When we discuss the caste question in Kerala, people acclaim with a loud clarion, “This is Kerala, there is no place for caste here. Keralites don’t believe in caste.” Even if we say this with utmost good intentions, we can see that covertly and openly, the diabolic caste oppression is still going on in Kerala. There are a plethora of reasons to say this. In the current scenario, we can see how this nefarious system is working in the K R Narayanan Film Institute.
We all are well aware of the fact that Manusmriti treated Shudras as unfit to hold property and get education. Manusmriti clearly puts restraint on a shudra to read and get educated. If anyone hears anyone reading Veda, molten lead is poured into his ears. Ekalavya, the avarna is quoted as a classical example, who had to sacrifice his right thumb for expressing his desire to learn archery. Now, we have traversed almost two millennials after that period. But still, situations remain the same, even in the most progressive state of Kerala.
K R Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts (KRNNIVSA) of Kerala, named after the ex-President of India, has become a casteist hell for the students especially, from the most unprivileged SC-ST-OBC students. We can see how deplorable the conditions of the students and the cleaning staff are, due to the bureaucratic brahmanical treatment by Shankar Mohan, the Director of the Institute. The cleaning staff are forced to clean his toilets forcefully and are treated like slaves. The EGrands are delayed by the director due to which, many unprivileged students are unable to afford food from the canteen. One student had to leave the campus due to lack of funds. But still, the Director, who is continuing as the director, even after crossing the limit of 65-years (As per the Government Order of 2022), is completely negligent and insensitive to the student demands.
Now, when a student was denied admission to the institute, grossly flouting the reservation policy, the problem became more obvious and exposed. During the admission of the 2022 batch, Sarath, a Dalit student was denied a seat even though four of the total ten seats in the editing category were left vacant by overturning the reservation (despite a government order not to vacate seats). Those who fought for the availability of E-Grant, students belonging to the OEC category are being persecuted by denying all the opportunities they deserve. Appointments to the post of Dean, Production Controller and Art Director were made without proper notification. Persons without any prior experience in the field of teaching were appointed as teachers. Despite constant complaints from students about the quality of classes, the director took action to protect them.
When these issues breached all limits of tolerance, students took to the streets raising slogans of resistance. The strike has been going on for more than 45 days. The institute was closed temporarily multiple times. Even after this relentless struggle by the students, the government is ready neither to take a stand on this issue nor to intervene in this issue. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, a veteran Padma Vibhushan-winner film Director, who is the Chairman of this institute is doing nothing but justifying Shankar Mohan. Adoor, with utmost vanity said, “I shed my caste surname at 20. So please don’t give me lessons on casteism.” This statement in itself is a manifestation of pride and vanity, which came with his caste but couldn’t be shed with his surname.
Mainstream student organizations aligned with ruling class parties like CPI, CPIM, Congress, Muslim League etc. took a stand for the namesake but did nothing commensurate with their organizational capacity. Now, the entire cultural community is being polarized into two factions: on one side, those who acclaim Kerala as a casteless place and therefore oppose the students’ claims. Those people are to be strongly opposed, especially people like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Ranjith. On the other hand, there are those who vehemently oppose caste discrimination, be it in Kerala or UP. In this issue, unity among these forces is a key for making this struggle triumph.
Kerala is the land where Sree Narayana Guru and Iyyankali fought to break the barriers of caste. At the same time Kerala was also the land of origin of Adi Shankara’s Brahmanical Advaita Siddhanta. Those who declare that there is no caste in Kerala should understand that the roots of Brahminism are deeply rooted in our psyche and it is difficult to uproot it. We cannot eliminate the caste by just removing surnames, even though it is necessary. It is necessary to organize relentless struggles to annihilate caste by fighting against all kinds of manifestations of caste present everywhere. It is also necessary to publicly declare our intolerance towards issues like what is going on at the KR Narayanan Institute.
All over India, the worst form of autocratic dictatorship of finance capital has made an unholy nexus with the Brahmanical forces of India. Minorities and avarnas are the biggest victim of this fascist regime. That’s why, we can see the increase in caste discrimination in educational spaces all over the country. The silence of a party that claims to be the vanguard of the working class, in such a crucial situation, is deadly for the people. But it is also to be noted that Kerala, under the left-government, was the first state to implement the brahmanical EWS Policy, formulated by BJP, destroying the cherished ideas of Social Justice. No one can trust their commitment towards the subaltern sections of our society, when they themselves are engaged in oppressing the people.
Niranjan K S is a law student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.