HistoryAyyankali was born in 1863 in Venganoor, Trivandrum, Travancore. He was one of seven children born to a Pulaya family. He was illiterate as were all Dalits at that time. In those days Dalits were not allowed to walk along public roads. The Dalit women were not allowed to cover their breasts in public places. Ayyankali organized Dalits and fought against these discriminations.Ayyavu Swami a siant and scholar who was teaching teh menginlessness of caste whom Ayyankali loved and respecte as his teahcer was a mjor insipiration for him to fight against all social discriminations.
He was in the forefront of movements against casteism. He passed through the public roads of Venganoor on a bullock cart which was not allowed for the Dalits. Ayyankali led the movement and defeated them. Ayyankali demanded right for Dalit children to study in school. He started a school to teach Dalit children at Venganoor. He called for boycott of agricultural work raising certain demands. His demands included (a) stoppage of the practice of not giving tea in tea shops to Dalits who were given tea till then in coconut shells; (b) right to education for Dalit children; (c) resting time for workers during work hours; and (d) replacement of the system of wages in-kind by payment of cash.
The significance of Ayyankali lies in the fact that he could spearhead a struggle for human rights of the untouchables raising demands which find expressions in international human rights documents well before their adoption. He pioneered a movement for democratizing public places and asserting the rights of workers even before the formation of any workers organisation in Kerala. The most amazing part of it is that he did all this in spite of his illiteracy. No wonder that Ayyankali was later nominated to the assembly of Travancore namely, Sri Moolam Legislative Assembly, in 1910 by the then rulers in recognition of his leadership ability. In his efforts Ayyankali also received the support of his great contemporary Sree Narayana Guru and other social reformers. By 1900 Dalits were given the freedom to walk on public roads, and by 1914, Dalit children were allowed to join schools. Dalit women were allowed to cover their nakedness in public through his efforts.
He was such a dynamic person that he could gather support for his cause even from the members of the upper caste community as well as some prominent landlords who were members of Praja Sabha.
Elders of the Pulaya community in Kuttanadu still cherish the memory of ”the Panthi Bhojanam” organized by a prominent landlord and the then-member of Praja Sabha from Kuttanad, Pallithanam Luca Matthai (Pallithanathu Matthaichen). During those times Lukka Mathai was fondly referred to by the local flock as the Kayal Raja of Kuttanadu. Though he belonged to an aristocratic and orthodox Syrian Christian family, Luka Mathai actively supported Ayyankali in his efforts in eradicating the social inequalities that were prevalent in Kerala society.
He received Ayyankali and his followers with a grant procession of snake boats and hundreds of other boats to his Nalukettu Tharavad and had lunch with them. Many other prominent people from the upper castes also participated in that function proclaiming their protest against casteism.
Ayyankali founded the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham (Association for the Welfare of the Poor) in 1905, which succeeded in obtaining a six-day week for agricultural laborers. Ayyankali died on June 18, 1941.
Contribution and influence in SocietyThe thoughts of Ayyyankali has influenced different sects of the society. The Chief Minister of Kerala had remarked his contribution and has compared with Narayana Guru. He is specially remembered on his birth anniversary by different sections of the society.
Ayyankali disappeared from public memory for quite some time. It took about 40 years to evaluate his service to society. Speaking on March 1980 at the Kumaran Asan Memorial Lecture, Comrade EMS Namboodirippadu spoke about the historical agricultural labour strike of 1907 led by Ayyankali thus:
"...in 1907-8 Ayyankali organised the agricultural workers' strike. He brought together the unorganised and splintered people and made them conscious of organisational power." (Asan & Malayala Literature, pp 54.)
With the efforts of KK Balakrishnan, PK Chathan Master, KP Madhavan etc., a trust named 'Sri Ayyankali Trust' was born. A life size bronze statue of Ayyankali, sculpted with love and affection by Ezra David (who also made Krishna Menon Statue in Delhi), travelled all the way from Madras through the length of Kerala in a victory procession. Newspapers vied with one another to highlight the event. The open hearted Keralites lined the road sides and paid homage to the 'victor over fate':
"...where the chariot of history etched indelible marks of monarchy and upper caste oppression.." and was unveiled in the traffic island at Vellayambalam junction by the Prime Minister of India on 10 November 1980. (Kerala Kaumudi, 11 Nov '80)
Vellayambalam Junction is in an elite Nair upper middle class area. It is at the meeting point of roads from the Kaudiyar Palace and Padmanabha Swamy Temple. The Maharaja has to pass Ayyankali Statue on the way to and back from the temple for his regular prayers.
Kerala Kaumudi Paper, run by Sree Narayanaguru devotee K Kartikeyan wrote about the unveiling "a statue of the unforgettable revolutionary of Kerala."
When the prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi spoke that...
"He is the outcome of his people's enthusiasm for equality. This great son of India was the one who sacrificed his life for the well being of his society. His qualities were to too great to be contained in Kerala only. His ideas and ideals are still valid. That is the reason why I offered to unveil this statue. I am against setting up of statues in principle. So I have declined invitations to unveil statues."
"Untouchability is a deep blemish in the soul of India. It is only untouchability that has kept India backward so far. And it was in Kerala that untouchability was most acute. At the same time it was Kerala that gained fame by its Temple entry proclamation. Equality and Freedom are indivisible. Without equality there can not be genuine freedom. Our leaders fought against the evil of untouchability. It was through leaders like Mahatma Gandhi that the toughest battle against untouchability were fought. The struggle for freedom must start from within the society. That was what Ayyankali did. It was due to incessant struggles of Gandhi, Ambedkar and Ayyankali that the landless poor (harijans) were liberated." (Kerala Kaumudi, 11 Nov '80)
EK Nayanar, the chief minister of Kerala spoke thus on the occasion called Ayyankali, "the first leader of people-led liberation and revolution."
"If singing praises of Ayyankali and unveiling of his statue is to have any meaning, allotment of land for the tenants and pension for agricultural labour is a must. Ayyankali was not only a leader of his own community but also an unshakeable guide and commander of the working classes. Ayyankali and Sree Narayan Guru, by their anti caste domination struggles were important factors that led Kerala people to their progressive outlook today.
"Only Kerala has been delivered of mass murder of the poor and burning of their villages in the country. That is because of the social reconstruction through revolutionary changes. Rajaram Mohan Roy, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekanand etc were Ayyankali's contemporaries. Unlettered Ayyankali was a totally different kind of player in the same league. Perhaps he was the greatest leader of that particular period.
"This 'mahapurush' organised his people for gaining social justice and human rights into a body named 'Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham' in 1907. Sensibly led by Ayyankali, the organisation gained whatever social changes it could for all to see.
"It was his organisational genius that left its indelible stamp on the agrarian movements of Kerala which subsequently fell into the hands of Communist Parties." (Kerala Kaumudi, 11 Nov '80)
Kallada Sasi, a poet who fluttered out of the water logged rice fields of Kerala, wrote in golden letters...
"From this Kurukshetra of multiple colours rose Ayyankali the Heralding Conch."
Upper cloth controversy
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe upper cloth controversy or upper cloth revolt Tamil தோள் சீலைப் போராட்டம் refers to incidents surrounding the rebellion by Nadar climber women asserting their right to wear upper-body clothes against the caste restrictions sanctioned by the Travancore kingdom, a part of present day Kerala, India.
In Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, no female was allowed to cover their upper part of the body in front of Brahmins until the 19th century. Under the support of Ayya Vaikundar, some communities fought for their right to wear upper clothes and the upper class resorted to attacking them in 1818. In 1819, the Rani of Travancore announced that the Nadar climber women have no right to wear upper clothes like most non-Brahmin castes of Kerala. However, the aristocratic Nadan women of Kerala, their counterparts, had the rights to cover their bosom. Violence against Nadar climber women continued and reached its peak in 1858 across the kingdom, notably in Neyyattinkara and Neyyur.
On 26 July 1859, under pressure from the Madras Governor, the king of Travancore issued a proclamation announcing the right of Nadar climber women to wear upper clothes but on condition that they should not imitate the style of clothing worn by upper class women. Though the proclamation did not quell the tension immediately, it gradually subsided as the social and economical status of Nadar climbers progressed in subsequent decades with significant support from missionaries and Ayya Vaikundar.
Cause19th century Travancore had a rigid caste hierarchy. There also existed a strict code of respect and mannerisms enforced by the state. The women were not allowed to carry pots on their hips or wear clothes that covered their breasts. Baring of chest to higher status was considered a sign of respect, by both males and females. The Nadar climbers of Travancore fared a little better than their Tirunelveli counterparts, but, however, suffered severe social disabilities, unlike their Tirunelveli counterparts, under the rigid caste hierarchy of Travancore. As Swami Vivekanandha stated, Kerala was a mad asylum of castes. The Nadar climber women were not allowed to cover their bosoms, as most of the non- Brahmin women, to punctuate their low status. However the aristocratic Nadan women, their counterparts, had the rights to cover their bosom. Uneasy with their social status, a large number of Nadar climbers embraced Christianity.
InfluencesProselytization to Christianity by missionaries started in Tirunelveli and started spreading to Travancore. In 1813, Colonel John Munro, British dewan in the Travancore court, issued an order granting permission to wear upper cloth to women converted to Christianity. The order permitted the newly converted climber women to wear kuppayam, a type of jacket worn by Syrian Christians. However this did not satisfy the climber women. Christian missionaries continued proselytising the Nadar climbers and helped the women train in lace making and other profitable business. The Nadar Christians became upwardly mobile.
1858 revoltThough the Nadar Christians improved their status with the aid of Christian missionaries, the outcome of the conversion was not according to the point of view of the missionaries. The Christian Nadar climber women, along with the Hindu Nadar climber women, wore the upper jacket in the manner of upper-class women and also their Tamil counterparts, in order to improve their social status. In turn they were discriminated and even abused by upper class men. One of the Nadan families of Agastheeswaram, instead of supporting their depressed counterparts, supported the upper class men and claimed that only their women had the right to wear an uppercloth.
In 1858, fresh violence broke out in several places in Travancore and the governor of Madras presidency, Charles Trevelyan, pressured the Travancore king. On 26 July 1859, the king issued a proclamation leading to the restoration of equal rights to wear upper cloth to all Kerala Nadar climber women.
Coverage in CBSC bookThe major parties in Tamil Nadu including DMK, MDMK, and PMK voiced their concerns in the depiction of this class struggle CBSE Class IX Social Science textbook in 'bad light' the Nadar community, largely concentrated in southern districts of the state and called for removal of the content. The article was written by Janaki Nair. The major controversies are
- It is mentioned that Nadars who are migrated to southern Princely State of Travancore (present day kumari District of Tamil Nadu) to work in the fields of landlord Nairs. The parties considered this is totally erroneous since Nadars are the original inhabitants of the Kanyakumari District. The Kumari district is the remains of sunken Kumari Continent, which is the cradle of Tamil Civilization. This is corroborated by Tholkappium and Chilappathikaram literatures. Two famous Tamil poets namely Tholkappiar and Athankottu Asan were born in this district. It was brought under the sway of Travancore state only in 1766 after the defeat of Tamil king by Arcot Nawab. Then this land remains under the subjugation for about 190 years. During that period Nairs from Central Kerala migrated to Kumari district and under the patronage of Malyala Travancore King they subjugated Tamils.
- The word Shanar is used 9 times. This obsolete word lost its relevance 50 years ago; now the word Nadar or Chantor is used instead.
- This article neglected the struggles of Aiyya Vaikundar in the Upper Cloth Revolt and also his social reforms; failing to mention the contributions of Aiyya Vaikuntar, which creates social tensions between Hindu Nadars and Christian Nadars.