All posts by jdevika

Break the Chain, Break the (Unconventional) Family?

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.

 

An Appeal for an Artist: Buy Brushes for Rehana Fathima’s Son

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.

 

J Devika.

Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?

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?

Kerala: People’s Planning Once Again, Please

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

The Limits of Public Health Management: Time to Rethink Development in Kerala

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

E-commerce platforms: Corona Warriors or Disaster Capitalists?

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.

Continue reading E-commerce platforms: Corona Warriors or Disaster Capitalists?

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

Dear Sir

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

Srinarayanadharmam: Raghavan Thirumulpad (Part 2)

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)

Balm in Troubling times – Raghavan Thirumulpad on Srinarayana Dharma

[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.

Continue reading Balm in Troubling times – Raghavan Thirumulpad on Srinarayana Dharma

Statement on the imminent arrest of Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde : Alan-Thaha Human Rights Committee, Kerala

The Alan-Thaha Human Rights Committee, Kerala, expresses its deep concern and anguish over the imminent arrest of prominent intellectuals Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde in the Bhima-Koregaon case.

Continue reading Statement on the imminent arrest of Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde : Alan-Thaha Human Rights Committee, Kerala

Thoughts on the AAP’s Hindu Gestures from Kerala’s History

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

കേരളത്തിൽ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിൻ്റെ ഭാവിയും അരാഷ്ട്രീയതയുടെ പിണറായിശൈലിയും

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

Do not Forget Allen and Twaha as we fight the U-r-b-a-n N-a-z-i

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

Against Aachaaram: Moorkothu Kumaran’s Dream of the Future

This is the fifth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Moorkothu Kumaran has been translated by K R GOPIKRISHNA.

Moorkothu Kumaran (1874- 1941) was one of Malayalam’s earliest short story writers, literary critics, and public intellectuals. Born in the avarna Thiyya community in north Malabar, he was educated at Thalassery and Madras and was closely associated with Sreenarayana Guru. He was active in the SNDP Yogam in its early years and highly influential through his pioneering journalism and contributions to modern Malayalam, as it was shaped in and through the new voices that were now heard in the emergent public sphere.

Below is an excerpt from an essay of his titled ‘Oru Pusrushasamajam’ (A Men’s Association), in which he indulges in a fantasy of a social event set in 2029. Written in the late nineteenth century, it imagines a world which women have taken over, and where the Manusmrithi is a long-lost and obscure text, while the writings of late-nineteenth century women authors, like Tottaikkattu Ikkavamma, are widely in circulation. In other words, a world in which the aachaaram of Manu has somewhat declined, though there are indications that it has not disappeared fully.

Reading this, one cannot help noticing the fallacy often shared, sadly enough, by reformers and conservatives, then and now: that empowered women will merely seize patriarchal-caste-heteronormative power and exercise it unchanged. And so their imagined utopias of gender equality inevitably look like the inverted version of patriarchal society. But perhaps Moorkoth Kumaran leaves us a clue about why this was so: as is evident from the extract below, caste seems alive and well despite the disappearance of Manusmrithi– the privileged sudra identity of Menon, Nair seem untouched, alongside upwardly mobile individuals born in lower castes aspiring to the new savarna status. It is not, however, clear that Moorkoth makes this gesture deliberately.

Sadly enough, this aspect of the emergent order of gender, in which the new empowered woman (irrespective of where she originates in the spectrum of castes sharing the renewed Brahmin-sudra social contract or among the avarna individuals who seek upward mobility into the savarna, partakes in the refurbished savarna power) was hardly ever discussed. In this fantasy, it is stretched to its maximum, and so the ‘oppressed’ men now complain of women inverting the order, in effect, behaving like upper caste men of the late19th century. Women have removed all portions of aachaaram that limit them and imposed those on men, but they have not delegitimised caste, one may suppose. In short,  women have managed to replace words like paativratyam with others like patnivratyam.

To avoid this  we have,  precisely, the insistence- still audible in left cultural circles as well  — that women are not interested in sameness,  only equality.  Sameness within  the new savarna order would mean that women may take caste power and that may even make them conspire to impose a cultural agenda in their favour, proscribing scriptural authority that sanctions make authority.  It is not merely the love of ‘Indian culture’, but also this fear that makes the Indian right wing  and the still-savarna reformers on the left embrace the infamous despoilation of women’s public voice – in two different ways-during last year’s  savarna mutiny against the Supreme Court’s verdict about  the entry of women of menstruating ages into Sabarimala.

Of course visions of feminist utopia  have been strikingly different in that they envisage the wholesale elimination of all forms of patriarchy, but then when both the really-existing left and the right both are interested only in demonising the feminists,  their protestations will be surely ignored.

_____________

A Men’s Association

A meeting that may be held a hundred years into the future
AD 2029 October 1, Tuesday, Kanni 15, 1205, the Kollam Era:  An important convention of Kerala Men’s Association is being held on the westside garden of Smt. VCR Amma M.A. M.L.C.’s house at Kozhikode (Calicut). Sri Narayanan Nambiar (husband of High Court judge L D Amma M.A. B.L.) was chosen to preside to over the meeting based on the suggestion of Smt. TKG Amma B.A. M.R.A.S.’s husband Sri Kannaran, which was seconded by Barrister Smt. B K Amma’s husband Sri. Gopala Menon. In his inaugural speech, the President spoke engagingly about men’s lack of freedom He essentially pondered how in the older times, men were free and were educated, and how they worked and earned when women engaged in domestic duties, serving their husbands, bearing and nurturing their children, and how peace prevailed in households and the society in those days. He spoke in detail, and with considerable poignancy, how, in contemporary times, women have attained education, entered into all government jobs, and become members of the governing bodies and legislatures t and how this has destroyed the freedom of men. Finally, he said, “Dear brothers, there are umpteen illustrations to prove that the brave men who were our ancestors enjoyed freedom in households and the country. I have found reasons to believe there existed a great scripture named Manu-Samhita. In it, it is stipulated that even education must be denied to women. Somewhere I have read that Manu-Samhita is the rule-book for the Hindus. I have been able to find documents proving that women were men’s slaves and women’s worlds were confined to the kitchen and bedroom only – cooking food and taking care of children. Women have destroyed Manu-Samhita completely, without sparing a single copy.
“Freedom is not for women
The Father will save her at adolescence
The Husband will save her at adulthood
The Son will save her at old-age.”

Thus states this scripture of antiquity. It appears that that this section has been redacted out from the edition of this scripture currently in publication. A drama written by a poetess who died 125 years ago is being circulated by the women of our times. Though it was an attempt to prove women were scholarly at those times, however, a sloka confirming that women didn’t have freedom at those times, was included in the print. Also, it can be understood that women wrote poetry rarely and men considered them incapable of it. This was that sloka:

“Didn’t Krishna’s beloved Bhama fight?
Didn’t Subhadra ride a chariot?
Isn’t all this world ruled by Victoria?
If the beauties can accomplish all these,
How will they be incapable to writing a poem?”

What can you decipher from this shloka? Does it not hint that women wrote poetry rarely? That they were considered inadequate to it? If these justifications were given for a woman writing a poem, doesn’t it mean that these were early attempts of women writing poetry? Now, we don’t blame women for being newspaper editors, poets or dramatists. We hinder do not them from being one. We don’t disapprove of them occupying any office, as much as they can. Our sole grievance is against reducing men to slaves capable of only doing domestic work. Is it fair that the burden of care and protection of children they bear is turned into a liability of ours?

They haven’t done enough to meet our educational needs. Despite our raising our need for exclusive schools and colleges many times, they have ignored us. Despite their decision that we are capable of only domestic work and after having forced us into it, they have not provided us with the necessary instruction in domestic work at school. We are being offered the same subjects and textbooks as them. Young women ill-treat youngsters who are forced to study in the same schools as them. Meanwhile, the infamous tale of how a young woman threw a letter at a high school-going youth and how he complained to the principal, and how she did not inquire into the matter at all against the offending woman has been in the news. Headmistresses also do not listen to the complaint that young women are spilling ink on the shirts of young men and bothering them thus! Though exclusive elementary schools have been established for us in a few places, it is a concern that it was all women who were appointed as teachers. Though a few amongst us has risen to become elementary level headmasters, they are harmed by transferring them off to faraway lands.

Apart from all this, women insult us claiming that our vows to our wives – our patnivratyam  – are insufficient and slander us in their newspapers. That few youngsters amongst us are living as ganikanmaar– prostitutes – in certain city houses that they have leased is indeed a great weakness on our side. But the responsibility to abolish it is on the women who rule and they have failed to act on it. A woman member has introduced a bill in the legislature to abolish the system of polyandry and it is deeply concerning that few other women members are opposing the bill. You all must be aware from the invitation that this today’s meeting is being heldwas convened to discuss this matter and send a joint-representation to the Lady Governor. As my time is limited, I conclude my address and request the subsequent proceedings to be held.

(Applause)
 (K R Gopikrishna is a Master’s student of Political Science at University of Hyderabad.)

Against Aachaaram : Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai on the veneration of Parasurama

This is the fourth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai is translated by UTHARA GEETHA.

The formation of the linguistic state of Kerala was the culmination of a long process of negotiation around Malayalam as a common cultural ethos for the new Malayali. It ultimately became a battle-ground on which the defenders and opponents of aachaaram clashed.  Aachaaram – and the brahmin-sudra nexus – had taken a sound beating when the avarna rose up against these in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, both these did not go under. Instead, they were transformed – aachaaram was put through the seive of Victorian values, and the part of it that survived this process was hailed as the ‘quintessence’ of Malayali Hindu culture. The brahmin-sudra social contract, long existent as the major axis of both exploitation and oppression in the Malayalam-speaking regions, was soon resurrected as ‘savarna Hindu’. This new elite defined itself in terms of the newly-recovered ‘ Malayali Hindu cultural essence’.

One important way this elite and this insidious cultural identity manoeuvred itself into public discourse was by depicting itself as the cultural core of the new United Kerala. However, the best of Malayali intellectuals of the time, especially the poets — Balamani Amma, Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon, Edassery Govindan Nair, and even P Kunhiraman Nair – crafted a vision of Kerala that was still rooted in many ways in local culture, nature and ethos, but was removed from aachaaram and its despicable connotations. The degree to which they succeeded in this, and their level of commitment to the destruction of aachaaram varied, but there was a general effort to seek other cultural moorings for the New Kerala. The most prominent of the moves made in this direction was perhaps the resurrection of the myth of the Asura King Maveli and the reimagining of Onam around him, rather than Vamana.

In the excerpt below, Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai (1900-1971), one of Malayalam’s finest modern intellectuals and champions of free thought and unfettered conscience, makes a scathing critique of the attempts to sneak aachaaram back into imagination of new Kerala during the discussion about it as a unified cultural entity. He takes unerring aim at an image of the father-figure of aachaaram in Kerala, Parasurama, which was mounted at the entrance to a major conference on United Kerala, held at Thrissur in 1947.

[Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai, ‘Parasurama chithram’, Kuttippuzhayute Prabandhangal Vol.3, Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1990, pp.85-88]

The Image of Parasuraman

The newspapers have reported that an image of axe-bearing Parasurama has been installed on the tower at the entrance to the Aikya Kerala Nagar. It would be useful if the organizers explained what they mean by this image. The myth of Parasuraman, in sum, is a tale about his act of gifting the land of Kerala which he created by throwing his axe into the sea to Brahmins, to atone for his sin of having murdered Kshetriyakings twenty-one times. Do the organizers assign any value to this grandmother’s tale? Does this picture or this story contain anything that could inspire the creation of United Kerala in the future? Whatever that may be, there may not be many in these times of the twentieth century who will passively suffer the sight of the coffin of such made-up stories carried out and put on display. This image will only be perceived as a black flag symbolizing superstition and slavery by those who desire freedom. If we confer significance to Parasuraman’s history today, that means accepting ideas that besmear the face of humanity, free conscience and modern science. Let us see what all makes up the story:

  1. A Brahmin with supernatural powers strong enough to create land by drying up the sea with just a throw of his axe lived in India.
  2. The whole of Kerala belongs to the Brahmins according to the heirship granted by the donor.
  3. Redemption from sin is possible through making offerings to Brahmins.
  4. You can be absolved of multiple murders through such offering to Brahmins.
  5. Brahmins are the highest and finest caste and their lives are most valuable.
  6. As the whole of the earth belongs to the Brahmins, other castes are their mere tenants.
  7. Due to the same reason, the ruling powers are also Brahmin.

 

How many of those celebrating the United Kerala celebrations today at Thrissur believe the notions listed above? We ought to introspect on how these kinds of superstitions have pushed Malayalis, especially Hindus, into utter degradation, and about the many ways in which they were reduced to mere menials of the Brahmins. So many are the aachaaram-procedures and blind beliefs well-established over centuries, that this disgusting servitude has permeated the blood of the Savarna and is now dried up into an ugly stain. The blind aacharam of making offerings to the brahmins has cost the savarna Hindus so many lakhs of rupees! [And yet] isn’t this idiotic practice still embraced by many? Brahmin landlordism has its roots in this story of Parasuraman. How many lakhs of Keralites were exploited by the economic system built upon this! Have they attained freedom from this economic exploitation even today?

Even today, it is upon the slogan Go brahminaibhya shubhamasthu nithyam that the Hindu kings wield their sceptre. Good things should befall the Brahmins and the cows which provide them with milk and butter; to hell with others! Look how deep the Brahminical roots have sunk! Can’t you see its dark shadows on all aspects of a Keralite’s life? This image of Parasurama is in actuality the very slavishness of the savarnas to brahmins sunk deep in their subconscious raising its head. It is a disgraceful self-espoused flag of slavery even to them. When that is the case of the savarna, not to speak of the avarna!  They cannot bear it even for a moment. It is the veritable caste-devil which has given rise of six or seven lakhs of abjected and oppressed people. And this is just about the Hindus. Think about another side. Does ‘Keralite’ only refer to Hindus? What worth does this image of Parasuraman hold for the people belonging to other religions? Do not Christians, Muslims, Jews and other communities have an equal status in United Kerala? The utter inappropriateness of an image of a Brahmin clutching his weapon belligerently, reiterating Brahmanical control over the whole world placed in front of a hall in which the United Kerala conference is held for all Keralites irrespective of religion and caste, is surely worth thinking about. Such images do not encourage friendship among different religious groups. Rather, they sow the seeds of disharmony and competition. Some might strain hard to reinterpret this picture and confer new meaning(s), attempting to connect it to modern ideas. They should understand that the common people would still comprehend it with reference to existing meaning conventions. It is impossible to uproot centuries-old deep-rooted meanings and channels of faith with a new interpretation. Is it not evident that Mahatma Gandhi is failing miserably in his attempts to reinterpret the Varna system and the chanting of Ram’s name as he strives to advocate the unity of all religions and to develop goodwill among Hindus and Muslims? Aren’t the bloodbaths of North India today a result of his journey through this dangerous path for well over twenty-five years? Religion, in its everyday meaning and tradition, would culminate in collective insanity. Gandhiji’s toils only helped to inflame it all the more.

We should particularly remember that people trying to dig up the Aryan culture under new names and forms are manuring religious fanaticisms dormant in humanity. The display of monsters from the past, like this image of Parasurama will result in such ugly outcomes. I think there are already disputes and clashes regarding the same in the newspapers. Only images that inspire brotherhood among over the one and a half crore of Keralites should be exhibited. This image of Parasuraman which proclaims Kerala’senslavementto brahmins and blind belief in religion should hereby be removed immediately. It would be amusing to know how the non-violent followers of Gandhi view this representation of a man who committed murder twenty-one times. As it is, they who are the chief trumpeters of United Kerala. It is also very amusing that the very first sight that will fall upon the Hallowed Eyes of the Rajah of Cochin, who will arrive in honour to inaugurate the conference, will be of a Kshatriya-slayer!!

 

Uthara Geetha is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar at the Centre for Women Studies, University of York.

Against Aachaaram: When is Your Cloth Clean/Pure/ Both?

This is the third in the series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. Both excerpts have been chosen and translated by HARIKRISHNAN S. The prefatory note below is by J Devika. They are about the notions of purity of clothing harboured by the traditional caste elite in Kerala, which were revised by the neo-savarna of twentieth century Kerala.

The neo-savarna refers to a twentieth-century social formation that comprises of the upper-caste elite of traditional Kerala – the sudras (nair and ambalavasi), the samanthas and kshathriyas (the members of erstwhile ruling houses, minor and major), and the brahmins. The richer sections of the ex-untouchable Ezhava caste-community who have in effect abandoned the teachings of their chosen Guru, Sree Narayana, now actively seek membership in the neo-savarna, but are yet to be accepted fully.

Continue reading Against Aachaaram: When is Your Cloth Clean/Pure/ Both?

Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala

Two massive calamities, tremendous losses, continuing signs of serious ecological destruction impending — yet all we Malayalis seem to have produced in response: two reports, and even more frenzied strategic calculation. There is little doubt that the disasters happened in the first place at least partially because of the latter, but there seems to be no rethinking. Instead, we have strategic agents refurbishing their strategies to the new circumstances.

What else explains the Kerala government’s  Rebuilding Kerala Development Programme Report (RKDPR)? It popped up all of a sudden around the end of last year, after the UN-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report (PDNAR), and even members of the Chief Minister’s Advisory Council were caught unawares.  The economist K P Kannan, whose life’s work has been focused on Kerala’s economy, a member of the Council, remarked in a recent interview in the Sastragathy that they did not know of it until the third meeting of the council. None knew who put it together, and there is no mention of this in the report itself. It draws heavily but selectively on the PDNAR, but also perhaps on the projects that were prepared for World Bank funding – and Kannan reaffirms this impression. The draft report was made available online for comments but there is no clear idea about these experts or the public consultations. Continue reading Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala