Category Archives: Identities

Against Aaacharam : 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.

Women Of The World Stand With Kashmir

Statement issued on 27 September 2019.
NEW DELHI. NEW YORK
 

On 30 August 2019,the United Nations’ International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Parveena Ahangar, mother of Javaid, a 16 year old who was ‘disappeared’by paramilitary forces in Kashmir in 1990 mourned again.

Every year, the families of APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) come together on 30 August. This is our way of reassuring each other that we are not alone in our grief. Yet this year we have been strangled, and there was no coming together because through its siege, India has denied us even the right to mourn.

Kashmir under siege. Kashmir caged. Kashmir imprisoned. Analogies abound for of the Indian Government‘s actions of August 5, 2019 when it unilaterally terminated the semi-autonomous Constitutional status granted to the region as a condition of its accession to India, and bifurcated it into two directly ruled Union Territories. This action was preceded in the previous week by a military blockade, a state of undeclared emergency, and an unprecedented media and communications clampdown. An estimated 4,000 Kashmiris have been arbitrarily detained including politicians, business leaders, lawyers, human rights defenders, chartered accountants, journalists, teachers, and students. Some are being held without charges or trial, under administrative detention laws such as the Public Safety Act, 1978 while the grounds of detention and whereabouts of a large number, including children as young as ten, remain unknown. An unknown number of people have been moved to prisons outside the state of Jammu & Kashmir.The Indian government continues to declare that all is ‘normal’ in the face of credible and mounting evidence of a healthcare and humanitarian crisis, civilian deaths and blindings and other injuries in pellet gun attacks by Indian security forces, torture, molestations, and the severe curtailment of freedom of opinion, expression, and information; assembly and movement; and religious freedoms. Continue reading Women Of The World Stand With Kashmir

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?

Exclusion of 19 Lakh People Shows the Irrationality of #NRC Exercise: Joint Forum Against NRC

The Final NRC published today has excluded a whopping 19.06 lakh persons in Assam. The NRC process had shifted the burden of proof of citizenship on to the entire population of Assam, with people undergoing deep travails over the past four years to get their names included. In a poor country like ours and in a state which witnesses frequent floods, it is not unnatural that lakhs of people were unable to produce documents to prove that they or their ancestors were inhabitants of Assam before 24th March 1971. To rob people of their citizenship and rendering them stateless on the basis of this flawed process would be a gross violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Continue reading Exclusion of 19 Lakh People Shows the Irrationality of #NRC Exercise: Joint Forum Against NRC

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

Nationalism and Politics – An Open Letter to Arvind Kejriwal

I write this open letter to you as a well wisher, and someone who has been seriously supportive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) through all the ups and downs in the years since its formation.  Perhaps like many others, I too have high expectations of the experiment that AAP is and the new ground it has tried to break in terms of providing a government that has steadfastly kept the interests of the common person in mind while taking decisions.

But I also write this letter because I, like many others, have been perturbed by some developments which do not augur well for the future either of your party or of the country. The latter in any case, is set on a disastrous course, thanks to the current dispensation at the Centre. Let me also make it clear right away that I am not one of those who criticize AAP for ‘lacking a clear ideology’ and I in fact value the fact that on many critical issues, AAP has been able to resist the pressure to step into well trodden, familiar responses to specific situations and issues – especially well trodden among Leftists. But I do think that AAP needs to think a bit more seriously  about politics – which is not the same thing as ideology.

Continue reading Nationalism and Politics – An Open Letter to Arvind Kejriwal

Kashmir Caged – A Report from the Ground

Economist Jean Dreze, Kavita Krishnan of the CPI(ML) and the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People’s Movements released the following report to the press today, 14 August 2019, after spending five days in Kashmir, meeting and talking to people.

Security personnel stand guard on a street during a lockdown in Srinagar on August 12, 2019. (Photo credit: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA /AFP/Getty Images)

We spent five days (9-13 August 2019) traveling extensively in Kashmir. Our visit began on 9 August 2019 – four days after the Indian government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A, dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.

When we arrived in Srinagar on 9 August, we found the city silenced and desolated by curfew, and bristling with Indian military and paramilitary presence. The curfew was total, as it had been since 5th August. The streets of Srinagar were empty and all institutions and establishments were closed (shops, schools, libraries, petrol pumps, government offices, banks). Only some ATMs and chemists’ shops – and all police stations – were open. People were moving about in ones and twos here and there, but not in groups.

Continue reading Kashmir Caged – A Report from the Ground