Tag Archives: Kerala

Horses That Walk Backwards – Samkutty Pattomkary


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.

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Update on Chengara

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.

Textbooks and Intolerance, Communal and Secular

Once again, religious sentiments have been hurt. This time in the God’s own Country, Kerala . And the culprit is a small portion of a lesson from the social science textbook for class vii, part i. It has been alleged by groups claiming to represent Muslims and Christians that this particular lesson preaches atheism. It sticks because the government which is getting the textbooks published is led by Marxists and there is a perception that Marxists have a pathological hatred for religion. Kerala has been witness to a bitter controversy on the faith only recently in which the church and the CPM were at loggerheads. So, there is a background to the new battle over a small lesson in a class seven textbook. But first let us try to look at the facts.

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Textbooks Yet Again

The current agitation in Kerala demanding withdrawal of the class vii social science textbook has turned murderous. James Augustine, 45, a headmaster of a primary school was killed in an attack by the Indian Union Muslim League youth activists on a training program. And this was done even after the announcement by the Kerala government that it had decided to remove the controversial portion of the textbook. Will this utterly meaningless death of the teacher at their hands stop the agitators in their track? Will we allow warriors of different shades of identity politics a free run? Or, will the sacrifice of a life turn into an occasion for all of us to once again ponder over issues related not only to the politics of textbooks but also the principles on which textbooks in a diverse country like India should be prepared?

It is very easy to see that the allegation on this particular book that it promotes atheism cannot be substantiated as the text in question closes with the response of the parents of Jeevan, who belong to different religious identities that he would be free to choose his religion when he grows up. It only shows that they are very relaxed about his identity and are ready to give him freedom to decide on his identity. Surely the agitating groups are neither sure nor relaxed about their relationship with the members of their denominations. Do they fear that texts like the one dealing with the religious identity of Jeevan can give ideas to children about their right to take decisions in the matters of marriage and identity? Even if we leave this aside, the charge leveled by the opposition that the book is substandard deserves a reasoned discussion. It needs to take into account the role textbooks are expected to play in a country like India, the process of textbook writing, the implication of the federal character of India for school education in general and textbook writing in particular.

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Beyond just a ‘Home and a Name’

[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’

The Trojan Horse of Neo-liberal Capital in Kerala

In mid-November, a pro-tribal outfit, the Adivasi Rehabilitation Council, demanded that the Kerala Government hand over to them, land leased to Hindustan Newsprint Ltd. The Adivasis had been given title deeds to this land in 2003, when A K Antony was chief minister, but it was never handed over. They dispersed after local revenue officials assured that this would be done.

But when nothing was done about it, the tribals regrouped and went into the land again, building little huts and vowing to start farming. Around November 26th, the 200-odd families were physically removed by truck-loads of CPM cadre.

J Devika on the need for a new perspective on Left politics:

When the CPM-led LDF coalition swept into power in the elections to the Kerala State Legislative Assembly in 2006, the victory was widely interpreted to be the individual triumph of V S Achuthanandan, who seemed to be nothing less than the personification of Principled-Opposition-to-the-State-and-Global-Capital. During the campaign, VS received the mantle of A K Gopalan, whose brilliant strategies of mass mobilization and militancy had made him the most admired and best-loved of all communists in Kerala. Throughout Kerala, life-size posters of a smiling VS proclaimed him Paavangalude Padatthalavan (NM – something like garibon ka masiha)

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