Caste, land, representation: Questioning Kerala Model

January 29, 2017, 3:18 pm
Caste, land, representation: Questioning Kerala Model
Caste, land, representation: Questioning Kerala Model

Caste, land, representation: Questioning Kerala Model

After Chalo Una and Chalo Udupi, now it is Chalo Thiruvananthapuram. Taking a leaf out of the Dalits upsurge in different parts of the country, Kerala, is now witnessing a movement questioning the development priorities the state has pursued in the last so many decades. The much celebrated Kerala Model which boast itself as an alternative path of inclusive development has now been questioned by the Dalits as one of the important factors for their deprivation. Different organisations associated with this programme question the stand taken by the left parties on caste and land rights. They argue that the much-debated land reforms undertaken by the communist government in the state have also failed to ensure land rights for the marginalised sections of the society. The capitalist and caste forces, they allege, systematically pushed the Dalits and other marginalised sections from their land with the connivance of the major political parties.

Chalo Thiruvananthapuram, planned as a series of protest, therefore, said to be an important step towards the political mobilisation of the weaker sections. Unlike in other parts of the country, in Kerala, Dalits question not just the Sangh Parivar but also the mainstream left parties, with the slogan "wipe out caste colonies and reconstruct Kerala Model".

According to Jignesh Mevani, who emerged as the icon of Dalit uprising in Gujarat what the Chalo Thiruvananthapuram movement envisages are months-long rallies, public functions, discussions and other gatherings for Dalit emancipation at all levels.

“Our mantra will be: ‘Give us land or send us all to jail’. It is high time all those in power stop making a mockery of our plight. This is not going to be just a day’s protest, but the launch of a sustained struggle for Dalit emancipation at all levels,” says Jignesh.

M Geethanandan, General Convener of Bhoo Adhikara Samrakshana Samithi, that coordinates the movement tells SouthLive that Chalo Thiruvananthapuram is not just a land struggle.

“It can not be reduced to just another land struggle. It will talk about the rights of those marginalised by the so-called Kerala model of development including Adivasis, Dalits, Dalit Christians, estate labourers, fishers, women, sexual minorities, backward communities, and linguistic-racial-religious minorities,” says Geethanandan.

The inaugural programme will be followed by a foot march that begins from Kasaragod on 1 April 2017 and ends at the state capital Thiruvananthapuram by the last week of May.

As of now, around 80 small and big organisations have extended their support for the cause and it is increasing day by day. Our proclaimed goal is to break down the much-celebrated Kerala model of development and to eliminate Dalit colonies across the state. People who were cast away to colonies, slums and wastelands should get their lands and due recognition. There must be a pro-marginalised approach in the policies and vision of the democratic governments that have been ruling the state
M Geethanandan, General Convener of Bhoo Adhikara Samrakshana Samithi

Creating an awareness among the public about caste issues would be the major priority of the protest.

“Once people start raising questions about their rights, we can think of offering them alternatives. By end of the journey, we are hoping to have a complete database of the underprivileged sections in our hands which will help us to prioritise our needs and think of addressing it one by one,” said the Adivasi Gotra Mahasabha leader.

Geethanandan, meanwhile, ascertains that electoral politics have never been their motives.

Many groups participating in the march blame Kerala model of development for the continuous distress of the marginalised sections.

The Kerala model is the sole responsible for making those who depended on resources from nature, soil, forest and freshwaters refugees on their homeland
Sunny M. Kapikkad, Chairman of Bhoo Adhikara Samrakshana Samithiti

According to the Rajamanikyam Report, 58 percent of the revenue land (that comes around 5 lakh acres of land) is belonging to big corporates like Harrison-Tata. They occupied this land through false legal documents, by casting away its owners like farmers and Adivasis, Sunny cites official records to drive home his point.

Half a lakh of landless Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised sections were mercilessly relocated to caste colonies. They were, instead, given 3 or 4 cents of land.

“Another major contribution of Kerala model of development is caste colonies. It created a perception that Dalits are meant to live in ghettos away from all luxuries of the modern life. Caste-colonies should be eliminated to make their entry to the mainstream easier,” adds Sunny M Kapikkad.

Chalo Thiruvananthapuram will also target exposing the 'double standard' of Left parties in Kerala, when it comes to addressing Dalit and minority issues.

According to manifesto of the movement published by the Bhoo Adhikara Samrakshana Samithi, the mainstream Left of Kerala had played a major role in marginalising Dalits by not acknowledging the grave caste issues.

“The Communist party that came into power by the support of working class which comprised of Dalits and other backward sections, however, forgot them once it gained an undeniable position in the state ,” reads the manifesto.

A still from Chalo Una
A still from Chalo Una

Prominent left parties like CPI(M) have always been a blockade before Dalit emancipation in the state, Dalit activist Mrudula Devi tells SouthLive. She said Dalit issues are just a means of garnering electoral support for the left parties and it is utter foolishness to expect them coming up with something concrete and solid for upholding their rights.

Communist party is responsible for the plight of Dalits and unending miseries of marginalized sections. It betrayed thousands of Dalit lives that believed in it and turned a complete blind eye to their issues. Now, it turned out to be a party with only caste people on the top
Mrudula Devi, Dalit activist

Skepticism against left parties is prevalent among the Dalit activists and it is not confined to the mainstream left parties. “Some left-wing environmental organisations and other left parties have given extended their support for our protest. But, we know that they have their own vested interests and we don't expect nothing from them,” says Sunny M Kapikkad.

Countering these arguments against the left parties, Dr. K. Raviraman, Kerala State Planning Board member tells SouthLive that if any party in the state had done something for Dalit and other backward communities, it is left parties.

It is evident from focusing all the criticism over the Communist party that other political parties are not even worth mentioning in this regard. I agree there are shortcomings in the communist parties approach. But when compared to other parties they have undertaken several measures for bringing the marginalised to the mainstream
Dr. K. Raviraman, Kerala State Planning Board member

He also added that there are a number of exclusive projects for Dalit rising in the pipeline and they are pondering on delivering the best for the otherised communities.

“I personally have always been keen on such issues and have visited the land struggle spot of Chengara twice. In the planning board, I have raised such issues on several occasions and will keep doing it. In such times, standing united would be more fruitful,” he said.

A still from Chalo Udupi
A still from Chalo Udupi

The deprivation of the Dalits and marginalised in the state is not confined to the question of land. Even in areas like education, the percentage of Dalit students in higher studies is very low. And the activists allege it as the result of the insensitivity of the major political parties.

“A few years back, the government removed seat reservation for SC and ST at Devaswom colleges. The government took this decision on its own without any kind of protest or pressure from other communities to remove it. Such episodes reveal how sincere these political fronts are in their 'pro-Dalit' stand,” says Sunny M Kapikkad.

Though Chalo Thiruvananthapuram speaks about inclusiveness, some allege that organisers were reluctant to include Muslim organisations initially. According to Ajit Kumar A S, a Dalit activist, some of the organisers even defended it saying that the Muslims have been connected to power centres in one or another way in the history of the state. He added that the organisers of the protest changed their decision later on after their agenda got exposed through social media.

“There is already a Dalit- religious minority- backward class alliance in Kerala. The new alliance is named Dalit-Adivasi- other backward class alliance excluding religious minorities. I can't get the logic behind excluding Muslims and other religious minorities, at a time they are under severe threat of a fascist rule,” Ajith Kumar said.

He also took to Facebook to problematise the slogan raised by the movement. He termed slogan "reconstruct Kerala model" as the weakest slogan that he had heard in the recent times.

“The political questions regarding the issue of land of Dalits , adivasis and other landless people has a history. It didn't start with Kerala model which is just an idea of a "development model" which came to scene only in mid seventies. The land issue of the Dalits has started much before that,” he wrote on Facebook.

Responding to the criticism, General Convener of the alliance Geethanandan said that it is true that religious minorities like Muslims have always been part of the power structure in the state.

“Muslims have an inevitable positive role in building of the state, including strengthening its economic base. Since they have been under the power structure of the ruling governments, they have not taken any notable pro-Dalit stand till the date,” he said.

A still from Standing stir ( Nilpu Samaram)
A still from Standing stir ( Nilpu Samaram)

Sunny M Kapikkad told SouthLive that the organisers have invited several Muslim organisations to the programme including Welfare party and SDPI.

“We have also held an unofficial first level discussion with Muslim League. Since they are part of a political front in the state we have not officially invited them to the programme,” he added.

When contacted by SouthLive, E.T. Mohammad Basheer, National Secretary of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), said that the party has not received any invitation to the programme yet.

The Welfare Party of India national secratary Ambujakshan, meanwhile, said that the party has received the official call from the orgnisers and he will take part in it representing his organisation.

In Kerala, Welfare Party has been an unavoidable presence in the battle for social justice. And we are happy to take part in this new initiative
Ambujakshan, Welfare Party of India national secratary

The demands of the movement are as follows:

In the last two decades, Dalits and Adivasis in Kerala have undertaken different struggles including Muthanaga and Chengara. Despite the rhetoric, the mainstream political parties have so far failed to address their concerns. How the united struggle of the various organisations is going to change the approach of the ruling parties remains to be seen.