Inspired by Sahodaranism: The New Fraternity Movement in Kerala

Sahodaran portrait at SMHS Cherayi

“All human beings are equal by birth.  All communities too are equal.  They all have the right to live, to grow and to seek welfare and greater good.  This is truth. This is ethics.  Everything against it is untruth, non-ethics and injustice.”

– Sahodaran Ayyappan

The new fraternity movement which is christened Sahodarya Prasthanam that came to existence in Cherayi in the birth place of the social revolutionary, renaissance thinker and writer Sahodaran K Ayyappan, on 20th February 2011 is a unique social  formation that proclaims to  include the socio-politically and culturally challenged sections of Kerala society.  It is a greater fraternity of dalits, backward communities, women and minorities of various denominations including religion, language and sexuality.  It is important to mark that it was here in Cherayi that Sahodaran launched his anti-caste agitations through the 1917 inter-caste dining that startled the orthodoxies and initiated social change.

People at the Fraternity Meet, SMHS Cherayi, Ernakulam

It is floated by some of the leading social activists and fighters for justice in contemporary Kerala like K K Kochu, Sunny Kapikkadu, Adv. K S Madhusudanan, P K Abdul Razak, K D Martin, K S Abdul Karim and others.  It is a democratic alliance and fraternity between the marginalized and excluded sections of Kerala society.  It is all the more significant in the contexts of  the alienation and demonization of the minor subjects and contested sections of the Kerala society under the hegemonic discourses of the patriotic and militant cultural nationalism and its various regional avatars.

Tamil dalit writer Charu Nivedita inaugurating Fraternity Meet. From Right: K K Kochu, Adv. Madhusudanan, Sunny Kapikadu...

According to the spokesmen it is also vital for the people at the bottom as a platform for affirming and articulating their fraternity when the monopoly ruling classes/castes try to divide them in terms of religion, caste, gender, class and sexual orientation and usurp their rightful share in political power.   The victims of the divide and rule strategy adopted by the internal imperialism of Brahmanism are getting aligned themselves under the banner of human brotherhood or sisterhood or cross gender fraternity here.  This kind of radical realization of the subaltern is all the more important in the contexts of hate propaganda models like “love-jihad’ and ‘talibanisation’  that split the people at the grass root level.

Sunny Kapikkadu presenting the declaration of fraternity

An installation at the venue (Sahodaran Memorial High School, Cherayi) by leading young artists Jayalal M T, Benoy P J, Baiju Neendoor and the rest enacted the spirit of Kerala renaissance and the working culture of the basic communities of Kerala.  It visually installed the philosophy and praxis of love and fraternity invoked by the life and works of Sahodaran.  An Ayyappanist in many respects like me reads the ideology of Sahodaranism in this simple, seductive and enagaging visual narrative which is spatially de-centered and aesthetically and politically plural in its signification.  The work titled “Smell of Salt” is a profound artistic critique and tribute to the people or subaltern in Kerala, their historic struggles for liberty and their organic and human instincts of equality and fraternity.

Artist Jayalal M T before the installation "Smell of Salt" at SMHS Cherai

I salute the artists and organizers and appeal them to document and preserve this political and public art which is a rare manifestation in the cultural politics of Kerala.  It again enlivens the historic memories of the burning of the caste monster by Ayyappan at the very heart of Cherayi more than a century ago which initiated the whole repertoire of symbolic protest in the public sphere of Kerala.  That kind of radical intervention in and renewal of visual sensibility of the people is involved in the present installation work as well.  It links this contemporary art/political  practice to the historic installation at Aruvipuram by Narayana Guru himself (1888) that distinctly and poetically marked the subject formation and voice consciousness of the subaltern in Kerala through its unprecedented challenge and critique of caste and Brahmanism.

K K Kochu delivering the key-note address at the public meeting, Gauriswara temple premise, Cherayi

The very meeting for the declaration of fraternity at SMHS Cherayi was conceived after Sahodaran’s historic Declaration of Human Rights(1945) at Ernakulam.  The meet was marked for its mass participation of people from all walks of life.  Women and children from minority communities were present in large numbers.  There were representatives from all sections of the society on the platform.  Even dalit feminists and lesbian feminist activists addressed the mixed gathering and shared their concerns for the development of the idea and practice of fraternity in a diverse and heterogeneous society where difference is the key word.  But the fraternity meet proved that co-existence of differences is the democratic way of life  in a diverse and plural society like us in the coming days.

K K Kochu speaking in the public meeting at Gauriswara temple. From right: Rev. Fr. Vincent Kundukulam, Holy Imam of Palayam, Adv. Madhusudanan...

The fraternity meet at SMHS and the public meet at Gauriswara temple premise (historic site of Narayana Guru’s own installation) prove that the movement ensures inclusion and representation in the true egalitarian and ethical spirit of democracy.  In its greater spirit of tolerance, co-existence and inclusion the movement is more close to the teacher of Sahodaran rather than to the rationalist himself.  While Sahodaran critiqued the religious for its anti-human aspects  his guru upheld the humanitarian and ethical role of religions across cultures and societies.  The Sahodarya movement has to address such profounder, epistemological and historic issues in its further acts and articulations.  The beginning is artful and ethical in its multiple significations.

Lesbian/Gay/Trans-gender Rights activist Deepa V of Sahayatrika articulating her concerns on fraternity
Dalit feminist Rekha Raj addressing the gathering