Prof (Dr) M S Jayaprakas (1950-2013) was an academic and activist who contributed in a liberating way to people’s culture and history in Kerala. As a teacher and a radical professor of history he enlightened generations of young students on the real but suppressed and erased history of Kerala. As an author and orator he also illuminated millions of young readers, researchers and listeners on the Buddhist and egalitarian ethical traditions and cultural legacies of Kerala. I remember using his articles in my doctoral dissertation on caste and gender in fictional narratives in post colonial India titled Representing the Margin.
After many decades of dedicated and democratic teaching and dissemination of empowering counter hegemonic knowledge he had retired as the Professor and Head of History at D B College Sastamkotta in Kollam district of Kerala. He has published five books on Kerala history, politics, culture and society. He has also published 12 erudite research papers on the historic struggles of the people in Kerala against the elite caste Hindu hegemonic culture that is exploiting them in the field of religion, politics and social life. His critique of caste and cultural elitism is all the more relevant in Kerala in the context of growing Savarna hijacking strategies that monopolize and police the academia and media in a covert and consensual way in tandem with the right wing regime and its appeasing policies towards the monopoly social groups.
We can imagine the kind of pressure and antagonism that he has faced while dealing with grave issues of social inequality and caste chauvinism in public service and public funded institution. Even today those organic intellectuals from the Avarna or former untouchable social background, who write and speak against the lingering Savarna hegemony and the so called ‘leading fallacy’ of caste Hindus in public life and institutions, face serious threats and pressure from the monopoly groups who dominate the institutional structures through clicks and conspiracies. The Savarna consensus and hidden agendas are engulfing the academia and media in Kerala at present. The voicing and recovery of the minor histories and heterologies of the subaltern by Dr M S J gain significance in this alarming anti democratic context of growing social inequality.
Prof Jayaprakas has provided us some vital critical perspectives and analytical models for the study of culture and history in Kerala especially in the historic contexts of the Vedic hegemony and Brahmanic internal imperialism. He has been a consistent critic of caste and its various neo avatars in various walks of life. He has shown the courage to challenge and resist Savarna or caste Hindu appropriation of public culture and popular institutions in India. He has also enlightened the people in Kerala on their true Buddhist and Jain heritage and past that was erased by Brahmanical Savarna feudal rule that got established itself through bloody repression and pogroms or religious persecution. Caste and untouchability itself were inhuman means of this persecution that degraded both the subaltern and the sovereign from the middle ages onwards.
A few months ago Prof Jayaprakas telephoned me after seeing my web posts on the discovery of the Buddha fragment at Pattanam. He was also keen in following the new media regarding various modes of resistance against the onslaughts of hegemonic elite culture and neo nationalist propaganda. Even while he was recovering from a stroke he told me that he would come and visit Pattanam with me in a few weeks in last November. Unfortunately we lost him at this early age of 63.
But it is also a matter of pride that he died on the dais. He breathed his last while voicing the real and muted history of Kerala. He was talking about the sidelined history of Tachil Matu Tarakan who was instrumental in the creation of Alapuzha as a major port. According to media reports he talked about 10 minutes and then collapsed (Matrubhumi daily, 11 May 2013). He was speaking in the Carmel Hall at Alapuzha around 4pm. He has also educated the common people through his numerous Malayalam articles in various popular periodicals. It is the task of public academies like the Sahitya Akademi to collect and publish his popular writings at least posthumously.
His works include; Sri Narayana Guruvum Samrakshita Viplavavum,
Ezhava Sivan Indian Viplavatinte Vithu,
Matetara Bharatavum Gurudeva Darsanangalum,
A Study on the History of Ezhava in Kerala and
The History of Nivartana Agitation.
It is very important to continue the contemporary critique of caste and Brahmanism that Prof M S Jayaprakas has ethically actualized as a continuation of the Kerala renaissance legacy of anti caste activism as initiated in late 19th century by Narayana Guru himself. He was also active in human rights organizations. Though generations of writers and public intellectuals like Sahodaran or Mitavadi continued this caste critique in the first half of 20th century it was abandoned by late 20th century writers from the Avarna social strata. Lack of publishing opportunities and censoring editorial policies monopolized by the Savarna interests blocked the caste critique of the Avarna in late 20th century that continue even today. All sorts of obscurantism and elitist patriotic discourses are resurfacing in the guise of neo Nationalism, Neo Gandhism and language oriented cultural elitism; and classical claims of linguistic and cultural groups. Parochialism and superiority or high cultural claims over language and region are also on the rise all across India and especially in Kerala.
The ardent cultural politics of the Avarna and the urgent countering of the omnipotent high tech discourses of Neo Hindutva and Moditva are going to be a cultural and political emergency in the present and near future. Dr M S J has provided us with a basic insight and framework for this counter hegemonic and counter fascist democratic activism and ethical academics. There is an urgent need to translate and republish his works and to make it available to the people while the Parivar is aiming to siege Delhi.