The death of Kevin became front page news in national as well as international media. Death; nowadays has become a very cheap commodity for news channels and papers to mint money. News of Rapes, Murders, Genocide, Riots, Sexual Affairs, Violence, Gang-wars attract people to the media. Kevin did not die in accident nor did he die due to some physical ailment. He did not even commit suicide, but still he had to die. He had to die because he dared to challenge the power structure of the ‘CASTE SYSTEM’ by loving and marrying a girl from upper caste community. The entire incident that stigmatised so called ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ society of Kerala came in the limelight when the body of Kevin P Joseph, a resident of Kottayam was recovered from Chaliyakkara canal near Thenmala in Kollam on the morning of 28th May, 2018, hours after his newly married wife Neethu had complained to police that her husband and a relative were abducted from the latter’s residence by her relatives. According to police, Kevin and Neethu were in a relationship for more than two years, but the affluent Malankara Christian family of the girl did not accept it as the boy belonged to a Dalit Christian family, with a poor financial background. When the duo realize that due to the social barriers the chances for them to get married are getting slimmer they decided to run away and get married by going against the norms set by thousands of years old system. The result of their endeavour was a violent, torturous death of Kevin.
There is a narrative which has been attempting to establish a theory that the ‘conversion’ from Hinduism to the other religion frees a man from the age-old clutches of Caste System. Death of Kevin, who himself was a converted Christian, was in love with a Christian and married a Christian raises very important questions which makes us think about the gravity and depth of the evil of the impact of the Caste System which undoubtedly is still followed with opens arms and closed minds in Indian society. The murder of Kevin was also a murder of JESUS CHRIST who taught us unconditional love, brotherhood, equality and compassion.
Kerala is known as one of the most progressive and literate state in India. This is a state that proudly boasts to have been ably carrying the great legacy of ‘Communism’. Kevin died in Communist Kerala. Communism raised weapon against economic disparities, class exploitation but it could not destroy the demon of Caste system. The contradictory political stand of communist parties, their upper-caste leaders and their consistent failure to take public stand against caste violence and discrimination became one of the reasons that dragged them towards the end of communist-politics in India which failed to find the antidote to the ‘caste-curse’ of Indian society. The poverty is not a problem for India, but the graded inequality ‘in’ poverty which is influenced and characterized by social inequality prevailing in society. Kevin was not killed because he was poor; he was killed because he was a poor untouchable-A DALIT.
Indian society has been in denial of Caste discrimination. Right from academic circles to a common man, people refuse to accept this reality of society. Whenever discourse on Caste violence and discrimination takes place, it often concludes with a debate on ‘how reservation policies benefited Dalits and Tribals by causing grave injustice to the upper castes communities’. The Reservation policy is never a solution to the age old system of caste discrimination, howeverit is simply the most necessary vehicle provided to the Dalits , Tribals and other OBC’s to protect their civil rights in presumably hostile social environment- the presumption of which is based on ‘historical, cultural and religious’ facts and verifiable realities of Indian society. The incidents of caste violence and social discrimination prove that the constitutional and legal safeguards are useless to protect the ‘interest’ of the formerly outcaste and shudra communities. The Reservation policy is a smallest part of the affirmative action vision set in motion by the great architects of the Constitution of India. It is not important how successfully Dalit communities are progressing under the constitutional safeguards, but to what extent the upper caste society appreciate, acknowledge and positively react to the ‘change’ is. The onus will forever remain on the privilege classes/upper castes communities to prove their ‘intentions’ and positive ‘sentiments’ for their Dalit brethren.
The death of Kevin brought another question for debate and that is the need to extend reservation policies and constitutional safeguards to those who are converted in Christian faith. The debate to extend the benefits to the Dalit converts in Christianity is not new, but the Government has been keeping mum because in India there is no constitutional mandate to the religion based reservation. Central and State Governments have prepared their respective lists of SC, ST, and OBC for reservation purpose. However, there is a provision for minority reservation applicable for the members of minority religious communities (Christians and Muslims etc) in India. However, the problem is; Dalit converts among minorities are not given special privileges due to their ‘social status’; because it is presumed that the acceptance of new faith is like taking new birth that transforms the identity of a man. On the other hand it is also required to understand that even after embracing new faith by converting from one religion to the other, the social roots remains unchanged/unaffected and therefore, it should not be surprising that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for that matter, are severely discriminated and persecuted not only by the Hindus but also by the members of their own newly embraced religiouscommunities. The situation of converts from Dalit communities is very pitiful. They are neither accepted by their new community nor by the old society of which they were part of before conversion. In Kerala there are separate Churches for Dalit Christians. Upper caste Christians do not keep matrimonial relations with Dalit Christians(situation is almost similar with the social intercourse between Dalit Muslims and so called Upper caste Muslims). How can the children of God (according to the Christian belief) be divided and discriminated on the basis of their birth? If Dalits are discriminated in Christianity at par with their brothers and sisters from Hindu faith then what is the difference did Christianity or any other religion made in the life of those unfortunates who surrendered before the new faith expecting liberation from the insult, discrimination and backwardness that they were made to experience for eternity? This chaos convince us to believe that; the social conditions of dalit people converted to Christianity and Islam remained unchanged and therefore, they too should be brought under the protection mechanism available for ‘Scheduled Castes’ which simply mean that a member of SC from Hindu faith should be considered as SC after he convert himself from Hinduism to any other religion including Christianity. The fact of conversion from Hindu to Hinduised Religions or non-hinduised religion is irrelevant because of the attachment of the tag of Caste to person remains with him no matter to which faith he surrender. Therefore, there is nothing unreasonable to make suitable amendments in the constitution of India to bring the Dalit converts from non-hinduised religions like Christianity and Islam at par with Scheduled Castes in term of the constitutional status. However the question arises is that, will the communal and castist forces allow this change to happen?
The institutionalized Religion serves no purpose in human existence. It may give false sense of security but will never liberate an individual from the clutches of the slavery of the other.With the dawn of politicization of Religion; humanity has started to dig its own grave. Even if a civilization which has been prospering on the graveyard of the ‘slaves of the caste system’ evaporates into the dust of time; ‘mother nature’ will have no reason to mourn.
Aniruddha Vithal Babar, PhD Scholar,Seedling School of Law and Governance, Jaipur National University