Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Kerala
As we zoom out of granular elements of the so-called progress on many fronts, Kerala presents before us a classic contradiction, a paradox of liberalism and regressive thought.
“You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” – Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 7, verse 5.
In every class on public policy or developmental studies during my post-graduate studies, folks hailing from Kerala would sit basking in an ocean of pride, seeing their state among top spots in every index popping up on the professor’s slides, ranging from human development to education to public healthcare.
We Keralites carry pride in each drop of our blood for everything our state has achieved ever since its formation, speaking with blaring arrogance on our land reform moves, raucous conceit about our literacy rates and boisterous vanity about our egalitarian ethos. Keralites have been at the forefront of voicing concerns around the tendencies of our current regime in Delhi to tacitly make way for fascist predispositions among major groups affiliated to their ideology, and we’ve been calling out every instance of actions with communal intent as a threat to the secular fabric of our nation. Yet, as people of Kerala have been keeping themselves busy with eulogising their existence and ridiculing those of others, we have probably gotten ourselves blinded on issues that warranted our attention back home.
Last Sunday afternoon, a news feature on a prominent Malayalam channel talked about a newly-married girl, Neenu Chacko, waiting in front of a police station in Kottayam district, anguished and concerned about her husband Kevin P Joseph, who had been missing. Struggling to find words amidst running tears and suppressed cries, she painstakingly explained to the reporter on how despite being legally married and well above 21 years of age, the police had abetted with her parents to send her back home. She went on to explain about death threats from her family and that her relatives had abducted Kevin. The reporter specified clearly that the police had delayed taking action on searching for Kevin and that the inspector had stated that they were understaffed as the Chief Minister was visiting the district that day.
Kerala woke up the next morning to find Kevin’s dead body in a nearby river.
It turned into a media frenzy instantly, with attempts by the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) to brush aside responsibility by transferring and suspending police officers involved, and attempts by opposition parties to reap the most benefit from this for an assembly bypoll on the day this news broke. Amidst the turmoil, we’ve yet again missed vital lessons about the state of this state, as was the case with many similar instances in the past.
I had been vociferous in support of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan when he visited the family of a Muslim man, who was lynched by a mob in Haryana last year. It was to me a much-needed act of symbolism to keep secularism alive in our politics, especially at a time when only stories of neglect around that young man's family was to be heard everywhere. Yet, I realised that it wasn’t anything more than a tactical photo op as I look back now, as it has been months since a case of a custodial death of a young man named S R Sreejith by the Kerala Police was reported, but the Chief Minister, who also handles the Home portfolio, hasn’t bothered to visit the victim's family, even once. If the Muslim identity of the victim in Haryana had ensured that he was paid a visit, it's most likely the alleged saffron affiliations of Sreejith that is ensuring that his family wasn’t paid one. Finally, when Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb found his way from the North East to the nondescript home of this unfortunate victim of police brutality, Keralites were quick to call out Deb’s "cheap tactics to score a political point", turning completely oblivious to the fact that their beloved leader had done exactly the same thing nearly a year back in Haryana.
The trend of selective silence and denial of one’s own faults isn’t new to people in Kerala. A few months ago, an Adivasi man accused of theft, was allegedly lynched to death in Kerala by a mob, which even clicked selfies with him before the crime. There were poignant and poetic reactions to that incident, laments on the erosion of humanity among our generation and whines on lack of empathy among young men. But unlike cases of lynching from North India, the highest grade of anger around this came out when former cricketer Virender Sehwag tweeted about the incident naming only Muslims among those accused. The proud internet Keralite rose up like a phoenix to teach Sehwag a lesson or two in secularism by abusing him for his ‘selective outrage targeted at the Muslim community’. Keralite trolls seemed to take more offence at Sehwag’s tweet than at the act of lynching, for they never even noticed that Sehwag had apologised publicly for his mistake using the same medium.
As the most progressive of states in the country with consistently high literacy and education levels, what’s most amusing around the case of Kevin’s murder is the unspoken element of caste dynamics at play. While it’s fairly obvious that it was his newly-wed wife’s family that had allegedly plotted and executed his killing, what everyone including mainstream Malayalam media is brushing aside is the fact that Kevin had been a Dalit Christian, while his wife hailed from an upper caste Roman Catholic family.
While caste and its related aberrations are largely being spoken about only in the context of Hindu faith as of today, Christians in our country, particularly in Kerala, have carried the essence of caste from Hinduism at the time of their conversion centuries ago and have clung on to its every form of oppression. Dalit Christians have separate churches that are different from those of upper caste Catholic ones, and intermarriage is considered as blasphemous and distasteful as an inter-caste marriage between a Brahmin and a Shudra.
The oft heard narrative from thought leaders is that education is the foremost requirement in rural areas of India where honour killing is a norm. Yet, Kerala stands in front of us presenting a stark contradiction – one where high literacy and education levels haven’t necessarily knocked sense into the thought process of its people. The fact that the state machinery including its police force only abetted such an act makes things worse, as the bias seems to be deep rooted at multiple levels. Previously, government sponsored schemes such as employment to transgender people at Kochi Metro Rail stations have focussed on upholding the inclusive image of Kerala, yet the society tainted itself when more than one third of transgender persons employed at the Metro decided to quit as they weren’t able to find housing within the city.
The liberal outlook that Kerala society so proudly wears on its sleeves unfortunately ends at symbolism, rarely getting ahead of chores like beef festivals. As we zoom out of granular elements of progress, Kerala presents before us a classic contradiction, a paradox of liberalism and regressive thought, a dichotomy of conservatism and communism.
I wish the internet Keralite, whose blood boils at the sight of fascist and regressive tendencies far away from home takes at least a minute each day to see the mess in which he is living in, for unless he opens his eyes to his own reality, his hundred per cent literacy and egalitarian ethos would only remain statistics on paper, not changing daily lives of people in any manner at all.
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