Whether it was a Christian, Muslim or Hindu cabbie, they all boycotted activist Trupti Desai at the Kochi airport as she was an outsider trying to force a change in a Malayalee tradition, in the process also affecting the local economy
A young lady from Nipani, now from Pune, tried to head for a temple where she is, per tradition, not eligible going by pluralistic traditions for two main reasons. The first is that she has not done the 41-day vratham, which involves a large amount of abstinence and some amount of strict adherence and the second is that she does not fulfil specific age-gender criteria, particularly about menstruation.
Trupti Desai claims to be apolitical but has been through pretty much the complete spectrum of political formations in India — the Congress, AAP, Anna Hazare and, it is said, even the RSS!
And they weren't Hindu devotees alone who boycotted her. Cabbies, including Christians and Muslims, refused to take her to her coveted destination.
The age and gender segregation here, incidentally, is not specific to only this temple or the Hindu religion; similar traditions not permitting either gender into specific categories or domains or areas of responsibility are known to exist, and continue to exist in pretty much every religion in the world.
But for Desai, the Sabarimala tradition provided an easy — and rich — target. Sabarimala is amongst the richest temples in India. And the faith in it as well as the benefits to society, especially people who live in and around, are vast. Easy pickings and diversion, some would say, for somebody with flexible ideologies and gun-for-hire methods.
That's, in brief, Trupti Desai. And her rag-tag band of followers, tilting at windmills wherever they think they may hit pay-dirt.
To understand this better, some disclosures.
The rank and file of drivers and support services community are probably equally divided between the three or four main religions in Kerala. But the uniting factor of the same drivers is very clearly Kerala and Malayalam. Any sort of demonstration at Kochi Airport is, therefore, first and foremost, way above any specific religion.
I have been visiting Kerala for the past four decades and have never stayed at a resort except once in 1989 on a company conference. The rest of the time has been as a guest of a wide range of people, from taxi-drivers to three-star retired to ‘shippie’ friends to plantation estate owners to car dealers to lawyers to Raconteurs and, when that didn't work out, at any lodge near the railway station.
And I have taken a huge interest in checking out the architecture, tradition and evolved systems at old religious and royal buildings in Kerala. Vratham Sabarimala, Parumala St Gregorius, Vidyarambham Cheraman Kodungallur. Quite a few palaces, some not open to the public, though my favourite remains the Padmanabhapura Palace — in that small enclave of Kerala within Tamil Nadu. From those eyes-wide-open visits come my observations.
One reason for what's happening at Kochi Airport is simple — follow the money. Nobody, least of all the people dependent on tourism, especially pilgrimage, want Kerala or ‘God's Own Country’ to become like Kashmir, which used to be the valley of the gods. Not even the Kashmiris who have pretty much taken over huge shares of tourism-related shops in many parts of Kerala.
The second reason, as I get it from friends in Kerala, is slightly deeper — nobody, and especially Malayalees, want to see their way of life being changed drastically by outsiders. Regardless of what is right or wrong, the thinking Malayalee — especially the talking, arguing, vociferous Malayalee — will not let anybody else force a change down her or his throat. They will, in due course, do it themselves.
A short interlude on the subject of women. A very well educated young man brought home a very well educated bride; this was in the 1950s. A few days later, he discovered that she had been banished to the outhouse. "Our traditions," said his mother. All respectfully followed.
The young man did well, moved on out of Kerala, and in due course, we are now in the 1960s when his parents visited him. No outhouse and only one kitchen. "Our traditions," said the daughter-in-law, and everybody continued living happily.
The way it was explained by the then south Indian daughter-in-law to her new Punjabi son-in-law decades later was this — change in traditions comes with strength. Wise words indeed!
So what happened at the Kochi airport, then?
Third and most important reason. Simple. To an outsider looking in, the thinking middle class in India is rising and saying "enough" to some supposedly wise men and women sitting in state and Union capital cities. And this is starting from Kerala — because that's where we have the highest percentage of middle class people in India.
The average typical media types will try to colour it by gender issue or by religion, but this is way beyond those fissures.
Outside the Kochi airport, the Indian middle class is making itself heard — and not being divided by religion or gender.
What ‘follow the money’ is in the context of pilgrimages
Globally, for every religion, the sheer volume of consumer spending on leisure travel is eclipsed by religious tourism. No hard figures exist on this, but look at it this way: The complete economy of one of the richest countries in the world, the Vatican, depends on religious tourism. All of them have their traditions, which add to the mystique and aura and, in turn, add to the revenue model. Disrupting any of these religious pilgrimages or even interfering from outside with the traditions can and will have the effect of destroying a total economy based on religion.
There is big money involved in destroying traditions which generate economic strength. And nowhere is this more dangerous than in India. As we in India emerge from the dark ages of the socialist depths we were thrown into, there are forces which would try to keep us down.
No way better than to attack our traditions in the bargain!
After all, we have all seen what happened to tourism and pilgrimages in Kashmir.
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Last Updated Nov 17, 2018, 4:12 PM IST