Autumn Number 2019

India's Cuba

Discovering Kerala

Radhakanta Barik

[It's an amazing experience in travelling in Western Ghats in train through miles of jungle and tunnels. I am going to God's own earth who have rejected totally Hindutva as they disrespect God.]

Prof Bipanchandra is right that Communists and Congress can play politics according to the rules of the game as Indian democracy requires not the Hindutva forces as they do not believe in a dialogue and discussion. For them there is no difference between illegality and legality. They fix a standard for themselves which is unethical but not for them. Coming from Kannur to Pyannur in a bus one found that small groups are sitting in the tea stalls over a discussion on politics. Tea and politics do not go together in Hindutva style of politics. In UP roadside tea stalls are closed. Fear is haunting the faces of people in UP.

As T S Eliot says that life is a series of tea cups does not fit any more in India. Eliot was a conservative but one can discuss with the conservatives as they respect differences but not fascists.

A Malayali carries multiple identities like anyone in India. But he or she understands essence of their culture. Religious identity is a critical dimension but not over determining. The most popular actor from Malayalam films is Maamootty. He has acted in some Hindi films. The most popular film is Ambedkar. He understands Sanskriti aesthetics by articulating nine Rasas in his various postures of his body. He has a command over Western aesthetics which is a critical dimension of his acting style. He is a Muslim and Malayali. He has conceptualised essence of a multi religious society of Kerala. Nondiscrimination is the basis of Kerala society where trust among these religious groups creating a special bond. He declares that he has never been discriminated by any other religious groups. Values of nondiscrimination are core social values of Kerala society. This is the striking feature of an active civil society. Political democracy is pyramidic structure based on an active civil society.

EMS Namboodirpad went to Delhi by train as a young man and got flabbergasted by seeing in the platforms 'Hindu pani Muslim pani' being sold. In his autobiography he writes that in Kerala it is not happening. There are many identities in Kerala but trust among them is there. The rich and vibrant social capital makes Kerala a unique one. Active social capital is functional at the local level to national level. This reflects in making them participatory at cultural level to panchayat level. Planning at panchayat level is possible only because of this active social capital. Political democracy is a reflection of the active social capital in Kerala. Some years back the government of Kerala decided to allocate more resources to the panchayats. These institutions can create their planning at the grassroots level.

What about the caste discrimination in Kerala? One may find this aspect in one of the films by Adoor Gopala-krishnan. Those who migrate to Middle East belong to skilled labour of backwards and earn more by creating anxieties in upper castes. The upper caste man desires that his sisters should marry these people with high income. It is a lyrical story that explains the caste anxieties of each social group. Anxieties are there but no discrimination. The way flood of Kerala managed as a disaster explains the nondiscriminatory approach of administration towards flood affected people. In recent cyclone the caste issue came up sharply in Puri district of Odisha which explains the caste discrimination is there at the level of social structure. It reflected in management of disaster in Puri District of Odisha.

EMS Namboodirpad, was one of the founders of socialist movement in India. He joined Congress Socialist Party and later founded the communist movement. He was a scholar who had a deep insight into the social processes of India. This writer's book Land and Caste politics of Bihar has a similarity and difference with Kerala where being a caste leader of a community does not explain much as what is the end result. EMS was a part of the Brahmins but the progressives within the caste took up women issues on which there was a split. He carried the progressives with him who joined the communist movement. Sahajananda Saraswati, as a progressive leader couldn't create a split within Bhumiar caste on women's right which resulted in keeping a caste conservative.

Religion is a system of ideas which is changing on regular basis. New ideas bring a new thinking. Kerala experiences shared space with Islam and Christianity. Hinduism has enriched with exchange of ideas with two great religions. Islamic idea of giving something to poor as zakat has enriched Hinduism. Christianity showing love and respect for neighbours has been accepted by Hinduism. Today Hinduism in Kerala looks as a modern religion based on love and respect for others. Eid is being celebrated by all like Onam and sharing biriyani with meat. Christmas cake has turned into a common cake of everybody. On the shared space all three religions have created values of tolerance and peace and prosperity of Kerala.

O V Vijayan's The Saga of Dharmapuri sees it in 1950s. A child is entering into school with his or her caste. A school turns into the most shared space in the society. This gives a foundation to the most imagined community of world. In a small town Pyannur people are discussing the novel Bhima: the lone warrior by M T Vasudevan Nair and in the book stall Palaghat people are demanding the books which carry ideas not food or caste or religion that brings out immense strength of Kerala society.

K N Panicker's Karnabhasaan is running in full house. Mohanlal is acting as Karna standing for giving something to society, Kathakali version of Othello from Sanskrit to English has shown Malayalam form of the society gets reimagined every day in art, theatre, films and wearing a lungi. This is the strength of the Kerala, a living society.

Kerala being the most imagined community has forcibly entered into India's class rooms. Any scholar is doing research and teaching needs to refer to Kerala as a model of development. Human capital is well developed. They have created a demand for them in global market. Equitable distribution of resources is the basis of this model. It started with land distribution to schools and hospitals have taken human security. Kerala is India's Cuba.

A Malayali has a cosmology which is different from other parts of India. He or she has an oceanic heart where soul is very enlightened like Milton. Such cosmology gives them strength for which the external forces cannot easily enter into their world. Hindutva is an anathema to their cosmology.

Kerala reinvented itself through education. Learning of Malayalam and English created confidence and strength. Metropolis of India created a demand for their knowledge. Their demand in politics was no less. Nehru and V K Krishna Menon created the most enlightened government of India. Policy of Nonalignment becomes a foundation of modern India. Confidence in Malayalam brought EMS to JNU in speaking Marxism to them in 1970s.Today they have carved out for themselves in global market. They never brought conflict between tradition and modernity. They carried tradition to modernity. The most experimental plays are written in Malayalam. Alienation in urban life gets reflected in their stories. A short story writer Mukundan found the alienated metropolitan people in Delhi. A rape being taken here where people are walking without intervention. Myth behind Onam gets interpreted in stories, poems and plays. The legend of King Mahabali is the most popular and the most fascinating of all legends behind Onam. Onam celebrates the visit of King Mahabali to the state of Kerala every year.

Kerala has a rich tradition of telling a story with mimicry. This tradition has got emboldened in modern times. Writers, artists, painters, film makers are the unrecognised legislators. They tell a story in such a manner which touches the raw nerves of the community.

Kerala has produced cartoonists who are outstanding people. In their culture, there is a sense of humour. They look at everything differently where they present those things before the public in a palatable manner like a meal combining non-veg to veg. They make their meal sweet without adding sugar to it. The same way they speak and write with a touch of humour. They have produced the best cartoonists who tell a story which creates ripples of laughter in readers' minds and faces. A cartoonist could produce a journal 'Shankar's weekly' founded by K Shankar Pillai which provided political commentary on politics of Nehru's time. Nehru laughed at those cartoons and told him to make more cartoons critical of him. He became a friend of Nehru. He built a children's dolls museum in Delhi which draws thousands of children every day. He founded Children's Book Trust which draws a large number of children to this library in Delhi. Abu Abraham another cartoonist who brought a form of dialogue between a big powerful one with a small man on the street. His cartoons were sharp on Indira Gandhi's emergency. Once he felt bitter with Delhi crowd, decided to return back to Kerala. In today's politics some leading cartoonists belong to Kerala. Sheer merit pushed them to national scene.

Construction of Kerala identity has taken two hundred years. Each community created a leader to challenge the authority of caste hegemony of feudal authority. Dalits led a movement against Nayar landlords in the middle of19th century resulting in reconciliation with the mediation of king of Cochin. Dalit leader allowed being a member of the king's council. Nayars protested against the caste authority. Reforms from within and without brought new changes in the society.

Sanitation turns into a popular movement in Kerala in1960s. This is the only programme of Modi Sarkar that has gone to every corner of India, This programme has a Gandhi's tag. Kerala has done it successfully. The solid waste management is much better in Kannur because of involvement of municipalities and panchayats. People of Kerala understood the performance of Modi government. On the basis of performance, they have rejected Modi.

Why do people of Kerala reject the Hindutva, here confluence of many religions like Punjab has created spiritual infrastructure which cannot be easily challenged as founder of Hinduism Shankarachary believes in a dialogue, he goes to Bihar to continue his dialogue with thinkers, where he is supposed to fail which encourages him to learn more. Founders of Christianity and Islam come here for dialogues. Dialogic logic is the basis of Malayali civilisation. Only man who comes to Kerala requests for a piece of land from the king Mahabali without a dialogue crushes him, in whose memory they celebrate the day as foundation of Kerala to remind him to come here to have a dialogue with them. After another man comes here Gandhi to have a dialogue with priests that to show him any ancient text which allows the practice of Untouchability. They are unable to show Gandhi any text. They admit Gandhi into Malayalam cosmology. Namboodirpad carries the tradition of a dialogue. Only man who comes here to impose something without a dialogue is Modi in the case of Sabarimal.

How to look at Kerala society in terms of economic growth or in terms of quantum of happiness. While seeing the 108-story building in Dubai whose engineering and architectural activities were in the hands of Malayali technocrats. Workers are from Kerala. One pays ten Dubai dollars to see such a magnificent structure. But there is no such structure in Kerala. There is a Baker's model for construction of house with mud and sand. This is an improved version of their vernacular model. These houses provide enough space for keeping agricultural goods and a comfortable place for their living. These houses are aesthetically designed. Yes Kerala needs to be looked in terms of quantum of happiness.

[Prof Radhakanta Barik, retired as Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, []

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Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019