A letter to Sanghiannan in the wake of our common woe

[Before you read this post, you might want to read KR Meera’s brilliant portrait of the average Malayali middle-class Sangh supporter, in her story Sanghiannan, which I translated as ‘My Brother Sanghi’, published by Juggernaut at : https://www.juggernaut.in/books/088d472b19d745d29492560654250e15 . I recommend this also because she sketches beautifully the spirit of deep compassion that inheres in the thought of Sreenarayana Guru, who tried to imagine the faith outside the brahmanical framework of caste. This will help you to get a sense of that section of Malayali middle class I address here.]


Kerala declares

Dear Sanghiannan

I read the questions and comments you have offered to the Whatsapp message I wrote about how we need to respond to our common tragedy as subjects capable of compassion, self-purification, and learning. Thank you for sending me those instead of bombarding me with boring ad hominem,  plus or minus rape and death threats which don’t scare me anymore (simply because I’d rather die or take pain than live like a voiceless worm), and other kinds of insult. Now at least I have a chance to talk, and I hope you are listening.

First, you are irked by the fact that I do not condemn the Christians and Muslims who, you claim, have ‘taken over’ Malabar, building ridiculously ostentatious palaces and that I ‘go soft’ on dalit communities who, again according to you, form the bulk of the lumpen proletariat hired by the extraction (quarry/sand mining) and construction capital to speed up accumulation by dispossession (I know this is not your terminology but I am still using it in the hope that you will see that there are indeed many other descriptive and analytical tools that do a better job of presenting/making sense of our social realities than your narrow caste-class commonsense). Now, you have offered no solid evidence to back up either of your claims, but let me take you for face value (after all, that is what Karl Marx did in Capital, where he did not dismiss Adam Smith, only to take apart the free market utopia pretty thoroughly). OK, so you say that because Muslims and Christians and dalits, in different ways, were part of Kerala’s new capitalism post-1990s (and much before, though you seem reluctant to acknowledge that), they are responsible for the present disaster. Or, the high- and middle-caste Hindus were no significant part of this phase of Malayali capitalism, just its victims. Wow, really, but still, let me respond.

To answer this, let me remind you first that the capital that flowed in Kerala post-liberalization and globalization happens to be either ‘community-capital’ or non-resident Malayali capital, big or small. ‘Community-capital’ refers to the wealthy caste/religious community organizations that were set up in the late 19th-early 20th century, which received large resource endowments from the governments pre- and post-Indian independence to carry out social development. As health care and education were moved into the commercial from the social sector post-1990, these resources became capital, bringing enormous profits to the community elite.  It is true that Christian and Muslim organizations now form a large part of this capital and that they are indeed very exploitative.

However, these organizations are not just Christian or Muslim — they are also upper caste, and middle-caste Hindu.  They have been as hungry for super-profits as the others. As for your own type, don’t even imagine they are outside capital! Indeed, the rise of the Hindutva in Kerala coincides with the intense commercialization of faith and temples, and even as you talk a lot about ‘Hindu ecological consciousness’, your brethren display the same ferocious will to accumulate as any others. The Gulf-fed Hindu may have appropriated the sacred groves, the kaavu, which were certain not the same as the temple or kshetram, but they are also now hugely commercialized. In other words, like everyone else, you too have trimmed your faith to fit the imperatives of Kerala’s new capitalism, so you really can’t exclude yourself from your finger-pointing. For every Yusuf Ali we have a Ravi Pillai, and for every achayan from the US who destroys the last blade of grass from that twenty-cent property he just bought to build a humongous, ugly, eight-bathroom monstrosity, there is that Nair or Menon who does exactly the same. So the violence they do has nothing to do with their caste-community identity, it has everything to do with the fact that they function in and are part of the predatory capitalism that accumulates through the plunder of natural resources set in motion here after liberalization and globalization. And about the dalits aiding the predators, it has nothing to do with their dalit identity, and everything to do with the fact that they have suffered the worst injustice as a group denied productive resources in 20th century Kerala. They too are part of this capitalism, as any of us are, and function in it from the positions they occupy in its field. To criticize any of their actions, you have to first criticize capitalism and the way in which positions and relations in that field are structured.

You won’t do that because you pretty well know that you and your brethren are right there in the centre of Kerala’s neoliberal capitalism and the plunder of nature and certain not anywhere near where the dalits are trapped. And therefore your hypocritical moaning about the Gadgil Committee report indicting the Christians (a damned lie if there ever was one) and the classic diversionary tactic of raking up superstitious nonsense about Sabarimala Ayyappan’s alleged rage at the (strictly future) prospect of seeing menstruating women at his shrine, or about the Gods getting angry at communist/ beef-eating Kerala. You do this perhaps because you really need to divert attention from the fact that your lord and master from Delhi has thrown peanuts at us as we battle the deluge, instead of giving what our government asked, even as he showers gold on Yogi Adityanath’s Hindutva paradise, for the conduct of the Ardh Kumbh last May (Rs 1200 crores!), as Chandni Shah astutely points out in the Ladies Finger. ? Of course, neither of this is new — i.e. your incessant whining that nothing is ‘efficient’ enough in Kerala (which conveniently forgets that it was efficient enough to give you the education that took you from lower-middle class rural roots to elite transnational urban status), or your leader’s cheapo revenge, so we are not taken by surprise. We will get on with our healing with or without you. Only, get out of the way and proceed to wherever you are headed to. Now.

Oh, I really, really want to think well of Ayyappan, far from what you think. But when it strikes me that according to you,  he remains unmoved by the unspeakable pollution of his jungle abode by millions of men, a sizeable number of which has not observed the pre-pilgrimage rituals faithfully, by the yearly stories of corruption and theft of the devotees’ offerings, of the bumbling mismanagement of resources, the mindless ugly construction around the shrine, the yearly aravana controversy. But the prospect of seeing a part of his own creation who intend to go there with the sole purpose of worship sends him into a fury of this proportion! I really don’t know what to think.

But in the end, I am a lot like the narrator in KR Meera’s Sanghiannan. I grit my teeth, pray for patience, and say to myself: anukampa, MORE anukampa, until the scales fall off this man’s eyes. But am still fearful of the future. It took the unbridled indescribable fury of nature to clear off its body all the dirt and muck and pompous but utterly perishable burdens we had build atop it. Your people are now poisoning society slowly with all your lies and hatred, with the sole purpose of securing your dominance. Society too, may have a tolerance limit, like nature. If so, prepare to lose everything and creep, crawl, totter out empty-handed and ruined, sadder but wiser.

Your Malayali country-cousin.



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