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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Women empowerment and freedom to women among Nairs in Kerala

Women empowerment and emancipation of women are ideals and future goals for many sections in the society but for Nairs it is a reality from ancient times and Nair women are one of the few groups in the world who enjoyed equality with men in almost all walks of life.
Ancient Nairs followed a system known as Marumakkathayam which provided security and freedom to Nair women at those times. This was unknowingly translated as matriarchy by some western educated scholars. Though women commanded respect among Nairs, Nairs cannot be called a matriarchal society in the real sense. Let us bear in mind the complexities of Nair society and family when we speak of empowered Nair women.
Ancient Nair women were free and it was almost impossible for erring men to exploit sexually or otherwise the proud and brave Nair women. But Nair women never dominated men as some academics have tried to portray and Nair women never headed Nair families or had an upper hand in social set up compared to men as written by some half baked intellectuals. This equality among men and women gave security to Nair women and Nair women did not consider men as opponents.
Actually, in ancient times Nair joint families were headed by Old maternal uncles instead of fathers. Maternal uncles and elders commanded immense respect of nephews. Their views were normally obeyed. This was the general norm. But in the case of rich there was freedom to differ within the system. Rich husbands often gave separate gifts to their wives and clearly had a special say in the upbringing of children. Like other Hindus, Nair women also respected husbands and conducted many religious rights for the well being of husbands. The social set up ensured freedom as well as security to Nair women.
Though old males headed who headed joint families guided Nair women, she enjoyed a fair degree of freedom economically and socially. Ancient Nair women had the right to choose their husbands and divorce if she found it was impossible to maintain healthy relationship. Dowry system was not prevalent among Nairs before 1940s. Nair women were also allowed to learn martial arts (Kalari) and had the right to education.
Nair women enjoyed sexual freedom also but there were checks and balances to prevent it from becoming anarchy. Sexual crimes were less and Males would think twice before trying to attack armed Nair ladies.
When heads called Karanavars took decisions, they took into consideration views of women folk also. Autocracy of Uncles was not tolerated.
Many western trained academics did not understand this complex system and they simply termed Nairs Matriarchal like some tribal communities. But it is far from truth. Such wrong conclusions are the result of trying to define position of Nair women using parameters fixed by Western sociologists. Many of such conclusions are only partial truths and do not really reflect the social system that existed among Nairs.
Such complex family systems came into place as young Nair males were mainly warriors by profession and could not concentrate on the day to day affairs of the family. Old males were into agricultural activities and looked after families.
Nairs owned vast tracts of land in Kerala and their women had the right over crop yields of certain portions. This gave them economic freedom to a certain extent. Of course, the main income had to be distributed by uncles. Normally married girls continued to live with her parents and husbands came to her family. It meant there was little chance for women to face harassment from in laws.
(Marumakkathayam has been abolished by law in Kochi in 1920, Travancore in 1925 and Malabar in around 1933. Nairs now have nuclear families consisting of father, mother and children and sometimes grandfather and grandmother)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mannam International Socio-Cultural and Charitable Centre of Delhi NSS inaugurated

 Mannam International Socio-Cultural and Charitable Centre set up by Delhi NSS was opened at Dwarka in New Delhi in November 2012. President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee formally declared the centre open at a function organised in Rashtrpati Bhavan.

According to a report that appeared in The Hindu on the occasion, the centre, located at Dwarka, seeks to provide care for senior citizens, healthcare to the underprivileged, temporary shelter to the needy who visit the capital, and space for community functions.

Though this blog has no formal connection with Delhi NSS, I think this should be reported to the world as it is an important event for Nair community throughout the world, especially in Delhi and nearby states. But I wish the patrons of Delhi NSS realised the importance of publishing this event through Centre's own website so that those who would benefit come to know about it. Anyway an international institutions needs to have own website and issue periodical newsletters.

In his inaugural speech the president recalled the contributions of Mannam to the socio-cultural renaissance in Kerala.
‘‘Mannathu Padmanabhan participated in the Vaikom Satyagraha in Kerala which resulted in streets around the Vaikom Shiva temple being opened to the socially underprivileged sections of Hindu society as well as the Guruvayur Satyagraha which led to entry of underprivileged classes into temples,’’ Mukherjee said.

He pointed out that Mannam worked with rare zeal and single-minded devotion for the transformation of the downtrodden in society. A large number of dignitaries were present at the function at Rashtrapati Bhavan who included Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor and T.K.A. Nair, Adviser to the Prime Minister.

Let us all congratulate Delhi NSS for opening such a centre. Nairs had significant presence and were influential in Delhi right from the days of independence. However Nairs did not have any organisation or community office in Delhi. Delhi NSS has not only fulfilled the role but has taken the lead in bringing together influential Nairs in Delhi on a common platform for the greater common good of the community and the society. I hope Delhi NSS grows to a big organisation and help and guide Nairs based in North India.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wikipedia Page on Famous Nairs Being Vandalised

Who is afraid of Famous Nairs? Those who read this might think why should anybody be afraid of #FamousNairs. Yes I also thought like that till I saw Wikipedia page on FamousNairs. The page on #Famous Nairs is being edited every day to remove many names from the list.

Now it is obvious that there are people who are afraid of #FamousNairs; or perhaps envious that so many famous personalities were born in Nair community. Now who is editing #Wikipedia too frequently to remove names of #FamousNairs. I don’t know. It would be difficult for you also to find culprits. But we can do one thing. We can e-mail to #Wikipedia authorities to pinpoint those who vandalize Nairs page on #Wikipedia.
I have done another thing. I have decided to update the article #FamousNairs in this blog including names of Nairs who are famous in fields like Freedom movement of India, politics, administration, literature, business and economy, and many more. I have started updating the list.

Nairs are often not considered to be good business men though the community has produced many famous bureaucrats and politicians. But when I began searching for #FamousNairs among business people, I was amazed. There are many top business men in Nair community. If you take a list of ministers and bureaucrats it would amaze you. You will find endless number of names.

Take film field; you find hundreds of actors, directors, singers and others who contribute to film industry. #Take the names of Jananpith award winners from Kerala. Nairs are in majority. When we include this in the list #FamousNairs it is natural for intolerant people to feel jealous. How should we defeat their designs. We should produce more #FamousNairs in every field of life. These jealous people can delete names from the list of #FamousNairs in #Wikipedia. But that does not reduce the number of #FamousNairs. The ever increasing list of #FamousNairs should inspire our community’s youngsters to become big in their field.

This is a competitive world. Nairs don’t have reservation in jobs. But this should make us more competitive; we should be become the crème de la crème.
Here is an appeal to #FamousNairs in different fields. After becoming famous you should not forget your brethren. You should do something for our youth. Lend them a helping hand so that the list of #FamousNairs increase.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Muslim League, Nair-Ezhava Unity and secularism

Ever since Nairs and Ezhavas, the two biggest and most influential Hindu communities in Kerala started talking about close cooperation between them, criticisms and sarcastic comments about the unity have started appearing.

Certain organized groups in Kerala society seem to be uneasy about the impact of Nair-Ezhava unity on the social scenario in Kerala. Some vested interest groups had reaped benefits in the past by making Ezhavas fight Nairs in the name of job reservation and ‘wrongs committed in the past’. Meanwhile these groups silently cornered benefits from government like job reservation by getting themselves wrongly included in the category of backward communities eligible for reservation.

Most vehement criticism about Nair-Ezhava unity came from organizations like Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Popular Front of India and  Jama at Council. The other main criticism came from Mahila Congress. The critics have targeted NSS mainly, which represent Nairs. An analysis of the reasons for their opposition leads to the conclusion that they fear that the benefits they wrongly took away may be lost in the emerging situation. Even if it does not happen they won’t be able to get undue benefits anymore. Actually Nair-Ezhava unity will restore the true secular character of Kerala society which is under threat r currently. Let us analyse how Nair-Ezhava unity will benefit secularism.

 History of unity moves

Since the state of Kerala was formed in 1956, merging the erstwhile kingdoms of Travancore in the south, Kochi in the middle and Malabar (Calicut) in north, power was shared by an elite group of four dominant communities; Nairs, Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims. These communities often formed alliances among themselves whenever they wanted to gain an upper hand or when they found that one in the group was getting upper hand.

 Ezhavas and Nairs, the biggest Hindu castes in Kerala first formed an alliance in 1950s to counter the caste inequilibrium in Indian National Congress’ state leadership which was then dominated by Christian leaders but Nair masses were a major vote bank of Congress. But the unity did not last long. There had been allegations that fissures in the Nair-Ezhava were brought about by those who felt threatened by the emerging new force. Of course, the criticism was aimed at Christian leaders of Congress.

 Though Muslim League was a significant force in Kerala politics even during 1950s, then they did not control power in Kerala and their agenda was limited. So they did not vehemently oppose Nair Ezhava unity then. Slowly by 1970’s, stake of IUML in Kerala politics grew and population of Muslims in Kerala also grew rapidly.

 Muslim-Backward unity against Nairs

 The first intelligent move of IUML aimed at gaining more social influence and power in Kerala was floating of the idea unity of backward castes and Muslims in Kerala which clearly aimed to reduce influence of NSS representing Nairs in Kerala politics. Media and academicians were also used to spread the idea that forward castes, especially Nairs in the past had exploited backward communities. This is actually a travesty of truth as influential sections among major castes and religions in Kerala had exploited backward communities.

 Using backward communities as a shield to fight Nairs, certain religious groups got reservation for jobs in Kerala. Remember reservation based on religion is not approved by constitution of India. Till a few decades back reservation benefits were given to only backward sections in Muslim religion in Kerala. Now almost everybody in that religion gets it by getting themselves branded as backwards.

 Changed social scenario and new emerging equations

 Because of the changed demography of Kerala, parties like Muslim League do not need the support of organizations of backward communities or scheduled castes now. Kerala Media has pointed out that Muslim population as a percentage of total population  in Kerala in 1960s was around 18 per cent currently it is around 25 per cent. It is now difficult to defeat Muslim League candidates in many of their constituencies. While NSS or SNDP may have influence in certain regions in Kerala organizations like Muslim League or Sunni Yuvajana Sanghom have international influence. NSS and SNDP are simply no match to them. The demographical change, increased representation in ministries and the social  progress gained by minority communities in Kerala have made the idea of Minority-Backward coalition meaningless. Minority groups in Kerala have now rejected the idea as they have new aims.

 Though Nair community is branded as forward a major section of the community is now economically backward.  Now backward communities and Nairs have realized that both of them have lost by their needless rivalry. When they fought jackals were waiting to lick their blood first and eat their flesh when they lose their strength. Nair-Ezhava unity is a symbiotic relationship and both communities are likely to benefit. Moreover, it will restore social equilibrium in Kerala which had been facing threat due to change in demography and socio-economic conditions. Thus it will benefit the whole society and reduce communal tensions there by giving rise to a true secular society.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Will Nair-Ezhava unity become a reality?

After a few failed attempts to achieve unity NSS, the major organization representing Nairs and SNDP Yogam, the major organization representing Ezhava community in Kerala have decided to join hands to face issues that threaten the Hindu community in Kerala. The reason for the current realization of unity is the increasing strength of Muslim community in the affairs of the state through their political party Indian Union Muslim League.
The latest development was announced by NSS general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair by the end of June 2012. This was approved by SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan.
Previous NSS-SNDP unity moves
The first NSS-SNDP unity move was made by none other than NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan and SNDP stalwart R. Sankar. Mannam even discontinued the use of his title Pillai for the sake of unity. That unity was mainly aimed to weaken the increasing dominance of Christians in Congress. But the unity did not last. Perhaps egos of two community members broke it. Also it was administered from top. Ordinary Nairs and Ezhavas did not wholeheartedly welcome it.
During the period when Kidangoor Gopalakrishna Pillai was general secretary of NSS again there was unity move. But it did not go further. The political conditions of the time saw a power equilibrium in Kerala among different communities and perhaps that was the reason for the stagnation.
The last attempt for Nair-Ezhava unity was in 2007. The then general secretary of NSS P.K. Narayana Panicker and Mr. Natesan had joined hands to face threats to Kerala Hindus. Though it went smooth for a while and Nairs and Ezhavas generally accepted the unity, it could not go further over silly issues. The main issue was inability of NSS leadership to control their nominee who headed Travancore Devaswom Board which controls temples in southern part of Kerala and the alleged involvement of a SNDP representative in the board in bribery scams. The issue finally resulted in both organizations parting ways.
However the real reason was said to be manipulations made by some Congress leaders in Kerala who were afraid of the threats posed by the unity to political prospects of Congress in the state. Normally majority of Nairs vote for Congress, but Hindu unity means Nairs may vote for BJP.
After Mr Nair became NSS general secretary, he had been sending feelers to Vellappally to revive the unity but Vellappally seemed to be cautious at first. The recent controversy of granting fifth minister to Muslim League and allotting government funds for a large number of educational institutions of Muslims in Kerala are the factors which made Nairs and Ezhavas realize that they have no option but to unite as Hindus.
The current situation in Kerala is entirely different from the past. Muslim community has become financially and politically dominant. The community has now become the largest single community in Kerala accounting for about 25 per cent of population as per official statistics and 27 per cent according to unofficial ones. The flow of petro dollar from GCC has made Muslims the richest community in the state. There are more muslims in Kerala assembly than past.
Comparing unity move with previous ones
Let us check if the current unity will survive. When previous unity moves were made (except in 2007) the Nairs and Ezhavas had not seriously thought about Hindu identity. The growing influence of Hindu nationalistic organization RSS and their political party BJP has created a broad Hindu identity among Nairs and other Hindu castes in Kerala. The new generation is not as proud of caste identity as their forefathers.
The losing influence of communist party in Kerala means Ezhavas, their support base, are not much influenced by Communist ideology which helped divide Kerala Hindus as backward and forward. Now so called backward Ezhavas don’t have attitude of hatred toward forward castes of which Nairs constitute major chunk.
Backward communities in Kerala now do not think Nairs as the group which suppressed them. The rise of political Islam in Kerala has necessitated the need for Nairs and Ezhavas to stand together. So that way there is more chances for survival of unity.
Intercaste marriages are now common in Kerala and Nairs and Ezhavas are more likely to accept each other.
While earlier Nair and Ezhava masses did not approve unity, the current unity is forced by them. Even after the unity move of 2007 made by Panicker and Natesan failed masses of both communities continued to support it. So the present unity move is actually brought by masses. Even if leaders withdrew for some reasons slow unity of both communities could not be denied.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Decline of Nair Supremacy
The word Nair is believed to be evolved from a word meaning leader. And Nairs have been leaders in Kerala throughout the known history of the community which is about 1200 years. But are Nairs truly leaders in Kerala at present? To be frank, a good number of Nairs cannot claim that. How and why a section of Nairs deteriorated? We need to think?

Nairs were initially warriors, farmers and Landlords by virtue of which they became influential in society. It is to be noted that Nairs were liberal feudalists. Their feudalism was marked by strong compassion to other castes. While closing gates of Nair homes in central Travancore servants used to ask loudly if there were anybody who did not have supper.

But those Nairs who always cared for others could not face the onslaught of Christians, Muslims and other Hindu communities. Land belonging to Nair community has been lost because of multiple reasons and is now owned by others. Some of the reasons of decline are;

1 Nairs lost their near monopoly in Army even during 19th century when the British started recruiting others also. The British took away right of Nairs to wear arms.
2. Nairs used to cultivate mainly food grains (paddy and other grains) and coconut and land reforms were implemented on such lands. The lands where cash crops were cultivated known as plantations were exempted from land reforms and therefore minority communities who mostly owned them did not lose it.
3. Nairs considered trading as something not befitting them and minorities and Ezhava community who did trade profited out of that. During the rise of communism in Kerala the left parties mainly targeted land owners and not the rich traders. So it was mostly Nairs who suffered.
Kerala’s development from 19 th century mainly meant trading developed. Kerala does not have many industries. Since very few Nairs were traders and development of trade did not benefit Nairs much.
4 Though Nairs learned from the example of Christians the benefit and strength of Organisation forming Nair Service Society (NSS), they failed to implement careful planning in their operations and could not resist social changes which went against the community. Even the political power wielded by Nairs was soon lost. While NSS wound up its political arm NDP, Kerala Congress which represents Christians and Muslim League which represents Muslims have become more powerful.
5 Nairs took political ideologies to their heart and implemented it in their lives. But others embrace it for their betterment only. In fact a deliberate planning at the community level helped others to do so which Nairs did not have.

How to come out of this present situation?
Nairs need to become industrialists. This is a level playing field as almost all communities in Kerala are novices as manufacturers. Service industry is a sector where nairs can excel. It is a tribute to Nairs that present generation has come out of the shell and many are industrialists. Eg. Ravi Pillai, the Saudi based tycoon, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, owner of Jupiter capital and cashew exporters of Kollam who are mainly from the community.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Protest against the use of abusive word Savarna to denote Nairs

The word Savarna Hindu is being widely used by vested interest groups to mention Nairs and other so called forward caste communities overtly and abuse them covertly. In the context of Kerala sections of fake intellectuals, especially those who are part of Muslim groups with extreme views, use the word Savarna Hindu when they want to abuse Nairs in their articles on the social problems in Kerala.
Many people, especially Nairs don’t bother to think what is the meaning of the word Savarna. Several consider it as a honorific title. Using the word Savarna to denote certain communities like Nairs and using another word Avarna to denote certain other communities is part of a larger game plan to divide Hindu society into two warring groups and then gain supremacy over them.
In the general context the word Savarna means those who are included in the Varnashramadharma ie those inside the four fold Varna division of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. It is now being widely used by abusers in the sense that those who are fair coloured. Abusing people by the colour of their skin is definitely a type of racial abuse.
By pointing out that Nairs are fair coloured and they look different from people belonging to other backward communities seeds of hatred are being laid in the minds of people. Nairs never oppose this as many think that being called Savarna is an honor. This is a wrong approach. Calling Nairs Savarna tantamount to abusing them as calling people by their colour is an abuse.
If Savarna means those who are fair coloured, the a large section of Syrian Christians and majority of Muslims in Kerala are also Savarnas. Why nobody calls them Savarna Christian or Savarna Muslim. None dares to call them. But Nairs are called Savarna Hindus and they don’t bother to oppose it.