Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ensure Life, Land and Self-Rule for Kerala’s Tribal communities

Do not provoke them to another Muthanga; Do not commit them as cannon fodder to the Maoists.

In the light of the cries of agony from the tribal hamlets of Kerala, the last instance of which is the brutal murder of Madhu, the hungry forest dweller of Attappadi in the Palakkad district of Kerala, that has shocked mainstream sensibilities, civil society intervenes.

The following is a joint statement issued by over 50 activists and writers:

The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act that provides for Tribal Self Rule is in force in nearly 1,500 locales in India. Even with substantial erosion of its emancipatory potential, in the last 22 years assertion of the community will of the tribal populations, as for instance in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa, has still been possible through the Act. Even now it is the PESA Act and the Forest Rights Act that serve as starting blocks for the protection of Tribal identity and rights in the country.

The agreements reached between the Kerala Governments lead by Mr. A.K Antony and Mr. Oommen Chandy, concluding two historic agitations by the tribal communities of Kerala, have, in principle concurred with the Kerala tribal communities' right to self-rule. The recommendation to this effect from the last Kerala ruling dispensation is lying for approval before the President of India. Giving due credence to the habitat realities of the tribal populations of Kerala, granting of autonomy and self-rule to tribal hamlets of Kerala is a matter of due diligence and political discretion of the powers that be. It is nothing but the inertia and apathy of the ruling dispensations at the Centre and the State that stand in the way. This is similar to the fate of the Plachimada compensation bill passed by the State legislature which has been languishing for years for want of Central approval.

The case for restoration of alienated tribal land is lying buried among the heaps of cases before the Supreme Court of India. Political will alone stands in the way of its 'anthyodaya' immediacy. The land rights and livelihood rights of the tribal communities too have met a fate similar to their right of self-rule. Maintaining the status quo and continuing the apathy involve the risk of a repeat of Muthanga, or even more ominously, the tribal people turning cannon fodder to Maoist adventurism.

It is against the above backdrop that we urge a vigorous and unrelenting campaign by civil society to restore land and livelihood rights to the tribal communities of Kerala under the overarching umbrella of Tribal Self-Rule. We demand that the State and Central Governments act urgently on the matter and ensure that Land and Self-Rule are institutionalised as inalienable rights of the tribal communities of Kerala.

The signatories include Medha Patkar, Sugathakumari, M.G.S. Narayanan, B.R.P. Bhaskar, Satchidanandan, Sara Joseph, K. Venu, Kaleeswaram Raj, K.G. Sankara Pillai, B. Rajeevan, P. Surendran, T.T. Sreekumar, C.R. Parameswaran, J. Devika, P.K. Parakadav, Neelan and Khadeeja Mumtaz.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Gandhi is dead,
Who’s now Mahatmaji?

On the morning of January 31, 1948, a silent procession was planned in Thiruvananthapuram to mourn Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination the previous evening. It was to start from the Travancore State Congress office and wind up on the Shankummukham beach by evening.

As we were preparing to leave the hostel to join the procession, a friend suggested that we must go wearing black badges. Everybody agreed with the suggestion, but where do we get black badges? Let us try a tailor’s shop, said one. Since shops were unlikely to open we decided to go to the house of a tailor known to us. He came with us to his shop near Bakery Junction and gave us some black cut-pieces.

We assumed the procession might have started already and were virtually running towards Palayam when we saw a boy on the road, hawking a publication, shouting “Mahatma Gandhi Murder Song Book”.

We stopped him and took a look at the publication. It was a booklet. A poet had sat  , after learning about the assassination, and written an elegy, got it printed as a booklet during the night and engaged the boy to sell it.  The long poem began with these banal lines:

Gandhi is dead
Who’s now Mahatmaji?

The boy had been instructed to join the procession and sell the song book among the mourners. We did not want the solemnity of the occasion to be marred by its sale. We drove him away.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Kerala: Solar Scam Reveals Decadent Polity And Society

Saritha’s life illustrates the perils to which a woman is exposed in Kerala's public space.

Kerala: Solar Scam Reveals Decadent Polity And Society
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appears to be on a record-setting spree. Last Thursday he got the State Assembly to hold the shortest session in its history, lasting barely 40 minutes. It was called so he could place before the house the report of the Justice G. Sivarajan Commission which went into the solar scam that had rocked the previous United Democratic Front government. He placed the report before the house in a record six weeks’ time although the law allows full six months to do so.
Accepting the Commission’s recommendations, his government referred to the Vigilance and Police departments allegations of corruption and sexual exploitation against former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, three members of his Cabinet, two former Union Ministers of State, one MP, two MLAs and two IPS officers, which, too, is a record.
The solar scandal broke in 2013 when a young woman, Saritha S. Nair, director of a company called Team Solar Renewal Energy Solutions Private Limited, was arrested on a charge of cheating several persons by promising to make them business partners or install solar plants in their premises. Her husband and the company’s managing director, Biju Radhakrishnan, was also arrested. He is now serving a jail term on a charge of murdering his first wife to marry Saritha. 
The scandal assumed a political dimension when three members of Oommen Chandy’s personal staff were arrested for aiding Saritha and Biju in their activities. The Chief Minister himself came under a cloud as he shared the mobile phones on which they and Saritha had stayed in touch. This led to demands that he should resign, assuming moral responsibility for the conduct of his personal staff. But he disowned them and denied he knew Saritha.
As evidence of the association of Oommen Chandy and other Congress leaders with Team Solar surfaced the Left Democratic Front organized a massive rally to demand the Chief Minister’s resignation. Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then Secretary of the State CPI(M), summoned 100,000 party workers to the capital to surround and paralyze the Secretariat. “Not a fly will enter the Secretariat,” LDF Convener Vaikom Viswam declared.
The police ensured that one road was open for Ministers and officials to reach the Secretariat. However, aware of the risk involved in letting a large crowd remain in the streets indefinitely, Oommen Chandy offered a judicial inquiry into the scam and Pinarayi Vijayan called back the protesters.  
Thus was the Sivarajan Commission appointed on October 29, 2013. It was asked to report within six months but sought and obtained several extensions and finally submitted a four volume report, running into about 1,000 pages, last September more than a year after the LDF came to power.
In the first volume, the Commission gave its finding on the first of six items of the terms of reference in these words: “The Chief Minister, his office, his personal assistants, his personal security officer, close party workers and his aide at Delhi are all partisans to the solar scam deals of the prime accused Saritha S. Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan in one way or the other.”
In the second and third volumes, it gave its findings on the other terms of reference. In the final volume, going out of the terms of reference, it dealt with the affairs of the Kerala Police Association, whose Secretary’s name had come up in the scam.
For long, media interest on the scam was focussed on a letter Saritha wrote while in police custody giving an account of how politicians and police officials sexually exploited her. She had passed it on to an aide of K.B.Ganesh Kumar, a former Minister belonging to the Kerala Congress (B), which had some issues with the Congress in the UDF. Justice Sivarajan included a version of the letter which was produced before him in the report as an Appendix and recommended that the allegations in it be investigated.
Pinarayi Vijayan placed the report before the Cabinet which decided to refer the corruption charges to the Vigilance department and the sexual exploitation charges to the Police. Overlooking his own earlier decision not to brief the media after Cabinet meetings, he called media persons and announced the Cabinet decisions immediately. However, he refused to release the report, saying it had to be placed before the Assembly and the government had six months to do so.
Oommen Chandy wrote to the government for a copy of the Commission report on the basis of which action was being taken against him and his colleagues. He also filed an application under the Right to Information Act. The possibility of his getting a favourable order from the Information Commission or the courts prompted the government to call a special session of the Assembly to make the report public.
Soon doubts arose about the propriety of investigating sexual exploitation charges without a complaint from the victim. The problem was solved when Saritha came forward with written complaints. However, on legal advice, the government asked the police to register cases against the leaders only after investigations as the accused might raise pleas of mutual consent.
While placing the Commission’s report before the Assembly, Pinarayi Vijayan, with good sense, avoided naming the persons mentioned in Saritha’s letter  and the nature of the alleged sexual offences. Most newspapers, too, showed restraint. However, the entire report was on some websites, including that of the CPI(M) daily, Deshabhimani. 
Saritha’s letter, in broken language, begins in the first person: “Me, Saritha S. Nair. Today arrested on ground of solar scam.” Then there is an abrupt switch to the third person: “Now she hears some problems and allegations. Reports came in news papers. She does not see news papers. But from the talk of the persons with her, attempts are being made to make her alone scapegoat. She understands. Really, who are guilty? She alone? Those who have done wrong can escape? She alone will suffer at last she believes. Really when the wrong-doers are living happily, false stories about her alone out. Who remembers that she has also mother, children and grandma. Instead of killing her inch by inch why not she be killed at a stretch.”
The letter closes with the names of 17 persons and lists separately her complaints against each of them. All except a few are accused of some form of sexual exploitation.
The letter seethes with the fury of a woman scorned. Oommen Chandy’s statement that he did not know Saritha appears to have incensed her. If the account is truthful, it follows that she bribed several leaders in cash and in kind.
Saritha has made so many contradictory statements before television cameras in the last four years that the extent of truth in them remains a matter of speculation. She once claimed the CPI(M) had offered her Rs 10 crore for spilling the beans on the Congress leaders.
At one stage Saritha’s name figured in more than 40 cheating cases and the total amount involved was said to be more than Rs 6 crore. After coming out of prison she bought peace for herself by settling several cases fully or partly in circumstances that are shrouded in mystery.
When a Malayalam channel reported last year that Saritha’s letter mentions sexual exploitation by Oommen Chandy, writing in Outlook, Shajaham Madampat said, “In this writer’s opinion, this is an implausible charge....Oommen Chandy is surrounded by scores of men all the time, even in the privacy of his bedroom!” Disbelief was expressed also by N.S. Madhavan, a former IAS officer and noted Malayalam writer, this week in a tweet: “Corruption, possibly, yes. But sexual misconduct?” He described the retired judge’s tabulation of oral and phone sex in the inquiry report as a voyeuristic pursuit.
The reactions of Madampat and Madhavan show that Oommen Chandy commands greater credibility than Saritha. Her bold declamations have earned her many admirers, male and female, but she remains an enigmatic figure. Is she an ambitious woman who came to grief as she attempted to bed-hop to success? Or is she a hapless victim of predatory male chauvinism? Whatever the answer to these questions, Saritha’s life illustrates the perils to which a woman is exposed in Kerala's public space.   
The solar scam has briefly illuminated Kerala's expanding sphere of political corruption and social decay. While there is evidence of wrongdoing, given the ways of our justice system, the chances of successful prosecution of those named in Saritha's letter appear to be slim. Nevertheless the Commission’s report and the LDF government’s action on it may serve an immediate political purpose. It will keep UDF leaders tied down in legal battles and ease the pressure on the LDF which is coping with allegations of illegalities committed by Thomas Chandy, Minister belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party and owner of a lakeside resort, and P V Anvar, an LDF-Ind MLA and promoter of a water theme park.  (outlookindia

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala

Until I saw Letters to Namdeo Dhasal, poems by Chandramohan S, recently I did not know we had amidst us in Kerala a Dalit poet writing in English. 

There are several novelists of Kerala origin, all of them living outside the state, who have made a mark as writers in English. There are also a few poets writing in English, like Jeet Thayyil and C.P. Surendran, who too live outside the state. 

Chandramohan, who appears to be a worthy successor to Kamala Das, the first Keralite to win recognition as a poet in English, lives in Thruvananthapuram.

Letters to Namdeo Dhasal is Chandramohan’s second book of poems. The first, Warscape Verses, was published in 2014.

Chandramohan’s world view is breath-taking. Shambuka, Nangeli, Marie Magdalena, Jim Crow, Dow Jones and Fredreich Engels are all in it.

Keki N. Daruwala, the renowned poet, writes in The Hindu:

Dalit poetry, based on 2,000 years of experiencing atrocities from caste Hindus, needs to be handled respectfully. Letters to Namdeo Dhasal by Chandramohan S. has just landed on my table.
An easy way out with critiquing Dalit poetry is to say it is political, quote some lines, and pass on. There is more to Chandramohan. For a Dalit poet to write in English is itself a political act. But he keeps referring to ‘vernacular rivers’. He is fighting (and deriding) caste and elitism at the same time. Not only that, he stands up for the immigrant and the third world. At our malls, ‘A green eyed petrodollar/ Engulfs the third world like a tsunami.’

In a poem ‘Occupied Language’, after talking of abandoned adjectives and ‘vowels lynched and hung upside down’ (like tortured prisoners?) he talks of colonial symbols on a map and ‘refugees fleeing through edited check points/ to seek asylum in an alien tongue.’ The poem ends with the immigrant into the elite language (English, let’s face it) ‘abbreviating his surname’ and then ‘stripping bare the sterile meat of/ An evacuated language.’ I have chosen not to quote the more telling attacks on caste.

A poem on Murugan who hanged himself in Hyderabad (and how the BJP cried itself hoarse , saying he was not a Dalit) ends with the lines, ‘We become him/ Conform or perish.’ We get defiance: ‘This poem refuses to undergo painful procedures/ Like the long intrusive questionnaire … before it is granted a visa.’ (‘The Muse in the Market Place’.)

He will not be regimented by those who wear nationalism on their sleeves. He has a strong ‘Beef Poem’. In ‘Love in the Time of CCTV’, he says, ‘You are under surveillance when chalk scrapes/ On the blackboard,/ when you walk in straight lines, march in tune/ To the drumbeats of uniformed discipline/ While lip synching to the national anthem.’

I have been unable to mention some beautiful poems like ‘Portrait of the Woman as Young Woman’. Meena Kandasamy is mentioned in the Introduction. I, for one, have been following her prose and poetry closely with respect.

LETTERS TO NADEO DHASAL: Poems by Chandramohan S, Published by Desirepaths Publishers, 401 Shree Prutha Residency-2, Shubham Park, Gotri Road, Vadodra 390 021

Price Rs 150 US$6

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Cultural Feast at Kozhikode

                      With Anand, Zacharia and Sashi Kumar at a panel discussion

There was much more than book talk at the Kerala Literature Festival held at Kozhikode from February 2 to 5. It was a cultural feast. Its sweep was breathtaking.

From morning till late evening, all the four KLF venues on the beach were agog with activity. Three forums, named Ezhuthola (Scroll), Aksharam (Letter) and Thoolika (Pen), witnessed kaleidoscopic changes as one set of writers and activists stepped aside after discussing a subject for 90 minutes and another set stepped in to discuss another subject, possibly before another audience as there was constant shuffling of listeners. 

There were panel discussions, face-to-face encounters and intimate chats. 

Apart from the leading lights of Malayalam literature, new-generation writers who are currently making waves by exploring new areas employing new techniques also participated in the discussions.

KLF was not about Malayalam writing alone. The presence of Indian writers in English and writers in other Indian and European languages presented interested persons with a rare opportunity to acquaint themselves with literary developments elsewhere too.

One venue, named Vellithira (Silver Screen), was devoted exclusively to films. It witnessed continuous screening of films, long and short, curated by C. S. Venkiteshwaran. 

The rich fare included tribal dances and a shehnai recital by the legendary Ustad Bismillah Khan’s grandson, Nasir Abbas Khan.

KLF ventured beyond the worlds of literature, arts and culture and covered several issues of contemporary relevance such as Gender, Caste, Religion and Democracy.   

According to Ravi Deecee, Chief Facilitator of KLF and Secretary of the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, organizers of KLF, more than 300 writers from India and abroad participated in the discussions on about 120 topics. He avers that wide participation by writers and diversity of topics of discussion make KLF India’s largest literary festival.

                            Bindu Amat in conversation with Norwegian writer Runo Isaksen

This year’s was KLF’s second edition. K. Satchidanandan, Director of KLF, said it was organized drawing inspiration from the success of KLF1 and learning lessons from its weaknesses.

No body in Kerala perhaps has better credentials than the DC establishment to organize an event of this magnitude. And no person perhaps has better credentials than Satchidanandan to head the effort. And certainly no place has better credentials than Kozhikode to host such an event.

The ultimate credit for the success of KLF belongs to the people of Kozhikode who made the festival their own. Its leading citizens were part of the organizing committee, and a large number of students volunteered their services to make it a grand success.

                                     A view of the audience at one of the four venues

Enthusiastic people moved from one venue to another to become part of the events that interested them most. There was so much on offer that I doubt if anyone went away without the feeling that they could not attend every event that interested them because of time constraints and overlap of events.

There are unmistakable signs of rot spreading in Kerala society. KLF will do well to explore the social scene more deeply in the coming editions. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast

Media Tides on Kerala Coast by Dr Iris, published by Media House, Delhi, is based on a Univrsity Grants Commission funded research project on the impact of the media on a coastal community near Thiruvananthapuram. Reproduced below is the Foreword of the book.

Kerala is a State with a high degree of media penetration. High levels of literacy, reading habit and purchasing capacity enabled newspapers in Malayalam to forge ahead of those in other Indian languages in the last century and achieve much higher circulations than them. The radio and the television which made their appearance later also registered remarkable growth.

Media institutions have championed many causes from time to time and they routinely make claims about the impact they are making. Often these claims are based on some action initiated by the authorities in response to their reports. Neither the print media nor the electronic media has any reliable mechanism for properly assessing their impact on the society. There are also no organizations to monitor the performance of the media as a whole or of individual media institutions from the standpoint of the communities they are seeking to serve. Against this background, Dr. Iris Koileo’s study of the representation and impact of the media in the coastal area of Thiruvananathapuram under a minor research project funded by the University Grants Commission is a path-breaking one.

Kerala’s social indices compare favourably with those of the advanced countries of the world. It is now a comparatively affluent State, accounting for the highest per capita income as well as expenditure in the country. However, there is wide social and economic disparity within the State. The traditional fishing communities living on the western coast, along with the Adivasis inhabiting the hills in the east and the Dalits scattered all across the plains constitute a highly disadvantaged group. The study looks at the extent to which the media has been able to do justice to this highly vulnerable section of the population.

While all forms of media – print, radio, television –have penetrated the coastal belt, the problems of the people of the region do not receive adequate attention. On the basis of her findings, Dr. Koileo has recommended some measures to remedy the situation. They include creation of awareness in the marginalized community on the ways of the media and bringing about changes in the media’s policy towards representation of the community. This pioneering effort clearly points to the need for more academic studies of wider scope which will help both the media and the society.

May 9, 2015                                                                                        B.R.P. Bhaskar

Media House,
375-A, Pocket 2,
Mayur Vihar Phase I,
Delhi 110 091

Price: Rs 150.  US $10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen

M.Sulfath, social activist and teacher of Government Higher Secondary School, Cheruthazham, Kunnumbram, Kannur District, has written to Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan drawing attention to the campaign against her by some persons belonging to the CPI-M and seeking an end to harassment.

Although party men are using her support to the Kiss of Love campaign as the pretext for the campaign against her, the real reason is the support she gave to the family of a Dalit student who was allegedly the victim of sexual harassment by a teacher. 

The following is the text of her letter:

Dear Comrade,

I have been a teacher for the past 27 years. Presently I am working in the GHSS, Cheruthazham,
Kannur. l have been involved in struggles for women's rights and against sexual assaults on women for the past three decades. I work in association with Anweshi,, Kozhikode, and the
women's magazine 'Sanghatitha’, edited by the famous Malayalam writer Sara Joseph.

I am writlng this letter to bring to your notice, the organised attempts by some people including local CPM leaders to malign me and spread scandals against me in the school and outside, in connection with a sexual assault case that occurred in the school recently. A dalit girl studying in 9th standard was asked into the staff room under the pretext of giving a notebook after the school hours and was sexually abused by Mr. A.Anilkumar, a teacher according to a written complaint submitted to the school on 17 09.2014 by the girl's guardians; but what followed from the part of
the School authorities was an attempt to slight the complaint and to save the offending teacher somehow. After the girl's relatives came to the school with their complaint, the president of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, who is also the secretary of CPI-M Cheruthazham East local committee, came to the school. The school authorities took the decision that it was enough to transfer the concerned teacher from that school and that no other action was necessary against him. I had requested the Headmaster to view the sexual abuse by Mr. A  Anilkumar, the teacher seriously, especially as there had been a precedent of the very same person having shown sexual misconduct against a female colleague in the same school earlier, as was reported in a staff council meeting. I also requested him to contact and seek advice from Child Welfare Committee or Childline, and to initiate legal proceedings against the offender.

Instead of following the required legal procedure, what the Headmaster and a few of the staff members did was to convene a staff meeting on the afternoon of 17.09.2014, allowing even the alleged offender to participate in that meeting. When I expressed my dissent and emphasised the need to support the victim, the meeting chose to accuse me of trying to break the unity among the staff and to disrupt the collective decision taken by the teachers. As it was clear that the school authorities did not inform the police of the complaint submitted by the girl's relatives, I had helped the guardians of the girl to contact Child Welfare Committee. The Childline enquiry team came to the girl's house and then to the school on 18.9.2O14. They reported the matter to the police by noon .The police registered a case on the same day.

However, the accused teacher influenced the DDE (District Director of Education), Kannur, and managed to get a transfer on the same day, that is 18.9.2014. The DDE allowed his request for transfer before taking up any enquiry into the issue. He came to the GHSS, Cheruthazham, obtained his relieving order, and joined in GHSS Vayakkara on the same day, and immediately proceeded on leave and absconded.
I had informed Smt. P K Sreemathy teacher, honourable MP, of the incidents at the school on the night of 17 9 2014 itself. However, neither the party nor its mass organisations took any initiative for a proper response or protest. The Cheruthazham panchayat president Com. C M Venugopal visited the girl's house and promised support. There was no other move by the party against the culprits.

In the PTA executive committee and general body meetings, instead of pursuing the course of justice for the girl victim, the headmaster and a section of the teachers tried to raise allegations against me that I was spoiling the reputation of the school and spreading disgraceful news in the media. In the PTA executive committee meeting, consisting of many local leaders of the CPI-M also, one of the leaders even threw up a challenge against me: Do you dare to get the teacher arrested? 1n the PTA general body meeting convened later, the HM, senior Assistant and other leading members made the evil move to pass a resolution authorising action against me. It was defeated only because of the support of a section of mothers who knew the truth of the matter.
The HM was so revengeful that I was denied casual leave, when I applied for it as my stomach was upset.

Mentally oppressed and ostracised by many of my colleagues there, I have entered on leave.
Another teacher has been appointed in my place to avoid hardship to students. The school staff, consisting of a majority of members belonging to KSTA, an organisation affiliated to the left, and a section of the parent community are spreading wild rumours against me now. As the move against me was defeated in the PTA meeting the Development Council has convened another meeting of so-called "local people” and taken a decision that I would not be allowed even to enter the school. Though I am on leave, when I reached the school on 6.11.2014 to receive my salary, they used a section of the students to conduct a demonstration against me, to shower abuses against me and to detain me at the school gate. I was told that a few teachers including leaders of KSTA also held a similar demonstration earlier. One of the allegations was that I was responsible for dragging the HM also into the legal proceedings The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 says the HM is responsible for communicating the offence to the police. It is actually as per this provision that the HM was implicated for his failure to do his duty. I am absolutely innocent about the matter.

What is quite surprising is the fact that in this case at Cheruthazham, the CPI-M and its mass
organisations which used to support the victims of sexual abuse are spreading rumours against the offended child and her mother just because I happened to help this unfortunate victim of sexual assault in getting legal assistance, I am now being singled out and persecuted through rumours and obscene posters in the school and its premises by anonymous entities and so I humbly request you to help the girl who is the victim of sexual assault and to support me for having assisted her in seeking remedy. I would also request you to take severe action against those who are spreading malicious propaganda against me and trying to prevent my access to my school.
Once again I request you to intervene in order to create an atmosphere that will enable me to continue in the same school without further harassment.
Yours truly,