All posts by jdevika

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

Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

This is the second in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note on Lalithambika Antharjanam is by J Devika. The excerpt from her story Vidhibalam (The Power of Fate) is translated by GEORVIN JOSEPH.

Lalitambika Antharjanam (1909-1987) was the first Malayali woman to achieve prominence in the field of modern Malayalam literature, and also among the first thinkers to reflect critically on modern gender as a framework for social existence in Malayali society. Born in the notoriously-aachaaram-bound Malayala brahmin community, she grew up to become one of its strongest and most vocal opponents. Her powerful short stories exposed the horrors that women suffered in conservative Malayala brahmin households. They indicted aachaaram again and again of dehumanising women, through heartbreaking accounts of their emotional and physical suffering, all sanctioned by the cold and ruthless workings of aachaaram.

Continue reading Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

 

Everywhere the talk is still about rebuilding Kerala: I say, we need to talk about healing Kerala. The change in phrasing is not trivial. When we admit that we need to heal, rather than rebuild, we are admitting much that we did not care to own up till now. That is, we would be agreeing that the problem at hand is a human one and not just one that can be resolved through technical intervention; that, as a complex process, it will take its time and quick-fixes will not suffice.  Thankfully, there is a widespread discussion on the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee Report and the Post-disaster needs assessment report of last year; quarrying has been stopped all over the state. Maybe we will heal, indeed. What do we need to do to heal, and not just rebuild? Continue reading Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?

I guess bad habits in development take a very long time to unlearn. Even in the face of the direst of warnings.

I know that last year, when taken completely by surprise, Kerala rose to the occasion. It appeared that a new civil society had come to being around the flood rescue and relief work, and that promised a new lease of life for our flagging-if-still-working project of people’s planning and political decentralization. It appeared that there was a real chance to stop the bureaucratic-technocratic coterie from shoving this ecologically-fragile area down the path of utterly destructive infrastructure-obsessed growth. It seemed that we could now seriously expose the depredations of the predatory capitalists, especially in the construction sector. Continue reading After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?

Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam – Announcement

This is to announce a new series of postings I will be doing, relating to aachaaram in Kerala.

Aachaaram is loosely translated as ‘customary practices’ or ‘customary rituals’, but in 19th century Malayali society, it referred to a massive, inter-connected, all-pervading web of practices, rituals, and ideas which bolstered the domination of the upper-castes — in Kerala’s context, this meant the Brahmin-sudra nexus — over the lower castes. It touched the most intimate and personal aspects of a person’s life; through it,  the allegiances and the labour of lower caste communities were extracted to benefit the upper castes. The lower-caste assertions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries here, through which modern democracy became a possibility at all, were directed against this web. Aachaaram, however, survived this phase through shrinking its spatial presence to savarna homes and temples; later, after the re-consolidation of brahmin-sudra power, towards the end of the 20th century, the rise of spiritual capitalism had led to aacharam’s resurrection as the vehicle of gendered savarna power — and as the provider of opening gambits for the Hindu fundamentalists — in Kerala .

In this series, I will post translations of selections/excerpts from the writings of the critics of aachaaram from early 20th century Kerala, with short reflections on each for the present. The many different readings of Hinduism that arose in that period when the Brahmin-sudra nexus was thrown into confusion, as well as the many different dreams of social liberation from different parts of the world that entered Malayali society then — from C Krishnan’s Buddhism to Marxism — produced powerful critical exposures that revealed aachaaram to be nothing but a vehicle and instrument of the power of certain groups over others. The effort made by these voices to point to the danger that it posed to a dream of a just society was largely ignored by the mainstream, especially the mainstream left.

The first of these is an excerpt from a conversation between the well-known social revolutionary, the avarna-born seer, spiritual leader, and philosopher, Srinarayana Guru and his disciples in which the annual pilgrimage to Sivagiri was planned, which I will post separately.