Monday, March 31, 2008

Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas will appear every weekend.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Search of a Third Alternative: A Report from CPM’s Kovai Congress

The CPM 19th congress calls for the formation of a third alternative in the country.

I HAVE just returned after attending the inaugural session of the 19th CPM conference in Kovai which started on Saturday, March 29. As I crossed the Western Ghats that separate Tamil Nadu and Kerala, what struck me so much was the freshness and originality of the way this conference was being organized, the way it seamlessly merged with the Tamil culture giving a direct experience of how a global ideology can be converted into something our own; something uniquely national even as it remains essentially international. As a person who has attended many CPM conferences both at the state and national level as a reporter in the past 25 years, I see that there is something original and unique about this Coimbatore congress.

First, there was this Tamil touch to the whole affair. There was the sweet melody of nagaswaram music as the floral tributes were being paid to the martyrs; there was the unique slogan of veera vanakkam which touched one’s heart as one remembered the hundreds of martyrs, and then the smell and beauty of fresh roses offered to the leaders and guests. Even the delegates from fraternal Communist parties from across the globe were received not with bouquets, but with a traditional ponnada.

And I also saw colourful balloons going up in the air giving it a celebratory mood and the white pigeons flying off, that gave one a sense of the libratory nature of Marxism, something we used to feel in the seventies...

Perhaps why I felt it so much is because I do not find such warmth and camaraderie any longer in Kerala where the entire party establishment has turned quite bureaucratic these days. Remember the final moments at the Kottayam state conference where the final scenes and the lasting impressions were of volunteers pouncing upon the comrades and a speech about discipline, discipline, discipline and it eerily brought to mind the memories of the roughnecks bullying people, of the politics of muscle power unleashed on a defenseless population…

And here in Kovai, what I saw was something different, something deep, humane and may be more revolutionary... It showed the ecstasy and energy of a party poised for growth, a party that is reaching out to the masses, an organization that has an organic relationship with the grassroots.

It is very clear that our country’s politics is all set to change. The left forces, for the first time in our history, have emerged as a major force in the political spectrum and they have come to stay there. The Kovai congress tells everybody that even outside its traditional strong-holds the CPM is now taking deep roots. The party seems to be making great inroads among the people, speaking their language, touching their feelings, developing deeper links to their lives. Coimbatore could surely be a turning point in many ways, I feel.

At the political level, this is the conference which saw a complete change in the leadership, a transformation that marked the shift from an earlier generation to the new. At the 18th congress in Delhi, veterans Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu were still there, but today Surjeet is laid up ailing and Jyoti Basu, though alert, is too weak and unable to travel.

So it was Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri, the two young leaders of the party, who controlled the affairs of the 19th congress. They have an enormous task cut out for them: the country is going to face another election later this year or early next year, to the 15th Lok Sabha, and the left forces need to retain their strategic significance and electoral numbers which is a tall order, as they have to ensure defeat for the right-wing BJP and its allies on the one hand and keep their independent image distancing from the Congress and the UPA allies on the other. Karat spoke about a third alternative, but that is only a long shot right now and what emerges as the most likely scenario is a three, or even multi, cornered contest, with strategic adjustments with the Congress and regional parties in the next election too.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

As K T Muhammed Departs…

A tribute to eminent playwright K T Muhammed who died in Kozhikode on Tuesday, March 25, 2008.

AS THE vehicle carrying the body of K T Muhammed left his home--the last rented home which he was to return to the landlord sometime this week-- I was there among the crowd, who came to pay their respects to this unique man who lived among us for the past many decades.

For KT, as he was known, spent all his life in rented houses in various parts of the city of Kozhikode, and his final abode happened to be in Pavangad, very close to my own home. Earlier he lived for many years at Puhtiuyangadi where one could see the dilapidated name-board of the Kalinga Theatres hanging in front,(then one day the old rope gave in, the board fell down and it was kept on the verandah, its paint missing in places),which managed the small group of theatre artists that staged his later plays. It was Sangamam Theatres which used to stage his plays but when he fell out with some of those behind it, he set up Kalinga with his brother K T Sayed as the key person running it.

Sayed was not only the manager of his theatre group, he was the main actor also, a role which ill-fitted his stiff manners. When I watched many KT plays in the late seventies and early eighties when he was active, I felt Sayed was not the man for his characters but Sayed thought otherwise and KT had no option but to accept it.

KT in many ways was a hapless victim of circumstances, and often he violently clashed with them through his powerful plays, his words interrupted with a heavy, asthmatic breath, his open expressions of feelings… he often wept as he spoke on the stage, and he was unable to complete a sentence without tears streaming out of his eyes. He was such a sensitive soul, for whom life was a long journey in loneliness.

He was born in Manjeri in 1929 as the eldest son of a policeman and had very little formal education. Early in his life, he joined the postal department as a packer in Kozhikode and he has described his life as a postman, in his memoirs published many years ago, which tell you about the city of Kozhikode, its wonderful cultural life, its poverty, its tradition and its struggles…

As a playwright, KT discovered himself because he had no contact with any theatre movements or any in-depth reading in world literature. But the early fifties and sixties in Kozhikode was a period of strong theatre activism around public libraries and reading rooms like the Deshaposhini of Kuthiravattom. Anniversary occasions of these reading rooms were the time for staging of new plays and most of Kozhikode’s best known theatre artists and writers like Thikkodiyan, Kunhandi, Kuthiravattom Pappu and others came up through this movement. KT was no exception.

It was the left political movement that gave strength and support to this new theatre movement. For the left, theatre was a vehicle for spreading their political message and naturally most of those who were associated with this theatre movement surrounding progressive libraries were writing on issues with a strong social and political message. K T Muhammed and E K Ayamu were among them and they addressed the social problems faced by their own community, the Muslims of Malabar. Most of KT's best known plays are a direct attack against the conservative values that reigned in the Muslim community and were clarion calls for change.

My association with KT was through his nephew, P M Taj, who was the best playwright of his generation. Taj and KT were poles apart, the uncle belonging to an earlier generation and the nephew the most vocal voice of an impatient new generation that wanted to rewrite and even upset the grammar of theatre. Taj was a visionary, an artiste who could see through the clouds into a new world of evil and unhappiness unfolding, but his plays addressed a world which was coming a decade later and not many around him could understand him. He too was a loner, drifting to aimless drunkenness, and dying quite early in his life, a bitter man.

We were close friends in the mid-seventies when we used to spend hours together discussing everything under the sun at the Ansari Park, now part of the Mananchira Square complex. It was there he used to speak about the plays he was planning to write and some of them later came to be known as classics in Malayalam, like Kudukka or the philosophy of those who are hungry, Mary Lawrence, Ravunni, Kanalattom, etc.

Taj had a different grammar and rhythm for his plays, influenced by the stylized body movement that was the hallmark of those days. It was quite different from the dialogue delivery style of an earlier generation and that is why, despite persistent demands from Taj, KT refused to direct any of his plays. Perhaps he was right: they were both great; but they belonged to two different worlds…

But now they meet in the same world where Charon might bring them together as his boat takes this gentle soul into the world beyond…


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Riddle of Barbie and the Diamond: a story

THE CHILDREN were terribly bored playing with the deer and parrots, climbing tall trees and bringing the ripe mango down with a single arrow.

Forest has its own limitations in offering entertainment. So they started fighting each other, dressed up as Rama and Ravana in the mega-movies.

Then one day, Sita told this story to her children as the poet, old uncle Valmiki, was busy working on his new poem:

Look children, there was this time traveller who came across a diamond in a waste heap in the Indian city of Ayodhya.

He was a curious kind of traveller, who travelled across time and space, flitting from the Mesopotamian mountains to the Chinese walls to the forests of Kilimanjaro to the dream-factories of Los Angeles.

He had seen Cleopatra lying dead in her royal chamber with a little snake on her bosom and Helen abducting with Paris, Alexander crossing over to India and then Americans pounding the Afghans.

Then, wandering in the streets, he came upon this diamond one day, lying abandoned and uncared for in a waste heap and no one seemed to notice how valuable it was. He had seen jewels in their infinite variety in his travels and he knew it was a great original that even Cleopatra would have loved to adorn her bosom.

But those were the days of fakes and in this strange city people thought every original to be a fake and every fake, a great original. It was a confusing and muddled place. Even their dressed gods were moving about in decorated chariots while the ancient idols, lost out in the race, kept themselves locked up in abandoned temples. He also saw painted beauties in the streets looking like painted dolls sold in the shops, and often the girls resembled their own favourite Barbies…

It was then he came upon this diamond, half covered with some old papers. He could not understand how it came there, in such a state, may be its owner threw it away, like the kids kicking out old toys getting tired of them. Possibly falling in love with some fakes as this city was full of fakes of every kind, from every part of the world. He imagined this diamond came as a trust from his mother, who gave it to him lovingly as she passed on to another world, or perhaps it just came to him as he walked aimlessly along…But that is past and he must be cuddled up with his Barbie now, happily forgetting himself in her voluptuous secrets.

So, the lonely traveller took the diamond, polished it and kept it in his pocket. It was a wonderful diamond, radiating a fresh fragrance that made him feel young and happy. Its graceful beauty becoming a kind of fascination for him; he fell in love with it, and often he worshiped it as if it were an idol.

But he was only a traveller given to the life on the streets and he knew he could not keep the diamond in his shabby baggage. It was a queen deserving royal bosoms. And a traveller must renounce everything, for travellers and sanyasins cannot keep valuables.

He must travel light, meet all kinds of people, good bad and indifferent, traversing jungles infested with robbers and oceans brimming with pirates and he could not peril his own life and endanger this beautiful idol, leaving it in the hands of robbers…

Then his travels became a search for locating its truthful owner and one day he found him, a prince with long and curly hair and enchanting eyes, who lived beyond seven seas.

Then it was a problem how to restore it to him. The traveller befriended a great bird whose powerful wings could take it across the seas effortlessly and he trained it to take his charge beyond seven seas, into the land where the prince lived.

One day, he saw it fly off with his beauty, deep into the blue sky, the lustre of his diamond still fresh in his memory…

Then Sita asked her children the following questions:

Children, what do you think the traveller felt as he saw the bird take off with the diamond in its bosom:

a) Happy, that it was going back to its rightful owner?

b) Unhappy that he was losing the diamond he loved more than his life.

c) Relieved that the last temptation in his life was over?

d) None of the above.

Come back to me with your answers tomorrow, my kids, she told them and sent them on to do their homework.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas will appear every weekend.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Remembering a Great Soul: on V M Tarkunde

V M Tarkunde, eminent jurist and human rights activist, died this day four years ago. Here is an article I wrote on the man and the way media treated him on his death, a few days after his passing.

VITTAL MAHADEV Tarkunde died at 6 in the afternoon on Monday, 22 March 2004. He was laid up with leukemia for over a month and the end came peacefully when he was taking an afternoon nap, in the feverish city of Delhi, where politicians busily engaged in their wordy duels warming themselves up for the elections, and the temperature steadily rose to touch 39 degree celsius.

And the next day, the day of his cremation at the Lodhi Road Electric Crematorium there were around a hundred people, among them former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, Law Minister Arun Jaitley, Attorney General Soli Sorabjee and many others. Here was a man taking leave, after 94 years of eventful life, a life which saw great struggles not only for the freedom of this country, but also for human dignity, democratic principles and the rights of the ordinary people.

And surprise, the day’s newspapers in the capital failed to notice that he was gone. The Hindustan Times had just a few lines in its city briefs, and the single column headline was curiously captioned "Ex-judge passes away"! Luckily for his admirers and friends, The Hindustan Times and Times of India carried small two column advertisements taken out by his family announcing his death and also the time and place of cremation as no other paper had bothered to carry anything on the death of this freedom fighter, the doyen of Indian human rights movement.

The Hindu which failed to notice his death, however, made amends the next day carrying a report on the cremation while most of the other newspapers from the capital city remained unmoved by the passing of a great man from among our midst. Only the Indian Express rose to the occasion, albeit the next day, placing a multi-column anchor piece from Fali S. Nariman on his brother at the bar, calling him the "Bar’s noblest soul."

The regional papers were much more acutely aware of the importance of the death of a man like V M Tarkunde. For example, Madhyamam, a newspaper from Kerala, carried the news of his death on the page one and it also had an editorial on his contributions to the nation besides a glowing tribute from veteran jurist and human rights activist V R Krishna Iyer.

For a newspaper reader, this raises some disturbing questions. Is the Indian media totally oblivious to its own role and responsibilities as a pillar of democracy? Does it think the nation does not care any longer for our own elders, our own heroes who fought for great ideals, who suffered and sacrificed in the service of the people, in defense of our national ideals though they may seem curiously out of place in our contemporary world? Has the media completely abdicated its rope as a watchdog? As a voice of the people? As a mirror of our society? If it has not, surely it would not have simply buried the death of such a person, even as it spends reams of newsprint to enlighten us on the nightlife of the rich and glamorous in South Delhi and Bollywood?

Going through the newspapers of the capital on the day of the death of Tarkunde, which surely should have received better attention if one goes by our traditional understanding of the role of the news media, I find that over 60 per cent of the space available for news, that is apart from the things one surely know are advertisements, went to the India Pakistan cricket series and the rest to national politics as it was the day Sonia Gandhi released her party’s manifesto. But a major part of the space in both the two premier newspapers in our capital, Hindustan Times and Times of India, went to gossip, both desi and foreign.

For example, Times of India on its super-headlines just below its masthead had a breath-taking international news item, which informed us that Kylie Minogue, a Hollywood enchantress, had just asked Olivier Martinez to marry her. Mind-boggling selection for the lead for the international section, on a day when Israeli missiles shattered the body of frail Sheikh Yaseen in Palestine. Hindustan Times, in the same slot, had an item about Afghan troops putting down Herat rebellion.

The incident was, in many ways, an eye opener for me, a person who had just landed up in the capital after two decades in South India as a journalist. I had my professional judgment on what should get precedence but now I find my whole understanding of the role of media completely toppled. I realize that newspapers are no longer there to inform, to cater to the needs of a reading public. They just entertain. The effort is to copy a more successful entertainment medium like television and the focus is on that section of the middle class who care little for social concerns any longer.

But is this perception correct?

It is important to ask this question, whether the print media is right in its sidestepping of its legitimate and historical role as a serious purveyor of news, views and social issues. The capital city’s newspapers do have a pivotal role in representing this country to the political class, but its failure here is monumental. Of course this concept that the newspaper is just a product, something which is as significant as a bath-soap or the toothpaste is cliché now. It has been accepted as received wisdom and the newspapers simply do not even attempt to question it any longer. But it is important for us to raise this question once again now, on the eve of a national election when our debates are more focused on inane issues like the colours of the sarees our star campaigners like Sonia, Priyanka, Sushma, Jayalalithaa and Jayaprada, the food and dress tastes of those from the tinsel world joining the political bandwagon, etc.

It is very clear that as entrepreneurs and as leaders of an enlightened bourgeoisie, the Indian media barons have practically lost out in their chance to lead the nation’s debate, but it is possible that very soon the foreign media which is more serious, more matter of fact and more keen on influencing the local political climate, would take an upper hand there too. It would be unwise and useless to shout from the rooftops then that foreigners are taking over in the hallowed precincts of our national life, monopolizing our media and politics, because when there is a vacuum, no one can blame the foreigners making an intelligent entry there. If our national media effectively erodes its own legitimate perch leaving it to foreigners, we will have none to blame but ourselves and our new breed of editors who seem to care more for the thick pay packet and political patronage than the quality of the paper.

(, March 2004)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Is there Future for Journalism as a Career?

Dr V. Santhakumar, an economist at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, recently wrote in a note: Journalism as a profession will face a somewhat difficult time in future. One issue is increasing competition; but much more than that, there will be a tendency by the owners to try to run the media organizations with people having minimal skill set...

In short what he says is that the owners of the media organizations have realized that journalism (or at least running media organizations) is a job which does not need much talent. So in the coming days, they will dispense with talented people, who naturally demand better pay, and will make do with morons who can run them very well. And they would remain profitable too. Profits they would make because earlier this week came the FICCI report that said Indian media in the past year has seen an annual growth rate of 17 per cent, and even the laggard print had registered 16 per cent growth.

Santhakumar in his usual no-nonsense style of an economist is making a statement that, however, cuts me to the quick.

For a number of reasons:

First, I was a working journalist for over 25 years and still remain one making a living out of it; and secondly, I am extremely worried about the decline of mass media as a social organization that empowers the more backward sections of our society and in its absence, the serious consequences that may have for our future.

In a way, what he says has already come to pass in our media today. Nowadays there is a talent deficit in journalism. Except for a few top-end people who are more celebrities than journalists, most of those who work in media these days earn very little and are facing a bleak future. Seniors who used to get wages and are covered under the service conditions laid out in the wage board awards are now persuaded (read forced) to take up contracts and then in a few years they are asked to vacate. Even in the most profitable English papers, there were such incidents though most of them remained unreported. A labor strike in the Kasturba Marg print station of The Hindustan Times, the premier newspaper of the nation’s capital, was not reported in the media even after it continued for many months. For a more local example, see what has been going on in New Indian Express where most of the seniors are now out. No newspapers report about it, and one has to resort to some blogs to know what goes on there. This is now going to be a trend and nobody can stop it.

So what is the solution? Like farmers in penury, do the journalists also have to commit suicide to invite attention of the society to the grave human problem they face? In fact in Veekshanam a few years ago, some employees did threaten suicide when they were denied their long pending arrears in pay.

However, what is at sake is not only the survival of those who still remain journalists. The issue has a wider ramification because mass media, especially newspapers, do have a major role in social empowerment; for the mature development of democratic politics. Without a vibrant media we cannot ensure an equitable participation for all sections of our people in the democratic practice. However, we are experiencing serious problems here. Let us take the example of Thejas, launched in January 2006. Around three years ago, when we were recruiting and training around three dozen new journalist for our newspaper, I thought we were on sure and firm ground: terra firma as we were working on the rock bottom. Those we selected came mainly from the lowest sections of our society like the girl who was a salesperson in a textile shop in SM Street and the boy whose father was a butcher's assistant...

But now I see that almost two-thirds have already gone; some to other papers and most to other jobs. So where do you get more journalists to take part in our social rebuilding, to speak up for those who are voiceless, who are really down and out? Even their own kids who from their own experience do know how important it is to speak up, do not want to be in this wretched profession as they find life has better things to offer.

Now I too see a very bleak future: not only for our newspapers, but to our entire society.

(Devil’s Sermon is a regular political commentary

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Season of Tragedy Hits Kerala’s Rice Cultivators

In Kutttanad, farmers have to request powerful trade-unions for allotment of farm-hands.

SUMMER RAINS are not unusual in Kerala. Farmers know when the rains could come and they always had their own traditional contingent plans to save the crops. Yet, in the past few days rains have played havoc in the rice bowl of Kerala, Kuttanad, and other rice growing areas like Trissur, Kottayam, Palakkad and some parts of Malabar.

The government in its initial response, has said that in Kuttanad alone losses to the farmers were as much as Rs. 16 crore while it is around Rs. 11 crore in Trissur. The total loss all over Kerala is now being assessed and when all the figures are in, the losses could run into a substantial amount this season.

It is a heart-breaking situation for peasants in Kerala. The state’s agricultural sector is now in deep crisis and in the past few years, hundreds of farmers have committed suicide as they were trapped in a vicious debt crisis. Even the Indian Government took notice of this serious situation and had announced a series of measures to help save the farmers from Vidharbha to Wayanad, known as the peasant suicide belt in the country.

But the tragedy of Kuttanad farmers this season is different, it is mainly a man-made crisis thanks to over-politicization of the farm operations. In the summer puncha season, farmers have to harvest their crops before the summer rains set in, and hence the summer schedule is always a hectic one. This season, they had planted rice in around 26,000 hectares in Kuttanad, and in the past few weeks harvesting was over in as much as 15,000 hectares. What was left for harvesting there was an area of around 11,000 hectares.

But the farmers were facing an acute shortage of farm-hands as the few weeks in March are critical for their operations. The farm workers are highly organized and the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (KSKTU) which owes allegiance to the CPM is quite strong and they do not allow any type of machines for harvesting, threshing and other activities. The Government also has put severe restrictions for bringing in machinery for farm operations. This season as the farm-hands shortage hit the operations holding up harvesting and other activities, peasants had been requesting farm-hands’ unions for permission to make use of machines, but they resisted and physically stopped them from being used in the fields.

The result was a delay in harvesting operations. Even the rice that had been harvested lay in the fields when the rains hit suddenly, flooding the entire region. Now the peasants accuse the farm-workers union of delaying the operations and the unions deny they were responsible. They claim that only where the peasants forcibly brought in the machines that they used force to stop them…

It is a sad drama indeed, where the farmers who invested so much of their money and effort are not able to harvest their crops because farm-hands are not available and still they can’t use machines instead. It is a perfect case of dog in the manger, it neither eats nor does it allow the cow to eat…

This has been going on in Kuttanad and other parts of Kerala for decades now. No machines, say the left politicians and workers unions. When they ask for supply of farm workers, they are asked to wait: there is a system where workers are allotted to each farmer by the trade union office. And often rains don’t accept this schedule fixed by politicians and it plays havoc. Net result has been that many harried peasants left their traditional vocation and there has been a drastic decline in Kerala’s rice cultivation. It has now reached a nadir and then comes the sharp rise in food prices…

And how do the Kerala politicians and Government officials respond to this rice shortage? They accuse the Federal Government of not providing sufficient food supply to the State!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas will appear every weekend.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

CPI: A Decadent Party and a Tired Leadership

Veteran Communist P K Vasudevan Nair is attacked posthumously, but CPI fails to raise a finger in his defence.

WHEN VELIYAM Bhargavan was elected as secretary of the CPI Kerala unit for the fourth consecutive term, no one seemed bothered about the irony of an 82-year-old man shouldering the responsibility of running a party that runs the State!

CPI is the second largest party in the ruling Left Democratic Front with four ministers in the cabinet looking after some of the most sensitive portfolios like food and civil supplies, revenue, forests and agriculture. In the one and a half years in power, these ministers have earned a name for inefficiency and lack of experience attracting quite an ample supply of brickbat for the mother of all Communist parties in India. If you rank the present ministers in the LDF Government for poor performance, surely the CPI ministers would find a place at the top of the list.

The recently concluded CPI state conference also came to the same conclusion. The party has admitted that compared to its own past performance, when CPI leaders like C Achutha Menon, P K Vasudevan Nair and E Chandrasekharan Nair were celebrated as efficient administrators, things are bad now. It said that the steering committee that was meant to give a direction to the ministers had not been effective, and even within the party’s parliamentary forum there were differences and squabbles that made things worse. The result has been a public show of chaos and lack of direction and purpose.

Worse, the party failed to face the corruption charges that came thick and fast against its ministers. From the Munnar imbroglio to Merchiston Estate land deal, what the pubic came to witness was the way the party had come to be in cahoots with those land sharks and real estate mafiosi who are making a plunder these days.

And how tired the party has been, when resisting these attacks! During the height of Merchiston Estate scandal, a CPI minister asked me whether I really believed that he was corrupt. Surely I have never doubted his integrity, but that was not sufficient for a public personality. So, I reminded him about the clichéd adage about Caesar’s wife.

If they had simply failed to protect themselves and their own public image, that would have been fine. Serves them right, one should say. But what made me sorry was the way they colluded in sullying the public image of a person like the late P K Vasudevan Nair, whose integrity has been unquestioned all these years. PKV was a wonderful human being, a principled politician and a self-less public activist and I was close to him in his last days when he returned to Delhi, after almost a quarter century, as a member of the present Lok Sabha. He was living in a spacious bungalow on the B D Marg and I was an uninvited guest at N K Premachandran’s flat at Swarna Jayanti apartments on the same road. Later when he was laid up with infection as he stepped on a rusted nail, he was staying at Kerala House after a long spell at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. It was a pleasure to visit him and always he welcomed us with a smile concealing his pain and suffering…

Well, that is another story. What I wanted to say was about this year’s journalism award announced by the Kerala Government. The award for best reporting went to one person in Malayala Manorama and when I read the stories that earned him this award, I realized to my shock that it was the story that said PKV had fraudulently claimed to be a farmer to get a few cents of land at Idukky where their party office now stands! This story and a series of others were published during the Munnar imbroglio and PKV and his ‘land grab’ were headlines those days.

Sadly, neither the CPI nor their newspaper Janayugam raised any protest against this blatant ill-treatment of a departed leader. It was Thejas daily that pointed out the matter in its editorial page and even then the CPI failed to take up the matter…

Well, one must say the party really needs some rest. (Others have long departed, like the beloved CPSU!) Perhaps, Comrade Veliyam too needs some rest but when people like K E Ismail and Pannian Ravindran are lurking around to grab the secretary’s post what could he do but to stay on in the hot seat?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Muhammed Abdurahman as Khilafat Secretary

This is chapter two of the biography of freedom fighter Muhammed Abdurahman. For the earlier chapter, see blog archives, February 2008.

Mohammed Abdurahman was born in a traditional Muslim family at Kodungallur in 1898. In the school records, the date of birth is recorded as the first of Edavam, the month of the onset of the monsoon season in Kerala, in the Malayalam year 1072. The practice of recording the time of birth was not widespread those days, and parents often were reminded of it only when they took their children to school for admission. Abdurahman was the first son of Karukappadath Punnachalil Abdurahman and Ayyaril Kochayisumma, a rich and conservative family at Azhikode in the Kodungallur taluk of the erstwhile Cochin state. His parents called him Kunhimuhammed. When he went out of Kerala for his higher education, he came to be known as Mohammed Abdurahman.

Kodungallur had an important place in the history of Malabar . Its beaches are still vibrant with the memories of thousands of years’ relations with the outside world, across the Arabian Sea. Its historical eminence is recorded even in the Bible. It was known as Muziris in ancient records. The place became the capital of the Second Cera Empire and it was then known as Mahodayapuram, according to local historians. It was a well known port; the ancient Jews, the early Christians and the first Muslims came to the land then widely known as Malabar through the port of Kodungallur. It was a major port of call in the east for ancient Roman ships, which came in search of spices like pepper and ginger. Recent archaeological excavations in the area have proved this rich and long association with the western world. Evidence of the rich and colourful past is found in magnificent churches and mosques that the Christians and Muslims built in Kodungallur as they entered, to a hearty welcome from local chieftains who were eager to develop these contacts because they brought flourishing trade, without threatening the peace. According to historians, the first Muslim settlements in Kerala were at Kodungallur; the first mosque was built there by Malik Ibn-Dinar who came in the early years of the rise of Islam in West Asia. It was from here that the last Cheraman Perumal, king of Kerala, embraced Islam and set sail to Mecca.

Abdurahman’s family had a rich folklore of its own heroic past. The young Kunhimohammed imbibed tales of heroism as a young child. This family, according to tradition, could be traced to Kalanthan Pocker, of the Marakkar family of Kottakkal, famous as the naval chieftains of the Zamorin of Kozhikode. The family had fought the Portuguese in famous sea battles, but weakened by war, the Zamorin permitted the Portuguese to build a fort in Calicut in 1529. The Marakkars continued the resistance, but the alliance of a weak Zamorin and the powerful Portuguese resulted in the capture and execution of the last Kunhali Marakkar. The families of the Marakkars were forced to leave the country to escape persecution at the hands of the Portuguese and the king. Kalanthan Pocker was one of those who left home and family to save himself from the wrath of the king. He was welcomed by the king of Kodungallur, who was not on good terms with the Zamorin. With his support and land endowments, Kalanthan founded his new home, known as Karukappadam in Eriyad village in the taluka of Kodungallur.

Abdurahan’s parents had three sons and three daughters. His brother Kunhikkomu became active in the Cochin Prajamandalam, a political movement for responsible governance in the Cochin state. His youngest brother, Ebrahim, came to Malabar to work with him in the national liberation movement.

Unlike the Muslims in the interior who were extremely poor and illiterate, the comparatively affluent families in the coastal belt, were the descendants of the early settlers who had rich land endowments and trade-related prosperity. They also enjoyed chances for better education. Eventually Kodungallur became a major centre for social reform in the Muslim community. Many of the Kodungallur Muslims had travelled widely. They were exposed to the goings on in the outside world, and some members of Abdurahman’s family, his uncles Kuttikkammu Haji and Kunholan Haji, for instance, had been to Mecca and Medina on the Hajj pilgrimage. Among the important religious leaders who helped Kodungallur become a centre of Muslim reform efforts was Sheikh Muhammed Hamdani Thangal who established the Lajnathul Hamdani Sabha and Lajnathul Islam Sangham in the area as part of his educational and social reform efforts. A scholar in Arabic, the Thangal set up a school in the area on the model of the Mohammedan School in Aligarh. It imparted religious as well as modern education to young students. Abdurahman first went to this school and then joined the Azhikode Primary School in the third standard. His name is entered in the documents as K.A. Mohammed. There were only five Muslim students in the class, and all of them were Abdurahman’s relatives. Among them was K. M. Seethi, an important figure in the Muslim reforms movement in later years. Seethi was Mohammed Abdurahman’s friend and colleague in the reform efforts in the Aikya Sangham, a movement for Muslim unity which was built up as part of their social reforms efforts. They later parted ways, Abddurahman emerging as a staunch nationalist leader and the president of the Provincial Congress Committee while Seethi became a founder-leader of the Muslim League in Kerala.

After a year at the Azhikode Primary School, young Mohammed went to the high school at Kodungallur. In the early years of the First World War, he left high school and went to the religious institution, the Madrassa Islamia at Vaniyambady, where he learnt his first lessons in public life as captain of the volunteer corps at the South India education conference of 1916. Sir Akbar Hydari, the president of the conference, praised his leadership skills. The conference was a big success. Mohammed continued his friendship with Sir Akbar Hydari in later years, this gentleman guided him in his studies for entry into the coveted Indian Civil Service. While he was at Madrassa Islamia, Mohammed lost his father. He was 16 years old.

An incident at the Madrassa Islamia had a profound influence on the life of Mohammed. It brought to light his qualities as a leader: his will and determination; his refusal to compromise with injustice and his willingness to accept the consequences of his actions. Though a small incident, it caused the young man to quit college and organize the first protest march of his life. The Madrassa Islamia, situated in a Muslim-dominated, Tamil-speaking town had many Malayalees and Tamils as students. An unfortunate rift developed between the young students, and divided them on the lines of language. When the headmaster of the institution, Qureishi, took a view in favour of the Malayalee students, he incurred the anger of the management, and the dispute led to his eventual resignation. Mohammed, a leading student, decided to leave the institution in protest. It was at Madrassa Islamia that Mohammed changed his name to Mohammed Abdurahman.

Leaving the religious institution at Vaniyambady, Mohammed Abdurahman went home. As a private student he scored high marks in the matriculation examinations. Then he went to the Basel Mission College in Kozhikode, a famous educational institution established by Christian missionaries from Basel in Germany, where he spent one year as an intermediate student.

It was in this period that Mohammed took the initiative to set up a social organization in Kodungallur, the Cochin Muslim Education Society. Promotion of education among the backward community of Muslims was its professed aim. Along with some friends, Mohammed petitioned the Cochin Diwan for educational concessions for Muslim students in the principality. It was a successful venture in public activity as the Diwan was pleased to order annual scholarships for Muslim boys and two-rupee monthly scholarships for Muslim girls.

Though Mohammed Abdurahman was interested in social work and concerned about the backwardness of his own community, he had never before shown any interest in the gathering storm in national politics, following the First World War. Indian aspirations had been completely ignored, although the national leadership had supported the British Empire in its war efforts. Though Home Rule League activities had been confined to the drawing rooms of a few upper caste lawyers in Malabar, it was a big force under Annie Besant in Madras, where Abdurahman had reached in the wake of the War as a senior F.A. student at the Madras Mohammedan College.

E. Moidu Maulavi, his life-long friend and comrade in the freedom struggle, in his autobiography wrote: “I knew Abdurahman from the days of the Home Rule movement. He was a student at the Christian College and I was at the Darul-Uloom Madrassa. We used to meet then, and he had shown no interest in politics at all. Often his friends teased him, calling him a bookworm…”

The metamorphosis of the bookworm, hidden under books in his Victoria Hostel room, into a colourful political butterfly was sudden and unpredictable: it happened in the span of one night.

Mohammed Abdurahman, under the guidance from Sir Akbar Hydari, had joined the Madras Presidency College to pursue his B.A. (Hons). It was much in demand as a stepping stone to the ICS. Mohammed was a bright and energetic student. In those days in Madras, he had already learnt Urdu, Tamil, Arabic and German. He was quite at home with his mother-tongue Malayalam, and English.
K. Muhammed, another Malayalee student at the Presidency College, who was Abdurahman’s close friend, keenly followed political developments. Muhammed persuaded him to join the national movement, quit the college and jump onto ranks of the Non-Cooperation Movement. The friend was ardent in his speeches at the hostel room, he asserted his determination to leave college and join the struggle himself. He challenged Abdurahman to follow him in the arduous journey for freedom.

Abdurahman, however, was unmoved. He was keen on the ICS, and when his friend persisted with his impassioned speeches, he listened with amusement, but never left off his studies. Then one day Muhammed brought a book, Khilafat and Jazeerathul Arab, by a young nationalist, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Abdurahman’s first biographer, T. Muhammed Yusuf, describes the scene dramatically:
“Read this, even if you don’t agree with what it says,” said his friend.
Abdurahman took it, lazily looked through the pages and kept it aside. But that night, he was up till the wee hours, quite absorbed by the book.The powerful words of Maulana Azad transformed him completely. The young man was unable to sleep. The next morning, as his friend walked in, Mohammed Abdurahman declared:
“Yes, my friend, you are absolutely right. It is the time for struggle, and let us quit college tomorrow.”
Mohammed could not believe his ears. He had never expected this bookworm friend to be so transformed.
“But…” he faltered. He said he had to write to his parents, get permission from his father.
Mohammed Abdurahman said, “Whatever you decide, I am quitting college and going back home tomorrow.”

The very next day Mohammed Abdurahman submitted a letter to the principal of Presidency College, announcing his decision to quit studies as he was following the call of the national movement for non-cooperation with British authorities. This was in November 1920. His mother, close friends and relatives made every effort to dissuade him, but he would not relent.

As for his nationalist friend, he never took the step. He continued his studies at Presidency College, managed to get a scholarship from the British Government, and pursued his studies in England. He returned to India as a senior officer in the Education Department. Later on, Mohammed Abdurahman had a meeting with his old friend; it turned out to be an unhappy reunion.

After leaving the Presidency College, Abdurahman decided to join the Jamia Millia Islamia set up as part of the nationalist movement. Maulana Muhammed Ali was the vice chancellor and eminent nationalist leaders like Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Qwaja Abdul Majeed and others served as instructors.

Abdurahman could spend very little time in Jamia as he had to return to Malabar under instructions from Maulana Muhammed Ali. The Khilafat Movement had become powerful there, and Congress leaders were finding it difficult to control the Mappilas who were restive against British authorities. They needed a leader who could communicate with the Mappilas, identify with them. This onerous responsibility fell on the young shoulders of Mohammed Abdurahman.
The Congress leadership in Malabar was predominantly upper-caste and Hindu. Most of them were practicing lawyers, while the large majority of the people attracted to the Non- Cooperation Movement were Mappilas. They were poor peasants, and their main concern was the safety of the Khilafat. Unlike in the past when the Congress meetings were thinly attended, there was huge popular enthusiasm. The Manjeri conference of the Congress held in April 1920 had an unprecedented attendance. A large gathering of Muslim peasants arrived in small processions, K Madhavan Nair, who became secretary of the KPCC in 1921, recalls in Malabar Kalapam (The Malabar Riot).

The authorities as well as the Congress leadership were aware of the dangers of the Mappilas turning restive. The had a long history of violent confrontation with British authorities in Malabar. When Gandhiji and Shoukat Ali came to Kozhikode in 1920 with a call for non-cooperation, leaders like M P Narayana Menon, the secretary of the Ernad Taluk Congress Committee, had expressed reservations about exciting the Mappilas. M. P. Narayana Menon, according to his biographer, met Gandhiji at Kozhikode and apprised him of the nature of Ernad moplahs and the inherent danger of exciting them without proper training in non-violent methods. Janab Abdurahman (then a junior Congress Khilafat worker and disciple of Mohammed Ali) supported these arguments “but we were outnumbered and outgunned,” says M P Narayana Menon . Menon was arrested under the martial law on 10 September 1921, and transported for life. However, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment later, following a public outcry.

The local Congress leaders were aware of the dangers of a violent Mappila agitation. They had invited Yakub Hassan, a prominent Khilafat leader from Madras and a former Member of the Madras Legislative Council, to visit Malabar to address the Mappilas. Though Yakub Hassan arrived in Kozhikode on February 15,1921, he could not address any meeting, as the district authorities had promulgated prohibitory orders. The authorities arrested Yakub Hasan, U. Gopala Menon, K. Madhavan Nair and P. Moideen Koya, all of them important Congress leaders, on charges of violating prohibitory orders. They were sentenced to six months imprisonment and sent to Kannur jail. The arrest of Yakub Hassan infuriated the Mappilas and they came in large numbers to the city in defiance of the prohibitory orders. A violent confrontation occurred with the police in Kozhikode beach.

Madhavan Nair was the secretary of the KPCC. Since the situation was turning very grave in Malabar, K P Kesava Menon, a lawyer in Madras, returned to Kozhikode and took over as secretary of the KPCC. An energetic leader was sought to handle Khilafat affairs. Mohammed Abdurahman was asked by his mentor, Maulana Mohammed Ali, to go to Kozhikode immediately to take over as the secretary of the Khilafat committee there.
Kesava Menon writes in his memoirs: “Mohammed Abdurahman was a student in Aligarh when the Non-Cooperation Movement was launched. Dropping his academic studies, he soon arrived in Kozhikode to take part in the Congress, Khilafat activities. He was a tall man, with a heavy moustache and energetic ways. His contribution to the Congress and Khilafat movement during those days was immense.”

In the brief period he had spent in Aligarh, Abdurahman had become close to many national leaders. He had also attended the Nagpur session of the AICC, along with K. Madhavan Nair. At the Nagpur session, Madhavan Nair brought about a resolution that all the three parts of Kerala—Malabar, Cochin and Travancore—be considered one state, and a united Provincial Congress committee be set up. The resolution was supported by Mohammed Abdurahman and adopted by the AICC. The same year, the All-Kerala conference of the Congress was held at Oottappalam. Madhavan Nair was elected the first secretary of the KPCC.

As soon as Mohammed Abdurahman arrived in Kozhikode, an office was arranged at Palayam in the heart of the city for the Khilafat activities. The Malabar District Khilafat Committee was reconstituted, with Kattilassery Muhammed Musaliar, a well known Khilafat leader in Ernad, as president. Mohammed Abdurahman became the secretary and T. Hassan Koya Molla was the treasurer.

Among the active Khilafat leaders were E Moidu Maulavi, Ponmadath Moideen Koya, (leaders in Kozhikode); Thaliyil Muhammed Kutty Musaliar alias K M Maulavi, Ali Musaliar, P M Pookkoya Thangal (leaders in the Ernad& Valluvanad taluks); K V Kunhippocker Haji, Pottayil Kunhahammad, K Koyatty Maulavi (based in Tirurangadi); and others. Kattilassery Muhammed Musaliar, who steadfastly exhorted his co-religionists to eschew violence, stood firm in his resolve for peaceful agitation. He went underground after the suppression of the rebellion, and reached Vellore from where he escaped to the French Protectorate of Pondicherry. Moidu Maulavi was arrested in September 1921 and released in 1922 after the revolt was suppressed. Ali Musaliar, who became the leader of the armed resistance in Tirurangadi, surrendered to the British forces and was later hanged to death at the Coimbatore jail. K.M. Maulavi escaped to Kodungallur in Cochin state to avoid capture. K Koyatty Maulavi, who witnessed the incidents, was one of the first to write an account of the rebellion.

Abdurahman and his friends started organizing Khilafat committees, trying to keep them firmly on the non-violent path. During this period he established a nationalist school at Chirakkal in North Malabar with the help of the Central Khilafat Committee.

But tension rose and a violent conflict between the ordinary people of the Malabar villages and the British Army appeared inevitable, lacking only the first spark to begin the conflagration. Rebellion engulfed the region for six months resulting in a bloody battle. Those months saw the young and inexperienced Abdurahman emerging as a powerful leader, a man who refused to bow before the elemental furies of his own people as well as the organized terrors of the British Empire.

(From Muhammed Abdurahman, biography published by National Book Trust-India, November,2006.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Indian Sports is Game for Politicians and Retired Cops

Missing an Olympics is not a big deal. India has made it many times in the past but still the crashing out of the Beijing Olympics’ hockey event was a painful affair after being in the race for eight decades, winning the trophy eight times.

When India won the crown in the 1928 Olympics, this country was a mere colony and the world has seen India’s excellent show with the hockey stick ever since, though in the past few decades things were going from bad to worse. Now with the defeat at Santiago at the hands of Britain, India will take its much needed rest…

Now the question is, how do we explain this extremely poor show in India’s performance in the sports world, even as it makes big strides in the economic and political spheres? This country is now seen as the greatest emerging power, an economic super power for the next decade and there is a keen interest in everything Indian elsewhere in the world. The past experience of the world is that when a country is showing great economic strength its performance in the track and field does take a high profile, as was evident in the case of the erstwhile Socialist bloc. They were medal-winning machines in Olympics and once the Soviet empire collapsed, we saw a sudden slump in their fortunes in the track and field too.

One explanation is that, to build a good team you need money. But money does not seem to be the only thing that a country needs to build an excellent team. You need team spirit and dedication. And a professional touch.

But India sadly lacks in all this, though it seems to be now better endowed with money to spend. Unless there is plenty of money to burn, you would not see so many retired policemen loitering around, as is the case with the Indian Hockey Federation. Its boss K P S Gill, a former Punjab police chief, runs it like a personal fiefdom, accompanied by around half a dozen other cops now without a day time job. Well, Gill has ruled out resignation. Why should he, as not only the IHF but almost all other sports associations in the country are run by politicians or their crones?

That is why I think the funniest remark of the day came from our Federal Sports Minister Mani Shankar Iyer, who said the day we lost at Santiago was a day of great tragedy. Mani is a man blessed with a silver tongue, but on this occasion even he has nothing but a cliché’ to offer.

But what else the minister could say when political heavyweights are running roughshod over him?

(Cartoon courtesy:Sudheernath, New Delhi.)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas will appear every weekend.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Writer Hits Jackpot, Thanks to Finance Minister

An unconventional recognition for Vaikom Muhammed Basheer on his centenary year.

EMINENT WRITERS, especially those who are dead and abandoned by the readers in an age of television serials and cyber chat, are back in circulation: They are hot property in the annual budgets in India, where every budget presentation is a media event.

It is surprising this annual ceremony of presenting the coming year’s income and expenditure accounting, which could be as interesting as the annual company reports certified by a chartered accountant, gets the television TRP ratings that beat even the best reality show now available on the mini-screen. Perhaps, it has to do with the simple truth that the greatest music for mortals like us is the noise of a shower of coins. And on the occasion of budget presentation, we think of what it could bring us by way of tax concessions and other pecuniary benefits.

But the ministers presenting the budget are mindful about the importance of the day when they would be the cynosure of every eye, not only in the Assembly or Parliament hall but outside in almost every home where there is a TV set. They are acutely aware of the fact that on all other days of the year, they are generally a hated lot because they hold the purse-strings and finance ministers, all over the world, come as stingy scrooges as a rule.

That is why finance ministers take every precaution to appear as natty as a young girl going to her first ball, and poetry comes handy to a finance minister going to present the budget, like music to a youngster in love.

Harvard educated Palaniappan Chidambaram has presented five budgets in a row, the second one to do so in India after Dr Manmohan Singh, and all of them accompanied a couplet or two from his favorite Tamil poets like Thiru Valluvar. Thiru Valluvar is a great sage, but he was never known outside Tamilakam and now look, he has become a household name even in the northern cow belt!

This week it was the turn of our own Beypore Sultan, whose centenary year this is. Kerala Finance Minister Dr T M Thomas Isaac got hold of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and his novel, Pathummayude Aadu, to explain his budget proposals and his financial constraints. He said like the writer who was facing a huge and expectant crowd at his family house on a rare visit home, making all kinds of demands on his wallet, he too was faced with plenty of demands and an emaciated treasury. The small household of Basheer and Pathumma in Thalayolapparamba is a microcosm of the entire state of Kerala, he said, and assured, like Basheer to his family members, that things would be fine next time. Just wait and watch!

That indeed was a master stroke. The story of Pathumma and her goat is well known and the tale is such a hit with readers that the book has run into several reprints. It describes the scene in the household when Basheer, after a brief spell in an asylum, returns home for some rest and recuperation. There he encounters the coups and counter-coups of his mother and sisters, brothers and their children and distant relatives and the non-human members of the household like cocks and hens and others, among them the she-goat that Pathumma nursed so lovingly like a child, has a prime place. The goat is central to the dreams of Pathumma for a great and happy life, and she makes the greatest coup of all, by devouring Basheer’s newly published book that he had kept like a treasure deep in his box.

The Opposition says Dr Isaac’s budget reminds them of another Basheer character, Ettukali Mammoonju, who claims fatherhood of every child born in the village. The only problem with him is that he is impotent.

Let that be. But one thing is certain: The Kerala Finance Minister has hit upon an idea that really enthused cartoonists because today’s morning newspapers are awash with Basheer and his goat.

Now I am waiting for the next budget, not because what it might hold for me but because I am curious to know who would be the next writer to hit the jackpot.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rabiya: A Story

WHEN I was a child my mother told me the story of a frail old man, who set out to remove a hill. The village called him a foolish old man because he looked very foolish indeed. He told everyone this hill must go. It prevented the sun entering the village early in the day.

And people laughed, saying silly old man, how can you remove it? It is such a big hill and you are a frail old one.

He ignored them, reasoning one day he will win, as day by day inch by inch he will conquer it. If he failed to complete it, then his children will take it up and then their children…He went on working, and the sun laughed at him from above, burning his skin with his cruel rays.

But somehow, his story spread, people came to help out, and one day, the village saw the hill gone and instead there was a playground, a beautiful playground where children played ever after…

When I heard this story, I never dreamt I would meet someone like this frail old man till the day I met Rabiya.

Rabiya lived in a little village in Malappuram, a place buried in poverty and backwardness, most of its population poor and illiterate Muslims.

When I met Rabiya, she was already famous in the village. She was 23 or 24 and very beautiful, her face radiant with a smile and her lips firmly closed with an expression of determination. Her legs were as thin as a reed as she had been hit by polio in her childhood.

She was one of the rare women in her village to attend school and she had to stop before going to the college in the city as she was poor and also a cripple. But she retained her love of books, her love of reading and in her spare time she took to her books.

It was then the local government took up a project for total literacy. The government officials said one reason why they were backward and poor was the lack of literacy among the population.

The volunteers spread everywhere, organized campaigns urging the people to join the total literacy mission's study centers set up even in remote villages. It was more like a celebration in the villages, there were daily demonstrations by educated youngsters going from place to place, shouting slogans about the darkness in their minds, staging street plays in impromptu theatres, organizing slideshows and talks, all to entice people to the new movement for total literacy.

But the response was poor as the poor villagers thought they had better things to do, like planting a tree or harvesting their fields, than struggling with grammar.

Why should we learn now, as our youth is gone, our life is gone and do you think we would need to write letters to our children living next door, they asked derisively.

Then one day they saw Rabiya on her wheelchair, ambling her way through the dirt paths of their village, going to every single household and meeting every single villager.

She told them, 'Look uncle, these letters are our friends, these letters opened the gates of wealth and progress to nations everywhere, they opened the gates to heaven. And its never late to learn, never late to do a good deed in our life. Even on the last day of our life…'

Her wheelchair became a common sight in the narrow bylanes and school children always went after her, and often they became a long march through the village, the kids shouting slogans Rabiya taught them, hailing the literacy mission.

Slowly she saw her little classroom flooded with villagers and they learnt the letters and grammar sitting up late in the evening, with the kerosene lamps giving them light…

Those who visited her school heard the singing of the nursery rhymes by the old men and women even from a distance, their voice rough, and with a blush on their wrinkled faces, they displayed their new books, proudly read out from their texts…

When after two years of struggle, the province became totally literate and an old woman Chelakkodan Aysha, again from her village, declared it 100 per cent literate, Rabiya was there to celebrate the occasion.

It was not a small occasion, there were television cameras and an army of newspaper reporters from all over the country, because it was a great feat in a world where poverty and illiteracy reigned supreme.

Rabiya's story became famous and people came to meet her, and she received many awards too. Then years after when I went back to the village, it was a different scene.

The government had changed, and the new rulers had little enthusiasm for literacy campaign and the village slunk back to its moody existence, the villagers back to their cynicism and dull routine life.

Rabiya was there in her little home, hoping for a day when the struggles for big ideas will come back, when a new fight to remove the hills of poverty will come back to her village to light up their lives.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Editor Released, and Publication Gets the Ban Order

IT TOOK a huge public agitation to force the authorities to release People’s March editor P Govindan Kutty form jail. After in judicial custody for 66 days since his arrest on December 19, he was released on bail on February 23, 2008. Justice R Basanth of Kerala High Court, ordered his release on bail on a bond of Rs. 100,000 and two sureties of equal amounts.

And just four days later came the new order: The monthly publication, People’s March, has been banned by the District Collector of Ernakulam, through an executive order dated February 28, 2008. The order was issued on a recommendation of the Police Assistant Commissioner, Trikkakkara, which said the publication was promoting anti-national propaganda.

The order takes the struggle for democratic rights and right to free expression in Kerala to a new and urgent stage. Surprisingly, the response from the media and general public has been mute, no one has taken up the issue of the ban on the publication to the public sphere so far, may be everybody is busy with the budget and their bonanza.

Govindan Kutty had been on an indefinite fast ever since his arrest and had to be admitted to Thrissur Medical College hospital for administering liquid food. His arrest had raised a major debate in media circles as he was charged with anti-national activities mainly on the basis of an article he wrote defending the Naxalite attack on the life of Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra Chief Minister, in 2003.

On his release, Govindan Kutty told media that he would continue his struggle. He said he was arrested as he exposed the unjust social system and the draconian measures of the state. “I would continue to write the way I did,” he said.

He said the new edition of People’s March, to be released shortly, would focus on the issue of his arrest and the problems raised by it. In his absence O Ajayan had taken over as editor of the monthly. It appears that he and the Kerala public has another battle on hand, to protect one’s democratic right to say what one thought was right.

(Devil's Sermon is a regular political commentary.)