
    If he does that, then tomorrow unemployed youth will invade government offices in demand of jobs.

    You will be sitting in the comfort of your cushioned chair and writing in favor of them.

    Traditional fishermen will capture motorboats and ask the government to ban those boats from entering their fishing areas.

    You will be counting your salary of false propoganda.

    Beggars will invade the banks demanding a daily allowance.

    You will be shopping for your dream home after spoiling the dreams of many around.

    jdevika you are writing and leading kerala to the right direction.
    Beyond sunset, towards darkness…..


  8. Dr. Devika:

    I dare not respond on this your new piece because I know you will not publish it.

    Warm regards.


  9. Dear Alex

    I do see your points — but again, this offer of 1 acre each and its rejection … I have been close to the negotiators (who are much closer to the CPM than I have ever been), and as far as I know, this is simply untrue, for September 2008. The media in this case has played an extremely confusing role, often misreporting speeches and even subtly altering the tone of press statements.

    But I wouldn’t say that all of it is media conspiracy.I have on my table right before me now six different accounts of the ‘demands’ and the ‘responses’, all of which appeared in the Malayalam newspapers, journals, and the TVM edition of the Hindu. How is one to make sense of such discrepancy? It’s just that the government’s response is so shifty, with different ministers saying different things (Balan himself changing his tone three times in two weeks), the ‘demands’ also take different shape. It is up to the government to bring more clarity to issues. Unfortunately the group war within the CPM will not permit that — the classic case of Thomman ayayumbol chandy murukuka!

    And yes, I do believe that if there were sufficient space for democratic negotiations on the land issue and dalit deprivation in Kerala, such tactics like suicide threats would not be needed. We have to see that the post- land reform dalit struggle for land did not begin with Chengara — it began much earlier, from the late 1970ss and 80s and the people who took part in those struggles have nothing but stories of the most brutal police violence to tell you — and their bodies are still scarred. If such people disbelieve authority, it comes as no surprise and it is up to the govt and those in power to convince them of their good intentions. In September, it seemed — for my close interactions with those who tried to negotiate with the govt — that such a possibility was emerging.

    And you may be right — the term ‘membership fees’ may have been used, but I do not think it should be interpreted in a rigid fashion. Kerala has a history of citizenship that foregrounds land ownership; I don’t thing anyone, not even the most respected leader, can deny people a right or an endowment, once granted.

    Victor, I do understand your anger even if I do not agree with you. But let me tell you that an academic’s job is neither high paying nor easier than other options, and you can find out for yourself if you wish. The situation may be different for college teaching — I can’t say anything about that. So the ivory-tower description doesn’t suit me; not can I afford spoilt brats!

    I don’t think your comparison of dalit people with ‘spoilt kids’ is fair and indeed there is enough historical record, and plenty of contemporary research to convince even the worst sceptic that there are many other ‘spoilt kids’ who authorities don’t even dream of touching. The Harrisons Malayalam is one such brat who has got away with murder, and the rejimon’s favourite revolutionary dare not touch for all his antics against local business people in Munnar.

    And there is no questioning of ‘bending’ to anybody — though the govt’s bending is an everyday routine thing nowadays. The setting of a democratic space for discussion so that both sides articulate their views and demands and come to a consensus is not ‘bending’, quite the contrary.

    All I’m saying is that we create conditions for everyone to acquire skills and resources to lead dignified lives. Unfortunately even the much talked about people’s planning has not done much to improve people’s incomes,especially for the poor.There is plenty of evidence from research that shows that people –especially farmers — in Kerala — who possess small and middle-level landed assets — are trying very hard, by hook or crook, to enter the BPL list, which would give them access to free health care and education, plus rations and other welfare support. One does know that these people are not crooks — they are desperately trying to stop themselves from falling into poverty. I wouldn’t launch a tirade against them even if they are doing something absolutely illegal. These people know that in order to secure upward mobility a certain minimum of assets and proper welfare coverage, both are necessary. If these people are asking for the latter, the protesters at Chengara are asking for the former. I wouldn’t wag an accusing finger at either group — unless I belonged to the spoilt-brat category which doesn’t want anyone to improve their lives except themselves. And from what I read, I know you don’t belong to this category, either.


  10. “They are desperately trying to stop themselves from falling into poverty. I wouldn’t launch a tirade against them even if they are doing something absolutely illegal.”


    If people like you are ready to support the illegal activities of poor but uneducated but crooked thinking people.

    (I am telling crooked because I know at least 1000 people in my village who are really below the poverty line. I know more than 1000 poor so called NRI malayalee contract labors here in Oman who are striving hard just to survive)

    A person like your support has definitely given a dangerous confidence for all the citizens to challenge the decisions of the government.

    I live in Eravipuram. Where the Kollam Canal is under development. Government offered the illegal occupants on either side of the canal a place to live. Each family living in different huts where offered one flat each. Under the leadership of some community leaders they refused to accept the offer and have demanded separate plots and house built in it for each family.

    The project is getting delayed. The progress of the state is halted.
    Dr.Devika with due respect to you. You are party encouraging a dangerous practice all across the state. Your own words are deceiving your purpose. Your acts are deceiving people (including you) who are dreaming of a better tomorrow for our lovely state


  11. Dear Dr. Devika,
    As I gather from here, you are encouraging PEOPLE to be self assertive and fight for their rights even if it s against “legal terror” and mallu middle class ethos through your online kafila support. This has irked the middle class casteist sentiments of malayalees. I appreciate you for this and request you to keep your good work continue. This kind f casteist irritation were seen when Ayyankali revolutionised the education scenario of kerala; when Sahodaran Ayyappan challenged brahmincal casteist values;when poykayil appachan redefined religion;when dalit intellectuals posed challenge to savarna aesthetics-art,music,literature etc.;when muthanga and chengara questioned the celebrated kerala model;when Chitralekha, a dalit woman broke the casteist communist barriers by doing second Ayyankali revolutionary act by riding an auto in the casteist CITU paths of Kannur, a CPIM mafia town in Kerala;when Rajani S Anand with her death questioned Malayalee pride.
    It is just a begining. Many more blows in waiting


  12. Ranju Radha
    You are driven by only one sentiment
    It is anti Communism or rather I will call it anti CPIM. The rest of the things are taking a back seat.
    We are not interested because we are not the devotees of any particular political party.We don’t need any CPIM , SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT , SUCI or SEVADAL to raise our voice.
    And please don’t mix up great revolutions with the acts of invasion. And challenge to the society as a whole. Yesterday Revenue Minister Rajendran had given a statement “ Chengara issue will discussed on the collectors meeting on 3rd and 4th of November. Issue will considered favorably and hopefully a decision will be taken on the ministerial meeting which is to take place on 5th November”
    Whatever may be the outcome of the other meetings any person who is really do care about the poor and landless people would have waited for 4 more days. But a violent march took place today morning. By which the situation has worsened. And from your below given words I fell that you are with the people who really want to create fire all over and make life miserable in this state at any cost.
    “when muthanga and chengara questioned the celebrated kerala model;when Chitralekha, a dalit woman broke the casteist communist barriers by doing second Ayyankali revolutionary act by riding an auto in the casteist CITU paths of Kannur, a CPIM mafia town in Kerala;when Rajani S Anand with her death questioned Malayalee pride.”
    It is just a begining. Many more blows in waiting
    First of all you are trying to relate things which has no relations at all and are you threatening all of us, you seems to be a terribly frustrated and self confessed looser.You seems to be ruled by some kind of anarchism which propels you to ignite fire of restlessness in all the readers. You may be having definite political interests please don’t drag the people of kerala into it.


  13. Victor,
    You are absolutely right. The whole Dalit politics in the country has “definite political interests”
    and want to remind you that Kerala can’t get away from it, at any cost.
    Yes, I am against CPI M bz it s a fascist political outfit
    YEs, I am frustrated bz the keralites have no shame in peacefully watching Dalits and adivasis being tortured under the Kerala model of development
    Yes, I am a looser, bz i m helpless when the casteist Kerala proudly demonise Dalits and Adivasis
    the cultural fascism of kerala middle class has been threatened.
    and i can see that shock in the way casteist kerala respond to the socio-political and cultural assertions of Dalits and Adivasis.
    Get ready for more such socio-cultural shocks!
    Best wishes


  14. …. and victor do find out from ur pathanamothitta local brach secratary who is really creating violence in Chengara. Why the goons of CPI M and Harrison continue the violent blockade and why the VS led govt not taking action against these goons and remove the blockade.
    It s the violence unleashed by the goons with the help of VS led LDF govt against Dalits and Adivasis.
    Stop violence against Dalits and Adivasis !!


  15. We have a peace breaker and the bread grabber in the forum.
    You are blind and say black is beautiful. You have no right to call kerala a fascist state. Compare it with any part of the globe. You will have to bang your head on the floor and give it more marks than anyplace.
    You being a shameless king who is nude is shocked and frustrated when I told you that you are nude.
    And one more thing, We don’t live in any party offices and our homes are not run any political outfits or any anti social elements whom you are desperately either supporting or in party with. I don’t have to ask CPM to know what is happening in my state.
    You speak like an hypocrite and irresponsible human being who’s only way of survival is by making these kind of irresponsible and shameless threats on the society as a whole.
    Don’t cook fire in the belly of my kerala. You act as if you are the saviors of the society. But you break and burn everything at will and call it a struggle.
    Your ways are wrong, your intention is blank you are a broken arrow.
    You are an empty drum so your existence is the sound of it we cant shout in tandem with your violent tone of death & destruction.
    Please leave kerala and just find any other place and make it hell.
    Maasalaamaa……Good Bye


  16. Good Bye to that “My Kerala” too. One can no longer daydream on that very horrible idea of ‘my kerala’. People of kerala has realised it and so, they challenge the very mythical pillars that hold such a daydream. It has to catch fire and so does it. And when will this “my kerala” wake up to realise the beauty of black as well? The Dalit politics challenges/counters this very imagination of ‘my kerala’ and strive 2 construct a new Kerala. As sunny kapikkadu in his speech said (refer Devika’s previous post for his speech) Chengara struggle imagines a new kerala. And it counters the hegemony of ‘my kerala’.
    Get ready for a new kerala and throw away ‘my kerala’ !!


  17. What had happen to this goverment? Kerala people had a lot of dreams and trusted the C M. But they made unforgivable wounds in the minds of kerala.


    read from the blog of veteran journalist B R P Bhaskar:
    “Many squatters have fallen ill due to lack of nutrition. The district administration deputed a medical team to the estate. The musclemen enforcing the blockade did not allow the government doctors to go in. Last week Health Minister PK Sreemathi the told the media that the cabinet had decided not to send doctors to the estate to attend to the sick.”



  19. My Dear Friends ,
    It is common sense to give the land to the people ,Your bleddy idaology is least –whoc bouther if u have water ,food to drink and eat …
    and …dont exaggerate any idaelogy Left or Right at the cost of poeple blood and sweat … is CPM is not following Land distribution means it should be distributed ,.,..no question of respect for the leaders ,,, poeple are matters … so think rationonally and give land to dalit and adivasi…

    imagine .. it will be big shame if any dalit or adivasu attack CPM with full force …. the entire world will laugh at kerala or whwreever the land of the aborigins are not given …

    dont be emotional towards anything be rational….

    nobody will come with u when u return to death … only u ,, so hellp others …

    politcs wont possible wiothout people… and if Chengara Land is not given back to needy .. its big mistake by Govt,,,,,

    and after all who bleddy Harrsion before my people..

    Veeramani .phD.


  20. dear veeramani.Phd.

    CPM never grabbed land from aborgins.Its the only party in this country,did something for the toiling class(everybody knows this fact.including “academic professionals” like Veeramani Phd. Dr.Devika,etc..).

    I hope u are all aware that Kerala is not a communist country,and iTs the part of a nation Named “India”.So the state govt shpuld work in tune with centre/Indian Judicial system.I humbly request you to go thr the “Kerala High Court Verdict” on chengara Eviction,b4 making this superficial statements.

    As I worked in three differnt states in this country,i am damn sure that people of Kerala are much much better off thn thier other indian counterparts.

    By weakning the leftist forces in the country,u people r trying to Push BJP/CONGRESS to the power(Who did nothing for the sufferin g class).The need of our time is that(If ur concerns are genuine),to strengthen Left democratic forces.U can criticize them,but dont try to destroy/or mislead its following,.


  21. rejimon –

    it is precisely people like you who keep kafila going. they are the left democratic force. that makes it easier for them to have their breakfast.


  22. How many of you know how much is the Harrison Estate?? I thoroughly agree with Devika..
    This is a part of political and media conspiracy. No political parties have no will to wipe off poor men’s tears or to give them justice that they deserve.
    Kettittille….”Onam vannalum unni pirannalum koranu kumbilil thanne kanji”


  23. I do agree with what ranju radha had stated here in this debate. You were absolutely sharp when you triggered on middle class keralaites who pretend to be secular and caste less. Of course the celebrated notion of ‘MY KERALA’ built over the cruel history of suppression and discrimination, which the dalits and adivasis of kerala suffer for centuries, should get fire. “And dear day-dreamers try to get out of the fire”.


  24. Chengara struggle goes on. The strength of the struggle is coming from the support of various mass organisations. This is the way forward. A great deal to learn from Nandigram and Singur. People’s movement is not a party’s movement.
    This is the way to forge unity among various groups and ideological factions. Various christian and Muslim organisations, left parties like SUCI, even well meaning individuals are all part of this mass movement.


  25. How would you view the present situation in Wayanad? Adivasis owing allegiance to CPIM has taken charge of an estate allegedly encroached by Shreyams Kumar. Is this struggle will get the support of all those who were in support of Chengara struggle? Or is this in any way different?


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