Recently, on fieldwork in a peri-urban panchayat in Kerala devastated by illegal large-scale granite quarrying, a local resident pointed us to what looked like a hillock. It was covered with vegetation — and flowers of a pleasant lilac — which made a very pretty sight — and to the naked eye, looked as solid as any other hillock in the peripheries of the Western Ghats. “This hillock,” he clarified, “is actually just a heap. It is the earth loosened by quarrying, heaped up here over a long time. Because it is overgrown by weeds, we think it is a verdant hill.” Far from being the latter, he said, it poses a serious danger to the neighborhood. “A spell of really heavy rain can bring it down and just imagine what will happen to the houses below?”Continue reading Molehills from mountains and other stories from kerala
It is now about twenty-five years since the CPM in Kerala took the calculated risk of meeting neoliberalism half-way through an experiment in localising development. The People’s Planning Campaign drew eclectically on a range of ideologies, from Gandhian self-reliance to neoliberal self-help, not always in ways that were sufficiently self-conscious, but there can be little doubt that there was a conscious effort to build in some mechanisms, however minimal, to counter the possible ill-being that neoliberal responsibilized welfare could inflict.Continue reading A people’s planning adequate to twenty-first century kerala
Over the past one year, I have been trying to make a college in Kerala – in a women’s college in Kerala– take some action against one of their faculty members who rained abuse on me publicly, including a public assertion about his possession of a penis, at a seminar in which I was an invited guest. This happened in November 2019.Continue reading The gender between men’s legs and other learnings from a college in kerala
Dear Friends at the WCC
Seared by the news this morning, and knowing well that all of you are as burned as I am by it, I let my mind wander to graze and find its own source of comfort. It wandered, to my surprise, to a completely unexpected place: to some writings of a well-known philosopher of science, Karl Popper. More specifically, to Karl Popper’s vision of social intervention, which he called ‘piecemeal engineering’. Put very simply, ‘piecemeal engineering’ refers to taking small, even modest, cautious, self-critical steps towards some desired social goal of fighting a ‘concrete social evil’.Continue reading The Pride of piecemeal engineering : An open letter to the wcc
Dear friends in the WCC
I am writing to you at a time so dark that unless we hold hands and feel the warmth of each others’ palms, we may even lose our sense of reality. This is my way of holding your hand and gaining strength from your presence.
Finally. Decades have passed in which we slumbered on eased by the magic mantra that women’s empowerment will emerge like a butterfly from the cocoon of women’s self-help groups, whispered in our ears by the state in Kerala. In the meantime, what we saw was often the opposite. Indeed, the more women became central to family sustenance and public care-giving in society, the deeper the misogyny penetrated, the wider it spread.Continue reading And Now, Pathetic patriarchy
My earlier posts on the Kerala Left’s inability to forge an adequate and democratizing response to the ‘societal emergencies’ that have challenged Malayali society in the 21st century, and on the completely-unjustified attack on the body artist Rehana Fathima seem to have irritated, even angered, many supporters of the CPM on Facebook.
These people are not youngsters, a detail that is really important. Indeed, they largely belong to the upper-middle-class professional elite, indeed, perhaps among the best-off sections of Malayali society, which include medical professionals, male and female. Their responses reveal very interesting details about how the pandemic shapes our understanding of ‘useful expertise’: at this moment, we are told, just listen to medical professionals, and not just their views on issues pertaining to health, but also to ‘social health’. Many of these professionals believe that the brazen violence unleashed against Rehana Fathima’s family — her mother-in-law has been denied free dialysis simply because she is Rehana Fathima’s mother-in-law, and BSNL has ordered the eviction of the family on completely ridiculous grounds – is a minor diversion, an irritating, trivial one, compared to the task of controlling the pandemic on the ground, which of course, brings the medical professional (even when he/she works in Kerala’s private hospitals, which are surely not the epitome of altruism) to the centre of public discourse as the ‘hero’ that everyone should be eternally grateful to. And if such heroes tell you that Rehana Fathima is just a child-abusing publicity-seeker, then you have to just say yes. And, as as the artist Radha Gomathy put it, participate in the Break-the-Chain-and-Break-the-Family campaign — or punish Rehana’s supportive family for not being freakishly conservative, like good Malayali families.
Bolstering their claim to be the only ‘real experts’ to talk about Malayali society at the moment is their implicit understanding that medical professionals are somehow more ‘scientific’ than others. Yet I was amazed — indeed, alarmed — by the carelessness with which they dealt with empirical information and their easy abandonment of logic. The tendency to equate technical training with scientific is very strong in these Facebook debates, as also the idea that social science and history are some airy-fairy romance that lacks scientific basis.
I am mentioning these features not to put these people down — and I am also aware of, and grateful to, many other medical professionals who expressed unease at these acts of hubris. I wish only to flag what seems to me an emerging axis of power in post-pandemic Kerala. A form in which the state’s apparatus of biopower is projected insistently as the sole benevolent source of human sustenance that must engage us constantly; it is not that critical discourse should be abolished, but it must focus, and gently, on this pre-given object. In it, the biological body is the object on which the state builds its new protectionism; the only kind of body it is bound to protect. The ‘new expert’ wields power on it, and their technical interventions will henceforth be recognized as ‘scientific’ — and the significance of the gap between the two will be ignored. The suspension of neoliberal logic during the pandemic has indeed allowed the Left to behave, even think, like the left — this emerging protectionism seems to be actually riding on it.
It is not surprising at all then that for some of these experts, those of us who contested the purportedly ‘scientific claim’ that Rehana’s children will be necessarily harmed psychologically by the sight of their mother’s exposed torso, or the equally-shaky idea that they necessarily lack the psychological strength the resist the taunts of society, seem dangerous to society. Rehana’s use of the body is aimed at the long-term; it signals the possibility of seeing the body as the site of aesthetic play and creativity; its androgynous appearance and breaking of stereotypes about the maternal body make it defy gendered classification (so necessary for the state). Her husband deserves punishment because he had abandoned the role of Reformer-Husband so central to the twentieth-century reformist discourse. Our experts’ ‘scientific temperaments’ do not allow them to perceive the fact that the Reformer-Husband carried the burden of ushering his wife into (a gendered) modernity, while in twenty-first century Kerala, women no longer need such ushering — there is data that shows that more women than men complete their education and enter higher education; that they outperform men in most examinations and have entered most modern professions; that in marriages, the bride is now likely to be more educated than the groom. The family needs to be punished as a whole for allowing such explorations of the body.
I still repose faith in the democratizing possibilities that this window of time gives us, but that does not make me blind to this wilful shutting out of the long-term and the agency of citizens. It is as if future society may be imagined by citizens only with or after the state. The state sees a vague and uncertain future, and therefore all citizens should, therefore, limit themselves to the immediate and present. Nothing should be allowed to disrupt the Left’s hegemony-building through pandemic-control exercises. Even if that requires that we turn a blind eye to the fact that the refurbishing of this hegemony may not be antithetical to the further entrenchment of biopower and the reign of these new experts.
I am making appeal here to all people who really care for children’s rights beyond the hypocrisies of the global child rights discourse.
A controversy is raging in Kerala over a video of body art posted by the body-activist Rehana Fathima in which her two children paint an image of a phoenix on the exposed torso of their mother. The children are not nude, they don’t look outside the frame. Rehana herself does not look out, nor is her body being displayed in any explicit sense. There is nothing pornographic; the video was not made for commercial purposes. However, the video has unleashed a storm of outrage and the bitter conservatism of both Right and Left-wing politics in Kerala now engulfs the family like a toxic fog.
Rehana has been subject to unimaginable violence online. She is no stranger to it; her insistent efforts to keep radical body politics alive in a society in which bodies are strictly subject to caste and religions communities and bound firmly within heternormative sexuality, patrilineal family-forms and marriages that insist of huge dowry payment to the groom have stirred all sort of insecurities, unconscious and otherwise, of the Malayali masculinist elite. During the conservative backlash against the Supreme Court’s verdict approving the entry of female devotees to the Sabarimala temple in 2018, Rehana Fathima (who claims that she had converted long back and is also known by the name Surya Gayatri) made an attempt to make the pilgrimage, resulting in her arrest and jailing. She was accused of obscenity for uploading a picture of herself in the pilgrim’s costume, but showing a little skin off her thigh.
In the present case, she is accused of corrupting her children by exposing them to her naked body and then making the video public. The first complaint was filed by a BJP functionary and then the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights directed the police to file cases against her charging the provisions of the POCSO Act. Other cases against her have used the provisions of the IT Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.
The police raided her home — and seized the laptop and, appalling, her son’s cherished set of brushes and paints. This violence remains unnoticed. There has been much hand-wringing by hypocrites who claim that they are not offended by the art but because children have been involved. These people do not seem to notice the violence against this young boy.
Rehana’s 13 year old is serious about his art. He is not like the kids who parents force into art classes so that they can brag about it in their circle. He is not traumatised by the sight of his mother’s body, but by the loss of his brushes, taken away by the Kerala Police as ‘evidence’ of the ‘crime’! The investigation of alleged violation of child rights gets an auspicious start, I suppose, with the police committing precisely such violation.
I appeal to all of you who think this is injustice — irrespective of whether it is technically proper or not — to speak up. If you can, please contribute brushes. Or pay Rs 10. The child’s father, Manoj K Sreedhar, is on Facebook. The address is : Rujul manav (appu) c/o Rehana fathima Ernakulam 682036 Mob: manoj 9446767666.
Before I start, a request: Friends who are reading this, if you are close to Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, or Soumya Swaminathan, or the other left-liberals who appear in the Kerala government-sponsored talk series from outside Kerala, please do forward this to them? I hope to reach them.
The Left government in Kerala is gathering its international intellectual-activist support base to cash on its commendable — ongoing — success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not new — it has always been part of the dominant Left’s hegemony-bolstering exercises, especially after the 1990s, when its unquestionable hegemony in Kerala began to face a series of challenges. It has also been forced to pay attention to the oppositional civil society which relentlessly questions the dominant Left’s fundamental understanding of social justice and forces it to take seriously such ideas as freedom, autonomy, as well as identities not reducible to class. Continue reading Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?
For Kerala, the new millennium has been the century of development emergencies. The effects of climate change and rapid urbanization and globalization have had rapid and drastic visible state-wide impact on people’s lives here, much of which in the form of development emergencies like epidemics, devastating floods, landslides, and now, the pandemic (and if the worst health predictions for monsoon come true, the syndemic). In other words, the new millennium seems to be setting a host of challenges for Kerala’s welfarism, which we seem to be meeting well for the time being at least. Continue reading Kerala: People’s Planning Once Again, Please
One of the effects of the pandemic in Kerala, like in most other parts of the world, is that the government’s narrative muffles all other narratives, and this is not just about the containment of the pandemic. Here the government’s narrative about the pandemic enjoys far greater legitimacy than elsewhere, and with good reason. It is true that Kerala’s greater successes in dealing with the pandemic are unique and commendable; however, to think that therefore, the government is right on everything else is probably a huge mistake. Continue reading The Limits of Public Health Management: Time to Rethink Development in Kerala
This is a Guest Post by ANITA GURUMURTHY and NANDINI CHAMY
In 2007, in her book, ‘Shock Doctrine’, Naomi Klein argued that history is a chronicle of “shocks” – the shocks of wars, natural disasters, and economic crises, but more importantly, of their aftermath characterised by disaster capitalism, calculated, free-market “solutions” to crises that exploit and exacerbate existing inequalities. This is why Big-Tech-to-the-rescue in times of the virus does not strike the right chord. It started with the lockdown order issued by the central government on March 24 with the exemption for essential services and supplies getting extended to delivery of foods, pharma products and medical equipment through e-commerce channels. The upper classes had to be assured that their means of shopping would not be affected. Notably, the order issued no such explicit exemption on the movement of foodgrains through Food Corporation of India channels, integral to the Public Distribution System. The lockdown order was a candid admission that e-commerce companies have now become infrastructural utilities indispensable to India’s aspirational middle class.
First of all, thank you for acknowledging, even praising,the efforts of the government of Kerala and the people to protect ourselves and humanity against the threat of the corona virus. It is true that Kerala’s efforts and achievements are being lauded the world over, but those voices are never going to make any impact on the supporters of the Sangh parivar in Kerala. But your views cannot be dismissed so easily as ‘Western’ or ‘leftist’ (though they may still murmur about your Muslim name). What has really riled me in the recent past is their systematic effort at downplaying Kerala’s achievements, heaping abuse on our effort to help migrant workers, and raising baseless allegations against those who are working to mitigate the crisis. So as a historian of modern Kerala, I am writing this to offer some insights into why we have been able to do this, in the hope that you may be able to see what they will never tell you — simply because they are so sadly blinded by hate. Continue reading An Open Letter to the Kerala Governor Sri Arif Mohammad Khan About Our Fight Against the Virus, But Also About Our Resistance to CAA-NRC
The third chapter is about precepts applicable to all human beings; the aacharyan speaks here on the panchadharmas and the panchashuddhi. The panchadharmas are : nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, the rejection of intoxicants, and the avoidance of licentiousness. Dharmoyam Saarvavarnikah, say the earlier aachaaryas, mentioning nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, celibacy, and frugality as the five crucial dharmas. The Yogasastra mentions these five as the panchayamas. Continue reading Srinarayanadharmam: Raghavan Thirumulpad (Part 2)
[The lockdown ought to work as a great leveler. For once, all who live in mortal bodies have been reminded of their inevitable mortality, of the absurd fragility of our existence on this planet. Even the living-gods who command a huge following have shut darshan. We have also been reminded that life on earth will not grind to a standstill if we go. Indeed, the signs are that it will thrive.
But at the ground level, that is not happening. The better-off can see how, starkly, like never before, the privileges they enjoy, and given as they are to an amoral worship of consumption which inhibits their capacity for compassion, are more likely to shield this by resorting to any kind of ideology that justifies their privilege, probably eugenics or some kind of functionalist interpretation of caste oppressive practices. We are seeing how the poor are suffering for no fault of theirs at all. Indeed, the lockdown may help to normalize privilege even more, and render us all the more insensitive to the suffering of the working class poor. One reason why this happens is because we are already, as a society, afflicted by moral viruses — of religious bigotry, caste privilege, and ruthless capitalism. As a society, we are sick, and the pandemic is likely to exacerbate it
It must be this connection that made me turn to the work of Raghavan Thirumulpad, who was one of Kerala’s finest ayurvedic physicians, a multi-lingual scholar whose conception of individual and human wellness was inextricably related to the wellness of society and the natural world. I have long admired the ease with which he moved between theory and practice in ayurveda; but what really connected us as privileged-caste-born people who sought to become human was that we found in Sreenarayana Guru a common refuge. For Thirumulpad, the Guru is not just a social reformer or preacher but a healer — a healer of society and individual, who drew upon Indian traditions to reinterpret a dharma adequate to the disease that afflicted society in his times.
I have been reading with interest the exchange between Aditya Nigam and Satish Deshpande on the AAP’s strategy of avoiding ‘politics’ – or rather, distancing itself mostly from the polarised ideological debates while making small moves to shape for itself a space, arguably fuzzy, in the hegemonic discourse of Hindu. I am also witness to the unbelievably egregious attacks by the CPM leadership in Kerala against Islamist organizations protesting the CAA — the free reign granted to an explicitly communalised police force, the appallingly soft treatment of Hindutva offenders, even when they make open threats that warn Malayalis to ‘remember Gujarat’, the wanton attack on internal dissidents in the CPM using the worst instruments of the security states such as the UAPA, and the threat to dismantle the pandal of the Shaheen Bagh solidarity satyagraha in Thiruvananthapuram, something even Amit Shah has not dared to do (thankfully withdrawn after public outrage), and its blatant caste-elite majoritarian thrust while claiming to be the (sole) guardians of secularism. Continue reading Thoughts on the AAP’s Hindu Gestures from Kerala’s History
കേരളത്തിലങ്ങോളമിങ്ങോളം നടക്കുന്ന സിഏഏ-എൻ ആർ സി വിരുദ്ധസമരങ്ങൾക്കിടയിൽ നമ്മുടെയെല്ലാം ഉള്ളുപൊള്ളയായ രാഷ്ട്രീയ അവബോധങ്ങളിലും സുഖസ്ഥലങ്ങളിലും നീറുപോലെ കടിച്ചുപറിക്കുന്ന ഒരു യാഥാർത്ഥ്യം — താഹയും അലനും സഹിക്കുന്ന അനീതി. യുഏപിഏ അറസ്റ്റുകൾ മുൻപ് മുസ്ലീംയുവാക്കളെ ഉന്നംവച്ചപ്പോൾ അവർ തീവ്രവാദികളാണെന്ന് – പലപ്പോഴും കാര്യമായ തെളിവൊന്നുമില്ലാതെ — വിശ്വസിച്ചു മനഃസാക്ഷിയെ നാം പാട്ടുപാടി ഉറക്കിയതാണ്. പക്ഷേ ഇന്നത് പറ്റുന്നില്ല, കാരണം ഈ ചെറുപ്പക്കാരെ നേരിട്ടറിയാവുന്ന പാർട്ടിവിശ്വാസികൾക്കെല്ലാം അറിയാം, അവർ നിരപരാധികളാണെന്ന്. Continue reading കേരളത്തിൽ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിൻ്റെ ഭാവിയും അരാഷ്ട്രീയതയുടെ പിണറായിശൈലിയും
As we in Kerala gear up for the long struggle that can cease only when the evil of Hindutva is finally uprooted from India and Kerala, and only after the toxins that it has spewed is wiped clean from the hearts and souls of our brethren, my only request is: please do not forget Allen and Twaha. Continue reading Do not Forget Allen and Twaha as we fight the U-r-b-a-n N-a-z-i