Inside Kerala’s Orwellian Party Villages

Inside Kerala’s Orwellian Party Villages

A drive across the scenic Malabar coast in Kerala unfolds into a pre-written story that talks about the state’s history with power and politics. Large communist flags greet you as you roll into the sleepy yet politically turbulent district of Kannur.

Even the walls and electric poles are demarcated by their political allegiance to the local party that rules over the village. Kerala’s party villages welcome you into a worrisome, sinister embrace and it holds up a distorted mirror to the state’s love for political power.

In Kerala’s party villages, lives are controlled by the political party in power. From party dress codes to censorship of public speech and more, the party in power almost entirely dictates the functioning of lives in a particular village. At the center of such a village in the district lies a ‘martyr corner’ that pledges its respects to local heroes and communist icons that have helped shape the party’s identity.

The Communist Party of India (CPM)’s long-standing history in the state is marked by a paradoxical ideology that has equality at the core of it. Popularised for the challenges that it held against the existing feudal structure in the state, the dynamics of the party since its inception has moved into murky, power-mongering territories. These villages are now viewed as terrifying and dangerous places to visit.

Any uninformed tourists visiting these villages of Kannur are welcomed with a sense of suspicion and out of 50 such villages in the district, nearly half are under the rule of the CPM. As a result of prolonged clashes between the Congress party and the CPM, the earliest traces of Kerala’s party villages date back to the early 1960s.

Symbols, structures and political motifs dominate the narrative of such villages. While the eruption of violence is not entirely uncommon, heightened conflicts have even lead to drastic consequences such as mass killings and assassinations of nay-sayers, and radicals. Daunting symbols such as a signpost that reads ‘Welcome to the communist village’ are placed at strategic entry points as a marker of territory and one can notice the fast-changing motifs as they travel across the district.

One such village in this district is Karanthat in Payanoor. Every building, bus stop, hoarding and even the veshtis (lower body garment primarily worn by men in South-India) are red in color. There is an unspoken norm in villages like Karanthat: no other party is allowed to endorse itself or disrupt the political adherence followed by its people. Bordering Karanthat within a 2 kilometer radius is another Pallakode that changes its hues to green, owing its loyalty to the AIML (All India Muslim League).

These villages are often just a cluster of 200-300 families that grouped together by virtue of their political leaning. Any family or individual that opposes this comes under immense pressure and scrutiny from the ruling party. The people of these villages seldom respond to the inquiries of journalists and reporters and fear being photographed by the media.

Image source: Medium

Kerala’s tryst with its party villages is a paradoxical phenomenon by itself. Its effects are however far-reaching and long-surviving in the state’s complex political history and future.

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