By Dr Jishad Kumar Murali
Kerala is often touted as the role model for secularism in South Asia. There is historic relevance behind the secularism model of Kerala. Unlike the rest of India, the non-Hindu religions in Kerala arrived not through violent invasions but mostly through relatively peaceful trade interactions (albeit there were incidents of communal violence against Hindus in the early 20th century, such as the Moplah Movement in Malabar). However, in the past few decades the realities of the rest of India have influenced the experience of secularism in Kerala. The ‘appeasement politics’ of the state has reduced the much avowed secularism model of Kerala to ‘secularism at the cost of Hindus’. Kerala’s politics has predominantly revolved around communism, and unfortunately in India, the communists have propagated a narrative to undermine the native and indigenous cultures of the land.. The rulers of Kerala have at the same time appeased religious communities for electoral benefits in Kerala, leading to a lopsided definition of secularism.
While the attempt to discredit Hinduism in particular isn’t a recent phenomenon, it certainly is creating more fissures in Kerala’s society than ever before. Today, the Kerala Hindu society is lacking social reformers, such as Chattambi Swamikal and Sree Narayana Guru, who fought against anti-Hindu activities. It lacks individuals like Mannath Padmanabhan, who in the past was the bulwark against the communist machinery. As many non-practicing Hindus have moved away from the Hindu rituals, they have also lost the zeal to defend the continuous attacks on their religion, and thereby leaving a small section of practicing Hindus to fend for themselves. Today the communist administration doesn’t interfere in the religious practices of Muslims or Christians, which is absolutely right, but continues to attack the centuries old Hindu traditions (for instance, the issues raised recently at Sabarimala).
The Marxist policies have somewhat succeeded in weaning away the youth from taking interest in their religion by corrupting the institutions of Hindu temples. In India, while the mosques and churches are privately managed by the followers of the respective religions, the famous and rich Hindu temples are managed by the government. Taking advantage of this biased constitutional provision that goes against the basic tenets of secularism, a general body called the Devaswom Board, working under the aegis of the state government of Kerala to supposedly ‘protect’ the temples and to ‘preserve; their heritage, manages the temple funds on the diktats of the Kerala government. For instance, the Guruvayoor Devaswom Board transferred Rs 5 crore to the Kerala government’s treasury in the name of the Chief Minister’s Covid Relief Fund. The same Devaswom Board attempted to sell off precious temple belongings to fund the communist government’s expenses. Two political parties, alternatively ruling Kerala, appoint their own trustworthy people in the Devaswom Board Committee and siphon off funds as they please. However, such methods are not used in other places of worship, leaving the Hindus to wonder why they are not treated as equals to other religions in Kerala. During the Covid Pandemic, the state government already distributed a fairly reasonable amount of money to support Madrasa teachers, but not for the teachers of the Hindu religion. Remember, Madrassa teachers are already given support from the government treasury.
In the absence of prominent Hindu leaders in Kerala, the Hindu society is left at the mercy of the Communists. Continuous weakening of Hinduism in Kerala and the simultaneous strengthening of fundamentalist forces from other religions by state design has turned Kerala’s secularism on its head. Hundreds of Hindu activists have been killed in the past decades while hundreds of ISIS terrorists have come up from the state. Towards the goal of keeping power in Kerala, will the Kerala administration let the beautiful state slip into a downward spiral and let it become a supplier of terrorists who go and join ISIS? Or, will the Hindu society rise again in Kerala and define secularism as it was truly meant to be (where the government does not interfere in the places of worship of any religion)?
Disclaimer: Views written in opinion pieces only reflect the author’s thoughts – – not SAHF’s.