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Assam’s NRC reveals Kerala’s true colours

J Devika | Updated on September 27, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

The others: A woman in Assam’s Morigaon district rushes to a National Register of Citizens listing centre. On September 1, writer and All India Radio employee KR Indira suggested on her Facebook wall that those left out of the NRC be put in detention camps   -  The Hindu

A recent debate on social media showed how communal hatred and age-old notions of patriarchy unite people on both sides of the argument

These are particularly interesting times for those keen on maintaining whatever shred of communal amity that Kerala still possesses. The debate on the State of India’s recent decisions regarding Kashmir and Assam — the scrapping of Article 370 in the former and the completion of the second round of the National Register of Citizens in the latter — has emboldened many xenophobic Malayalis.

One prominent voice was of a woman called KR Indira. A programme officer at the All India Radio, Indira is also known for her Facebook posts on current affairs. Known as a rationalist, she has appeared on many public platforms as an advocate of gender equality, often espousing controversial positions. This, then, is an educated, employed and empowered woman with not only higher education but also membership in the cultural elite with “progressive credentials”.

On September 1, her Facebook post on Assam’s NRC exercise sent shock waves through the Malayali community on social media. In the post, which has since been removed, Indira suggested that those left out of the NRC should be put in detention camps and sterilised in order to prevent “indiscriminate breeding”. The police in Kodungallur, Thrissur district, registered a case against the AIR employee and writer under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code — for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race and birth. It is another matter that she is still not under arrest despite non-bailable charges. Local media also reported that the complainant — MR Vipindas of Kodungallur — has alleged police harassment.

So far so good. But the comments on her by others on Facebook make my head reel. A leading Dalit activist takes this opportunity to rubbish matriliny, implying that this woman belongs to a “fatherless” matrilineal culture. A Muslim woman taunts her by saying that Muslim women’s bodies are proudly fecund in a way “barren” women will never be. In response to a comment that Indira was most likely deranged, an activist mocks that “spinsterhood” and childlessness could have indeed driven her mad.

While I am deeply offended by Indira’s communal statements — especially the ones that prescribe an attack on the bodies of those whose names are missing from the NRC — the obscene comments being heaped on her, too, are equally reprehensible.

My real worry is whether her critics — some of them are sincere people that I have interacted with — are really as distant from her as they think.

Take, for instance, the Dalit activist I mentioned. His attack on matriliny arises from his entirely justified criticism of the Sudra/Nair homestead system, which was crucial in enslaving the Dalits and devaluing their knowledges. But his anger chose to highlight something that is either peripheral to the question at hand, or actually a huge exaggeration: The alleged unimportance of paternal belonging among matrilineal communities (which, by the way, were also often avarna). In effect, it became a missile against women who live outside marriage and raise children on their own. And, in a strange and covert way, it justifies sterilisation of young women as a means of controlling female bodies as long as it is not overtly violent, performed in the interest of consent-based patriarchy. It does not care to take seriously the fact that the average age of female sterilisation in Kerala is 26. It happens inevitably after the wife has reproduced her husband’s genetic material adequately, in numbers and quality — usually, after two healthy children. It assumes that the woman’s reproductive powers must necessarily be made available solely to the first man she marries. The Dalit activist does not see his complicity in reaffirming this banal violence of women’s bodies.

Indira’s ire against the people left out of the NRC is that they lack “roots” and “belonging”: They did not originate here, they are of alien blood. As masculinity studies have taught us, the State is hyper-masculine, and when this quality is intensified, the elimination of “illegitimate progeny” appears justified. Those who oppose her cannot avoid this insight; they cannot endorse the exaggerated demand for the affirmation of paternal roots.

In simple terms: KR Indira cannot be countered with KR Indira.

 

J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

Published on September 27, 2019
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