Kimberly Bibbo
April 1, 2000



Labor Activism in Kerala

Through the view of Arundhati Roy


The labor struggle that ensued in Kerala through the entire novel The God of Small Things was based on classes, caste, and the Communist system. Within the framework of The God of Small Things, there are several ways to view the family: In terms of history of origin, their interpersonal relationships, or politically oriented in the scheme of Communism. This last view is the one I will cover, labor activism in Kerala and how it relates to the whole household.

The labor forces in Kerala tended to work in factories, fields, or other low paying jobs that were barely enough for the families to survive upon. This resulted in the labor Unions, and a strong rise of Communist ideals. Ironically, this mirrored the movement of this nature that happened about a hundred years prior in Britain. Within the labor Unions, there was a sub-group presented in this novel, the Naxalites. The history we are given of the labor force in Kerala shows that the Naxalites were thought too radical in their ideas for change, isolating them from the general goals of the labor forces.

Ultimately, however, it is important to note that members of the labor activist forces were from different castes, as we see through Velutha. The struggle dimly shadowed in this novel shows that class and wealth/poverty superseded, to a certain degree, even the history of caste.

Comrade K.N. M. Pillai is our main link to understanding the role of the work force in Kerala at the time presented in the novel. We do see the march converge around the family's car, their beloved friend in Velutha joining the Communist march. The family has to deal with the struggle of the workers against them, as Chacko becomes known as "the Management" (115). The struggle of the labor forces in Kerala, at least in this novel, becomes figured in terms of the family and their ownership of Paradise Pickles. There is not outright revolution or violence in the Kerala labor struggle we witness as readers, but discontent and need for change regarding wages paid.