news Monday, January 05, 2015 - 05:30
​Deepthy Menon| The News Minute| November 16, 2014| 9.00 am IST Like most pravasi Malayalis, I'm guilty of romanticising how liberal my very educated state is, nostalgia varnishing over the changing realities of the state. During the recent general elections, BJP's disappointing show in the state despite the 'Modi-Tsunami' sweeping across the country had led to several opining that it was a reflection that that Kerala was not ready to embrace right-wing politics yet. But recent incidents force me to wonder if frequent, short visits home really help to guage how much is changing beneath the surface there! I grew up with friends of mixed religious parentage, who themselves are now married to people from across India (and the world), without worrying about familial opposition. My belief is that the communist influence on Kerala’s formative years as a state, promoted the practice of keeping religion private and distant from public life and practices. However, these days the religion that one follows appear to be dictating the political beliefs too of an increasing number of Keralites. These trends are now out in the open, more so, on social media platforms – which have become the new havens for moral policing, political bullying and even threats and intimidation. Political patronage and/or family clout often also ensures that they escape penalization or legal prosecution. The case of Gautham and Anshida reported from Kerala is a scary example of this nearly 360-degree model of intimidation. The fault of the lovers was that he was Hindu and she a Muslim from a relatively influential family. So when the couple eloped, the search for them spanned across Kozhikode, Bangalore and Kochi. The girl's family opposed and those assigned to conducting the search were hired gangs of goons (more popularly known in Kerala these days as quotation gangs). Several of these goons are also self-declared activists for political organisations. The political overtones to this inter-religious marriage does not cease there. Throw in rival offers of protection by political outfits for the girl or the boy, whoever converts to the other's religion - it begins to sound like the script of a film! However, there is a bigger, unseen threat to the young couple's well-being, says Gautam - not the quotation gangs or the bride’s powerful family, but the social media. Photographs of the lovers were freely circulated on social platforms like Facebook, allegedly by those in the quotation gangs, in an attempt to smoke out the couple that had gone in hiding. Vicious threats that warned the couple of dire consequences, say the family, were far scarier than physical intimidation that Gautham and his family continue to face. Read- Will this Hindu-Muslim couple from Kerala ever be left in peace? The use of social media as a preferred weapon for intimidation and even heckling appears to be gaining popularity across Kerala. Last October, fans of film actor Mohanlal had virtually waged a Facebook war with Pakistanis for hacking the actor’s official home page. Campaigns against right-wing political intolerance, as witnessed recently in cities like Kozhikode and Kochi have been largely fuelled (and also criticized) online. Earlier, I’d noticed online trashing, vulgar comments and moral policing were primarily directed at actors and television celebrities.  However, this incident of online threatening of Gautam and Anshida for marrying against the family wishes and wanting to live together reflects a very dangerous trend – of a witch-hunt that combines online threats with physical intimidation, making them feel hunted with little support – in the physical or virtual space. Even at the time of publishing this piece, no arrests had been made in connection with stone-pelting on Gautham’s house allegedly by members of the quotation gangs. Cases filed against threatening or abuse on social platforms too are rarely seriously pursued. Do we even need to wonder whether the police have tried to nab and question those threatening moral and religious doom on the young couple for daring to go against their religion for love? These days, the image that a pravasi Malayali cherishes of their homeland appears far from reality - from an egalitarian, communist state to a radically communalized – Kerala has transformed, literally and figuratively. The communists of Kerala had for several years been a powerful force playing the balancing force that kept the orthodox parties with communal vote banks in check. In later years, eroded ideologies and weakening of traditional political fronts lead by the Left and Congress have created huge swathes of loyal communal vote banks. Many districts in Northern Kerala saw the rise of organisations like the NDF and PFI with links to mainstream parties, the IUML too played on the religion card for years. That the BJP is yet to score a political win in elections looks all set to change soon, going by the increasing clout of Hindu right-wing organisations like the NSS, RSS and the SNDP. Secular politics, as was largely seen in Kerala looks to be losing its sheen. Politics has always been a matter of great interest for the Malayali, but now it appears to have pervaded all aspects of life-including who you can love and who you cannot. Far from growing as tolerant, culturally and socially active, a big chunk within the fastest growing cities of Kerala too seem keen to subscribe to a conservative, rigid outlook circumscribed by religion and other communal leanings. The polarization is increasing at an alarming pace. If the opinions expressed and activism on social media are any barometer of the mood on the ground, then today’s Kerala has definitely a lot to worry and introspect about! (Deepthy Menon is a burnt out TV journalist, with no political allegiance, left or right. Her current avatar as a mercenary writer and communication strategist is largely her way of funding her insatiable lust for travel and stories).
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