By Priya Mullassaril
The sickle and the hammer, while fumbled by Vietnam, North Korea, Russia, and China, has sketched much promise in the rural state of Kerala, India. Governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and headed by the Marxist Communist Party of India, CPI(M), Kerala finds harmony between placing power in the hands of the people and the hands of government to combat class struggles, religious intolerance, casteism and numerous other issues which gripe India.
The CPI’s anti-caste beliefs can be traced back to resistance of British rule during the Colonial era. The crown maintained great class immiscibility in Kerala, and privilege pooled among upper-class Namboodiri Brahmin families who controlled the means of production. Upper class, literate Keralites questioned this disparity of power, and began to spread Marxist ideology within social spaces such as tea shops, libraries, trade unions, and even individual residences of Kerala’s uneducated population. Following Kerala’s emancipation from Britain and designation of statehood in 1957, the Communist Party won by a decisive victory in congressional elections, claiming 55 of the 114 total seats in Kerala’s Legislative Assembly. Soon after, the people elected E.M.S Namboodiripad--a Brahmin who spoke passionately about peasant rights and the skewed wealth distribution in his state--to be Kerala’s first Chief Minister.
Once appointed, Namboodiripad enacted the Land Reform Ordinance, which imposed limits on the amount of land a family could own and protected poorer families from eviction. He then worked to decentralize power in government and grant more authority to the people, a task brought to fruition only after his death through the establishment of Kerala’s communally-run health care system. The network of over 1,356 public health care facilities in the state fall under the individual governance of Kerala’s 900 villages, instead of the state’s government. The sweeping motions taken by government that often overlook the needs of minority groups are dissolved in this system, as Keralite villages now control the framework of their regional hospitals.
Kerala’s modern-day success may be largely attributed to the CPI’s efforts. The region boasts a 96% literacy rate, making it the most literate state in India. From the 1950s to the 70s, P. N. Panicker, a member of the CPI, traveled extensively to rural areas of Kerala to establish public libraries with the aid of government funding. Panicker, acclaimed as the father of the Library Movement in Kerala which strove to educate the state’s illiterate population, is largely responsible for Kerala´s extensive public library system which contains 8,417 libraries. As for the present day, the CPI has expanded on Panicker’s efforts by passing reforms that allow equal access to education for women and other groups previously barred from schooling, due to caste laws.
Not only has the CPI’s intervention helped to educate the masses, but its federalist approach has greatly benefited the state in the midst of crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kerala’s first introduction to an epidemic in 2018 caught the state off-guard, and unprepared. Nipah, a bat-borne virus, tore through the region with a 50-75% mortality rate, and K. K. Shailaja, the state’s health minister, vowed to improve her response to future epidemics through the use of disease-monitoring surveillance, contact tracing, and stronger isolation measures. This pledge was invaluable two years later when the first case of Covid was reported in Kerala. Immediately, the afflicted patient was put in quarantine, and Shailaja’s team rigorously used contact tracing to smother the spread of the disease. By delivering food and water to at-risk locations in Kerala, lengthening quarantine duration to 28 days, and screening incoming travelers at airports, the state shone in its emergency response. Considering that a large part of Kerala’s population commutes out of the state for work, the virus’ 0.36% mortality rate in the state speaks volumes to the efficacy of the government’s aid.
Of course, Kerala still has areas which need improvement. It severely lacks the funds needed to redistribute wealth, and consequently is unable to fully satisfy its poorer population. While the state has increased social security and built homes for the homeless, it has made little progress in truly eradicating poverty. Additionally, younger generations are leaving Kerala after college, seeking lucrative employment in the Gulf, meaning the states’ workforce is aged and dwindling. Thomas Isaac, Kerala’s former Chief Financial Minister, remarks despairingly upon the fact that mass-subsidizations in certain sectors are inevitable, due to the flight of Kerala’s able-bodied workforce. In order for Kerala to make better on its promises to end the class struggle, it must strengthen itself economically by keeping younger generations looking inward for opportunity, instead of outward.
While one could argue that Kerala is not truly a Communist state and does not truly abandon Marx’s detested items of class and property, it seems unfair to altogether wrest this label from a state which has so proudly worked to establish itself as being Communist. While the state has diluted the ideology to make it palatable for its diverse and far-ranging population, the alteration has simultaneously allowed Kerala’s global profile to thrive. Kerala’s economic policy strays far enough from free-market capitalism to be considered an extension of socialism, and yet it abstains from the exceptional requirements dictated by Marx in order to be applauded internationally as a tastefully unconventional state.
Named “God’s Own Country” by passing tourists for its greenery, Kerala is wistful of a future where its picturesque geographic landscape equals its favorable socioeconomic one. Kerala’s founders have already created the bones of a society centered around fairness, equality, and benevolence. It is ultimately up to the future generations of Kerala to complete this construction, or move on to less demanding destinations elsewhere. The power rests entirely in their hands.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
By Priya Mullassaril
The age-old idea of American superiority which primarily rests upon the belief that we bear no resemblance to autocracies like Russia and China is long overdue for a paradigm shift. America scorns the aforementioned countries for practicing the suppression of speech, and in the same breath, she silences marginalized authors by removing their books from circulation. Much to the chagrin of our founding fathers, the chasm which separates this country from authoritarian regimes is gradually being doctored due to America’s despotic implementation of censorship. Republican state representative Scott Cepickey recently introduced a state-wide bill in Tennessee attempting to ban in-school reading materials that grapple with grave topics, such as prejudice and religious intolerance. Large parts of the conservative movement and its leaders have sought to prevent the youth from learning about pervasive interracial and interfaith schisms, leading members of the group to challenge and ban books such as Maus, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Lawn Boy on the basis that they make students feel uncomfortable. These books delve into Jewish trauma resulting from the Holocaust and anti-semitism, the ostracization of black queer Americans, and the myopic lens used to view Hispanic people, making it imperative that these authors have a platform on which their voices can be heard. By no means do these books broach a level of impropriety that makes them unsuitable for younger readers. They are simply honest accounts of what it is like to grow up in a country that has misconstrued what it means to be a “true American”.
While this country grants numerous benefits to its citizens, its downfalls must also be taken into account in order to initiate growth. For decades in America, the microphone has, for the most part, been handed to men unaffected by the injustice which lurks beneath the red, white, and blue flag we so proudly wave. To learn from the experiences of marginalized authors at a young age is a stepping stone to cultivate the social conscience of Americans, and cleanse them of their predetermined prejudices. It also gives future generations an opportunity to show more amiability towards minorities than their ancestors did. Education is the only way our country can hope to deconstruct its prejudices which have been inculcated into us at birth, which is why the expurgation of material that sheds light on inequality in America is a senselessly cruel act.
Prohibiting these books from libraries is not only antiquated and representative of a dysfunctional government, but it is also discriminatory. This country has repeatedly shown jaundice towards minorities, what with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and Japanese internment camps in 1942. Our history is scarred by our ignorance and inability to listen to others. To repeat this mistake by silencing BIPOC and ethnic groups is to say that their issues are not worth our time- that the injustices they suffered at the hands of our country should be forgotten in the name of preserving the innocence of our youth. This is an eminently prejudiced take because it exacerbates the divide between white and non-white Americans by belittling minority struggles. Change will never be possible if we are unwilling to face the demons of our past and how we were responsible for unleashing them, meaning we must open up discussions about race and prejudice instead of shutting them down.
The First Amendment grants citizens the right to publish reading material freely without fear of censorship. To trample this right of certain authors because they expose America’s tainted past is a direct violation of human rights that allows only a select few to control the narrative of what this country’s history should entail. Like any other country, America has made its mistakes- some more egregious than others. However, if children are never taught about how America strayed from the path of morality during its darkest hours, they develop the mentality that this country can do no wrong. This type of thinking engenders bigotry and xenophobia, leading future generations into treacherous territory.
Moreover, it is of the utmost importance for children to learn about injustices that plague this country because of their growing minds. Studies show that at age 12, kids start to become increasingly influenced by social factors. By sheltering white children from serious topics, namely racism and discrimination, their ability to develop empathy for people of color will be hindered. If they are not educated about such matters at a young age, their ignorance will lead them down the wrong path, and it is infinitely harder for them to unlearn prejudice when they are much older. A child’s formative years is a period when education and learning should be maximized; not restricted. What's more, adults often underestimate how much adolescents and teens are able to handle. Children watch movies with profanity, play video games consisting of killing, and are taught about war and 9/11 in school- they are more than capable of learning about America´s pejorative history towards minorities. If it is taught correctly, then there would be no problem with allowing reading materials which deal with America’s treatment of marginalized groups to be freely accessible in school libraries. And if it brings such a degree of wariness for conservatives to teach their children about America’s history that they resort to censorship, perhaps our nation needs a significant amount of change before it can be one we are proud to call home.
Death by a Thousand Cartridges
By Priya Mullassaril
When foreigners hear of America nowadays, one thing comes to mind: school shootings. The notion that our country has neglected to protect its children from gun violence is propelled by the failure of lawmakers to pass legislation that effectively and thoroughly screens Americans before handing them a firearm. Not only do children live in fear, but so does the average working-class citizen. Every day in the US, 316 people are shot, 106 of which are fatal. These numbers stand to increase if legal recourse is not taken to place tighter restrictions on guns.
Another way in which gun violence has steadily grown over the years is through state preemption. This happens when an organization that supports the use of guns, such as the National Rifle Association, undermines city-wide laws on gun regulation and ensures laws that work in their favor. These organizations have successfully overturned the federal gun laws of forty-two states and implemented their own, unrestricted gun laws. These laws allow firearms to be carried in public places, resulting in a higher rate of crime and violence. State preemption is an obscene abuse of power, which Congress must work to prohibit in order to diminish the power of groups such as the NRA. However, many Republicans fear losing their gun rights if state preemption is deemed illegal since this practice operates heavily in conservative states where guns are valued immeasurably. The loss of gun rights looms ominously over their heads and is the most probable reason why state preemption has not been banned yet. If Republicans supportive of the Second Amendment were able to understand the danger that these flimsy gun laws pose for the rest of America, perhaps they would be able to support the prohibition of preemption.
Unimaginable tragedies have taken place as a result of this nation’s lax policy regarding guns. In March of 2021, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa opened fire in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Ten lives were lost, the youngest victim being only twenty years old. Ahmad’s mental instability should be noted, as it was clear he was not sound of mind at the time. Onlookers said he was mumbling and laughing during confrontations with officers, and when he was shot in the leg by a policeman, he exclaimed, “I surrender. I’m naked.” Ahmad was not mentally stable at the time and was declared incompetent to stand trial because of his condition. So why is it that someone was able to legally sell him a machine with which he could take lives? Laws need to be set forth so that guns are not as readily accessible to the mentally ill and to those with severe psychological conditions. This is not because they are violent at their core, but because guns could upheave their fragile temperaments and impel them to do something irrevocable. What they should receive is proper medical care with a professional diagnosis. Our society has brewed the stigma that people with mental illnesses are more inclined to violence. While this is a cruel stereotype, it may become true if actions are not taken to prescribe them the right medication—and if they have guns at their fingertips. The path that Ahmad and other shooters with unsound minds have gone down is not only a shame on the American government but also on our medical institutions. If the people in our country who wear lab coats and suits had paid more attention to those who were clearly struggling, such an atrocity could have been prevented. But they didn’t, so it wasn’t.
Gun violence in this country is undeniably out of control. The only way to keep this violence at a minimum is to impose ironclad gun restrictions, as proven by foreign countries such as China, Australia, and the United Kingdom, where there is an emphasis on gun control, and the amount of gun violence consequently dwarfs in comparison to ours. In relation to other developed countries, the US has 25.2 times more homicides by guns. Gun violence also disproportionately affects people of color, as targeted racial attacks are made easier with these long range weapons. Unfettered access to guns allows horrific things to happen, and while some Americans argue that guns should be allowed for hunting, stricter background checks, at the very least, must be implemented before people are allowed to purchase a firearm.
Moreover, laws need to be put in place to ensure the safety of children around firearms. For instance, if all states enacted a stricter policy regarding gun storage, mandating gun owners with small children to store their guns in locked safes, accidental firearm deaths would be reduced by an approximated 6%. The year 2021 saw 289 children accidentally fire a gun at either themselves, or someone near them, due to poor gun storage. These tragedies could easily have been prevented through legal action in Congress.
Over time, our country has divorced itself from the criticality of safety and instead reeks of incorrigibility and a fatal case of indolence. As politicians twiddle their thumbs and wait for the hour hand to dismiss them, bodies are lowered into the ground across America. A terrifying 18% of all recorded school shootings in American history have occurred since the Sandy Hook Shooting of 2012, and those numbers wrack fear through the minds of all citizens. Perhaps a future is possible where America's children do not have to prepare themselves for school shootings once every month by hiding in the corner of their classrooms in practice drills, but that future is only achievable if our government deems it to be one worth working towards.
By Priya Mullassaril
Kim Kardashian buys her next mansion as a homeless man is forced to go another day without food. Is it fair? No. But unfortunately, it is the way our world works. It’s a well-known fact that the rich-poor wealth gap remains a dark cloud looming over the world- but the release of the Pandora Papers has truly spotlighted this phenomenon. These documents revealed the dark underbelly of the rich- and how they were able to scam the system in order to get away with mass tax evasion.
While many have heard of the leakage of the Panama Papers, these are different from the Pandora Papers because of their size and content. Compared to their sister papers, the Pandora Papers contain far more records and differ in the individuals they implicate. Regardless, they both show how the rich have spun a web of lies around the government in a cleverly tied knot.
A group of dedicated journalists called the ICIJ worked tirelessly to comb through financial documents they procured from offshore providers created by the rich. After about a year of looking for discrepancies in a massive 2.94 terabytes of data, they found what they were looking for. Using advanced technology and graph databases, it was revealed that the elite 1% move their taxable assets, like cars, houses, and private planes to fake companies on paper. These “companies” then set up shop in islands without corporate tax, therefore allowing the elite to hold—and potentially resell—their assets without paying taxes.
Like in the Meryl Streep movie “The Laundromat”, many lower and middle-class citizens are disenfranchised by the actions of the wealthy. In the film, Meryl’s character, Ellen, investigates a shady insurance company situated in Panama that refuses to pay her late husband’s life insurance. She realizes the company was a scam, and in actuality was a group of men in suits profiting off of the naivety of the elderly. The movie provides social commentary about how the American tax system fails those on the lower levels of the social hierarchy, and how the rich are easily able to poke holes in this poorly constructed system.
Their antics only widen the already vast wealth disparity between them and the poor. After the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and workers were left reeling, leading to total American employment plummeting by 8.8 million. Wallets stayed closed, frowns stayed put… but the rich continued to increase in wealth. For example, while his Jordanian people were struggling to put food on the table amidst the pandemic, the Papers implicated King Abdulla for funneling millions of dollars into offshore luxury homes. The rich will only continue to benefit at the expense of those less fortunate, demonstrating the skewed nature of global commerce.
It is an undeniable fact that the United States will always face a division between rich people and poor people. Unless America undergoes a communist revolution sometime soon, this will stay true for the foreseeable future. However, it is simply unreasonable for the top 1% to own 20% of America’s wealth. If this trend continues, a few billionaires in this country will hold the majority of the wealth, while the rest of the population struggles to make ends meet. Unless we are actively trying to recreate the Hunger Games, steps need to be taken by the government to place limits on the rich. Who knows how much power they will have in the future if they are left unchecked? Will these silver spoons bulldoze over our democracy until only rubble remains? Moving forward, the only way to justly decrease the enormous wealth gap requires leaders and people to use the Pandora Papers as a wake-up call to curtail the power of the elite.