A Life in People’s History: Dalitbandhu N K Jose

Dalitbandhu N K Jose before his works in his study at Namasivayam house, Kudavechur, Vaikam. 19 Feb 2012. He turned 84 recently

History is lived and fought by the people and not by the kings and priests, says Dalitbandhu.  Mr N K Jose hailing from Kudavechur in Vaikam in Kottayam district of Kerala is a people’s historian.  He has given Malayalam more than 140 books on key issues in Kerala history that are vital for the people at the bottom of Kerala society. He has completed his 84th year of relentless and committed service to the people the subaltern classes of Kerala through his vibrant and insightful historical writings.

Historiography is not an elite academic exercise for him but an inevitable part of life and struggle.  It is the struggle to survive, resisting the onslaughts of cultural invasions and hegemony.  It is a counter hegemonic practice and quintessential life struggle for this veteran freedom fighter who was a secretary of J P during his youth and spent some time even in Wardha ashram.  In his mature later career he became an ardent critique of Brahmanism and the Savarna or Caste Hindu hegemonic culture in India and Kerala.

Vaikam temple. Dalitbandhu's Namasivayam household was associated with it a few centuries ago says the learned historian

Though the mainstream media and academia excluded him the people at the bottom, especially the dalitbahujans of Kerala have embraced him and his vital and strategically essential epistemological contributions that are so important  to their sense of the past and present.  His books are bibles in almost every dalit home in Kerala today.  Everyday the people visit his home and interact with him on various issues related to culture, politics and history.  It is open to all throughout the day and is a common resort of the excluded.

There are critics who say that his historiography lacks methodology, ideological tenor and depth, but his political intentions and affiliation to the liberation of the people, the downtrodden can never be contested.  There are academics who preach that such writings are trivial and could not be considered as knowledge but even they are moved by the organic integrity and power of his counter narratives and simple humane wisdom.  Through more than 50 years of consistent committed writing Dalitbandhu N K Jose has proved himself to be a real relative of the depressed.

Mavelikara Buddha idol. 7th century in Anuradhapura style according to peoples like Dalitbandhu

I was delighted to visit him at his beautiful simple home called Namasivayam at Ambika Market close to the Thanneermukkam barrage across the lake Vembanad on its eastern shore, on the morning of Sunday 19 Feb 2012.  He was surrounded by young activists and scholars especially from the dalit sections as always.  It was DHRM youth who celebrated his 84thbirthday recently.  Even amidst his busy schedule talking to the students and writing his regular notes he welcomed me with a whole heart and showed me all his books and publications.

Pathiramanal Island in Lake Vembanad the heart of Kuttanad the land of Kuttan or Buddhan

We had an intimate and enlightening dialogue before his exquisite book shelf in his study.  A wooden engraved portrait of Jesus blessed me with endless love from the top of the bookshelf.  I also got his latest titles on Padmanabha Temple Treasures and Buddha Dhamam Keralathil.  He suddenly remembered the visit of Nithyachaitanya Yati to Namasivayam and showed me a Siva Linga installed by him in the garden.  After meeting the young friends briefly I returned back to Kottayam and it was a truly illuminating journey for me.

You may visit his home page here.