Secularism and socialism can be thrown out, so says the Hindutvavadi. Among those who protested against this suggestion were, of course, the Congress. But then, increasingly, many of us who live in Congress-ruled Kerala are unable to tell the Congress from the BJP as they have thrown out not just secularism and socialism but even minimal forms of liberalism. For our rulers seem as adamant as the BJP in forcing down our throats at least a softer version of Hindutva, reinforced with protection to shameless plunder of public resources and repressive police measures. Now young people and activists in Kerala, many of who were active in many protests including the Kiss Protests, are being pursued and hounded by the police. Apparently, a few people who participated in the latest edition of the Kiss Protests, the Lovefest, were hounded by the police for having been seen in the vicinity of a police station repeatedly! The most convenient excuse is pursuing the Maoists, a fear that is easily excited in our fattened and lazy middle classes. By the way, I am actively considering saving some money by ending my subscriptions to newspapers. In fact it is not being on FB which makes me feel out of touch with the world these days. Two leading human rights activists, Thushar Sarathy and Jaison Cooper, have been arrested and the papers are busy covering that shameful and utterly criminal waste of our common resources, the opening ceremony of the National games.
I am not surprised at all, having been an observer of local politics. In Kerala, after the Left-Right differences in politics came to an end, what we have seen is the transformation of our politics into a neofeudal space inhabited by powerful male leaders and their craven followers vying for power. Because the discourse of social development still lingers and the oppositional civil society has not yet given up, entry of predatory capital from national or global sources has not been easy. However, a whole generation of NRI — Malayali –capitalists based in the Gulf countries who essentially manage the wealth of the rulers there have been able to enter Kerala unimpeded.It is this group which is increasingly taking over our resources in overt and covert ways, legally and illegally. These capitalists themselves are interesting — their transnational belonging needs to be studied. They have apparently managed to become part of the non-democratic political systems in the Gulf countries, entering the lower levels of the court there, as juniors who help manage the rulers’ wealth. And from that position of strength, they now work to systematically undermine everything that Malayalis hold dear : our welfarist democracy, social development achievements, our rich ecology.
It is hard to believe that they could have done this without the help of the powerful feudal lords who are at war with each other and now court this new generation of capitalists, in fact, compete to do them favours. One needs to do a lot of research before one can unravel these connections but there is plenty of evidence that may convince one to explore the connection. Just think of the fact that the offspring of many of these feudal lords are actually high-level employees in the companies of these NRI capitalists! The numbers are not low. Of course, that’s not evidence, but it does mean that one needs to investigate, especially given the fact that these powerful politicians no longer represent any kind of collective interest — they don’t represent even the communities they claim to be representing. I feel we are transiting into a phase in which the very possibility of politics is being undermined and a kind of neofeudal order that is pivoted on the anti-democratic political cultures of the Gulf region is coming into being.
Of course, that is also the reason why we don’t need the BPJ here: predatory capital is being very well served indeed by the more powerful feudal lords. The possible entry for the BJP is through the cultural route, addressing the Hindu majority, but those flanks are well-covered by our feudal lords. That’s why the Congress leaders are openly professing soft-Hindutva and the leaders of the CPM trying their best to stay quiet. That’s why the Congress leaders were so obviously hostile to the Kiss Protests and why the CPM, after it responded to the outcry from a large section of its members and supporters, swung right back, when the feudal lords who now run it saw their potential loss.
I want to ask what Kerala’s cultural leaders, home-grown and transnational, are doing. There is a great event happening in Kochi right now, the Kochi- Muziris Biennale, curated masterfully by the brilliant Jitish Kallat. Much has been said, by people of many sorts, including transnational academic stars like Homi K Bhabha, that Kochi is the perfect site for an event of this sort, so wonderfully cosmopolitan? I want to ask all the artists and Jitish himself, oh really? Do you think Kochi is really ‘cosmopolitan’ in the sense that we foster love for all sorts of peoples and cultures around the world? What I see in Kochi is growing police surveillance and efforts to stifle and trample political dissent. But as a historian, I know too well that Kochi’s ‘cosmopolitanism’ was deeply enfolded within the Hindu caste-order: every elite group that migrated to Kochi was integrated beautifully into the caste order overseen by the Hindu swaroopam, and those groups which could have represented cosmopolitanism as holding together different cultures without one in contest with the other — the mixed groups — were shunned as low castes! I do hope the cosmopolitanism you uphold through your wonderful art doesn’t end up being a rehashed version of Kochi’s elitist cosmopolitanism that nestles in the heart of brutal state power and Hindu majoritarianism. I call upon Jitish and every artist who has exhibited at the Biennale to take a position against the death of democracy in Kerala, for true cosmopolitans cannot stand by and watch the demise of democracy.
The arrest of Thushar and Jaison come as no bolt from the blue. Please endorse and circulate this protest statement widely:
Jaison Cooper, a well-known social activist and blogger, actively engaged in a variety of people’s struggles in Kerala, India has been taken into police custody from his office on 29 January 2014,
Thursday morning without any notice or arrest warrant. The police who took him into custody told his colleagues in the office that he would be released if any of his colleague reach the police station. Accordingly two persons working in the same office reached the Thevara Police Station.
The police however the changed their earlier version and told them to wait for 10 minutes as Circle Inspector of Police needed to have a word with them. The police then said that Cooper will not be released and detained in the station. This was followed by a series of police action in different parts of Erunakulam on the same day. The residents of advocate Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, Secretary of Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam (People’s Human Rights Forum), advocate P.J. Manuel and artist-activist Jolly Chirayath, Convener of Sthree Koottayma, a Kochi-based feminist collective were raided without fulfilling any legal requirements.
The police has seized several files connected with the cases handled by advocate Thushar from his residence. The police also collected several books from his library, all of them available from any bookshop. The cops took several notices and pamphlets linked with various peoples struggles from the residences of Advocate Manuel and Ms. Jolly. The police has also not given the
receipts of the goods seized in the raids as required under the law. The absence of a specific seizure list by the police prepares the ground for a further abuse of the legal framework to aid in the repression of these activists.
On Friday, 30 January 2014, the police had formally recorded the arrest of Cooper under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (section 13 b of UAPA). The police presented him in the court at 1.30 PM and the court granted his custody to the police for the next six days. The police also arrested advocate Thushar from Kozhikode the same day while he was attending a press conference about a protest meeting by human rights activist to be held in Kozhikode on Saturday. The arrests of Thushar and Cooper follows an attack by Maoists against the office of National Highway Authority of India at Kalamasserry in Kochi on Thursday, 29 January.
It must be mentioned that Thushar Sarathy, being a civil rights activist in the forefront of people’s struggles has been systematically under police surveillance. News-reports from Kerala have highlighted how he was not merely under surveillance from the police, but he was also included in a “Maoist look-out notice” for his participation in the struggle against illegal quarrying carried out by the people of Ambittantharissu village in Palakkad district. As a logical step in the repression curve, the police have gone ahead and arrested him. These arrests are clearly a step to criminalize every form of opinion and to punish every act of dissent.
We, the undersigned, believe that this police action is a well concerted political act to silence all voices raising critical questions about the political, economical and social issues in the country. The act of the police should be condemned by all people believing in the freedom of expression and the right to dissent. The incident also shows that the police in Kerala under a Congress Regime is no different from the Hindu Fascist regimes in other parts of the country.
We seek the immediate and unconditional release of Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy.