|Excerpts From An Autobiography|
|Excerpts From An Autobiography|
K.R. Gouri Amma was born at Cherthala in a family of radical background in July 1919. Ever since 1917 with the origin of the ‘Sahodara Samajam’ movement of K. Ayyappan, and the ‘Coir Factory Workers’ Association’ founded by P.K. Bava under the inspiration of Sree Narayana Guru, Cherthala taluk had become the melting pot of the politics of radicalism prevailing the time. K.R. Gouri Amma passed B.A., B.L. and started her career as a lawyer. In 1947 she became an activist of the banned Communist Party and underwent imprisonment and torture.
K.R. Gouri Amma was elected to the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly in 1952 and 1954. In 1957 she was elected to the Kerala Legislative Assembly. Since then she has been continuously elected to the Kerala Legislative Assembly in 1960, ’67, ’70, ’82, ’87, ’91, and 2001, excepting in 1977. In 1957, ’67, ’80 and ’87 Governments, she served as Minister. She is at present serving as Minister in the United Democratic Front Government.
In the first Communist Ministry, K.R. Gouri Amma served as Minister for Revenue, Excise and Devaswom from April 1957 to July 1959. It was she who piloted the revolutionary Land Reform Bill for the Communist Government. One of the first things the Communist Ministry did was to promulgate an Ordinance banning evictions of all tenants and kudikidappukar throughout the state. In due course a comprehensive Agrarian Relations Bill was drafted and piloted by the Minister for Revenue, K.R. Gouri Amma. The Bill sought to confer ownership rights on land to tenants including sharecroppers and fix a ceiling for the land a land owner could possess. It had also provisions for distributing the surplus land taken from the landlords to the landless poor. The vested interests rallied around them all kinds of reactionary, religious and communal forces and launched the so-called ‘liberation struggle’. The Government was successful in passing the Agrarian Relations Bill in the Assembly before it was dissolved. But the Bill failed to get the President’s assent.
The 1960-’64 United Front Government (anti-Communist) prepared a new Land Reform Bill giving several concessions to the land lords and taking away many of the benefits conferred upon the peasants in the Agrarian Relations Bill. The people of Kerala and K.R. Gouri Amma had to wait for another ten years before a Land Reform Bill abolishing landlordism and giving land to the tillers was passed and fully implemented. In 1967 elections the Left Democratic Front Government under the Chief Ministership of E.M.S. Namboodiripad came to power. In it, K.R. Gouri Amma served as Minister for Revenue, Sales Tax, Civil Supplies, Social Welfare and Law form March 1967 to October 1969. She moved a number of progressive and radical amendments to the Land Reforms Bill passed by the previous Government. When it was implemented, landlordism was abolished in Kerala. 35 lakhs of tenants and about 5 lakhs of Kudikidappukar were made owners of their land. More than one lakh acres of land was declared as surplus land and was distributed among the agro-labourers in rural areas.
From January 1980 to October 1981 K.R. Gouri Amma was made Minister for Industries and Social Welfare, Vigilance and Administration of Justice. In the 1987 Government also she was made Minister for Industries and Social Welfare, Vigilance and Administration of Justice. During the 1987 elections she was projected as the candidate for Chief-ministership . But when the Ministry was formed she was side lined and later ousted from the Communist Party (Marxist).
In 1994 K.R. Gouri Amma formed a new political party, the J.S.S. — Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi — the organisation for the protection of democracy. Since its formation she has been functioning as its General Secretary. Though she is now 83, and is largely left alone to lead her party, she is still bold and active. The J.S.S. has a party journal, Janakeeya Aikyam. In the May 2001 general elections, K.R. Gouri Amma was elected to the Kerala Legislative Assembly from the Aroor constituency with a majority of 12,342 votes. In the newly formed United Democratic Front Ministry she is the Minister for, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, Agriculture Universities and Coir Development.
Even a person who has lived an uneventful life for many a year will have
a reservoir of memories that are interesting. He may not have directly encountered
the whirlpools and quick sands of a very active social life. He may not have
made any significant headway in the straight and the narrow paths of life. He
may regard himself as a mere witness to history. Yet the surge and the waves of
social change must have undoubtedly buffeted him. Social changes must
inevitably have become experiential elements in his personality, wroughting
changes in him. If pressed into writing an autobiography, the social conditions
that had brought about a transformation in the way he viewed the world will
undoubtedly constitute core chapters in his tale. In one way, the story of our
society is a collection of our autobiographies. The history of our land is a bouquet
of tales of people ranging from the most ordinary of men to the greatest
intellectual of our times.
Malayalam language has been blessed with the presence of
autobiographies of her great men, which is comparable to those on any other
major language of the world. Autobiographies are bridges that establish
a link between public life and the self. Autobiographies are repositories of the
unique and particular culture of the motherland. Brilliant autobiographies of this
ilk including life stories, memoirs and histories written in Malayalam have enriched
our language. What then will be new in my autobiography? My story will not be
a mere picturisation of my private self. It cannot be. My story is also the story
of a house, an age and its growth. It will encode a tale of social relationships also
subject to change. My autobiography will record the immense struggle that went
a long way to establish the true, the beautiful, the infinite possibilities of the
evocative word: human.
And at what cost! How many gave up their lives! How many sisters lost
their honour in this struggle! The bodies of countless number of virile young
men, subjected to the most excruciating torture were crushed to smithereens.
Innumerable hearts were broken. This saga of blood, tears, courage, active
masculine virtues and the inner reserves of a typically female strength shaped
I may deviate from the usual laws of the autobiographical narrative in
recording my experiences. I do intend to place on record all that I felt was important
in my life and all that had influenced it. Sometimes these influences and
experiences were so strong that it led to my crossing new thresholds – it shaped
me- a self both public and private. At this point of time, I look forward to the
future with contentment and hope. I may lack the spontaneous richness of
language that characterises the narrative(s) of the historian, the researcher, or
the anthropologist. This work is primarily written for my readers. The prioritisation
of the reader helps me to outline the implied aims of the reader. S/he should
concentrate on the universalisation of some of the key experiences involving
the crisis I faced and resolved, the strength of experience I gained, the struggle
I initiated in the light of experience and the upheavals these struggles caused in
the socio-political fields.
I begin from the memories of a night. It was just five days after the firm
pledge that was a glorious milestone in not just my history, but Kerala’s or even
Indian history. The atmosphere reverberated to the joyous celebration of the
masses. The world intensely watched the events that had unfolded and what
was to follow. Many analyzed the nuances of our each and every word.
The year was 1957, the month April and the date the 10th. The morning
was a very active one. The discussions were serious. The words were carefully
chosen and arranged. For the first time in my life, I was tense. As I looked at the
piece of paper, I felt that each letter had taken on a life of its own and was engaging
me in intimate conversation. The paper. Which paper? The paper was an
important document. The paper was drawn up after much thought, after much
debates and discussions. The paper was to be made public on the morrow. When
it did, what would be its impact and repercussions in the social sphere? It was
aimed at dislodging an ancient monolith. I examined each and every word carefully.
I analyzed the sentence structures to determine whether words were used in their
proper positions. The dark night brought a spell of sleep that tried to seal my
eyes at first slowly and then hastily. I resisted the onslaught of sleep with my
entire heart and soul.
Beyond my bedroom, in the huge bungalow and out in the city, all were
at peace. I, alone, could not sleep. Silence lay heavily in the compound. A vehicle
roared past. I switched on the light once more and read the document. It looked
O.K. I kept it on the table. Then I lay down. A slight doubt assailed me. I got up
and switched on the light to read it word by word. It was well constructed. I lay
down once more.
I tried to keep sleep at bay. When the document is made public on the
morrow, there would be, without doubt, a lot of reactions. The repercussions
would be immense. What would be the thoughts of the man of the soil who’d
realise that for the first time in his life, he could squat on the soil on which he had
spent time and energy?
Men who toiled and lived on the produce of the soil should not be thrown
out of the land on which they worked. It was in the interest of social change that
they should be encouraged to continue working on the land. Indeed such a step
was imperative for social progress. The document had a wide reaching influence.
For the first time in the history of Kerala, a Government was bringing out a law
that gave the labourer who tilled the soil, a gift – an ordinance that prohibited
eviction. Are the poor, the wretched and the damned people of the earth passing
in a ceaseless procession through my heart? Are their jubilant greetings echoing
in the recesses my brain? Who are they? Let this document be made public on
the morrow. I wonder if they remember all this now.
I’ve told you of my response to the ordinance. But it’s equally important
to know how the people reacted to the ordinance. I need to say also why such
an ordinance had to be framed. But before I do that, I need to touch on the laws
of ownership of land that was followed till the ordinance came into force.
Though the state of Kerala had been formed by merging the erstwhile
Travancore, Cochin and Malabar states, the social conditions and culture of the
people had not been successfully amalgamated. Three systems of administration,
laws and beliefs co-existed in the state, for the social rights and the way of life
were different in the three states. Unification was neither simple nor
welcome. Formulation of laws had to be very carefully planned and carried out.
The main root of my tension could easily be traced to the immense responsibilities
of my job as Revenue Minister that was like walking a tight rope. The laws
regarding ownership of land in Malabar was different from those in prevalence
in Thirukkochi. Within Malabar itself there were subtle differences. But there
was a strong agricultural movement in Malabar, which had a long history. The
vast province of Malabar was more or less in the hands of very rich jenmis (land
owners) of whom the Kavalappara, Nayanar family and Zamorins were the most
They gave the land on mortgages and on rent to people who had to work
the land while they relaxed on the fixed money the labourers had to pay them.
The land holdings were so vast that most jenmis could not determine the extent
of their holdings. Though the lands that were near their holdings were not theirs
by right they were often ceded to the landowners. Land surveys and
measurements were not conducted accurately and sometimes never conducted
at all. Those who had migrated from the south to Malabar were often not given
legal documents to prove ownership.
The heavy rents the peasant had to pay, the constant threat of eviction,
land tax based on agricultural revenues, which the peasants had to cough up,
the interest on loans, poor harvests and the fall in the price of agricultural produce
nearly broke the back of the poor farmers. Their condition was further exacerbated
by the payment of vashi, poli, mukkal, sheelakashu, adiyanthirapanam,
tharakachanam, kalapanam, kazhakapanam and thirumulkazcha – all feudal
tithes levied by the landowner.
The peasants were forced to present the lion’s share of their produce to
the landowner if he were well or sick and whenever there was a feast to mark
birth or death or commemoration day and if there were visitors in the manor. On
occasion of birthdays, or the day prior to the time that the jenmi observed the
oblation of the manes, the peasant had to show his loyalty by ceding the fruit of
his labor to his feudal overlord. Above all this, the peasant had to be a glorified
cowherd, act as sentry, bow low and move out of the way when the jenmi passed,
submit to whatever the jenmi decreed, foolish or other wise. He had to cut a
ridiculous figure in a dirty mundu barely covering his knees. Thus the peasant
was but a slave of his jenmi. It was impossible for the peasant to exist without
the command of the jenmi. He was under nourished, his hut lacked basic comforts,
he had to remain illiterate, his children could not play without the express
command of the jenmi. The agricultural movement in Malabar had a glorious
history of having strongly protested against all these injustices. Yet the peasant’s
problems had not been solved. The primary demand of “Agricultural Land for
the peasant” had not been met.
The Malabar Kudiyan Law passed by the Madras government for the
Kudiyans of Malabar worked, in effect, to the benefit of the jenmis. Even before
1947, ideas of land reform that was being implemented in various other states,
had become a widely accepted idea in Malabar. The Congress passed many a
declaration and resolution. The British administration was deliberate in the
implementation of the laws of land ownership. They did not disturb even a stone
in the foundation of the jenmi structure but only reinforced it. With the help of
adhikaris and pattels, they made the feudal system more stringent. Even after
independence, the lot of the peasant did not improve, for no new laws were
formulated for them. The first communist ministry that was sworn in on April 5
1957, proclaimed the prohibition of eviction ordinance on the sixth day of its
This ordinance ceded the land to the one who toiled on it and put a stop
to the right of the jenmi to evict the tenant and the kudikidappukaran at his will
and pleasure without notice. The Travancore Government passed a law in 1949
that stopped all execution petitions of the court. However this law affected only
the tenants. In Travancore and Cochin, there were more kudikidappu peasants
than in Malabar rather than the more disadvantaged Kudiyan. Though the jenmi
had no right to evict them, they were often provided with help to carry out unlawful
eviction. The common belief of the peasant was that all land belonged to the
jenmi and that they were allowed to farm on the land, because of his graciousness.
Though the Travancore State levied taxes from the jenmi for his land
holdings, the peasants still groaned under the taxes they had to pay their jenmi,
such as Varam, tax on salary and shambalacheetu. In Kochi too there were a lot
of kudikidappu peasants. Cherthala was then part of Kochi. Hence the laws
regarding ownership of land that prevailed in Kochi was followed in Cherthala.
Cherthala is a long strip of sandy area between Kochi and Alleppey – a
land where coconut plantations and industries flourished. To the west of Cherthala
stretched the Arabian Sea and to the east lay Vembanad Lake. The chief
agricultural crop was the coconut. The income and the employment of the people
were bound up with the coconut. On the banks of the lake and by the sandy
shores of the sea, the coconut tree grew in profusion. But in interior Cherthala,
cultivating the coconut did not bring good results. The soil was infertile. In the
summer, the trees required watering. So coconut cultivation was expensive in
this area. Moreover it was hard work and who was willing to work? Definitely
not the jenmi for he required others to do the back breaking work of
planting coconut trees, nurturing them and working on the soil for good results.
This led to the establishment of the kudikidappu system in Cherthala. The
kudikidappukar had no right to either more pay or to claim the land for
themselves. They existed merely as slaves working unceasingly for the benefit
of the jenmi. They were, to top it all, at times evicted forcefully from the land- a
night- mare that all kudikidappukar feared.
The jenmis elicited from the kudikidappukar a contract that stated that
the kudikidappukaran would leave the land whenever they were asked by the
jenmi to do so without even being recompensed for the physical labour they
had put in on the jenmi’s land. After toiling for years on the soil and making it
yield by constantly nurturing it, the kudikidappukaran may be asked to leave
by the jenmi when they least expect it. Many cases that I dealt with when I
practiced as an advocate was to do with this issue. When the Paattakudiyayma
law was passed, most Paattams became Varams. Varam was no right at all. Hence
a holder of a Varam could easily be evicted. In those times there were no holdings
for paddy fields, neither were there any permanency for peasants.
Another incident happened to worsen conditions. Before the First World
War, coconuts fetched a good price in foreign markets. When the war progressed,
the prices crashed and by the time it limped to the end, the demand for the coconut
evinced by foreign markets had dwindled considerably. The farmer could not
meet his expenses by selling his produce. At a time that agriculture itself was
looked at askance, it became difficult to pay Paattam and they ran up arrears of
the rent. But by ME 1116 the price of the coconut slowly picked up. The
landowners immediately raised the Paattam of the land and insisted that the
arrears were paid, failing which the tenant was to be evicted. Very many cases
were filed and the tenants were harried and victimised. The existing laws offered
them no protection. More atrocious still was the social slavery that was imposed
on the peasants as a whole-whether well to do or not. The worst of these was
As the workers belonged to the lower castes, it was considered a sin even
to touch them. The edicts of the higher castes denied the lower castes even
basic human rights. There have been many directions to solve the inequalities in
the socio-economic and educational fields and attendant problems. However
they did not take into consideration the lot of the man who tilled the earth- the
peasants and the kudikidappukarans.
When Panampally Govinda Menon was the Chief Minister of Thiru-Kochi,
he passed a law prohibiting eviction, but it was easy to by pass the law because
of its many loopholes. By invoking the law, many evictions were in fact done.
Emotions ran high and many agitations were organised. Yet there were even
further instances when the wrath of the jenmi ended in the kudikidappukaran’s
house going up in flames.
After the 1954 elections, Pattom Thanu Pillai became the Chief Minister
of Thirukkochi. His political party was Praja Socialist Party. Right up to the
elections, the Congress was totally opposed to the P.S.P. After the elections,
when it was discovered that the Congress had no majority, they quickly changed
their tune. They promised unconditional support to the P.S.P. Panampally
Govinda Menon’s explanation on this volte-face that the interests of the country
are more important than interests of the party is a memorable one.
Thus with Congress support, the P.S.P ruled alone. P.S.Nataraja Pillai was
the Revenue Minister during Pattom’s tenure. He moved some bills introducing
changes in the agricultural sector. Yet these bills were quite inadequate for they
did not contain a single practical direction to improve the lot of the peasant. The
bills granted right of ownership to those peasants who could prove that they
were Paattakar and kaanakkar for twelve years. The bills did not cede rights
of ownership to those who had kaivasha kudiyayma.
The bill sought to limit the right of the tenant farmers. Neither the peasant’s
basic problems nor their solutions were discussed in the bill. Consequently it
did not even graze the feudal system in Thirukkochi. However it did have
repercussions for it created a furor in politics if not in the social system, with the
Congress withdrawing its support. Stalwarts in P.S.P like Vayala Idikula, Kodakara
Kesava Menon and T.S. Ramaswamy joined the Congress. The result – the
collapse of the Pattom Ministry!
Then the ministry of Panampally Govinda Menon came into power. This
ministry could not but touch on the agricultural bill before it began operations.
They sent the Nataraja Pillai bill to the select committee. Panampally called a
select committee that had a majority of Congressmen in it. They proved
ineffective for many a time there weren’t enough members present-let alone a
full chorum. Comrade T.V. Thomas presented a resolution in the Assembly
demanding that the number of members of the select committee be reduced. The
resolution was passed, following which the key question was discussed. The
bill was then presented in the assembly and was hotly debated. Once more the
ministry tottered, tried to sustain itself but ultimately fell.
Two ministries fell victim to the Agricultural Bill. Presidents’ rule was
imposed on Thiru Kochi. The Advisor was P.S. Rao. The ‘Raja Pramukha’
position prevailed and hence he ruled as an autocrat. He refused to succumb to
pressures and indoctrination. His rule prioritised the bureaucracy.
In those times, there were many strikes in which thousands participated
with fire and fervor. Labourers, farmers, agricultural labourers and the labourers who
toiled in plantations in the shadow of the Western Ghats – in short, all those who
wanted a change in the existing scheme of things took part in these strikes. The
strikes struck terror in the hearts of the oppressors (those with vested interests).
The Communist party, which gave a clear direction and a strong leadership to
the malcontents, was growing from strength to strength.
The Congress meanwhile was slowly realizing that P.S. Rao was not one
who would submit tamely to flattery, pressure or indoctrination. This made him
very unpopular among the Congress men. On the other hand the Communist
party became popular because of its commitment and encouragement of the strikes
of the people. Intellectuals, artists and writers took fire from the agitation of the
masses to which the Communist party gave leadership.
From 1948, there were many who were ready to sacrifice all for the party.
They were the treasures of the Communist party. The base of the party among
the masses gained in strength and extent. To the leader of the times, the people
were of primary importance. They cared neither for their homes nor wealth nor
even for themselves. The party can be justifiably proud of its leaders who were
the epitome of self -sacrifice. More and more classes of people came forward to
do whatever they could to strengthen the party and the popular agitators. The
party progressed in all fields! There was zest and inspiration everywhere – not
just in the political sphere, but also in the cultural sphere – especially in literature
and arts. It was in these circumstances that elections were held in 1957.
People like me did not know that the party would come into power. I was
not very much bothered about winning or losing at elections. I had contested in
1948, when I first joined the party at a time when the party faced a host of
difficulties and obstacles. I was then around 26 or 27. I was asked by the party
to be a candidate for the 1948 elections. I obeyed. Then I worked hard. I wanted
to do whatever job the party assigned me, to the best of ability, methodically and
fully. It was not allied to winning or losing. That was and still is my nature.
During 1948, the atrocity against the party defied description. If you were
called a Communist, you are immediately surrounded by police- men and by thugs.
It was the Congressmen who gave them the leadership. Though I failed to get an
assembly seat in 1948, from 1952 I have never known defeat. I used all elections
to bring people together politically and to enlighten them. The party too
progressed by bringing people together by organizing strikes for common causes
and by providing leadership. In the 1957 elections, party cadres, naturally, looked
I contested from the Cherthala seat. The Cherthala constituency consisted
of Pattanakad, Kadakarapalli, Cherthala town, Cherthala south, two Panchayats
of Thannirmukkam and Vayalar. The success at elections did not cause any sense
of superiority in me. I did not feel any strange emotion. I felt proud, however, as
a communist, about the party’s sweeping victory and its wonderful progress.
The meeting of the representatives and leaders of the party chose me as the female
member of the ministry. At that moment, what filled my mind was the vision of
the strikes the agricultural workers were organizing on Koche’s fields in Cherthala
Taluk. They were not merely of my party – peasants of all kinds were fighting for
their rights amidst persecution and threats. Solving their problems was the most
important thing on the agenda.
On April 5, 1957, we were all sworn into office ……
I reached the Secretariat. At first I was lost amidst the files for I knew next
to nothing about office administration. I was bound to the people, whose lives
were entangled in the file rather than its technicalities. As one who knew their
pain and their travail and who had done her utmost to solve their dilemma, it was
easy enough to study the files. Even then, the lot of the peasants as thought
and as emotion plagued me. I held discussions with the party leadership and
with the leaders of the Karshaka Sangham like E.Gopalakrishna Menon, Pandalam
P.R.Madhavan Pillai and C.H. Kanaran. I consulted my department heads. As a
result of all these discussions, an idea began to form in my mind. The idea took
shape in words, in sections, in legal document and became complete on April
Even before then I had a strange affinity with the agricultural labourers.
Why? There may be many answers to the question. But for me, there was just
one answer. I was born in a peasant family. The foundation of my tale rests on
this. On April 11th, the ordinance was made public.
Why did I begin my tale with April 11? It is a day that has lived long in
the minds of the peasants and Kudikidappukars and the poor agricultural
workers. The ordinance was the corner store of all subsequent land reforms. The
ordinance was a mighty blow struck against the monarchy, the feudal system
and the social condition of the time. It was a day that was destined to remain
forever fresh in my memory.
I am of Chetrthala. I was born in Viyathara in Pattanakadu on 19th Mithun
1095 (Malayalam era) in the star Thiruvonam. I was born into the social conditions
characteristic of the system of jenmis eight decades ago in the family
home known as Kalathil Parambil. Cherthala is part of Karapuram and
Karapuram is part of Alleppey District. Vaikam also was part of Karapuram.
Probably Karapuram is the corruption of the word Kadalpuram.
The biggest jenmi conglomerate of Karapuram was the Thirumala
Devaswom. They were Gowda Saraswath Brahmins of Goa who were forced to
flee their land during the regime of Hyder Ali. They were afforded refuge by the
Maharajah of Cochin during Hyder Ali’s invasion of Malabar. Hyder Ali
penetrated to Malabar and reached Kochi. The land extending from Chellanam
to Pattanakadu in the South was ceded to the fleeing Gowda Saraswaths free of
cost. Most jenmis were those who rented land from the Thirumala Devaswom.
Kandalothu Vallas, the famous jenmis of the Kanjikuzhi area gave vast areas of
land in Karapuram on rent to the commander-in-chief of the Cochin army–Paliath
Achan. This was later given to Urrayma temples and this formed part of their
riches. These temples and the land ownership were peculiar to Cherthala alone.
Among Christians, M.C.M. Anthraper was an agricultural overlord. He did not
give the land on rent. The rest of the Christians in the area were people who had
converted to Christianity under the influence of various foreign Christian
The existing lands of the entire taluk of Cherthala belonged to about
twenty jenmi families and devaswoms like Thirumala Devasom and others
devaswoms of the same type. Most of the jenmis belonged to the higher castes.
The traditional rituals and dogmas that governed these communities were
essentially those that were totally detrimental to those of the lower castes. In
Cherthala the system allowed the people of the higher castes to economically
and socially exploit the workers belonging to the lower castes. The workers were
slaves who were denied the right of ownership of land. They were not allowed
to build a hut of their own without the permission of the overlord. Apart from the
clothes they put on, they often had no other clothes to don.
More pitiful yet was the fact that those born in the lower caste had no
right of way. The present generation might as well consider this a riddle. Yet it
was true. The people of the lower caste could not use the highways. They could
creep along narrow pathways, their overlords allowed them to use. They were
not allowed admission in schools. They were banned the use of the public pool.
They were not allowed to step into temples. They had no right to government
jobs. The demon of ayitham dogged the steps of the people of the lower castes.
Compared to other provinces in Travancore, Cherthala had a high
incidence of casteist attacks, economic exploitation and social injustice. It was
the organisation that sprouted against the economic/social exploitation and
discriminations that later led Kerala on the path of social revolution. It was the
Ezhava leadership, branded as lower caste by the higher echelons of castes that
led these organisations. Most of the leaders were of rich families who were
intellectuals and scholars. To disprove the label of lower caste that was given to
the Ezhava by the higher castes, a Shawndika Dharma Paripalana Yogam was
formed in 1068 (ME). In ME 1078 in Cherthala, the Karapuram Ezhava Samajam
was established to enlighten the Ezhava community on evil social practices —
the denial of education, the continuance of social inequality, denial of progress
and denial of the freedom of movement — the community suffered from. Later
the Samajam brought out a journal called Karapuram.
The Karapuram Sahodara Samajam that was formed in 1092 (ME) raised
the clarion call “Imprison the caste demon”. The Karapuram Ezhava Yuva Jana
Seva Sangh was formed in 1095 (ME) to put in practice Sree Narayana Guru’s
theories of abstinance from liquor and the right of all Hindus, irrespective of caste
to worship in temples. In 1105 (ME) a branch of S.N.D.P. was established in
Cherthala in response to Gurudev’s call to organise and gain strength. The jenmis
began a counter propaganda alleging that the S.N.D.P. organisation was the
organisation of a bunch of atheists. They argued that those who joined the group
were in danger of losing their property and their temples. Once powerful they
would turn autocrats. The first All Travancore Revolutionary Samaj was formed
significantly in Koikkal Maithan, Cherthala, which was the venue chosen to
commemorate the Martyr’s day subsequently.
The meetings of the organisation mentioned above were first conducted
in Kalathil Parambil, my home. My father, Kulathil Parambil Raman was the
organiser, committee member and treasurer in most of these groups. Foreign
dignitaries and some of the most famous people of Kerala stayed with us. Sree
Narayana Guru and the famous poet, Kumaran Asan who traveled extensively
to enlighten the Ezhavas, have stayed in my house. My father had acted as host
to very many great people including Erode Ramaswamy Naykar,
Sri. T.K.Madhavan, Sri.N.R. Krishnan, Sri. Sahodaran Ayappan, Sri.P.Kesavadev,
Sri. Mithavadi C.Krishnan, Sri.C.V. Kunjuraman, Sri.R.Sugathan, Dr.E.Madhavan,
Sri. Krishnan Ayyappan and Sri. V.K.Velayudhan.
Many young men inspired by the idealism of these stalwarts came forward
with the determination. They included Sri. Punnashery Rama Krishnan, the noted
lawyer, Govindan, Sri.K.K.Shankaran, Sri. K.C.,Kuttan, Sri. P.G.Padmanabhan,
Sri.N.Raghavan and Sri.K.Krishnan. Most of them stayed at my home for long
periods of time. They worked unceasingly to realise the dreams of their leaders.
My mother was then the president of the women’s group. The chief
discussion of the women’s group was centered on the role of women in
fostering and developing the social renaissance. My mother and her friends
tirelessly undertook a door-to-door campaign to collect money and rice to help
the agitators and the volunteers who were giving their time and energy for the
cause. They also debated the miserable state of women. In all these activities
infinite care was taken to assure the active participation of the backward and
My house was full of people, full of life and full of noise. In the outhouse
of Kalathil Parambil, my sisters had their music lessons; in the portico the
distinguished guests were forever engaged in their deliberations; under the
gooseberry trees in the compound to the north of the house, the workers who
made rice from paddy had a field day working and talking. To the west of the
house men and women were engaged in the task of preparing food for everyone. Food for the distinguished guests was prepared in the kitchen. My elder
brother, Vasu, was in charge of the agricultural labourers. There were very many
cows and cowherds apart from ducks. Together they produced an entire range
of sounds from quacks and moos to the staccato arguments of the workers,
serious tones of discussion and the musical tones of my sisters engaged in
singing. I thrived on an entire sea of sounds.
My house became a public arena – a commune. Whenever there was a
respite from social work, my father initiated literary meets attended by everyone
interested in literature. Many common people and the agricultural workers were
encouraged to attend these sessions. My father was a hard working agriculturalist.
He used to get plenty of paddy and about 50,000 coconuts. Fish grew aplenty
in the canals as did ducks. Moreover paddy was sown in the land in October.
My father spent a lot of his income to foster the growth of the organisations. In
those times neither paddy nor coconut fetched a decent price. Money was scarce.
To pay the feudal dues to the Thirumala Devaswom, whose land we had rented
and to fulfil the obligation of the tenant, my father had to strive hard. In those
times, only those who had land had the right to vote. My father bought some
land in Kulavamkodam to gain the right to vote. My father directly supervised
the work on the field and lands. He would go to the agricultural land very early
in the morning. He visited the paddy fields to minutely examine the work in
progress. He made a point of fondly asking about the welfare of the people who
worked on the soil.
In the midst of all his work, at a time when inequality and slavery was rife,
my father actively attempted to end these social evils by being involved in various
committees that fought for bettering the lot of the peasants and the down trodden.
I feel proud when I remember my father’s unceasing labor to fulfill his dreams.
My mother too had helped my father a lot in his work. My mother, Parvathy, was
born in Kadakarapalli Kochuveli House. She had ten children. I was the first to
be born in Kalathil Parambil. I was named after Gouri Amma, the mother of Chithra
Gopal whom my father admired as the first Ezhava woman to have got the B.A.
In those times Ezhavas were not allowed to watch Kathakali performances.
In 1048 ME, this ban was challenged and a Kathakali club was formed in
Kadakarapalli. My father too formed a Kathakali club consisting mostly of family
members. This was a new venture in Cherthala taluk and under its auspices many
Kathakali performances were staged in Cherthala. My father scorned the order
that instead of the glittering crown that are so much part of the Kathakali costume,
crowns made of the spathe of areca palm be used in performances by and for the
Then arose another problem. There was none to play the chenda, the
drum used for Kathakali performances. Very few people of the lower castes knew
to play this musical instrument and those of the higher castes would not come to
play the drum for the Kathakali meant for the Ezhavas. To solve this problem, my
father himself learnt to play the chenda. He became an expert. Father went with
the Kathakali clubs to play on the chenda.
The challenge my father raised in the social and cultural field, made the
jenmis and the higher castes restive. On the other hand my father looked after
the interests of the poor, their weddings, their health care, their education and
In those days Ezhavas and other people of lower castes were not allowed
to enter the law court. If need arose to file a case, there was a lot of practical
problems and plenty of mental tension too. In Cherthala, the people of lower
castes were made to leave their petition on the althara to the east of the courtroom
proper. The peon had to be bribed if the harji was to be brought to the
notice of the court. People of lower castes were not allowed to enter the courtroom
for it would then lose its purity. To the east of the Cherthala Karthyayani
temple there was a board that warned Ezhavas and other lower castes of walking
further into sacred grounds. My father was very hurt by the board and the ban.
Not merely the temple but the temple grounds was out of bounds to the Ezhava.
My father racked his brain to solve the cruel injustice of the higher castes.
In those times, the police sub inspector of Cherthala was a person called
Marthandan. The government doctor was a native of Mavelikara – Dr.
Kochupappu. My father joined hands with Marthandan and Dr. Kochu Pappu
to destroy the board on the temple grounds. He sought also to beat the ayitham
practised in courts. He tried to make his elder son a lawyer but my brother
did not pass his examination. Not to be deterred, my father then got the lawyer
Krishnan Ayyappan of our community to practice in Cherthala court. My father
himself got the lawyers’ office ready for Krishnan Ayyappan, complete with glass
lamps, tables and chairs. He was forever proud of the office the very existence
of which was a sweet revenge for the way Ezhavas were once treated.
These are but a few examples of the relentless struggle my father waged
against the supremacy and the injustice of the higher castes.
A strong protest against the system of ayitham became stronger among
the untouchables. They slowly learned of their bonds. The social life of Cherthala
was in a state of flux because of the nation-wide freedom movement and the
evocative and the strong social reform movement led by Sri Narayana Guru. Many
discussed the idea that the workers were not slaves, though untouchables. My
father impressed his visitors with his theory that unless untouchability and the
rigid hierarchy of the caste system were challenged, the poor would never be
truly free. Wealth and position might be one’s but unless the stigma of caste was
removed, the future held no promise. He told his friends that their selfless activities
would help their children and their grand children to live as free human beings.
My father tried to put in practice the message of Sri. Narayana Guru – to become
enlightened by learning. Women too were encouraged to learn Sanskrit. I have
heard my mother read Amarakosam. He found time not only for his activism and
learning but also for recreation.
The western boundary of my birth- place, Viyathara was the Arabian Sea.
To the east beyond Karinilam lay Pattanakad. To the north lie Andhakaranazhi
and to the south, Vettakal. Here the majority of the people were the Ezhavas and
other untouchables. Around Viyathara the higher castes were the majority. If
the untouchables moved east along Parapalli embankment, he did so at his risk
for he had to make way for those of the higher castes. The high castes usually
produced an “Oho” sound, hearing which the untouchable should make way for
him-even if he had to jump into the water to do so. Otherwise there would be hell
to pay. Seeing an untouchable, let alone touching him required a ritual, cleansing
bath. That was tradition!
Not many dared to raise their voice against the denial of the right of way
to the untouchable. Ayitham was sanctioned by religion or rather superstition
that decreed that touching a person of higher castes was a sin, which, in turn,
would lead to sickness. To protest against the superstition that limited freedom
of movement, what the untouchables required was reasoning power which was
possible only if they were educated. It was this education that was provided by
the Karapuram Seva Sangham and the S.N.D.P.
Another social evil of the time was the ban against wearing of the upper
cloth. This was applied to all women of lower castes who could not cover their
breasts. Their mundus similarly could not extend below their knees. The garments
of young girls were folded and tied girdle like around the waist, extending not
below the knees and leaving the breast bare. Women of lower castes were not
allowed to tie their hair up properly but gather it up in a sort of untidy top- knot.
My childhood naturally was taken up with an awareness of social inequities and
a strong desire to protest against them – indeed it shaped my character.
In 1083 M.E, the Dewan of Travancore, Sri.P.Rajagopalachari allowed
admission of the untouchables in some government schools. The Brahmin
teachers who taught Sanskrit often threw the cane at the untouchable boys to
punish them, if required. Ayitham victimised the untouchable for no court or
proof or witness was required to punish him. Hindus of higher castes cruelly
participated in putting the untouchable down. In those days the untouchables
went to the school in a group. The reader should know the social condition of
the times to understand my tale – the story of my birth, growth and influences.
Exploitation, slander, terrible tortures, violent, casteist attacks and indifference
were the lot of the downtrodden.
My grandfather was called Kochukrishnan. A title was conferred on his
family, Kadapurathu Thandanmmar a title given by the King himself. They were
competent, rich and powerful. Perhaps, because of this, they emerged as leaders
of the community. My grandfather’s family was well known and respected and
was called Anjalikadu of Menakkodam, West Thuravoor. Popularly the house
was called Veetil Thandar. My grandfather was as powerful a patriarch of the
family as he was of the community.
In his time, the Marumakkathayam — the succession of the nephew —
not the son, existed with old property laws and laws regarding marriage. In 1088
M.E. the Nair bill was passed which improved and changed these laws. However
no attempt was made to form new laws for the Ezhavas. On the death of the
husband, the wife had to leave with her children but without money or property.
Marriages were not legalised and sharing family property nearly unthinkable.
The Karanavar’s authority was absolute and cruel and often led to the
degeneration of the family. As a result of the lobbying of the anxious Ezhava
leaders, in 1093 M.E. an Ezhava Law Committee was formed and in 1101 ME, the
assembly passed the Ezhava Bill.
My grandfather had opposed the ancient tradition of Marumakkathayam
long before any bill regarding it was formed. He was firm in his resolve
that his wife and children should not suffer such deprivation. He bought three
quarters of an acre of land in Viyathara and built a house for his wife and children.
This is the home that I described in the earlier chapters as having been the venue
of the meetings of various organisations set up for the social reformation, the
place where great people met — the famous Kalathilparambil.
It was in 1108 M.E, thirty years after the establishment of S.N.D.P. that
Dr.Palpu, the hope and pride of his community and one of the most progressive
minded of persons, inaugurated a branch of S.N.D.P. in Cherthala. Sree Narayana
Guru had wanted a branch to be established in Cherthala. At first the activities
of the S.N.D.P. yoga was slack for it had to face a lot of obstacles. C.Kesavan,
who was asked to solve the problems that the branch of S.N.D.P. suffered, went
on a door- to- door campaign and helped the S.N.D.P. branch to establish itself.
My father and my brother-in-law, M.R.Krishnan, the husband of my elder sister
Narayani Amma, helped him in this work.
The first agitation that the S.N.D.P. yogam organised was to gain, for
Ezhavas and other untouchables, admission to the schools owned by the
government. The usual routine that the agitators followed, was to submit a
representation to the prajasabha that met once a year. To represent the Ezhava
community there were six members elected through the S.N.D.P.branches while
other untouchables had two representatives each as nominated members of the
prajasabha. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, as the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P.
branch was nominated every year to the prajasabha. The agitation for the
admission of the untouchable, inside the prajasabha spread to the public via
the S.N.D.P. branches. Thus in Cherthala too, there were lively discussions on
admission to schools. As the debates grew hotter and the government was forced
to realise that justice was on the side of the agitator, the votaries of the higher
castes came out with the threat that they would boycott schools. The hand of
the government was stayed by the threat and the untouchables had to shelve
the demand for education. The Dewan, Sri.P.Rajgopala Achari found a solution
by allowing “Ezhavas and other untouchables” to study in some government
schools. But those schools were boycotted by the students of high castes. That
is, in protest against the admission of the untouchables, the higher castes went
on a strike.
When an order was passed ordering the students who had stayed away,
to report back in their school or else face expulsion from school, most crept back
stealthily, with great discomfort. Later school admission was offered to all
untouchables in other schools too. However as it was difficult to find
employment even if the student worked hard, the interest in learning waned. Nor
were the parents interested in educating their children. Around this time there
was another demand – that the tuition fees collected from the untouchables should
be lowered. The other side argued that it was a sin to ask for lower fees and if
this were allowed, the people of higher castes would also want the same
concession. The government allowed this too. Orders were passed that fee
concession be allowed to all who produced the village officer’s certificate
regarding the financial position of the student. However it was difficult to obtain
the certificate of financial state of the student from the village officer of higher
castes. Because of the difficulties and because of expenses, very many people
decided to do without education.
After the agitation of admission to schools, there were agitations to
procure jobs in government service. This too, was opposed by the higher castes.
They threatened to disrupt the government if the untouchables were admitted.
Then Sri Kumaran Asan met Sri.P. Rajagopalachari to acquaint him of the gravity
of the situation. The Dewan agreed with Asan’s arguments. Following this, my
sister’s husband – N.R.Krishnan, was appointed in government service. After
this many untouchables entered government service. Yet the resistance, non-cooperation and the boycott that the upper caste leaders initiated was terrible.
The demand of the untouchables, that government jobs must be in
accordance with the population ratio, provoked irate declarations from the higher
caste spokesmen that government service is not a zoo for “the various caste
animals”. This clash of ideology heightened until communal representation was
accepted. It was the same organisation that worked for the school admission/
government jobs of the lower castes that also led the temple entry demand. Finally
on the month of Thulam, 1112, M.E. the temple entry proclamation allowed the
lower caste the right to worship
Seventeen years before my birth, the S.N.D.P. was established. Thirteen
years after my birth, the S.N.D.P. branch of Cherthala was a strong organisation
that did not brook any attack on the untouchables. The community hitherto
steeped in the dirt and muck of social evils, superstition and slavery was shaking
it off to achieve progress.
Other problems of the day were related to the observance of
Kettukalyanam, therandukalyanam and pulakuli. Even if the family was reduced
to begging, Kettukalyanam was to be performed in a grand style. To save time
and money, often nearly fifty to sixty girls had their thali tied by the same person,
at the same time. As to who should tie the knot was often as not dictated by
tradition. Girls of a particular family usually had their thali tied by men of a
particular family. Kettu Kalyanam had to be performed before puberty,
that is, when she is below the age of 11. Girls who did not have kettu kalyanam
were supposed to bring disgrace to the family. With the development of the
S.N.D.P and the growth of independent and rational thought, Kettukalyanam
and other customs of this like were rejected as a meaningless ritual.
A strong demand for associations began to grow among the workers of
Cherthala and under the auspices of the S.N.D.P., the associations began to form
and gain in strength. Along with basic human rights, the rights of the worker
and the subsequent struggle to gain their rights, began in small measure. The
awareness of rights was evinced by women as well as men. They formed women’s
groups. Many associations took the initiative to spread awareness of inequality,
untouchability and other social evils among the common people. In support of
these associations and to spread its message, many an educated Ezhava woman
took to the streets in the Taluk centres and also in suburban areas. In this regard
I need to mention the names of Mannanthara Parvathy Amma, Karthyayani
Amma, Tapaswini Amma, and Muthukulam Parvathy Amma.
Like the Karapuram Sevasangh, the Sahodara Sangh and the S.N.D.P. the
women’s group was also full of vitality. Parvathy Amma was born in the illustrious
and rich Mananthara family of Thaneermukkam. Her father, Kunjankunji was
one of the earliest coir merchants with trade relations with a British company.
Parvathy Amma gained scholarship in logic, grammar and in works like Sree
Ramodantham Krishna Vilasom, Reghuvamsam, Naishadam, Magham and
others. It was Parvathy Amma who established the S.N.V. Sadanam in Ernakulam.
She was married to Sri.Ayyappankutty. The other ladies in the group were also
well educated and they exposed the shallowness of observances like
thirandukalyanam, Kettukalyanam and other such social practices. They waged
a war against the belief that ayitham was what God had ordained. They opposed
the very ancient and half naked mode of dress that was considered the norm and
promoted education. The work of associations was tied up with promotion of
education and cultural activities. The pace of the social reform movement
increased when promotion campaigns were conducted along with agitations. The
movement for school admission for the untouchables that created waves both
in and out of the prajasabha led to the establishment of missionary schools.
Many children of the lower castes were admitted in these schools and it was the
functioning of these schools and the awareness they inculcated that led to the
admission of the children of the lower castes to government schools.
Though jobs in most government departments were open to all, the
Revenue Department proved to be an exception. In those times, the Devaswom
Department and the Revenue department were one. The offices of the Revenue
department took care of Devaswom matters too. As the untouchables were
denied admission in temples, they were also denied jobs in the Revenue
Department. From the Peshkar to the village officer, all were members of the higher
An agitation was launched to form two separate departments- the
Devaswom Department and the Revenue Department- rather than retain one that
spanned the two departments and to allow the untouchable to work in the
Revenue Department. This agitation went by the name paurasamathwa vadam
or the equality of citisens argument. The government firmly stated that this was
impossible for temple lands were considered Pandara Paatta lands and thus part
of the Revenue Department, something that had happened when Mr. Munroe
was the Dewan. The argument that the disadvantaged raised was that the Revenue
Department had to be bifurcated for the benefit of the majority. The argument
gained strength in the prajasabha and the government was soon convinced. In
1098 M.E. a royal proclamation resulted in the establishment of the new
department – the Devaswom Department and untouchables were appointed in
the Revenue Department. The success enabled them to work together in the
political arena in later years.
In the days when monarchy and the ascendancy of the jenmis were in
force, village officers were mere pawns in the hands of these powers. The jenmis
gave feasts and gifts to the village offices in order to ask favors they would not
be able to deny. For Onam, the amenable village officers were given Onakkodi
as well as Ona sadhya. Village officers of higher castes were given food in the
home of the jenmis while untouchables took their food in the padippura. At a
later time, they were given their food in the chavadi. With the collapse of the
monarchy and the jenmi system, this custom came to an end.
In 1934, the Congress Socialist party was formed. They were against the
rule of the Dewan. At the same time, the higher castes supported the Dewan “in
the name of nationalism”. To support the Dewan meant supporting monarchy.
In effect they were against adult franchise, temple entry, school admission and
jobs for the untouchables. Politically, the Congress Socialist party examined these
issues and gave their support to the poorer section of the population— i. e. to
the majority. Naturally the majority included the untouchables who held leftist,
progressive views and who were the organisers of associations of workers – even
if it could not be called trade unions. The S.N.D.P. was the association that
fostered these progressive unions and the majority supported by the Congress,
included of course the Ezhavas. The Congress Socialist party did not mean to
the people of Travancore, what it meant to the people of Malabar or Cochin.
Yet the Congress did have links with the labourers association of regions
like Cherthala, Allappuzha and Kollam. The leaders of the Congress Socialist
party were in touch with the leaders and the workers of the S.N.D.P. who had
close associations with the labourers. Thus the community, made volatile by
Sree Narayana Guru, Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, Sri.T.K.Madhavan, Sahodharan
Ayyappan Sri.C.V.Kunjuraman and others, was exposed to the politics of the
The untouchables came to believe more and more in the Congress party
as they supported their agitation for various cases. I need to explain the result
of this blind belief. What I mean to do here is to give an idea of the development
of the political consciousness of the community. The first example I can cite is
that of my elder brother who was chosen the founder leader of the Agricultural
Workers Union. My brother’s political views, social consciousness and views
of life had often clashed with my father’s. This led to a clash of ideology at home.
I, naturally, supported my brother.
Like other small children, I was also sent to a kudipallikudam. It was in
Karapally, a place not far from my home. I still remember my journey to the school,
proudly arrayed in a new frock and mundu and clinging to the finger of my master,
Puppu Sir. I still remember the intense excitement and pride of those days.
The kudipallikudam I was sent to, was a solid structure of granite – not
a coconut- leaf- thatched, dilapidated structure that the word invoked. One room
of the school was reserved for the women in the neighbourhood who came there
to observe Shashtivratam. As we fashioned letters on the sand, the sound of
their combined chants of ‘Haraharo hara’ found its way to our hearts too. The
kudipallikudam was a far cry from the nursery schools of today. Education was
harsh and grim for there was no attempt to understand the child’s mind. The
alphabet was taught not with love, kindness and understanding but harshly, with
With the growth of political consciousness, the various groups of the
S.N.D.P. Yogam leaders worked for the parties they believed in – Congress,
Congress Socialist party and the Communist party — and in due course became
leaders in the political party of their choice. They later formed trade unions and
other progressive parties. In short, the activities of the S.N.D.P union helped
the agricultural workers movement in Cherthala acquire power and prestige that
it did not gain elsewhere. Even the talks of Comrade Sugathan and others of the
S.N.D.P in Cherthala were subtly different from those of S.N.D.P. leaders
elsewhere. My father’s ideas of equality differed subtly from my elder brother,
Achyuthan’s ideas of equality. This dialectical difference was but natural. What
these facts point to is to the class and caste dialectics that operated in the S.N.D.P.
I was very good at studies and emerged as the top in class. I learnt to
add, subtract and read and found the key to the multiplication table. From the
kudipallikudam – about which my memory is hazy, I proceeded to the
Kadakarapalli Cormansseri Government Primary School. My elder brother, Vasu,
took me to school. I could have joined in the third or fourth standard if my
capabilities were taken into account. However I was admitted in the second
standard for it seemed that I was too young to be admitted in the higher classes!
I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Karikanezhathu at Kadakarapalli. Though my
uncle was a strict disciplinarian, he was very kind to me. I didn’t stay long with
my uncle for I soon shifted to Kochuveliyil, where my grandparents stayed. I’ve
mentioned them in an earlier chapter. My stay with them bought my grandfather
closer to me. I passed my second and third classes while I was staying in
Kochuveliyil. After the class three exams, I got my certificate and reached home.
My father felt that I would not study if I stayed at home. I was too young to be
sent far away. Then my father hit upon an idea – I was to be sent to a convent.
However I was sent neither to a convent nor to a distant place. I was sent
to Parayil Bhakthivilasm School not far away from the home and the hearth. The
school was a mile and a half away. Crossing the Parapalli embankment to the
east of Kalathilparambil and a marshy area, it was possible to reach the school.
I was not sure of the way. Many friends joined me in the walk to school.
To the young, friends are those who influence their culture and out-look especially
at school. I quickly adjusted myself to the circumstances of the new
primary school, quite forgetting the circumstances of the kudipallikudam.
I finished my primary education. Now what? That was the next question.
Thuravoor was quite close to my place. The school in Thuravoor was owned by
the Thirumala Devaswam and had vast buildings and many students from far flung
places. I stayed in a Sadanam in Thuravoor, which was established by
Sri.Manakkodam Kesavan Vaidyan, whom I have mentioned earlier. The manager
Kesavan Vaidyan was a very famous ayurvedic physician whose book
Panchakarma is one of the most invaluable works of ayurveda. He was a very
close friend of my father. Kesavan Vaidyan’s father, Uzhuthummel Kittan, took
an active part in the formation of the Kathakali club and in the building of many
temples. Sri. Kutti, who got the Veerasringhala from the Maharajah of Cochin
was Kesavan Vaidyan’s uncle. They were all social reformers and activists.
Law and order and collection of taxes were in the control of the officers of
the Mandapathu Vathukal. Their conduct was bestial to say the least. They
preserved law and order by forcing people to dip their hands in boiling oil, in trial
by ordeals or by pouring molten lead on their hands. They punished people by
tying grind-stones on their backs and thus causing them to be bent double. The
untouchables transferred their ownership deeds of their land in the names of the
people of higher castes or even in the names of temples to escape from the officers
of the Mandapathu Vathukal and their harsh punishments. Apart from land tax,
the Mandapathu Vathukal officers levied taxes that everyone had to pay,
Thalakaram and an even more obnoxious one — the mulakaram i.e. taxes on
breasts. There was even an instance in Cherthala town, where an Ezhava woman,
persecuted by these officers, cut off her own breasts and offered them to these
officers in an act of revenge. The house of this brave woman came to be called
mulachiparambu (or the land of the woman of the breasts). This land was bought
by Kesavan Vaidyan. He built a house, as a memorial to the brave woman to
whom it belonged. The punishments I mentioned existed, unchallenged, until
986 M.E, when the Dewan of Travancore, the Mr. Munroe tried to put a stop to
it. But Rani Lekshmi, the ruler of the land did not allow it. Kesavan Vaidyan was
a scholar who appreciated fine arts and literature. He spread the greatness of
Asan’s poetry both through lectures and through recitations. It was this
philanthropist who in later years built a sadanam for the students of Thuravoor
I was interested in sports as well as in studies. I was also fond of making
friends. My elder sister, K.R. Narayani Amma was a fashionable lady who was a
music scholar well versed in vocal as well as the fiddle and the harmonium. She
was married to an engineer who was working in a Petroleum company in Iraq.
The marriage however did not last long. She was then married to N.R. Krishnan,
a well-known lawyer in Cherthala. An orator and a writer, N.R. Krishnan came to
know father through his work for the Ezhava community. Sri. Krishnan often came
to Kalathilparambil. He was a member of Sreemulam Prajasabha, the State council
and the assembly for a long time. N.R.Krishnan was also one of the founder leader
of the Sree Narayana Medical Mission General Hospital.
While studying in Cherthala, I experienced first-hand, the cruelty of the
casteist system. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, who combated the caste system with
the weapon of poetry, stayed in Cherthala for a while. His messages inspired the
untouchable with confidence. Even so, the sarcasm and the reaction of the higher
castes caused great grief. Sri.K.P. Shastrikal, the great poet and critic;
Sri.Madhavan Pillai, the Mathematics scholar; Sri. Prabhu; and Sri. Johnson; all
taught me in Cherthala School. I was the only girl who continued education in
college after passing the tenth standard from the Cherthala School.
My father’s dearest wish was that I should become a lawyer. The lawyer’s
profession was a respected one in those times, more perhaps than it is now. That
was not the only reason that was behind my father’s dream. He had to wage a
long war against inequality and social evils and often he had to depend on lawyers
for the legal battle.
My father approached the court to establish the rights of the Kudiyans
and to gain basic human rights. What was most important in such cases was a
dependable lawyer. It was in such a circumstance that the lawyer, Krishnan
Ayyappan was brought over from Pallam to practice in Cherthala bar. My father
made all arrangements for the change. Yet the demand was not met. Then, why
not make a lawyer of his own daughter? As far as my father was concerned, it
was a social need too.
Was this need met, when later, I became a lawyer? What were the problems
I faced? What types of cases did I have to handle? All this can only be explained
later. Now I’m a student in Cherthala High School. Before I explain anything
further of my student life, I need to say something about a communal fight.
In the sea -shore, to the west of my village – Viyathara, lived a Christian
jenmi called Azhikkal Anthappan. In that area the majority of the people were
fisher-folk. They were Latin Catholics. They lived in crowded conditions in the
seashore between Azhikkal and Purakkad. Azhikkan Anthappan lived like a
naaduvazhi, a king in the Christian-majority area to the South of River Anthakara
and east of Viyathara. He had plenty of land and many boats and fishingnets. It
was Anthappan’s father who acquired all these lands. The fisher folk were very
poor and were all Anthappan’s tenants. They lacked land, boats and nets. They
depended on Anthappan’s mercy to call their soul their own. Anthappan
regarded them as his slaves. They went in Anthappan’s boats to sea to fish with
Anthappan’s nets. The money the fish they bought in fetched went directly to
Anthappan. In return for their work, they got a mere pittance. Not only did he
force the fishermen to obey him in every respect, he also used them as pawns to
attack others. If Anthappan asked them to beat up some one, ‘theirs was not to
reason why’. If they refused, they were thrashed and driven out of their homes.
They would not be allowed to pursue their work. Thus Anthappan reigned over
the sea and the seashore. The fisher-folk were neither educated nor did they
know the way of the world.
To the east of the Azhikkal bund, in the Viyathara area, the Ezhavas were
the majority community. However there were also a smattering of other
communities such as moopans, Konkanis, and pulayas. Anthappan hated the
Ezhavas. Anthappan was spoiling for a fight and tried to incite the Ezhava
community by abusing Ezhava women and beating up Ezhava men. The abuse
against the women did not stop at words. At times young, beautiful Ezhava
women were dragged away and subjected to worse insults by the rogues in
The family of Pappu Vaidyan lived in isolation in the midst of the Christian
majority area. There were very few Ezhava families in the area. Pappu Vaidyan
was a close associate of my father and a regular visitor to Kalathilparambil. He
had no peace because of Anthappan’s constant threats and provoking behaviour.
Pappu Vaidyan’s sister was about to be married. On the night before the wedding,
The preparations of the wedding were almost over. A few people were
around to organise various things for the big event the next day. There were a
few women too in the house. At night when the bride stepped out of the house
to answer a call of nature, some people, who like vultures, were lying in wait in
the dark, jumped on her. The assailants were in Anthappan’s pay. They grabbed
the girl and made off with her to the west of the village. The bride and her family
wept and wailed. The house was in disarray. The relatives of the bride pleaded
for her release but the assailants did not relent. Their plan was to carry off the
bride by boat to the north.
Things having progressed so far, the desperate father told my father what
had happened. My father was already worried about the nefarious activities of
Anthappan and his supporters. When he saw what had happened to the bride,
he knew that it was time to act. He had to secure the bride’s release but she was
being taken north in a boat. There weren’t any Ezhavas who knew to row in the
sea. There were however some Arayas who lived to the north of Andhakaranaazhi
who were capable of meeting Anthappan’s seadogs more than half way. These
Arayas were in touch with the S.N.D.P. Union. Without any delay, they were called
and a party set out to reclaim the damsel in distress and to deal with her abductors.
Anthappan’s gundas were speeding north but the Arayas’ boat was not far behind
them. They strove to overtake the gundas’ boat and were successful. There
was a fierce combat at sea at which Anthappan’s hooligans were wiped out. The
Arayas brought the bride safely back to Kalathilparambil. The marriage was to
be performed according to schedule but at Kalathilparambil – not at its former
venue. Vaidyan and his family gained courage.
The marriage was performed with due ceremony at Kalathilparambil.
Pappu Vaidyan was frightened of staying at his home for Anthappan and his
entourage created a lot of problems for him. As my father had sponsored the
very marriage he was at pains to stop, Anthappan had a grudge against my father.
The communal friction between the Ezhavas and the Christians – increased. If
the poor Christians came east into our territory, there were clashes. When they
came east to fish in the canals, in the lake or in the bund they were often beaten
up. Pappu Vaidyan’s wife and his sister, Koma, stayed with us. Some of their
relatives joined them too. They used to help out with house – hold chores and
were given food. One room in Kalithilparambil was given up for their use. Their
stay, food and welfare had to be seen to. In the mean while one of the guests
contracted typhoid. The burden of nursing too fell on our family.
In addition to all these petty problems, my father had to deal with
Anthappan’s attacks. My sisters were of marriageable age and a rumour was afoot
that Anthappan planned to abduct them. My father was forced to apply for police
protection. As he had paid the money that was demanded, two policemen were
sent to guard our house. My father has to shell out money, food and
accommodation for these policemen. They were in our home for many years.
With the increase in hostilities, my father had to file many petty criminal
cases. In this, he was helped by the lawyer, Sri.K.G.Kumaran, Devaki Chechi’s
husband. My father realised that while taking steps for the encounter with
Anthappan, it was equally important to deal with his hooligans too. In those
times the Ezhavas of Thaikkal were well versed in martial arts and could hold
their own against the hooligans. It was decided to give in marriage to someone
in Thaikkal. My father conspired with Sri Thaikkal Kunjunni, an Ezhava stalwart.
His son, Gangadharan was to marry my sister. However the son of Kunjunni’s
brother Parameswaran was older than Gangadharan. As social etiquette
demanded that the elder brother be married before the younger, Bharathi Chechi
was married to Parameswaran in a glittering ceremony.
Anthappan had a lot of income from his lands and from the fish, his men
brought in every day. He was ready to brave all odds on account of his pride, his
money and his prestige. As he knew homeo medicine, Anthappan was called
doctor. He knew some English and this too served to increase his prestige.
One day Anthappan’s brother Azhikkal Joseph got into the house in
which the Devadasis of Thuravoor Devaswam were staying. A devadasi is one
who dances in temples to propitiate the deity. They were beautiful and stayed
close to temples. Joseph happened to see these damsels bathing in the temple
pond and decided to visit them that evening. The women raised hell and the
Konkanis caught hold of the miscreant. Though Joseph was released, Anthappan
wreaked revenge by attacking the home of the devadasis with an army of
hooligans. The women were beaten up and their home burnt to the ground. A
case was filed.
My father took up the case. To win the case, he used all his influence.
My sister who was staying in Madathilparambil was teaching music to the
daughter of a magistrate. My father was close to the magistrate. My father spent
a lot of money and effort to win the case. I think Anthappan was sentenced to
twelve years imprisonment in the Central Jail.
After the spell in jail, Anthappan did not attempt to pick up fights. Not
only that, he wanted to be on good terms with my father.
The Konkani community played an important role in the social life of
Cherthala. In the agricultural and industrial fields of Cherthala, the Gowda
Saraswaths played an important role. Their head quarters was the Thirumala
Devaswom Temple at Thuravoor. Thirumala Devaswom was a massive feudal
organisation. This temple belonged to the class of temples with vast land
holdings. The property and the money of the temple was ceded to it for 1/6 tax.
It was the Maharajah of Cochin who gave them land for, in those days, Cherthala
was part of Cochin.
Until these lands were given to the Devaswom, it was part of crown lands.
There were also a few farmers who worked the lands. Most of the land was a
wilderness with a few marshy areas that could not be cultivated. However the
land was fertile. When the maharajah gave the land to the Thirumala Devaswom,
he overlooked the rights of the tenant farmers. They then became the Kudiyans
of Devaswoms. There are many legends about the Devaswoms’ acquisition of
the land. Let me recite just one.
In the place of the big temple that we see now as the Thirumala Devaswom
Temple, there was a tiny one. It was a temple in the woods. A Konkani who had
come from Mangalore stayed near the temple. He was poor and religious and
was named Vellanayak. Every day used to visit the temple which is still seen to
the west of the National Highway in Thuravoor. The temple priest also from
Mangalore, wouldn’t eat or drink before Nayak’s visit. The regular visits of Nayak
aroused the priest’s envy. One day, before Nayak’s visit, the priest finished the
temple rituals in haste, locked the temple us and rushed away. Nayak was so
saddened and upset that he decided not to go back home until after he’d seen
and prayed before the deity. It was nothing short of a fast! As he sat waiting, an
incorporeal voice asked him to go home. It said that divine sculptors were waiting
in his home to sculpt an idol. He could worship it himself. Nayak returned home
happily and was further thrilled to see the sculptors waiting for him. They began
work on the idol and locked themselves into a room instructing Nayak not to
open the door for three days. Nayak waited impatiently, scarcely containing
himself. However he opened the door before the stipulated time and saw the
idol of Sree Narasimhamoorthy that was not fully finished. The divine sculptors
who could not condone Nayak’s disobedience said that they would not complete
their work. The only course of action left to Nayak was to place the idol,
incomplete though it was, in the sanctum sanctorum. However there was no
temple worthy of the idol. Nayak approached the Maharajah of Cochin and
recounted his tale. The Maharajah, whose sympathies were aroused ordered
that an area of six square miles including paddy fields and agricultural lands be
given to Thuravoor Thirumala Devaswom.
The administrative charge of this temple was vested in Ponveedars while
the temple at Cochin was in the hands of Harishenoys. The quarrel between
these families led to battles – both legal and physical and ended in court. The
judgement decreed that the temples in Cochin would be under the control of the
Konkanis in Cochin and that of Travancore would be under the control of the
Konkanis of Travancore.
During the time of Shakthan Thampuran, the Gowda Saraswaths had a
disagreement with the King himself. The Dutch gave the Konkanis the right to
collect revenue from Cherthala and Mattancherry. They also collected tax on
paddy fields in Amaravathy and looked after the administration of Konkani
temples in the area. The Gowda Saraswaths also announced that the King could
not levy taxes from them without the knowledge and consent of the Dutch and
that if he did so, the Gowda Saraswaths had the right to appeal to the Dutch. As
regards the temples of the Gowda Saraswaths, the King had no right at all to
intervene without the consent of the Dutch. Whatever the reason, the Gowda
Saraswaths did not enjoy the patronage of Shakthan Thampuran.
After his death, the next Maharajah tired to entice the Konkanis who had
fled from Shakthan Thampuran’s massacre of their race to the safe haven of
Travancore. Legend has it that the fleeing Konkanis took with them an emerald
statute of Thirumala Devan. Its advent in Travancore brought the state a lot of
luck. This idol was cunningly reclaimed by the Cochin State by enlisting the
help of the priest. This led to a long and bitter legal battle between Cochin and
Travancore. It ended in a compromise with the idol being re-installed in Cochin.
The Maharajah of Cochin returned to Konkanis the riches seised by his
predecessor to the Konkanis.
Thirumala Devaswom temple was the overlord of eight villages Thuravoor,
Cherthala, Alleppey, Purakkad, Kayamkulam, Kollam, Kottayam,
and Varapuzha. The temple administration was carried out by the
representatives of the villages. Thuravoor had two representatives in the nine
member strong committee. Only the representative of Thuravoor could become
president. The extensive lands owned by the Devaswom and farmed by the
tenants included paddy fields and coconut plantations. The farmers had to work
long and hard on the marshy land to make it suitable for paddy cultivation.
Because of their hard work, the land became fertile but when it started paying
dividends there arose a claimant who was initially disinterested – the Thirumala
The Devaswom authorities exploited the tenant farmers in the name of
their god. If by any chance the tenant displeased the authorities, he would lose
his land. The lot of the farmer was pitiful for he lacked security. Often the farmer
was not paid and if he was, it was but a pitiful recompense. Feudal rights allowed
only 1/4 of the middle harvest to the tenant – which amounted to 1/16 of the rent.
The situation in Vayalar was the worst. By 1958, the farmer heaved a sigh of
relief for he knew that he would get returns for his labor. This was because of the
Dehandaprathipahala Bill (The Bill for the Adequate Return for labor on the
The entire burden of farming fell on the farmer while the jenmi was always
at hand to claim the lion’s share of the fruits of the labor. With the advent of the
Paatta-Kudiyan law, the land taken as rent by the tenant farmer reverted to the
Devaswom, for the new deed – that of Varam, did not guarantee the rights of the
tenant farmer. My father too lost about a hundred acres of land. He had worked
hard to make the land fit for cultivation, by draining it and dumping soil on it. He
had made thirty- six acres of land by constructing bunds and canals. He
reinforced the land by using planks of mango trees and coconut trees that
prevented sinking and soil erosion. It even went by the name chaal nilam (the
field of canals). The Shenoy muri, the other paddy field he owned also entailed
a lot of work for it was there that the threshing was carried out. He had paid apart
from the mandatory half of the produce, other feudal dues called Kavalpanku,
Kalathilpanku and the lords’ share. Even so the land could and did revert to
Thuravoor and Viyathara still follow the system of Chettiviruppu. It is a
notoriously backward area where modern system of agriculture has not been
applied at all. They do not use chemical fertilisers or even new paddy seeds.
There are plans for rural development but they are never practiced. There are
plenty of coconuts trees in the area yielding a rich harvest, for Cherthala is a
place that is particularly suitable for coconut cultivation. Yet it is often plagued –
by diseases affecting coconut trees that are sometimes fatal to the trees. There
is practically no industry in Cherthala. The spillway held out a promise to the
farmer but without sluices, it could not help places like Viyathura. The roads
remained underdeveloped and travelling is still a problem. Over population and
under employment plague the land.
Though the people of Viyathura suffer all this, it has changed in one
respect. Practically all the people in Viyathura own some land. All were at one
time Paattakars or varakkars who got the land they’d worked on. This was
because of the Eviction Prohibition Bill of 1957.
Apart from the Konkanis of Thirumala Devaswom, there was another
community that established itself in Cherthala. They were the Kudumbis who
were also called Moopans and who have settled in vast numbers in North Paravur,
Ambalapuzha, Kayamkulam, Kollam and Kochi. They accompanied the Gowda
Saraswaths in their flight south. They were influenced by the language and
customs of the land of their adoption. They use a variety of pidgin Konkani that
does not have a script. The women of the Kudumbi community worked as servants
in the homes of the Gowda Saraswaths. The men did manual labor. Though the
Kudumbis and the Gowda Saraswaths were Vaishnavite, the Kudumbis
worshipped Kali too. They were a patrilineal group that allowed child marriages
till recently. Re-marriages were not allowed. In the socio-political and in
educational fields, the Kudumbis are backward. Very few of them are educated
and officers are scarce. Kudumbi women do not wear a blouse but wrap the sari,
sarong wise about them. In 1936, an association of young Kudumbis was
established in Cochin and later in Travancore. In 1951, the two associations
merged into one. Yet they have not achieved their rightful place in society. They
have demanded that they be counted as scheduled castes. In reality their lot is
worse than that of the scheduled castes.
Another, inseparable part of the Thirumala Devaswom was the devadasis.
There were many devadasis in the temple. They were given accommodation within
the temple premises. They were not allowed to marry and were supposed to be
virgins whose purpose was to dance before the deity. The dance was performed
at night after the athazha puja was over and the god was replete. The dance of
the half naked devadasis was enjoyed by the temple administrators as well.
Though virgins, some devadasis have had children. I have heard that the origin
of the Amaravathi Street of Cochin is intimately connected to the Devadasis.
The devadasi system has now died out.
The farmers were forced to supply vegetables and rice for the daily feast
at the temple. All Konkanis could take part in the feast but not people of other
castes. Konkanis of other places also came to Thuravoor for the daily feast.
After the land reform, this system underwent a change for no longer was
the temple as rich as it once was.
The prosperity of the Thirumala Devaswom was due to the peasant. The
temple grew rich by exploiting the peasant. I’ve already mentioned how they
forced my father into giving up most of his land. The difficulty of being a farmer
is enough to deter anyone but why were so many people ready to take up
agriculture? The answer is that there was nothing else to do. Agriculture helped
my father to find financial resources in the very many battles he fought on political,
social, economic and legal questions.
The farmers of Viyathura were always, in spirit, with the laborers who toiled
in the field. They did not appoint managers to supervise the workers but dealt
with them directly. The agricultural workers of the area were Ezhavas and pulayas.
There was only one Christian family east of Viyathura bund- that of Varuthu
Mappilla, whose oil mill took care of the demand of all the farmers of Viyathura.
Apart from Varuthu Mapilla’s family, other communities like Velan, Kollan,
Kuravan and Ezhavathi also stayed in Viyathura who were part of the social life
of the area. The main occupation of the Ezhavas and the Pulayas was agriculture.
The Pulayas were of two distinct groups. One group- Vettu Pulayas were like
tribals for they wore a special kind of cloth. The women went about bare breasted.
Both groups of Pulayas wore chains of beads around their necks.
Both men and women of the Pulaya community were hard working. They
often sang songs to reduce the monotony of work. The main work of the Pulaya
women were collecting the water lily, weeding the field, harvesting and catching
and selling fish. Besides, they made mats out of the leaves of the kaitha and got
money for that. They worked most days and were economically independent. A
Pulaya groom was required to give money to the bride’s father. Perhaps the
economic independence of the Pulaya bride was responsible for this custom.
The wedding was finalised only after getting the consent of the jenmi of the bride
and the groom. The jenmi had a more important role to play in the marriage than
the parents of the bride and the groom. They were propitiated by gifts of tobacco
to obtain consent for the marriage.
The agricultural workers often had to help out in the house of their lords.
We had families of such workers who helped in domestic chores. One was
Vavachettan and another was Achyuthan chettan and his wife. His mother
Kochelachimamma also worked for us by washing the kitchen utensils, sweeping
the floor and dicing vegetables. She revelled in doing all the work that came her
way- including weaving coconut leaves that could be used to thatch houses.
This was something that fetched money. She also found time to play with us.
When old age and disease wore her out, she was bedridden. I remember visiting
her and sharing her grief and pain. This type of behaviour has gone out of politics
now. Few politicians care to associate with the poor. On Kochelachimamma’s
death, Achyuthan chettan cried inconsolably and would not be comforted by
any, save my father who rushed there as soon as he heard the news. So firm and
sincere was the landlord – labourer bond.
There were many such families near our home who considered us, part of
their families. They depended on our family for food, clothing and even for their
favourite betel-leaf. The Velans who scaled coconut trees, especially Kanda
Muppar, was adept also in constructing fences with the coconut leaf. The women
of the community were the washerwomen of the Ezhava community who wouldn’t
wash the clothes of any other community.
The Ezhavathis were the barbers of the Ezhava community. Like
the Velans they wouldn’t cut the hair of any other community. The Kollan
community who made agricultural implements, were often paid in kind-they could
claim a share of paddy after harvest. They were also given paddy on special
occasions like Onam and Vishu. More than pay, the labourer looked upon the
gifts in kind as a privilege and a symbol of their relationship with the house of
the their landlord. Perhaps it is this special bond with my home that led to their
sincere corporation with the S.N.D.P union when it was set up. Our help in
securing jobs recompensed them. They also gained new clothes and food and
for the first time in their lives got a decent pay.
The school I went to, which I mentioned earlier-the Cherthala English High
School was near the Karthyayani Temple. Another ancient and famous place of
worship in the vicinity was a Roman Catholic Church, called St. Mary’s Church.
The church was established in the Mutusmana- the seat of an ancient and famous
Namboothiri family, after they embraced Christianity. The church was built after
many years following a quarrel in the church where the Namboothiri converts
were wont to go. The church was far away and the families went there as a group.
The time of the mass was changed to suit their convenience but they were often
late for the service. One day these people were so late that they found, on
reaching the church, that the service was over and that people were leaving.
They decided on their way back that they could be spared further insult if they
built a church of their own. This led to the establishment of the Matathu church,
which resembled Pallipuram church, where they earlier used to attend service.
The new church was established more than 900 years ago.
With development of the market and the influence of the church as well
as the increase of money and lands, Christians became a very important factor
in the social life of Cherthala. The most important family of the area was
that of the Paarayi Tharakans who owned the Kocheri Malika constructed by
Urmis Tharakan. The members of the Tharakan family owned a lot of land in the
neighborhood of Muttathu.
If Christians were powerful and enjoyed prestige in the Muttam
neighbourhood, the Nairs were supreme in the neighbourhood of the Karthyayani
Temple. They were conservative and carried on the practice of ayitham by
denying the right of worship to the ‘ untouchables’. The government helped
them in this. Though the Nairs had no hand in business or industry, there were
many professionals and officers in the community who left their family homes to
pursue their jobs. It was a time when the jenmi system, conservatism and the
ascendancy of the higher caste were suffering severe setbacks. Capitalism gained
greater influence in these circumstances. The growth of the Christian capitalists
and the conservatism of the Nairs led to a political showdown, later.
The venue was the election to the Sreemulam assembly. The candidate
the Nairs supported was Sri Malloor Govinda Pillai, a noted criminal lawyer. The
Christians supported the candidature of Joseph Panjikkaran — also a lawyer. In
those days only people who paid land tax had the right to vote. The minimum
amount of tax payable, to be recognised as a voter, was 5 rupees, for the assembly
and those who paid rupees 25 as tax, had the right to vote for a representative of
Sree Chithra State Council. There were two thousand voters in the Nair
community and only about a thousand among the Christians. Yet it was
Panjikkaran who won. This was because of the Ezhava support that the Christians
gained, when they co-operated with the Ezhavas in their agitations. The defeat
suffered by their candidate was a heavy blow to the Nairs.
Though the Ezhavas were the majority in Cherthala, they did not have
enough influence in the town. The family of Kadutha Manager was one of the
few powerful Ezhava families in Cherthala town. He was the first to have
established an oil mill in Cherthala town. His daughter-in-law P.C. Janaki was the
first Ezhava woman in Travancore to have got a university degree. She’s the
mother of the famous doctor, Dr. Santhakumar. Though the Ezhavas in Cherthala
town had no real clout in the town, in the rural areas was quite different. I’ve
already spoken of families called Thandars and Panickans who had money and
The Ezhava community was caught between Christian capitalists in the
town and the traditional stance of the Nairs. The Ezhavas had to contend with
the formidable strength of these communities to grow into power. Many Ezhavas
turned away from agriculture and industry to better themselves. When the
Ezhavas attained education, a lot of them became professionals, lawyers, social
reformers and politicians. Many Ezhavas set up coir factories. With the progress
of the community, the Ezhavas were able to influence the social life of Cherthala
town. While I was studying in Cherthala high school, this was the social condition
Education at Cherthala English High School was over. I had to relate to
an entirely different life. Memories of school are eternally joyous and appealing.
I had studied at Cherthala High School from my second form onwards. From that
time I had been staying along with my elder sister K.R. Narayani Amma at
Mathattilparampil. Our school is around three or four furlongs from there. I had
to walk to school in the morning and in the afternoons, walk back home for lunch.
These walks are unforgettable. The journey to and fro was with friends – laughing,
chattering and playing pranks. We never knew the tediousness of walking in
these journeys. My best friends at this time were Kausalya and Bhanumati.
At Mathattilparampil Sarala was my friend – advocate Krishnan’s
daughter by his first wife. There were many members of advocate Krishnan’s
family staying there. We all had specific jobs in the house – sweeping , washing
dishes and so on. After work we all used to plunge into the pond in the south-western
corner of the yard. There we would royally enjoy our bathing and then
hurry to school. Mathattilparampil was always teeming with visitors. Advocate
Krishnan was well known, wealthy and besides he was an M.L.A. as well. He
was a community leader and a social activist. In addition he maintained chit funds.
People of various status and culture used to come there to meet him. The chit
funds were supervised by Mr.V.V.Narayanan, another Narayanan and Bhaskaran.
The property was taken care of by Chandivarath Muppil. All these people stayed
at the house. The advocate was a very busy man – one with a lot of financial
dealings. However he never gave any money to anyone.
The S.N.D.P. Union Building was built to the north of the X-ray Hospital
when advocate Krishnan was President. Cherthala Taluk was divided into four
divisions. The S.N.D.P. Branches within the limits of these divisions were
entrusted with the job of collecting funds. Coconuts were collected from the
landed Ezhavas and their tenants and this proved to be a grand success. The
money obtained by selling these coconuts could almost cover the expenses for
the building. The foundation stone was laid on 19 th Chingam, 1119 M.E. and the
building was completed within a year.
Advocate Krishnan ran an institute called Sadhujana Dharmasanketam
at his own home with the express intention of ousting the caste system. Orphans
belonging to backward communities were accommodated here and given
education. All this was supervised by Madhavan chettan, popularly known as
Other than father, nobody, especially women, was interested in imparting
higher education to girls. Though Narayani chechi was modern, a social worker
and musician, she too was not sent to school. She was taught English, Malayalam
and Music at home. She used to read English well and converse moderately well
too. She was a student until her death. Bharati chechi was taught till first forum
but Devaki chechi was educated only till fourth standard. It was in these
circumstances that I passed the tenth standard. My brother failed. So everyone
decided to send me to college.
During this time I became interested in reading novels. Indulekha,
Ramaraja Bahadur, Marthanda Varma were some of the novels I read. I also
read all the works of Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon’s
Magdalanamariam and Bandhanasthanaya Anirudhan. It may be said that I
devoured almost all the poems, songs and novels available in Malayalam then.
Advocate Sankunni and his wife had their room upstairs at Mathattilparampil.
The novels were kept there. I would climb up under the pretext of studying, but
would sit there and read all the available novels. Regarding my studies, I used to
study my daily lessons and it was during the mornings that I liked to study.
Studies were never a burden to me. On the other hand it was interesting and
In those days girls were being trained for married life. They were advised
to dress well and behave well towards others. Girls were also taught cooking
and the necessary household work. A woman’s life was thus drastically limited,
nobody thought that anything more was necessary. Contrary to this popular
notion, from such a family background, with the consent of everyone, I set out
to study in college.
It was decided to send me to Ernakulam Maharaja’s College. Accordingly
I attended the interview. H.R. Mills was the principal. In my application, I had
given first preference for Maths and second preference for History. The principal
asked me many things. I could not understand most of what he said because of
the difficulty of understanding his pronunciation. I told the principal that I did
not understand his questions. It turned out that though I was interested in
studying Maths, I could get admission only to the third group. My father was
happy because he wanted to make me a lawyer. My stay was arranged at the
S.N.V. Sadanam and I easily got used to the hostel and its inmates.
While waiting for the interview, I had met P.S. Karthikeyan. Karthikeyan
had completed his B.A. but was finding it difficult to continue his studies.
Advocate Krishnan, in the course of talking with him, understood Karthikeyan’s
circumstances and after returning home had a discussion with my sister regarding
him. They decided to educate Karthikeyan further. They wished to marry him to
Sarala and hoped to make him stay at Cherthala and take up practice there.
Accordingly, advocate Krishnan wrote to Karthikeyan’s family and they came
to Cherthala. Everything was agreed upon and Karthikeyan was sent to Madras
for higher studies. He married Sarala during the next vacation. After passing his
B.L., Karthikeyan stayed at Cherthala and started practice. Very soon he earned
a good name. He started to involve himself in the working of the S.N.D.P.Yogam.
He became a congressman and was twice elected M.L.A.. he was elected from
Arur in 1957. I digressed to speak about this because I had met Karthikeyan in
connection with my entry into college and this acquaintance paved the way for
future relations too.
When I joined S.N.V.Sadanam, the Superintendent was K.K.Kavu Amma,
the niece of Sahodaran Ayyappan. Parvathy Amma, better known as Parvathy
Ayyappan, joined as Superintendent after her leave. The matron then was
S.N.V.Sadanam was begun on the 26th of Idavam, 1096 M.E. It was
established by Mannanthara Parvathy Amma, Tapaswini Amma, and Panavalli
Krishnan Vaidyar, all of whom were interested in education of girls and in social
advancement. Ambady Karthyayani Amma was among those who had worked
towards its growth from the very beginning. She was the headmistress at the
Girls’ High School and Parvathy Amma was a teacher there. That was a time when
people belonging to the backward communities were trying to put into practice,
Sree Narayana Guru’s message – educate and be enlightened. A new interest
was aroused in the education of women too. In connection with this, a hostel for
school girls, Sree Narayana Vidyarthini Sadanam, was started at Ernakulam. In
the course of time, this hostel grew into a good hostel for college girls.
When the Sadanam was started, the intention had been to give admission
to those belonging to all castes and religions, in accordance with the teaching of
Sree Narayana Guru – One Caste, One Religion, One God. When the Sadanam
started, during the first few years, most of those who applied were Ezhavas,
Arayas, and Christians but gradually girls belonging to all communities came
Sahodaraprasthanam was exerting great influence on the backward
communities in Cochin. This movement came into existence during the same year
as the October Socialist Revolutiion. Sahodaran Ayyappan used to talk about
the October revolution as a great lesson. The basic ideal of
Sahodaraprasthanam was to destroy the caste system. The revolt against the
caste system spread throughout Cochin. Meetings and public meals were
organised by the Sahodaraprasthanam. It was during this time that Kumaran
Asan’s famous poem Simhanadam was published in the Sahodaran magazine of
1094. This was a poem which inspired the people of the downtrodden communities
to rise up and fight the caste devil. Along with the Sahodaraprasthanam,
Yuktivadam (Rationalism) was also popularised in Cochin – Yuktivadi magazine
was published by Sahodaran Ayyappan. His co-workers were Ramavarma
Thampuran, M.C.Joseph, C.Krishnan and C.V.Kunjiraman.
Unlike Travancore, in Cochin, backward people did not directly involve
themselves in political matters. Sree Moolam Prajasabha was formed in
Travancore and the members indulged in constructive discussions on social
matters. At that time there was not even a Janapratinidhisabha in Cochin. It
was only many years after the establishment of the Sree Moolam Prajasabha in
Travancore, that the legislative Assembly was formed in Cochin. After this,
Cochin was divided into south and north and two Ezhava seats were allowed.
This was around the year 1100 M.E. N.K. Raman in the South and Mundu Vaidyan
in the North were allotted the seats – they would get only the Ezhava votes.
Sahodaran Ayyappan was defeated in a general seat by Iravi Namboothiri.
Sahodaran Ayyappan won in the Ezhava seat from South Cochin. Following his
victory the second time, Sahodaran Ayyappan presented the Makkattaya Bill
with its basic principle of emancipation of women, in the assembly. Till then girls
did not have any right of property. The above said bill established their right to
property. Though the bill was recognised, equal right of property for men and
women as was prevalent in Travancore, was not allowed. A woman had right to
only one sixth of the property that was due to a man. Following the Makkattaya
Bill, the Civil Marriage Act was also instituted. The Women’s Association under
the leadership of Sahodaraprasthanam raised its voice for the institution of the
A modern outlook and logical reasoning had budded in the Ezhavas and
others belonging to the backward community from the very beginning. Among
those who became social leaders K.Ayyappan, Kavitilakan Pandit Karuppan,
E.K. Iyyakutty, Dr.Palpu and such others are to be specially mentioned.
E.K. Iyyakutty was the father of Parvathy Ayyappan. He was a believer in
Buddhism and has translated Dharmapadam from the Pali language into
Malayalam. He entered service as Munsiff and retired as Judge.
Kavitilakan Pandit Karuppan belonged to the Araya community. All his
life he fought against untouchability, casteism and other evil practices. In this
fight, he employed his poetry as a very sharp weapon. He started his career as
Sanskrit lecturer at the St.Teresa’s College. Then he was appointed clerk in the
Fisheries Department, then he was Sanskrit teacher in High School, the protector
of the downtrodden, Superintendent of local language, Lecturer at the Maharaja’s
college, Chairman of the Oriental Title Examination Board, Member of the Cochin
assembly and so on. It was Karuppan Master who taught Sanskrit to the famous
Tapaswini Amma. Tapaswini Amma was well-known not only as the founder of
Sree Narayana Sadanam, but also as an unselfish social worker. She had great
sympathy for the downtrodden and the sole aim in her life was serving the needy.
She was the founder of the Abalasaranam and the Industrial School associated
with it, at Ernakulam.
Tapaswini Amma was born in Chingam 1056 M.E. in Valiya Veedu at
Cherayi. She was the daughter of Achukutty, the first matriculate from the Ezhava
Community, the expert in Ayurveda, Allopathy and Homeopathy. Her mother was
Komma, daughter of Manakkil Ikkandan, the Palace Physician. Tapaswini Amma
was forced to marry in her fifteenth year, but she could not continue her married
life. She came back to her own house. She also made an effort to join the convent
but withdrew, following the insistence to change her religion. After this, she
dedicated her life to social service. S.N.V. Sadanam and Abalasaranam were
inspired by her ideal to provide a place where women could stay independently,
regardless of caste or creed.
I was very much attached to Tapaswini Amma and she had very often
come to my house. My memories of her are all dear. Even today I regret that I
could not go back and visit her or even attend her funeral.
Speaking about hostel life, in those days even hostels for students
functioned on the basis of social divisions. The only exception to this was Sree
Narayana Sadanam. There, girls belonging to Nair and Ezhuthachan communities
also stayed along with Ezhavas and Harijans. The Sadanam played an important
role in developing the students’ general knowledge. It taught the girls to deal
well with matters and speak freely. The Literary Association at the Sadanam
played a key role in the cultural development of the girls. The students could
avail of the opportunity to take part in the literary meetings, dramas, dances and
tableaus conducted by the association. The association threw open the
opportunity to mingle and interact with people from various strata of society.
It was during my stay at the Sadanam, that the Temple Entry was allowed
in Travancore in 1112 M.E. The caste devil stood with its head raised high in
total destructive force in Travancore but it was not so much evident in Cochin.
Still respectable jobs were hard to come by for those belonging to the
Ezhava community. Most of those employed were clerks. Other than on the basis
of reservation, it was during the time of Dewan C.G.Herbert that Ezhavas in Cochin
could obtain jobs. Reservation, Staff Selection Board which had the provision
to give representation to backward communities, and such other things were
introduced in Cochin by Diwan Shanmukham Chettiar.
During this time, I chanced to get acquainted with a Thresiamma from
Alappuzha. She had come to join for B.Sc and was staying at the Sadanam. After
the interview, I saw her going towards the eastern gate with a young man. I came
to know later that this young man was Thresiamma’s brother, T.V.Thomas. I still
remember the brown khadar jubba that T.V. was wearing then.
At college, I mainly studied History – Modern History, Indian History,
Ancient History and Logic. There were about thirty students in our group. Among
our teachers I had special respect towards two brilliant people, Rama Iyer and
Ramanadha Iyer. Kuttipuzha Krishna Pillai and G. Sankara Kurup have taught me.
Changampuzha Krishna Pillai was my classmate. Thus I had the good fortune to
get acquainted with many versatile personalities during my college years. One
could say that in those days there was practically no political influence in
colleges. There were no College Unions and no Student Unions. What we had
was the Moot Club which was very active in our college. Mostly debates were
held in this club. The Moot Club was a mini assembly and it was an exciting
prospect to participate in it. The college atmosphere was peaceful with no
unwanted demonstrations, strikes etc. Students used to achieve their desires
through the teachers who were their guides and mentors. The students were
convinced that their teachers were the superior ones in every way.
I had earlier remarked that the Temple Entry Proclamation was made during
my college years. To celebrate this occasion under the auspices of the S.N.D.P
Yogam, we students from the Sadanam had come to Cherthala. A grand welcome
was given to Dewan C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer. After this grand meeting at Cherthala,
a huge procession was taken out in Cochin, demanding entry into temples
following the Travancore example.
Going back to the Sadanam Literary Association, this was one which
cultivated the literary talent in the students. I had the opportunity to familiarise
myself with English poems, and novels. Acquaintance with English books and
their atmosphere generated in me a new cultural awareness. Inspired by these
books, I wrote many poems and stories. The desire to become a poet budded in
my mind. Another important feature of this period in my life is that I became a
devotee of Sri Krishna. In later years when I had to go to jail, I had worn a ring
with the picture of Krishna engraved on it. Though I had developed a deep
devotion for Krishna, I never wore the outer signs of a devotee. I never used
bhasmam or chandanam. I never went to temples however, even during the
Vayalar revolt, I had kept a picture of Krishna at home. I had sat before that picture
in intense concentration. I still do not fully comprehend the meaning of this
I had no difficulty in securing admission at St.Theresa’s College,
Ernakulam. At that time there were only twenty-five students in our class. Here
I had as my college mates, Leela Damodara Menon, Thankamma (C.M.Stephen’s
wife,) and Annamma (Kunchakko’s wife). Great discipline was observed in the
college hostel and the sisters supervised each and every student and kept track
of their behaviour. I was under the impression that there was no inequality inside
the hostel and that all students would be treated the same. However, the sisters
were partial towards students coming from rich, influential and renowned families,
they had a special affection for those good in studies. They had a soft corner for
me since I was good in studies, especially a sister called Trisa Margaret. I was
especially good in Politics. I got a gold medal when I earned a second class and
passed in History for the Madras University Exam. Among the sisters too, those
with money and influence had a special place in the convent. It is in this connection
I remember an old sister who was by and large left alone. I understood that the
sisters would be looked after well if they came from wealthy families or had good
education or jobs. I used to wonder at this discrimination even before God. That
was war time and so instead of the gold medal, I got only a certificate – maybe
the University might have contributed the amount of the gold medal towards the
Whatever incident occurred at college, whether it was big or small, reached
the ears of the Mother Superior. Once Miss Indira, one of my teachers, was
teaching Economics. She chanced to refer to the Communist system and Soviet
Union. In between she also happened to refer to Stalin. She just said that he was
a lucky man and that his mother was still alive and then proceeded to go back to
her subject. Immediately I called out, “No, Miss Indira, let us hear something
more about Stalin.” All eyes were on me. Miss Indira said, “No, No, let us finish
our lesson.” This incident came to the ears of the Mother Superior and I was
summoned. Hardly had I reached her side, when she started, “My child what
shall I do for you ? You are doomed forever. “Why do you want to know about
Stalin ? He is just a devil. Do you want to know what goes on in Russia ? Read
this book. Understand what communism is really like. “ She gave me a book – its
name was something like Nowhere.
I read the book and understood that it was an anti-communist work —
many make-believe stories about the Soviet Union. The Mother Superior wanted
to know my reaction. I said slowly, “This is a one-sided book. Shouldn’t we know
the other side too?” Hearing this she again started lamenting about my fate.
At that time I had not studied in depth about Communism or the world
communist leaders. I had a belief that Communism was the ideal system. I had
known from my childhood that Lenin and Stalin were people who fought for
freedom from inequality.
I was aware that Congress Movement was strong in Travancore and
Cochin. I also knew that certain people who had come to public life through the
activities of the S.N.D.P.Union had become the workers and leaders of the
Travancore State Congress. Though the Travancore Coir Factory Workers were
uniting, the Government had denied them freedom for forming unions. The
Travancore Government was carefully moving against the State Congress
activists and the labour union activists. Though Sri Chithira Tirunal was the ruler,
C.P.Ramaswamy held the reins of the state. Though the king was against C.P.’s
political ideals, it should be remembered that it was Sir C.P who paved the
foundation for the industrial growth of Travancore. However, he failed to
introduce any economic reforms and so the people suffered. A general disgust
prevailed against the Travancore Government and C.P’s rule. Formation of unions
was strictly forbidden. Feudal hegemony and monopoly of officers raged
supreme. It was at this time that the National and Quilon bank fell and this was
also assigned to the bad rule by the government and the populace became
The students also began to unite against the policies of the Government
– thus the protest of the people grew. The Kerala Congress Committee decided
to give leadership and the necessary spirit of encouragement. It was decided to
take out a demonstration on foot in Travancore under the leadership of that
Committee. This was known as the Malabar Jatha and its leader was comrade
A.K.Gopalan. At that time I had only heard about A.K.G., I had not yet seen him
or heard him talk. The Malabar Jatha was inaugurated on September 9 th , 1938 at
Kozhikode. Students also got instructions to receive it and participate in it when
the procession reached Ernakulam. A students’ Committee was organised to
supervise its activities. I was member of this Committee on account of my position
as Sadanam Association Secretary. The Committee was entrusted with the duties
of making the maximum number of students participate in the jatha, to collect
money and spread news about the jatha among the student community.
The jatha which reached Ernakulam under the leadership of A.K.G. was
given a hearty welcome. We students participated in it wholeheartedly and all of
us fell in tune with the marching song sung by somebody at the front. There was
a meeting at the Boat Jetty after the jatha. I participated in this meeting as well.
Participating in the demonstration, collecting money and taking part in the
meeting were all new experiences for me. This was the first time I had taken part
in a demonstration and meeting organised by a particular political party. Due to
participation in all this I was forbidden from attending classes at college . I was
asked to bring my father to meet the Principal. I was now in a fix. Parvathy
Ayyappan, the Sadanam Superintendent was also displeased at my behaviour.
My father, after the Temple Entry Proclamation, no longer harboured ill feelings
against the king, C.P. or the government and so he would definitely not like his
daughter’s behaviour. I went to see the student leader, Mr. Rajan. Some students
under the leadership of Mr. Rajan entered St.Theresa’s College and rung the bell
loudly and got in. They went straight to the Mother Superior and said that if I
were not allowed entry into class, they would go on an indefinite hunger strike.
The Mother Superior decided to be a bit liberal and allowed me to enter the class.
I wonder if father ever came to know of this – he has never asked me of it. I have
never told my father about this particular incident.
It was around this time that the Second World War broke out. There
existed doubts whether I could go back to college after the vacations in such
dangerous circumstances, under the shadow of war. 1939 September 1. Germany
had attacked Poland. Britain and France declared war against Germany. It was
with this knowledge of the war that I reached back in college at Ernakulam. My
college, St.Theresa’s, was just east of the harbour, facing it. It would be
unimaginable if the war happened to break out in the harbour or on sea. The
entire city was terrorised by the news that German submarines may emerge in
Cochin harbour and bomb our city. Following all these news, there was complete
blackout in Ernakulam. Nobody dared to switch on the lights at night. The sound
of sirens could be heard now and then instilling fear in the people. Day and night
the skies resounded with the roars of circling aircrafts. Cochin was a developing
harbour at that time. All Indian harbours were under threat of attack by Germany.
The fear of war shadowed the college atmosphere as well. All the students
were informed about the strategies to adopt in case of attack. News came that
Poland had fallen; Belgium had surrendered to Germany. Hearing these stories
of Germany’s victories, the city was all the more troubled. Somehow the news
also circulated that Britain would definitely be defeated. At that time, I had no
firm political view or commitment. I had no association with any political party.
Therefore there is no point in expressing my opinions about war or the
politics of war. However it will be relevant to mention the effects of war on my
country, which I shall come to later.
Coming back to myself,I was the first one from my family to acquire college
education. Therefore my family members and friends and relatives had a special
consideration for me. Even Sukumaran annan reached college only after me. I
attained experience and knowledge through my books, other books and friends.
I also have been subjected to the tender feelings of love. I had a clear concept of
love, having read Kumaran Asan’s Nalini and Leela . By the time I left
St.Theresa’s college in 1940, I had acquired a wide circle of friends, not only among
my college-mates and teachers but also among people belonging to different
sections of society in Ernakulam. My college life was a very happy one. I had no
sorrows or troubles. We were given a very warm send-off and I returned home
with pleasant memories of college.
When I was at St.Theresa’s College, during the vacations when I came
home, I met and associated with my old friends. It so happened that I developed
a special affection for an old friend of mine. Both of us knew that our relationship
had no chance of getting sanction from either of our families. Though we had
decided to end this relationship, it did not succeed. My family came to know of
this and my father was totally disturbed. Finally I decided that there was no way
other than trying to secure a means of independent living. That was how I applied
for the post of tutor at Madras Queen Mary’s College. This application form
happened to fall into the hands of my father who was genuinely upset. When he
came to know of my reasons, he said that his wish was that his daughter should
become a good lawyer. He wanted me to become as famous as Anna Chandy, a
famous lawyer at that time. He decided to educate me further so that I would not
get the idea of going for a job again into my head. He wanted me to understand
that the above relationship in which I was entangled was not advisable. My
sister whom I loved like a mother was much agitated by my behaviour and her
anxiety affected me. Thus seeing the distress of my family I assured them that I
would end this relationship. It was on the basis of this assurance that I went to
Thiruvananthapuram to study at the Law College.
The next stage of my education was at the Law College in
Thiruvananthapuram. There too, I stayed at S.N.V.Sadanam. In this city also, I
was able to form a considerable amount of friends. I was fortunate enough to get
recognition at the Sadanam, at college and outside as the first female law student
coming from the Ezhava community and as the daughter of Kalathilparambil
Raman. The principal of the college was Prakulam Padmanabha Pillai. My other
teachers were Ganapathy Iyer, Narayanan Vithayathil, Achuthan Pillai and
Subramania Iyer. I had many class mates who are all now distinguished in their
respective fields – S.Iswara Iyer, the famous advocate, M.K.K.Nair (former
Managing Director of the F.A.C.T), Pandalam P.R. Madhavan Pillai, C.M.Stephen,
Advocate Bhagavathy Ammal, Kailasam Rajamma, Narayanan Thampi and
Sankaranarayana Kukiliya, a dear friend of mine.
On the national front, situations were leading up to the Quit India
Movement. The State Congress protests were becoming stronger in Travancore
as well. The Khadar store at Trivandrum was run by Mrs. Saraswathi, the wife of
Sri. C. Narayana Pillai. I used to go to this shop with my friends and gradually
acquired the habit of wearing khadar. I began to understand more about the
activities of the Congress. These activities earned the support of students too.
When the political activities in Travancore were given leadership by the
Congress, Pattom Thanu Pillai was arrested. Due to the political rivalry against
him, ration was denied to his wife, Mrs. Ponnamma. On that occasion, the students
voluntarily went from house to house to collect rice for her. I also participated in
this venture with full enthusiasm.
That was a time when monarchy was reigning with all its power and pride.
The king’s birthday was celebrated with great pomp and glory at
Thiruvananthapuram. It would be an atmosphere of celebration throughout the
city and the day was observed as a holiday. The city would be illuminated and
people would enjoy themselves in the brightly lit streets. Durbar would be held
on that day and many V.I.Ps would participate in the royal dinner that would be
hosted later. My sister had the privilege to take part in this dinner along with her
husband, N.R. Krishnan, who was member of the legislative assembly.
At Thiruvananthapuram, my association with the activities of the Congress
slowly led to the shaping of my political career. In those days the
S.N.D.P. Student’s Union was an association of Ezhava students. In one of its
meetings, even though I had not attended it, I was elected as the President.
Mulleth Sridharan was the secretary. Though I was President, I rarely attended
its meetings. The secretary used to keep me informed of the important decisions.
Internal bickering and difference of opinion started appearing within the
S.N.D.P.Union. The differences were on the ground of divisions as southerners
and northerners. Therefore the organisation could not go on or function
smoothly. In the course of time, I became a member of the Students’ Union.
Though I was never an active participant either in the meetings of the S.N.D.P
Students’ Union or in its day to day activities, I did take part in its annual
celebrations. One annual day was held at the V.J.T.Hall. I also acted in a play
staged then. The play was “Sulekha” and I took the role of Sulekha. The play ended with Sulekha
committing suicide. The death was to be by plunging a dagger deep into my
heart at the end of a speech. I had hidden a packet filled with red ink within my
dress. After the speech I was supposed to plunge the dagger, break the packet
and fall to the ground once the ink had spread all over my chest. Later on, my
friends informed me that I had played my part with natural ease.
My involvement in the social work, artistic and political activities earned
me many friends. At college, I had occasions to talk with my college librarian,
Mr. Parameswaran Pillai, who shared his political views with me. He was a
congressman and so I could learn more about the activities of the Congress.
When the students were exhorted to go on strike in connection with the State
Congress Protest, I too participated in the propaganda for strike, going from hostel
to hostel to organise the students.
The relationship I once had during my B.A. course did not stop disturbing
my mental peace. I began to feel that I had acted unjustly towards that person in
order to pacify my family members. I was still receiving his letters and was very
often tempted to reply. I was in a terrible mental condition and this affected my
studies negatively. I lost my concentration and as a result failed for the F.L. Exam
and this shocked my family and friends. This failure affected me a great deal ; it
was a tremendous blow to my sense of responsibility. However my father acted
as a pillar of support, I was sent back to Thiruvananthapuram to study and I
stayed at the Sadanam. I wrote again for the September exam and passed.
That was the time of war. All feared that the dark shadow of war would
spread over India as well. The national freedom movement had gained strength.
It was the time of the Quit India Movement. The Indian freedom fighters were
resting firm on the slogan “Britain Quit India” and organizing youngsters, women
and students to protest against British rule.
I was at home after my exams. I could join college only the next year. I had
nothing to study or anything particular to do. The interest in the political pulses
of my country and the course of war, grew in me. In those days, the early forties,
I was pained by the poverty and penury of the people of Cherthala. Under the
ever increasing threat of war, the impending danger of submarines and torpedoes
was sending tremors of fear through all harbour cities. In those days Alappuzha
was a prominent port. The main export from there was Coir factory products. The
export business was wrecked since the traffic along the sea was stopped. Coir
factory industry was the backbone of the economic life of the Ambalappuzha –
Cherthala districts. The coir factories were all closed down and the labourers
were out of jobs. Their families were pushed into unemployment and poverty.
There was also a shortage of food. Rice was imported at that time from
countries like Burma. When Japan terrorised their war strategy on sea and on
shore, the shipping industry came to a standstill. Ships bringing rice stopped
coming to Alappuzha port. As a result the people of this land slipped into
shortage of food. When things reached a crisis, the Travancore started a policy
called the Dewan C.P. Ramaswamy put into practice the programme of distributing
rice by means of ration cards. Long queues could be seen in front of ration shops.
Rice became a rare commodity. People suffered without food. Unemployment,
poverty, shortage of food, all this tortured the people. The land became infested
with infectious diseases and many people left their native place in search of
succour somewhere else.
Many people voluntarily came forward to help those in need and
prominent among them was my sister, K.R. Narayani Amma. She took the initiative
in distributing food to the poor. Certain Christian Associations also came forward
for relief operations. A Committee with representatives from all communities was
planned to be formed at Cherthala – this committee included a magistrate, a police
inspector, a doctor and other officers. Influential citizens and the Y.M.C.A.
authorities were also members. However, differences arose among the members
and the Hindu representatives submitted their resignation. The Hindus formed
a Relief Committee which was the forerunner of the famous Sree Narayana Medical
Mission Hospital. In course of time the Young Women’s Hindu Association
was formed . This organisation carried out a considerable amount of relief work
and Dr.Thankamma from Thekkumoodu deserves special mention.
Gradually changes were felt in the course of war and those changes had
their repercussions in the labour front. Many orders were placed in the coir
factories for a kind of coir product necessary for war. The labour front became
busy because many labourers were needed to weave it. It became imperative to
consider the wages and other rights. Therefore labour unions gathered strength
in the coir factories. In and outside factories, the labourers held political
discussions. They also discussed on a political level, about the war front and
the course of war. This opened a venue for a war of ideologies as well.
On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and this news
shocked even the labourers in Cherthala. The first socialist country; it was only
twenty-four years since it came into existence. The Soviet Union was the haven
of hope for the working class, the oppressed lot and the freedom lovers all the
world over. The people were inspired by the idea that a country like the Soviet
Union should not be defeated – the world populace, especially the working
class had the moral obligation of protecting that nation. The Indian working class
and the party representing them could not neglect this important duty.
The World War was at a time when India herself was shouldering the yoke
of slavery to the British. Britain was one of the Allies – even so, the fight against
the British rule in India was still on. The Indian Communist party declared its
allegiance to the Soviet Union and exhorted all to co-operate in the war activities
against Germany. In this context I would like to point out that the Indian Party
failed in one respect. The Party did not focus on exploiting the opportunity and
working towards ending British rule in India and earnings freedom for the Indians.
I have no information whether the party sent volunteers from India, after declaring
popular revolt against Germany for protecting the Soviet Union. Neither did the
party succeed in organizing the people’s “Defence Corps” to protect the nation
from Fascist attack. They had the freedom to work for this. With the legal sanction
it had obtained, and with the circumstances of war, the party could do nothing to
develop the Indian Freedom Movement into a form of government under the
leadership of the working class. The party also wasted an opportunity to take
advantage of the Food Summits and such activities to form the People’s militia
which could have destroyed the British monopoly. Because of all this, the
Communist Party’s declaration of people’s revolt was regarded as something done
with a view to support the war operations of Britain. This is why congressmen
still tease the Communist Party for having done slave work for Britain.
In short, thinking back, I cannot entirely agree with the stand adopted by
the Indian Party towards war.
One day, Putuppally Raghavan came to Kalathilparampil. I was already
acquainted with him. He had visited the Sadanam and had at that time discussed
politics. He had emphasised the role of students at the national level. Putuppally
was perhaps the first Communist man I had associated with. He had come to my
house in order to make me participate in a public meeting, a food summit, organised
by him. I had only addressed the public in some of the meetings held by the
S.N.D.P.Union. In one of their meetings, K.R.Narayan was there along with me –
he had at that time qualified my speech as a daring one. Puthupally wanted me to
preside over a meeting to be held at Vayalar. In that meeting I did make a matter-of-
fact speech. However, there were some incidents like the fainting of Mrs.Devaki
, the one to say the welcome speech and some minor disturbances at the beginning
of the function that disrupted my concentration. I felt unpleasant and dissatisfied
and had to return home in disgust. That was a first experience for me and I did
not have the inclination to associate with that movement. However, I never lost
my love and regard for the working class.
The A.I.C.C meeting held in Bombay on the 8th of August, 1942 had passed
the proposition, ‘Britain Quit India”. When this threat arose, Gandhiji and all
other leaders were arrested. The August revolt made its presence felt in Cochin
and Travancore too. Public meetings and processions were prohibited. News
spread that students were going on strike and that in police lathi charges, even
female students were beaten up. The revolt strengthened in Travancore from
August 26 onwards. When there were signs that the Quit India Movement was
gaining ground in Travancore, the C.P. government arrested all the leaders. By
this time students started to develop clear political views and divided into
different political factions. The students’ Union was supported by the
Communist Party and the Students’ Congress was supported by the Congress
Party. I was a member of the Students’ Union. During this time, when I was
studying at the Law College, I gave special importance to political activity. I also
decided which political faction I wanted to belong to. I worked sincerely in my
capacity as a student for the Indian Freedom Movement. My political leaning
was evident as I was a member of the Students’ Union. I had no membership in
the Congress party. However the Congress once had to utilise my name in order
to hold one of their meetings. I shall just give an indication of this incident here.
With the declaration of free India, C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer declared Free Travancore.
The movement against Free Travancore and monarchy was quite active here.
Many leaders went into hiding. Sukumaran annan was also in hiding following
the Punnapra Vayalar revolt. He was the Congress secretary of Cherthala.
Karunakara Paniker was the President. It was decided to celebrate the Indian
Independence Day under the auspices of the Congress. That was to be a
challenge against C.P.’s Free Travancore. A notice had to be published. There
was a slight unwillingness in printing just Karunakara Paniker’s name . Nobody
was willing to issue the notice in their name. Under these circumstances, I
expressed my willingness to publish the notice in my name. In that manner, the
Indian Independence Day was celebrated at Cherthala in accordance with the
notice that appeared in my name. The party was illegal and I was practising at
Cherthala. I mentioned this to make it clear that even though I was not a member
of the Congress Party, I allowed the Congress to celebrate Independence day at
Cherthala in my name. Thus I participated in the Independence day meeting that
was held at the Cherthala Post Office Stadium. I shall speak about that in detail
In the first year itself, I passed my B.L. and I was the first Ezhava woman
in Travancore to earn a degree in law. After B.L. I started practising with
Mr.Krishna Kammatti, who was government pleader at Trivandrum.
A sad incident took place during this period. my elder sister, K.R.Narayani
amma became seriously ill – she had tuberculosis , a deadly didisease at that time.
she passed away and her memory was perpetuated by the building of a maternity
ward in her name in the sree Narayana medical mission hospital.
To be continued in the next issue
Translated by Jayasree Ramakrishnan Nair & Hema Nair R from Malayalam
JAYASREE RAMAKRISHNAN NAIR. Freelance writer and translator. Has published many articles and translated many works including four plays of Shakespeare into Malayalam. Interested in Shakespeare Studies and Translation Studies. Her doctoral work was on the translations of Shakespeare’s plays into Malayalam.
HEMA NAIR R. Teaches English at the N.S.S.College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Doris Lessing. Is a regular contributor to research journals. Interested in Women’s Studies.