Opinion | Chandramohan Sathyanathan

PC: Indian Express 

Honor killings in Parasurama’s own country
[Old wine in new bottle]

The recent murder of Mr. Kevin Joseph, a Dalit Christian youth for falling in love and then marrying a woman of mixed caste identity - born of a Syrian-Christian father and a Muslim mother- has shocked the conscience of Kerala, making front page news on May 29th and May 30th.
The increasing influence of social media in shaping the discourse of the time was very much evident once again. Many Dalit activists claim that had it been not for the social media, this ghastly incident would have just ended up as another one-column news item in the interior pages of the newspapers – that too only in the Kottayam District edition, where the incident occurred.
This is the third such incident to rouse the conscience of Keralites in the last few months. The other incidents being that of Madhu – a tribal youth murdered for alleged theft and the murder of a young woman hailing from an intermediate caste (namely Ezhava) on the night before her wedding to a Dalit youth (an employee of the armed forces) by her father.  The former was an instance of anti-indigenous people violence while the latter, similar to the current incident was predicated upon very patriarchal and casteist notions of family honor that tend to limit the endeavors of the lesser-privileged sections of our caste-ridden society. This incident is a nail in the coffin of those ideals that were enshrined in the Social Renaissance initiated by Mahatma Ayyankali, Naanu Asan and Sahodaran Ayyappan. Rising intolerance, physical, systemic and epistemic against Dalits and tribals, social boycott of Muslims and generic oppression of sexual minorities have become markers of contemporary Kerala society.
1.       Is there an increase in attacks on Dalits or is it an increase in the ratio of such instances being “reported” and triggering a protest?

I would argue both ways. There would have been many mute “suicides” which are brutal murders/caste-honor killings in the past. But recently, due to increased access to the social media for the Dalit-Bahujan social activists, there has been widespread awareness against such incidents. There is a flip side to this. Dalit assertion has been on the rise and has been challenging the establishment and the conventional caste hierarchies. Due to the influx of gulf money and other new found prosperity, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the neo-rich and the traditionally rich, frustrating the socially dominant sections. Dalit assertion may have added insult to the injury of the social prestige of the traditional elites. Thus the Ezhavas and Syrian Christians might want to oppose inter-caste weddings involving brides of their communities.

2.       Is this primarily due to caste? Have other factors like economic-muscle played a role?
 Very much. The deceased youth was an electrician. There is definitely an element of social class operating in this, but the mutilation of the dead body (eyes gauged out) shows an irrational fury often associated with caste/ethnicity ‘pride’. As Ambedkar had opined “caste is enclosed class” though social and cultural elements are very much operational.
3.       A tinge of Islamophobia too?
The secular progressive cultural activists were quick to elucidate upon the Muslim angle to it because the bride’s mother happens to be Muslim. This was the case in the instance of Madhu too. Often secularism has become a ploy to exclude Muslim organizations from platforms for protesting against saffron fascism. Recently Dalit-Bahujan ideologue Mr. Kancha Ilaiah had opined that Congress has been protecting Hinduism in the name of secularism.
The myth of origin of Kerala hinges around Parasurama who killed his mother at the behest of his father for alleged adultery/infidelity. The language of subjugating women –curtailing her sexual freedom is not alien to Kerala .It could be argued that when an educated woman marries as per her own choice, she could demand a share of her ancestral property which would be inherited by the nuclear family consisting of her husband and children. This could result in drastic economic redistribution in terms of land holdings – even more pronounced if the groom happens to be a Dalit and if the folks are more rural then urban. During times when a Dalit with an Ambedkarite ringtone or a desire for a horse –ride during his own wedding procession can incur the wrath of the “establishment”, the moustache-wearing of Mr. Kevin Joseph may have added to the insecurity of the feudal elements. This reminds us why annihilation of caste should be a high priority feminist ideal.

4.       Why has Kerala (a state devoid of infamous Khap Panchayats) not witnessed such overt acts of honor killings when the neighboring Tamil Nadu did have a spree of such killings: the most ghastly being the Dharmapuri murder of Ilavarasan ?

This is because caste operates in Kerala much more insidiously and more viciously than many other states of India. Its documented evidence is found in matrimonial columns with the disclaimer “NO CASTE BAR” with SC/STs ‘please excuse’. In the increasingly urbanized surroundings of Kerala, implicit questions like “what is your full name” / “what is your father’s name?”/ “where is your original home?” often masquerade as pin-pricks to probe caste.  With the collapse of the traditional form agricultural economy, caste has found new ways of manifesting itself like systematic dismantling of welfare schemes; extremely male-chauvinist ‘upper’-caste male protagonists in movies; Muslims, Dalits and the Latin –Christians excluded from the popular imagination of a contemporary Malayali; a leading intellectual of the rationalist movement opposing caste-based reservation, among other such examples. It was only after the prominence of Dalit voices making stringent critiques of these trends that the cracks of the much touted Kerala Model of development were exposed.

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