Caste, Religion and Culture: International Colloquium in Kochi

On moral agency: Prof. Gopal Guru delivering the keynote address at the colloquium

Caste transcends the boundaries of language, culture and religion in India.  The Brahmanical construct of Varna and Jati have polluted and ruined all the religions in India and severely enslaved the minds for many a millennium.

Inaugural session: Guru, Yesudasan, Bishop, Deenabandhu, Sanal

Even say 2000 years after conversion some of the minorities in India and especially in Kerala claim Brahmanical and Savrna ancestry and lineage to ironically and shamelessly reassert their pseudo elitist claims over the people, the subaltern communities from whom their ancestors have come.

Tangible history: St Francis Cathedral, Fort Cochin, Kerala

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Christians in India are dalit bahujans and Christians as a whole are under severe attack from Hindutva pro fascism of various avatars the Syrian Christians in Kerala cherish their high cultural affiliations that dangerously and suicidally bring in the Hindu Brahmanical discourses of cultural and racial supremacy and sell themselves to hegemony for ever.

Active exchanges: Jasvir Singh, Laxman, Sunny...

The World Council of Churches in association with Student Christian Movement of India, National Council of Churches in India and Centre for Social Studies and Culture organized an international colloquium on Caste, Religion and Culture at Kochi in Kerala during 1-4 May 2011.

Warmth and colors of Kochi: Gulmohar blooms in Marine Drive walkway

It was done under the ethical  initiative of Rev. Bishop Mar Koorilos and in the co-ordination of Prof. T M Yesudasan of CSSC and Dr P Sanal Mohan of SSS, MGU.  Rev. Dr Deenabandhu Manchala of WCC was present through out and was a real source of dedicated support and inspiration.

Venkat and Sunny having a live interaction on the representation of conversion in fiction. Yesudasan listening in the right

Prof Gopal Guru the leading academic, scholar and activist in dalit studies in India today, talked about the ethical agency of the outcastes in confronting the socio cultural inequality in India.

Caste is not a trend but a reality, Keep alive the debate on caste:Prof Gopal Guru from JNU

He declared that the former untouchables today address the issue of caste everywhere as they tumble on it and they could not move ahead without breaking it.  He also appealed to the youth to keep alive the debate on caste as a collective and epistemological resistance against the return of elitist conspiracies against constitutional safeguards as consolidated in the anti-Mandal and anti-affirmative-action riots unleashed by the Top Twice Born in the early 1990s and even at the beginning of 21st century.

Rainbow bridge, Marine Drive, Kochi

Sarankumar Limbale who spoke in a later session elaborated the brokenness and the struggle for human status in many parts of the country by the most deprived and dehumanized people in India.  According to him the first struggle is to achieve human status in a local cultural sense and then let us move towards human rights on a universal dimension.

People especially students and academics from all parts of the world eating together at the colloquium, Kochi, May 2011

Prof Susie Tharu who addressed the delegates in the valedictory upheld the importance of conversion and the importance of dalit Christian identity as an act of translation of cultural reality that could liberate us in various ways.  Even when she embraced the ethical and liberating role of the Christian churches in India she detached from the whole debate herself as “a secular academic.”

Susie Tharu giving valedictory speech

Activists, theologians, students, scholars, academics and common people belonging to various denominations actively participated in the various seminar sessions and it was also an important meeting place and interaction for all.  There were also parallel discussions and informal exchanges at the margins of the meet that extended its scope and potential as a liberating space of articulation and voice consciousness.

Like a red Christ or radical Che: Rev. Bishop Dr. Geevarghese Mar Coorilos' concluding notes

Young friends Shibi Peter and Anil T Varghese and other young girls of the student wing who effectively organized the colloquium deserve appreciation.  Bishop Koorilos stressed the importance of finding new language and idiom in addressing caste within and outside the church.

Keen Camaraderie: S Sanjeev, Maya, Jasvir Singh...

Let us hope that this could be a beginning for future epistemological and ethical democratic struggles and inclusive reforms in and out side the fold for a radical refashioning of our cultures, polity and society at large.  I am proud to be part of this trans formative endeavor.

Intimate moment of music: Ajithkumar A S playing the Dotara for friends
Polyphony and unision: Srikumar, Ajith, Madhu...
Singing out as human: Srikumar striking a different discord from the depth of his heart

Zizek in Kerala: Kochi Life 2010

In Kochi, Kerala
Slavoj Zizek delivering "Whither Left?" at Kochi Life International Festival 2010

The renowned Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek was in Kerala during 8 and 9 January 2010. He came to deliver the lecture “Whither Left?” at the Kochi Life 2010: Letters International Festival. The cultural festival also became a historic meeting place in Kerala of philosophers, thinkers, writers and activists from all over the world like Pof. Akeel Belgrami, Gail Omvedt, Gopal Guru, Javed Alam, Prabhat Patnaik, Tejaswini Niranjana, Usha Zacharias, Kumar Shahani, S Anand, Sashi Kumar…

Gopal Guru adding "There is more to secularism"
Open to dialogue: Gail Omvedt

C Ayyappan the leading Dalit short fiction writer in Malayalam inaugurated the event by stating that there is a Dalit writing stream in Kerala. The fete was an important platform for discussions and debates on class, caste and gender issues in the socio political contexts of India and the world at large.

Zizek listens to Kochi Life
Zizek as a listener
Gail Omvedt, Ziek and Alam
Gail Omvedt in conversation with Zizek and Alam

Zizek stressed the vitality of advancing the class struggle and the urgency of the anti capitalist revolution. According to him this is the time for action and we must do it now and here: “Do not look out for other people to do it for you, from other safely distant corners of the world.” The leading continental philosopher and psycho analyst was lashing it all out against capitalism and American imperialism. His dynamism and energy recharged the festival and captivated the audiences in which a large chunk of students were present from all over Kerala.

Sceptical and inquisitive:  Zizek always asking questions!
Eager to ask: Zizek asking questions

It was a meaningful and historic occasion for the literate people in Kerala who read Zizek and other thinkers from the west and are familiar with the global intellectual debates on capital and race. The first edition of Kochi Life was an enormous success in mass participation and active discussions. The organizers like Dilip Raj can now plan and work hard for the next edition focusing and developing on the key socio-cultural issues of our times and contexts.