Accepted paper:

Production of social memories in the making of present and interpreting the past: Narratives of an 'abolished' labour institution in a highland region of Kerala, India


Vinod C.P. (Indira Gandi National Open University)

Paper short abstract:

Social memories are products of present while interpreting the past. Individuals use social memories in the reflexive moments of their everyday living according to the structural demands stemming out of their multilevel social positioning and identities. This paper looks into the art of social memories around an `abolished’ labour institution called "vallippani” in a multiethnic village of highland Kerala region.

Paper long abstract:

"Vallippani" has been normally understood as archaic and pre-modern arrangement of production in Kerala. Valli, grain of paddy was cultivated in the typical marshy lands of Wayanad region, which is the study context of this paper. Chetty community, the 'indigenous' cultivators of the area used to manage the wet lands and used the local adivasi Paniyan community to work on them. In return they were given paddy i.e. valli. So this system of production is known as vallippani (labour for valli) in contrast to koolippani (labour for wages) which was introduced by settler cash crop cultivators in the second half of the twentieth century. "Vallippani" was narrated by settlers on par with the system of 'slavery'. Settler representations became generally acceptable for Chettys in initial days which placed them up in a social hierarchy. However, presently Chettys tend to see the "valliappani" as a cultural marker to re-imagine their 'indigeneity' shared with the adivasis against the political and economic domination of settlers. The narratives of this system within the Paniyan community are varied across different generations. Social memories associated with the "vallippani" at present spin around the mosaic of inter and intra community interests. Though officially it is 'dead', social memories of this institution are produced in powerful ways in shaping the contours of social relations among different communities. The paper tries to explain the ways social memories are produced in shaping the social relations which also represent the conflicting interests, identities, perceptions, and the negotiations of power in contemporary situation.

panel P13
Arts of memory: skilful practices of living history