Kerala, TN CMs to jointly inaugurate centenary celebrations of Vaikom Satyagraha
It was a nonviolent protest that took place from 30 March 1924 to 23 November 1925 in the Kingdom of Travancore, now part of Kerala. The movement got a leg up in 1924 after Mahatma Gandhi sent his disciple Vinoba Bhave to Vaikom to help the agitation and in 1925, Gandhiji himself came to Vaikom to participate.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M K Stalin will jointly inaugurate the year-long centenary celebrations of Vaikom Satyagraha in Vaikom, Kerala on April 1.
The epoch-making satyagraha that began on March 30, 1924, breached rigid walls of orthodoxy and opened a new chapter in the fight against untouchability and the caste system in India.
In those days, only people belonging to the upper caste were allowed in major temples while those of the lower caste were not even allowed to take roads leading to shrines due to untouchability. Offenders were beaten up and jailed indiscriminately.
According to historians, “Vaikom Satyagraha” was the first major step towards the long movement to ensure the basic rights of the socially oppressed in the country.
It was a nonviolent protest that took place from 30 March 1924 to 23 November 1925 in the Kingdom of Travancore, now part of Kerala.’
The movement got a leg up in 1924 after Mahatma Gandhi sent his disciple Vinoba Bhave to Vaikom to help the agitation and in 1925, Gandhiji himself came to Vaikom to participate.
Before visiting Vaikom he wrote in “Young India” in February 1925: “The Vaikyom satyagrahis are fighting a battle of no less consequence than that of Swaraj.”
“It was one of the most important movements for the country’s untouchables,” said Bhimrao Ambedkar, who was 33 at that time.
The small temple town became a nerve centre of a socio-religious movement that questioned the upper caste hegemony over Hindu shrines in which Mahatma Gandhi also played a key role. He once said the peaceful movement gave him much energy in his fight against the caste system within the country and later foreign domination.
Historians say that the movement also catapulted then Tamil Nadu Congress leader E V Ramaswamy Naicker aka Thanthai Periyar to centre stage in his lifelong fight for the downtrodden.
“Periyar was instrumental in giving mass participation. The King of Travancore Sree Mulam Tirunal Ramavarma invited him several times for talks but he refused. He travelled across the princely state and his words inspired people,” said writer and Dalit activist Sunny M Kapicaud.
A statue of Periyar now stands tall in Vaikom town in the Kottayam district.
Interestingly, the satyagraha was also led by several upper caste leaders such as K P Kesava Menon and Mannath Padmanabhan, who later founded the Nair Service Society. Social reformer Sree Narayana Guru also played a key role in the movement.
“Vaikom Satyagraha was a glorious chapter in the social movement of the country. It helped earn acceptability and respectability for socially backward. It eventually led to the historic Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936,” said noted historian MGS Narayanan.
The centre of the century-old movement was the ancient Mahadeva temple in Vaikam and all roads leading to the ancient shrine were barred to people belonging to backward castes especially. Despite several requests, the then King of Travancore was not ready to do away with the age-old system.
The Congress party then extended its support to the movement after its leader T K Madhavan narrated the injustice being meted out to lower caste people during the Kakinada Congress session in 1923.
On March 30, 1924, two persons from the backward community– Kunjappi from the Pulaya caste and Bahulyan from the Ezhava caste, along with Govinda Panikkar, an upper caste, proceeded to the road leading to the temple in Vaikom. They were beaten up and jailed but it sowed seeds of a mass movement and resistance.
Their movement lasted for 600-odd days when in 1925 Mahatma Gandhi came to the temple site and joined the movement. There he met Maharani of Travancore city state Sethu Lakshmibai and succeeded in getting some concessions for lower caste communities. Roads around the temple with the exception of two lanes leading to the eastern entrance were opened to all castes.
But it was just the beginning. The satyagraha later led to the historic “temple entry proclamation” in 1936 that eventually opened the doors of all temples in Travancore to Hindus, irrespective of caste barriers. The Congress has also announced a series of programmes to mark the centenary of Vaikom Satyagraha.