The lustre of the centenary celebrations of Sree Narayana Guru’s proclamation ‘we do not have caste’ in hypocritical Kerala has been turned into a comic scene by the corrupted smog of the brutal casteist regimes today. The glorified ‘enlightened’ Kerala society would be scorned for the plight of a young Dalit journalist, Saritha Mahin and her family for they are trying to escape the beastly clutches of the neighbouring family’s efforts in grabbing the two and half cent land registered in her family’s name. Poonkunnam in Thrissur, the celebrated cultural capital of Kerala, has become the arena for the dirty politics of caste hierarchy. Even the education and the position of journalist fell short while competing with the dominion of the ‘upper’ castes.
This issue throws as much light as to pave ways to subvert the perpetuated belief that considers the sufferings of Dalits as a culmination of their lack of proficiency in education. Saritha is a journalist and her family consists of a research scholar, a police officer and a dentist. The supposed qualifications to lead a noble life are complete. But the situation is not as such. The struggles to which they are subjected to would surely evoke contempt in those hearts that believe in upholding the democratic and secular values in a society.
The atrocities perpetrated upon the Dalit spaces have become mere stories that embellish the public spheres that make a hue and cry against reservation for the Dalits and the minorities. The blemished reality of the casteist Kerala society can be read through this problematic situation where a Dalit family had to struggle to overcome the racism operated upon them through their own land, though they had succeeded in attaining knowledge, education and jobs.
The discussions on the injustices based on caste are merely confined to the circumferences of the Adivasi ghettos and Dalit colonies. This is a trenchant critical note on the history of a Dalit family that tried to surpass their ordeals to lead a peaceful life in Thrissur, a place known for many social and cultural activists, intellectuals from the field of film aesthetics, feminists, media tycoons and leftist revolutionaries.
The Geography of Caste Discrimination
“Karutha Talcum Powderinde Kaalam Varum Makkale” (A time will come for black talcum powder), “Ninde Bhakshanathinde Jaathiyentha” (What is the caste of your food?) are the two Malayalam articles by the journalist, Saritha Mahin and these became the hammers that knocked hard on the rigid caste conscience of Kerala. She works as a journalist in the Kozhikode desk of the daily, ‘Thejas’. For years it has been her routine to encounter the violence that the neighboring Roman Catholic family thrusts upon her family. The land property in the vicinity of the Poonkunnam Railway Station in the Thrissur district holds great demand. Saritha’s great grandfather, Chakkan, held this land (under the ownership of Thekkemadham), for a lease period of 89 years with the consent of a mediator, Kunjulakshmi Varasiar. Since the Land Reform Act was passed in 1976, Kunjulakshmi Varasiar granted the land to Chakkan which was later registered in his daughter Kali’s name. Kali is thus Saritha’s grandmother. Now, Saritha’s family is in the possession of 5.4 cents of land. They hold ten cents according to the documents in the village office, but they possess just seven and a quarter cents of land (out of which the neighbours encroached on over two cents).
These inaccuracies triggered the intervention of the people in their area, which resulted in the Taluk survey of the property, in 2003. The survey unraveled the fact that the Roman Catholic neighbor has encroached on two and a half cents of Saritha’s plot, besides the 5 cents ascribed to them, as the village document says. The decision, either to give back the land or the requisite money to the original owners was taken amidst the general folk. But the issue is not yet settled.
Though the RC family comprehended the fact that the two and a quarter cents added to their plot (purchased in 1981) was illegal, they retained it with them. Probably, the apprehension of the impossibility to legally fight for their unauthorized encroachment must have prompted them to make false charges against the construction of their house in their land. Through variegated channels of governing bodies, they have brutally raped the solemnity of the family encompassing a mother, three sisters and a brother.
The great value of the land in the vicinity of the Poonkunnam Railway Station is to be repeated with great emphasis. Though Saritha and her family have every right to live on their land, the Catholic foul play of casteism is trying hard to drive them out of their own land. The remarks of the exhausted Dalit family have been faithfully reproduced here:
Saritha Mahin (Journalist, Thejas Daily)
The familial conflicts got worse when we constructed a new house on our plot by demolishing our old house. We received monetary support from the Scheduled Caste Development Fund instituted by the Corporation in order to reconstruct our mud-house into a concrete one. They started creating troubles probably because they thought that our house would stand higher than theirs. They used even obnoxious language on the construction workers. To complain to the corporation when the walls were built and to abuse our family calling the caste names became their leisurely hobbies.
The real fact is that the floor of their concrete house is built on our plot. They made complaints that we have violated certain building construction laws while building our house. But the reality is that that they themselves did not abide by such laws. A crooked and biased casteist preoccupation to overpower us has led them to make their house so close to ours though they maintain a specific kind of discriminatory spasm from us. The three girls in my home, including me, have done several chores in the kitchens of the nearby households in order to get through our education. We never lagged behind in our studies and we could study in the best colleges of Thrissur and Calicut with the assistance we received through the privileges of the Reservation system. We belong to the Vettuva Community and we are not ashamed to accept our identity. But the Catholic neighbours including Mary and her son Ouseppu, assault us by calling us names like Cherumiyum makkalum, Mulayanmar Kaakka, Karimbhootham, Bimmakkutti (derogatory Malayalam terms used for dark complexioned Dalits). It is pertinent to scrutinize the foundation of the casteist consciousness on the basis of which they greet us with such ‘pet names’.
What kind of joy would they gain by intimidating someone belonging to a particular caste, especially to a Scheduled Caste, by referring to the colour of their skin, their body stature, their living conditions and their shortcomings? It is quite sure that the motive behind their incessant acts of torture is our land on which we have a legal authority. They must be in an illusory world, where they think that by separating us from our relatives and friends, we would abandon it and go away from our homeland. Their ultimate desire in pursuing our land has grown so much that two years ago, through one of our own distant relatives, they wanted to know if we have a mind to sell our property. The relative said that he wished to build flats in our plot.
We sisters work in three different places and one day, they addressed my mother by her name and professed that her daughters have gone astray and are engaged in prostitution. As I have married a Muslim, I had to hear many comments upon that too. This is the ‘God’s own Country’, where everybody is anxiously awaiting the experience of Onam fiesta with great equanimity and harmony.
My caste would be like my shadow that would follow me everywhere I go, the place where I sit and stand, where I perform and where I survive; everywhere my steps would be restrained by the iron fetters of caste. Once I had been for an interview in a popular Daily. I had my writings including those that nourished the columns of the daily, Thejas. I waited for one and half hours in the corridor of the popular firm, to seek the moment when they would open my filed writings to read through them. My concern was not the job but the respect they would pay to my writings. At last, I came to hear that somebody with the name tag, ‘Nair’, had bagged the job.
“Media is a world of glamour, does she speak English? Does she speak it fluently?” These were the discouraging queries that some of the media activists asked my mother when she requested if they could help me in getting a job in any of the daily newspapers. Their enquiries helped my mother to retreat from her decision to seek help from them for whom I had done the household labour. If this is the disposition of the educated “upper” castes, it is not at all strenuous to estimate the casteist mindscape of the neighbouring Catholic family. But I cannot afford to disclaim the help for my studies, granted from the Nair and Christian families where I did the daily chores.
Kavita (Police Officer)
I am a graduate in Science and Law. The neighbouring Catholic family can only conceive of us as submissive slaves or subordinates however independent and progressive we become. Their arrogance finds no inhibition even before me, a police officer. Once police came to our house and that was before my appointment into the police force. Their purpose was to arrest my younger brother, Giri who was just 18. He was arrested with an allegation that he had poured a cup of water into the neighbour’s compound. But the nasty tricks played by them were kept hidden. They would pump the water up with a motor and the overflowing water would not be desisted by them. This by flowing through channels would drench our mud-home. Our front yard would become slimy with wet mud. And then they would challenge us by making a demand to construct a wall between the two houses. Their sewage waste and urine flood our yards. Anybody visiting our home can witness this. We never do anything by deviating from the path of truth.
Once I was perturbed to see a group of policemen in my home along with the SI of the West Police Station. But they were helpless. Ouseppu (Prince Vadakkoottu), the neighbour with his political influence in the Congress party brought in the force alleging that we threatened his mother that she would be murdered. It was in December 2012, when my 11 year old son was playing cricket in our front yard. They did not even spare my son.
We would come to know about the allegations against us only when the notices from the court arrived for us. One day, when my brother was reading the newspaper sitting in our verandah, Mary raised her middle finger and her gibberish tongue babbled that she would send him and our father to jail. Her goal is just to ignite him to blurt back on her. We did not react to their savagery but we received a court notice accusing us of trying to destruct their house. Through a personal enquiry from our part we came to know the reasons that led to their settlement in our neighbourhood. The issues that germinated from their attempt to poison the common well in the area where they settled before resulted in their taking refuge near our house.
“You are just minions”, this is the general attitude towards Dalits, even if we have gone far ahead in education and employment. I am verbally abused and I incessantly receive threats of losing my job from the police force. They cook up false charges against us through the clerk in the court, who is a distant relative to their family. We are never allowed to enjoy a peaceful life. They try to muffle our voices of protests by filing injunctions against us. They ventured to curb even our communication with you. I am skeptical about their engagement in consistent efforts to provoke my brother, Giri so that they could have a chance to slander us.
All these foul plays are evidences of their incapability to answer the legal queries regarding their illegal encroachment into our land and everybody realizes that fact. We were silent for all these years because we feared if they would shackle the foundation of my job as a polite officer. I was the major bread-winner for my family then. Not just that. We live so nearby and we thought to live together in harmony. This thought also prevented us from taking any adverse actions against them. But now the tolerance limit has reached. The common folk of Kerala should know about the casteist animosities prevalent in our state. Our voice would cry out the atrocities of such a discrimination to the whole world.
We have grown by doing the domestic chores of the Nair households. I studied well and the general opinion about me was that I possessed good leadership qualities. I strove hard and became a dentist. Later I heard the comments which pitied the patients with their ill fate when they would be treated by the doctors like me. “They have to run just 50 meters in a lap whereas we have to complete the 100 meters lap. It is better to consult some other doctors”, the “upper” caste fellows would say. My body is a bit fat and my skin complexion is dark which makes them call me “Bimmakkutti” (a derogatory Malayalam term). I am mocked at for my linguistic differences, as I am proficient enough to speak good English and I have lived outside the state for sometime.
We are also confident human beings though we have got Reservation. I am able to see these entire barbarous attitudes as a result of their inability to comprehend the socio-political implications of the policy of reservation. All these form part of the terrific casteist predation that intend to hinder the peaceful life engendered by the Indian Constitution by employing their power granted by the society, over caste and land to uproot a Dalit family from their homeland.
I completed my course in Kozhikode Government Dental College. I am a doctor having quite a good practice schedule and I am quite good at my job. While we all endeavour to excel in each of our professions the obedient sheep of the caste hierarchy are trying to reconstruct the laws of caste by keeping us out of the circumference of our land that is our right. For them I am still a “karinkutty” with no power to bear a child in my womb. For them I am a worthless doctor and my sister is a never-do-well police officer. They do not even accept her as a media activist. Due to a psychic disorder, my brother, Giri (called Manidas) got involved in a theft case. He was treated for his malady and he continues to do yoga exercises to balance his uncontrollable anger. This is used as an instrument to forge allegations that he tries to attack Ouseppu’s family.
I joined the Doctoral Research program in Calicut University after completing my MPhil and and BEd courses. Unfortunately, I once got involved in an act of stealing a laptop, in Goa, due to my mental instability. Still the hearings of this case are continued. After that I had to suffer several obstructions in carrying forward my studies in the University. I was totally isolated. I even thought to put an end to my life. Amidst all this mental torture I had to forbear with the arraignments perpetuated against me by my neighbours. Their cunningness to portray me as a nuisance and trouble-maker for the society is well understood by my family and also the people around our area.
The Catholic family constantly tries to hamper my confidence by filing complaints against me. Another of their strategies is to assault me mentally and physically. ‘Insane’ and ‘thief’ are my usual nick names. The lady in the neighbourhood always raises her middle finger as a provocation. When I was going out of my home in the evening of 12th August, Ouseppu made a loud remark, referring to me as ‘insane’. I thought of committing suicide. But I cannot do it when I think about my mother and my sisters. That was the first day we went for a police complaint against them. There was a negotiation on 17th. On 19th we received a court notice that informed us of an injunction order lodged against me upon the request of Ouseppu’s family. The accusation was that I tried to break through the door of their house and attempted to destroy their house. That was the way in which they countered the complaint that we wedged against them. But we maintain strong belief in the judiciousness of the honourable court.
I lost my right hand in a bus accident when I was 31 years old. My husband, Venu was a Hawildar in the Indian military force. My mother, Kali and I did labour in the rice fields and other households to bring up my kids. With just one hand I had worked in almost all the houses in Poonkunnam and I had brought up my children with great dignity. They also struggled hard to pursue their studies and they were excellent in it. So, we did not have any worries about them. We firmly believed that one day our troubles would end. But day by day, life became more and more tragic. My body was invaded by uterine cancer. My treatment is still going on in Trivandrum RCC Hospital. Troubles started to devour our lives. The woman in the neighbourhood asserted that she would never allow my family to lead a serene life. She would tell others in the neighbourhood that she would never retrace her determined mind.
They intimidate by calling us “Mulayanmar” as we belong to the Vettuva caste. My heart was shattered into smithereens when they battered me by calling me worthless as I had to remove my uterus due to cancer. “You are just a piece of shit”, shouts the ‘civilized upper’ caste woman. If my husband reacts to such epithets she would call him “Karimbhootham” (black demon). My son, Giri has a minor defect with his eye. Mary tells the two year old boy in her family, “Son, a blind fellow is coming. Just move away”, when he comes walking. No mother could bear such indictments. My heart still burns with sorrow.
Years ago, when I reached back home along with my mother after the work in the fields they were planning to extend the foundation of their house to our plot. To restrain them from such violence my mother planted a hibiscus branch to mark the boundary. But Mary’s husband, Cheru held both his hands down through her armpits and lifted her up only to thump her down on the floor. Other neighbours rushed to the scene. Till now they have filed three complaints regarding the construction of the house in the Munsif court. And this has created a heavy financial loss to us. They terrorize our minds by proclaiming that they would by all means attain the order to demolish our home, the construction of which has been entirely completed. Their warnings deteriorate both my mental and physical health. My kids have to take me to the hospital every time. Money is not sufficient even for that. How will our state progress in such a pathetic situation where my children are not even free from behaviours that discriminate them- from the mainstream- in the name of hierarchy of castes! Why do they so viciously torment a physically challenged cancer patient?
This is a true insight into the atrocities committed by a Roman Catholic family upon a Dalit family with well educated professionals in ‘God’s own Country’, where ‘Renaissance had actively ploughed the minds of Keralites’. This should be read by those who always cry that reservation fulfilled all the need of dalits . This should be read by those who ask, “Is there caste in Kerala? Is it not in Gujarat?” The left liberals who own their responsibilities in paving ways for the Scheduled Castes to take water from the public well must also take a note of this. Markandeya Katju, who claims that Kerala is a secular state with great fraternity, should surely read this. Those who assert that we do not have caste and all Dalits are my friends should not turn their heads from this report. Those who scorn the Dalit activists for their untiring attempts to assert their identities should also read it. The media regimes of Kerala should also have a mind not just to showcase ‘solar’ Saritha with her newly designed jewellery and saris, but also those Sarithas who try to shatter the walls of the cocoon of caste discrimination with their strong wings of knowledge and determination.
Rupesh Kumar is a documentary film maker, writer and film critic based in Kerala. Please visit his production company’s website Buddha Never Sleeps for more details.