Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who belongs to the Ezhava community, on Thursday said that people continued to talk about his caste. “Some people remind me of my caste quite often,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram. “I am the son of a toddy tapper. And they believe that Vijayan should also be a toddy tapper.”

The Ezhavas are classified as other backward classes and comprise 28% of Kerala’s population.

Vijayan’s comments were in response to a cartoon published in Janmabhoomi, the mouthpiece of the Kerala unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, The New Indian Express had reported. In its daily front-page cartoon published last month, the Malayalam newspaper had portrayed two men discussing the privilege motion against Vijayan for planning the “women’s wall” on the Sabarimala issue. The caption read: “This is what will happen if power is given to someone who should climb coconut trees.”

Traditionally, members of the Ezhava community have worked as toddy-tappers, who climb coconut trees to extract the liquid. Vijayan’s father used to work as a climber.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had criticised the cartoon. Rajya Sabha MP MA Baby said he strongly condemned the “casteist abuse” on Vijayan and described the cartoon as “derogatory”. State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said that the publication had exposed the Sangh Parivar’s ideology of trying to take people back to an earlier era ruled by the caste system, India Today had reported.

In October last year, a woman had abused Vijayan in a video released by the Sangh Parivar. Maniyamma, who was participating in a protest against women’s entry into Sabarimala, had used objectionable words about the Ezhava community. She had reportedly apologised after the police registered a case against her.