Kerala’s traditional multiculturalism has much to offer to the policy and decision makers in modern times, says Ophira Gamliel from the University of Ruhr, the Israeli academic who has been closely associated with Kerala studies.
Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the third International Kerala History Conference here on Friday, Prof. Gamliel says a closer look at the multiculturalism inherited by the State would point to a dynamic system which preserves the identity of every community, even as it provides space for each of them to integrate into one system.
“You don’t lose your identity. Even small communities do not get swallowed. Your literature, culture, everything are well preserved. Instead of getting integrated at the personal level, you are integrated at the community level,” she says.
Prof. Gamliel says the roots of this unique system, still preserved, could be traced to the ancient long-distance trade exchanges which were exceptionally different in character from the modern global trade. “Unlike the modern global trade, which is marked by brutal expropriation of resources and labour, the ancient trade between the western coast of India and west Asia was marked by a great amount of cultural and knowledge exchanges at the community level,” she adds.
The more-than-1,000-year-old Cairo Documents (referring to deals between west Asian traders and those from Kerala) and the 9th century Tharisapalli plates (referring to a grant issued to Syriac Christians of Kerala) are rich evidences to this multiculturalism. “In fact, the Tharisapalli plates are signed in three languages: Persian (in Hebrew script), Pahlavi, and Cufic Arabic,” she says pointing to the efforts taken to preserve the identity of the different trading organisations.
Even the traditional festivals and performing arts here are highly structured so as to ensure the collaboration of the various communities at different levels. Beyond the complexity of what happens on the stage, this underlying structure assured collaboration at the communal level even in performing art forms, she says.
This unique system of multiculturalism should be subject of in-depth research, especially at a time when traditional communities are under threat of being swallowed up in the wave of globalisation, leading to tensions and conflicts at the community and societal level, she adds.