Vaikom Satyagraha and first entry of temple by dalits in India - 02 : the struggle

young  ruler of Travancore, Balaram Varma

Above image: In 1924 when Mahatma Gandhi on a visit to the erstwhile princely state of Travancore,  to meet with  members of the royal family, he  asked the then 12-year-old prince Balaram Varma whether he would throw open temples for lower caste Hindu people. The young and bold prince  gave a simple reply in affirmative.  True to his word upon ascending the throne, the young  ruler, Balaram Varma did not forget his promise. Upon consultation with the then Divan Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar in 1932, he set up a Temple Entry Committee to examine the possibilities of opening the doors of shrines to all castes. ''His decision was also influenced by the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924-25, a historic struggle for the right of avarnas (untouchables) to use public roads close to temples.  On November 12, 1936, Balaram Varma made a revolutionary royal proclamation that opened the doors of temples in Travancore for all Hindu devotees, irrespective of their caste and community''. A new chapter in Indian  Social-political History had been added......

Architect of Vaikom struggle, T.K. Madhavan, en. wikepedia. org

Above image: Madhavan died at his residence on 27 April 1930. A monument was raised in his honour at Chettikulangara. In 1964 T.K. Madhavan Memorial College was founded at Nangiarkulangara.............................
The scourge of un-touchability in India  had been around for centuries and the Hinduism (it is a way of life, and not a religion) never mentioned about either castes or discrimination among Hindus.  That how did un-touchability creep into the Indian society is a moot question that needs proper scientific study; biased study pinning blame on one community  won't help the posterity.  As for certain  political parties of TN, whose ideology is based on rationalism, atheism  and linguistic chauvinism, they blame it on the so called upper caste  Hindus  and find  scapegoats in the quite Brahmin community. 

T.kK. Madhavan lawter and social eformer.

''The Vaikom Satyagraha'', the first organized  social awareness movement against untouchability in India,   took place in the year 1924 in  the shadows of a famous Vaikom Mahadeva temple in the  small town of Vaikom,  Kottayam district in  the then Princely state of Travancore (Kerala).  The main purpose of  Vaikom Satyagraha  was to secure  freedom for  all sections of down-trodden people to use the public streets, particularly adjacent to  Sri Mahadeva Temple. The participants in this struggle from all parts of Kerala, cutting across caste barriers put in dedicated efforts for a long time and  this led to   Vaikom Satyagraha  with full support from National leaders like Gandhiji. This had a deep impact on not only on the fundamental rights of people regardless of castes, but also on the conscience of the common people and  the ruling family of Travancore. 

reformist Kelappan.

The root cause was the existing caste system in the Princely state then - denial of entry of low caste Hindus into the Hindu temples, not to speak of accessing  roads around them . The govt.  in 1865, through notification, threw open  public roads  to all castes, however, in 1884 govt notification made a distinction between streets -   Raja Veedhis or the King’s Highways and Grama Veedhis or the Village Roads. Violators would be subject punishments by the govt. It was a subtle caste discrimination as the low caste people were the victims. This was more pronounced in Vaikom than other towns, as the roads around Vaikom Temple were considered to be Grama Veedhis.  There was a  Notice Board that read, “Ezhavas and other low castes are prohibited through this road.” Erected near the NB  was police out-post  to garb the violators of govt.  rules to enter the gramma veedhis (streets). Except low casts, all others  would be allowed to enter the streets near the temple.

Sri kelappan , Vaikom struggle

A few incidents led to the  Vaikom Satyagraha to get to the bottom of bottlenecks and restore the basic rights of all weaker sections in the society. Barring  strict regulations around the temple  roads.  the Ezhava or the Nadar community (about 200 in number), first ever made an attempt to enter the  temple   when Avittom Thirunal Balarama Varma  was the ruler  of Travancore. Upon king's order, their attempt was thwarted by  a group of Nair warriors,  In yet another disgusting incident  that fed fuel to the Vaikom satyagraha was   preventing  T.K Madhavan, an advocate to appear for his client before the honorable court. The lawyer was denied entry because  01. he  hailed from the Nadar community (believed to be a low caste ) and 02. the court was inside the  compound of the Maharajah’s palace. Just imagine the agony of a practicing lawyer who was a victim of caste distinction. Now additional fuel is added to the simmering embers in the affected communities.
The architect of Vaikom Satyagraha was T.K Madhavan   with moral support from Narayana Guru and Gandhaiji.  The salient feature of this struggle was the agitators never used foul and filthy language making scapegoats out of certain upper caste communities. Their main  objective was to  remove unconditionally the road blocks set to prevent  entry  to the temple roads and it was a methodical approach. The first step in the right direction is to assert the rights of all people to use the public roads around the temples. The vaikom satyagraha was synonymous with  a peaceful war on caste discrimination and denial of entry into  roads close to the temples - all  in the name of castes. This first ever prolonged agitation  drew the attention of the Indian sub continent as well as the western world where, in particular, in the  southern USA, Black  people  were  seriously protesting against the Jim crow laws, open racial discrimination, denial of voting rights, access to public rest rooms and transport,  and admission to colleges.   

Sri Madhavan intelligently made certain moves within the purview of laws with support from a large number of leaders from Kerala. And to achieve that, the involvement of the Indian National Congress was necessary.  T. K. Madhavan (2 September 1885 – 27 April 1930) 
was the one who  presented a resolution seeking permission of temple entry and right to worship to all people irrespective of caste and community.  Besides, he  moved the resolution for the eradication of untouchability in the Kakkinada (now in Andhra) session of Indian National Congress  (INC) meeting held in 1923. Madhavan had to continue his struggle for the temple entry of Harijans in Kerala  to get it done as early as possible. In 1927,  he was made organizing secretary of the SNDP Yogam. T.K Madhavan formed a voluntary organization "Dharma Bhata Sangham" to strengthen the activities of SNDP Yogam.

In the aftermath of the Kakinada Congress resolution, the KPCC met at Ernakulam on 24 January 1924 and formed an Untouchability Abolition Committee (UAC) consisting of  K. Kelappan (convener), T. K. Madhavan, Kurur Nilakantan Namboothiri, T.R. Krishna Swami Iyer, and K. Velayudha Menon. A Publicity Committee of five members including T. K. Madhavan was also formed.

In the Vaikom  struggle Madhavan was well supported by  K. Kelappan, and K.P.  Kesava Menon put in every effort  to get the right of oppressed class of people to use the road in front of Vaikom Mahadeva temple.  When the protests became a serious issue, Madhavan and Kesava Menon, and other members were arrested and imprisoned.  The struggle  lasted for 18 long months of pain and mental agony. Other prominent people like  Kurur Neelakanthan Namboodiri and Mannathu Padmanabhan could not succeed. 
Only on request  volunteers from Tamil Nadu  arrived including  Thiru E.V Ramaswamy Naicker of Erode, a leader of  ‘Self-Respect Movement’ and a Brahmin baiter,  participated in the protest and courted arrest twice;  he was released soon after the demise of the king. He  and his workers gave support to the satyagraha.

The  hard-won victory  of Vaikom Sathyagraha was due to the  toil of  reformers like T. K. Madhavan and others  from Travanacore region and the collective efforts of other reformers.  Mention may be made of Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai (2 January 1878 – 25 February 1970) who was  a  social reformer and freedom fighter from the south-western state of Kerala. As the founder of the Nair Service Society (NSS), which claims to represent the Nair community (forming 12.10% ( as per KMS 2011) of the population of the state, he gave full support to the temple entry satyagraiha.  So was Channankara Velayudhan Pillai Raman Pillai (19 May 1858 – 21 March 1922), also known as 'C. V' who was  a pioneering playwright and novelist of Malayalam literature.

T.K Madhavan and others instilled confidence in the marginalized castes  and  urged them to assert their basic  fundamental civil rights of accessing public spaces  and their equal rights in the places of worship. To him and other sataygrahis like Sri Kelappan God does not have discriminatory eyes and only the egotistical men  do impose  this kind of wrong inequality  before God.   Besides,  Madhavan submitted a resolution to the Travancore legislative council, demanding equal rights  to temple entry and worship for all people regardless of  castes  and communities. In addition, he submitted repeated memorandums to the royal government for lifting the ban for marginalized castes to access Vaikom’s temple roads. These  fundamental efforts made by him and others  snowballed into Vaikom Satyagraha that paved the way for the entry of Harjans (dalits) into the temples of Kerala. Towards the end, M.K. Gandhi reached Vaikom and gave it the finishing touch. 
In Today's political scenario across India and, in particular Tamil Nadu,  the situation regarding Dalit youths is a matter of concern. Though the Dalits  get better job opportunities, etc., they lack dedication and self improvement because they do not have good guides to help them out.   Invariably, they have become puppets in the hands of certain narrow-minded, selfish  political leaders who use them as trump cards and freely indulge in divisive politics. In addition to it, they are being enticed by other religious heads to get them converted to their religion. This political exploitation of dalit youths  under dubious and misleading leadership continues unabated. None of the leaders teach them to lead a purposeful  life and achieve success by way of hard work and integrity.