By Dr T T Sreekumar, 09 October, 2004, Countercurrents.org
"To leave error unrefuted is to encourage intellectual immorality”
Organizer, the RSS mouth piece, in an article in two parts written by CI Isaac, a History Professor in Kerala (September 19 & 26, 2004) has claimed that due to a “conspiracy” by minority communities, Hindus in Kerala are fast becoming a “minority”. One does not know where to begin the reply to an article replete with so many inaccuracies, half truths, lies and bland statements. Nonetheless, in this reply I attempt to do two things: 1. Examine his "data", "explanations" and fallacious arguments and 2. Make bare the political mission of this article in contemporary Kerala.
The article begins by stating that Hindus are "getting to be a minority". Hindus are "getting to be a minority"? Inaccurate figures on population share of Hindus in Kerala are provided to represent their demographic strength at the time "when India became a Republic" (which was 26th January 1950)and present. Probably he is quoting the figure from the 1951 census which gives the percentage figure for Hindu population in Kerala as 61.58. Then he goes on to lament that it has come down to 55% “now”. When? Today? I think by this the author meant the figure from 2001 census, which gives the figure as 56.2 and not 55. At the all India level also, where the Kerala specific dynamisms that he specifically labours to explain this decline subsequently are virtually absent, a more or less similar pattern can be found for Hindu population. But what he suitably conceals in this apocalyptical description of the fall in the Hindu population is that comparative figures for one of the villains of his story- Christians- also have shown the same demographic tendency. In fact the comparable data is between 1961 and 2001 (and not 1951 as has been pointed out by experts on census data). The percentage of Christians in Kerala has declined from 21.22 to 19.02 during the period. The only plausible explanation is that in communities where literacy rates have been comparatively higher, we see a relative decline in growth rate of population which accounts for the percentage changes. It may be noted that the growth rate is lowest for Christians followed by Hindus. In fact after "India became a Republic" growth rate of Christian population in Kerala has been less than that of other communities. And particularly after 1970, it is significantly lower than Hindus and Muslims (60% of Hindu growth and less than 50 % of Muslim growth). This clearly points to the fallacy of using data from demographic transition on major communities to establish their relative socio-economic decline. Population decline is a major threat only to the Adivasi population in Kerala. Poverty, depravation and loss of rights over their own livelihood has affected the demographic transition of Adivasis in Kerala negatively. Another interesting development is the increase in the percentage of people declaring themselves as having no religion. In Kerala it has increased from 0.4% in 1991 to 0.8% in 2001.
In fact the very premise of CI Isaac’s article that Hindus in terms of a numerical decline face an exclusive socio-economic threat n Kerala is thus totally unfounded. Apparently, CI Isaac has no inclination to explain the decline in Hindu population on the basis of any sociological or anthropological arguments. Instead, he seeks recourse to an unsubstantiated and unspecified remark about "the handiwork of anti-national forces" Admittedly he was not interested in using the space- i.e., pages of Organizer where his article got published- "for a detailed analysis of this U-turn in the demographic structure of Kerala". Airing unsubstantiated accusations on an unspecified “force” appear to him a superior method to discussing and analyzing facts. This decline in Hindu population (which is only similar to such decline in Christian population as we have seen), according to him, has led to a "defeat of the community as a whole from the social, economic, cultural, political, etc. scenarios of the land". What does he mean by defeat? How is this perceived defeat related to the phenomenon of relative decline in population shares which in Kerala, is in fact not unique to Hindus?
CI Isaac argues that Hindus are only technically a majority in Kerala since they are divided along caste lines and lacking the “Hindu feeling”. The so called Hindu feeling is missing because Hinduism historically has been a divider. Its ideology of caste is one of the craftiest tools of oppression and domination that humanity has witnessed. Hindu unity is not only impossible, but also ahistorical since lower castes under its fold can only express themselves politically and establish their social and ritual identity by challenging Hinduism and opposing its ideology of caste. That’s what the Dalits in Kerala are doing now. It is in the interest of the Ezhava community to join hands with Dalits and fight Hindu ideology rather than go in for a politically and socially degrading Hindu unification with upper castes.
CI Isaac is attempting to exploit the historical situation of the failure of the communist movement in Kerala (and elsewhere in India) to fully comprehend the dynamics of caste/class politics. He is at pains to use the vexed relationship between communist parties and Dalits in the state of Kerala to create an impression that within Hindu fold they have a more peaceful and contented existence. It is true that domination of Kerala Shoodras (who have historically aligned with Nampoothiris, the upper caste Brahmins and considered as upper caste by themselves as well as by the Caste hierarchy in Kerala, being second only to Nampoothiris in most instances) in the communist movement has caused a relative or near total absence of Dalits in their leadership. Communist parties have not been able to come to terms with this reality and live in a wishful world where everything is explained away by the evasive category of class politics. But to accuse, as Isaac does in his article, that the communist movement is responsible for the low socio economic standard of Dalits in Kerala is not historically or politically accurate. Their failures to address the question of Dalits and Adivasis are legendary. No doubts about that. Their approach to the Dalit question and the Adivasi question in Kerala has been at best insensitive and at worst reactionary. But it is part of the larger Shoodra politics in Kerala. Communist party has been high jacked by Shoodras and from land reforms to Narendran commission, it could reflect only Shoodra aspirations. But to hold communists responsible for the marginalization of Dalit literature in Kerala etc, as has been attempted by Isaac, is being acutely bereft of any understanding of the history of Kerala literature and its evolution. Dalit themes were brought to the mainstream of Malayalam literature by writers who had close relations with the communist movement. If CI Isaac ever cared, as a history teacher, to look at the dramatic shifts in literary narratives in Malayalam in 1930s and decided to be honest with his own self, he would never have made this totally erroneous statement. It was caste Hindus, the Thampurans (Lords) of the Sahithya Parishads who always tried to belittle the contributions of Dalits.
Moreover, it was in 1896 that the Ezhava Memorial was submitted to the Travancore Government demanding job opportunities for Ezhavas, much before SNDP was formed! And this was against what Ezhavas thought as a betrayal of the Shoodra (Nairs) dominated Malayali Memorial in 1894 for job opportunities for "Malayalis" which when practiced became job opportunities only for Nairs! Secondly as commonly believed by some scholars there wasn’t much of a "conversion" from caste based politics to class based politics. His
torically, all lower castes belonged to the have-nots in Kerala and Caste based movements were in that sense already class based movements. The Kantian-Marxian concept of a ‘class for itself’ is a historically and theoretically untenable concept.
Communist party emerged in Kerala in late 1930s. Immediately after that they had to follow a collaborationist politics in support of the War which limited their potential for organizing any major movement during that time. At that time they were involved in "Grow more food campaign" "increase production campaign" "defend motherland campaign" “anti-hoarding campaign” etc., and many of their workers joined the army and went to far away places such as Ireland to fight for the British. At that time, the caste based movements of Dalits in Kerala joined hands with the anti-imperialist struggle and this made a great difference in the political scenario in Kerala.
Interestingly, in the caste polarization of Hindus, CI Isaac sees a “minority conspiracy”. What is his evidence? As a history teacher, he brings in the “Abstention movement” as evidence to substantiate his conspiracy theory. This I should say is the only ingenious part of his article. He actually says “events that have taken place in this state since the days of the Nivarthana (abstention) agitation of 1932 to the fourteenth Lok Sabha election of 2004” testify to his theory. But the events he narrates other than the Abstention movement, have nothing to do with anybody’s conspiracy to “polarize Hindus”. But Abstention movement was a polarizing force. Nonetheless, what he conveniently supresses is the fact that the movement was the result of the intensification of the polarization precipitated by caste Hindus themselves. By rejecting proportional representation in Sree Moolam Praja Sabha (The Legislative Assembly of Travancore), for minorities and non Shoodras, caste Hindus reinforced a polarization that began immediately after the Malayali memorial in 1894. Abstention movement was the culmination of a series of caste struggles that challenged the upper caste domination in Travancore society in the beginning decades of the 20th century. Or perhaps from the time of the great Dalit leader Ayyankali’s famous “Villuvandi Yaathra” (travel in a bullock cart through public roads) in 1893 through forbidden roads defying the ban on Dalits’ access to public roads. Mannathu Padmanabhan, the Nair leader who undertook a “Padayaathra” in support of the Vaikkom Sathyagraha, (an agitation for lifting the ban on access to Temple roads for Dalits in the shanty town of Vaikom in 1920s) that attracted national attention through Gandhi’s involvement, vehemently opposed proportional representation to non Shoodra Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the Assembly. NSS supported the Vaikkom Sathyagraha because the “Skhethra Thyaga Samaram” (Temple Avoidance Movement) organized by Ezhavas in Travancore during c.1820 was a huge success. This movement asked Ezhavas and other lower castes not to pay offerings in Hindu temples. This had resulted in enormous loss of revenue to the Temples. “We want your money but we won’t give you any political power” was the message of the upper caste Hindus to oppressed communities. This attitude of denying political power to non-caste Hindus was what precipitated the Abstention Movement. It was not a minority conspiracy. It was a movement to assert the political identity of both minorities as well as lower castes in Kerala.
CI Isaac uses information from a Malayalam periodical editorial to drive home the point that minorities are economically well off due to the fact that they form a significant proportion of the NRKs in Kerala. This is indeed a known fact. Seeking employment outside the state has traditionally a minority phenomenon due to the historical fact that the major productive asset in the pre independent Kerala, land, was virtually the monopoly of caste Hindus. In the post independent period this tendency got reinforced when land reforms failed to produce the desired economic impacts. Migration has been thus the direct result of the social and economic situation of the virtual monopoly of caste Hindus on the means of production in the colonial agrarian economy in Kerala. The economic struggle and survival strategies of minorities to escape from the rigidities of a social system that economically oppressed them cannot be brought as a testimony to their “domination”.
One of the clear examples of distortion of historical facts and/or a conscious effort to interpret them wrongly is seen in the desription of the impacts of land reforms in Kerala. The article talks about “annihilation of Hindu land ownership” through land reforms. Anyone who looks at the tenurial relations in Kerala before land reforms will invariably find that the vast majority of tenants were upper caste Nairs. If one looks at T C Verghese's study which predates land reforms or reports on agricultural conditions in the three regions of Kerala including Tampy's report on impact on fragmentation of land holdings in Travancore in the 1930s, it can easily be found that Shoodra castes/communities dominated the land holding structure as immediate tenants to landlords. The way land reforms were conceived that it was redistribution of land to the tenants and freeing them from rental exploitation of landlords, naturally benefited them.
The author keeps making unsubstantiated assertions on the basis of unsubstantiated observations which are further based on shaky statistics. After drawing an untenable argument of an exclusive “demographic and socio-economic” decline of “Hindus” he goes on to identify evidence for “Christianization” and “Islamization” of Kerala society as perpetuating ‘Hindu defeat’. The only evidences he give are an oblique reference to inclusion of traditional minority art forms/folklore in School Youth Festivals and an alleged exclusion of non Muslims in Arabic Youth Festivals. I don’t have factual information about the latter, but I can only sympathize with the inferior aesthetic sensibility of a Malayali who resents the inclusion of traditional art forms of minorities which are culturally well integrated into the aesthetic domain of Kerala over centuries and appreciated by art lovers across all castes and communities, such as ‘aravana muttu’, ‘oppana’, ‘maappila pattu’ and ‘maargam kali’ in School Youth Festival in which many non minority children also participate. But if he considers this as evidence of Christianization and Islamization, I don’t even have sympathies since it is part of a calculated attempt to subvert the efforts to inculcate multiculturalism in the hearts of our children as they grow up in a pluralistic political climate.
The most cynical part of his article is where he talks about beef eating in Kerala. He creates an imaginary Kerala where “a conspiracy is going on to force the younger generation of Hindus to become beef-eaters” by minorities. This is, he says, attempted “in the name of friendship”. For him “All these are indications of Hindu alienation and distancing from its cultural domain”. Prof. D. N. Jha, a historian from Delhi University, in his well researched work, “Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions” talks about the larger scenario of beef eating traditions in India. I don’t feel the need to repeat all those points here. But I am unable to comprehend the fact that CI Isaac, who explains an (unsubstantiated) increased appetite for beef among “Hindu boys” (sic) as being forced by their friends from minority communities, is a history teacher by profession. I think before making such bland statements about history of beef eating in Kerala, as a history tea
cher, he should at least consult the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha Proceedings when a private Bill to ban slaughter of Cows in Travancore was discussed in 1930s.
He gives the statistics of ownership of schools in Kerala to argue that minorities “control” the education scene in Kerala. I don’t have the data before me to verify his facts which he quotes from a “Kesari” article, a local RSS mouth piece. Even if this is true, the situation has not been the result of any conspiracy by minorities, but a direct consequence of their attempt to improve their living conditions. While the upper castes in Kerala always resented attempts to provide education to lower castes, minorities and their institutions have consistently supported universal education particularly educational opportunities for Dalits and girls. The fact is that the social and economic progress of the minority communities and lower castes is somehow linked to the opening up of new economic opportunities in the period 1850-1900 related to the development of plantation agriculture and growth in spices trade. One incident that T K Madhavan, a reformer and freedom fighter belonging to the Ezhava community, mentions in his Memoir is indicative of the mismatch between social status and economic progress that the community had made: Alummootil Channar, an Ezhava who owned a car in the 1930s was not allowed to travel in it through the roads near to any temple where as his Nair driver can ride it anywhere. So when the car approached a temple road, the owner had to get down and walk through some near by bushes. Diffusion of education was seen by OBCs, Dalits and minorities in Kerala as a major medium for attaining the social status that they lacked. It is part of post colonial Kerala history that these communities have struggled to consolidate and build on past achievements.
He argues that “Hindu share in the industry, agriculture and commerce is 28, 24 and 22 per cent respectively” where as “the Muslim share is 30, 23 and 40 per cent and Christian share is 35, 40 and 36 per cent respectively” quoting a 2002 issue of Mathrubhoomi, a Malayalam daily. I haven’t had an opportunity to verify this quote, but I can clearly say that the way he has presented it makes it a kind of vague and bland statistics. What does he mean by share here? Number of entrepreneurs? Share of total revenue? Profits? Capital? Investment in stocks and shares? How was it calculated? In a state where jobs were denied to minorities in the Government sector for centuries, is it thoroughly unreasonable to find their concentration in other sectors of economic activity? Ironically, most of the “facts” that CI Isaac provides on closer examination turn against his own assertions and inferences.
Although he uses data and statistics giving an impression of adherence and dedication to facts-a trendy factualism- his use of statistics is doing more disservice to the discipline than most of the insulting clichés (like “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” etc.) about it has ever done. The most interesting example is on the statistics on Hindu population projection: He says: “Since Independence, for every decade, the Hindu population in Kerala has been falling at the rate of more than 1 per cent. If this trend continues, within not less than three decades Hindus will lose their majority status in the state. At present, technically the Hindus are the majority community”. If the rate of growth of population of Hindus falls at 1 percent per decade, they will become a minority in “three decades”! In a state where Christian population is declining at a faster rate!! Is this how he teaches history also? Forget statistics, historical demography is an expanding discipline and I am wondering if he has ever heard of its fundamentals.
‘Organizer’ and CI Isaac are trying to divert our attention from the fast crystallizing pressure to implement Narendran Commission recommendations which directs the Kerala Government to conduct a special recruitment drive among Dalits and OBCs for filling reservation vacancies in the government sector. The attempt to focus on Nair-Ezhava unity is a calculated move to divide the emerging political coalition of Ezhavas, Muslims and Dalits in Kerala on the issue of reservations in general and implementation of Narendran Commission Report in particular. He thinks that the Ezhava dominated SNDP’s indifference to Narendran commission report based on their belief that Ezhavas by and large have not been left out of the reservation net can be used to forge an alliance of SNDP and NSS to weaken the pro-reservation coalition. Positing the idea of an imminent Christianization and Islamization of Kerala provides the much needed ideological basis for this political operation. Further, it also tries to seek ideological capital for the so called “third front” led by BJP in which a splinter group from the Kerala Congress led by P C Thomas MP has already become a prominent ally.
CI Isaac is not just “more of Joseph Pulikkunnel” (a relatively better known minority-baiter and Christian author in Kerala) that we know of. He is an ideologue of a emerging Hindutva politics which wants to weaken the cause of unification of other backward castes and communities (OBCs) and Dalits in Kerala to serve the interests of caste Hindus and rich Christians. But this attempt is going to be defeated since the OBCs and Dalits are able to see through its treacherous politics and designs.