Archive for July, 2011

Representation, Inclusion and Social Justice: A Futuristic Perspective on Affirmative Action from India

// July 31st, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Cultural Politics

Prof Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow, CSDS, New Delhi, delivering the Ayyankali Memmorial Lecture 2011 at S S University, Kalady. 29 July 2011

While speaking on social inequality in India in an international conference at Kochi, Prof Gopal Guru of JNU recently said that “if you speak about social justice you are marked in Delhi.”  The influential elite sections talk about mere ‘equality’ on a day to day basis in the capital according to him.  The whole debate of equality of opportunity that formed one of the ethical foundations of social inclusive programs like reservation in our country has been hijacked and rendered meaningless by the historically privileged sections in the capital who monopolize the power centers and high offices throughout the country.  From the anti Mandal riots to AIIMS anti reservation agitations by ‘Youth for Equality’ the people of India have witnessed this caste Hindu conspiracy and sabotage of representation and democracy for a few decades now.  Strong opposition and hidden conspiracies are growing in all sectors of state power, education and public service against the inclusive policies of the state ensured by the constitution.

The School of Renaissance Studies at S S University, Kalady invited Prof Yogendra Yadav of CSDS, New Delhi for the Ayyankali Memmorial Lecture 2011 on the 29th of July and the topic was “Reorienting Reservation.”  Prof T M Yesudasan who chaired the event contextualized Ayyankali in the greater struggles of the people for equal human rights and dignity in a society marred by caste for thousands of years.  He defended the use of force and violence by Ayyankali as “creative use of violence” for the emancipation of the people.  He also linked the debate to the current land struggles in Chengara and similar places in Kerala.  It is well perceived that the strategic political interventions of this immortal dalit leader from Kerala are self defensive rather than counter violence or creative violence as such.  The purpose of self defense and the fundamental human right for life render it even morally correct and politically imperative.

For making reservations more inclusive in terms of gender and class

Prof Yogendra Yadav began by explaining the ethics and rationale of affirmative action and expressed his solidarity with the basic humane rationale of inclusion and representation in a constitutional democracy like India.  He also explained the paradigms of equal opportunity and the metaphysics of merit.  But he emphasized the importance of making the whole system more inclusive in terms of gender and class along with caste.  As an expert in North Indian society and polity he appealed for reorienting the measures and procedures of the implementation of reservation in order to distribute social justice in a more egalitarian way.  His comparison of Indian model with the U S model and the issue of black people proved effective.  The U S has managed to give some kind of nominal representation to the African Americans only after the civil rights struggles and almost 200 years of affirmative action.  Just 50 years of reservations in India is grossly insufficient in ensuring the just and sustainable inclusion of the people at the social bottom.

Critiquing the "National Media" for gross exclusion

There are contested points in his arguments for the omission of creamy layers and certain sections of OBCs from reservations.  His argument against proportionate inclusion also seems to be insufficient.  It is a well recognized reality in India that the dalit bahujans who are the beneficiaries of inclusion gain voice and agency for speaking for the rights of their respective social sections and communities in and through the affirmative process.  If these educated and vocal sections are severed just after a generation there would not be any assertion and articulation for the just defense and sustenance of the inclusive policies that are being sabotaged day in and out by the monopoly groups in high bureaucracy.  It would become a prerogative and charity of the elite caste Hindu sections in high office who consider affirmative action as their munificence and sacrifice of ‘merit’.  More than this it is also a cunning injection of the economic criterion in the social justice policy.

On the ethics and politics of representation

Constitutionally reservation is for social and educational backwardness and not for economic depravity.  The simple logic is that reservation is not an economic uplift program in India where inequality was based on caste and gender rather than class for thousands of years.  There are plenty of other economic uplift programs run by the state on public funds.  The SC/STs and OBCs together called the dalit bahujans were considered as untouchables irrespective of their class and gender positions.  Marginalization and social exclusion in India was fundamentally based on caste for centuries.   Even if you make a faithful survey in the 21st century the reality would be evident that the caste Hindus hold larger proportion of land and other capitals in comparison to the larger chunk of the population comprising of dalit bahujans and minorities.

Prof Yogendra’s rejection of proportionate reservation is also inadequate in closer view.  According to him inclusion as per population percentage of the social group would fix your identity to birth; and human agency, will, labor and desire are discarded in such a perspective.  It is considerably true that the autonomy and free will of the individual are less accommodated in this method but it is again empirically evident that the individual citizen in our country experience full freedom in choosing reservation or to reject it as her personal choice.  The argument of fixity of identity does not stand valid on this basic premise of personal choice in opting quota.  It is also important to note at this juncture that these arguments of economic reservation and the argument against proportionate inclusion are traditionally raised by the elite advantaged caste Hindu or Savarna sections of the society against the very policy and practice of affirmative action in India and some of them have moved the supreme court with these anti people and anti democratic arguments.

Any way it is highly significant that some sections of the academic community in Kerala are discussing important issues related to social policy, equity and justice that are directly related to the lives of the people and democracy in our society.  As Prof Yogendra himself observed such a memorial lecture in the name of a dalit social leader is still an impossibility in the North Indian Sanskrit universities. His acknowledgement of the cultural critical tradition in India epitomized by Phule, Narayana Guru and Ambedkar also seems significant. His critique of the so called self fashioned National Media is timely and apt.  The imitators of American capitalist models must ensure social diversity and publicize their social profile, especially the private owned media.  His collaborative works with Satish Deshpande and other scholars during the anti Mandal riots on the representative inclusion of the National Media are still valid and futuristic.  Dalits were literally absent in the so called National Media during the early 1990s according to their empirical survey and OBCs were less than five percent.  These are some of the key issues of social exclusion and inequality that civil society and the state have to address today and tomorrow.

Prof Yogendra Yadav’s Response:

Dear Ajay Sekher,
Thanks for such a careful and meticulous comment on my lecture. I am grateful to you for appreciating some of the nuances of the lecture. I can see that you and I may have a difference of opinion on two matters: the treatment of creamy layer and the principle of creamy layer. But I would like you to fully appreciate what I propose in these two respects: I am not proposing an exclusion of the ‘creamy layer’ but only putting them as last beneficiaries in their respective categories. On proportionate representation, I do not oppose the fact of SC, ST reservations in proportion to their share in population. I am opposed to the idea (proposed by some reservation enthusiasts) that the entire pool of edcuation and jobs should be divided for each caste/community in proportion to their share in population.
May I request you to please take a look at my article Rethinking Social Justice (am requesting Ashish to send this to you)  for a detailed understanding of my position. Hope this would sharpen your critique even further.
Gratefully yours,
Yogendra Yadav,
Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054 India
Office Phone: 23981012 (telefax Lokniti, CSDS), 23942199 (PBX, CSDS)

Royalists Disguised as Civil Society: Padmanabha Temple Disclosure — Exclusive Essay by J Reghu

// July 18th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Cultural Politics

Translated from Malayalam by Ajay Sekher


If public education is the priority and yardstick of the welfare aspirations of a princely state; historical records prove that Trvancore was not a welfare state.  From its inception in 1750 Travancore’s main expenditure was on rituals to appease the Brahmans.  The self legitimizing crisis of a Sudra dynasty resulted in the dedication of the kingdom to Sri Padmanabha and the subservient status of the king.  The kingdom  of Orissa was submitted to lord Jagannath of Puri.  The kings of Orissa called themselves the ‘sweepers of Jagannath’.

Marthanda Varma the ruler of Venad hailing from Sudra origins aggressively invaded and conquered the neighboring Sudra feudal lords of southern Kerala in the early 18th century and enlarged the small province of Venad to the kingdom of Travancore.  The only means of getting the moral sanction and legitimization of the priestly Brahmans to overrule the kingdom as a sovereign was to submit it to Sri Padmanabha.  The lack of Kshatriya status by birth that was supposed to legitimize their ascension from local chieftains to kings made them fear their own self assumed kingly identity.

Establishing their royal identity through the Brahmanic sanction of their ‘symbolic Kshatriya status’ became their sole aim ever since.  That is why they were forced to hoard unlimited wealth for the symbolic Kshatriya ascension rituals in the temple carried out by the Brahmans.  The rituals that began as Hiranya Garbham and Murajapam were further extended to Shodasa Dana and Free meals for Brahmans by the priestocracy gradually.  Sixteen types of Dana or gifts were established for the Brahmans in addition to permanent free meal serving halls.  Kunchan Nambiar the early poet in Malayalam satirically critiqued this everyday free feasts exclusively served to the Brahmans in the capital utilizing public revenue.  In short the kingly state of Travancore became a kingdom of Brahman worship and Brahman donation.

It became the burden of the kings to accumulate and hoard wealth for these unlimited donations and services to the Brahmans that grew day by day.  Discursive contexts of Brahmanism interpreted the gifts and donations to the Brahman as the supreme charitable and moral act of religious exaltation.  Brahman’s also proclaimed the king of Travancore “Dharma Raja” as the dynasty dedicated the whole wealth of a vast kingdom at their service.  As the land became Dharma Rajya the kings automatically turned to mere overseers of the Brahmanic kingdom and wealth.  Even the official historian P Sankunni Menon had to raise the question that instead of spending huge revenue to such rituals Travancore must spend public revenue for public works and public education.  A Sreedhara Menon also makes it clear that the state income was mostly used for the welfare of the Brahmans in Trivandrum District Gazetteer (page 202-03).

The kings were ensuring Brahmanic sanction and thereby the Dharmasastra legitimacy to the kingdom through this acts of devotion to the lord Sri Padmanabha and the lords of the land or Bhudevas, the Brahmans.  This historic background differentiates Travancore from other princely states and Sri Padmanabha temple from other temples.  On the one hand Travancore kingdom became the temporal domain of Sri Padmanabha and on the other hand the temple became the spiritual domain of the kingdom.   The material existence of the temple became inevitable for the rule of the kings and the regime became religious.  The rule of the kings in Travancore became a rule done for the temple and in its name.  This religious regime could be termed as a Padmanabha Dharma.  It represented a mutual symbiotic bond in which the state was merged in the temple and the temple in the state.  It also shows that as the temple has rights and claims over the state; the state in turn holds rights and claims over the temple.

P Sankunni Menon writes about the last decree of Marthanda Varma in 1758.  “The kingdom dedicated to the lord must not be taken back on any ground.  Conquered land must be dedicated to the lord in future as well.  All the financial assistances to the temple and related institutions must be continued unhindered” (History of Travancore, 136).  The kingdom and all its properties and assets were made the property of the temple and its deity (Bhandaram Vaka in Malayalam).  That is why the royal officials were called Pandaram Karyakar.  Even the border check posts and provinces were called Mandapathum Vathukal  (entrance to the divine domain)as they were the premises of the temple.    Political power and religious power became inseparable in Travancore. So was the interconnection between the state and the temple.  It became a new structural re-adjustment of the old temple centered social set up established by Brahmanism in Kerala soon after the beginning of the common era.  The monarchy of Travancore self defined and legitimized itself not through any royal power but through Sri Padmanabha.  They defined themselves as the worldly representatives and agents of Padmanabha as the Orissa kings called themselves the sweepers of lord Jagannath.   Thus the kings of Travancore were mere Muktiar kings or surrogate kings. So to whom was this Muktiyar kingdom handed over; the land and assets must also be handed over to them.

The servitude imagined in the name of Sri Padmanabha (Sri Padmanabha Dasyam) for the legitimization of Sudra power by Brahmanical Dharmasastra proved nasty to the people of Travancore.  Their money was looted to feed the priestocracy.  The political power gained by Marthanda Varma the king of Sudra origin could not gain the ‘legitimate’ status of Kshatriya power without the priestly/divine sanction of the Brahmans.  So the chief effort of these kings was to collect wealth for the rituals like Hiranya Garbham and Murajapam.  The ritual of Murajapam that included the chanting of Veda mantras by the Brahmans lasted for 56 days in a stretch.  For each king of Travancore who travelled between ‘real’ Sudra-hood and ‘seduced/imagined’ Kshatriya status there was no other way but to rely on the Brahmans for self justification.   The spiritual servitude called Padmanabha Dasyam became Brahman servitude in social sphere.   The absolute servitude or docility to Brahmans and their moral edicts persuaded Brahmans to confer the status of Dharma Rajya to Travancore.  The words of the king Visakham Tirunal testifies it:  “Travancore is the most priestly princely state in India and the king is in a dependent position too often” (Visakham Tirunal, “A Native Statesman”, Calcutta Review, LV, 1872, P. 251).

The lack of ethics in the Dharma Rajya (literally the kingdom of ethics and morality) was first exposed during the invasion of Tipu Sultan of Mysore.  The Sultan had to build new roads for the movement of the troops as there were no public roads in Kerala during those days (late 18th century).  The people engulfed and enslaved in a hegemonic ‘secure’ life under the grip of the all pervasive and omnipotent caste ridden villages never felt the need for roads and mobility under the stale stasis of caste and Varna established in south India by Brahmanism.  Basic and essential living amenities like roads, schools and hospitals emerged in Travancore only during the proxy rule of the British.  Though the kings of Travancore decided to start vernacular schools in 1817 under the influence of the British it was not effectively implemented for a long time.  By the latter half of the 19th century the British tried to intervene in a bold way in Travancore against the irresponsible and anti people policies and governance of the state.  Madhav Rao who was western educated was brought to the state as Diwan or chief minister for the purpose.  Public works department, hospitals and modern educational institutions were started during his rule.  The criticism that the Dharma Rajya or ethical state was not that ethical came to the forefront during the same age.

Travancore had to wait till the British reforms to realize that the monarchical rule legitimized in the name of Sri Padmanabha was a public extravagance.    The ideological and ethical value sphere required to critically evaluate the rule of the kings was literally absent in the Travancore tradition till then.  Therefore this concealed collection of gold is an evidence of the helpless inferiority of the innate Sudra-hood of the monarchy.

How could Travancore that was a small princely state got this much huge a collection of wealth?  In the absence of proper records and documented history some assumptions are only possible.  One; the wealth plundered from other neighboring states during the invasions of Marthanda Varma had been kept in the temple.  Two; Gold collected and kept from the levies and taxes related to exports of spices and other commodities like pepper had gone to the temple reserve.  Three; the major chunk of public income from various taxes had gone to the temple reserve.  If it was used to improve the material conditions, for welfare acts and public amenities such a huge dead reserve could not have lasted.

The historical fact that even during the hard days and famines of the first world war such a reserve of wealth and money was never utilized even to feed the hungry subjects  exposes the true colors of the ‘commitment’ of the royal dynasty of Travancore towards the people.  The Dharma Rajya was governed and maintained by forcing the Avarna majority to work without wages (Uzhiyam Vela) and by barbarically collecting inhuman taxes like Tax for Head (Tala Karam) and Tax for an Avarna woman’s breast (Mula Karam).  The Avarna resistance movements against such dehumanizing taxes and caste slavery are illuminating episodes in the creation of modern Kerala.

The history of the Travancore dynasty that experienced Kshatriya status only through Brahman servitude is also the history of anti people and anti Bahujan repressive regime.  The heap of gold coins in the darker dungeons under the Padmanabha temple is also a golden testimony to the unethical limits of the misrule of a dynasty.  The ‘heritage’ status of this collection is also the same.  Now the royal family is praised for its ‘honesty’ in not taking away this wealth.  How can a dynasty that considered Padmanabha Dasyam and Brahman servitude as their integral royal identity take away this wealth?  Because one who becomes a docile slave or Dasa ‘dies’ in the social sense.  Only the master or ‘sovereign’ is truth and real existence.  For a royal dynasty that has immersed into the social existence of the sovereign lord there is no independent existence and social identity either.

Only the master is capable of stealing the gold.  The kings of Travancore traditionally denied themselves such a subjectivity through their generations of slavery to the sovereign lord.  The slightest provocation to the Brahman is equal to withdrawal of the charity of ‘Kshatriya’ status themselves.  The heap of gold in the temple was a consolation for these kings against the haunting ‘inferiority ‘caused by the Sudra-hood of their birth.  Who will try to destroy the consolation centers that one has?

It is interesting to note that the people at the helm of a social organization that carries the name of Narayana Guru  who gave socio cultural direction and spiritual  guidance to the people’s resistance against caste and dogmatic religious elitism have come out in public as the advocates of a temple that was the spiritual symbol of a princely state that was gifted to the lords of the land (Bhudeva or Brahman).  It shows the socio political decadence of that organization and the community.  Not just temples but even public roads and schools were denied to them in the name of this lord Padmanabha, and they were casted away from his vicinity and premises as flees and humiliated on a daily basis in the name of their caste by the close associates of this Padmanabha for whom they argue so spiritedly today.  If People lacking basic historical literacy and education come to the top of such social organizations the decadence is going to increase.

All sections of the society have equal rights in expressing their opinion on matters of history related to a geographical region and society comprising of Hindus, Muslims and Christians.  At least in theory the Travancore kings were the rulers of all their subjects comprising of various religious minorities as well!   If they have submitted their kingdom to Sri Padmanabha it also means that they have submitted the people their subjects and their assets as well.

The subjects of Padmanabha Dasa (slave of Padmanabha) are subjects of Padmanabha too.  Therefore the place of Sri Padmanabha temple is in the public sphere of Travancore and Kerala at large.  The asset of an institution in the public sphere is public asset.

Historically and archeologically valid objects in the collection must be conserved and the rest must go to the material assets and public wealth of Kerala.  The enlightened Kerala must refute the claims by the royalist devotees who are disguised as civil society.

             Translated from Malayalm by Dr Ajay Sekher.                                           Courtesy:       Madhyamam daily