THE DALIT VOICE
`CLASS STRUGGLE ISN’T ENOUGH'
By K A Shaji
M Geethanandan is the face of a resurgent adivasi-dalit identity in Kerala and the architect of a number of recent dalit and adivasi struggles to regain control of lost land and water resources. Describing both adivasis and dalits as the worst affected of an exploitative social system, he is of the view that the two communities need a combined initiative to fight attempts to keep them as separate entities with nothing in common.
Born in Thayyil in Kannur district in 1954, Geethanandan is a Marine Sciences ma. Though he worked with the Accountant General’s office in Thiruvananthapuram for two decades, he found his Marxist thinking in constant contradiction with the grim realities he faced as a dalit in the Communist heartlands of Kannur. When Naxalbari’s ‘spring thunder’ found echoes in the minds of young radicals in Kerala, Geethanandan found it more acceptable than the cpm doublespeak. Saying goodbye to the ag’s office, he became part of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Kerala, then led by K. Venu and KN Ramachandran. He shifted base to Thrissur, where he floated unions for workers in the unorganised sector.
“The trade union activities in Thrissur made me a dalit activist. The people I worked with were extremely poor dalits. Their problems required a caste-based approach rather than a class-based one because the discrimination against them was mainly caste-based. The Left never had any satisfactory answer to caste-based problems,’’ he says. The dismantling of the Soviet Bloc also eroded his faith in Communism. His association with dalit movements grew, particularly after a protest at Kurichi in Kottayam against the Kerala State Electricity Board for not changing the course of a high tension line over a dalit colony.
When it came to dalits, neither the mainstream nor the fringe Left ever had an answer to caste-based problemsIn 1996, he met adivasi leader CK Janu and formed a camaraderie that resulted in many landmark adivasi-dalit agitations. It was the 48-day-long stir for food, land and housing in Thiruvananthapuram, about five years ago, that made Kerala take note of his organising capacity as the tribals forced the then AK Antony government to accept their demands. Later, Geethanandan was active in the Muthanga tribal agitation in which more than 2,000 adivasis had occupied a barren portion of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. A government-ordered crackdown on the agitating tribals had resulted in the killing of one adivasi and maiming of several others. He has 12 CBI cases against him as a result of his role in the stir.
Geethanandan is now the general secretary of the Rashtriya Mahasabha, a political platform of dalits and tribals. He is also the only non-tribal member of CK Janu’s Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha.
“In Kerala, there are more landless dalits than adivasis. I have to assemble them on a political platform, not a communal one to fight for their rights,’’ he says.
(Tehelka, Mar 31 , 2007