Friday, July 21, 2006

Is the society in Kerala moving backwards???

A casual look into the tradition of the social reforms movement in Kerala will bring out two features. One is that the ``other’’ was located within each of the social groups. In other words, the Backward Castes mobilization was not so much against the Nairs or the Namboodiris. Sree Narayana Guru, for instance, did not campaign against the others. His campaign, instead, was against irrationality within the Ezhava community. And his prescription was that if the Ezhavas were denied entry into the Shiva temples, then it was imperative for the Ezhavas to set up their own Shiva temple.

The second aspect of the social reforms tradition in Kerala is the foregrounding of the women’s question. In a sense, the strength of the reforms tradition in Kerala was derived out of this. By locating the discrimination against the women as the ``other’’ the reforms tradition in Kerala did not end up in any exclusionary framework. This perhaps is the reason why we do not find caste clashes in Kerala today as it happens in many other parts of India.

The tradition of reforms thus belonged to the cross section of social groups in Kerala. The Yogashema Sabha, set up and steered by a group of radical young men born in the Namboodiri community plunged into a campaign for reforms within the community and the focus of the movement was the emancipation of the Namboodiri women. E.M.S.Namboodiripad (who led the communist movement later) along with M.T.Bhattadiripad and I.C.P.Namboodiri steered the Sabha. And they achieved a lot by way of changes in the status of the Namboodiri women.

In the Nair community, similarly, a generation of men from within the community took up the battle against practices or customs that discriminated the Nair women. And this ensured the liberation of the Nair women from inhuman customs that reduced them into mere objects. Though the Nair women were victims of a social order that reduced them into objects to satiate the Namboodiri men, the reform movements did not place the Namboodiri as the ``other.’’ And this ensured that the reforms agenda did not end up into an exclusionist movement.

The provocation to recall all this now is the absurd debate in the Kerala society in the past two weeks over the entry of a few celebrity women into the shrines in Sabarimala and in the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvanthapuram. The point at issue are different in each of this. In case of the Padmaabhaswamy temple, it is about the entry of a non-Hindu. Well, if Meera Jasmine decided to worship the deity there, she must be at liberty to do that. For belief in God qualifies someone to be a Hindu. The tragedy is that Yesudas, whose rendition of the kirtanas and devotional songs are played in almost all temples across Kerala is denied the pleasure of entering those temples and worshipping the deity there.

It is, however, a different matter that he is not denied entry into Sabarimala. Let us thank Lord Ayyappa for making it clear, several hundred years ago, that anyone who wanted to worship him was welcome to Sabarimala and that the devotees religion did not matter. Lord Ayyappa was also against discriminating men on the basis of their caste inasmuch as entering the shrine is concerned. The Lord was a social reformer even in such ancient times.

That the society in Kerala today is caught in a sickening debate on the entry of women, particularly two starlets of yesteryears into the Sabarimala shrine is sad. But then, the larger cause for concern is the deafening silence from the leaders of the various political parties in Kerala. And this is more so in case of the Left parties given their record in this regard. Recall the fact that A.K.Gopalan, an atheist by conviction, was in the forefront of several agitations demanding the right of the backward castes and the Dalits to enter temples!

For all this and for the sake of carrying forward the tradition of social reforms in Kerala and rendering this into an integral part of the political discourse in Kerala, it is imperative for the communists and their fellow travelers to speak out against the irrational customs that deny the women their right to worship a deity and enter shrines that they want. Any hesitation on this will only take the Kerala society back into the dark ages where women were treated as mere objects. This will be unfortunate.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always had my doubts on this issue. Lets say I start a religion/group/association tomorrow. Would it be wrong for me to dictate who should join and who shouldn't join my group? If you don't subscribe to my beliefs I obviously wouldn't have you as part of my group/religion/association. Why should there be a fundamental right for you to join my group? You can have the fundamental right to criticise my beliefs and so on and so forth but I can't see why/how you should/can have/claim a fundamental right to join my group/religion/association.

Abdus

8:37 AM  
Blogger Vibha said...

this is a valid point that you have raised...abdus
but then i think what we are attempting to challenge is the irrationality upon which such discrimination is based...and as part of an attempt to build a progressive society founded on principles of equality and non discrimination can we allow such associations which base their memebership on irrationality to be allowed without protesting? agreed religion is man made but there is a huge section of people which believes in the concept of God and a section that believes that the only qualification to be a member of any religion is belief or faith. which is why we need to stress upon reforms in religious sects to come from within the sect. i don't know the extent of sucess of such reforms if they were to be superimposed.

after all there have been several customs in the past that have been based on such irrationality which have long been challenged and outlawed. e.g the devdasi system.

and then of course the question of whether religion itself is rational to be able to accomodate rationality...now that i think is subject to the interpretation of religion itself.

2:54 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Abdus,
I agree with your contention that those who join a group/association must agree with the terms of their association. But then, you know as much as I do that association into a religion or a sect is not based on the individuals choice and is instead by virtue of his/her birth. In other words, the association is not voluntary and hence the terms of association cannot be binding. THE PROBLEM WITH RELIGION, AS IT IS PRACTICED, IS THAT IT CONDITIONS THE HUMAN BEING AGAINST RAISING THE QUESTION OF A DEMOCRATIC CHOICE. And this is the hassle and hence it becomes anyone's rights to seek destruction of the edifice that is built on undemocracy and breeds unfreedom.

Am I making sense???

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your point but I'm concerned about how far this argument can be pushed. Would you want all religious institutions to open its doors to everyone? Should mosques/churches for instance allow people of any religious denomination to visit them? Should mosques/churches/temples allow people of any gender to visit them? for instance, would you discourage even segregation of the sexes which is as 'liberally progressive' as most mosques go?
I think this is going too far. To enforce socially liberal opinions on everyone in society is to deprive it of its vitality and ironically the things which liberalism prides itself on (like diversity of opinion). Social liberalism, in this format, becomes a religion that is thrust on everyone.
I personally think the better strategy for liberals in a case like this is to criticise these beliefs for being at variance with human rights and thereby dissuade people from being members of such religions/religious practices.
Abdus

8:07 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

The campaign for reforms and challenging the unreason is not necessarily a social liberal position. It is, instead, based on a very broad definition of human rights and just like discrimination based on caste is to be challenged, discrimination based on gender is to be questioned and defied.

I think you will see this argument as valid if you place the caste based discrimination, which according to the faithful is sanctioned by the Hindu religious code in place of gender based discrimination.

Am I wrong???

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Cheri said...

On Kerala, as it increasingly loses the radicalism which so defined and made it, I can only quote a verse: shabaab-e-raftah ki ab koi yaadgaar nahi / bahaar mein bhi ab rangiini-e-bahaar nahi. (There are no memories of the past youth / Even in spring, there is not the colour of spring.)

That aside, religion in India is not completely separated from the state. The temples in Kerala, for instance, are governed by the Devaswom Boards, which are government bodies. Their funds and officers are drawn from the government.

To argue, therefore, that the temples have unfettered rights to decide on who can and who cannot enter, is wrong. (The de-secularisation of the state is bad for religion too!)

Further, religion as a personal belief may seek the protection that is due to thought and belief. When religion becomes a deciding factor of society and the state, equal to a political ideology that seeks to shape society – and not the practicing person alone - there is an equal right of the state and the society to regulate its more public aspects to confirm with social responsibilities.

Therefore, if religion arrogates for itself the right to alter society, society should also be granted the right to alter religion.

And yes, Abdus, I completely agree with you that we should attempt to criticise religion and dissuade people from joining such religions; with the qualification that ‘religion,’ in this case, must mean religion as the purely personal.

A personal digression: in the days before ACJ, before I was aware of the modernity/post-modernity/ alternative modernity debates, I had read Paulose Mar Paulose’s “Encounters in Humanization,” where he attempts a dialogue between Christianity and Marxism. After reading it, I felt that in an era where science had replaced god as the rationale for things, the role of religion must be not securing the next world, but securing this world.

In the same vein, the Christian imagery of Christ on the cross was a blow to the quasi-karmic (well, almost!) idea that human suffering was required on account of the original sin. Now that Christ has come, and been sacrificed to redeem man, the idea of suffering is abhorrent, and no man ought to suffer. Thus, the duty of Christianity is not to gain for man the next world, but ensure that the goal of the sacrifice of Christ is met in this world. Which is: an end to suffering.

Any comments?

1:35 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Cheri, you have taken the debate to a higher plane... the only poblem I have is with the paradigm that expects/looks forward or considers it possible to convert religion into a radical platform or a tool for achieving an egalitarian society in the social and the economic sense...

Now, do we realise as to why did religion come into existence in the first place??? I think we all agree that religion is a creature of man and not god!!!!!

Does this qualify to be a comment Cheri???

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Cheri said...

Precisely! I would go one step further and say that god is a creation of man…

One cannot expect that a system that has been put together to disciple the masses into submission to turn into a means of liberation. But, one can always re-read religion, especially movements that seek to use religion as a tool of social change.

They may not have succeeded, but they did hold out promise. They allowed their followers to be simultaneously religious (which, we must admit, sadly, remains the concern of a large majority) and yet not be a slave to the social order that religion presented as the norm. Sree Narayana Guru, for instance. Or liberation theology in Latin America.

As Marx pointed out, the task of history is to establish the truth of this world. The struggle against religion is to illustrate the fallacy of accepting the false hope of an afterworld in exchange for suffering in this world, against an oppressive system that condones injustice in the name of an eternal law.

Marx approvingly cites Luther who emancipated the layman from the priest. Isn’t this a more immediate task in a country like India?

2:38 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Well Cheri,
There are two things. 1. Did Luther, in the final analysis, emencipate man? I think we will agree that the same hold for Sreenarayanaguru too!!!!!!!!

and 2. Do we have to see the merit in something just because Marx said so????? I am raising this, only in the limited context of your reference to Luther... not in a general sense!!!!!!

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Cheri said...

Ans.2. I cannot believe this blasphemy (he he!!!) against Marx :-)

No, Luther did not – that is why I qualified the argument by saying that this was the more immediate task. But Luther’s movement was the first step, as was Sree Narayana Guru’s.

The greatest impediment to social justice in India is based in caste and religion. It operates on the basis of exchanging suffering in this life with a better life in the next. Without cutting through this fatalism …

I agree this is not a single solution, and that this should not operate by itself. But economic emancipation alone may not serve its purpose. It may even be that the benefits of economic emancipation may not be accepted, if social emancipation has not preceded it.

I’m reminded of an incident that Michael Tharakan narrated: sometime during the early years of the 20th century, there was an Ezava businessman (in Trisshur?), the only man in town to have a car. But once inside the town, the man had to disembark from his car, and cross it on foot. His Nair chauffeur, on the contrary, could drive through merrily!

So before Marx, we may need Luther!

About Sree Narayana’s legacy, the current state of the SNDP is enough to tell all.

11:36 PM  

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