The infamous infant-snatching case in Kerala has opened up too many harsh truths about this society. It is not easy to express the pain in acknowledging it. After all, for many of us who have stuck back here with the intention of participating in what was once a fairly vibrant political life, this monstrosity that looms over all aspects of life, private and public (as so terrifyingly evident in the experience of Anupama Chandran) is a daunting sight. Not that there weren’t glimmers of it earlier, but the full menace has become visible only now.
That this regime remains committed to the social fundamentals of Hindutva fascism is evident. It is most evident in the unbelievable ferocity and viciousness of the cyberattack that the parents of Baby Aidan, Anupama and Ajith Kumar, both former activists of the CPM feeder organizations and members of the CPM ‘community’ since birth. The attack which began when Anupama and Ajith went public with the search for their snatched baby, has grown only more lethal and odious since.
Posters claiming that Ajith was seeking a government job as ‘compensation’ with the list of signatures of prominent personalities who had earlier signed an appeal to find and return their baby, were spread on social media by CPM cyberthugs. They were shared with naked casteism expressed abundantly in captions, comments, and hashtags. The joke was of course about Ajith being a Dalit Christian who had no reservations claiming it this way.
Equally sickening is the attempt by a CPM- ally, C S Chandrika, who cashes on her long association with feminist groups in Kerala to portray Anupama as a sexual revolutionary, thereby hypersexualizing her relationship with Ajith, in a context in which she is relentlessly slut-shamed and slandered.
These two tactics seem to be part of a larger and incredibly cunning strategy: both these attacks look superficially progressive. The poster demanding a government job for Ajith screams that he is a victim of state violence: only that it is shared as a joke. Likewise, Chandrika’s wily essay erases the demand for justice in this struggle and places Anupama alongside an early twentieth century brahmin woman who was tried for sleeping with sixty-four or more (exclusively savarna) men, excommunicated, and who disappeared completely after. What looks like a feminist compliment is actually a poisonous barb, a signal to the violent hordes online.
For those of us who are not paid agents of this notorious regime and remain admirers of Kerala’s twentieth-century history to some extent at least, the reaction to this nauseating violation has been one of horror — and not merely anger or indignation.
Why? I think it is intelligible if we remember that our admiration was mostly about the commitment of the state in Kerala to citizens’ positive rights, even as it limited itself to acknowledging the negative rights of powerful social and economic groups, especially the caste-communities of twentieth-century Kerala. As for the state trampling over or ignoring the negative rights of individuals, that is certainly no news in India, while the commitment to positive rights by the state is certainly news. Our criticism of the indifference of the state in Kerala to many citizens’, especially female citizens’ negative rights, was never really dismissed, but often relegated to a level of lower importance (‘bourgeois feminists’ making a mountain out of a molehill, many told themselves).
But this obnoxious crime shows things here in a particularly grotesque light. Institutions meant to address citizens’ positive rights, it appears, have been violently wrenched to perpetuate the suppression of a couple’s negative rights. And this was done by a family with a long history of association with communist activism and ideals, to a third-generation CPM female adherent and activist.
Clearly, it is no more possible for us to take relief in the half-illusion about the availability of positive rights to Malayalis. The sight of the ruling communist-led forces making such cynical use of welfare agencies precisely against citizens with negative rights can only be horror-inducing — as we watch something that we quite tacitly accepted to be modern, benevolent, and welfarist, transmogrify into a devilish, utterly oppressive, feudal conspiracy right in front of our eyes.
That is also the reason why the fight is not over and why it can be no more just Anupama’s and Ajith’s struggle.
It is not just a struggle for the idea of Kerala, but for the Indian Constitution itself. It is a truly terrifying realization that senior leaders of the CPM, including Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali, and PK Shreemathi knew all about this unprecedented misuse of government machinery, prolonged domestic violation, blatant violation of child rights, perversion of the health and health registration system, as well as the gross violation of the rights of a Dalit man and the unspeakable exclusions perpetrated against a working-class party worker. These leaders who constantly berate the Hindutva fascists, and rightly enough, about all these, were criminally silent in this case. Pinarayi Vijayan apparently dismissed the whole issue as a ‘family matter’. How can one trust any of these people anymore? Are we witnessing the workings of a monster — that may be described by an ugly coinage – fascommunism? Just as the communists tried to create a midway meeting between neoliberalism and social development in the 1990s, is the completely neoliberalized Kerala left now creating this monster that is a cross between Hindutva fascism and the actually-existing communist political culture that resembles more a cartel than a political party?
We need to fight this monstrosity as a society. Together. Now.