Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kannur killings - modern day gladiators

Seven men killed in the First week of March, 2008 in Kannur, Kerala. It started off with a group of people chasing and killing a young man from an opposition political party with long Sickles and hammers made to order from broken truck suspension leaves and such. Then the dominos killing one after the other. Young men between the ages of 20-30 mostly from the lower caste 'Thiyya' (ezhava) and living in extreme poverty were slaughtered in broad day light on rural roads, leaving the surviving family to the mercy of compensations provided by the respective party. (I was told that even the compensation is not handed over to the surviving family in full but they get the interest on the fixed deposit made by the party with withdrawal restriction on the the principal amount.)

Political killings in Kannur is not new. According to a report:

'Kannur has been limping from murder to murder since the 1970s, when the RSS began to grow influential in the area. In 1981, RSS and CPM workers were locked in a two week-long bloodbath that claimed 24 lives. Since then the cycle of violence has continued unabated, despite innumerable peace initiatives. In the past five years, some 3,500 incidents of political violence and 36 killings have been officially recorded in Kannur'.

In a state that boasts 100% literacy and near first world human development indexes, what makes one region resort to these extreme medieval violence? Hasn't the civilization made inroads into this part of the world where first Malayalam-English dictionary was written in 1872? Believe it or not, this region had a well established administration as early as 14th century AD under 'Kolathiri' Kingdom. It's history is ornated by 'vadakkan pattukal' (gladiator stories of chekavar men dueling to death to resolve the quarrels of the local rulers) and 'kalari payatu' (an indigenious form of martial art dating back to 12th century AD).

Chekavar is a warrior section of the Thiyya (Ezhava) caste who formed the militia of the local chieftains and kings. These men were skilled assassins and skilled in the deadly art of killing. Women folks sang the glories of the historic chekavars while working in the paddy fields. They do that even today in the fields; whatever is left of it after the Persian gulf remittance fueled massive farm land filling for construction.

Well, that history continues even today. Young men with little means dying for the ruling class. The ruling class is no longer the kings. The kings and chieftains are replaced by politicians who are groomed in a culture of violence starting as early as high school leader elections. But the chekavar's remains the same. In a rural system, aligning with a political party is the easiest way for the poor and aspiring youth to glory and redemption. They don't have the means to go to Persian Gulf to make a living. They dont have the education to get a job in the largest employer in the state, the state itself. They don't have the entrepreneurial skills to do business. The state has the highest unemployment in the country (by some accounts as high as 20%). So most of them work hard in the labor market to make a decent living and mortgage their lives to political leadership who promises salvation through struggle. They have even coined a word 'varga shathru' (Archenemy) to refer to people belongs to a different political party. With Hindu right wing trying to lure the lower caste men into their fold away from class based polarization, there is plenty of fuel for the fire. But both factions exploit the poverty, aspiration and above all the legacy of the chekavars who died killing fellow men for the ruling elite, leaving their family in a cyclic pattern of poverty, helplessness and violence.

Kerala High Court remarked 'Manslaughter is a sport in Kannur. Lucky are the ones who die a natural death in Tellicherry'. The Romans could be forgiven for the blood sport. But should the kannur politicians forgiven for pushing modern day gladiators into this heinous blood sport?

Murder’s On The Manifesto Here - Tehelka artcle"

3 comments:

RAMESH said...

THERE IS A MISTAKE IN THE ARTICLE.
"CHEKAVAR" IS NOT A ARMY OF LOWER CASTE EZAHAVAS . CHEKAVAR (AROMAL ECT)
BELONGS TO UPPER CASTES SUCH AS NAIR/NAMBIAR/KURUPPE ECT

PLS CORRECT IT.

Sree said...

Dear Ramesh,

Aromal was born in the famous Puthooram Veedu, a Thiyya chekavar family of Malabar. According to Shabdathaaraavali Malayalam dictionary, the meaning of the word 'Chakavan' is Ezhavan.

Check the wikipedia links below.

Chekavan - from Wikipedia

Meaning of Chekavan - from Shabdatharavali

Thanks for posting your feedback.

Sree

Anonymous said...

Pretty good blog. People in kannur should realize that they are being used and wake up. I have experience of being pushed into politics from childhood. I could see my friends were made like a puppet for these political daemons.