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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Analysing Relations between NSS and BJP/Sangh Parivar (Part I)

BJP which is trying to get a firm foothold in South India is finding the prospects of a tie up with NSS, organization of upper caste Hindu Nairs tantalizing; It is so near yet too distant. In fact it is natural for centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to tie up with NSS which supports interests of middle class forward caste Nairs who have always been flag bearers of Hinduism in Kerala. But NSS is found to be reluctant to openly support BJP.

Possible benefits for both NSS and BJP

The benefits of such a tie up are many for both to dismiss. It will definitely give more acceptability to BJP and pave way for BJP to Kerala assembly. It may even result in a formation of a new political coalition in Kerala with a prominent role to BJP, and Perhaps lead by BJP. For NSS which currently finds itself neglected by traditional ally Congress, a tie up with BJP will help a great deal. Congress is becoming more dominated by minorities and so NSS needs to find an alternative political ally. It may help NSS to bargain more benefits for Nairs in the state and at national level. Yet it is unlikely that NSS may come out with open support to BJP in any near future.

Let us examine this complex relationship. To begin with let us examine the role of Nairs in BJP. It is generally accepted in Kerala that Nairs form the backbone of Sangh Parivar organizations in Kerala at present. The work of RSS in Kerala was initially confined to urban areas and migrant communities like Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Tulu Brahmins and other groups lead it. It was confined to Migrant communities, especially business communities. RSS did not have much influence in the society then.

RSS gains foothold in rural Kerala

It was in the early eighties that Sangh Parivar , especially the RSS, began to gain a foothold in rural Kerala and Nair youths were in the forefront to give strength to RSS. A section of middle class Nairs, especially farmers who worked with the Congress found that at many places Congress has become unable to protect their interests. It was their clash with CPM that inspired many middle class Nairs to align with a cadre based RSS rather than clash with minorities.

During the period, groupism in the Congress had intensified and the party had split into opposing groups lead by A.K Antony (current union defense minister and former CM K Karunakaran) Helpless and disgruntled Congressmen, mainly from Nair community, found a new hope in RSS with its discipline and committed cadres. 1980s saw RSS sakhas mushrooming in all parts of rural Kerala. The period also saw violent fights between RSS/Sangh Parivar cadres and CPM. Scores of youth were killed on both sides. In several places in central Kerala, like Kottayam, Idukki and Parts of Alappuzha district, a small section of upper caste Syrian Christians who were friendly with Nairs also covertly and overtly supported RSS.

But even as Nair youths began to join RSS, NSS (organization of Nairs) during the period remained firmly allied with Congress. In fact, NDP the political party of NSS had been an ally of Congress lead United Democratic Front (UDF). Many Congress and UDF leaders were leaders of NSS also.

Thus it is clear that the spread of RSS/BJP in Kerala  in 1980s was linked to anti-CPM feeling. This was evident in the fact that during the period votes won by BJP in assembly/Lok Sabha elections do not reflect the strength of Sangh in Kerala then. It had been alleged by CPM at that period that many RSS workers used to vote for Congress in the elections. There were reports that many BJP leaders used to sell votes to Congress, especially K Karunakaran. There might have been some truth in it as some RSS/BJP leaders might have been forced to offer support to Congress in order to save its workers who were charged with cases following RSS-CPM clashes. The former Congress sympathizers who newly joined Sangh Parivar were not averse to voting for Nair Congress candidates.

Three things are to be noted about this complex political situation. 1. RSS/BJP grew in Kerala and their mass base was constituted by middle class Nair youths who were formerly Congress sympathizers/workers. 2. Though these Nair youths joined RSS they did not completely sever ties with Congress. 3. Even as some of the Sangh Parivar leaders managed to rise to leadership of NSS they either did not try to take control of NSS or failed to get the control because of the complex situation.  Thus NSS generally remained with Congress till recently.

Congress stranglehold on NSS

When NDP (political party of NSS which was powerful in 80s and disbanded by 90s) was disbanded by NSS, NDP leaders were rehabilitated in Congress. NDP MLAs later contested as Congress candidates. At this point NSS leaders became mentors of Nair leaders in Congress and thus a new relationship was formed.  Congress made certain such leaders ministers in Kerala and union cabinet and this ensured that NSS-Congress relations is entrenched at many levels. Thus it is clear that Congress has strangled NSS in many ways and it is not easy to break out. Nair leaders of congress used to ensure that NSS supported Congress.

NSS has many educational and other institutions and need to interact closely with the governments. It gets influence in ministries through certain ministers belonging to the community. Heads of different corporations, universities etc are appointed by different fronts that rule Kerala taking into consideration views of NSS also. Thus it is clear that ruling governments in Kerala always take care to protect the interests of NSS to some extent. So it is difficult for NSS leaderships to come out with open support for BJP which does not have any chance of forming government in Kerala in near future.

However despite all these, NSS is being forced to change its age old political stand because of changing socio-political conditions in Kerala. It had formally severed ties with Congress recently. Now how will this redefine relationship of NSS with BJP? We will discuss it in another article.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kerala forms Forward Castes Corporation and Commission; a long standing demand of Nairs

Finally it seems Forward Castes in Kerala including Nairs who form 26 per cent of total population (according to official records) have been able to get something from the Government. Forward Castes Development Corporation constituted recently and Forward Castes Commission to be constituted shortly are definitely a solace to Kerala’s Forward castes (of whom majority are Nairs and secondly Syrian Christians. Brahmins form less than 1 % of population) who have been neglected by Congress and Left front governments that ruled Kerala ever since independence of India.

Newspapers that reported government’s decision to act for the welfare of forward castes have pointed out that as per officials surveys it is now clear that poor people of Forward Communities of Kerala have become socially and economically backward. The fact is that a significant number of Nairs in Kerala have become economically backward and this will result in they becoming socially backward also. While Forward Castes Development Corporation has already announced different scholarships for students the commission which has powers of civil court will also review condition of forward castes and may give suggestions for their welfare.

Discrimination against forward castes

Forward castes in Kerala have been discriminated against in every sense. They can apply only for 50 % of job vacancies in government services. Even in that category they have to compete with candidates from reserved groups. Their plight in getting government jobs does not end there. The rotation system followed by government in appointing those who are selected in competitive examinations held by Kerala PSC (state recruiting agency) means only almost 1/3 rd of the meritorious forward caste candidates selected in PSC exams will eventually be appointed. It means when an open merit candidate is appointed, then a scheduled caste candidate and next a backward caste candidate has to be appointed before the next open merit candidate gets chance for appointment.

It is a shocking truth that chances of getting appointment for candidates from reserved categories in government service is several times higher than more meritorious candidates from Forward castes.

Then there is reservation in promotion too. In some departments in Kerala it is almost impossible for officials from forward castes to become the head. In many departments number of officials belonging to forward castes is very few not even reflecting their proportionate numerical strength in the society.

While members of reserved communities including Muslims got several types of financial helps in addition to reservation, forward castes did not get much. Scholarships given to SC, ST, OBC, Muslim, and Christians from reserved categories are enough for them to pursue education. But Nair students who come from poor families get little help. While even children of rich businessmen who belong to reserved categories get financial aid and reservation poor Nair children and youth whose parents are labourers won’t get anything. Moreover they are abused as Forward Castes and denied benefits.

Unscientific classification of Forward and Backward castes
The classification of castes as forward and backward is totally unscientific because forward and backwardness are relative. For example while Nairs are forward castes compared to Ezhavas and SC, STs they are backward compared to Brahmins. Similarly while Ezhavas were socially backward compared to Nairs they were forward compared to all other OBCs and SC/STs. There was hierarchy even among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The topmost in hierarchy among scheduled castes practiced untouchability towards the rest.

Historical records in Kerala have pointed out that caste hierarchy was stricter among different castes now considered OBC and SC, STs. Even after all these years of practicing social justice, how many people belonging to OBCs will readily enter into a marriage alliance with SCs and STs? Not many will do it. So it is clear that the ploy of classification of castes was a trap by political parties to divide society and get votes. In Kerala all Muslims are considered OBCs. This is just an appeasement considering the fact that Muslims have never been discriminated against in the history of Kerala and they have a respectable status. (They were called Sahib and Muthalali etc, all pointing to their high status)

Congratulations to NSS leadership and Kerala CM Oommen Chandy
Media analysis of the decision of Kerala govt to form Forward caste corporation and Commission says as NSS leadership has now distanced from Kerala CM Oommen Chandy and Congress, the govt resorted to welfare measures to appease Nairs. Whatever may the reason be, the decision is welcome for Nairs. Others could have done that but they did not. So Oommen Chandy needs be congratulated for this act. But this does not also mean all Nairs who distanced from Congress will comeback. Forward Caste Development Corporation and Commission are rights of Nairs. We expect government to end all types of caste based discrimination.

The government needs to prove that it is sincere in its approach to uplift forward castes. Forward Castes' Development Corporation needs to be given enough funds and Forward Castes' Commissions needs to have enough powers. The government should implement it also earnestly. Recently it had been reported that kerala govt has reduced qualifying marks of OBC students in SET examination (eligibility test for becoming teachers) while increased it for Forward Caste students. This is shocking. This proves government is going forward with appeasement.

It is true that the strict stand of current NSS general secretary Sukumaran Nair towards Congress govt that forced the government to declare some welfare measures for Forward castes. NSS had severed all ties with Congress recently and said that it won’t support Congress candidates in the coming elections. The Congress knows very well that many of their candidates in the coming Lok Sabha elections cannot win without votes of Nairs and so came out with welfare measures.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Are Nair Youth falling into the trap of Terrorist groups and conversion mafia?

Nairs are one of the few castes in South India whose caste identity is synonymous with religion. It means for being a Nair one has to be a Hindu; once he converts, he loses Nair identity too. One could rarely find a Christian Nair or a Muslim Nair unlike Christian Nadars of Tamil Nadu and Brahmin Catholics of Goa.
(Non keralite readers please remember that Nairs use an array of surnames of which the most common are Nair, Menon, Pillai, Nambiar, Panicker and Kurup. All those with these surnames are Hindus)

Despite all the difficulties faced because of various social changes Nair community has steadfastly adhered to Hinduism. However a disturbing trend has surfaced of late where Islamic groups have succeeded in converting Nair youth. There are not many such converts but there are enough that warrants a study on this phenomenon. More shocking aspect of the conversion is many of such neo-converts have joined Terrorist groups like Lashkar E Toiba or modern versions of SIMI. Let us examine a few prominent cases.

The case of Javed Hassan Sheik, a LeT leader who was killed while allegedly on his way to kill Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is one of the most widely reported case involving Nair converts. Javed who was Pranesh Pillai before conversion hailed from a middle class Nair family from Alappuzha district of Central Travancore where social life used to be inseparably linked with annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala, festivals at the innumerable temples owned by Nair Community and a strong sense of brotherhood.

According to media reports, Javed (Pranesh) had a troubled childhood following family problems. His mother died early and father married another woman. Media reports say that he was involved in petty crimes during teenage and the family had financial difficulties. He even completed his school education with the help of an affluent relative according to reports. All these could have made him vulnerable to overtures by organized terrorist groups who seem to be targeting youth from middle Nair class families. Pranesh was sent to North India (here Pune) by his father for a job where he loved a girl from Muslim community and got converted. A report appeared in The Hindu has details of his life in Pune where he developed contacts with and slowly became a part of LeT.

The case of Al Umma leader and ISI agent Imam Ali formerly Hari Kumar, is also similar as per some media reports. Only difference is details of his antecedents are not that much known. According to some reports Hari Kumar hailed from Haripad also in Alappuzha district of central Travancore from where  the family migrated to Chennai following financial troubles.  While these are two widely reported cases, more cases are reported locally by media.  Poor Nair youth who suddenly disappear from homes are reported in local media. Often they return silently and help families. The number of females converted by Islamic organizations run to hundreds. It is not unlikely that at least some of them are associating with extremist groups. Conversion of noted Indian English writer and poetess Madhavikkutty who hails from a top Nair family in North Kerala is the topmost example of Nair women falling into the trap of love and converting.

Role of Nair social organizations in preventing conversion

While there may be people who argue that there is no need to get panicked by some isolated incidents one cannot dismiss the fact that no male member from any other Hindu caste in Kerala had been reported to have converted and rose to key positions in Terrorist organizations. Conversion of Nairs and their entry to Terrorist groups is the result of social situation in Kerala and remedying it will reverse the trend. Nair organizations need to do serious introspection as to why a small section of younger generation of a community known for its nationalism, law abiding nature and unflinching loyalty to Hinduism fall into the trap of Terrorist organizations.

Let us look into Javed’s example again. When Javed alias Pranesh initially returned to his home, he was not welcomed. But when he offered financial help to the poor family slowly he gained acceptance. This could have possibly helped Javed to maintain a double identity and a safe haven. It is for intelligence agencies and the Police to analyze this aspect. But for social organizations the incident is an eye opener. Poverty is making Nairs vulnerable to all types of allurements. They need act quickly to help Nair youth who feel dejected.

Several Nair families in Kerala are economically backward though socially forward. After the implementation of land reforms Nairs who owned major section of land used for food grain cultivation lost a large part of their land. Kerala used to have little opportunities to do business and Nairs who were basically soldiers and farmers in the past did not find it easy to do business. Moreover while Muslims and Christians had access to capital from Gulf and European countries Nairs don’t have any such links. While reservations in jobs enjoyed by other Hindu castes in Kerala and all Muslims and a sections of Christians have given them positions of power in government in large numbers, getting a government job is a Herculean task for Nairs . Well off Nair businessmen based in Gulf or North India rarely comes forward to help the community. Many Nair youth are frustrated and no wonder poor Nair youth find it unable to deny offers of economic help from Extremist groups.

Nair Service Society (NSS) also has failed to do anything significant to uplift the Nairs economically. While it is true that G Sukumaran Nair, present general secretary of NSS sometimes takes a bold stand on issues regarding Nairs, some of the previous leaders of NSS had made the organization inert and shied away from forcefully demanding for the community. There had been allegations that they always wanted to gain goodwill of Christian and Muslims groups and were eager to project a secular image even at the cost of rights of their own community.

Absence of cultural and moral awareness
Another most important factor for conversion of Nairs is lack of religious and moral education. Earlier in Nair joint families children grew up listening to the morals of stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana told by grandmothers. With the break-up of joint families grandmothers are out and parents often don’t impart cultural education. While all family members used to light up lamps in the evening at home and prayed together now that is absent. Around 15-20 years ago while walking through country roads of Kerala one could hear singing of prayers by children during the twilight hours. Such a thing is rare now and Nair children have little knowledge of the culture of their forefathers.  Though realizing this NSS has recently started religious education in all Karayogams (basic units) it seems to be seen how successful the initiative will be?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nair Service Society (NSS) to celebrate centenary of its formation

Nair Service Society or NSS, the social organization of Nair Community from Kerala now spread all over the world will complete 99 years of its existence on 31 October 2013.

Nair Service society general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said on the occasion NSS is going to organize centenary celebrations from January 2014 to January 2015. Speaking at the 100 th anniversary of Vijayadashami Nair Meeting at Changanassery Nair said Nair community needs to become more vigilant in current times when the Government is neglecting Hindu community and its rightful demands.

Sukumaran Nair said NSS is now taking a strong stand against the neglect of Nair community by the Government. Nair said NSS is organizing several programmes on the centenary year to strengthen the organization and ensure the welfare of Nairs.

Nair said two recent initiatives of NSS, which are its social service department and human resources department, have performed commendably. Social service department has taken steps to ensure employment to Nair youth and ensure their economic progress. The human resources department is implementing projects for the social well being of Nairs, he added.

Spiritual Classes to be held for Nairs
Sukumaran Nair said NSS will work to remove superstitions and outdated customs among community members which cause unnecessary expenses to families. NSS is starting spiritual classes in all Karayogams (basic units) to ensure awareness of Hindu religious philosophy among Nair youth and children and create a new social outlook among them. NSS aims to create a new generation who are morally and socially strong, said Nair. He added that the spiritual centres would start working from December 31 this year.