In what is being widely rebuked as crass casteism, Malayalam newspaper Janmabhoomi - a conservative newspaper started by the erstwhile Jan Sangh and now seen as the mouthpiece for the Kerala BJP – has published a cartoon ridiculing Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by alluding to his caste. The cartoon, on the contentious Sabarimala issue, is snowballing into a political controversy.
The cartoon column, called 'Drisakshi' or eyewitness, appears on page-one of the newspaper every day. On Monday, the cartoon showed two people discussing the privilege motion that has been moved against the Chief Minister for organising the Women's Wall, an event to explain the government’s stand on Sabarimala. A third person is shown saying that such things should have been kept in mind while giving a plum post to a man who used to climb coconut trees. The cartoon evidently alludes to the caste of the Chief Minister, who belongs to the Thiyya caste. The Thiyyas are a community of traditional toddy-tappers and are among the oppressed communities considered lower down the Hindu social hierarchy.
Pinarayi Vijayan's father Koran was a toddy tapper. The Kerala Chief Minister, one of the tallest political leaders in the state in contemporary times, has often been praised for his accomplishments, despite the struggles he and his family have had to endure due to their social location.
The cartoon appeared in the daily on Saturday and has now become a full-blown a controversy. The cartoon implies that all the trouble in the Sabarimala issue, which prompted the government to organise the Women's Wall event, is because a person of a non-dominant is in a top post.
The cartoon has caused outrage, especially at a time when discourse on Sabarimala and entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 to the hill shrine has turned casteist in several spheres. Many have argued that a majority of the objection to the entry of women in the ‘menstruating’ age bracket has come from those belonging to dominant castes.
The Women’s Wall is to defend the opposition against the women entry and to establish the government’s stand on it. It involves a human chain to be formed from the northern to the southern part of the state on January 1.
Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in a Facebook post lashed out against the cartoon saying that through it, Janmabhumi has published the ideology of Sangh Parivar. "We haven't forgot the Pathanamthitta native woman who called the CM, using his caste name, the Sangh Parivar is blatantly telling us that they have the same standard. The cartoon is a slap on the face of the rich cartoon legacy of the state, which has had cartoonists like Sankar, Abu and OV Vijayan," the post reads.
"There is no doubt that the cartoon is a casteist remark against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. But beyond that it is a challenge to democracy and to the constitution. It is even an offence that could amount to cancel the registration for the daily considering the criteria while giving registration for dailies. The objection in the cartoon is so rooted that they can’t wash their hands of simply by apologising. Pinarayi Vijayan should move legally against the daily," journalist J Binduraj said in a post on Facebook.
Senior CPI leader Pannian Raveendran said that the cartoon is the most visible example of BJP bringing casteism back in the country.
“The cartoon proves right what we in the Left have been saying, that the values of Renaissance should be brought back to defend casteism. The cartoon says that only upper caste people should hold higher and prestigious posts, if a person is the son of a toddy tapper, he should do his father’s job only; and he has no right to become the Chief Minister of a state,” he tells TNM.
“The people of Kerala should unitedly speak against the cartoon. It is disappointing that these people are living in the second decade of the 21st century, and their thoughts are this barbaric,” he adds.