This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nissim Mannathukkaren. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How ‘Anti-National’ Kerala Is A Big Threat To BJP’s Hindu Nationalism

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

Last month, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), suggested that “The Kerala government should learn from UP how to run hospitals.” Let the irony of this sink in: the head of the government of a state which is placed second last (among 17 major Indian states) in the Human Development Index (HDI) is asking the state which is placed at the top of the same index to learn from it regarding the health sector.

The issue here is not the political rhetoric (which does not, in any case, know any bounds in the present political climate). Instead, it is a larger one. It is illustrative of the narrative that is being constructed around Kerala in the national imagination by the forces of Hindu majoritarian nationalism.

Of course, the central government has, many a time, misused its powers to dismiss state governments constituted by opposing political parties – just as the communist government in Kerala was, in 1959, a critical moment in India’s democracy.

But here, it is not just about the political opposition. What is clearly visible is the hostility, both cultural and political, from a ruling dispensation (possibly, not seen before, except against Tamil Nadu during the anti-Hindi agitation, and against Punjab during the Khalistani movement). And crucially, this has been amplified by traditional media as well as social media networks doing the bidding for the dispensation.

A prominent television channel called the BJP president Amit Shah’s Kerala trip as a visit to ‘Thundery Pakistan‘. The backlash from many viewers forced the channel to apologise for the ‘inadvertent‘ mistake. Other such outlets, which have utterly-biased programmes on the killing of BJP/RSS political workers in Kerala, have also met with resistance from Malayali viewers and netizens.

A media channel’s coverage of Amit Shah’s trip to Kerala made the headlines for the wrong reasons. (Photo by Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Forwarded messages on WhatsApp and Facebook posts talk of Kerala’s ‘killing fields‘ and its ‘jihadi terror’ factories. And communism itself is often seen as supporting jihad or terrorism.

A few days ago, during a fact-finding mission for the Hadiya case, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women called the situation very grave – so far as forcible religious conversion of women (ostensibly with foreign funding) is concerned. Here, the Commission became a tool of the central government’s political agenda.

Why is this happening at present? The fundamental reason is that Kerala is the ‘last frontier’ for Hindutva and the Hindu nationalist project. MS Golwalkar, one of the central ideologues of Hindutva, and a former head of the RSS, argued that the threats that India faces are more internal than external. According to him, the three internal threats are:

1. Muslims

2. Christians

3. Communists

Furthermore, he argues: “In this land, Hindus have been the owners, Parsis and Jews the guests, and Muslims and Christians the dacoits.”

Astonishingly, Kerala has all the three ‘internal threats’ in substantial numbers – and among Indian states, it is unique in this demographical and ideological mix. This is what leads to the charged and motivated attacks against the state.

The systematic misinformation and propaganda unleashed about the political killings in Kerala is an example of this. As RTI data shows, between 2000-2016, there were 69 political murders in the Kannur district – the hotbed of clashes between CPM and BJP/RSS. There were 30 CPM workers killed, while 31 of these were BJP/RSS workers. For the whole of Kerala between 2006-17, the numbers were CPM: 50 and BJP-RSS: 44. This is a pattern that can be found right from the beginning of the conflict in the 1970s.

What is revealing here, and what has not been explored by the pliant media, is the question that how is it that the so-called ‘victim’, the BJP/RSS (a political force which is electorally insignificant in Kerala) is able to match the ‘perpetrator’, the CPM (which is the dominant political group and which enjoys power on and off) in this reprehensible cycle of violence? Despite the former’s weakness, these numbers clearly indicate that it is not a one-sided conflict.

While the killing of selected individuals intermittently (in which both sides are equally culpable) is termed as anarchy, and leads to a call for President’s Rule by BJP-Sangh Parivar in Kerala, riots in the BJP-ruled Haryana in the past few years, which have affected entire cities and have killed numerous people, do not elicit the same calls.

BJP may be protesting against the atrocities perpetrated against their workers in Kerala, but that doesn’t absolve of their own role in this two-sided violence. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Another sleight of hand practised by the misinformation campaign is to draw a false equivalence between beef lynchings, killing of minorities and Dalits – and the killing of RSS/BJP workers, which are also portrayed as ‘anti-Hindu’. All these killings are abhorrent and have absolutely no place in a democracy. But innocent civilians being targeted just for their caste and religion cannot be the same phenomenon as a protracted and violent political conflict which involves only workers of the BJP-RSS and CPM (incidentally, many of the CPM workers killed are also Hindu).

While the political dimension of the conflict is certainly important to Hindu nationalism, the central battle is on the terrain of culture. That is why the cultural practices of Malayalis, like eating beef or festivals like Onam, are being relentlessly attacked. Beef is, of course, one of the principal discourses of the Hindutva cultural agenda – as we have seen in the last three years. And again, Kerala is the only major state where beef is not only consumed by the vast majority of the people, but also by the Hindu savarna castes.

Similarly, Onam, the festival that celebrates the return of Mahabali, the Asura king, who was banished by the Brahman Vamana (an avatar of Vishnu) by deceit, is antithetical to the Brahmanised notions of religion that Hindutva wants to propagate. Hence, it is not surprising that Amit Shah wishes people Vamana Jayanti on the eve of Onam – thereby generating huge resentment from the Malayalis, again.

The importance of Onam is that it is a rare Hindu festival which is celebrated as a secular one by many religions. It is a ‘national festival‘ of Kerala, rather than being just a Hindu one – which again disturbs the notions of religious homogeneity and exclusivity pushed by Hindutva. Of course, while the myth surrounding Onam is about the just Asura king (who symbolised the non-Brahminical past), in the Kerala of today, it has been markedly savarna in its symbolism, especially concerning the vegetarianism.

Nevertheless, a crucial distinction still has to be made between the ‘upper-caste coding’ of Onam in Kerala (which still allows some plurality and liberating possibilities because of its original intent) and the Hindutva majoritarian nationalist project, which is displaying fascist tendencies. Furthermore, the upper-caste nature of Onam itself is not unchallenged. There are various appropriations of Onam like the celebration of the festival with meat dishes, or its celebration by the Dalit castes as a critique of the Brahminical order.

Finally, there is the aspect of development, which, along with politics and culture, becomes another point of the ‘othering’ of Kerala. But here, the Hindutva regime is at its weakest. If Adityanath’s statements are considered outrageous, they are not an aberration. Prime Minister Modi himself made the egregious equation of Kerala with Somalia. While Kerala is no utopia, especially regarding caste equality, it is the only Indian state with ‘high human development’ – while impoverished Somalia, racked by Western imperialism, has among the lowest human development indicators in the world.

This characterisation also has to do with the Hindutva regime’s propagation of Gujarat’s model as the model for Indian development, as compared to Kerala’s. This, despite the fact that, away from the media glare, Gujarat’s rank in the HDI has fallen from eight to 10 between 2007 and 2014. While the PM pits one state against the nation, the irony is that Kerala is the first state to become a digital state, the first to attain total banking, total primary education, providing electricity to all houses, and the third state to become open defecation free. Incidentally, all of these are also PM Modi’s pet projects.

Ultimately, Kerala’s plurality is a deep threat to the majoritarian nationalism and the monolithic, Brahminical Hinduism that the Hindutva regime wants to propagate. After all, the state’s successes in human development elicit the shortcomings in Hindutva’s economic model.

Without having societies like Kerala as its ‘anti-national other’, Hindutva (in its current form) loses its raison d’être.

A shorter version of the article was first published on The Hindu.

The author is Chair, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada. He tweets at @nmannathukkaren.


Featured image source: Hindustan Times via Getty Images
You must be to comment.

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

Similar Posts

By Accountability Initiative

By Suneel

By Bashiruddin Faruki

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below