Kerala has once again proved itself true to its unique qualification as ‘God’s own country’ and not a ‘God forsaken land’ as some prejudiced minds would like to perceive it. The state recently has placed on record that it’s no land to perpetuate the centuries old caste tyranny that despises the lower castes people as children of a lesser God who can be ill-treated with impunity, deny their basic human rights and be pushed to the periphery. However, the wind of social change that has been steadily blowing across Kerala against caste discriminations gathered momentum when Yadu Krishna, the son of a Dalit couple Ravi and Leela, recently opened the sanctum sanctorum of Shiva temple at Keecherival in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.
In a first this historic son-rise in Kerala that raised a lowly son of daily-wage-earner dalit parents to the exalted position of Hindu-priesthood, hitherto had set apart as the preserve of the high caste Brahmins, has made a long chased dream come true. Like the rising sun piercing through dark clouds and shines on all and sundry, the event has brought joy not only to the 22-year-old, but also to the scheduled caste pulaya community he hails from and those who down through the ages have tirelessly been championing for the cause of dalits in Kerala.
What greater tribute can be paid to the dear departed Dalit-champions like Dakshayani Velayudhan- the first and only Dalit woman to be elected at the age of 34 to the constituent assembly in 1946, served as a member of the assembly and as a part of the provisional parliament from 1946-52, KR Narayanan-India’s first Dalit President from Kerala, Shri Narayana Guru and Ayyankali the two great social reformers of Kerala, the great Saint Chavara Kuriakose Elias whose project of ‘pidiyari’ (one handful of rice) fed the hungry dalits and made them literate through the numerous ‘Pallikkoodam’ (Church-attached schools) which he pioneered in India, than this defining moment of the son-rise in Kerala? Much before the Tamil Nadu Govt could float the midday meal scheme or India’s ‘compulsory education’ policy, it was the yeomen contributions of these stalwarts of dalit-emancipation and empowerment that set the wind of change blowing in Kerala.
Shri Narayana Guru (1854-1928) born into an Ezhava caste regarded as an Avarna in the then caste-ridden society of Kerala and suffered much injustice in the hands of the upper caste led a reform movement that rejected caste system and promoted new values of spiritual freedom and social equality. Boldly criticizing and campaigning against the Brahmanic hegemony and the upper caste-cruelties inflicted on lower castes, he established temples and educational institutions for dalit-emancipation.
In the process he became the rallying point to unite the Ezhavas and Thiyyas the two lower castes who suffered the worst social discrimination and on 15 May 1903 organized them into a society named as ‘The Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP). Soon a brilliant bunch of dedicated co-workers including poet Kumaran Asan joined his bandwagon highlighting the pathetic existence of the so called untouchables as sheer pollutants who should not be ‘touched, approached even gazed upon’. Eschewing sectarian ideologies or philosophies the Guru embraced humanism, social equality and religious unity as the goal of his reform movement which gradually had a rippling effect on the Hindu reformation encompassing all castes inclusive of Brahmins and Nairs of Kerala.
Kerala’s Dalit Son-rise of our times vindicates as a crowning ceremony of Dr. B. R Ambedkar who started the Temple Entry Movement way back in1927- 1935 and led the Mahar caste (Dalits) of his times in the Kala Ram Temple Entry Satyagraha in Nasik and made them drink water from the temple tank at Mahad which was denied to them since ages. While Ambedkar was against idol worship and hated caste-ridden Hinduism, his sole goal was to cut at the root of caste prejudices within society and achieve human equality in society. Ambedkar instructed his followers during the historic Mahad Satyagrah (1927) that in case they are rendered jobless while eschewing scavenging, they should then get ready to ‘die of hunger’ to live a life of dignity but should never undertake such stigmatized professions. It’s heartening that Ambedkar’s “foundational struggle” for the Dalit emancipation and social equality has produced fruits in today’s Kerala.
Kerala’s landmark elevation of a dalit to the erstwhile much hyped Brahmanic Priesthood is a slap on Gujarat the former fiefdom of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh of Yogi Adithyanath where untouchability in its varied vicious forms still thrives under state patronage! These are states where cows are better protected and loved than human beings.
historic march to Una town of Saurashtra region- under the banner of ‘Una Atyachar Ladat Samiti’ has been concluded, none of the thousands and thousands of Dalits who had gathered there from different parts of the state and outside could have returned home sans taking a strong resolve never to undertake the despicable caste practice of manual scavenging and disposing of cattle carcasses. Dalits – the most downtrodden section in the Varna hierarchy are still at the receiving end in the hands of the overzealous ‘cow protectors’ in the so called ‘model state’ of Gujarat that loves cows and hate human beings who differ from them.
Lynching of dalits is no more isolated incidents especially in the BJP-ruled states in North India. Public memory, albeit short, refuse to forget the inhumane lynching of two young men near Latehar after their brutal torture near Latehar, Jharkhand by cow vigilantes; killing an adolescent near Udhampur who was sleeping in truck by throwing petrol bomb under the suspicion that the truck was carrying beef; near riot-like situation which emerged in Palwal, Haryana because of cow vigilantes attack on a truck carrying meat; or the way two transporters were fed cow dung laced with urine when they were found transporting cattle for sale near Gurgaon that have maligned India in the recent past.
Videos after videos are available on the internet showcasing scores of criminal attacks on innocent dalits by cow protectors for carrying cows from one place to other or because of suspicion that they were carrying beef. Thrashing of Dalits from Mota Samadhiyala village by cow vigilantes and uploading the video of their brute ‘valour’ on social media has been an open statement on where today’s India has arrived! It’s absurdity of the highest order that the very masters who protect the cow-protectors who eliminate dalits recently dashed down to Kerala under the banner of ‘Jana Raksha Yatra in a bid to distort history and replace it with bigotry.
Dalits have been reportedly the most
deprived and discriminated section facing gross atrocities in Gujarat during Mr
Modi’s 13 years chief minister-ship. There are more than 55,000 dalits who are
still engaged in the work of scavenging.
1 lakh sanitation workers still do not get minimum wages.
Dalits in 119 villages in Gujarat are living under police protection.
The rate of conviction in cases of Dalit atrocities is merely three per cent.
Back to Kerala, Dalit priest Yadu Krishna who even while pursuing a postgraduate course in Sanskrit has been recruited as one of the six Dalit priests, first from Kerala by Travancore Devaswom (Temple) Recruitment Board for temples under Travancore Devaswom as per the reservation norms followed for recruitment of government staff is a proud unprecedented case. “I never felt any discrimination over caste. For the past five years, I was working as a priest at Devi Temple at Valiyakulangara in Ernakulam district. Today, when I left, many non-Dalit visitors to the temple turned emotional”, submitted the first dalit Hindu priest, a native of Chalakkudy in Thrissur.
At the end of the day, much more than the ‘priesthood’, it is the holiness of the priest that matters.
(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)