The Nair community is one of the first communities in Kerala to get educated and attain middle class status. Nairs started getting western education in the 19th century itself and got appointed to clerical positions in Malabar. In Travancore it took a little while longer post the Malayali memorial (1891). Educated Nairs agitated against Marumakkathayam and started getting into civil marriages and questioned Brahminical hegemony. They were also in the forefront in Malabar and Travancore State Congress movements in the early part of 20th century. The famous novel ‘Indulekha’ by O.Chandu Menon depicts this coming of age of the community.

There were clearly two groups among the Nairs who adopted public life. While majority stood for keeping their privileges and feudal status and did not care about common people, a minority started interacting with the downtrodden people – peasants and labourers and fought for their uplift. AK Gopalan and P.Krishnapillai belonged to the latter group and had aligned themselves to socialist causes by 1928 itself. This faction along with EMS Namboothiripad would later form the Kerala Communist Party.

By 1950s – many Nairs had climbed into the Kerala middle class in a predominantly agrarian society. This reflected in them being active in social, cultural and political circles. This has continued till 1980s post which the Nair predominance is in a declining phase. There are three main reasons for the same.

Demographic – Early attainment of middle class status led to faster demographic decline of the community. As per KSSP survey 2006 – Nairs form 12.8% of Kerala population and the community is widely thought to form around just 10% population in 2018.

Economic – 1970s and 80s were the time of Gulf boom and 1990′s liberalisation brought in an entrepreneurial culture among Keralites. The hitherto backward classes including Ezhavas and Muslims took the risk to become an entrepreneurial class and were able to prosper economically and attain middle and upper class status faster. Nairs on the other hand were relatively slow in embracing the Gulf boom as well as entrepreneurship.

Social – Nairs and Nair Service Society (NSS) which claims to represent them politically were able to gain lot of favors in terms of aided institutions and beneficial policies from both LDF and UDF governments in the past, projecting the community as a vote bank. They were also able to become custodians of Hindu religion by being administrators of most Devaswoms and temple committees which has continued till date.

But post 1990s the emergence of Hindutva politics have aligned majority of the Nair community staunchly with RSS. BJP gains most votes in Kerala in constituencies where Nair population is high. UDF still has a small percentage of Nair votes whereas same for LDF is minuscule. Thus the community has stopped being a vote bank for either LDF or UDF.

These factors are slowly but surely eroding the political power of Nair community though they still hold many positions of power. The economic and political power is visibly shifting to Ezhava and Muslim communities. The ongoing Sabarimala agitation can in fact be interpreted as Nair community under NSS trying to hold on to their positions of power in the Hindu community and in temple administration.

NSS may not represent all Nairs but they do have enough clout through Karayograms to secure control of temples.  Also NSS and its tendencies are what is propping up Brahmanical hegemony in Kerala which is effected through temple control. NSS is also the head that is propping up RSS in Kerala. For the Sabarimala temple entry issue of women of all ages to be resolved, the Kerala government will have to confront NSS and RSS head on.

Anuraj Ennai is an entrepreneur based in Bangalore

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  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The sabarimala agitation has exposed deep caste conflicts and male hegemony to a large extent.