Friday, February 26, 2010

K.G.Sankara Pillai in "Human Rights and Culture"

An English translation of a poem by Malayalam poet K. G. Sankara Pillai appears in the 39th issue of Human Rights & Culture, brought out by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong.

While welcoming KGS back to the pages of HR&C, the editors say: “Prof. Sankara Pillai was one of our very first contributors”.

Here is the poem:

A Preface to an Autobiography

Prof. K.G. Sankara Pillai

Where do I start?

Did history start in me, or
Did I start in history?

Who took form in whom?

Did I see the world, or
Did the world see me?

Who became the truth in whom?

How do I see?

With my memory, or
With forgetfulness

Do I make the trodden paths
Into my arteries?
Do I make the spread out land
Into my flesh?
Do I make the binding tornado
Into my breath?

With affection, or
With curses?

Do I make the hated fears
Into love?
Do I make the sown sins
Into virtue?
Do I make the proud victories
Into sacrifices?

In secret, or
In public?

Do I make the flowering trees
Into ghosts?
Do I make cracking love
Into philosophy
Do I make the whirlpools seen
Into falsehood?

In a leap, or
In a crawl,

Do I make the world behind
A forerunner?

With a bow, or
With a boot, or
With a reception,

Do I make the fallen horse
Into a victor?

With praise, or
With a curse?

Do I raise the past
Into something ugly?

K.G. Sankarapillai, is a contemporary Indian poet writing in Malayalam. He has won the National Award for Poetry in India on two occasions. More about this author may be found at

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mollywood rivalries spill over

Gulf Today

Off-screen rivalries of the Malayalam film industry are out in the open. Associations of actors and technicians, instead of trying to solve the problem amicably, are threatening to excommunicate gifted actor Thilakan, who has challenged the institution of superstardom.

Two factors have contributed to the emergence of superstars since the time of Sathyan and Prem Nazir, who ruled the hearts of movie-goers for long as mere stars. One is imitation of the ways of Tamil cinema. The other is use of fans associations by actors to boost their image.

Mammootty and Mohanlal, talented actors who have won many awards, are the two widely acknowledged superstars. There are other lead actors like Suresh Gopi, Jayaram and Dileep at the top, but they are not in the same league.

Mollywood is a male bastion where actresses have to be content with a subordinate role. There is, therefore, no female superstar.

Mammootty, who is in his mid-50s, and Mohanlal, who will be 50 this year, have invited criticism for their apparent reluctance to move from romantic leads to roles that are appropriate for their age and for demanding high remunerations that upset the producer's budget.

They are said to be in a position to dictate terms to directors by virtue of their awesome power as superstars. Thilakan has brought this aspect into focus.

Fans associations are now a big factor at the box office. Industry sources attribute the phenomenal success of Mammootty's 2005 comedy Rajamanikyam to a vociferous campaign by his fans and a periodical named Mammootty Times. Fans of some older stars have been reportedly booing in theatres when films of 27-year-old Prithviraj, the most promising actor of the new generation, are released.

Thilakan, who turned 74 last month, has said he was dropped from the cast of a movie under production at the instance of a superstar. The industry, he alleges, is in the clutches of a mafia backed by the superstars and a few persons from the Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA), comprising several trade unions, and the Association of Malayalam Movie Actors (AMMA).

This is not the first time that Thilakan has railed against superstars. In an interview two years ago he had accused the superstars of trying to keep him away from films, using every trick in the book including verbal assaults, character assassination and mental torture.

Attributing their hostility to a sense of insecurity, he said, "They will not -- and they can't -- take the slightest competition. I have outperformed them in many films, which obviously has not gone down well with them."

Tracing the hostility back to 1986, he said he had kept quiet for a long time but his patience had run out. He alleged a caste lobby had a big role in it.

Although he clubbed the superstars together in earlier statements and named another prominent actor Nedumudi Venu while talking of caste discrimination, Mammootty appears to be his sole target now. Mohanlal, who is general secretary of AMMA, has said they would not allow Mammootty to be singled out for attack.

There is nothing to indicate that caste, religion or region influences movie-goers' appreciation of the performance of actors. However, some movie makers seem to think otherwise. When the 1998 film Harikrishnans starring both the superstars was released, two different versions were made. In the version released in the north Mammootty won the girl. In the version released in the south Mohanlal won her.

Mutual jealousies are a part of artistic life the world over. However, the Thilakan-Mammootty standoff cannot be dismissed as a mere manifestation of professional rivalry.

The issue of superstardom which Thilakan has raised is one that has a direct bearing on the health of the film industry and needs to be addressed squarely.

FEFKA has already decided not to cooperate with Thilakan. AMMA has asked him to appear before its disciplinary committee on March 1 failing which action will follow. Both the organisations believe in barring non-members from work.

Vinayan, who directed several successful movies without superstars, had earned their ire earlier. Thilakan's current troubles began after he worked on a film of his. He said on Saturday he and Vinayan would produce movies with public support.

There has been a spontaneous outburst of sympathy for Thilakan, whose sterling performance in a host of movies has endeared him to film-goers. Several groups have come forward to defend his right to practise his profession. Sukumar Azhikode, who often gives voice to the sentiments of the silent majority, has also spoken up for him.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 22, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dalit's fight against bias

Gulf Today

Payyanur in Kannur district boasts of a rich and glorious heritage. The town's website says, "Payyanur is one of the ancient civilised places in Kerala." It has a place of pride in the history of the freedom struggle and the Communist movement. Lately, however, it is making news for the wrong reasons.

Last month, Paul Zacharia, noted writer and social critic, was roughed up by activists of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) affiliated Democratic Youth Federation of India, as he was leaving the town after making a speech which met with their disapproval.

Also last month, Chithralekha, a young Dalit woman making a living as an auto driver, came under renewed attack from a trade union which has been harassing her ever since she ventured into the male-dominated profession.

She was trained as an auto driver under the officially sponsored people's planning programme in 2004. She then obtained a loan under the Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana (employment scheme) and bought an auto-rickshaw. The pro-CPI-M auto drivers union was not ready to admit her into the fold.

As Chithralekha persevered, the union had to give in. However, male colleagues at the auto stand made things difficult for her. They abused her with caste appellations and cast aspersions on her character. But she refused to be cowed down.

One of her colleagues then broke the windscreen of her auto-rickshaw and tore its hood. When she remonstrated, she was beaten up. Since the union did not act on her complaint against the man who damaged her vehicle she lodged a complaint with the police.

This infuriated the union leaders, who filed a counter complaint accusing her of drinking and using drugs and insinuating that she was a sex worker. The man who had damaged her vehicle later attempted to run over her with his auto-rickshaw. She filed yet another complaint against him, and the police arrested him.

The union then launched a vicious poster campaign against her in the town. A few days later, her auto was set on fire. But the union could not destroy her never-say-die spirit. Forced to leave Payyanur, she and her husband, Shreeshkanth, who is also a trained auto driver, worked as wage labourers.

Carmel Christy and Jenny Rowena, two researchers who studied l'affaire Chithralekha at that stage concluded that it was not merely a case of conflict between a woman and a trade union. The union, they pointed out, was dominated by the backward Thiyya community and its hostility towards Chithralekha was based on untouchability and gender.

They viewed the union's campaign against Chithralekha as part of an attempt to maintain caste hegemony. The union, which did not approve of the marriage between Chithralekha, Dalit, and Shreeshkanth, a Thiyya, had become an instrument for maintaining caste and gender boundaries in the Malabar region, they said.

In June 2008 a Kannur-based action committee presented Chithralekha with a new auto-rickshaw bought with public contributions. Following this, she resumed life as an auto driver in Payyanur and the union resumed harassment.

On January 20, she lodged a complaint with the police alleging she was assaulted at the auto stand. Union activists lodged a counter complaint alleging she was drunk. The police wanted to take her for an alcohol test but she refused. She said later that the police had assaulted her too.

A fact-finding team consisting of Professor Gail Omvedt of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Professor Nivedita Menon of Delhi University and two local activists, V Geetha and KK Preetha, visited Payyanur and gathered evidence from her, the auto union, the police and some other witnesses. It found inconsistencies in the versions of the union and the police.

The team, in its preliminary report, said, "The January 20 incident is not an isolated one. Other Dalit women auto drivers in this region have faced intense intimidation, sexual harassment, caste-related abuse, accusations of promiscuity and immorality and damage to their autos."

It noted that the union's statement regarding Chithralekha's behaviour used metaphors that insultingly linked her caste status, gender and sexual immorality. It also sought to cast doubts on her marital status.

It observed that the union leaders' unease with Chithralekha and characterisation of her as a woman 'living outside the track' revealed their inability to tolerate this Dalit woman's assertiveness, stubborn courage and confidence despite her caste and gender. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 15, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reversal in direction of political traffic

Gulf Today

For two decades political traffic in Kerala flowed in one direction --- towards the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front. With fair-weather comrades leaving the fold, there is now traffic in the other direction.

TK Hamza was one of the earliest to switch to the LDF from the United Democratic Front. He was president of the Malappuram district Congress committee when he earned the hostility of K Karunakaran, who had total sway over the party at the time.

It was a time of flux in state politics. A Congress faction which was in alliance with the CPI-M had just walked out. The CPI-M persuaded Hamza to contest the 1982 elections as an LDF-backed independent. He defeated Aryadan Mohammed.

When the LDF came to power in 1987 Hamza became a minister. Later he grabbed for the LDF the Lok Sabha seat from Manjeri, over which the Muslim League had a monopoly.

Joining the CPI-M, he rose to the level of state committee member. His website is silent on his Congress days. Obviously he wants to hide his Congress past.

Another UDF member who travelled in the same direction was Lonappan Nambadan. Elected to the Assembly on the Kerala Congress ticket in 1977 and 1980, he turned a rebel and was elected four more times -- as an LDF-supported independent. Like Hamza, he too served a term as minister.

In 2004, the CPI-M put him up for the Lok Sabha from Mukundapuram. He contested this time on the party ticket and won.

In 1997, when there was a by-election to the Lok Sabha from Ernakulam, a Congress stronghold, the CPI-M cast its net wide, reckoning an independent with the right religious affiliation might fare better than a party nominee. The strategy paid off. Sebastian Paul, a journalist turned lawyer, whom it fielded as an LDF independent, won the seat.

He could not retain the seat in the next general election but was able to enter the Assembly through a by-election. In 2004, he successfully contested for the Lok Sabha once again. However, in 2009 the party dumped him.

AP Abdullakutty, who hailed from a family with Congress connections but strayed into Left politics as a student, was serving as a member of the Kannur district panchayat when the CPI-M asked him to contest for the Lok Sabha. He defeated Congress leader Mullapally Ramachandran and was hailed as a ‘wonder boy’. He repeated the performance in 2004.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections the CPI-M fielded a young government doctor, KS Manoj, who had been active in a Latin Catholic community organisation, as LDF-backed independent in Alappuzha. He defeated Congress stalwart VM Sudheeran by a small margin.

When KT Jaleel, a leader of the Muslim League’s youth wing, fell out with the party leadership the CPI-M received him with open arms. He defeated League strongman PK Kunhalikutty in the 2006 Assembly election as an LDF independent.

The reverse traffic began with Abdullakutty, who was not given the party ticket to contest last year’s Lok Sabha elections, quitting the CPI-M and joining the Congress. Within days the Congress asked him to contest the Assembly by-election in Kannur and he trounced his former CPI-M mentor MV Jayarajan.

Dr Manoj, who had sought and been given CPI-M membership, contested the Lok Sabha elections again last year. However, he lost to Congress candidate KC Venugopal. Last month he resigned from the party.

The CPI-M had reiterated recently that elected representatives should not observe religious rites. Both Abdullakutty and Manoj cited this as the reason for their defection.

Last week S. Sivaraman, who had been elected to the Lok Sabha once from the Ottapalam reserved constituency, announced his decision to leave the CPI-M. He said party leaders did not practise what they preached.

Apparently all three ex-MPs quit the CPI-M after making sure that the Congress will keep its doors open for them. There are reports that the Congress is looking out for other possible defectors.

Significantly, all three ex-MPs who quit the CPI-M are young men. Within the party hierarchy, none of them could go beyond the area committee stage. Their departure is indicative of growing alienation between the party and the minority communities, whom it had wooed assiduously in recent years, and the Dalits, who have been its ardent supporters since long. --Gulf Today, February 8, 2009

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fact-finding team's report on Varkala events

Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam, one of the human rights groups which joined the fact-finding team to Varkala in the wake of the police crackdown on the Dalit Human Rights Movement, has posted the team's report at its blog.

It can be accessed at

Monday, February 1, 2010

Opposition to 'rural doctor' plan

Gulf Today

Kerala has reacted coolly to a Central government scheme to conduct a short-term course to train doctors exclusively for service in the rural areas where regular medical graduates are reluctant to work.

About 3,000 doctors and medical students demonstrated outside the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram last week to register their protest against the scheme.

The demonstration was called by the Indian Medical Association which claimed the proposed three-and-a-half-year Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) course would create quacks.

The Centre drew up the BRMS scheme in consultation with the Medical Council of India as doctors are not coming forward to work in villages despite the National Rural Health Mission's offer of many incentives.

The scheme envisages setting up medical institutes in all states to run the BRMS course. They will be located in rural areas and have an annual intake of 50 students each. Admission will be restricted to those who have passed the Plus Two (Medical) examination from rural schools.

Several states, including Left-ruled West Bengal, have evinced interest in the scheme.

Kerala's Health Minister PK Sreemathi has said the state will take a decision in the matter after consultations with doctors. Her observation that the state has enough doctors to take care of its rural health care needs, however, betrays a lack of interest in the scheme.

The doctor-patient ratio (including practitioners of western medicine, homeopathy and the indigenous systems) in India is 1:870. If practitioners of non-western medicine are excluded, there is only one doctor for 1,634 people. Comparable figures for some other countries are: the USA 390, the UK 440, Qatar 450, and China 950.

Kerala, a leader in the matter of health care, had achieved the health and demographic goals set for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) several years before it was launched. The Mission, therefore, set separate targets for the state.

A NRHM review team pointed out two years ago that the state is facing some new problems. Its morbidity profile is fast changing with childhood diseases dropping and old-age health problems rising. Some infectious diseases have resurfaced and lifestyle-related non-infectious diseases are on the rise.

The team observed that the situation calls for location and community specific planning guided by an epidemiological approach. The state has not taken any concrete steps in this direction so far.

The minister's claim that the state has enough doctors to take care of the needs of the rural population deserves close scrutiny.

The number of medical officers under the state Directorate of Health Services in 2008 was only 3,862. This works out to one doctor for 8,244 people. The distribution of doctors across the state is highly skewed, varying from one doctor for 5,807 people in Thiruvananthapuram district to one doctor for 11,343 people in Malappuram.

Surprisingly the backward Wayanad district has one doctor for 6,448 people although Ernakulam has only one doctor for 9,194 people.

To get a correct picture regarding availability of doctors, we have to factor in the large number of medical practitioners in the private sector too. According to information gathered by the NRHM review team, there were 24,401 doctors in the private sector.

A complaint often heard in the past was that many primary health centres in the rural areas were not functioning for want of doctors. According to the Health Minister, there is now no PHC without a doctor.

This does not mean that the PHCs have their full complement of medical and paramedical personnel. Most of them are functioning with less than the sanctioned staff strength.

The Indian Medical Association's stir against BRMS is a repeat of its campaign in the 1950s which led to the closure of medical schools which were running licentiate courses. Products of those institutions were rendering yeomen service in the small towns, mostly as family doctors.

Today Kerala presents a queer picture with total absence of family physicians on the one hand and proliferation of specialists and super-specialists on the other. Mercifully, the services of highly qualified personnel are available at rates that are lower than what prevails in the metros.

With the big private sector institutions setting their sights on lucrative medical tourism, it remains to be seen whether the local population will continue to get the same service at the same cost for long. This is a factor the government must take into account while assessing the long-term requirements of the state, especially the needs of the poor people. -Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 1, 2010.