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Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: Communism Lite

This article was originally published by Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kochi (Cochin)—Party politics in this tropical state are as peppery as the cuisine, protest demonstrations are akin to street theater, and red banners blazoned with the hammer and sickle are as much roadway icons as shrines to Hindu gods and the ubiquitous images of Jesus. In 1957, arguably for the first time anywhere, Communists came to power here through a genuinely free election. Over five decades, Keralites have regularly switched from Communist-led coalitions to centrist blocs led by the Congress Party. In 2006, voters again awarded the Communists a five-year term. So it was with some curiosity that we prepared to meet a sitting Communist official, Chairman K.P. Raveendran, who heads the municipal council in Thalassery. He greeted us in his office, where a dozen aides crowded around us. Coconuts with straws were politely offered, as well as a sheet in handwritten English celebrating the district’s history. The forty-something chairman dressed informally—no one wears ties in Kerala—and tended to the opaque commonplaces one hears from local party bosses everywhere. His career? He rose through the youth wing of the Communist Party then became a full time organizer and a member of the municipal council. But, we wondered, since there are far more shopkeepers than factory workers in Kerala, and since three religions permeate the state, where does party get its votes? “We welcome the votes of whoever supports our goals.” How then does his party differ from European Social Democrats? “Our party has an international Marxist ideology,” he frowned, adding that it was less dependent on a single leader (at least in Kerala). And evidently it is also an ecumenical party. The Chairman announced: “I’m a Hindu; my number two is a Muslim.”

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: Islam's Seductive Weapon?

This article was originally published by Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kozhikode (Calicut)—A specter is haunting India’s state of Kerala, a supposedly new and secret Islamic weapon known as “love jihad.” Namely, the idea that young Muslim men court impressionable Hindu and Christian women to capture their souls as well as their bodies. In the Malabar region, where the majority of Kerala’s most venerable Muslim community lives, it is whispered that as many as 4,000 women have already succumbed. Can it be? Will seduction threaten the communal peace in this tolerant multicultural state? By chance, we arrived in Kozikode on the day riot police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators belonging to the activist group Hindu Aika Vedi (HAV) as they marched within a hundred meters of an Islamic social center. It was actually a “conversion center,” the protestors insisted. In reponse, a large crowd led by the Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) gathered to protect the threatened social center. In the end, it all ended peacefully, if not amicably. City authorities invoked a law banning provocative assemblies, a riot was averted, and the crowd dispersed. A newspaper account was careful to state that during the agitation, Hindu leaders of HAV escorted a pregnant Muslim woman in a jeep to the local women’s hospital. It also happened that we were that day meeting two highly respected Muslim leaders: a Congress Party veteran, T. Sadarikkoya, who as a youngster took part in Gandhi’s “Quit India” campaign in 1943; and Prof. M. N. Karassery of Calicut University, a leading authority on Kerala’s Malayalam language and a widely read columnist. Both agreed that yes, there were communal problems. Fundamentalists have been proselytizing, and its effects are evident in the prevalence of hijabs worn by a growing minority of Muslim women. But Malabar had its distinct civil culture. Whereas Muslims in India’s northern provinces arrived as conquerors, their brothers arrived in Malabar some 450 years ago as traders. With rare exceptions, they have lived in peace alongside Hindus and Christians. Another unifying factor, Professor Karassery stressed, is that while a common language, Urdu, unites northern Indian and Pakistani Muslims, the Malabar Muslims share the same language, Malayalam, with Hindus and Christians. Thus during the bloody exchange of populations that occurred when India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947 there were no riots in Kerala, and few Muslims migrated northward.

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: Kerala: Between the 'Icon' and the 'Supremo'

This article was originally published by Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Center on C

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