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Friday, February 22, 2013

Nairs and social changes in Kerala; Communist movement and Nairs

The period just after Kerala state was formed was a turbulent phase in the history of Nair community in Kerala. Steps for social re-engineering implemented by different political parties and governments starting from first Communist Government lead by EMS Namboothiripad shook the basis of Nair community. 

Nairs faced attacks on many fronts; their economy, Hindu faith, social status and family values were all challenged by forces which wanted to re-engineer the society.

Of course, Nairs resisted by reforming themselves and fighting against ill effects of changes though it is doubtful whether their resistance was based on right understanding and an ideology. It was mostly an issue based resistance without any ideological support.

Attacks on Nair economy

Nairs who were military personnel, landlords and agriculturalists found themselves being denied of their livelihood. Earlier, mostly Nairs were recruited to Travancore Nair Brigade and armies of Kochi raja and Zamorin. When Travancore Nair Brigade was disbanded after independence, Nairs lost monopoly over military jobs. They had lost monopoly in military in Malabar much earlier, as it was being directly ruled by the British. Land reforms implemented after Kerala was formed mainly took away lands where food grain was cultivated which were owned by Nairs. Plantations mostly owned by Christians were out of the purview of land reforms.

Reservations in government jobs meant 50 per cent of total jobs was  unreachable for Nairs and for the rest they will have to fight along with others. Government welfare schemes never considered the plight of Nairs and hapless Nairs had none to support them. Many Nair families witnessed sudden end of their source of income. No jobs, no land, no help from government.

Several Nairs started selling their land for a pittance. The false pride of the community prevented it from doing menial jobs. The situation was shocking. Demography of several Nair majority villages changed.

The economic plight of Nairs of Kuttanad who cultivated rice is portrayed in the novel ‘Kayar’ by Takazhi Shivasankara Pillai.

While Nairs started selling land, it was mostly brought by Christian community. Many Nairs migrated to Indian metros like Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. Though some of them prospered, the community as a whole did not benefit much. Muslims started to establish themselves as traders whereas Nairs considered trading as below their status. Ezhava community prospered by their monopoly over country liquor business. While Muslims and Ezhavas and a significant percentage of Christians enjoyed reservation in jobs, Nairs had nothing.

It is amazing that a community even when denied its legitimate income sources failed to protest or respond. In fact Nairs were benumbed.

Attack on Hindu faith

Communists while trying to popularize their ideology in Kerala, attacked religion and were focused on attacking Hindu religion. Income generating major temples were brought under Devaswom Boards owned by government. Government took away the income of temples and started using it for purposes they deemed fit. Earlier, though Nambooothiri Brahmins owned temples, Nairs also had a stake in many aspects of administration. Land and Gold of temples were taken away. Land reforms were administrated on temple lands. But government did not dare to do the same with Church and Mosque lands.

Progressive parties at their meetings vehemently criticized aspects of faith to wean away youth from Hindu religious institutions and faith. Communists wanted Hindu youth to be loyal to their own ideology and no other theology. Though there was attack on Christian church they were more restrained and Chruch was well organized to thwart it.
Self proclaimed progressive leaders wrote literature and transformed art forms to suit their own ideology in which ‘Savarnas’ were portrayed as exploiters of lower castes. All efforts were made to create division in Hindu society and pit Ezhavas and scheduled castes against Nairs. But unlike the anti-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu they did not use the word Nair and used the word Savarna to denote exploiters. This may be because of the fact that Nairs constituted around 16 % of state’s population, a sizeable number indeed.

Progressive thinkers often misquoted texts like Bhagavad Gita and Puranas and Smrithis to prove that they were obscurantist. Temple committees were infiltrated and  religious education at temples were stopped by cunning 'progressive groups.

Up to 1980s so called progressive movements were able to convince a major section of Hindus other than Nairs that being religious is obscurantist and to get marked as a progressive one has to disown Hindu religion. But a national level Hindu consolidation after 1980 has reversed the situation.

However one should take note that this vehement progressive attacks on religion was confined to Hindu religion. Christianity received less attacks and in case of Islam the attack by progressive groups was almost nil. Progressive are in fact afraid of Muscle Power.

Attack on Social setup of Nairs

Forces of social re-engineering often encouraged strife in established Nair Tharawads. One strategy was to attract brilliant youth from erstwhile Landlord families and make them slaves of their ideology. The presence of such youth used to give political parties credibility in particular areas. These youth were influenced to stand up against elders and question their authority. The elders were thus disarmed as they often refused to fight their own children and accepted defeat in the fight with “Progressive Parties’ without resistance.

Love marriages were another weapon to disintegrate Nair families. Girls were often enticed and marriages often were used as weapon to lower prestige of families and destabilize them.

Social re-engineering forces worked at grass roots and created strife between nairs and other Hindus at temple festivals, social fairs and intervened and then exploited the situation. It was all intelligent planned acts but even Nair Service Society failed to see the planning.

The multifaceted attacks saw Nairs losing much of their prestige in the social set up of Kerala. In forty years extending from 1950 to 1990 the loss to Nair community has not been measured. It is doubtful whether Nair Service Society (NSS) had ever considered this. NSS had intervened in politics and had ensured places for a few leaders but community never gained much.

NSS needs to review the changes in Kerala and its impact on Nairs. We need to form a strategy and fight within the existing system to protect their interests. This is the legal right of every caste. We need to make use of it.

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