[Via Shibi Peter]
Dr. Paul Chirakkarodu Memorial Meeting
10:00am until 5:00pm
S.E.D.S Centre, Pakkil, Kottayam
10 am: Seminar
New Casteism and Kerala Society
Prof. TM Yesudasan, Adv.Spencer Marks, Rupesh Kumar, Jose Peter and Jestin T Varghese
2.30 pm: Public Meeting
Inauguration : Sri.Laha Gopalan
Paul Chirakkarodu Memorial Lecture
by Dr. Geevarghese Mor Coorilos
Paul Chirakkarodu is widely acknowledged as the first self-conscious dalit writer and one of the founders of dalit literature in Malayalam. Born in 1938, the fourth among the six children of the Rev. C.T Daniel, a converted Pulaya, who was a priest in the Church of South India, Paul grew up during the war years which was also a time of famine in Kerala. Unbearable hunger is his strongest memory of childhood. It was war time. The family lived on wheat, millets, maize (staples alien to Kerala) and even grass; sometimes there was kanji (rice gruel) served in the churches. Clothing was also scarce. Paul was a week Child, fainting often and given to fits. But he also remembers the kindness of schoolmates who helped him, and the grandeur of the river Pampa, with the yearly boat races in Aranmula and the huge revivalist conventions organized on its banks at Maramon during each summer. He was a good student, praised for his keen memory and a gift for writing.
He studied at St Thomas School Kozhencherry, Sacred Heart College, Thevara, and the Law College in Thiruvananthapuram. He holds master's degrees in English and Malayalam in addition to an LLB and, in his final year at the Law College, was president of the student's union. As a student he supported himself through his writings. His first novel, Alinju Theernna Athmavu (Melted Spirit), written while he was a student, was brought out by BKM Book Depot in Alappuzha that had also published the well-known novelists, Thakazhi and Pottekkad. After reading his manuscript, the publisher asked to meet this talented new writer and went on to publish several more of his works.
After he left College in the 1960s, Paul, inspired mainly by P.T Punnose, grew closer to the communists who were a rising force in Kerala at that time. He travelled with visiting leaders from Bengal, Translating their speeches, and interacted with writers such as Thakazhi, who wanted him to join the Party. Later Paul would write a powerful dalit critique of Thakazhi's novels about working people. There was a suggestion that he stand for parliament, but, he observes wryly, 'The Party was not ready to accept a Dalit Christian.'
If there is one theme that runs right through Paul Chirakkarodu's work it is casteism in Christianity, and that too, not only in society at large but also in the church. Son of a pastor, he grew up with religion as central to his life. However, he recalls with bitterness, 'Christian converted from the Dalit Castes had none of the privileges or opportunities that were available to Syrian Christians (considered upper caste). Western missionaries had supported the Dalit protests, but after 1947, when the old Anglican Church established by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) became the Church of South India (CSI), Dalits were marginalized in Church institutions. They did not get jobs in church-run hospitals, schools, colleges or presses.' The new formations set up connections between dominant caste Christians in Kerala and their counterparts in other states.
However, later Paul did find himself welcome in the CISRS (Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society) in Bangalore, which after the emergency in the mid-1970s had become interested in dalit issues. He worked there on a study of 'Dalits and the Left in Kerala'. In 1982 he wrote what is considered the inaugural essay of dalit literature: Dalit Sahithythinoru Mukhavura (A preface to Dalit Literature). Along with Abraham Ayrookuzhiel of the CISRS, with whom Paul collaborated for sixteen years, he also developed the idea of a dalit theology, and visited many Christian Institutions, including the United Theological College at Bangalore, the Andhra Lutheran Mahasabha, the Gurukul theological College and the Phirangipuram Dali University, speaking about this concept. In 2007 the Anglican Academy of Religious Studies awarded him an honorary doctorate.
In the 1980s, with Kallara Sukumaran, whose classes on Ambedkar had inspired many, Paul set up the Indian Dalit Federation (IDF) of which he was the General Secretary. He led the Guruvayur padayathra-a twenty one day walk to gain access to the oottupura, the area where the Brahmins were fed in the famous temple. The SNDP extended support to the initiative. The IDF merged in to the Bahujan Samaj Party after a few years. Between 2001 and 2005, Paul edited the journal, Padavukal. In 2003 he led a procession in Sultan Batheri, along with C.K Janu and others, demanding the implementation of the Act passed by the Achyutha Menon government granting land to Adivasis. He has travelled widely all over India, meeting and working with some of the most distinguished dalit and left leaders of him time.
Paul Chirakkarodu leaves us a substantial body of literary work (over twenty novels, several collections of short stories, biographies and essays). Significant among them is Pulayathara (Pulaya Hutment), an important novel about Pulaya converts to Christianity, and the three volumes Mathil (Walls), Nizhal (Shadows), Velicham (Light), now out of print. A 586-page book on Ambedkar failed to find a publisher. Paul feels that the reason was its criticism on Gandhi. An unfinished novel features Ayyankali as the principal character. Among his seventy-odd publications are authoritative works on Dalit Christianity.
In 2000, his health began to deteriorate. He grew very ill and was depressed and in penury when he died in 2008 August 4th. Principal among the problems of his life was that of the difficulty of getting a job. Having acquired an MA degree, he tried unsuccessfully for several jobs. As a dalit Christian he was not entitled to reservations; since he was a dalit, employers looked at him with prejudice; his father did not want him to change his name; Christian institutions provided dalits like him with no support.