New York Times byline – “Whither Moral Courage?
By SALMAN RUSHDIE
Published: April 27, 2013
Growing up in Kerala in the 50’s and 60’s, one is catapulted right into the middle of political upheavals and ideological uprootings. The Communist regime and the popular unrest will always be part of my growing up.
The period was a time of fear in households. Everyone has read about the Communist regime in the USSR. A Communist government at home was met with fear and trepidation. The awareness about Karl Marx’s stand on religion literally scared the believers of all faiths. Rumors about secret police and and spying neighbors were rampant. Raids on homes were fearfully expected and, in my family of women (grandmother, mother and the three unmarried daughters) and one young boy, anxiety was growing each day. My mother had iron bars installed on all doors opening out. She even buried a fanciful knife in order not to be caught with a ‘lethal’ weapon in the forthcoming raids. In this environment of fear, it was easy to collect all the people of varying faiths together to rebel against the government of the time.
As a twelve-year old, I probably was the youngest of the thousand and one women who picketed the Collectorate in Thrissur. This 1957 event was a headline grabber. I hung on to my sister’s coat tails and slipped in. My sister could not be allowed go alone and I was the ‘chaperon’. Since the event was permitted by the Church, my mother let my sister go with the proviso of my presence. It was a peaceful demonstration and only the front row picketers were picked up by the police and released. It was a gesture of moral indignation because a sleeping, pregnant woman named Flory was killed by the bullet fired by the police at another peaceful demonstration. Women were deeply affected by the incident and they rose up in protest because the killing was a threat to all motherhood and womanhood. I could feel the collective emotional response from all the women around me. There was also fear because the armed forces of law were present and no one knew the consequences. Everything about the event was uncharted territory. One has to imagine that these women were sheltered and were not prone to public demonstrations. The fervor of the moment is still indelibly impressed upon my psyche. That was a time of convictions and courage.
Our schools were closed because of the new educational policies. Only the government run schools remained open. I had plenty of time to indulge in my favorite pastime: reading. I like crow’s nests. I was perched on a window sill that faced the driveway and the gate. I had a good view of the road. I still do not know what prompted me to look up from my book and turn to the road. Since it was village road, the lorry was passing at a rate slower than in the highways. A lorry was roofless except for the cab. This one was filled with men with corded muscles and long staffs. The muscles were visible because the men were shirtless and appeared to be toddy-tappers. Their Union was always Communist. Somehow or other, the sight gave me some unease. I ran down and told the rest of the family about it and we expected that someone was going to be hurt. Later in the day, as news traveled like wild fire even in those days without mobile phones, we heard what transpired. The men in the lorry were after a Congress party activist. They knew that he had been at a jewelry store belonging to a friend. They came with violence, but they underestimated their prey. He was trained in martial arts. He disappeared very quickly from the scene when he saw what was coming. Not finding him where they expected, the attackers did what men who was looking forward to violence. They beat up the owner of the store and returned without satisfying their wrath.
In a nostalgic moment, I decided to go through Google to check into this time in history. I was appalled to find that history has undergone some drastic revision. The peaceful demonstrations of my time is now pictured as violent demonstrations and the regime of the time is described as a victim. It must have been my naivete that made me feel so shocked at this blatant disregard for truth. The only violence was done by the government of the time. It was the first elected Communist government of Kerala. The sainted E. M. S. Namboothiripadu was the Chief Minister. The education Minister Joseph Mundassery’s decisions upset the religious leaders of the day and they joined together to resist the highhanded methods of the party. People were very much aware of the totalitarian conditions of USSR and China at the time and did not wish for the same purging methods employed in their own land. The people were perturbed. They went out into the streets in hordes. But, they were peaceful. There were occasions when the government forces used batons and rifles in dealing with the demonstrators. Fifteen people were killed when the police fired at the demonstrators. It is a fact that Flory was killed in one of these occasions.
Those people who demonstrated against a government whose policies were repugnant to them showed their courage. But, alas, the revisionists of today show their moral outage and make a mockery of truth.