Green Postcolonial Reading In Kocharethi Cultural Studies Essay

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The present paper proceeds from the conviction that postcolonialism and ecocriticism have a great deal to gain from one another. It tries to spell out some of the obvious differences between the two critical schools, search for grounds that allow a productive overlap between them and define "green postcolonialism". The paper then attempts a comparative green postcolonial reading of the first novel in Malayalam by an Adivasi/tribal, namely Narayan's Kocharethi(1998) and Mother Forest(2004) the autobiography of the Adivasi/tribal activist,C.K. Janu. This juxtaposition raises vital questions regarding the plight of Kerala's (the southernmost state of India) indigenous people in a postcolonial nation. The legacy of colonial modernity, language, education, nationalism, gendered subalternity, cultural history and ecopolitics is examined within the framework of green postcolonialism, thereby indicating the moral urgency for a fruitful alliance between the two critical schools of postcolonialism and ecocriticism to envision an alternative future.

The changes associated with globalization have led to the rapid extension and intensification of capital alongwith an acceleration of the destruction of the environment and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. This has had a significant impact on the terrain in which postcolonialism and ecocriticism operate.While both ecocriticism and postcolonialism are committed to locating the text in the world, they conceive of both world and text in radically different ways . In keeping with a commitment to recognize the land as more than a scape ,but a picture and a story in which humans participate along with other life forms, ecocritical conceptions of the world tend to privilege non-urban settings, in which those other life forms predominate. Postcolonial criticism tends to envision the world through urban eyes; an obvious historical explanation being the arrival of Third world intellectuals in the metropolitan centres of the First World.

Postcolonial theory has frequently asserted the value of positionality in order to foreground the politics of discursive authority. Positionality has generally been thought to include race, gender, sexuality, and class but has more recently come to include geographical and biotic space. In an era of increasing ecological degradation, the mutually constitutive relationship between social inequity and environmental problems has become more stark and vivid.

If pressing environmental crises have spurred the development of environmental criticism in literary studies, the increasing awareness of how such crises have been and will continue to disproportionally impact the vulnerable populations of the postcolonial world have made the nexus of postcolonialism and ecocriticism a particularly urgent area of study. Yet, this intersection is fraught with danger. Ecocriticism has been developed primarily from the perspective of Western critics using Anglo-American literature and has often worked from assumptions, common in Western environmental movements, which are extremely problematic in postcolonial contexts.

Different conceptualizations of individual places extend to different ways of conceiving the relationship between the local and the global. While stressing the importance of local place, ecocriticism gains its global focus by encompassing the very earth it studies. Postcolonialism also recognizes an interplay between the local and the global, but in a more cautious, indirect way. Wary of the ideological and material implications of globalizing impulses, postcolonialism admits the force of the global in a way that explicitly prohibits its recuperation into a formula that confirms the place of the individual in a universal order, either of nature or culture. The global and the local come together, not by the way of simple synecdoche, or the relationship between macrocosm and microcosm, but in a way such that each interrupts and distorts the other, thereby refusing the possibility of concrete platial or abstract global belonging (O'Brien 142).

Rob Nixon points out four main schisms between the dominant concerns of postcolonialists and ecocritics . First, postcolonialists have tended to foreground hybridity and cross-culturation. Ecocritics on the other hand, have historically been drawn more to discourses of purity: virgin wilderness and the preservation of "uncorrupted" last great places. Second, postcolonial writing and criticism largely concern themselves with displacement, while environmental literary studies has tended to give priority to the literature of place. Third , and relatedly, postcolonial studies has tended to favour the cosmopolitan and the transnational . Postcolonialists are typically critical of nationalism , whereas the canons of environmental literature and criticism have developed within a national (and often nationalistic) American framework. Fourth , postcolonialism has devoted considerable attention to excavating or reimagining the marginalized past: history from below and border histories, often along transnational axes of migrant memory. By contrast ,within much environmental literature and criticism, something different happens to history. It is often repressed or subordinated to the pursuit of timeless, solitary moments of communion with nature(235).

Attempts to distinguish between postcolonialism and ecocriticim are always likely to be perilous; and it is against this uncertain historical background that green postcolonialism has made its recent entrance into the critical -theoretical fray. "What is green postcolonialism?" Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin provisionally define the field in terms of " those forms of environmentally oriented postcolonial criticism which insist on the factoring of cultural difference into both historical and contemporary ecological and bioethical debates" (9). Differentiated experiences of colonialism provide the main historical link here. They also point out a continuing environmentalist insufficiency of postcolonial literary and cultural texts which also works the other way round with "postcolonial" ecocriticism serving to highlight the work of non-European authors or critiquing the Euro-American biases of certain versions of environmentalist thought (9).

Both fields articulate historically situated critiques of capitalist ideologies of development. They also combine a political concern for the abuses of authority with an ethical commitment to improving the conditions of the oppressed. Green postcolonialism brings out a truism that clearly applies to, but is not always clearly stated in, the different strands of both postcolonialism and ecocriticism : no social justice without environmental justice; and without social justice-for all ecological beings-no justice at all.

Postcolonial criticism ,despite what might still be seen as an unduly anthropocentric bias, offers a valuable corrective to a variety of universalist ecological claims-the unexamined claim of equivalence among all "ecological beings" , irrespective of material circumstances and the peremptory conviction , itself historically conditioned , that global ethical considerations should override local cultural concerns (Huggan 720).

Subaltern Studies as history from the lower rungs of society is marked by a freedom from the restrictions imposed by the nation state. Gramsci speaks of the subaltern's incapability to think of the nation. Once it becomes possible for the subaltern to imagine the state, he transcends the conditions of subalternity. A consciousness of subject positions and voices can re-empower languages, deconstruct histories, and create new texts of more dense dialogical accomplishment. Part of the project of postcolonial theory would be to push literary texts into this shifting arena of discursiveness, thus enabling new stands of counter narratives and counter contexts to shape themselves and complicate binarist histories. But polysemic, anticolonial subjectivities and their energies, which defy the definitions of the colonizer, are muted and translated into a monolithic national identity, articulated in the rhetoric of "Nationalism" in Kocharethi, a Malayalam novel on the Malayaraya tribe by Narayan (1998).


The tribals of Kerala are never identified as "Malayalis".Unique in itself-their lifestyles and languages are significantly different from that of the dominant mainstream. Narayan's Kocharethi ,the first novel in Malayalam by an Adivasi,is an historical intervention where, far from being the objects of history, the Adivasis now become its new subjects.

Narayan,himself a Malayaraya, does not attempt to depict the historical or mythical spheres of the tribal experience. Instead, he unravels, fifty or sixty years entwined with his own life situations. He deftly challenges the incorrect representations of the Adivasis in contemporary cinema , television and publications. The life described in the novel, with all rituals, ceremonies, customs, faith, institutions of marriage, food, clothing and shelter, recall the period prior to the Renaissance in Kerala. Man's raw encounter with the forces of nature is vividly portrayed. The forest is not only life-generating but also life-consuming.

Kocharethi is a brilliant account of the life and nature of the Malayaraya tribe. Marriages occurred between cousins. Women always carried sickles and wre unafraid to kill anyone who molested them. If unable to do that, the very same sickle ended their lives. They were in charge of their sexuality.

The arrival of colonial modernity converted forests into reserved forests and plantations. Destruction of the old order,and the onset of a new one created identity crises. Kochuraman, the "medicine-man", had always used animal fat. But he later resorts to soda-water and moves to the medical college for treatment. The nuances of this transition in the life of the Malayaraya tribe is poignantly captured by Narayan.

The feudal landlord, the king and the British Raj are symbols of the various stages of this transition. The oppressive power of nascent laws and authority perplex and terrify the tribals. Apart from nature, "humans" also torture them. The Malayarayas were cheated in prices and weights of their forest products when the currencies and measures changed into the British system. This cancerous exploitation by "civil society" forced them to search for education. Kochupillai the teacher leads them into the light of letters. The dream of a government job, migration into the city, love-marriages all follow. Christian proselytisations also occur, creating a hybid of "New Christians"- always prefixed by the term "arayan".

Kocharethi takes place at the fag end of this phase, in the early half of the twentieth century. It encloses a space of transition from the colonial to the post colonial within the imagined boundaries of the nation state. Thus, situated in a later milieu of Indian history, Kocharethi in a way addresses the questions of acculturation and education of the subaltern, in short of the subaltern's translation as "appropriation". Education as a necessary ploy for moulding homogenous identities came packaged with the label promising equality and liberty. But the subaltern aspires for education in order to be liberated from the land and its woes. Kocharethi is filled with the new subaltern dream of a government job. Narayan makes a feeble attempt to parody this process of "modernizing" the tribal. But the novel fails in demarcating a political position opposing colonial modernity (Pillai par13).

Kocharethi reveals the slow acculturation of the native into the economy, culture and politics of the nation state. The native in Kocharethi falls prey to the project of colonial modernity, which the new Indian state sets out to continue in order to prove its capability to self-rule. Kocharethi depicts the plight of the native subaltern caught in the regulative politics of the infallible nation state, and betrayed by the promise of the participatory citizenship, struggling to find voice amidst the homogenized Babel of nationalist discourses. State hegemony, nationalist ideology, dominant language and cultural interpellation - all collude to construct the native of Kocharethi as a passive subject( Pillai par16).

Kocharethi embraces and enhances the task of colonial modernity to instill middle class values and bourgeois virtues into the gendered "national"subaltern subject. The new woman, conscious of her identity, is at the same time out of her roots. As Parvathy, the educated subaltern migrates to the city, the narrative, in an allegorical twist leaves Kochuraman and Kunjipennu stranded in a government hospital, at the mercy of state welfare aids. Thus one sees the articulation of gender being translated into a different idiom by the interventions of the modern state. Narayan assumes a nationalist identity by which he sees education of subaltern women as necessary but not at the cost of losing the essence of their "femininity" and "culture". The women of Kocharethi have no role in the struggle for independence. As Parvathy inhabits the secure space of her home, Madhavan and his comrades go out into the public domain to free the nation, thus lending their subaltern identities to structure the hegemony of a patriarchal nationalist culture.

Meena T. Pillai points out that a close reading of Kocharethi reveals the nuances through which gender and ethic relations become inextricably linked to the formation of the Indian state(par 22). The novel provides a framework to picture the formation of India as a sovereign, socialist, democratic, republic, where native and gender identities are subsumed and tokenized to strengthen the unifying logic of the nation.

Language is a fundamental site of struggle in subaltern discourses resisting translation, because colonization begins in language. The evident pull towards colonial modernity and nationalist themes in Kocharethi is found in its language too, which is very near to standard Malayalam, the disjunctions being minimal. There is no attempt to capture the linguistic and cultural ethos of the language of the Malayaraya tribe(Pillai par 23). The subaltern community in Kocharethi, having lost its language, having been translated and co-opted into the dominant discourse, has also lost the power to name. Parvathi, Madhavan, Narayanan - all names of upper caste Hindu gods, speak of the silencing a culture. A community devoid of its language is a community devoid of dignity.

Kocharethi is a giving in, a passive surrender to the larger history of the nation state(Pillai par 26). In postcolonial parlance to have a history is to have a legitimate existence but the text denies itself in this legitimacy of being, in Kocharethi the subaltern is deftly muted by the dominant discourse. The discourse of the colonial modernity and the nation state that one finds in Kocharethi co-opts the native and re-fashions him/her according to the norms of the dominant culture. Subaltern translations of the lingo of the nation and nationalism thus become acts of cultural displacement. Claiming the nation in the language also means being claimed by the nation.

"no one knows the forest like we do, the forest is mother to us, more than a mother because she never abandons us" (Bhaskaran 5).

The Life Story of C.K. Janu, is an oral life history, transmitted through a mediator, and illustrates the efforts of the non-literate or non-literary to tell her story. This text provides an opportunity to explore how a woman views herself and how her self-perceptions have in turn affected the choices she has made in her life.

Janu, is a tribal activist who wages bitter struggles against the government for the land rights of tribal groups. She received no formal education but became actively involved in the literacy campaign in Kerala and learned to read and write, proving herself to be a natural leader. Her work focuses on the promotion and defense of human rights, peace activism, and the demands of the landless tribal people of Kerala. She was part of the three-member delegation from India on a European tour organized by the Global Action Group, and the lone representative from India at conference in Geneva organized by the United Nations in (1999), as well as an active participant in the second Global Action Group conference held at Bangalore in 2000. By sharing her own vision of survival and ideas on the strategies to achieve positive development, she is serving as a voice for her community which has been silenced for centuries. In her autobiographical narration, Janu gives a passionate account of her struggle to get back the lands of which they were dispossessed. Without any means of earning a proper livelihood, her people fear that they risk losing their identity also.

The forest meant everything to the tribal groups. Janu speaks of her childhood and her life in the forest, then as a maid in a teacher's home .Her involvement with the literacy programme and other social activities lead to her political awakening. She became a worker for the communist party, but was soon disillusioned by the party's hidden agendas and attitude towards her community. She is well aware of the fact that forest flower beetles cannot argue with city microphones that make great noise, but she will fight unto death for the restoration of the rights of her people. Her narration is an eloquent testimonial to her convictions and courage in mobilizing a protest against the government to restore the alienated land to the tribal people, enabling them to regain their sense of identity.

The first part of the book deals more with her inner world and conjures before us a holistic world view where nature and human commingle. The sights of the forest like, the hills catching fire, rains falling " like a woman with her hair -shorn, the wild water all blood-red gushing angrily"(2), the depth and beauty of darkness and moonlight, flowers blossoming are all enthralling. But the sights of civilzation like Vellamunda with "unfamiliar pathways strange hills and little streams. and fields with strange looking ridges that did not look like ours"(7) are disturbing, The forest is never quiet. Streams are always gushing, the woods mumble, winds howl, frogs croak and creatures cry.

The tribal instruments chini and thudi create their own distinctive notes.

But "civil society" has its radios, motor pumps, loudspeakers and school children to offset this harmony. The smell of virgin earth coupled with that of hunger dominates the forest. Janu remembers vividly that when her mother used to come and visit her in Vellamunda "she brought the smell of our huts with her"(12) "The earth has different smells in different seasons"(13) and gives out its scent only when worked upon. Again "culture" with its chemicals, church fumes, clothes and vehicles is nauseating.

More than thirty different kinds of plants, crops and fruits are mentioned. Rice, kappa, chena, kachil, karappayam, mothangappayam, honey, tubers, banana are some of them.Insects, fish, crabs, snakes, elephants, pigs, all give company. The lifestyle described is always full of activity. Rest seems to be unknown. The very first paragraph itself describes around twenty different activities. Here is a single sentence describing work, "only after sowing germinating tilling transplanting weeding watering standing guard reaping carrying threshing and making mounds of grain would the jenmi make his appearance"(15).

The sentences in the first chapter do not start with capitals. Upper cases appear only when an item from "civil society" is mentioned. For example:"Dhotis and Shirts" (5) Even the "i" is in the lower case--a true technique indicating holism and dwarfing anthropocentrism. Commas are absent between varied items signifying that dualities are insignificant as in "carrying dung to the fields digging up the soil with spades sowing pulling out the seedlings transplanting them weeding watering reaping carrying the sheaves of corn and such" (1).Here language does not merely reflect reality but also actively creates it. Lives are strongly interlinked with Nature,the earth and the trees.

There was no formal educational system, the forest was everything--guide, guardian and philosopher. Slowly, there came people to take the children to tribal hostels. Janu's sister was one to face a similar fate. The conditions of these residential schools and hostels were terrible. They were unclean and lacked buildings, water and electricity. There were no proper toilets or bathrooms. Food and uniforms were rarities. Seeping sewage water invited diseases. The government never cared for the Adivasi children.

The narration may be in a "prelapsarian" tongue very different from what academic establishments expect for a life narration. Such life narrations may be hard to identify with, for those who have not suffered (Menon par 16).Janu's autobiographical narration, presented as an extended conversation with an editor, conveys her lack of compromise in her assertions. The shifts in tone, pauses or changes in diction reflect her refusal to erase the inevitable gaps and fissures of the actual narrative events. She is not positioned as a cultural icon, but as an ordinary individual with strong communal feelings(Menon par17).

This narration, boldly resists "taken for granted" attitudes towards these neglected segments of the population and speak for them. Thus, through the narration an effort to locate themselves as a subject, leaving behind the object status to which cultural identities have confined them is made. This text illustrates the need for a revisionary method of reading the discourses of people regarded as marginal to the dominant literary tradition. It also prompts one to re assess the psychological simplicity attributed to marginalized groups.

The autobiographical narration of Janu is not merely a retrospective summation of past events and experiences. She genuinely wishes to change the state of affairs in the community to which she belongs. Janu is also aware of her limitations in face of the power plays of a manipulative society. Her narration ends with a desire to know herself more. She wishes to position herself in a more liberated future, not only for her own individual benefit but for the welfare of her community as a whole.

The story of Janu acknowledges that each aspect of reality is gendered. She often reminds the readers that within women's experiences there are variety of subject positions and voices to be heard and represented. Hers is a humble attempt to evolve a subaltern essence. It brings an anonymous collectivity to the front of the stage, with great courage, no longer assuming the role assigned to them but asserting their own right to a voice and a part in the action,which deviates from a fixed object position which is culturally intelligible, purposefully locating themselves as subjects and revolutionizing earlier autobiographical writing norms, demanding attention and respect.

Development paradigms and development goals which lead to the management of natural resources without the participation and consent of the natural resource communities have to be vehemently criticised. Mainstream right / left political parties do not address the concerns of the communities facing social and market exclusions by neoliberal economic policies. Thus, a subaltern ecopolitics wakes up in its stead. The Adivasi is represented as one who is "unable to speak" and who is to be benevolently "rehabilitated", "protected", "developed" and slowly "integrated" into civil society. This representation as a people without voice silences them. Hence, if an Adivasi like Janu speaks, it cannot be her voice but someone else's from outside! Orientalist stereotyping on one had portrays them as innocent, naive, nature loving, uncorrupted by modernity and on the other hand as immoral, drunkards and wretched living beings. The Adivasi is thus an eternal "other", defenselessly marginalized and unrepresentable. The monolithic representation of Adivasis distort their plurality and prevent the expression of their anxieties. While migrant land encroachments are "natural" and "legitimised", the Adivasi struggle becomes "unnatural" and "criminal".

Janu is a symbol that defies conventional right/left binaries. For her, the personal indeed becomes the political. No political history of Kerala can now be written bypassing her. She disturbs us. Nature cannot be mystically revered when Dalits and Adivasis are shot dead, nor can one be slaves to revolutionary principles that hide casteist ecological implications. It is only Janu's realm of Adivasi/Dalit/Green/Feminist politics that can problematize caste, tribe, gender, class and ecological parameters. She has helped redefine the concept of an Adivasi from "simple", "helpless", "illiterate", and "uncivilised" into one ready to struggle for the basic rights to live.

Thus, reading Kocharethi and Mother Forest within a green postcolanial framework raises a lot of vital questions regarding the plight of Kerala's indigenous people in a postcolonial nation. It also indicates the moral urgency for a fruitful alliance between the two critical schools of postcolonialism and ecocriticism to envision an alternative future.