Saffron and subaltern

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All his life, M K Kunjol, like most members of his community, lived a life in the margins. His house with laterite brick walls and tin roof by the side of Mulappanchira at Kuruppampady in Perumbavooor stands on puramboke land on which he has no rights.

For a man who fought all his adult life for land rights of scheduled castes and tribes and atrocities which dehumanized them, Kunjol never peddled his influence to get hold of a pattayam for the 13 cents of land wedged between a pond and a paddy field, that his ancestors considered home for the past 400 years. “In records, the land appears as canalpuramboke and in the past I had petitioned the authorities including the district collector to grant an exemption,” says Kunjol. Offers to build a new house began to flow in ever since the news broke of him being bestowed with Padma Shri. There is a steady stream of visitors, mostly community elders and school students. “I have lost my voice speaking non-stop to visitors,” says Kunjol, rubbing camphor oil on his throat from a bottle on the sill.

Clad in a saffron mundu and jubba, Kunjol, now 82, has the visage and speech that befits a sage. But beneath the gentleness you can spot a fighter, who wouldn’t let go his convictions. Kunjol entered politics while at school and as a student of Ernakulam Maharaja’s College, he was elected union secretary as a representative of Democrats, an apolitical outfit. In his early years, Kunjol identified himself with the Indian National Congress and participated in the 1957 ‘Orana agitation’, a struggle to reduce boat tariff for students. He founded the Kerala State Harijan Samajam the same year to fight for the rights of members of scheduled castes and tribes. He led several agitations for land rights — the most notable among them being one for allocating forest land to tribal people in Kuttambuzha and another to protest encroachment of land allotted by the state government to residents of a scheduled caste colony. In 1975, he led a 382-day long strike in front of Kothamangalam police station to protest corruption and police atrocities against the members of his community.

Founding secretary of BJP’s Kerala unit, Kunjol lasted only two years in the party. “I have not shared stage with the party ever since. I am also not an RSS man as being made out to be,” says Kunjol, currently state patron of Hindu Aikya Vedi.

Kunjol, a vocal supporter of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, counts B R Ambedkar as a major influence and has named his eldest son after him. But his icons are Hindu saint reformers like Swami Agamananda and Ayya Vaikuntaswami, who worked for upliftment of the downtrodden in the 19th century.

A bitter critic of CPM in Kerala for its failure to address the issue of land alienation, Kunjol considers communism as anti-spiritual and anti-religion. “I would like to know what reforms they have initiated in Kerala? This is the seventh time that they are ruling the state. They say that there are 3.25 lakh landless in the state. To how many people did they give land despite being in power for so many years” asks Kunjol.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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