Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ayyankali & the Missing Chapters in Kerala History

Remembering the Dalit fighter on the centenary of his historic struggle for entry to Dalit children to schools in Kerala.

By N P Chekkutty

Ayyankali, the legendary Dalit fighter from Kerala, seems to be caught in a trap of history: On the one side his name is evoked by left-wing extremists who have christened themselves as the Ayayankali Pada, or the Fighters of Ayyankali, and on the other it was Sonia Gandhi who came to inaugurate the centenary celebrations of his historic struggle for the right to education to Dalit children.

Ayyankali was a fighter who took on the powerful upper caste elite as they prevented Dalit children by force from entering the school in his village. But paradoxically, the Naxalite group in Kerala who calls themselves the Ayyankali Pada stopped a European woman scholar and her Dalit associate from conducting an academic research work among the tribals in Iritty in north Kerala. The same hypocrisy can be seen in the traditional attitude of the Congress party towards the concerns of Dalits in this country.

Still, the question to ask today is why Ayyankali remains such a powerful symbol, for forces as inimical to each other as the left extremists and the Congress party? Perhaps, the great Dalit leader from Venganur in Travancore, who came to eminence in the Malayalee public sphere in the first few decades of the 20th century, represented both these trends: He was a fighter and an anarchist revolutionary at one level; and at another, a social reformer and institution builder who made use of the established pillars of society for seeking the right to education and social equality for his brethren who were the ones severely ostracized in our society for many centuries. Ayyankali was the leader of a band of Dalit youths who themselves called Ayyankali Pada and he was also the first Dalit member in the Travancore Praja Sabha, the Maharajah’s nominated Assembly.

This year marks the centenary of the year-long strike of agricultural workers that he had organized in various parts of Travancore in the early years of the last century. Of course there are differences among historians about the actual dates of the Pulaya farm-hands’ strike in the princely state, whether it took place in 1907-08 or earlier in 1904-05, the time when Travancore Dewan first gave permission for Dalits to enter public schools amidst stiff resistance.

Let the dispute among historians stay. Let us look at what happened in our history. What we confront here is a deafening silence of the mainstream historians, as precious little has been written on this critical part of our social history. It is a fact that even E M S Namboodiripad, veteran Marxist who wrote a people’s history of the land of Malayalees, had said very little about Ayyankali and his band of Dalit fighters acknowledging that he knew little about those developments.

Surprisingly, even after a century, Ayyankali remains a figure whose contributions are not properly studied or understood by the mainstream school of historians. Even the liberals in his own time, like the famous editor Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, who was deported from Travancore for his critical writings against the dewan, failed to appreciate his effort to get Pulaya kids into public schools. This is how Ramakrishna Pillai looked at the Pulaya demand for common education: “We don’t find any reason to support those who demand complete equality in customs and manners and on that basis seek admission to schools without taking into account the respective caste merits. To provide admission to those from castes cultivating land on a par with those castes cultivating knowledge is worse than tying a horse and a buffalo under the same yoke to make them plough…”

Ramakrishna Pillai was a man who was familiar with liberal and even Communist ideas in those days preceding the Russian Revolution. In fact he was one of the first Indian journalists to write on the life of Karl Marx, in his 1912 monograph on Marx which appeared in Malayalam. The only other article on Marx, in an Indian publication, was published in Calcutta’s Modern Review, note P C Joshi and K Damodaran, veteran Communist leaders in their book on the origins of Indian left, Marx Comes to India. But neither they nor any of the recent historians of the Indian left movement who traced the origins of working class agitation in India, give any reference to the historic agricultural workers strike that Ayyankali launched in 1907-08, almost a decade ahead of the Russian Revolution. Nor do they ever mention about those frail and weather beaten farm-hands like Thaivilakkathu Kali and Moolayil Kali, Pulaya women who were in the leadership of the SJPS who led the historic agitation to a success conclusion a century ago.

That leaves the difficult task of reconstructing Ayyankali and the Dalit struggles he led a century ago, to a new generation of historians. This is no easy task. Ayyankali and his comrades had no initiation to the world of letters and the media of their times had largely ignored them. What we have today is largely the negative references in some publications of those days and the anecdotes in oral history passed through generations.

But the main facts remain largely uncontested: The Travancore rulers had issued orders permitting Dalits and other outcasts into the schools run by Government following severe public pressure. But the upper castes were firmly opposed to this and they used violence to stop lower-caste children from entering schools. That led to violent confrontations between these two forces. Such confrontations had been reported on a number of occasions, mainly during 1904-05, 1907-08 and 1913-14, according to historians like Dr M S Jayaprakash and T H P Chentharassery, biographer of Ayyankali.

The first of these clashes took place in 1904-05 when the Government first gave permission for Dalits to enter schools. The resistance from upper castes was fierce and the Dalits fought back. Since none of the Dalit children were allowed to enter schools, Government allowed them to start their own schools called Kutippallikkootam to teach Dalit children.

It was then Ayyankali launched a school in his village, Venganur, for Pulaya children. His task was daunting. He knew no reading and writing and so had to find a teacher for the school. No teacher was available as the upper castes threatened anyone willing to take up the job. Finally, Ayyankali succeeded in persuading a Nair youth to work in his school, but as the teacher entered the school with his Dalit bodyguards, he found the place burnt down.

It was in 1907 that Ayyankali and his friends launched the Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) on the lines of the Sree Narayana Dharma ParipalanaYogam (SNDP) started by the followers of Sree Narayana Guru, among the more progressive Ezhavas of south Kerala. The SJPS primarily worked among the Pulayas and its activities spread soon in most parts of south Kerala. The SJPS demanded that the Pulayas who worked in farms be given a weekly off day and all the members were advised to meet every Sunday to discuss their common problems.

The SJPS gave Ayyankali a powerful forum to address the Dalit question in Travancore: In 1910, as Dewan P Rajagopalachari and the director of education department, an Englishman named Mitchel, issued orders permitting Dalit admission to schools, Ayyankali went to the Uruttambalam school in Balaramapuram seeking admission for Panchami, a Pulaya girl. The headmaster refused, and that set of a series of clashes between Nairs and Pulayas in various parts of Travancore. According to one set of historians, it was then Ayyankali called for the farm workers strike that lasted almost one year, forcing the land owners to sue for a negotiated settlement.

These efforts did have a positive impact on the education of Pulayas and other Dalit groups in Travancore. According to the census figures in 1875, among the 188,916 Pulayas in the state only 183 had been marked as literate. But between 1913 and 1916, there is a five-fold increase in the Pulaya enrollment to schools. According to figures published in Mitavadi, a local newspaper, the admission of Pulaya children to school was only 2.01 per cent in 1913. But it had risen to 10.91 per cent by 1916. Still they were way behind the Nairs with 99.50 per cent children going to schools, and Ezhavas with 45.43 per cent. Another interesting point this statistics brought out was the comparative fall in Muslim enrollment during this period: They were 4.85 per cent (much higher to Pulayas) in 1913 but in 1916, their enrollment of 9.55 was lower than the Pulayas’s 10.91 per cent. Still, all these efforts together put the state on the road to its record of near total literacy by the end of the 20th century.

Illustration courtesy: Raghavan Atholi, Kozhikode.
(An edited version of this article is available at www.indiatogether.org)


Unknown said...

John Samuel writes in an email:

Thanks Chekkutty for this very timely piece. It might be worth publishing in one of the mainstream English newspapers- as there is hardly any understanding and appreciation of such struggles much before Ambedkar came to the scene.

I hope you will not mind, if I reproduce an interesting quote from your piece:

"This is how Ramakrishna Pillai looked at the Pulaya demand for common education: "We don't find any reason to support those who demand complete equality in customs and manners and on that basis seek admission to schools without taking into account the respective caste merits. To provide admission to those from castes cultivating land on a par with those castes cultivating knowledge is worse than tying a horse and a buffalo under the same yoke to make them plough ..."
Ramakrishna Pillai was a man who was familiar with liberal and even Communist ideas in those days preceding the Russian Revolution. In fact he was one of the first Indian journalists to write on the life of Karl Marx, in his 1912 monograph on Marx which appeared in Malayalam."

There is indeed a need to analyze the interface of the Communist parties with subaltern groups and identity in India and in Kerala. In fact, caste was less of an issue for the privileged upper castes and 'class' served a better entry point for a politically convenient discourse. It seems there was a sort of unconscious and entrenched feudalism that informed the formative genes of the Communist parties as well
(like all other mainstream parties)in India. Look at caste combination of the formative leadership!

1)Why is that the Communist movement failed to nurture leadership of Dalits and Adivasis (the most exploited and oppressed communities in this subcontinent.)?

2)Bytheway, how many Dalits, or Adivasis ever became members of the PB? How many women were members in the PB in the last many years? What is the caste/religious combination of the PB?

Why is that Parukutties still remain Parukutties- in the rural deprivation and urban slums- in spite of all the revolutionary rhetoric on behalf of the Parukutties of the world?

How do issues of 'identity' and 'dalits' are negotiated in terms of leadership as well as in terms of real power-praxis of the CPI and CPM? Is there a sub-text of Swadeshibhimani Ramakrishna Pillai (see how patriotism itself becomes a very important qualifier)lurking somewhere still deep in the privileged discourse of our history and party political praxis?

These are rather uncomfortable questions that the Communist parties may have to face when someone begins to analyze the history of such movements in India.


Unknown said...

M G Radhakrishnan writes in an email:

The canard Chekkutty tries to pass on like many others before him is about Swadesabhimani's "anti-dalit" views. This charge has been exposed for what its worth by Swadesabhimani's biographer and prominent journalist T Venugopalan. The subaltern spokespersons have also the tendency to glorify all those villains of history if they don't find them, for right or wrong, anti-dalit. Look at the anti-Swadesabhimani brigade's hosannas for a criminal like Diwan Rajagopalachari. The dalit/minority essentialists' basic flaw is their reductionist and mechanistic interpretation of history and in the process they become handmaidens to the most regressive forces. It's not to suggest the other camps are altogether and always free of these flaws!

N P Chekkutty replies:

Dear Mr Radhakrishnan,

I have not made any attempt to spread a canard against Swadeshabhimani. I just quoted a part of an editorial, in my article on Ayyankali, just to point out that even Swadeshabhimani, who was familiar with modern and Marxist ideas in the early decade of the last century, one of the first in India, did not truly understand the significance of the dalit movement for right to education.

I really do not know whether suggesting a known fact about a historical figure can be a canard. I know Venu Kurup had made valiant effforts to defend Swadeshabhimani, but that does not alter the historical facts. As for EMS book and the book by Damodaran and P C Joshi, I hold the same view. It is a legitimate public criticism about their work. Not a judgement on their views or contribution.


Unknown said...

B R P Bhaskar writes in an email:

The Ramakrishna Pillai versus Rajagopalachari controversy is a good example of confusing issues by attempting to reduce everything to black or white. Ramakrishna Pillai was ahead of his time on political issues but was way behind on social issues. His argument against equal treatment of Dalit students is no different from what the South African whites advanced to justify apartheid. In a sense, even Rajagopalachari was ahead of his time. It was he who made it possible for Dalit voice to be heard in the legislature by nominating Ayyankali to the Assembly. At that time, the Indian National Congress used to have separate kitchens for the 'upper castes' and 'lower castes' at its annual sessions.


Unknown said...

To take forward this debate, it is necessary to historicize the context of the actual socio-economic processes that gave birth to these concerns.

1. When we look at the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we are looking at a complex junction in our engagement with modernity. We were a caste-ridden society, divided into layers of touchables, untouchabes and unseeables and were being the butt of jokes even from people like Swami Vivekananda.

2. Our negotiation with modernity has been a pussyfooted process, deeply caste conscious and caste ridden too. We were trying to modernize with a set agenda: not to exorcize the demons of casteism and resultant social practises and divisions, but to entrench them and to protect them through other means.

3. This is evident in all the social reform movements of the day, the unwillingness to break caste walls and go for a cosmopolitan Malayalee identity. Look for instance, at the Malayalee Memorial. It was led by a British educated modernist like G P Pillai, but they were primarily concerned about the need for accommodating the upper castes to the royal administration.

4. It was this unwillingness to accept a common social identity of Malayalees that led to the other movement, the Ezhava Memorial. Because Ezhavas by then had already become powerful enough and were in a position to stand up for themselves.

5.Ramakrishna Pillai's writings which call for accommodation of Ezhavas, and not dalits and other more aggrieved groups, is a reflection of the concern and anxiety of this elite group to protect their social and class interests through a tactical move of accommodating the elite Ezhavas into their movement. But they too were eager or willing to exclude those at the hindmost, who continued to remain untouchables and unseeables.

6.Ezhava elite were no better. Except for Narayana Guru himself, there was none among them who strived for a broader social organization. And Guru himself was hounded out and he was more or less irrelevant to the SNDP elite in the later years.

7. So exclusion and tactical accommdoation were the key to the process of development of a fractured Malayalee identity. It still remains so, thanks mainly to the failure of the left movement to rise above these deep and embedded caste preferences.

8. Ayyanlkali and his own dalit movement were victims of this process of accommdoation,exclusion and fragmentation.Once he was admitted to the Praja Sabha, he soon became a spokesman of the pulayas (see even today it is Pulaya Maha Sabha and not Dalit Maha Sabha!) and then other groups among dalits were encouraged to speak for themselves, further strengthening the division of the movement. Thus we ended up a society deeply divided, caste ridden, and continue to suffer from these illnesses even today.

N P Chekkutty

Unknown said...

John Samuel writes in an email:

Yes, one has to keep on "historizising" to understand and appreciate the present in relation to multiple undercurrents that inform of our present and shape our future. The art of Historizising is also the art of going beyond our comfort zones to discover the multiple ambiguities that shape our identities, heart-set and mindset- our own sense of ourselves- as individuals, communities and identity formations.

There are ambiguities and contradictory tendencies in our public sphere, discourses as well as in our private lives as persons. When we try to unpack and understand such streams of ambiguities and contesting and competing perspectives within ourselves in relation to gender, caste, religion, culture and political inclinations/choices, we get into a marshy land of ideas, identities and history. It is important that we make a conscious effort not to get stuck in those marshy land so that one can discover the excitements of new paths of arguments, perspectives and discoveries.

So Ayyankali discussion for me is a signifier of the larger social-political and cultural processes in relation to the negotiation of modernity with that of the complex Indian reality- informed by caste, identities and power structure.

John Samuel

Unknown said...

Sajan G writes in an email:

This debate is extremely rewarding as an introspection for self-styled
'radicals' like me who have come from a 'progressive upper caste'
family. I never considered the caste or religious identity of any of my friends and my deepest influences were from the Communist
literature. But I always used to wonder how almost all my Namboothiri relatives became Communists. Is it because the movement was led by a
Namboothiripad himself? Most of my Communist uncles and other
relatives were good human beings influenzed by a sort of raw humanism but looking back I can find an element of condescension when they interact with the lower castes. My 'lower caste' friends tell me that there is an inherent inescapable upper caste ideology in almost all radical 'upper castes' whom he has to interact with, that dictates their world view manifested in their daily dealings, language, idioms and images.

Chekkutty has raised an important question. The solution for the
present day ills has to be sought in this social memory which fails
to fade away.

Let me re-read Kerala history other than what was offered by my
Communist teachers and read a little more on Ayyankali.

Thank You,

Unknown said...

K Satchidanandan writes in an email:

I agree with most of NPC's formulations.The subaltern thrust of our renaissance has seldom been foregrounded by our historians of culture.And the renaissance itself has not been looked at sufficiently critically as a movement for reform within the staus quoist framework, without disturbing the caste hierarchies, gender notions,minority/majority concepts and even class hegemonies.It was at the most a Hindu movement,as it failed to embrace Muslim and Christian communities that form a good section of Kerala society and not even that considering its caste basis. While even that was no doubt a progressive move in those historical circumstances and did help create a secular public sphere, we had to move beyond that limited paradigm. The Aikyakeralam slogan should have been raised not purely on the basis of linguisitc/regional integration, but at a deeper level cutting across traditional hierarchies.The Left in Kerala, which no doubt was the most progressive development that happened in the wake of the renaissance and freedom struggle also might have imbibed this premise despite its commitment to the class struggle.

There are two identities that could have, and perhaps still can, help us transcend this barrier: one is that of Malayali(Kerala Muslims for example are first Malayalis and share more with other Malayalis than with Muslims elesewhere in India, not to speak of the outside world) and that of Class.The caste's transformation into political formations(read, parties) however, created a new ambivalence:it looked like modernisation, but it helped entrench caste interests and caste conflicts further as the parties as bargainers or collaborators with the changing regimes found themselves on different battle grounds, and all parties, left or otherwise, are constrained to win the support of these or those groups(parties/communities) to come to and stay in power.So long as this situation continues and no party is ready to take risks, it is going to be difficult to achieve a casteless society.Strangely even here the dalits have lost out as they could never unite and form a common platform/party.

It is in this context that I spoke of the need for a minority-Dalit unity, where the Left, if enlightened, could play a leading role and champion the subaltern cause.

K Satchidanandan

Unknown said...

Dr P K Michael Tharakan writes:

I am writing this to point out a doubt that I had when I read Chekkutty writing that Sri Ayyankali became a spokesperson of Pulayas alone after he became a Praja Sabha member.I have done some work on Ayyankali and it forms an important part of my PhD thesis.I have never come across such a transformation.I was and still am of the opinion that he conceptualised the social exclusion of Dalits in terms of Sadhu Janam or poor people, practically a class term for all Dalits.As I have understood, it was after him and under his son-in-law's leadership that the movement got renamed Pulaya Maha Sabha.

N P Chekkutty replies:

When I said Ayyankali himself became a victim of these caste politics, what I meant was this: though he himself had never accepted such a position as a Pulaya leader, the society at large painted him to such a corner. Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham, by its very name and original nature, was meant as a force that represented the entire dalit class. But after a few years what we see is that the authorities who nominated him as the first from the dalits to Praja Sabha, nominated many others as representatives of other dalit formations, thus starting the process of fragmentation of the dalits. Ayyankali perhaps was not comfortable with the way things were shaping up. And at least on one occasion Ayyankali had dissociated himself from the position of another dalit member in the Praja Sabha, a Dalit Christian, saying that his views were not that of the SJPS.

So what we see here again is the deep-set tactics of accommodation, fragmentation and exclusion at work. The dalit movement itself was divided soon after they entered the mainstream politics of the day, or the parliamentary politics, to use a contemporary phrase.

N P Chekkutty

Unknown said...

B R P Bhaskar writes:

Although Ayyankali created a broadbased platform he was not able to attract support from outside his Pulaya community. In the late 1930s Ambedkar visited Travancore, apparently on the invitation of the Paraya community, who were eager to find an alternative to Ayyankali. I have a suspicion that C P Ramaswami Aiyar may have had a hand in it. CP certainly played a role in the emergence of Pulaya Maha Sabha under Ayyankali's son-in-law T T Kesava Sastri's leadership, when Ayyankali was still around but politically inactive. NSS and SNDP also became active political players at that time under the patronage of CP, who wanted to use them as counterfoil to the Congress.

I think it is worth noting that Ambedkar(Labour Party), Narayana Guru(SNDP) and Ayyankali(Sadhu Jana) began with broadbased organizations. To what extent they themselves or their followers or others were responsible for the decline of these organizations and the eventual emergence of caste-based organizations deserves study.

Unknown said...

My comments on Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai in the Ayyankali article and on G P Pillai in a subsequent post(here above), have attracted a detailed note of criticism from Mr. M G Radhakrishnan, special correspondent, India Today, Thiruvananthapuram. I reproduce his note here with due acknowledgements:

Interesting to note those who want to see Swadesahabhimani as anti-dalit or 'way behind times in social ways' holding on to their positions. Let me repeat; there is not a single line by Pillai in his voluminous writings which could be construed as anti-dalit. At the same time he had consistently attacked any form of discrimination based on religion or caste including what was practiced against Dalits. Now to doubt his "intentions" and call them clever tactics of accommodation/condescension adopted to protect his own caste and class interests, is just a subjective opinion not backed by any evidence or proof. For how could a man who wished to protect the elite interests be so critical of the real elite of the day and had paid a heavy price for it? How could an argument which in spirit had called for special treatment or affirmative action for dalits (a pioneering idea to the present practices of holding special coaching classes for dalit aspirants to civil service, etc) be dubbed an attempt to exclude them?

As JS says, trying to understand the "multiple identities" is the right hermeneutics to address this problem. Even if there could be certain warts in a fundamentally progressive person's/ organization's persona or perspective, they should be expected as marks of his/her multiple identities. It's perfectly alright to discuss them. But to de-contextualize, ahistoricize and foreground them as his/her hallmark and forget his entire life and work (dominant identity) dedicated to progressive ideals and dub him/her as regressive and reactionary is absurd. Examples; Gandhi being called a cunning baniya, anti-women or anti-dalit; Marx dubbed anti-semitic or anti-women for his certain observations; EMS, a foxy Brahmin; Ambedkar, an anti-nationalist British lackey (as done by Hindutva champions) or Travancore's backward caste leaders who did not join the popular anti-government movement, as cronies of CP or imperialism. In Pillai's case he does not deserve the branding even as much as some others in the list may to a minor extent. It's gratifying to note that the charges leveled since late seventies against Pillai as being anti-Ezhava have ran out of steam (raised first by M K Kumaran, M P Appan, et al) now. So they ask "but then wasn't he anti-dalit"? Don't forget Pillai was writing against caste discrimination,25 years before Vaikom sathyagraham, 30 years before Guruvayur satyagraham or even before Ayyankali formed sadhujana Paripalana Sangham.

It's another devious/uninformed attempt to picture all the gains made by any particular section as a result ONLY of the struggles and efforts of the members of that section alone. They run down all those who had showed courage to come out from their own class and caste walls and joined hands with the less fortunate sections. Their efforts are either seen as devious attempts for accommodation, condescension or simply a ploy to have fun and sex! The latest (in this group) is to say Malayali Memorial, a great leap in Malayali's struggle for freedom and self-respect, had deliberately ignored ezhavas. There certainly was mention in the memorial about the plight of ezhavas too which was written by GP Pillai in consultation with Dr Palpu, his great friend. In fact Nairs and Ezhavas receive equal mention. No wonder, among those who signed the memorial were Dr Palpu and his elder brother. Even more scandalous is to call GP, anti-ezhava. Hope Chekkutty is not unaware that it was none other than GP, on request from Palpu (who paid for his ticket too) went to England and convinced Herbert Robert to raise in the British Parliament the issue of Travancore government's denying jobs to Ezhavas. Distortion of history is not an exclusive saffron game.

All great revolutions including our own renaissance have been brought about by the efforts of right-thinking and conscientious persons of all classes, castes and religions. Can one forget the roles of Chattambi Swami, Brahmananda Sivayogi, Anandatheerthan, Agamanandan, VT or host of other "upper castes" along with Vaikuntaswami, Poykayil Appachan, Narayana Guru, Ayyankali, Vagbhatanandan, Sahodaran, or Pandit Karuppan in the creation of the Great Malayali renaissance. Were the former lot, merely condescending or accommodating? It's a fact that no revolution can succeed or sustain itself without a large social consent. That's the reason why "exclusive and pure" Dalit or Adivasi movements may never succeed, however much they are imagined and championed by their romantic middle class admirers.

Let me conclude (finally) with a quote from a letter 'the socially backward and anti-dalit' Swadesabhimani received when he was in exile: "...ee thiruvithaamkuril pothujanapraathinidhyam vahikkunnavaraayi ottanavadhi varthamaanapathrapravarththakanmaarund. Ennirunnaalum pothujanaprathinidhi enna nilayil ethu kaaryavum sadhairyam prasthaavichchittullathaayi avidutheppole mattaarum undaayirunnilla ennullathum ee raajyaththile svadeshikalum agathikalum aaya njangalkku vendi anukulamaaya lekhanangal adhikamaayi prasidhappeduththiyittullath avide ozhike mattaarum illennathum theerchchayaanu.....ullathu parayunnavarkk kanjikk patilla enn paranja koottaththil nishpakshavaadiyum neethijnanumaaya yajamaanan avarkale ee raajyath ninnum akattunnathnu matullavar itayaakkiyathil visheshippchum pulayajaathikalaaya njangal ellaavarkkum ethaapalparyanthamulla avarnnaniiya sankatathe sarvasakthanaaya jagadeeswaran thane theerkkumenn aasamsikkunnu..."

The letter was dated 16.7. 1911 and sent from Vengannur. The author:Ayyankali.

M G Radhakrishnan

Unknown said...

I am returning to this debate once again only with the intention of clarifying certain points I had raised in my earlier post and not to get into a verbal duel with Radhakrishnan or anybody else because primarily I see there are deep differences between us. They are differences not about the historical personalities we discuss, or a question of respect or disrespect for them; may be they relate to differences in our approaches to our own contemporary social and political experiences.

At the outset let me make it clear that there has never been any attempt to cut Swadeshabhimani down to the level of an anti-dalit or to paint G P Pillai as an anti-ezhava anywhere in those posts. But surely there was an attempt to read their historical role and significance in the context of the social and historical developments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the continuing debate on the deficiencies and limitations of our own modernization project which has left us a society deeply divided.

Of course, the criticism about these limitations have been raised mainly in recent years by dalit, backward and minority spokesmen and scholars who are generally sympathetic to them and subscribe to a subaltern point of view. Anyone can dub them as ahistorical, irrational or even emotional, but bracketing them with the gentlemen in the Sangh Parivar seems to be a bit far-fetched.

Now to the point:

When I say there were elements of both accommodation and exclusion in our critical engagement with modernity in this particular period, I do not mean that it was a deliberate or cynical policy like the Divide and Rule, the British had employed in India. But the kind of scholarship they developed and the kind of historiography they generated, served their purpose and our own moderizers too were part and parcel of this great scheme of things. When we read Romila Thapar's recent book on the various strands of history woven through the story of Somanatha, we come across a great critical narrative of how this kind of historiography developed and how it persisted through our modern period, and how it still keeps going.

So when we look at the historical personalities like Swadeshabhimani, G P Pillai and others we look at the various forces that were in operation, and the various interests that were in play. That explains the strength and weaknesses of these people and help us place them in our history as great modernizers and not as idols for worship.

I have made a few references to the limitations of a movement like Malayalee Memorial.I do not wish to repeat those points and neither do I wish to come up with anecdotes disguised as history that do not prove or disprove anything like who paid whose travel fare etc, etc. But the crux of the matter is that despite all good intentions and verbal generosity of the Malayalee Memorial, it failed to address the burning concerns of a larger section of the Malayalee population which gave rise to other, parallel movements by more backward sections in course of time.

Now we can accuse those people from below who came up with such movements as the great splitters and sectarians who divided a great nationalistic, modernization project. But a saner course of inquiry would be to try to understand why there had to be such other, parallel movements. Was there anything that worked against a wider, national unity that would have given rise to a common Malayalee identity?

Look at what happened in the Vaikom Satyagraha. It was not merely a movement for temple entry rights for dalits and others, but it was essentially a civil rights and human rights movement that raised the issue of the right to use public roads too. In the initial stages all Malayalees, even those from Malabar like Muhammed Abdurahman, had taken part in it and George Joseph was active in its leadership. Then came the instruction that Muslims and Christians had no place in it. That effectively reduced it into an upper caste, upper class movement. And KP Kesava Menon in his memoirs describes how royal a treatment they had received in the Travancore jail, as guests of the Maharajah.

I am not accusing Gandhi(or KPCC leadership of the day)of being anti-dalit or anti-Muslim or anti-Christian here. But merely pointing out the various forces that operated in our history that effectively kept out the vast masses from our social and political mainstream. When I spoke about the accommodation-exclusion process, I meant these forces at play. Unfortunately, even today they are active among us.

N P Chekkutty

vallyakam said...

Thanx CHE for invoking such an unsung valiant chapter from the history of Kerala.

I would portray Ayyankali as the true rebel kerala has ever seen. It requires trmendous courage to fight against the brutal forces of social discriminations of that time. His self respect alone was the solid strength he had. It is only the self respect that teach us to die on one's feet rather than to live on one's knees.

During his struggle for social justice he did not groom or shape SJPS to any political thought.He even kept aloof of the growing national freedom struggle.Of course he did not forbide any of his community members from joining the freedom moment His prime priority was for the social freedom of his community. The gap of this political thought was later filled by various political groups to the tune of there oppertunity. This is continuing even today.

I often wonder how amazingly he comes to my mind every time when I read the famous work of Albert Camus 'REBEL'.

No wonder even today if a section of angry young men baptise themselves as 'Ayyankali pada',to fight against social injustice- for them he is the cynosure of true rebel.

MAPPILA said...

Dear Che

Please mention the title of the book too when you use it 'quote'


MAPPILA said...

Dear Che

Please mention the title of the book too when you use it to 'quote'. I mean to say the book written by Nisar and Meena (Ayyankali - Dalit leadre of organic protest from Other Books)which you have used as a source.


Unknown said...

Dear Che
I have gone through your article and i really surprised by seeing the verbatim from the book published by Other Books.
Even the picture put in this article is also picked from the book written by M. Nisar entititled as Ayyankali A Dalit Leader of Organic Protest.
At least u should have mention the name of the book and author as a courtesy....
M V Jafer Dubai

Arun said...

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