Readings on Kerala (1A02ENG)
1. Describe the commencement of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
Three men namely Kunjappy, Bahuleyan, and Govinda Panicker walked hand in hand towards the road around the Shiva temple at Vaikom, to which members of the “polluting castes” were forbidden entry. The policemen patrolling the road stopped them at a notice board that read, “Ezhavas and other low castes are prohibited through this road”. The policeman asked them to name their caste. Kunjappy declared his caste as pulaya. Bahuleyan’s caste was Ezhava, and Govinda Panicker was Nair in caste. Kunjappy and Bahuleyan were denied entry on the premise that they belonged to a lower caste. Govinda Panicker was allowed entry into the temple as he was from an upper caste. However, the three men did not move. They resolved to enter the road and walk together. They were promptly arrested and later sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. But the arrest did not weaken the determination of the protesters. As each man got arrested, more Satyagrahis would take their place. This was the commencement of the Vaikom Satyagraha, one of Kerala’s foremost organized agitations for the eradication of the shameful practices of untouchability and unapproachability.
2. Describe the role played by T K Madhavan in building the movement in Vaikom.
According to K N Panikkar, the humiliating treatments practised in the name of caste included observance of distance pollution, exclusion from public places of worship and denial of the civil rights enjoyed by upper castes. People who belonged to ‘lower castes’ had no access to public roads near temples, could not be appointed to government jobs, and their children could not be admitted to government schools. It was in this context that T K Madhavan, a prominent social reformer and journalist, considered rightly as the original architect behind Vaikom Satyagraha, moved a resolution in the Assembly in 1918 and while doing so claimed that “temple entry is my birthright.” The Diwan rejected this appeal citing the reason that it may trigger religious disharmony in society. However, T K Madhavan met Gandhi at Tirunelveli in 1923 to seek his advice and support for launching an agitation for temple entry. Gandhi approved of the agitation and suggested non-violence as the strategy. Gandhi also gave a message to the people of Travancore emphasizing the untouchable’s right to worship in Hindu temples. After Gandhi’s appeal, several upper caste reform associations supported the cause. The Kerala Hindu Sabha, the Nair Service Society, the Yogakshema Sabha, etc are some of them. T K Madhavan then took steps to establish closer links with the national movement. He became a member of the Indian National Congress and participated in the Kakkinada Session of 1923 as a delegate to attract attention to the situation in Travancore. He eminently successes in this mission, as is evident from the invitation extended to him to attend the Working Committee of the Congress and to introduce a resolution providing for the formation of an all-India committee for the eradication of untouchability. T K Madhavan also became a member of the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee.
3. The active involvement of Sree Narayana Guru also served as a powerful source of inspiration and guidance for the satyagrahis. Describe.
The active involvement of Sree Narayana Guru served as a powerful source of inspiration and guidance for the satyagrahis. Guru tells the satyagrahis that the will to suffer and sacrifice should be there. But there is no need to get drenched or starved. Enter where entry is banned and face the consequences. Take blows without giving them. If a fence is raised in your path, don’t turn back, jump over it. Don’t stop with walking through the road, enter the temple, every temple, every day, everybody. If the offering of rice is ready, take it. Go to the place where free food is served in the temple, and sit along with others. Guru tells satyagrahis to let the government be informed of what they intend to do. One should not fight shy of laying down one’s life. Those who think another’s touch pollutes him should not be left unmolested in their so-called cleanliness. But let there be no violence or show of force. He urges satyagrahis not to be disturbed by coercion. Guru visited and presided over a public meeting held at the venue of satyagraha. During 1925 Gandhi visited Sree Narayana Guru after visiting satyagraha. Both the great personalities agree on the usefulness of nonviolence.
4. Summarize the conversation between Gandhiji and Sree Narayana Guru about the mode of agitation adopted at Vaikom.
During March 1925, after his visit to the Satyagraha site, Gandhiji visited Sree Narayana Guru at Sivagiri. Gandhiji inquired Guru if he had any difference of opinion about the Satyagraha started at Vaikom. Gandhiji also asks him if he wants to add or alter anything to the movement. Sree Narayana Guru answers Gandhiji’s question by affirming that the satyagraha at Vaikon is going smoothly. Guru also affirms that he does not want to make any alterations. Gandhiji tells Sree Narayana Guru that some think that nonviolent satyagraha is of no use and to establish right, violence is necessary. He inquires Sree Narayana Guru’s opinion in this matter. Sree Narayana Guru answers by stating that he does not think that violence is good.
5. How did the enlightened members of the upper caste and their organizations respond to Vaikom Satyagraha?
In pursuance of Gandhi’s advice, a savarna jatha was organized from Vaikom to Thiruvananthapuram under the leadership of Mannath Padmanabhan, the founder of the Nair Service Society. The declared purpose of the jatha was to present a memorial to the Maharani Regent but its intention was more to arouse public opinion, particularly among caste Hindus, against untouchability. The jatha, which started from Vaikom on 1 November 1924, stopped at about two hundred places on the way, where public receptions were organized and in which the leaders of the jatha denounced untouchability in strong terms. This was an important event, the first of its kind, in the public life of Travancore and it influenced many people. After Gandhi’s appeal, several upper caste reform associations supported the cause. The Kerala Hindu Sabha, the Nair Service Society, the Yogakshema Sabha, etc are some of them.
6. Describe the outcome of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
Prof. K N Panikkar, in his essay, “Vaikom Satyagraha: Struggle against Untouchability” narrates the history of the peaceful agitation against the discrimination towards people of lower castes in Vaikom Shiva temple. The satyagraha succeeded in making the problem of untouchability a matter of public debate and had also created a climate of public opinion against the oppressive practice. The authorities finally responded to this pressure and decided to grant some concessions. Gandhiji’s interventions also helped in arriving at a compromise. Consequently, the roads around the Vaikom temple, except for two lanes leading to the eastern gopuram, were opened to all castes without discrimination. Following the announcement, the satyagraha was called off on 23 November 1925.