Readings on Kerala (1A02ENG)
2. “The appeal of the satyagraha went beyond religious and regional parameters.” Elucidate.
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 appeal of the satyagraha went beyond religious and regional parameters was evident in the participation. In addition to the Christians and Muslims who participated in the agitations, a party of twelve Akalis headed by Lala Lal Singh and Kripal Singh came to Vaikom and setup langar for the volunteers. E V Ramaswamy, popularly known as Periyar, came with his wife Nagammai and offered Satyagraha on the 14th of April. In the course of the agitations, Periyar was arrested and imprisoned twice which earned for him yet another sobriquet ‘Vaikom Veerar’.
Probably for the first time in India, women played an unprecedented part in the agitations with their large scale involvement and participation in the events. Narayani Amma, Meenakshi Amma, Thirumalai Amma, and Nagammai Amma were some of the leaders at the forefront of the 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.
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.
REF: Multiple Modernities, edited by Board of Editors, Kannur University, Cohin: Hornbill Publishing House, 2019. Print.