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Sree Narayana Guru, the Left, and Chitralekha: Joe.M.S.

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.

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