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Ashanthans amidst politics of 'shudhi'

Ashanthans amidst politics of shudhi

The culpable humiliation shown towards the body of artist Mahesh alias Ashanthan and the caste wall of Vadayampadi prove how meaningless and fake are the expressions such as renaissant Kerala and enlightened Keralite society which we proudly boast of.

Both the conflicts took place with the involvement of caste and political outfits in the name of the sanctity of the temple. What has let loose the social stench is the depth of the perception regarding purity/impurity engraved in the minds of generations whose ancestors proudly uphold the tales of democratic battles which took off from temples against the discrimination of people based on colour. It is natural for the Sangh Parivar which breathes communal politics to be its beneficiaries. However, this also reveals the sentiments of casteism deeply entrenched in the minds of those who brag about the ideologies of secularism and anti- casteism. Congress councillor Krishnakumar has been arrested in connection with the controversy for insulting the body of Ashanthan. And the finger of blame for denying entry to Dalit families, while giving almost an acre of revenue land in Vadayambadi to the NSS, gets pointed at the E K Nayanar government of 1981.

The keeping for public homage of the dead body of Ashanthan, who had been arts and architecture teacher in Fort Kochi Arts Gallery and Edappally Changampuzha Memorial Library, for public homage in the Ernakulam Darbar Hall was objected to by Ernakulathappan temple administration. The reason for their objection was that it would desecrate the temple. It was when he people's representatives, Academy officials and the police endorsed that stand, that Ashanthan had to move as a dead body through a plot of land that he had never traversed. The Durbar Hall in Ernakulam had seen the dead body of famous people for public view. But since they were all 'pure' not only by action but also by birth, it didn't hurt anybody's shudhi, and no one rose to stop it. In fact, when disrespect was shown to the dead body of Ashanthan, cases should have been registered on the grounds of caste discrimination, and torture of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe. But as of now the cases registered are on the counts of joining in unlawful assembly and of shouting abuse. How shameful goes the enforcement of law regarding caste discrimination!

The ground lying adjacent to the Dalit colony, established during the 1967 EMS government, was for a long time an open space for the social and sporting uplift of the Dalit community. The Dalits there, who were denied title to the land and subjected to colonization, were left with only the public land to be an instrument of their social development. With the phenomenon of such a plot of land reaching the hands of NSS Karayogam, which owns of landed property inKerala, it is the authoritarian politics involved that is being put to trial by the Dalit community. When such caste walls - raised in the name of protecting
or cultural purity – are attempted to be destroyed, the police and local authorities who were expected legally and democratically to be on the side of Dalits, took the side of proponents of the shudhi theory. Thus the government machinery was a major contributor to making Vadayampadi a conflict zone. It is due to these factors also that the ruling Left front is held responsible for the disrespecct shown to the dead body of Ashanthan and for the Vadayambady caste wall agitation. At the same time, the authorities' reluctance to boldly take on the increasing caste discrimination cannot be attributed solely to the calculations of vote politics; it has its genesis also in the deep-rooted purity-impurity perceptions in the psyche of those who talk at the top of their voice about a caste-less Kerala. The shudhi concept has been internalized by the Congress and the Left to such an extent that it gets hardly recognized as a re-incarnation of upper caste feudal politics. And that exactly is the challenge faced by Kerala socially and economically.

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