Kerala and the Malayalee mind

via Dr. T.S. Girish Kumar published on March 20, 2006

Culture of a person could be the one in which one attains consciousness, consciousness, here to mean one’s becoming conscious of himself and the world around, consciousness again to be understood different from mere awareness as well. I had spent my life till the age of forty in different parts of Northern India, and perhaps this must have made me a different Malayalee, Mallu as one of my friend Rati of Calcutta connotatively calls! And my home coming to Kerala to the Mahatma Gandhi University after living in Punjab University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the North eastern Hill University had much mysteries as well as surprises in store for me. Indeed, I found myself in a strange place, among strangers, and who all spoke the same language as mine. I was supposed to be home and comfortable, and yet I became miserable, with all kinds of unfamiliar and unknown phenomena around myself. I must have lived in almost every part of India, and also in one of the most hostile part, which is the North-East India, where I found the people are alienated from the Indian Cultural mainstream, primarily through the Missionary work and Christianisation through Westernisation. Indeed I am familiar with the phenomenon of Indians getting alienated from Indianness, both individually and socially, but in Kerala, where I find the same alienation, but with differences, and with reasons much different from what I came across earlier in other places. And this is what precisely made me to reflect in terms of what is wrong with my people and my place, and it took some time before I reached the conclusions that I am going to present now.


Let me stake my first premise, that Mallus are an alienated lot. And Kerala is an alienated Indian State. For this, I do not think that I have to demonstrate many arguments, and if you are a Mallu and if you understand the Indian mind, then you know it. But for the alienated ones, my position would indeed be contestable, and they are going to turn their lungs inside out doing it, to which I need not to pay any attention for the moment. Now given the view that Kerala is alienated from Indian mainstream, let me go into the reasons and possible causes to this unfortunate phenomena.


Kerala’s first exposure to External world.


Look at the geographical situation of Kerala. It is a long stretch of land, and to the east, the formidable hills and to the west a long stretch of Arabian Sea. The north and south are tapering ends. In effect, Kerala is practically cut off from the rest of India in a big way because of the mountains, and this must have made interaction with the rest of India to a limited minimum. But the long sea cost provided many ancient ports, which turned into great trading places over the period of time. The land was already rich in production of popular spices, and traders from far-flung land came to trade on the product of the land, spices primarily. Then came big godowns of many foreigners, they stocked their commodities, stacked the local goods of spices, they soled and bought. Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese, Arabs etc. all were involved in this great trading fest, and subsequently, some even posted their own troops for the protection of their warehouses.


This was the first ever popular interaction the commoners of Kerala had with the world outside, and this taught them traders ethics of interacting with one another in terms of profit making. It is obvious and most natural for a trader to be so, no matter from which nation he comes, no matter how high and philosophical his thinking otherwise could be, insofar as he is a trader, this is his work and his ethics. Without this trader ethics, he is not going to survive. The interaction with traders is the first lesson Keralites got in materialistic out look and materialism itself, his first step towards ego-centricism. Here he started learning to increase material wealth, of making money and believing that it could comfort him and solve his problems.


The Christian Missionaries


Then came the Christian Missionaries to Kerala in a very early period itself. Christianity is basically a materialistic religion, and the Missionaries were (are) convinced that they are doing service to mankind by spreading the Gospel. They would go to any extent to make another man a Christian, and they had indeed adopted all ways and means to this. They gave money and other material comforts like promised social status to the low casts etc. they constructed Churches and Schools together, they educated the low casts as education was denied to them, they installed their own printing presses, printed Gospels and gave them to the neo-literate to read and understand. In fact, the instrument of Christian conversion was exploitation of the helpless through offering material means.


This becomes the second lesson in materialistic out look for the Kerala society. In short, the Christian Missionaries made Kerala society more materialistic.


The coming of Marxism 


And then came Marxism. Marxism found the land so fertile for their materialistic Philosophy to take roots. The society was already well versed in the materialistic outlook, and they could go from village to village to spread the new Gospel. Further, the society of Kerala was so badly caste ridden, which indeed made Swami Vivekananda to call Kerala the mad house of India. Predominantly, the many casts were divided into two groupings, the higher ones called “Savarnas” and the lower ones called the “Avarnas”. The Marxists took good advantage of this phenomenon, and effectively translated Marxian “Class Theory” into the Savarna – Avarna distinctions. The Savarnas were pictured as the Bourgeoisie and the Avarnas became the Proletariats. Now, according to Marx, the Bourgeoisie – Proletariat relation is that of a ‘Necessary Antagonism’, and through this, Savarnas became the class enemies of the Avarnas. This had divided the Hindu society into two enemy groups, and the Marxists even succeeded in staging a proletarian revolution in the Bolshevik pattern against the state, but it ended miserably in the death of so many poor paddy workers. The Marxist leadership callously and cunningly lied to the ignorant paddy workers that the guns of soldiers do not have any bullets in them; they are only to make noises to scare away people as we scare away animals using crackers. The poor people believed this and jumped in front of the guns, and died in many numbers.


With the Class theory becoming Caste distinction, the low casts became enemies to the high casts. A Brahmin became the first enemy as landlord and high cast. This enmity alienated the low casts from the quality concept of Brahmanya, and Hindutva itself. Hindutva is pictured as essentially that of the upper casts, and it is taught that the low casts shall have nothing to do with that, and further, Hindutva is an instrument for oppression in the hands of the Upper casts, as Lenin said, ‘the state is necessarily an instrument for oppression in the hands of the bourgeoisie’. For the Marxists, where end justifies means, the aim is internationalism and nationalism becomes a threat in itself. Perhaps they did realise the source of Indian integration and unity as spiritualism and Hindutva, and they did everything to divide the Hindu society.


Caste organisations


During the reformation period, Kerala saw the building of many Caste organisations. This started with the downtrodden, in an attempt towards social justice and equal opportunities. So far the objectives were natural and good, but here too the Marxists and Christian Missionaries played their role. Marxists infiltrated into Caste organisations and turned the cast groups against Hindutva, making Hindutva alien to them, and thus alienating them from the Vedic culture. For the Missionaries this was an opportunity to get sympathies of the low casts, and they took advantage of the situation by helping them to revolt against the upper casts, and turning them against the Vedic culture and Hindutva. The Missionaries offered Social justice, equality and material well being through job opportunities, if one is prepared to choose Christian religion.


In effect, Caste organisations became a watertight compartment for Hindutva, and in fact they functioned against the Vedic religion, and got themselves estranged from it. Both the Missionaries and the Marxists functioned as catalysts to this unfortunate estrangement. Even today, most people prefer a caste identity to a religious identity, and some chances of a redemption to this phenomenon can be seen through the works of RSS and VHP only.


The Muslim factor


Kerala is still suffering from the Muslim factor. As it is the case all over the world, the Muslims keep religion as their identity here too. It is indeed strange for the Muslims to be so, you ask a Srilankan Tamil, a Bangladeshi Bengali, and he doesn’t say that he is either Tamil or Bengali, but he says that he is a Muslim! I noticed this as a peculiar phenomenon only with the Muslims. They had been always trying hard to maintain separatism and separate identity etc. it is interesting to note that the Muslim separatism started first in India in early 18th century with the Urdu problem. People like Sir Sayyid Ahamed Khan, Jamaluddin Afghani etc were the autochthones of Muslim separatism and they eventually succeeded in carving out some portions of India for them, only to find further differences among them and fight on again and again. As the former Principal of Aligarh College Theodore Morrison says in his book “The Imperial Rule………”, the Muslims have nothing in common with the Hindus and Sikhs except the fact that they happened to share the soil. And if a Muslim nation like Afghanistan were to invade India, the Muslims would gladly join hands with the invaders whom they consider as their brothers against the Hindus and the Sikhs. Perhaps Theodore Morrison spells out the real character of the Muslims in general, who would betray any nation for the sake of the Muslim ‘Umma’.


In Kerala, the Muslims have grown to be a formidable force. Their Political party, the Indian Union Muslim League is mostly in power as a partner to either of the coalition government. One must know that this Indian Union Muslim League is the corollary to the All India Muslim League that was formed in 1906; just one year after Bengal was divided into Hindu and Muslim Bengal in 1905. The division of Bengal was a long dream of the Muslims, and once they got it, the very next year they formed their political party from Dhaka to stake their claim for a separate Muslim Nation, which eventually they obtained. It is the same people who are in power today, and they speak of Indian Nationalism, secularism and what not. One must be a complete fool not to realise how farce their statements are, and how empty they sound. But then, one of their men is in the Central government ministry also, the Muslim League is ruling India after dividing India!


Indeed the Muslims made their space very effective in Kerala, and they shall do everything against Hindutva and Indian culture. They get support from the oil countries, their families are economically well off through jobs in Arabian Gulf. They do all they can to weaken the Hindu society and create differences among the Hindus, and to this effect, they incarnate themselves as the saviors of the low caste Hindus.


Perhaps all these and indeed more accounts for strangeness with the society of Kerala, and Kerala’s alienation from Hindutva and Indian mainstream. The ego-centricism and self-orientation of an average Mallu is akin to an urbanised modern western oriented person, for whom time becomes money. Westernisation and selfishness is mostly the problem with our great cities, but in Kerala it is a universal.


This is an ongoing process, and it is constantly strengthened through the Malayalam media, literature and education. The Marxists, Muslims and Christians had long made their space very strong, and the majority Hindu is nowhere in the scene. They monopolised our Universities, and are very formidable; formidable enough not let an authentic Hindu in. Hindutva is fascism, and all of them are one in the war against it. To my knowledge, I am the only one in our Universities with an RSS background, albeit there are some sympathisers. Thus, for Hindutva, it is a three frontal war, the Marxists, Christians and Muslims. Of course, there are many in our Colleges, but they wont have mush to do with the making of syllabuses, researches, and such things.


This shall change, but it shall take a long time. Kerala is the land of Sankara after all, and how long this shall go on? The Hindu is becoming aware and conscious, and like in the case of Sankara, when the Lion Sankara roared, all others went in oblivion. A re-structuring and re-awakening is surely impending, but how long this shall take remains to be seen.


(Dr. T.S. Girish Kumar is a Reader, School of Social Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala – 686041. Email [email protected] & [email protected]).

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