Kerala's racial intolerance against migrants is on rise, with upper classes trying to exercise superiority

The treatment of all migrants, including Tamilians, not fair in Kerala.

TK Devasia October 05, 2017 20:15:16 IST
Kerala's racial intolerance against migrants is on rise, with upper classes trying to exercise superiority

Kerala witnessed a huge uproar when Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Vishwas described nurses from Kerala as "kali peeli" (dark skinned) three years ago, in what was described as a "racist" comment.

But a racist action by officials of the government-run Kerala House canteen in New Delhi has gone unnoticed in the 100 percent literate state, that is known for its historic struggles against social and caste barriers.

Niranjan Kumar, a New Delhi-based correspondent of Puthiya Thalamurai TV, faced the bitter taste of racism when he went to the canteen for lunch on 2 October. The official at the counter passed the racial slur when he sought change for Rs 100 after making the payment for the food.

Keralas racial intolerance against migrants is on rise with upper classes trying to exercise superiority

Representational image. AFP

"Why all people are coming here for a change. You are a Tamilian. Get out," thundered the official, according to Niranjan. The distraught scribe left the canteen without taking his food. Later, he described the incident on his Facebook page saying that he was heartbroken by the behaviour of the official from a state that boasts itself as one of the most enlightened ones in the country.

Canteen manager G Prakash admitted lapse on the part of the official manning the cash counter. “The unfortunate incident occurred due to the rush during the lunch time. The official lost his control when the journalist persisted with his plea for the change. He did not mean to insult Niranjan. It was an impulsive reaction,” Prakash said.

He told the Firstpost that a large number of people, including journalists, has been coming to the canteen everybody. The officials have been cordial with everybody. This is an isolated incident, which should not have happened, the manager added.

A spokesman at the chief minister’s office said that they had not received any complaint from the journalist. He said that the government will investigate the matter if the concerned person lodged a formal complaint with the authorities. “We cannot take action based merely on a Facebook post,” the spokesman said.

A Malayalam translation of the post in Tamil was shared in the WhatsApp media group of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan but neither the chief minister nor any officials took note of it. Even the media, which is very vocal against human rights violations, did not find it worth reporting.

The attitude has not come as a surprise to the Kerala watchers since racial intolerance has been on the rise in the state for some time now. Last week, a 45-year-old migrant worker from Tamil Nadu, whose leg was severed by his roommate in a drunken brawl at Kuttippuram in Malappuram district, was denied treatment by three hospitals, including two government medical colleges in the state.

K Rajendran, who had suffered a vascular injury, had to be taken to Coimbatore after he was denied treatment in the state. In a similar case in August, another migrant labourer from Tamil Nadu, who was injured in a road accident, died after he was denied treatment by half-a-dozen hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, including the Trivandrum Medical College.

The deceased, Murugan, hailing from Tirunelveli, went through eight long painful hours in an ambulance before succumbing to his injuries. Five private hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram refused to admit him apparently as there was no one with the patient to pay the bills. But what prevented the government institution, where medical care is free, from providing treatment to the patient suffering from brain haemorrhage is still being investigated.

Noted Malayalam writer Paul Zachariah said that money could have been a major reason for the denial of treatment to both Murugan and Rajendran. "The attitude of hospital authorities would not have been the same if the patient was a Keralite. Therefore, no one can be blamed if they view the treatment meted out to the two Tamilians by the hospital authorities in Kerala as discriminatory," he added.

He told Firstpost that Keralites have been treating Tamilians unfairly because of their skin colour. They address Tamils as Pandi. Though the term reminds Tamilians of the great Pandya dynasty that ruled part of the present-day Tamil Nadu until the 15th century, Malayalis use it as a derogatory term to address Tamil manual labourers who work in Kerala.

Tamil labourers started flowing to Kerala in large numbers in the sixties when the wages in the state shot up following the Communist rule. When they grabbed the jobs that the local labourers considered as theirs by accepting lesser wages, the latter started turning hostile to them.

"The hate is lingering on even though the living condition of Tamilians has improved vastly compared to Keralites in the wake of an economic explosion witnessed by Tamil Nadu in the past few decades. Ironically, Keralites who migrated to Tamil Nadu to take advantage of this economic upheaval are treated well in Tamil Nadu," says Zachariah.

The writer said that the racial intolerance towards Tamilians was part of the upper caste mentality prevalent in Kerala. People belonging to upper castes treat the lower castes even in Kerala as inferiors still. Their behaviour is based on skin colour.

State public works minister G Sudhakaran recently ran into trouble for using a racial slur for a World Bank official, who came to the state for reviewing the implementation of the bank-funded Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP).  When World Bank threatened to cancel the loan, the minister tendered an apology saying that he did not know the word was offensive.

Interestingly, Keralites have not been this intolerant towards migrants from the eastern and northern parts of the country, who are not as dark-skinned as Tamilians. A study on the social integration of migrant workers by Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment showed that 80 percent of the migrants felt that the local people were friendly and helpful.

The remaining 20 percent reported bad experiences while travelling in buses and trains and interacting with their neighbours. The study conducted by Lizy James and Dominic Mathew found that these migrants were discriminated mostly because of poor hygiene.

The local people and the police also view them with suspicion whenever a theft or other crimes occur in the area. The study said that many migrants had complained of harassments and torture by the police whenever they were caught in connection with a crime.

The treatment of all migrants, including Tamilians, not fair in the media either. A recent debate on a prominent television channel turned racist when the participants portrayed the migrants as criminals and outsiders who create trouble in society and pollute the race or culture. One police officer even went to the extent of saying that after a few decades it will be hard to find a 'pure' Keralite due to the influx of workers from other states.

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