Sunday, February 06, 2011

Identities - iii

Differentiating identities:
A homogeneous religious identity of classes and castes was, in my opinion, the sole reason why inequalities could sustain for such a long time between minority upper classes and majority lower classes. The success of Communism in some societies owe it to the new identity that it gave to people. Interestingly, opposing religious identities can become catalysts for class wars. One such example is the Mappila Rebellion of Kerala. The peasants who were Muslims rebelled against their landlords who were the castes.

The peasant Muslim rebels already had a practice for their actual struggle in the Khilafat movement. The Khilafat movement was a religious, a completely irrelevant for a slave Indian peasant, and in retrospect, absolutely shortsighted pan-Islamic movement of Indian Muslims. But that is expected from a wrong ideology like religion. The upside of this religious movement was a meaningful fight against the feudal system. In South Malabar , the feudals were the castes and the peasants were Muslims (and the castes). We hardly hear about the castes rebelling against their co-religionist feudals until the Communist ideology came to that society. This of course does not mean the castes accepted their fate or were passive. Obviously, there were no leaders to group them together and channel their anger. Anthroplogist Dilip Menon makes an interesting point on the plight of bonded labourers in North Malabar society where peasants more mostly castes and suffered more than the Muslims in the southern Malabar[1]. The opposition to the caste system he finds in the Teyyattam, a spirit worship tradition of Tulu and Malayali tribes and in the sorcery practices.

According to him, sorcery in Kerala society was generally associated with Brahmins and Parayans (one of the erstwhile untouchable castes). Whereas for Brahmins, sorcery was a way to maintain their grip on the general population, for Parayans it was a way to protect their space of dignity. Because of their position in the hierarchy they didn't have any protection from upper caste atrocities. Sorcery(or the fear associated with it) was their way of keeping away others from exploiting them. He states that (hope that is not conjectural), the regions where landlords were known to be malevolent the number of sorcerers from the lower castes were higher than the regions were landlords were known to be benevolent to their peasants.

The common religious identity is probably the main reason why Pakistan society is still feudal ridden and there was no revolution worth talking. Even though India too have feudal mafia run states like Andhra Pradesh, the situation is not as humiliating as in Pakistan where feudal dominance in the politics has been unchequered (but the tide is inevitably turning).

Reference:
1. The Moral Community of the Teyyattam: Popular culture in Late Colonial Malabar, Dilip M Menon, Sage Publications

1 comment:

anilkurup said...

Interesting observations.
Though my exposure to the topic you mentioned is limited, I infer the following from sources I read and gathered long ago.

If the British used the division of Bengal on communal lines to create a lasting rift, the Khilafat movement was an utter nonsense Gandhi endorsed.How can one say Gandhi did not play the Religion card?The congress and the Indian independence movement had no business to rally against a reformist movement and its leader in an obscurantist society that Turkey was then.
And can we discount the influence of communism played,here in Kerala to root out the dominance of the upper caste?
And perhaps an atheist reformist philosophy helped Kerala to throw the yoke of casteism to a good extent- I mean the dominance of the upper caste. Which is not the case in Andhra , Bihar or in the neighbouring Pakistan.