May Day Celebrations in Pampady
PAMPADY is a small village in Kottayam district in Kerala. It falls in the Puthupally constituency from where Oommen Chandy, the former chief minister of Kerala has been winning continuously since 1970. Most of the people in the village depend upon agriculture.
What gives this village a unique place in the country is its observance of May Day. May Day in this village is being observed since the last 37 years as ‘Gramotsavam’, a village festival.
The origin of this practice, more than 37 years back, is interesting. Congress and other forces representing the ruling classes have been traditionally strong in the region. The workers who were fighting for their rights under the leadership of CITU were being attacked and killed. When they resisted and retaliated, a virulent campaign was unleashed against them, accusing them of being rowdies and goondas and CITU leading them as an organisation of such anti-social elements. The mainstream print media prominently carried such false allegations. It was in this situation that Vasavan, a local CITU leader at that time, who is the secretary of the Kottayam district committee of CPI(M) at present, along with a group of local CITU cadres decided to counter these allegations by uniting all sections of toiling people. They decided to show that CITU stands for unity of all sections of toiling people and for their rights. They decided to take this message to the people on the occasion of May Day by involving the entire village in its observation, by observing it as the festival of the people, gramotsav.
Since then, May Day in Pampady is not just a procession highlighting the demands of the workers culminating in a public meeting to be addressed by the leaders. In addition to raising the issues of the people, various aspects of the cultural life of the state are showcased in the May Day rally. Tableaus depicting the impact of the government’s neoliberal policies on the lives of people, the culture of the people, their traditions, religious beliefs etc, dances, drums beats, etc form an important part of the procession. Competitions are held and prizes are distributed. It has emerged as a cultural pageantry. Since then, the entire village, young and old, men and women become part of the festivities, either as active participants in the rally or as spectators lining the streets to have a glimpse of the rally. People participate in the May Day festivities setting aside their political differences. Many people, who have settled in other parts of the country, or some from other countries even, make it a point to visit Pampady to participate in the May Day festivities.
This year, over 10,000 people participated in the rally, which traversed the streets for four hours showcasing the folk arts and other cultural forms of Kerala. The workers marched under the banners of their respective unions. The village turned into a sea of red with thousands of workers along with their families marching with red flags in their hands. Small children displayed their skating skills in the front of the rally. There were a number of floats depicting the current developments of the country – the danger of communalism, attacks on dalits in various parts of the country, violence against women, the situation in Kashmir, privatisation, fixed term employment and attacks on the workers’ statutory rights etc. There were many floats expressing the anger, anguish and protest against the murder of Asifa. Folk art forms of Kerala like Karakam, Pookkavadi, Mayilttom, Bommayattam, Arjuna Dance, Parrunthattam, Pookkavady, SivaParvathy Dance, band music, Panchavadyam, Pamapa vadyam, Drums and huge floats made the rally colourful and vibrant. Thousands of people lined the streets since morning braving the hot weather to witness the rally. Thousands were standing on the balconies and terraces or perched on trees.
The rally culminated in a public meeting at the local bus stand. Hemalata, president of CITU who participated in the procession also inaugurated the public meeting. She congratulated the Pampady committee for organising such a unique rally on May Day which reminded her of the May Day in Havana which she had the opportunity to observe last year. She also said that the slogan ‘class unity’ for this year was very apt. She emphasised the need for strengthening unity of the people and intensifying the struggle against the neoliberal policies of the BJP led government at the centre. The people should be made aware of the divisive and disruptive machinations of the RSS and BJP and defeat them. Alternative pro-worker pro-people policies, which the Left parties alone were supporting, should be taken to the people. She explained about the campaign programme culminating in a massive rally near Parliament on September 5, which was taken up by the CITU general council in Kozhikode and appealed to the working class of Kerala to make it an unprecedented success.
The rally was also addressed by K M Gopinath, Vasavan and other leaders of CITU in the state.