Make no mistake — this is not my assessment. I’ve just borrowed it from our Chief Minister, the redoubtable V.S. Achuthananadan, the foremost of (official) revolutionaries in Kerala, whose memories of struggle stretch back right up to the workers’ uprising of the 1940s in south Kerala, the Punnapra-Vayalar, celebrated in communist myth and legend. In September this year it appeared as if the CPM was ready to negotiate with the protestors, but nothing has really moved. The latter have hung firm in their resolve, it requires a rather strange imagination to read that as evidence for ‘peace and prosperity’ at Chengara. The Congress has now emerged, after much slumber, with support for the struggle, and V.M. Sudheeran, one of the most popular and respected leaders of the Congress, has sharply condemned the CM’s statement (below).
[This guest post by SAMKUTTY PATTOMKARY responds to the ongoing debate in Kafila on the Chengara issue. -AN]
Reading through the discussions on Chengara in kafila, some thoughts I felt I need to articulate as follows.
It comes out vividly through the Chengara struggle that a large section of people remain alienated from social and political powers in the so-called democratic society of Kerala. Why is it not possible for the ‘class proponents’ to see and engage themselves in working towards solving the issue politically? Continue reading The red mongoose in solemn procession: Samkutty Pattomkary
[Via Anivar Aravaind]
Tonight is the Night of the Long Knives – or Qatl ki Raat as they say in Hindustani. Indeed, it is not the night of the long knives of Nazi vintage – for that was carried out by Hitler against his own SA (the Nazi paramilitary organization), in one desperate power struggle. This is our very own CPI-M’s equally desperate power struggle – but directed outwards towards the struggling Dalit families in Chengara. Continue reading Qatl ki Raat – Watchout Tomorrow
Guest post by ANANT MARINGANTI
How far is Nandigram from Chengara ? If we take media coverage and internet buzz as indicators, they are on two different planets. The heat generated by Singur and Nandigram was enough to run a chain of mini power plants. All that the families in the Chengara holdout have managed to evoke is a few approving nods from here and there. Here is a partial inventory of reasons why this might be so.
1) Singur and Nandigram are protests against disposession. The bad guys in the two instances are high profile harbingers of neoliberal globalization. No less. Chengara is about staking a claim to a welfare provision that nobody takes seriously anymore. There are no easily identifiable bad guys here.
There is still the eerie silence here about the land struggle at Chengara, but we are nearly deaf from listening to talk, talk, and more talk about the redistribution of surplus land to landless dalit people. Everyone, from Karat to Pinarayi Vijayan to VS, to even that undaunted champion of liberal ‘minimum entitlements’ welfarism, T.M. Thomas Isaac, is talking of redistributing surplus land to landless dalits (adivasis, according to some,or landless ‘poor’ according to others, ‘poor’ according to yet others…).
That seems rather odd.Talking with some minor CPM intellectual-bhikshaamdehis the other day (who are of course still patiently waiting for ‘more and accurate information’) I could see a sense of wounded innocence. “Don’t forget,” one of them told me,”it is the CPM that campaigned for redistribution of surplus land.” What they do not want to acknowledge — in the very specific present, of course — was that this promise was never fulfilled. Indeed, the so-called ‘class agenda’of the dominant left was more or less treated as over in the early 1970s;the left’s achievements after this did not touch upon redistribution of productive resources to the agricultural working classes. Indeed, we have seen the expansion of mass welfare — mass housing, fixing minimum wages, making available welfare pensions through welfare funds for unorganised sector workers, and so on.We have also seen the welfare system’s indirect acknowledgement of the rise of the consumer-citizen in Kerala — for instance, in the state-run Maveli stores.
National Commission for Women
4, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg,
Subject: Torture and Rape of Women and Other Incidents in the Land Struggle at Chengara, Kerala
We urge your attention to the following incidents in Chengara, Kerala as they require your urgent intervention.
In the ongoing struggle for land in Chengara, there is escalating violence against the peaceful and democratic protest of the people. Here women are the most affected as they are the targets of brutal attacks by the workers of trade unions affiliated to leading political parties and also other hired henchmen of Harrison Malayalam Ltd. Many women have testified that the attacks happened right in the presence of the police. All these events seem to indicate a total breakdown of the state’s administrative machinery to redress the situation, which makes the intervention of external bodies like yours crucial.
Mr. Prakash Karat, how far behind are you and your crew walking?!
asks theatre director SAMKUTTY PATTOMKARY
[As the Chengara struggle reached a new phase, the CPI-M in Kerala organized a Dalit convention in Kochi – 51 years too late says the author. J Devika has posted updates on the struggle in recent days, as also a translation of Sunny Kapicadu’s speech at the historic night-vigil on 7 March 2008, in Kafila earlier.]
In more than 80 years of communist history in Kerala, for the first time, a communist chief minister has declared today (16-8-2008) that the caste system is strongly alive in Kerala! It took 51 years, starting from EMS in 1957, for the communist rulers to understand the caste system in Kerala. Anyway, on this ‘auspicious’ occasion of such a revelation for the Kerala CPM people, let them be reminded of some more facts.
On 14 August, leading dalit activists from Kerala protested in Pathanamthitta against the continued road blockade organised by the joint front of trade unions which claim to be fighting for the rights of plantation workers. They were prevented from proceeding to Chengara and were arrested, to be released by evening. Meanwhile, the trade unions agreed to lift the blockade by 3 at noon. They however demand that the people who have occupied the plantation should all leave in 10 days’ time, and if this does not happen, the blockade will be on again.
Press coverage has improved somewhat but not much. Even the sworn enemies of the left, like the Malayala Manorama, have kept largely silent. Not surprising, though — the Congress and others, including the interests that this newspaper represents, are patiently waiting for the LDF government to dig its own grave by provoking a Nandigram-like situation. Once the calamity begins, they will of course move in, like vultures. The Centre too of course is watching and waiting for CPM to make another big mistake.
These are strange times.There is a raging debate now on within the CPM and the LDF about the pending approval to proposed SEZs, and one of the key points of the conflict has to do with trade union presence within them.While a powerful section within the CPM wants to curtail workers’ rights within the SEZs,outside, on the road to Chengara, trade unions attack their ‘enemies’ — landless and marginalised people.
The Chengara Struggle Committee has called for protest meetings all over the State on 23 August; it has also appealed for a protective human chain around Chengara on 25 August.
[The transformation of the agenda of the mainstream left in Kerala is beginning to produce resistance, and nowhere is this more visible than at Chengara in the south eastern Pathanamthitta district. The ongoing struggle for land there brings into relief not just the denial of productive resources to the real tillers of the soil – the Dalits – in Kerala’s land reforms, but also the shift of the left from the fight against inequality to the distribution of ‘minimum entitlements’. It also draws attention to the manner in which a ‘state-centric’ civil society, mainly the large network of poor women’s self-help groups sponsored by the State’s poverty eradication “Mission’, has been authorized as ‘authentic civil society’. All claims made outside these formal institutions are thereby rendered illegitimate and indeed, ‘against the law’. At Chengara, the protestors have been resisting the combined force of the state and the major political parties, laying claims to productive resources – and rejecting ‘minimum entitlements’. Indeed, the darker side of ‘democratic decentralization’ in Kerala, the ‘new Kerala Model’, as it has been called by its admirers, is the implicit legitimacy it grants to blatant violence unleashed upon people who struggle for economic equality, who do not find ‘minimum entitlements’ the solution to rampant and growing economic inequalities in contemporary Kerala. No wonder, then, that the Chief Minister of Kerala felt no qualms in warning the leader of the Chengara land struggle, Laha Gopalan, that if the protestors did not peacefully return to their villages (where they could put in applications for 3 or 5 cents of land for housing), they would have to encounter “police with horns and thorns” – in other words, not just armed police, but a bestial force. Nandigram, in short.
The struggle, however, remains vibrant and growing. Below is a translated version of a speech made by leading Dalit activist and intellectual, Sunny M Kapicadu, at a night-vigil organized in support of the ongoing land struggle in Thiruvananthapuram on 7 March 2008, in which he defends the struggle against powerful efforts to malign and undermine it. – JD ] Continue reading Beyond just a ‘Home and a Name’