Letters from a Malayali Hindu Sister to a Malayali Hindutva Sister

From today I will be posting of a series of letters I write to a cousin of mine who was persistently sending me the most bloodthirsty Hindutva forwards on Whatsapp. I am not on family Whatsapp groups and this person is really a distant cousin though we have indeed spent some happy times together in our childhood. It is this correspondence that convinced me that upper-caste-born Hindus of privilege, as well as those of the privileged middle-castes, need to really start taking an open, persistent, unafraid stand within their own groups against Islamophobia. The people being steadily injected with this poison are strangely disconnected from the mixed neighbourhoods where they live. Until now, relationships there among people of different faiths have been friendly, even intimate, by and large.

I posted all the letters I wrote in Dec 2020 on Facebook. She did not respond to me directly, but did make some cursory remarks on my letters in intimate circles, which reached me. I wrote four letters to her in Malayalam. I will be posting them as four different posts, with an English translation. I continue to write in response to direct and indirect communication and intend to keep this going in public.

I think these are important because they convinced me that one must indeed stop thinking that public debate and rational argument will solve everything. We need to go into the most intimate circles, scour the corners of ourselves.

THE FIRST LETTER

Dear Chechi

I have been reading all the stuff that you forward to me about how the Hindtuva fascists have been doing all sorts of good for us Hindus, how they are true Hindus, how Muslims are all demons etc. etc. Chechi, you know perfectly well that I don’t share your views. So I don’t know why you have started bombarding me with these forwards on Whatsapp — but anyway, it may be good to talk about these things openly, so I thought I will write this letter.

Not blaming you, ok? I know that this sort of venom was lying quiet in our family waiting for a chance to spread. Remember, when we were kids, how many of our elders couldn’t stand the Ezhavas? They were the people who used to buy our fields and garden land too. Remember, it was with the money from such a sale that made up your dowry, so that you could get married to Chetan, a government clerk!! Ah, I remember how we had a bash spending all that money for a wedding far bigger than our means actually allowed, how we slurped and burped at the sumptuous feast and then proceeded to insult the Ezhava family that bought our land, calling them chovans [a derogatory name for the prosperous but reviled Ezhava caste — they were avarna, but became prosperous and educated in the twentieth century] and other such bad names!

I also can’t forget how all of you used to call Sreenarayana Guru such horrid names — ‘Cement Naanu’ and so on. But the lady in their house used to be so kind to us children. It was in their house that I first read a book which had the Guru’s ideas, at the age of eleven. That house was so clean, so nice, unlike our houses which were so untidy. Honest truth, I have never been able to get over the distaste I felt for us at the age of eleven.

And now you cant’t stand the Muslims who you deride, calling them methanmar [an insulting term to refer to Muslims] etc. And it is precisely that methan family who saved you by buying your plot of land when your daughter was to be married. It is an open secret that Chetan is no mean player when it comes to pocketing bribes — the buzz in the family is that the fifteen heavy necklaces our girl wore for the wedding were from that money. But when you had to get that new car and flat for the boy as well as money for that aircon-hall and the feast and the gifts for the mother-in-law and sisters-in-law and others, you decided to sell that paddy field which was anyway weedy and neglected. Didn’t we tell you that one of us could buy it, just reduce the price a bit? Did Chetan listen? No! And that mappila [a way of referring to Muslim, not derogatory] gave you the price you wanted, and didn’t you blow it all up then? And now you go around saying horrid things about the mappila and muslims in general, is that even fair?

My dear Chechi, these Modi-Shah fellows, after all they aren’t our neighbours or something? When Chetan had that chest pain some time back, who was there to help? Not your stuffed-up son-in-law who was in Chennai? Not your daughter for sure? It was that mappila boy next door who rushed him to hospital in his car, remember? Not that silly uncle of ours, the case-less lawyer who’s hovering around the BJP and offering to print Chetan’s awful poems in the Kesari? [the journal of the RSS in Malayalam] And definitely not that leech-like man — the retired chap with the sandal-pottu on his forehead? I forget his name — used to be an engineer in the KSEB who hung on to the CPM’s union till his retirement to get everything done for him, and is now planning to milk the ‘Hindu’ cause dry? Of course, they came. But they are not your neighbours, are they? After all when you screamed the place down when you saw Chetan gasping and choking, you weren’t screaming, “Hindus alone please help?” You were surely saying, please anyone nearby, please help! When the mappila boy rushed to help, and actually did everything a son would have done, what makes see him only as a methan? Shame!

Chechi, listening to these people who make you hate your neighbours is going to make things really hard for you. I am not blaming you, after all you got married right after school, to a man from our community chosen by the family, you just raised the kids, watched TV, went to the temple, then did more of the same every day. You were among people who told you that only people of our caste are good, and now you follow them when they tell you that only Hindus are good.

So I am telling you. It may be okay to be continuing this way, i.e. spreading this poison on Whatsapp etc. as long as Chetan gets his pension. But the economy is looking horribly sick, so we don’t know when we all will have to depend on our sons-in-law etc. And now there is this thing called the Citizenship Amendment Act, for which we have to dig up our ammumma’s documents. That IS going to cost a lot! It’s going to be a lot of paperwork, but worse, the local tahsildar and other fellows are going to have a lot of say and Chetan’s old contacts may not be enough. Don’t think your Modi-Shah fellows are going to save you — our case-less lawyer uncle is already salivating thinking of the money he’s going to make doing our paperwork. And you may remember, he’s always had an eye on your ten cent-plot by the new highway! Be careful, otherwise the children may have to come down from Gulf and Chennai. The SNDP people might help, but I know that you’d rather die that be helped by the Ezhava people.

But if they are going to actually stuff the CAA paperwork down our throats, don’t look for me because I will go to the detention centre with the methanmar and others. Actually, it isn’t so bad, come to think of it. There won’t be comfort or cash or the hope of getting out, but there will be warmth and affection. We’re all getting old, and that’s what we really need — some love! Better than dying in some god-forsaken super speciality hospital with tubes in every orifice. Think about it.

Much love from your younger sister,

Devika

13 thoughts on “Letters from a Malayali Hindu Sister to a Malayali Hindutva Sister

  1. Yes Devika! It is imperative to get into our intimate family and social networks and take apart the noxious and toxic arguments that are being used to defend caste and religious phobia. I have been doing it with some who I thought were friends who shared similar values and just humanism! Thanks for this. Inspiring.

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  2. I wish you success. Be prepared for disappointment, though. Too much must now be called “noxious and toxic”. My first cousins, with whom I played when we were children and whose children’s and grand-children’s photographs, taken by me over the decades, are in several families’ photo albums, have distanced themselves. Those who are kids today are told not to associate with a “grand-dad” (“Nana” or “Dada” or “Thatha”) who might sully their minds with godlessness. Perhaps it is just as well that an isolated old man shall not see for much longer the effects of bigotry on the land in which he was born and grew up.

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    1. I am not trying to convert her, like you said, persuasion is almost impossible. I just want to rip off the hypocrisy and the pettiness that makes many middle class people endorse fascism, about which they lie to themselves. I definitely am not trying to make some sugar coated sweet remedy for fascism.

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      1. Ms. Devika,

        The words “like you said” appear in the middle of a sentence. Do they refer to the earlier words or to those which follow?

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      2. The earlier words, the punctuation was confusing, sorry! I am saying that persuasion with kind words is not what I am trying to do. This exchange began when the CAA was passed and WhatsApp forwards that warned non Hindutva hindus that they would receive no part of the spoils when the muslims and Christians were finally driven out of kerala were being circulated. It was sent to me too.

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  3. While, I do appreciate the need to discuss these issues in our close circles and not limit such discussion to just public forums, I find this letter to be too aggressive/offensive (to the person to whom it is addressed). It may leave her speechless but may not touch her heart.

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  4. While, I fully endorse the viewpoint and effort that we need to discuss such issues in close family circles too and not limit such discussion to public forums, I find this letter is rather too aggressive/offensive (to the one whom it is addressed. It may leave her speechless but it is not likely to touch her heart.

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    1. I don’t think the idea is to provide a sweet cure for fascism of the heart. The effort is to tell, in this case, the most uncomfortable truth, which we all know as a family but will only whisper about or not speak at all. My experience is that there sudden spring towards the violence of Hindutva by middle class individuals is often against the ground of the worst pettiness. I am not trying to convert her, I am forcing her to think about herself and stop pretending.

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