This is a guest post by JOE M. S.
The recent controversy associated with the brutal persecution of a Dalit working woman, Chitralekha by the hoodlums of a ‘leftist’ union has gained wide attention, bringing into limelight the plight of Dalits in Kerala. The men who participated in this ’festival of masses’, according to reports, predominantly belong to the backward caste Ezhava/ Theeya community. Anybody with a bit of social concern would have definitely condemned the incident . They would even have expressed their regrets at the deviation of the people belonging to Ezhava caste, the disciples of Srinarayana guru, the famous social reformer, from the avowed policies advocated by him. But I think, here lies a problem. A re-look at the social history of Kerala is needed to understand whether the Chitralekha incident is a deviation from the pronounced objectives of the Srinarayana movement as such, as it is popularly understood, or the roots for such a development was inherent in the trajectory of the Narayana movement itself. This does not belittle the genuine intentions Guru had for social emancipation, at a personal level.
In spite of the cultural specificities of northern Kerala where these atrocities were perpetrated on Chitralekha, I think a general study of the impact of Srinarayanism on the whole of Kerala may be of some help to analyse the increasing backward caste arrogance vis-a-vis Dalits. This is particularly so as the discourse on the assumed efficacy of Sri Narayana Guru’s thought is invoked constantly by the civil society of Kerala, eternalising his importance in all spheres. So I think, a glance at the impact of his life and efforts can shed light on the of the constitution/ construction of modern Ezhava identity and the problems associated with it.