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Analysing The Rationale For Social Power

Rajmohan Gandhi

By Mary Elizabeth King
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 309, Rs. 800.00


Travancore’s princely family governed this Siva temple and the four roads around it, which until the satyagraha’s substantial if partial success were open to caste Hindus, non-Hindus and animals, but not to Ezhavas and their ilk. Eleven years later, in 1936, Travancore’s ruling family opened all its temples (and the roads leading up to them) to all Hindus. Begun on 30 March 1924, the Vaikkam satyagraha, or Vaikkam as we may simply call it, witnessed disciplined attempts by Ezhavas and their ‘high-caste’ Nair comrades to walk on the prohibited roads. Orthodoxy, led by brahmin Nambudiris, opposed the satyagrahis, who were arrested by the Travancore police or blocked by barriers on the roads. In protest, the satyagrahis stood or plied the charkha in front of the barriers. When exceptionally heavy rains inundated the roads, the satyagrahis remained stand­ing in waist-deep water to continue their protest. Word of their staying power reached and stirred all of India at a time when the Non­cooperation Movement for Independence (1920–22) had begun to slip from popular memory. Released from prison only a month be­fore Vaikkam, Gandhi steered the satyagraha from afar. He had been urged to do so by, among others, the Ezhava leader, T.K. Madhavan, and K. Kelappan, a Nair teacher associated with a new nationalist newspaper in Kozhikode, Mathrubhumi. Madhavan and Kelappan were part of the Anti-Untouchabil­ity Committee organizing Vaikkam. The 20 months’ long struggle faced dif­ficulties when local leaders were arrested or funds were exhausted. Morale fluctuated. In November 1924, acting on a suggestion from Gandhi, large numbers of caste Hindus marched with perfect discipline in two con­verging processions to Thiruvananthapuram. One, going southward, proceeded from Vaikkam, and the other, going north, from Kottar. In Thiruvananthapuram, twelve of the marchers presented to the Maharani Regent a monster petition, signed by more than 25,000, for opening Vaikkam’s temple roads to all. Unprecedentedly, a great many Namubudiris and Nairs had joined the march from Vaikkam. Welcomed en route by Ezhava women, the marchers ate rice of­fered by ‘untouchable’ Pulayas and also called, in his ashram, on Sri Narayana Guru (1856?–1928), venerated then and now by Ezhavas (who formed a significant part of Kerala’s population) and many non-Ezhavas. The Guru, who blessed their bid, had vis­ited the satyagrahis’ camp in Vaikkam in October 1924, made a handsome donation for their effort, and apparently offered to be a satyagrahi himself (p. 168). ...

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