Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has stated that the agitation to prevent entry to women of all ages to Sabarimala temple as per the order of Supreme Court of India is an ‘upper caste conspiracy’. No one has made more truer statement and realistic assessment about the situation in Sabarimala than the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister also categorically stated that the government will follow the directions of the Supreme Court and will facilitate the entry of women to Sabarimala temple. He made these statements drawing profusely from the renaissance history of Kerala which began from 19th century onwards. The Sabarimala temple entry issue is a continuation of the uncompleted but much celebrated Kerala renaissance.
Why did the Chief Minister say that it’s an upper caste conspiracy? The Kerala renaissance was a fight against upper caste hegemony which did not even allow lower caste women even cover their breasts. They were not allowed temple entry. They were not allowed to come near upper castes. According to the caste hierarchy, they had to keep tens of feet away from from upper castes. The different castes were not allowed to dine together, not to speak of inter caste marriages. All of these changed, in the face of vehement agitations from the lower castes. Of course, it was brutally suppressed by the upper castes. In the end justice prevailed.
It would be interesting to enquire about the upper castes that the Chief Minister speaks about in his statement who oppose the temple entry for all women at Sabarimala. According to Hindu Varna System there are four castes, Brahmin, Kshatirya, Vysya and Shudra. In Kerala the Brahmins who once were the dominant community were always miniscule in numbers and lost most of the wealth they held by the feudal system. They mostly live as priests in temples many of which are very poor in terms of income generation. Kshatriyas are even miniscule in numbers and were never a powerful community in Kerala. Vyasyas are a non existent community in Kerala. The Shudra Nairs were the most powerful community in Kerala in feudal times because of their proximity with Brahmin Namboothiris and their land holdings. Namboothiris had unique control of the Nair women which was termed as Sambandham by which they procreated children in Nair women but had no responsibility in their upkeep.
When the feudal system collapsed Nairs also suffered in terms of loss of land holdings. But they were one of the first in Kerala to get educated and get the lucrative government jobs. Nairs still hold majority of government jobs in Kerala. They also built a number of schools and colleges which brought social and economic resurgence to the community.
However the Nair community failed to capitalize on the Gulf boom of the 80s. That put them economically on the back foot compared to Muslims, Christians and Ezhavas. Nairs are also declining in demographic numbers.
The Nair Service Society (NSS) founded by Mannath Padmanabhan is the back bone of the Nair community. They hold powerful sway over political parties in Kerala. Come every election, political parties will come flocking to the NSS headquarters for their blessings. In fact, the power of NSS is a legacy of a bygone era. NSS no longer hold any economic might (in fact they get most of their income from the government), demographic might (thanks to lack of caste census, their numbers still remain a mystery) and political might. In a word, they are an inflated balloon propped up by political parties for their own interests. What’s being seen now is the historic erosion of Nair hegemony and their efforts to hold on to it with the support of fascist RSS.
The political affiliations of NSS is more or less clear to every novice political observer of Kerala. Most of their followers follow the RSS/Sangh Parivar agenda. In fact, they constitute most of the Sangh Parivar voters. Case in point, the constituencies where BJP wins or get largest number of votes are Nair dominated constituencies.
When Pinarayi Vijayan speaks of upper caste conspiracy, he in fact speaks of NSS/RSS conspiracy. Unless the LDF government counters this conspiracy heads on and defeats it, the renaissance process in Kerala will not come to its logical conclusion. These regressive forces have to be countered and defeated to ensure the temple entry of all women in Sabarimala. These are the forces that oppose the Sabarimala temple entry and trying to drag Kerala into a Ayodhya like situation.
Here are ten points to counter these regressive forces and take Kerala back on to its progressive tracks.
- Reform the Devaswam Board. The tradition of a Nair being the Devaswam board chief must be broken. A Dalit/Adivasi or an OBC must be appointed as Devaswam board president. Adequate representation should be given to all castes in the Devaswam board
- Now almost 90 % jobs in Devaswam board are held by Nairs. This has to be remedied. Special recruitments should be held to bring parity to other castes
- 50% reservation in all devaswam board recruitment must be implemented
- 50 % reservation in all Shanthi (priest) recruitments
- Make lower castes as Mel Shanthis (head priests) in major temples like Guruvayoor
- Reform temple governing councils in all temples. Give representation to all castes
- Implement reservation in all aided school and college appointments
- Giveback Sabarimala to Mala Araya community. Until 1902 the temple was governed by the Malay Arayars, an Adivasi community. They were the pritests of this temple. British anthropologist Samuel Mateer has written about it in his book “Native life in Travancore” (1883).
- Revenue generated from Sabarimala temple should be spent on Adivasi welfare
- Take away the Tantri status from the Thazhamon family which is an open theft from the Mala Araya community and give the status back to Mala Araya community
Now, that the government has taken a political stand to implement the supreme court order and allow temple entry to women of all ages to Sabarimala, the government can not go back on its stand. The only option before the government is to neutralise the RSS and Sangh parivar agenda to create another Ayodhya like situation. Once all this measures are implemented Sabarimala temple entry issue will be a non issue and peace will prevail.
Binu Mathew is the editor of www.countercurrents.org