Un-Indianizing Kerala: How to defend K K Shahina

Like the unseasonal and tenebrous rain clouds that are hovering over Thiruvananthapuram in what should be a sunny, light-mist-adorned January, a pall of gloom, of impending danger, hangs around my everyday life in Kerala. This is not a general feeling. It is however shared by many of us who write and speak critically about the powers that be. The space to speak and write thus has been shrinking for a while now, but now there is a sense of dangerously teetering on the edge: the Indian state seems to be upon us, and with a vengeance.

Of course, Kerala has been subject to ‘Indianization’ quite intensely for almost more than a century and half now. It may be hard to imagine how ‘unindian’ Malanaadu –Kerala was not yet in existence — was in the early 20th century — how far away it was from the ‘Indian’ model of family, sexuality, community, faith, culture as imagined by Indian nationalists .  Indeed, even the hierarchical caste system which Malanaadu shared with the rest of the subcontinent was striking different in its peculiar contortions. ‘Modernization’ in early 20th century was often synonymous with a certain ‘Indianization’ which offered new models that ostensibly harked back to an ‘Aryan’ past, and it often addressed the practical consciousness, striving to reform traditional practices that were not in line with ideas identified as ‘truly traditional’ (read ‘Aryan’ or Indian’). Yet, even in the 1940s, one could well argue that this part of India was culturally (and physically) closer to western Sri Lanka than to either the discursively-constructed  ‘India’ of elite nationalism or even the other parts of the Indian subcontinent. If cultural contiguity is the criterion of national identity, then in the 1940s, Malayalees were closer to Sri Lanka than to India — and we ought to have belonged there. The resemblance continued though transformed through the 20th century — the high levels of social development in both regions, for example.

Yet, we have been good subjects of the Indian nation. We have kept mum.The cultural links that bound us to Sri Lanka (and continue to do, in many ways) are yet to be deeply explored in scholarship. Even the strong presence of Pali in Malayalam and the persistence of the vestiges of Buddhism in the Hindu temples have not received much sustained attention — and more importantly, such a discourse that considers the cultural connections of Kerala and Sri Lanka has simply not emerged in the Malayalee public domain at all. ‘Indianization’ has proceeded like a natural force, and over the 20th century, Malayalee society has come to be ‘Indian’ in a number of ways, ranging from the ubiquitous presence of dowry and dowry harassment, to the widespread practice of Hindu women rubbing their hair-parting line with sindoor.

Yet there were ways and domains in which we strove to be ‘un-Indian’. The passion with which we translate, consume, and discuss Latin American literature is such that I can imagine Lhosa, Amado, Marquez and others as equally part of the Malayalee legacy. But of the domains in which Malayalees sought to assert difference from ‘India’, politics has been the most important. Community competition over resources and the prominence of the left that leaned upon the legacy of community reformism were two features of this ‘un-Indian’ model of politics. We were chastised harshly enough for clinging stubbornly to it. Kerala was known by epithets that were strikingly uncomplimentary, until the ‘Kerala Model’ rose up in the 1970s: it was the ‘problem state’ because governments here were not stable, ‘backward’ because it was not industrializing rapidly, ‘madhouse of teeming millions’ because of the high density of population . In contemporary parlance, we were paragons of ‘bad governance’. Yet, as we would triumphantly declare in the 1970s, we had indeed achieved, to a very considerable extent, what other regions could not — through a uniquely regional, sub-national trajectory of ‘bad governance’! The critiques of the ‘Kerala Model’ notwithstanding, there was little disagreement that Kerala’s divergence from the rest of India had served us relatively well. The three discourses of social science in and through which Kerala re-emerged in global discourse — that of matriliny, politics, and development — all emphasized its difference from India, and this continued to be a key element in the popular perception of Malayalee national identity well into the early 20th century.

However, the era of liberalization did revive some of the earlier epithets: ‘problem state’, now understood as the region in which neoliberal capital found itself limited by labour, ‘backward’, now that ‘development’ and capitalist growth were lumped together. These have still not become hegemonic and feminist and dalit critics of the Kerala Model have largely resisted attempts to harness their insights to the interests of the emergent economic order. However, another sort of ‘Indianization’ characteristic of saffron politics did make huge inroads recently: we have been reeling in wave after wave of Islamophobia perpetuated in the name of an utterly dubious progressiveness. The Indian-Nation-is-in-danger-sort of frenzy has become all-pervasive and there is enough reason to think that Malayalam media has  capitulated. The wave continues to ride high, in fact, so high that one starts believing in conspiracy theories. For example, the recent Mohanlal-starrer, Kandahar, a jingoistic paean to military rule that rubbishes the best aspects of Indian democracy, which almost looks as if it has been scripted by state agents, is only the last one of a series of ‘military films’ of the same boring sort. And it bombed at the box-office quite definitely; the audiences have been decidedly thin. However, it continues to be screened in a centrally-located theatre in Thiruvananthapuram even now. How come? Or maybe the current mood is making me paranoid! More baffling is the question why such a movie — that insults the progressive legacy of Indian democracy enshrined in the Constitution so outrageously — is not accused of being ‘seditious’. The maker of Kandahar has, on the contrary, been bestowed with ‘national integration’ prizes!

What is scarier is the fact that our ability to resist these by producing sub-national discourses is withering. Assertions of Malayalee identity are nowadays directed more often than not, against the lowest rungs of neoliberal ‘India Shining’ — for example, against the migrant labourers who have arrived in Kerala as construction workers etc in the wake of the real estate boom. The onset of liberalization has indeed seriously affected Kerala’s social welfarist policies and voices, including those from the mainstream left parties, have criticized the centre’s economic policy as anti-Kerala. However, there is a real need for us to seriously recognize that Islamophobia has engendered a particularly virulent form of ‘Indianization’ which undermines the uniquely vibrant public that Kerala’s specific historical trajectory has fostered. This is what the Malayalee media’s lack of energy regarding the unjust treatment suffered by K. K. Shahina of the Tehelka reveals. The facts of the case are in the public domain abundantly and it is clear that the attack on her is a violation of the freedom of the press, something that the Malayalee press, right from the days of Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai and Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, has cherished. It is also clear that she is being targeted not by some neutral ‘Indian nation’, but by the police controlled by a Hindu fundamentalist government that uses the discourse of national security to its own sinister ends. However, the pervasiveness of fear generated by rampant Islamophobia whipped up around the Madani case ensures that we forget these facts. Indeed, we forget our own history — our own history of marginality in the ‘India’ of the brahmanized elites — and instead bow to the exigencies of ‘national security’ which moves in swiftly to curtail our freedoms.

Perhaps the campaign for Shahina will be occasion for us to think about how we may redeploy subnational discourses against the advancing power of ‘national security’. Perhaps this is also an occasion for the mainstream left to leave in the past its association with Islamophobia and redefine its political effort among the Muslims. There is now a crying need today to build alliances that recognize the significance of the historic juncture in which the Muslims of Kerala are in today and re-propose a dialogue on Muslim modernity. But most urgently, the mainstream left parties, if they wish to rebuild their depleted influence, should work to ensure adequate political space for Muslims to articulate their concerns in public and defend them against the onslaughts of ‘national security’. Indeed, such distance from the arms of the state is already part of the mainstream left’s historical legacy in Kerala. Remember the full recognition of the first Communist Ministry in Kerala in 1957 of the colonial legacy of the police. As Victor M. Fic noted of the first Communist Ministry in Kerala, it declared its commitment towards preventing the police from suppressing or impeding democratic activities of political parties as part of its policy. In other words, it made an explicit policy commitment to measures through which it could show agonistic respect to other political parties. This is of course part of our ‘un-Indian’ legacy of politics- and indeed, it may well be argued that ‘Indianization’ affects the mainstream left the worse — not the Congress or the BJP.

Perhaps we must now reclaim the legacy of ‘un-Indian’ politics and redeploy it against the undemocratic thrusts of ‘national security’ in regional space. That is perhaps the only way we can keep at bay what has become the nightmare of ‘national integration’: state security pervading all our worlds, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. And perhaps we must declare that we do have an ‘India’ too, one that is entirely unlike that of brahminized Hindu elite, one that is rooted in democracy and difference —  — for instance through asking for legal action against films that disparage the progressive legacy of Indian democracy and thereby the Indian Constitution, on the grounds that they hurt our nationalist sentiments, perhaps?

31 thoughts on “Un-Indianizing Kerala: How to defend K K Shahina”

  1. Kandahar is based on the real events follwing the Indian Airlines Flight 814 Hijack, that happened on on December 24, 1999 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Airlines_Flight_814).
    Defenitely it will fit into Ms Devika`s defenitions of Islamophobic, Hindu Savarna tales.

    `I will like to remind that Muslims has not dropped the knife of 1921 Khilafat into Arabian sea`. This words of Wisdom from Abdul Nazar Madani could still found on CDs about his speach, and created revolutionaries of sort like Thadiyantavide Nazeer, Sarfraz Nawas, the four youth who got `martyred` in kashmir . In view of all Devika is fully correct in stating that , the mainstream (Hindu) media of kerala took protracted efforts to to synthesize Islamophobia in kerala

  2. Devika,

    While your ideological position is your prerogative entirely, why do you need to be so “creative” with facts?

    So Kerala is “UnIndian” because there are strong resemblances of Keralite culture with Sri Lankan…Well, maybe its just that Sri Lankan cultural vignettes have much in common with “Indian”, no? Pali influence in the language – a symbol of Sri Lankan influence?!!Did Pali originate in Sri Lanka? And what is the “Indian model” of family, sexuality etc? From matriarchal Meghalaya to patriarchal Haryana – what is the monochrome “Indian model”? BTW, any historical acocunt of how Kerala is closer to Sri Lanka culturally than India?

    Kerala is UnIndian because it likes latin literature? Or its affinity to left wing politics? Well, then maybe Kerala has more in common with Bengal! :)..Given that Bengal is part of India, mathematically: Kerala = Bengal, Bengal = India, therefore, Kerala = India?!

    Kerala is unIndian because of the “Kerala model” of development? Well, what is the “Indian” model of development? In 60 years after independence, there is example of a Punjab – agriculture-led agrarian, state-supported development, an example of Gujarat – a mercantilist-industrial development, a Karnataka – pvt-sector services led development on the back of public sector investment in PSUs…Kerala has had its own “model” of social development – which has been uniquely successful in some aspects..That makes it unIndian? Maybe Gujarat too is unIndian then?

    Last, Kerala/Keralites “marginalised” in “brahminical” India? there isnt a single position of high influence (govt or pvt sector) that a Keralite has not occupied, barring that of the PM..Marginalised?

    Rest of your post is about a certain ideological position, which is your prerogative..But get the facts in right order!

  3. Somnath,


    So many rhetorical questions in defense of a polychromatic India? You will have us believe that the rhetoric is based on objective facts? Dispassionately uncovered ? Devoid of ideology and in pursuit of scientific truth?

    You are fighting an ideological battle and you seek to win it by denying that it is ideological and somehow scientific. And we know it. So let us move on.

    You say there is no monochromatic India. I might agree with you on that. So what is India then ? From your own perspective it has to be some object of a higher order than its components right ? So explain to us what this mysterious object of higher order is, how does it come into being ? Is it like white light ? A mere perception with no objective existence save the endless combinations of wavelengths? Something that comes into being at higher temperatures …heightened passions to inspire a unity of purpose ? If that is the case then why does it need you to police it ? Even Devika’s piece would become part of being Indian wouldnt it and so would your piece. So why get so worked up about it as if you have the lien on whiteness?

    Or is there another way to think abou it ? Your comments often make me think that in your world some wavelengths do not belong or do not contribute to whiteness. what if some of the wavelengths insist that they do not quite belong and refuse to be spoken for by whiteness, especially since some other wavelengths are pretending to be the main generators and guardians and spokespersons of whiteness ? Why must the story begin with your whiteness rather than with the colours and how they might or might not combine ?

    From time to time different social groups take on the mantle of whiteness. And they are not entirely dumb. So, they invite others to join it. They fight among themselves and make adjustments. But they cannot allow everyone to join the club. Then whiteness will stop serving their purpose. Its existence depends on repression, robbery, and enclosure. Some times they are sophisticated, at other times brutal and naked. In some cases they are sophisticated and in other cases brutal and crude. Right now we are witnessing one of those brutal, naked display of lawless power. At times like this, those at the receiving end have no option but to seek refuge, and may be even inspiration in all sorts of identities. ‘Class’ , caste, gender, are not serving as that refuge anymore. We need an alternative source of energy. We have seen so many iterations of the idea of the region but all of them have adopted the very parochial closed in, hemmed in Indian nationalism as their model.

    What Devika is proposing is distinct from those previous ideas of regional identities precisely because it challenges and refuses to take your whiteness…er Indianness as the starting point or even as the model. Devika is proposing that we might look to the ‘region’ as that alternative source of energy, of identity, of inspiration. I am glad that someone has finally used that word in such a powerfully political way. I am with her on this.

    1. Anant M


      So what Devika is suggesting is more of identity politics? All this acrobatic maneuvers to do something that is already is a failure in delivery? And if facts are chosen to match rhetoric, all rhetoric will be reasonable.

  4. Dear Anant, thanks for saying what I wanted to, perhaps better than me. i find somnath’s response valuable as a specimen of precisely the kinds of willed blindness characteristic of people who like to brandish their Indianness/whiteness against dissent. I can of course flesh out my hypothesis about the Sri Lanka – Kerala connection, but that is not what he is after. In any case, it would be a tiring exercise to educate someone so smugly wrapped up in a sense of empirical adequacy and quite unmindful of logical error in argument.

  5. Anyone who wants a confirmation about the astonishing cultural/geographical similarity of Western Sri Lanka and Kerala has only to take the morning train from the Pettah Station of Colombo ( Trivandrum too has a Pettah station !) to Galle, a lazy ride of 3 to 4 hours. The landscape, the physiognomy of the people, the cuisine and even the similarity of the script of the languages are striking.

    Devika’s point about Indianization is interesting ; however, it has to be reworded as a failed attempt of homegenization based on the foolish slogan of the Fifties : Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan which got a fresh impetus in the late Nineties as a product of mindless Globalization and feverish Nationalism.

    The Kerala-Sri Lanka cultural connection got a fresh boost last month with the organization of a Global Convention on the visions of Narayana Guru and Lord Buddha which was organized by the SN Guru Society of Sri Lanka, run by third generation Sri Lankan citizens of the local Malayali community. Prof. Ashis Nandy, Prof. Vinay Lal and Prof. Roby Rajan spoke in the convention which was attended by more than 500 Sri Lankans. With peace returning the old cultural affinity will surely re-emerge.

  6. Jdevika, Hearing about how Kerala has more in common with Sri Lanka than with India warms the cockles of my heart. Thats just great. Why dont you people just secede from India and join wonderful little Sri Lanka ? I am sure most Indians would pay to get rid of our beloved “unIndian” Malayalis….if you could also take West Bengal and Bengalis with you, we would worship the gtound you walk on….best of luck.

  7. Anant,

    Maybe it would be useful to remember that “white” is formed through a combination of seven different, disparate colours!

    What is interesting though is what you say here:

    “Class’ , caste, gender, are not serving as that refuge anymore. We need an alternative source of energy. We have seen so many iterations of the idea of the region but all of them have adopted the very parochial closed in, hemmed in Indian nationalism as their model.”

    So as other barriers collapse around you, you need to “invent” new ones? Why does the struggle for civic rights necessarily need the coat-tails of identity politics? Is it because you find it easier to arouse people on emotive identity issues? Trying to arouse revolutionary fervour in a Keralite on issues of communalism and land reforms is a tad difficult in these days of expanding horizons for everyone in India, isnt it? The college kid next door in Kunnoor is as much interested in getting a tech job in Infosys as his counterpart in Delhi, (and as much thrilled by the antics of Sreesanth!)..given that, why dont we try and build some distinct “keralite” identity..

    About fleshing out linkages, Namboodiri brahmins from Kerala are the priests of Pashupatinath in Nepal – so Kerala has linkages with Nepal as well!

    Think whether the argument you are making is a self-serving sophistry for simply creating more identities in a scenario where greater education and greater opportunities together are makign older identities blurred and diffused…

    1. Somnath,

      I asked you to explain how you understand the process by which different wavelengths combine to produce something distinct from each of the wavelengths – white light. And you tell me that white light is composed of different wavelengths. This is insulting to me but more insulting to yourself !

      About identity politics…. you are doing the same trick again. ‘Indian’ is an identity. Representing one self as ‘Dark Lord’ is identity politics. So when you speak of barriers collapsing and identity politics not delivering, and the left hanging on to the coat tails of identity politics, you are simply trying to win the argument by concealing your own politics.

      The college kid in Kunnoor is of course interested in getting a job in Infosys. But he wont get it if he does not have the right pedigree.. again a matter of identity.
      Why do you think over 200 young people have killed themselves in the name of Telangana identity in the last one year ? Most of them belong to particular castes and agrarian family histories. Look at the composition of hundreds of Joint Action Committees that have sprung up all over Telangana… all of them are poor OBCs, SCs and STs. None of them will get jobs in Infosys or anything remotely comparable. In Coastal Andhra, the same demographics have all turned to evangelical churches. The India that you speak for has very little to say to them. In Mangalore city, the excluded demographic comprising a very different caste composition has been going around beating up Muslim males in the name of Hindu India. Identity politics is everywhere. What you are doing is to pick up a cliched line from the 90’s academic leftist critique of identity politics. The world has moved on quite a bit since then. So please dont beat us with a stick we made 20 years ago to beat ourselves with and have thrown away :)

      Finally, yes of course, when the linkages are fleshed out, Namboodri connection too should be accounted for although, if I remember right, the priests in Pashupathinath temple are actually Bhattas from what is now Coastal Karnataka and have been so for at least three centuries.

      1. Laughable leaps in logic.
        “Representing one self as ‘Dark Lord’ is identity politics.”

        Really. Calling myself dark lord in a web forum is identity politics. Identity does not imply identity politics.

        “So when you speak of barriers collapsing and identity politics not delivering, and the left hanging on to the coat tails of identity politics, you are simply trying to win the argument by concealing your own politics.”
        Is the left not hanging on to the coat tails of identity politics? How about addressing the argument instead of trying to decipher others politics.

        “The college kid in Kunnoor is of course interested in getting a job in Infosys. But he wont get it if he does not have the right pedigree.. again a matter of identity.”
        College kid in Kunoor will get it if he has the capability and skills. It has nothing to do with pedigree. Demonstrate it and he will get a job.

        “…Telangana identity …In Coastal Andhra…Mangalore city. Identity politics is everywhere.”
        Completely veering off topic. Telangana, coastal andhra or mangalore, they too are a part of India.
        Actually, identity is everywhere and that is not the problem. The problem with identity politics is people vote based on that identity. So if you are a jat, you will vote for a jat despite him being a corrupt raping and murdering goon. This problem with identity politics results in bad governance.

        “What you are doing is to pick up a cliched line from the 90′s academic leftist critique of identity politics. The world has moved on quite a bit since then.”
        I dont know about the world, but parts of India are still struck on it. For example, the author. For a defense which should have been legal, she is invoking a cultural and political ideology. You may have the support of all nobel winners with you, but Binayak Sen should be defended in court rooms, not news rooms or magazines. The trail by media, where it is investigation, accusation and judgment (and in some cases acquittal) delivered by random magazines with their own agenda has to stop.

        “So please dont beat us with a stick we made 20 years ago to beat ourselves with and have thrown away :)”
        Really farting out there. Both in Kerala and WB as well as national politics, left continues to indulge and support identity based politicians.

        1. Dark Lord, who makes the law? Some divine force, or humans? Humans, you will agree. What are the criteria by which lawmakers are chosen? Divine criteria? No, in democratic countries, normally by people themselves – flawed, biased, but often well-meaning humans. How are lawyers and judges chosen? By a supra-human, faultless process ‘from above’? No, by the man-made selection of those who choose to sit for exams, by others who correct those exams. Not to mention the hundreds and thousands of extra-legal ‘connections’ and ‘pulls’ applied to skew the playing field, and to climb the judicial ladder once you’re in. In the midst of all this, your faith in legal rationale, rather than cultural or political ideology’ is a bit touching. Laws can be and have often been dramatically and audaciously wrong. Favourite Pol.Sc. class example – till 1992 it was legal for men to rape their wives in the UK (we’re not talking Jats from Bulandshahar here, just regular, married British men, and what they’re legally sanctioned to do). You may say its an exception but the treatment of wives as property has unfortunately been the legal norm in most countries – white, yellow, black or brown. Binayak Sen, by the way is being prosectued by the legal system and will hopefully be saved by a larger political movement. It is the law that is often the recourse of scoundrels, or else we wouldn’t need a UN team to come and monitor the court proceedings on the Sen case in Chhattisgarh.

          And if this is the case with a country’s legal system, then multiply by n the number of human decisions that must go into the running of an entire state or government. Yet you fondly believe in that ideological myth called ‘good governance’. Welcome to Jurassic Park, dark lord.

  8. Some of the comments are filled with precisely the hubris of the indian ‘whiteness’ that turns everything other than that suspect. yes, white does swallow all other colours. That’s the trouble with the metaphor. Depends on what colour you are. The other interesting thorn in the flesh of these comment writers is ‘identity politics’ — as if it were something fixed and static. If these comment-writers read Anant better, they wouldn’t have said this. The ignorance in Somnath’s comments, however, exceeds all bounds though. What reasoning! I am amazed. I have neither the time nor the patience to respond to straw-man fallacies, neither can I correct his ignorance of culture, and in any case he flaunts this ignorance as if it were his national flag. And he hopes that India Shining will unite us all. It will unite the brahmanized elite that is Somnath’s India (now I have to watch out for a diatribe asking whether Syrian Christians are brahmins!) but leave out everybody else.

    And ‘wonderful little Sri Lanka’, indeed? Wow. And we must leave? Do I need produce anymore evidence for the muscular big-brother up there? Alas, Kerala serves Prasant’s India too well for it to allow us to leave. We have served you really well in your toughest days — in the 60s — and now too. You won’t let us go, anyway. But do drop us a postcard, Mr Prasant, when you become Military Dictator of India someday and ask Kerala to leave. We will — happily.

  9. Every border region in India (or in any other country for that matter) may well have more cultural traits in common with the proximate region in an adjoining country than with distant regions of the “same country”– in this sense, there is nothing unique in Devika’s claim about Kerala’s cultural similarities with Sri Lanka.

    Some of the respondents have seized on this relatively uncontroversial point, but that shouldn’t obscure the larger issues she raises: that the Indian state is slowly but surely turning into a national-security apparatus seeking total control with Israel as its model; that the cultural accompaniment to this creeping securitization been the relentless spread of a bourgeois-Hindu model of family, sexuality, and religion, not only to Kerala and other peripheral regions but in the Indo-Gangetic heartland itself; that this bourgeois-Hindu cultural formation dovetails neatly with the ideological requirements of the emerging security-state; and that as a result, the space for autonomous social experimentation of the kind that was tried so successfully in Kerala by drawing on region-specific peculiarities and particularities is rapidly shrinking.

    To label all this using the threadbare term “identity politics” borrowed from low-grade social science is a symptom of the very same imaginative poverty that has brought us to the edge of a full-blown Hindu-national-security-state.

    Roby Rajan

    1. I agree with one rider.

      Actually, in the last para of her post, Devika goes beyond establishing the ascendancy of the national security apparatus. That should be the starting point for subsequent discussion.

      “And perhaps we must declare that we do have an ‘India’ too, one that is entirely unlike that of brahminized Hindu elite, one that is rooted in democracy and difference – — for instance through asking for legal action against films that disparage the progressive legacy of Indian democracy and thereby the Indian Constitution, on the grounds that they hurt our nationalist sentiments, perhaps?”

      That, is not a move to walk away from India. It is to stake a counter claim to Indianness, one that takes pride in the progressive legacies in the Indian Constitution, one that refuses to be cowed down by belligerence and heckling and outright threats and retribution, one that comes into being precisely because it is globally connected, and does not exist merely in mimicry.

      The resources for the project of reimagining India, lie in its regional specificity, the submerged histories of those regions, and the global connectivities of those histories.

      The World Bank and most successful global business consultants had this important insight as early as 1995… the first round of economic reforms. It was on this basis that strategies for working with selected chief ministers of Indian states was developed via multilateral funding of state restructuring.

      Coming at it from the perspective of planning and finances, Prabhat Patnaik also suggests in one or two articles that the key may be in the regional economies in an before he changed tack in 2007 and went with Buddhadeb Bhattacharya saying that it is only at the national scale that these things can be arbitered. Not much wiggle room for the states. The CPIM will pay the price for this costly error of judgement…but all this is documented history.

      It is intriguing to see so much agitation, heart burn, bluster and nastiness here . Why? At the mere suggestion that India can be re-imagined from a non-masculine, non monotheistic Hindu, non militarist vantage point and that people can stake counter claims from that vantage point ? Or is it because she has put her finger on where exactly that vantage point should be located …just below the nation state in the ‘region’… in the states of India and not in sansad bhavan.

  10. Looks like devikas and dinakarans are living in a distant planet without knowing or perhaps not wanting to know, what is happening in that island nation.If you want to defend freedom of expression and right to dissent you can do that within the fundamental rights framework. If you want to hate India do that openly and do not use the case against a journalist as an excuse. Those who indulge in this should also say whether they are happy with the Sri Lanka of today.

    1. Who hates India, dear “an Indian” ? Pointing out cultural contiguities is not hating any state : is Indian state so vulnerable that it cannot accept the seamless South Asian experience of the Indic way of life ? And Indian state would be stronger by being low profile, allowing dissent and diversities and even the right to dislike each other (and accept the other’s right to dislike you) and still live with the little joys of life. We have all been living like that for millennia till hard divisive politics entered our lives.

      Mahatma Gandhi had written a Hindi essay titled ” Desh Prem Kya Hai ?” “An Indian” may profit by reading that.

      Jai Hind !

  11. Love me love me love she cried, holding a gun to my temple. No thanks, I said, looking curiously across the border. Fool, fool, fool, she cried, pressing the gun a little deeper. Perhaps, yes maybe, I said, longing for a gentle confusion of identities. Perish, she growled now, pressing her whole white weight upon me, and I said, ok, but can it at least be on my own terms?

  12. Does not the Kerala of the past , conceived as monolithic ‘unIndian’ identity as Malanadu, glosses over its interaction with colonialisms of various genres, starting with the Portuguese, in the process of it’s becoming. Deeming it as non-Aryan , it seems, is a sort of wishful thinking. With it’s Hinduised Brahmanisation and brutality unparelled to Dalits,(vouched byVivekananda…) , even the matrilineal society and its relation to dalits and feudal exploitation necessitates queries. Does not the relation of such a culture to Tamil, definitely understood as an identity in the process of becoming ( and from spatial angle an adjacent one),needs a relook. Especially its relationship to the subaltern, unsanskritiesed modes in kerala need exploration. In the context of ridicule bestowed on Tamil in the national popular perception in its image as the other/black in the national discourse, the imagination of Dravidian myth detached from geographic specificities, provides a powerful site of contestation to the national discourse. And the existence of budhism in much earlier period/part of south India, makes it fallacious limiting its relationship only to the ,convoluted form of Budhism in existence in Srilanka. Anyway, the post Ramayanised period of hinduised/ Aryanised Malanadu, and its present day maniacal obsession with fair colmplexion of skin, shared even by the progressive malanadu revolutionaries and their disdain for blackness, points to vestiges of the much earlier Aryanisation, prior to the modern national discourse. Such an Aryanisation was here long back, wrought through the awe for admiration for the perpetual apparent visibility of the power of white skin, exemplified through Brahmin migrants, Dutch and the Brits and their colonial discourses.The insincerity of kerala intellectuals, provides a queer mixture which can mouth latin American literature and practical orthodoxy( a la Brahmanism) itself vouches for the Aryanised Brahmanism internalised in their intellectual ‘genes’ and points to a Brahmin Aryan legacy which predates modern Brahmin national discourse. See for instance , the eulogising of Sanskrit as a language in Kerala and it’s genetic affinity to Malayalam, the history of which denied the possibility of confrontation with the discourse of aryavarta, long back

    1. Dear Joe

      I agree with a lot that you have to say. The tamil connection, I feel, is much better explored than the Sri lankan connection though. However, the point of this post is not to say that Kerala is actually part of Sri Lanka as certain unbelievably tiny minds seem to think. I was merely pointing to the specific shaping of our imagination of national affiliation, which accord exclusive status to the Brahminical imagination of India. The tamil connection is something we have raised especially in the context of language debates and indeed, the evocation of tamil roots in Malayalam literary and cultural debates in the 20th century has its own history. My point however is not to set yet another ‘original wellspring’ of Malanaadu but argue for multiple sources, many of which are not even traced properly. Kerala is an interesting meeting place of arab and southeast asian cultural worlds — I do believe that is why brahmanism when it conquered kerala had to invent particularly hideous forms of control. I don’t think I romanticise Malanaadu as pre-Aryan — certainly not.

  13. Just thought I’d link here to an earlier articulation by Devika of this differently imagined regional space of Keralam, and the debate that followed – Mother Kerala.

  14. As Anant points out, Devika certainly seems to have touched a raw nerve with her thought-provoking piece about Kerala’s un-Indian model of politics. My disagreement, if anything, is that she sells this un-Indian model too short:

    (1) First, if Kerala’s politics has been un-Indian, let’s also remember that it is also very un-Srilankan. Despite cultural and other similarities between the two places, there is nothing resembling Sinhala-nationalism in Kerala’s politics. It is true, as Devika points out in her article, that some grumbling about migrant labour is beginning to be heard these days, but there’s still no constituency in Kerala politics for anything resembling Malayali chauvinism. This is no mean feat.

    (2) Devika’s understanding of Kerala’s un-Indian politics is essentially sociological: “community competition over resources and the prominence of the left that leaned upon the legacy of community reformism” were its two key features according to her. But there has been community-competition — even community-reformism — in many other states (consider EVR in neighbouring Tamil Nadu for instance), and the Left has been at least as prominent in West Bengal; none of these places has a record of social development anywhere near Kerala’s – why? Could it be that the initial impetus for the changes that occurred in Kerala needs to be understood not only sociologically but with the aid of a different philosophical matrix altogether? I pose this question as a possible future line of enquiry.

    (3) If indeed the philosophical basis of the social changes witnessed in Kerala is in excess of what can readily be accommodated within a standard left-liberal narrative of resource-competition and community-mobilization, then how must the un-Indianness of Kerala’s politics be re-conceived? In particular, is Devika’s frame of “national” versus “sub-national” discourses adequate, or is there a supra-national — universal? — dimension to it that neither the national nor the global discourses on Kerala have adequately registered? Or to put it differently, can we de-link Kerala’s geographic space which is certainly “sub-national” from the philosophical basis of its distinctive politics which may well carry intimations of an alternative universalism – especially from a Third-World vantage-point?

    (4) And finally, do we have the courage to also de-link the currently rampant bourgeois-Hindu ideology that is serviceable for the Indian national-security state from anti-Brahminism — since , after all, one distinctive feature of Kerala’s un-Indian politics is that anti-Brahminism played no role in the “community-reformism” that first put Kerala on the path of self-invention? Could it be that its basis in an alternative philosophical vision accounts for not only the historical lack of virulent anti-Brahminism in Kerala but also for the lack of ethno-chauvinist sentiment in its contemporary socio-political landscape?

    Roby Rajan

    1. Dear roby Rajan
      I do feel that Kerala society is in many ways racist in their treatment of adivasis and dalits, as witnessed in the brutal physical violence meted out to chengara activists, with tacit support of civilsociety.I think the social movment of Sahodaran Ayyappan was similar to that of Periyar in its spirit of anti-brahmansim, a trajectory never followed up/scuttled bylater developments.Even the ayyyankali movment was a unique miliary critique on brahmanic social order. The said universality of certain social movements and the attribution of it’s impact on the apparent peacefulness of the state seems to be problematic.

      1. Are you implying that a militarist response to caste atrocities would have brought deeper changes ? That is where the philosophical substratum of the Kerala Renaissance has to be investigated more thoroughly, as Roby would like to point out. Chengara may be marker to the residual prejudices still existing in Kerala against the marginalized, but can you generalize the whole of Kerala Society’s attitude to adivasis using that sad incident as the example.

        Why the resentment-filled politics of Sahodaran Ayyappan could not get traction in Travancore-Cochin might have been because of the self-awareness of all poor including from that of the so called upper castes that such interventions cannot sustain itself to build a society based on “Jnanam and Anandam” (Awareness/Prajna and Bliss). Please remember that during those days, the huge majority of the upper castes were also plagued poverty and lack of access to public goods.

        One thing is sure : had the different segments of the society of Kerala had taken the militarist path then, we would have had three-four LTTE’s fighting against each other in those verdant valleys. Lebananization of Kerala is surely, no alternative to the pin-pricks that we face today once in a while.

      2. Dear Joe,

        There were anti-Brahmanical currents to be sure, but we need a better account for why they could never occupy center-stage in Kerala politics than the far-fetched hypothesis that there was some conspiracy to scuttle it.

        Roby Rajan

  15. Dear Devika,

    Can you post the references for these phrases/assertions.

    >> Kerala was known by epithets that were strikingly uncomplimentary, until the ‘Kerala Model’ rose up in the 1970s: it was the ‘problem state’ because governments here were not stable, ‘backward’ because it was not industrializing rapidly, ‘madhouse of teeming millions’ because of the high density of population .

    >> against the lowest rungs of neoliberal ‘India Shining’ — for example, against the migrant labourers who have arrived in Kerala as construction workers etc in the wake of the real estate boom.

  16. Dear Roby

    Thanks for taking the inquiry forward in many interesting directions. I’m particularly interested in the third question that you raise, which has however remained more or less unexplored in any detail. I do think we should think further on those lines. As for your first question, let me repeat that my point of raising the resemblance to Sril Lanka was to highlight the multiple cultural sources that constitute what we now recognize as the Malayali. This may be one reason why we do not have Malayali chauvinsm. In any case this was a difficult enough thing to achieve given that the Malayalam speakers were fragmented in history and we have no history of great empires or other such political formations comparable, say to Tamil Nad. To the second question, I think many interesting answers have been posed, too detailed to be discussed here. The peculiar political history of Travancore and Cochin is important, I think, and I have tried to initiate a discussion in a recent special article in the EPW. I think this will also help us think about your third question. Regarding your fourth question, I do think the thrust of community reformism was against traditional brahmanical power, which did not end it, but secularised and modernised it. The nature of traditional brahmanical power in Kerala was indeed quite different from that in Tamil Nad; the connection that you suggest does not ring a bell intuitively. The lack of ethno-chauvinism in Kerala can be explained in other ways, I feel.


  17. Dear Jayasankar

    Please read news reports on politics in Kerala in the national press in the 1950s and 60s; much of this appears in several books on Kerala, written especially by journalists, in english. For a sample, try Jitendra Singh, 1959.Communist Rule in Kerala, New Delhi, Diwan Chand India Information Centre. Also, the several academic works on politics in Kerala by political scientists including Fic, Nossiter, and many others. If you want an account of the ‘sense of disenfranchisement from the nation’ in Kerala in these decades, please read the third chapter of my book Individuals, Householders, Citizens: Malayalees and Family Planning 1930-1970, Zubaan, New Delhi 2008.

    As for neglect of and hostility towards migrant labor, please look out for the work of Mythri Prasad Aleyamma, a doctoral student at CDS. She has written a brief piece in countermedia, and some of her writing has been published too.

  18. I still don’t understand. What is the article’s “definition” of Indian? I can’t think of a single “Indian”state which can’s construct an argument exactly like the one in the article, after defining “India” as the rest of what we today call “India”. So is that the point being made? If yes, I think that is quite well appreciated.

    As Ram Guha often says the version of nationalism we see in “India” is quite different from the European model. By the European model, every single Indian state would exist as one, two or perhaps even three nations. What we see in the political entity called “India” today is a somewhat novel phenomenon. Again, if that is the point the article is trying to make, I don’t see what is so controversial.

    But again using an example due to Ram Guha, an indication that the model has at least met with partial success is that, again using Ram Guha’s words, a beer-guzzling, chicken-eating Punjabi farmer in Punjab sees nothing abnormal in banking with the Co-operative Bank of Madras*, nor does the _satvic_ food eating, devout Tamil clerk in the bank finds anything abnormal in dealing with the farmer.

    * I almost certainly got the name of the bank wrong: this is borrowed from an anecdote in lecture by Ram Guha a few years back, and I can only remember that the bank included the words “Co-operative” and “Madras” in its name.

  19. Hello! I am new to Kafila, and as a Indian American, I am delighted to see that there is a space for radical thinking about India online. As I’m sure many of you are aware, there is a disgusting capitalist hegemony in American Universities around India’s “development”. It has been a struggle to uncover Marxist perspectives on “India shining” in a university like mine.

    Not sure if the author if this post be able to see this, but if so, I would greatly appreciate any literature recommendations about the role of radical politics in Kerala’s Human Development Indicator successes (I am writing a research paper on it).

    Too often, I have heard it attributed to Gulf remittances and historical peculiarities but given the ideological environment of my school, I have a sneaking suspicion these perspectives are skewed. My email is chaaya17@yahoo.com. Thank you!

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