In Malayalam, the usual way of referring to virulence that feeds on negative experience is paashaanathil krmi — or the maggot that is fattened by poison, instead of getting killed by it. Over the past few days, many of us have lived completely on the edge, bereft of sleep or ease, tossing about in a seemingly-unending nightmare, as the rain, floods, and landslides uproot not just our physical world, but the very culture of smugness and complacency that took over our deepest selves over the past twenty years or so.
Nevertheless, many of us have been scrambling to assemble and transport relief supplies; young people in local areas have banded together to rescue their neighbours and others from the surging waters; others have been assisting the rescue teams by identifying exact locations of the marooned and attending distress calls; school children have gathered in large numbers as volunteers in collection centres; IT professionals and students have set up communication networks; housewives have prepared thousands of packets of food and clothing for the affected; merchants and service-providers have been rising to the occasion with exemplary alacrity; local governments, health department personnel and revenue officials have been available round the clock. In other words, Kerala’s citizens have come together in an extraordinary way to deal with this great leveller of a flood.
Yet the greatest danger, it seems to me, is not the flood but the dirty human maggots that try to fatten on it: the minions of Hindutva in Kerala.
There is much that this calamity has revealed. First of all, the reality of Kerala’s post-1990s ‘new’ capitalism lies bare before us for all to see. It seems clear that what was sold to consumers by the construction sector was hardly use-value — it was, well, ‘disaster value’. The manner in which construction proceeded without sparing a single thought for nature, a tendency shared by all players, big and small, producer and consumer, in construction has exacted an impossibly high price: clearly, it will be impossible to go back to the older ways of life, we have to really change, we have to realize that this land and these waters cannot be taken for granted. This is of course what the environment movement in Kerala has always been saying but all they got for their concern was the tag of being unrealistic/cynical/’anti-development’. Even I, who has been with the environment movement all through, truly and fully understand only now a phrase which I heard as a child, used by a working-class woman to refer to the massing of monsoon clouds to the east: kizhakkottu mudi azhicchittu nilkkunnu. Roughly translated, it means ‘there she stands, tresses flying wild and ready for battle’. The monsoon wreaks havoc like never before, and my utterly humbled eye sees only now its full fearsome might, the way it obliterates at the mere flick of a wrist the many mistakes that we committed, often fully intentionally, which we hypocritically referred to as ‘development’.
Yet this is not the time really to begin our analysis and apportion the blame. Compassion demands that all our resources be now devoted to alleviating the enormous suffering and the danger. In all fronts, people of all faiths and castes, of all genders and ages are working together in the face of the common tragedy. Many realize how shallow, how hollow, the belligerent calls of religious bigotry sound. Surely, the waters did not discriminate — this time, they did not spare the rich.
But in social media, there is vermin who have set out to ‘analyse’. Their evil imagination connects these events to the recent decision of the Supreme Court permitting women of menstruating ages to worship at Sabarimala. Or it spreads the lie that the waters were deliberately released by the Kerala government to submerge Hindu temples. What is worrying is that the first superstition often strikes a chord with many of the sufferers who still cannot see how the truths and commonsense of Kerala’s new capitalism of the post-1990s have led to this calamity. Given that the deluge was totally unexpected and frighteningly sudden to many, the divine hand might seem like a plausible explanation. Then there are the cunning Whatsapp messages that tell you that the Christians who live in the highland districts are responsible for the rejection of the Gadgil Committee Report and that this is the price for ignoring Hindu ecological wisdom. Many of us see through this evil. Where is the ‘Hindu ecological consciousness’, I wonder, in the BJP’s systematic destruction of environmental governance in this country, and in their open dalliance with crony capitalists?
Let us guard ourselves from these maggots who thrive on the fear that the catastrophe has ignited among people. These scum who claim to be of this land but have no real sense of belonging, have to be exposed, isolated, and condemned. Just like we must guard against virulent infectious germs as the waters recede, so must we stay vigilant against the Hindutva rabble who hate everything that democratic Kerala stands for.