History is written by the winners. And the winners may be the Catholic Church as it was in the case of the innumerable innocent women burnt as witches in the medieval period, or the slightly less innumerable men burnt as heretics, or (to cite a contemporary example) the innumerable number of young boys exploited sexually by the Christian Brothers in Ireland.
I’m going to narrate a very ‘interesting’ (funny but sad) episode from the history of Kerala to illustrate the farcical nature of history. [For those who don’t know where Kerala is, it is a small state in the southernmost tip of India.]
On the 13th of this month [June] some Keralites will “celebrate” the golden jubilee of what is known as the Angamali Liberation Struggle.
A Liberation Struggle that started with the effort to save a man who fought against alcohol but ended up as a labourer in an alcohol shop! A Liberation Struggle that was directed against the first Marxist government elected democratically in the world but the hero of which ended up as a CITU [Centre of Indian Trade Unions – a Marxist organisation] member!
13 June 1959, Angamali, Kerala: The monsoon is tumbling down all over Kerala very generously (unlike in the present days!). Kunjappan goes to picket a toddy shop. [Toddy is a local variety of alcohol.] The police of the ruling Marxist government arrest Kunjappan. The church of Angamali bursts out into unusual tolls. A huge crowd of believers gathers in front of the church. They are told that a man who fought against the vicious poison of alcohol in the village has been tortured and killed by the police. The people, ever so eager to lap up whatever is told by the church, take out a march to the police station. The SI [Sub-Inspector of Police] is terrified to see a crowd of over 2000 people. He orders: “Fire into the palla!” The constables obey the order religiously. Seven people fall dead on the spot. The rest escape by fleeing. [Not too many people are foolish enough to die for their religion.]
The death of seven persons in police firing is a big event in the India of 1959. It leads to a social upheaval in Kerala. It leads to what came to be known as a Liberation Struggle in the history of Kerala. Liberation from the brutal Marxist government.
The whole farce of the incident lies partly in a linguistic twist. The word ‘palla’ used by the SI meant ‘bush’ in his colloquial language. He was asking his constables to fire into the bush! [Why he didn’t ask them to fire into the innocuous air as the police usually do is a mystery.] But the constables didn’t understand their SI’s colloquial parlance. For them ‘palla’ meant ‘belly’ – the local meaning of the term. One word, seven deaths, a liberation struggle – a farce in history!
Yes, it was a farce in history. On July 31 the government of Kerala was disbanded by the union government of India.
The real farce: Kunjappan who picketed the toddy shop, who fought heroically against alcohol, became a labourer in a toddy shop later. Moreover, he became a member of CITU!
7 June 2009. A pastoral letter written by a bishop is read out in the churches of Kerala. It calls for another Liberation Struggle against the present Marxist government in the state. The real reason (which the pastoral will not mention, of course): the church is not able to make as much profit from its educational institutions as it would like to.
Another Liberation Struggle may set off in Kerala. If the people haven’t learnt better lessons than in 1959. No, they haven’t. People cannot afford to learn such lessons. Survival is a matter of staying with those who will write the history!
Want more farce? A man called Chaku died of drinking after the 1959 Liberation Struggle. The reason: he was the one who shouted to the 2000-strong crowd that had gathered in front of the Angamali church: “Chalo Police Station”. His guilt feeling wouldn’t let him live in peace after the death of the seven persons because of his sloganeering. Slogans and guilt – two of the many gifts of the church to mankind!