triumphalist torturers: or, life in kerala is no breeze

[Buffeted by many kinds of emotions, unable to think straight, eyes and mind clouded again and again with tears and the most tenebrous, threatening emotional clouds — this state of mind has been constant in me since many months. I have not been able to compose myself enough to write political commentary in these tumultuous times on Kafila, as I have always done. Not just because of the disease. I increasingly feel as if I am on my last journey, a forbidding one on a narrow, winding, rough, path up a hill, walking without being able to look left or right, unable to turn or help companions falling on the way behind me. Like Yudhishtira, maybe, but without knowing what lies beyond this mountain path up there.

The elections for sure brought some relief. It seemed to me that the worst was checked at the gates – it bought us some more time. Still, there were too many foreboding signs for me to bring myself to think and write. And now, that the celebrations and the anti-right-wing bonhomie are over, the cyber-bullies of the CPM are back in full force.

I have been their target since long, but suddenly their attacks have become terribly vicious and personal, especially on Facebook. This attack is led by a leader of the CPM’s teachers’ union. One would think that the seemingly-never-ending nightmare in India would soften people, make them more aware of the ephemerality of life itself, and lead them to rethink divides. No – and that applies not just to the Hindutva right-wing. Those who are drunk with power, no matter what politics they profess, will never be touched by the greatest of human tragedies.

I am addressing this post to all the admirers of Kerala’s CPM – who have chosen to whitewash their faults. I have been trying to fight off these men who will not relent. Finally, I wrote their leader an open letter which I am posting, below. This is not to discredit the fact that the new government has opened its account quite promisingly, and the lockdown restrictions have been refreshingly sensitive. But the violence and sadism that lurks in those who suck up to the CPM needs to be exposed. Maybe this letter will give you a sense of what a leftist intellectual who is not utterly craven to the CPM faces in Kerala.

I am writing to a Mr Ajith M S, who is a leading presence in this group that unleashes most unsavoury attacks on people even mildly critical of the left in Kerala. He is a teacher in a north Kerala college. Yes, you may have all met him, perhaps – perhaps you have offered seminars in his department.]

Dear Mr Ajith

I wish to let you know that I am not willing to debate the comments made by Mr Dileesh, nor am I ready to interact with you or your circle in any way. As for my response already posted here to Mr Dileesh, it is as complete as it could possibly me. I have responded to the part of his comments that can possibly deserve a response. To the comments that come out of rank ignorance, it is not possible to respond except through offering an exposure to the literature that Mr Dileesh has not read. I don’t want any debate with you, Mr Ajith. I don’t see why. First of all, you seem to treat rank abuse and heinous misrepresentation as quite normal, just a dissenting view. Some of those comments suggest rubbing chilli on my anus, accuse me of being a sanghi, and you yourself claim that my entire work has no empirical basis. I cannot debate with people who seem, for reasons unknown to me, have taken a violent dislike to me and my work. If we can all evolve through study and thought and share our insights it would be a dream come true.

Secondly, I had hoped for some insights from Mr Dileesh as someone from outside the academy, from his own life experience.. Like, when I did fieldwork on illegal quarrying and its effects on local democracy, the poor who support quarrying despite bad effects on their health gave me a totally different take on the standard anti-quarrying position. But Mr Dileesh’s comments on most controversial questions merely repeat the standard pro-natural resource predation arguments circulating online, using the same questionable interpretation of data. I don’t see anything new to debate.

Thirdly, I consider the Sangh to be the most dangerous element we must fight against at this moment and devote all my time to this fight. Given the fact that Mr Dileesh is not familiar with the vast amounts of empirical research on the shrinking human-animal interface, environmental change, and contagious and vector-borne diseases, the advances in environmental psychology that force us to re examine the denial syndrome, as well as the research on social and economic effects of environmental change in Kerala and India as well as shifting policy frameworks, the debate that you propose is likely to collapse in some useless gladiatorial combat. It is not only useless, but also absurd, since all of us on the left are utterly beleaguered in this country, in the face of the right wing ascendancy…!

You ask me what was offensive about your declaration that my work was full of jargon and with no basis in data. Well, that it, first of all, a blatant untruth. My writing is my life’s work, and to rubbish in an entirely untruthful way – as lacking in empirical basis and full of word games and jargon – is the worst insult you can ever hurl at me. It is beyond an insult. As if the editors and reviewers of the most respected social science, history, and literary journals, which have an explicit policy against jargon and bombastic argument were a bunch of fools! Why should I mince words at such a completely unwarranted insult? And why? I don’t know you at all and have absolutely no reason to either hate or like you. If I remember, we have not even met. I am not your competitor in any way. I am neither an enemy of the CPM nor its worshipper. I have given the government credit whenever it is due. I definitely am not a blind supporter of its foes. Especially those who were part of the CPM here once and now are its foes – they are totally suspect in my eyes. There is no reason why we should be even talking about each other, yet you say the most unfair things to discredit my work.

In fact you are being exactly like one Mr P Laneesh, who hurled the most astonishing accusations at me during a seminar at the Krishna Menon College for Women at Kannur except that your statement is free of the sexually-coloured insult that this man was brazen enough to make. But that was not the case with Mr Kiran Thomas’ egregious jeering.

But I must admit that though unwittingly, you may have done me some good. I really don’t think you will convince anyone except members of your inner circle with this attack. Many of your own kind who used to be part of the gang that have thrown stones at me since 2008 do accept that I was right on many things. That I was right when I said that the left’s failure to respond like socialists to the signals from Nandigram will destroy the left there ultimately. That Hadiya should be defended because she was right, not the Sangh torturers. That Swaraj will pay an electoral price for closing his eyes to the Sangh torturers in his constituency because these people will never vote for anyone else but the BJP. That the CM should just tell the RSS to prepare a hundred hindu women to go to Sabarimala and thus put the ball in their court, instead of handing over the issue to the Kerala bjp to blow up!

In the past few weeks, many, many women who read this unfair berating of me by your circles have sent messages and friend requests and called, telling me that they do not condone the violence against me. I prefer to add women as FB friends, and your labours are helping me infinitely and I should thank you and Mr Kiran Thomas and his gang.

But it is also true that I do not need a huge mob to secure the ends that I have always had in my mind. I have always aimed at social change, not power, and so it does not matter to me that thousands do not listen to my talks or read my work. I write six and seven-page essays on FB and some two hundred people may at best browse through them, and a smaller group may discuss them. That is fine. Social change is slow and almost imperceptible except for the trained and watchful eyes. It does not happen through mobs but through groups of small, vigilant, people open to the world and willing to practice a politics animated by social justice and compassion.

You accuse me of jargon and incomprehensible writing. Well, all knowledge involves technical language and it feels like jargon to those who do not understand. I have written much without using any technical language, and quite successfully. My book Kulasthreeyum Chanthappennum Undaayathengane is past its seventh edition after being freely available online and wikified. I did not have the CPM cultural front or the vast party supporter base, not even a single advertisement or a commercial publisher! It is being amply read and used, and anyway, it provided the language of resistance for the left during the Sudra riots around women’s entry into Sabarimala for sure! My new book which you might condemn as incomprehensible, is also doing well. The second edition appeared in just a month even under the generally highly reduced sales in pandemic times and a third edition is soon coming up.

I want to tell you that several women who are part of your circle, as well as your union, and indeed your friends, called me up to warn me that you are ‘dangerous’ and that you are quite capable of wrecking other people’s lives if you put your mind to it. They sounded quite scared. I listened to their warnings in silence and definitely did not assent to it. I know well that it isn’t just you. I had that experience from Mr P Laneesh, the man sheltered by his CPI local leader brother in the Krishna Menon Memorial Government College for women.

I am someone who is at the brink of reorienting my relationship with the world altogether. I don’t care for power and office (I will run a mile from both). I have never said a word about anyone to anyone that cannot be said to their face. Like I am doing now. I have never failed to correct myself when properly corrected. The people of Kerala have shaped and reshaped my intellect and my writing with their insights. I have never run after academic approbation. It came to me, rather. I continue to believe that my readers lie in the future generations, not my own. My hope that my generation will understand me is quite faint. So I am able to understand, without any rancour, your inability to understand my work and perhaps even your blind rage. And I simply can’t bring myself to feel fearful despite repeated warnings from your own friends. I will be watchful, though.

And oh – my observations about the troubled nature of the minds of many in this gang – the rampant masochism and sadism – are made with deep concern and seriousness. This is not to blame anyone. We are living through the worst time in post independence Indian history. It is only natural that our minds are affected. The response, however, should not be denial, just because it is so convenient for some of us to have raving lunatics enact the violence to further our ends. Rather, there should be some effort to help medically. I am not just a researcher, I am woman, a friend, a mother. I can’t close my eyes to such obvious symptoms.

Please take care of yourselves and I do hope some of you will help your friends to gain greater emotional health.

With regards

J Devika

2 thoughts on “triumphalist torturers: or, life in kerala is no breeze”

  1. Where there is no humanity, there is no Marx and no left. Its first thought is to be genuine.
    J Devika is certainly seen by readers like me as a left-wing thinker with a highly radical nature. Their contributions to the field of culture are invaluable. Devika has an uncompromising truth-seeking trend. It’s only natural that it bothers some people!

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  2. The mind set of the people who challenges Ms.Devika’s intellectual Calibre and research based findings and her quality writings seems difficult to comprehend. She is outspoken and do not mince words when it comes to her convictions. It is natural that can bother some conventional people who may not have enough exposure in certain fields she is dealing with.

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