Notes on the Making of Feminine Identity in Contemporary Kerala Society

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Marxist scholar, political activist, theoretician, writer and teacher T K Ramachandran's 1995 article in Social Scientist on the ideological constructs of feminine identity in contemporary Kerala society.


Speaking of the stark discrepancy between German thought and its material basis, Marx ominously predicts: 'it will one day find itself on the level of European decadence before ever having been on the level of European emancipation' and be 'comparable to a fetish worshipper pining away with the desceases of Christianity: (MECA, III, 183). In more senses than one, Marx's metaphor poignantly captures the odd curve described by the social development in Kerala. The rising wave of caste hatred, communal riots and the shocking criminalisation of everyday life have rudely shaken the self-complacent, self- congratulatory assumptions of the left regarding the 'essentially progressive character' of Kerala. Spectres of reaction which were thought to have been exercised and safely put away in the heady days of anti-colonial, anti-feudal struggle are once again beginning to stalk the streets. And the once proud bastion of radical politics and enlightened thought has all of a sudden come to wear a slightly jaded and all too vulnerable look. Like a child prodigy who, at the approach of middle age, finds himself under pressure to pay off the overdraft of adulation that he had enjoyed at an early age, so touchingly portrayed by Adorno in Minima Moralia, Kerala society too is squarely faced with the problem of living up to the 'early promise' that it had shown. Indeed, the alarming eclipse of women's freedom and the attenuation of their social status in contemporary Kerala society are grim pointers to this.

Modem social scientists are wont to urge, justifiably enough, that a society's progressiveness can be judged from the treatment it metes out to women and children. From this point of vantage the track record of Kerala, in recent years is far from gladdening. Crimes against women, from eve-teasing and molestation to gang rapes and murder, are disturbingly frequent. Instances of suicides and dowry deaths are multiplying. The objectification and commodification of the female form in popular media is getting to be crass and cynical. What is more striking is the enigmatic silence of women themselves in the face of these atrocities and that despite the impressive achievements of Kerala in spheres like women's education and employment! No doubt these disconcerting developments have to be seen against the backdrop of the waning hegemony of the left and the systematic abridgement of the rights of the masses that has come in its train.

The full article is attached below.

Marxist theoretician and political activist, T K Ramachandran died in July 2008.

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