Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Living Together: The Life of Muslims and Hindus in a Kerala Village

Here is a recent post I made to a discussion on Muslim Resurgence in Kerala: Renaissance or Reaction, at Fourth Estate Critique, a Google discussion group:

IN THE other thread, The Arrest of an Editor, on the arrest of People's March editor P Govindan Kutty, there is a discussion about those who are not eligible to be part of a democracy. Well, I think this is a related subject. Who are eligible to be part of a democratic process and who are not...

When we discuss about Islamic resurgence, it is common that this same ambivalence surfaces. Are they part of a democratic set up, are they to be trusted or are they working in secret for something sinister, with some ulterior motive, something quite alien to our ethos?

John, in his note, had described the Islamic society on a global level, in an excellent macro study. In order to address the same problem, I try it at a micro level, looking at my own village and our own life to understand the complex relationships that define and give shape to our society today.

Now, who are this 'us'? I raise this question because I know that there is a deep, hidden casteism in all our social interactions. Hence, it is necessary to make a declaration about one’s own "identity" in relation to these social/cultural/historical discourses.

I belong to a place called Omassery, a panchayat on the periphery of the erstwhile Eranadu-Valluvanadu taluks which were the epicenter of the Malabar Rebellion. The dominant castes there are as follows: the Hindu upper castes, mainly Nairs; lower castes mainly Thiyyas, Cherumas and Pulayas; and Muslims. The Nairs were on the decline, though there were caste practices even in our village. The Thiyyas had their own kavu, which we called Karumanakkal. (I don't know the significance of the combination of these words kavu and mana here). The kavu was administered by a committee of family elders who elected the ‘aviathan’, who ran the property and looked after annual celebrations like thira. The Gulikan Thira was one of the most important there. In fact Gulikan was an important deity, and he inhabited the tree. I remember that in our own family, we used to make regular offerings to Gulikan, known as Gulikanu kodukkal, part of the ritual was the sacrifice of a cock to him under the tree. Once my father enlisted me to help him in this and when I saw the blood gushing out of the slit neck of the bird, I backed out and refused to be part of it ever since.

In this social structure, I remember that the Thiyyas and other lower castes were much closer socially and culturally with Muslims, who had no caste prejudices. Our village, as most other villages in Malappuram, Kozhikode districts was dominated by Muslims, mainly Sunnis.

But a much more major bond these lower castes had with Muslims was economic, as they worked in their fields, and took daily provisions, often on credit, from their shops.

And their children went to schools set up by Muslims. My pre-high school days were spent in Karuvampoyil Govt. Mappila School, set up by a Muslim landlord. We had two libraries there in the village, one a public library and the other set up by local Jamat e Islami halqua.

Then came politics. Nairs and others (there was just one Namboodiri illam in the whole place) were generally Congress or RSS; the Thiyyas and lower castes Communist and the Muslims, League. Now these equations seem to be undergoing a change: The lower castes, some of them at least, are now being drawn to the RSS-Congress line. Still Communists are dominant.

In this scenario, what is important is to realize that Muslims as a community had a dominant role, in every sphere of our village life. They still do have it and they are now leading others, mostly from the backward castes, along with them.

So these relations are very deep and extremely complex, which no external ideologies like the Hindutva could easily penetrate or destroy. The same is the case with Muslims who had such a deep relationship with others, and no amount of Pan-Islamism could force them to abandon their village people.

My mother, who is now 85, is an example: She is a great devotee of deities like Sabarimala Ayyappan, Kottiyur Amma, and Sree Muthappan of Parassini...(Remember none of these deities ever practiced untouchability.) But she is equally devoted to Karakkattil Thangal, who appears to have settled in the area some 250-300 years ago along with other thangals like Bafaquis of Koyilandy, Sayeds of Kondotty and Jifrees of Kozhikode.

Same is the case with my father: His greatest friend and ally was Kottuvatta Aboobacker Haji, an elderly person who had spent decades in the Andamans in the wake of the 1921 Rebellion. (I don’t know whether he was deported for his involvement in the rebellion or he chose migration there as part of the Andaman Scheme launched by the British Government those says.)

So who is eligible and who is not eligible to be part of a democratic process? And why do we keep our tongues tied when we speak of our own past, and present, at least that of a substantial section of our society, who never had a chance to speak out?


No comments: