A List of Little-Knowledge Theories about Kerala in the Wake of this Disaster

Addressing the ill-informed criticisms of privileged young Malayalis

Photo credit: Indian Express

By now everyone knows what the Sanghis, probably not just outside Kerala, but also inside, have been up to when others were battling the deluge, saving lives, working round the clock to organize relief: making Lord Ayappan look like a stupid brat (or, actually, painting him in their likeness), spreading idiotic claims that only the rich were affected, or that the Christians/Muslims/commies/everyone who isn’t a Hindutva bigot, are responsible for this catastrophe, and circulating fake photos, from relief work in Gujarat or somewhere else as RSS relief work for Kerala. Really, how we wish we could persuade them all to migrate to the Hindi heartland where ecological disasters are unheard of and will never ever be!

But now, there are other arguments being made which are not really virulent . I am however choosing to respond because these are being made by privileged young people, Malayali, or Malayali origin. They may easily be summarized by the phrase ‘blaming the victim’. Now, in this case it is indeed true that the victims do deserve a share of the blame because the total disregard of nature was characteristic of virtually every section of Malayali society except a few ecosystem peoples. But the blame heaped on Kerala by these young people rarely touch that. Instead, intentionally or not, they create diversions, and though fallacious, these arguments may appear sensible. I am going to list them here because as things improve, they are likely to become more common, especially among those who have not been directly affected by the tragedy — and it is perhaps no coincidence that the people making these are, more often than not, the lucky ones left totally unaffected.

1. Kerala is cribbing and begging for money and not seeing this as a challenge.
Honest truth, I find the ignorance of this claim outright offensive. It betrays an amazing ignorance of the scale of destruction wreaked by the floods. Even the districts that were spared the worst saw plenty of losses. Wonder if this person can imagine what a 20,000 crore loss is? I find it galling that an educated person can’t! And 20,000 crores is only a tentative estimate; it is bound to be higher, not lower. Secondly, as a state that has always contributed very highly to the nation in every way despite our tiny size (around just 3 per cent of Indian land mass) and our minor status in the nation (around 4 per cent of Indian population and South Indian) – in terms of labour, expertise, tax, foreign exchange — we have every right to ask for help. Yes, that is a RIGHT. Our government did not go around with a begging bowl, it asked for assistance to the central government — which gave us peanuts.

And even if it is begging, begging to restore lives is less offensive than gobbling people’s precious tax payment for Ardha Kumbh Mela as though that were the most important thing in the world! That is what the CM of UP did and the central government was only too happy to satisfy that urgent need, apparently. And finally, darling, I am not at all sure you have noticed what beggars in our parts of India say when they approach you for alms. They say, Dharmam tharu/kodu. Have you thought why alms are called dharmam? Well, they are saying, ‘do your dharmam!’, Which is to help the needy. And that’s what everyone here is doing (and if you contributed, you too, to whatever small extent). In other words, beggars are not begging, they are asking you to do your duty as a more-fortunate person. We too, are doing the same.

About Kerala not taking this as a challenge, oh, that I won’t answer because you are probably incapable of imagining the scale of cooperation down here. That’s why we are so confident – all of us, including the government – that we will overcome, irrespective of whether Modi relents or not.

2. Other states donated because they can and are much better in development. Kerala claims 100 per cent literacy but with no development and funds to take care of its needs.
Gosh, a little knowledge is dangerous, really. Other states have indeed been very kind but don’t imagine that these are some huge sums made available because they happen to be very rich. And really, you need to realize that high literacy is of very great value in times of disaster, so also high internet penetration. As someone who’s been active in the rescue and relief work, I can say that if we did not high such high literacy and access to the internet, the number of deaths would have been way higher. No rocket science needed to prove that. Secondly, the claim that ‘Kerala has no development’ is elite commonsense in Kerala that has no basis at all.  We can debate about the quality of growth in Kerala, its sustainability etc. but definitely our growth rates have been among the highest in India since the 1990s. Please look up at least Wikipedia before making such claims.  There are also complex reasons, connected with globalization, liberalization, and neoliberal policies of downsizing the state, for why society is rich while the government struggles for funds. That is not the same as having no funds to take care of its needs. Indeed, the last bit is even more untrue. Kerala has one of the best welfare delivery networks in India, and while it has many flaws and weaknesses, it is absurd to claim that the needs of the people are not taken care of at all! As for infrastructure, road density in Kerala was far higher than the national average, and the weather conditions have been such that roads were always hard to maintain. The biggest challenge that lies ahead lies in rebuilding our infrastructure — and to rebuild it in ways sensitive to the presence of nature is actually the challenge. Unemployment in Kerala is very high, but it has been falling recently. BTW, a large share of the educated unemployed are women, and hmm… maybe a secular version of the Ayyappa’s-angry argument can be constructed … that keeping women unemployed is what caused this disaster … alas, even that is not a valid argument.

But the crux is that the kind of development that you people want, that is perhaps totally unsustainable given the fragile ecology here. Forty-four interconnected rivers traverse this land.  This is a densely populated state, with very little land available.  Large polluting industries are ticking time-bombs; high rise buildings, swanky roads that smother nature, they too — and hell, we don’t want any more ticking time-bombs. We have seen worse things over the past few days.

3.  So many reports from geological teams had already informed state is gonna have issues as well as current quarrying and badly managed water bodies … the current govt did not take them seriously.
Well, I suppose you are referring to the Gadgil Committee report, which is not just a ‘geological team’.  You are right that it was not taken seriously, and in fact, was attacked quite ruthlessly. But then, who attacked it? People like you and me. You don’t even recall the name of the report! And worse, who demands the granite from the quarries? Who buys the ‘water-front villas’ sold by the real estate mafia who take over the swamps and marshes and paddies by hook or crook? Who builds homes that are outright ostentatious, that gobbles up building materials that are extracted from nature, including the quarries? The government is at fault — why? Because it allowed itself to be corrupted by people like us, because it pandered to our unsustainable ideas of social respectability. You and I are responsible too, not just the government, never forget that.

4. Our nearby state has suffered die to our state’s mismanagement (Coorg and areas of Mysore) but are they cribbing like Kerala?
As far as I know the only people cribbing are the privileged elite who refuse to leave their homes in the middle of raging floods because of the possibility of having to mingle with the poor! Others spend their times dealing with the situation sensibly. Interestingly, there are reports from there which caution against exaggerating the damage, and request the diversion of relief materials to Kerala! Secondly, in Kodagu it is landslide that has been the main danger. Poor land management practices are not somehow the curse of Kerala alone; wherever the steep fragile slopes of the Sahya mountains are tampered with this way, landslide can be expected sooner or later. Also, you are right that there was miscalculation by the managers of our dam — but then, it wasn’t just the dams that did us in, it was also the landslides, which were entirely our own making.

5. People were uncooperative, too busy hugging their own stuff, refusing to come out of homes, many mistreated the fishermen, misused helicopters etc. etc.
Yeah, yeah, and there will also be people who take supplies on the pretext of distributing them and instead, resell them etc. etc. So what? Is it any surprise that the upper class and middle class were often uncooperative or at least incredibly naive about their security, so foolishly convinced that they were beyond nature and would need no help from the government, their poorer neighbours? Is it surprising that they were attached to their things and grumpy about losing them? I am sure you and I would feel so too, but maybe those of us who are not entirely self-centred would control such emotions at a moment of the gravest danger? In any case, this is no reason at all to feel cynical about the rescue effort.
We have an enormous task ahead of us. We need more wisdom, not ignorant cynicism.

Courtesy: Kafila Online.



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