Towards Class Consciousness: Radical Politics in Keralam

Abstract: An analysis of a deep-rooted political movement requires a clear understanding of the traditional socio-economic and political conditions of the country that moulded it. It is particularly true of Kerala, the socio- economic life of which had remained largely unchanged till the late eighteenth century. With the political domination of the British, new economic opportunities and awareness were generated. It made revolutionary changes in the socio-economic and political systems of Kerala. This section is a brief analysis of the semi-tribal system that prevailed before the Brahmin domination and the caste-based socio-economic system of the Brahmins that lasted for a thousand years.

Keywords: radicalism, untouchability, unapproachability, casteism, land relations, namboodiripad, communist movement, state congress, government of Travancore, Krishna Pillai, factory workers, Kerala government, national congress, trade union, youth league, Narayana Guru, workers union, British government, political radicalism, labour association, agro-labourers, coir workers, abstention movement, civil equality

An analysis of a deep-rooted political movement requires a clear understanding of the traditional socio-economic and political conditions of the country that moulded it. It is particularly true of Kerala, the socio- economic life of which had remained largely unchanged till the late eighteenth century. With the political domination of the British, new economic opportunities and awareness were generated. It made revolutionary changes in the socio-economic and political systems of Kerala. This section is a brief analysis of the semi-tribal system that prevailed before the Brahmin domination and the caste-based socio- economic system of the Brahmins that lasted for a thousand years. Before the establishment of the British domination, with the Mysorean invasion in the eighteenth century, a new land relation was introduced in Malabar. This continued with suitable changes for stabilising the British domination, very much in favour of landlords, which unleashed grave peasant problems that greatly influenced the future politics of Malabar. But the condition in Travancore was different. There King Marthanda Varma established a centralised monarchy. The Government of Travancore took tenants into confidence against the landlords. Thus from the peculiar socio-economic conditions that existed in Travancore emanated new political forces of radicalism.

Kerala till 8th Century A.D.

No authentic historical records exist about Kerala of the ancient and medieval periods. The only available materials are Tamil classics like, ‘Pathittipathu’, ‘Chilapathikaram’ and the travel accounts of foreigners. In Kerala, Tamil continued to be language for long time. So, the two ancient classics form the source of the ancient history of Kerala from fourth to the early seventh century A.D. The two classics describe four classes of people, ‘Kuravas’ (jungle folks)’, ‘Itayas’ (shepherds), ‘Uzhavas’ (farmers) and ‘Valayas’ (fishermen) inhabiting the hilly forests, pastures, plains and coastal regions respectively. There was no matriarchy or caste differentiation (Chaitanya 3-6).

The people lived in village communities under Chieftains. Over the Chieftain was the King. The King belonged to the ‘Chera’ dynasty. The Kings had no delusions of grandeur. They were unassuming and simple (Idem). The kingdom was not very vast. It was confined to central Kerala and some parts of Coimbatore (Marx 58). Ezhimala of Malabar and Aay of Travancore were free from Chera control. The Chera rule came to an end by the ninth century A.D. It was due to foreign invasion and Brahmin migration.

Thousand Years of Brahmin Domination

Though the Brahmin migration to Kerala had started from the first century A.D., the groups which moved from ‘Kolhapur’ were bringing about radical changes in Kerala. There were many instances of the latter groups taking up arms and carving out principalities. According to William Logan, 36,000 Brahmins carried weapons at that time. The leaders of the Kolhapur Brahmins were called, ‘Nambiathiris’(Logan 278-315). Gradually, these groups covered Kerala with a network of ‘temple centred’ Brahmin settlements. The settlers adopted a new name, ‘Namboodiris’ and emerged powerful in all respects. They possessed a large extent of land and a number of tenants under their control, with accompanying privileges.1

Unquestioned Masters

The Brahmins with their more advanced method of cultivation, knowledge of the calendar, astrology, magic, witchcraft, medicine, ritualistic religion and a strong sense of solidarity, subjugated the society of Kerala and became its unquestioned masters. It lasted without basic change for a period of about one thousand years (Chaitanya 7). During this period, society was divided into several castes on occupational basis. The gradation was such that the Namboodiris were at the top of the caste pyramid and all others fell into inferior grades at various levels. According to ‘Jatinirnaya’ a work attributed to Sri Sankara, there are seventy-four main castes (eight Brahmin castes, two Nyuna jatis, two Andarala jatis, eighteen Sudra castes and other castes) (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 53).

Stagnant Society

The Brahmins realising the advantages of the occupational division of society had given it the religious sanction of divine origin. Untouchability and unapproachability based on pollution (theendal), existed only in Kerala; as a result, there was practically no interaction within the social system. To Gilbert Slater, “Malabar social life has a property analogous to that of the sands of Egypt, of retaining free from decay every ancient custom whichever existed there”(qtd in Iyer ii). The ‘theendal’ or pollution was of two kinds; between the Brahmins and other castes, and among the lower castes. Even the ‘Pulaya’ (a lower caste) had caste pride because, the ‘Paraya’ (another lower caste) was untouchable to him and hence inferior. The caste obsession was always an impediment in organised agitations against Brahminical domination. The Malayalam term for caste is ‘jati’, derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘jatam’ denoting birth. For each occupation a caste was created and they performed their occupation on inheritance basis, violation of which was met with severe punishment (Logan 53-112). There were three sanctified works of Namboodiris for perpetuating their domination. They were, ‘Keralolpathi’, ‘Kerala Mahatmyam’ and ‘Sankara Smriti’ preaching caste based society on a religious basis. Social stagnation based on casteism was given sanction in other religious works also.2

The Brahmins could not maintain power in Kerala without the support of the natives. So they took the ruling tribes of the land into confidence and entrusted them with the task of the protection of the Brahmins and called them ‘Nayars’ (leaders) (Logan 117-118). The Namboodiri-Nayar relationship was further strengthened by ‘Sambandham’ (Namboodiri marrying the Nayar women). The newly created social and political organisation, with the domination of the Brahmins was preserved under the supervision of the Nayars. The Namboodiris organised the Nayars as their protectors and gave them the status of ‘Kshatriyas’ at the political level. But the contradiction was that, at the social level, the Brahmins were careful not to raise the Nayars to the status of ‘Kshatriyas’, instead, they were regarded as ‘Sudras’. The shrewed Brahmins secured protection at the cost of the Nayars, but to prevent themselves from being displaced, Nayars were ranked as the lowest of the ’Caste-Hindus’ and the social domination was further cemented by the canons of their religion (Idem).

The New Land Relations

From the collaboration of the new castes (Namboodiri – Nayar), there emerged a new and effective form of land relations in the numerous principalities of Kerala, which was to last for centuries, down to the period of British domination. The land relations were also so devised that the domination of the Brahmins on the land was well protected. The Brahmin legends like ‘Keralolpathi’ describe the whole land of Kerala as a gift to them by Lord Parasurama. They called themselves as ‘Bhoosuran’ (the landlord). Before the Brahminical domination, land in Kerala was nobody’s property, like the sea. It was because of two reasons. First, population was limited and second, organised cultivation did not exist. A limited change was effected in the semi-tribal economy of Kerala by the Brahmins who devised spiritual and temporal methods to keep the land under their control (Logan 654-655).

About the Brahmin dominated land relations in Kerala, two views exist. According to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, with the introduction of casteism by the Brahmins, each caste had to render certain specific services to the community on hereditary basis. The non- farming professionals such as the Brahmins, rulers and soldiers were awarded land for their services. The peasants were to give a share of their crop- products to these people who owned the land. When powerful chieftains and Brahmins were regularly given a share of the crop, it became a permanent practice, and their share was set apart first. The farmer was allowed to take his share only afterwards. Thus the dual ownership of land developed; the cultivating tenant and the non-cultivating owner possessed claim on land. Gradually, the minority who were the non- farming and who were getting only a small share of the crop became landlords (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 54- 59). According to T. C. Varghese, the real owner of the land was the peasant. In the unsettled condition, the crop was often plundered by the invaders. But the temple land and the land of the Brahmins were safe. In those days of frequent warfare, the transfer of the land in favour of Brahmins or Brahmin temples was the best way to safeguard the property. Thus the Brahmin temples possessed vast landed property (Varghese 14-15). It was administered by a Brahmin-dominated body called, ‘Urala Samiti’. These lands were taken back for the cultivation, after a legal deed. Such specified cultivator was called ‘Karalar’. Thus the dual ownership on land emerged. In the beginning, there were rules to prevent the ‘Uralas’ (Brahmin members of the ‘Urala Samiti’), from usurping the right of the ‘Karalas’ and from converting the ‘Devaswom’ (property of the temple) into ‘Brahmaswoms’ (property of the Brahmins). In course of time, the ‘Uranma’ (the right of the Brahmins on the land) absorbed the ‘Karaima’ (the right of the tenant on the land) and the ‘Uranma’ became hereditary. Still, the right was not absolute, it was regulated by conventions, so that the ‘Uralars’ could not evict a tenant. But the term ‘Uranma’ was later interpreted by the Brahmins as containing the meaning that they were the real owners of the land. The British administrators acquiesced to this claim and bestowed upon the ‘Jenmis’ (landlords) the absolute ownership of the land (Ravindran 128-131). According to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the peasants had loyalty to the Namboodiris and their temples. They were proud of saying that their land and its crops were the share of a temple or a Namboodiri family. Peasants submitted their entire land to the Namboodiri families and became the tenants (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 58). A. K. Pothuval narrates the story of such a peasant, an owner of three acres of land submitting it to ‘Vellora Devaswom’(17).

The earlier ‘primitive communist’ or ‘tribal society’ was brought down by the developing ‘caste society’ in Kerala. Here, authority tended to run from the landlord’s family to those under it. It was more or less, ‘a modified form of European feudalism’ (Namboodiripad, Kerala: Society and Politics; A Historical Survey 43,47,50). Till the coming of the Britishers there were four classes connected with the land. The ‘jenmi’ (landlord) was at the top, below him was the ‘Kanamdar’ (supervising tenant), still below was the ‘kudiyan’ (cultivating tenant), and at the bottom the agro- slaves. The chief landlords were the ‘Namboodiris’ (Malayali Brahmins), the ‘Rajas’ (members of royal families) and some ‘Tharavads’ (Nayar joint families). The Kanamdars (the supervising tenants) held land in the nature of ‘usufructuary mortgagees’. The Kanamdars sublet the land to the real tenants, ie., Thiyars (Ezhavas) and Mappilas (Muslims of Malabar and Syrian Christians of Travancore), who worked on drylands. The agro-slaves were Pulayas, the lowest of the caste hierarchy who worked on wetlands (Chadwick 41). The notable difference between the land relations of Kerala of that time and that of European feudalism was that, in Kerala, dual ownership of landlord and the peasants existed. It was wrong to say that either the ‘Jenmi’ or the ‘Kudiyan’ possessed full ownership on the land. During that period evolved the ‘Jenmi-Kanam maryada’ or ‘Landlord-Tenant convention’ or ‘Territorial practices’ (Logan 654 -655).

The landlords, because of caste rigidities, were allowed neither to cultivate the land by themselves nor to supervise the cultivation, because, the cultivators belonged to the polluting castes. So, a system of land relations had to be evolved, whereby cultivation could go on with the labour of the lower castes, while maintaining intact the ownership rights of the Brahmins. Thus an intermediary class, ‘Kanamdars’ arose to supervise the ‘Kanam’ (the land held by the tenants). The Kanamdars were mostly Nayars, the supporting caste of the Brahmins (Varghese 13- 14). Once the land was transferred to the Kanamdars, they were given the freedom to confer kanam rights to anyone they liked, subject to certain conventions. The Nayars, who were the main beneficiaries, considered direct cultivation as something below their status. So almost the whole land, taken on kanam basis was leased to people of lower castes, such as Christians, Thiyars and Muslims.3

The new landlords did not assert their rights in a way that infringed upon the rights of the peasants. The Kanamdars were required to pay only nominal dues in the form of products from land and in the form of services, as a token of allegiance to their superiors. Likewise, the sub- tenants had to pay only very low rent to the Kanamdars (Logan 652-53). Till the eighteenth century, land tax was not levied. The rulers of Kerala derived their income mainly from their private lands and inposts like commercial duties. In many Chieftaincies, trading in pepper was a state monopoly (Ward & Connor 13). The economic condition of Kerala at that time was unimaginably poor. Till the beginning of the nineteenth century, the chief crop in Kerala was rice. Its production was quite insufficient to meet even the needs of its limited consumers (Ibid 115). Three months were regarded as months of poverty- May, June and July. During those months, famine, disease and starvation deaths were common. In coastal areas, to buy food, mothers used even to sell their children (Logan 230; Jeffrey 47). The main reason for the scarcity of rice production in Kerala was the poor management of cultivation due to the lack of communication between the worker and the owner of the land based on caste restrictions. The only caste meant for wetland cultivation was the Pulaya, who formed only 10% of the population (Aiya 182-183). They were alienated from the landlord, and were considered ‘unseeables’ according to caste traditions (Logan 638).

Effect of Geography: Localised Living and Localised Thinking

The peculiar life-style of the people of Kerala – localised living and localised thinking – is the product of its geography. Kerala is an elongated territory of 360 miles. She is cut into several separate regions by the westward flowing forty-one rivers and ten lakes that form the back waters which open out to the Arabian Sea (Manorama Year Book 640). It is inferred that the west coast from Crangannore to Quilon had emerged from the sea, due to physio-geographical changes (Chacko 14-16). The people who lived on these lands separated by rivers and lakes had evolved a peculiar life-style of localised living and localised thinking. The influence of the above lifestyle even resulted in localising the social and political movements of the later periods. The socio-political developments of a particular region in Kerala at a particular time could not immediately produce response at other regions (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 67,70,71). For example, the resistance of ‘Raja of Pazhassi’ (1793- ‘97 ; 1800-’05) against the British, found no response in other parts of Kerala. Dewan Velu Thampi’s ‘Kundara Proclamation’ of 1809 could produce only limited response in other parts of Kerala. The ‘Kurichya rebellion’ of 1812, against the British was strictly confined to the Wayanad hills. The ‘Mappila revolts’ (1800-1805; 1836; 1855 and 1821), too did not produce any response in other parts of Kerala. Other examples also exist. The nature of the terrain made it difficult to develop roads as means of transportation. Even in 1850, there was not a single road in Travancore, to travel across the entire state. In 1872, there was not a single wheeled vehicle outside Quilon (Jeffrey 16-18).

The 18th century Kerala: Encounter with the Foreigners

When the western trading companies were exerting political influence in Kerala during the eighteenth century A.D., Calicut, Cochin and Travancore were the most powerful principalities. In 1723, the English East India Company adopted the policy of ‘active interference’ in local politics (Logan 16-18). Thus the Company assisted both Marthanda Varma, the King of Travancore and Zamorin, the King of Calicut in their quarrel with the local Chiefs and with the Dutch. The East India Company got a golden opportunity to tighten its grips further on Kerala during the Mysorean invasion of Malabar (Ibid 447). The Mysorean army passed through Malabar without any resistance. In 1757, the Zamorin surrendered before Haider Ali and offered an indemnity of 12,00,000 rupees. Cochin also surrendered without resistance and offered a huge tribute (qtd in Logan 450-51).4 The Mysore rule introduced ‘Land tax’ for the first time in Malabar, in 1766. Like taxation, people also experienced for the first time, subjugation under a centralised political power.5 In the subsequent Anglo-Mysore war, when Tippu Sultan surrendered on February 22, 1792, and when the Treaty of Srirangapatam was signed on 18 March 1792, the English East India Company got control of Malabar (Logan 508, 512 & 522).

Land Relations Under British Rule

On account of the Mysore invasion, the society of Malabar which was functioning within a customary framework was shaken up badly, resulting in chaos and confusion. This enabled the British to interpret according to their convenience, the land relations. The English East India Company created landlordism in Malabar, forgetting all traditional practices, to maintain the British domination by creating a group of elite, who always depended upon them (Logan 654-655). It was based on permanent settlement like the ‘Zamindari’ system which they introduced in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, U.P and other places (Munro 547). The company wanted the landlords to be their agents to preserve their power in Malabar. So, the Company entered into direct relations with them (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 161-65). The British settlement in Malabar was equal to the Mysorean settlement. The Mysore settlement as seen from the British records, was that, 6/20 of the gross product should go to the state, leaving 11/20 to the cultivators and 3/20 to the landlords (qtd in Logan 654-655).6 The collection of land revenue was done by th deputies of the landlords, who always supported the British. But soon the responsibility of revenue collection was taken over by the East India Company. The Princes were given 20% of the revenue collection as ‘Malikhan Allowance’.

The land tenure policy of the English East India Company was based on two factors. First, it was aimed at getting a large share of agricultural produce and land revenue. Secondly, the Company was interested in creating and recognising a few superiors having absolute right on the land, to act as the ‘British agents’ in the region (Munroe 547). During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the cultivated land area in Malabar was only 0.58 million acres. Of that, 0.50 million acres was wetland. Total cultivable land was five million acres (Ward and Connor 4). Before the coming of the Britishers, the ownership of land was shared by the landlord and the tenant. The East India Company changed the old order, made the landlord the absolute owner with the right to evict the tenants. As a result, the tenant became a mere ‘leaseholder’ at the mercy of the landlords (Idem).

The British were more concerned of the revenue from land than class harmony in Malabar. For that, they thought it was better to arm the landlords with more powers than to make the ryots secure in their holdings. Thus began the long period of peasant unrest in Malabar. The landlords, who were hitherto satisfied with a minor share of produce began to claim a larger share and the Company was ready to accede to that demand.

According to the 1805 settlement, the state’s share was fixed as 40%, the landlord’s 26.7% and the cultivator’s 33.3% of the gross produce. The 1805 settlement was increasing the financial burden of the tenants, compared to the Mysorean settlement. The table given is self- explanatory (Varghese 27-29).

Table 1: Land Settlement in Malabar: Mysorean and British

Mysore 1766

East India Company

Difference

State 6/20 (30%)

40.0%

+10.0%

Landlord3/20 (15%)

26.7%

+ 11.7%

Tenant11/20 (55%)

33.3%

-21.7%

Source: Derived from, T. C. Varghese, Agrarian change and Economic Consequences: Land Tenure in Kerala, Calcutta: Allied Publishers, 1970, pp.27-29.

Even the 21.7% of the total produce allotted to the tenant existed only in law. In actual practice, he was left at the mercy of the landlord. The Government did not interfere to check the abuses which the landlords indulged in (Idem). The British including Logan and Baden Powell showed that the earlier British civil servants completely misunderstood the customary land relations which existed in Malabar for centuries (Logan 654-655). The Company tried to introduce British ideas through their courts. The most common methods of tenant exploitation by landlords were through the enhancement of rent, eviction and imposition of renewal of fees (Panikkar 605).

Travancore:

Centralised Monarchy: Better Land Relations

In Travancore, as against Malabar, the growing monarchical power had to suppress the dissident feudal chiefs. To alienate the feudal lords, the tenants were taken into confidence and settlement was done directly with the tenants. As a result, the land relations that evolved in Travancore were more like the ryotwari system than the zamindari system. The East India Company entered into a treaty with Travancore in 1788. By the treaty, Travancore had to pay Rs.78,000 per annum. It was revised in 1805, by which, the amount was raised to Rs. 800,000, in addition, the military expense was to be shared if found essential. The Governor- General was given powers to interfere in the internal affairs of Travancore (Varghese 19).

The land tenure in Travancore was complex. It can be broadly classified into two. I. Jenmom lands and II. Sarkar lands. The Jenmom lands or the lands under landlords were of four kinds, I. ‘Brahmaswoms’ (lands of Brahmins); 2. ‘Devaswoms’ ( lands of temples); 3. ‘Edavakas’ (lands of feudal chieftains) and 4. Lands of royal families. On the basis of taxation, the ‘Jenmom’ lands were further divided into three. 1. The lands which were entirely free from taxation, 2. Originally exempted from taxation but subsequently became taxable and 3. Subject to light demand (Rao 69-71).

The system of land tenure in Travancore was based on ‘ryotwari’ principle of ‘sarkarland’ (Ibid 69). It was a direct settlement with the cultivators. The ‘sarkarland’ consisted of 2/3 of the whole land. There, 156 types of tenures existed (Idem). 1/8 of the ‘sarkarland’ was held by tenants on favourable terms called ‘otti’ and cognate tenures which had the characteristics of direct mortgages from the state. The possession of such lands was diffused all over the households of various castes, except the lowest, though there was a concentration of it in the hands of the caste-Hindus, especially the Nayars (Pillai 374).

The revenue settlement was made in Travancore, in 1751. It allowed the continuance of the existing land tenure, and created confidence in the minds of the ryots in the conquered territories. The assessment fixed was moderate (Rao n.p). In the settlement of 1802, the total amount fixed was less than nine lakh rupees (Ward and Cannor 115). The Government was interested in protecting the tenants of the landlords. At that time, on Jenmom lands, the tenants had no permanent rights. The courts of the Britishers in Madras started giving verdicts by recognising the absolute rights of the landlords. It was against the traditional territorial practices. The immediate result was indiscriminate evictions. To prevent such evictions in Travancore, a Royal Edict was issued in 1829 (qtd in The Jenmi-Kudiyan Committee Report 1).7 It prohibited indiscriminate eviction of tenants and at the same time, ensured the legitimate dues to the Jenmis. In 1865, another proclamation was issued, giving full ownership of the ‘sarkarlands’ to the cultivators (Pillai 337). It conferred ownership rights to the tenants, heritable and salable (Idem). The proclamation of 1865 encouraged the tenants to invest maximum labour and capital on the land, as it assured their permanent possession and ownership. Since the land of the lords was only 20% of the total land, almost the whole agricultural population consisted of tenants and agro-laboureres (Census of India 1910 90). Atleast, 2/3 of the population depended on land (Idem).

Development of the West- coastland: Centre of Social and Political Radicalism

As against the traditional practice of the tenant occupying the land of landlord, in Travancore, the tenant first occupied the wasteland and cultivated it. Only after that, it was made ‘Pandaravaka’ (State property). It is well explained by the seventeenth century satirist poet, Kunchan Nambiar as follows:

If the wasteland is tilled

That too made ‘Pandaravaka’. If it is not submitted to

The tough- men of the revenue office,

They topple down everything. (Nambiar 1253)

The west – coastland, which has occupied by about half the population of Kerala, was an uninhabited wasteland till the eighteenth century (Chacko 14-16). The reclamation of the most important centre of the west–coastland, Alleppey, was started by the Dewan, Raja Kesavadasan and it was continued by the Dewan, Velu Thampi (Menon 13-14; 184-85). Due to the encouragement given by the Government, land hungry peasants, mostly of the lower castes were reclaiming, cultivating and occupying the west-coast land. The new land policy of the Government of Travancore enabled them to plant coconut trees and to own it. Thus the new settlers of the west-coastland became economically influential when the commercial potentiality of coconut increased during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of the original Namboodiri settlements mentioned in ‘Keralolpathi’, only half a dozen existed in Travancore.8 Of those, none existed in the west-coast land. Since there existed no original Nambodiri settlement to preserve casteism, social immobility was not so rigid. Thus new socio-economic forces were released by the changed conditions.

Graph 1

Economic development of Travancore: 1864-1905 The West- coast land; Economic Base

Source: “ Travancore Administrative Report.” In., Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance; Society and Politics in Travancore. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976,p.133.

The marginal financial power based on the cash crop, coconut gave the lower castes of the west-coastland the ability for political bargaining. The Ezhava caste was getting the maximum benefit of it. Ever since 1921, the west-coastland emerged as the centre of social and political radicalism.

Against the general condition of Travancore, in land relations, the condition of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks was different. Ambalapuzha was the former Chempakasseri Principality, which was annexed to Travancore by King Marthanda Varma. The Sherthallai taluk was a gift of Cochin to Travancore. Since the landlords of the region were submissive to the Travancore monarch, no change was effected in land relations. So, the traditional feudal system continued to exist; the landlords lost only political power. At the same time, the outlook of the tenants and the agro-labourers of these taluks underwent radical changes with the clarion call of the social reform movement in the early twentieth century. But the landlords were sticking on to old beliefs. It remained the basic cause of the ‘Punnapra Vayalar revolt’ of 1946 (Infra 376-377).

Cochin: Land Relations

Cochin, the smallest political unit in the region was intermediate to that of Travancore and Malabar in the nature of land ownership and other land rights. In Cochin, monarchy was weak, power was really exercised by the Nayar Chieftain ,‘Paliyath Achan’, the traditional adviser to the King. Landlordism and casteism were more severe in Cochin than in the other two regions (Varghese 20). Cochin too accepted the political supremacy of the English East India Company. In 1791, Cochin entered into a treaty of defence with the Company. Accordingly, Cochin had to pay Rs.100, 000 per annum to the Company. In 1809, it was raised to Rs. 270,000. In 1819, the amount was reduced to Rs.240.000. Many import and export duties were abolished to throw open Cochin harbour for British commerce. As in Travancore, the state attempted to strengthen itself by subduing the Chieftains. But it did not succeed. As a result, only 1/3 of the cultivating land was brought under the state, of which, considerable portion of land was the private property of the King himself (Ibid 19).

In 1812 Colonel Munro, Resident-cum-Dewan, ordered the annexure of lands and properties belonging to about one hundred and seventy-nine temples to the State. In Cochin, the landlords were so powerful that the State would not, in any way interfere with the affairs of their tenants. The pattern of land relations and interests in Cochin during the first half of the nineteenth century were similar to that of Malabar. The only difference was that a considerable part of the land belonged to the State.9

NOTES

1 ‘Keralolpathi’, a Namboodiri legend of Kerala gives a list of thirty two original Brahmin settlements in Kerala. They are,

1. Payyannur 2. Taliparamba 3. Alathiyur

4. Karathur 5. Sukpuram 6. Panniyur

7. Karikattu 8. Isamangalam 9. Trichur

10. Perumanam 11. Chenmanda 12. Iringalakuda

13. Avitattur 14. N. Paravur 15. Airanikulam

16. Muzhikulam 17. Kuzhur 18. Aatur

19. Chengamanad 20. Tirumpupattu 21. Uliyanur

22. Kazhakutanad 23. Erumannur 24. Kumaranallur

25. Chengannur 26. Kaviyur 27. Venmani

28. Niramankara 29. Kadamuri 30. Aranmula

31. Thiruvalla & 32. Kidangoor

Kerala Through the Ages, Trivandrum: Government of Kerala, Department of Public Relations, 1976, pp.24-25.

2 The Hindu religious books regard the violation of caste function a sin. It is so described in the ‘Brahmasutra’ of Sri Sankara (Chapter I, Section 3, topic 9); Uthara Ramacharita of Bhavabhooti (Utharakanda states Lord Rama chopping the head of a Sudra saint Jambuka for violating caste function); In Mahabharata Dronacharya cut off the right thumb of Ekalavya since the study of marital art was against his caste function. Casteism is justified in the several verses of Bhagavat Gita (Chapter I, verses 42-44; Chapter II, verse2; Chapter IV, verses 1 & 13 and Chapter IX, verses 32& 33).

Shea, W. Thomas. Land Tenure Structure of Malabar and Its Influence Upon Capital Formation in Agriculture, A Diss. in South Asia Regional Studies, Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Pennsylvania, 1959, p. 5.

3 Regarding the tenancy of the time, William Logan gives a ninefold classification, such as,

1. Permanent tenure 2. Kanam ordinary 3. Kanam ordinary

4. Otti 5. Otti quasi 6. Lease (verum pattom)

7. Mortgage (panayam) 8.Mortgage for definite period

Logan, William. Malabar Manual. Madras: Government Press, 1951, p.41.

4 Jonathan Dungan, President, First Malabar Commission, evidence taken from the Zamorin in 1793, Asiatic Researches, Vol. V, pp.30-31.

5 Report, Madras Survey and Land Reforms Committee, Vol.II, Madras: Government Press, 1915, p. 41.

6 Sir John Shore, Minutes of Governor-General, “The General and Supplementary Reports of the Joint Commissioners of the Province of Malabar in the years 1782-’93.”

7 Maharaja of Travancore, “Royal Edict, 1829”, quote in, The Jenmi-Kudiyan Committee Report, 1916, Trivandrum: Government Press, p. 1.

8 The six original settlements in Kerala were,

1. Aranmula 2. Chengannur 3. Thiruvalla

4. Kaviyur 5. Venmani & 6. Kidangur

Kerala Through the Ages, Trivandrum: Government of Kerala, Department of Public Relations, 1976, pp.24-25.

9 Cochin Dewan’s Order, Land Revenue Settlement of Cochin. February 8, 1909. Also vide, Krishna Menon, Comp., The Cochin Dewaswom Manual, introd., Ernakulam: Government Press, 1938, para 3.

REFERENCES

Aitchison., Collections of Treaties Engagements and Sanads, Section 3, “Malabar Coast,” Calcutta: Government of India, 1930. Print.

Aiya, V. Nagam. Report on the Census of Travancore, 1881. Trivandrum: Travancore Government P, 1884. Print.

Census of India 1910, “ Travancore”. Report, Delhi: Government of India. Print. Chaitanya, Krishna. A History of Malayalam Literature. New Delhi: Orient

Longman, 1971. Print.

Chacko, I. C. Principles of Geography. n.p., n.d. Print.

Chadwick. Introductory Reports for Taluks: Report of the Madras Lands Reforms Committee Vol.II, Madras: Government P, 1951. Print.

Iyer, Subra. Economic Life in a Malabar Village. Introduction by Gilbert Slater, Bangalore: B.P.P., 1921. Print.

Jeffrey, Robin. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. Print.

Logan, William. Malabar Manual. Trans. T. V. Krishnan et al. Calicut: Mathrubhoomi, 1985. Print.

Manorama Year Book. Kottayam: Manorama Publishing House, 1985. Print. Marx, Karl. Notes on Indian History, 664 A.D to 1858 A.D., 2nd ed., Moscow:

Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947. Print.

Menon, P. Sankunni. History of Travancore. Trivandrum: Government of Kerala Gazeteers, Reprint, 1983. Print.

Munro, Sir Thomas. “Minutes of 1822”, par. 8, Selection of Papers from the East India House. Vol. XIII, 1926. Print.

Nambiar, Kunchan. Thullalkathakal. Malayalam, n. p.:Academy, n.d. Print.

Namboodiripad, E.M.S. Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees lst ed., Trivandrum: Kerala Grandhasala Sahakarana Sangham, 1948. Print.

—. Kerala: Society and Politics; A Historical Survey. New Delhi: NBC, 1984. Print.

—. The Communist Party in Kerala (Mal.), Part I, Trivandrum: Chintha, 1986.

Print.

Panikkar, K. N. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” A.

R. Desai, (Ed.). Peasant Struggles in India. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. Print.

Pillai, T. K. Velu. The Travancore State Manual Vol. IV. Trivandrum : Government P, 1940. Print.

—. The Travancore State Manual, Vol. I. Trivandrum: Government P, 1940.

Print.

Pothuval, A. K. The Story of Peasant Struggles. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1978.

Print.

Ravindran, T. K. Institutions and Movements in Kerala – History. Trivandrum: Charitram, 1978. Print.

Rao, M. R. Krishna. A Revenue Handbook of Travancore. Madras: Addison & Co., 1889. Print.

Rao, Sir T. Madhava. “Land Revenue.” Administrative Report of Travancore 1868.

Trivandrum: Government P, 1868. Print.

Varghese, T. C. Agrarian Change and Economic Consequences: Land Tenure in Kerala. Calcutta: Allied, 1970. Print.

Ward and Cannor. A Descriptive Memoir of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin.

Madras: Survey General’s Office, 1827. Print.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RADICALISM DURING THE PRE-CLASS CONSCIOUS PERIOD

Abstract: This section focuses on the social and political changes that happened during the pre-class conscious period. 1850-1936 C.E. is taken to be the pre- class conscious period in Kerala. This study traces the various socio-spiritual reform movements, agitations and the influence of renaissance leaders of that

period.

Keywords: administrative modernisation, radicalism, socio-spiritual reform movements

1850-1936 A.D. is taken to be the pre-class conscious period in Kerala. From 1860 A.D. the Travancore Government started the ‘administrative modernisation’- abolition of slavery, abolition of ‘uzhiyam’ (forced labour), creation of the P.W.D., introduction of cash economy and salaried labour, increase of export, full ownership rights to tenants, patriarchal family, encouraging English education, industries – coir and plantation and so on. The modernisation brought about a budgetary surplus, the bulk of which was distributed among the high castes. The large majority, the non-caste Hindus were kept away from the benefits. At the same time, modernisation started the process of undermining the semi-tribal feudal system of society. The various castes and communities from the ‘Namboodiri’ to the ‘Pulaya’ were trying to adapt to the changes. Each caste tried to effect modernisation and attempted to gain power by securing maximum Government jobs. In this, the greatest degree of benefit went to the non-Malayali Brahmins. The Christians were benefited by the introduction of cash economy. There was a threat of displacement of the Nayars from their traditional status. Those who were suffering traditional discrimination organised themselves and started agitating for equality. At the same time, the major social groups allied together and started to agitate against the non- Malayali Brahmin domination. It assumed the form of the pioneer movement of the ‘Malayali sub-nationalism’- ‘Malayali Memorial’ of 1891.

The early twentieth century witnessed a spiritual revival based on the ‘Vedantic Thought’, by Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal, Brahmananda Siva Yogi and Vaghbhadananda Guru. They stood for a total change based on ‘Humanism’. It effected radical changes among all social groups. The ‘Civil Equality’ movement, the ‘Temple Entry Agitations’ leading to the ‘Vaikom Sathyagraha’ and the ‘Abstention Movement’ were the radical socio-political agitations which resulted from the revival. With the ‘Temple Entry Proclamation’ of 1936, the leaders of social radicalism almost stopped their anti-Government agitations and started supporting the Government. But the workers and peasants who were already influenced by the radical views of Equality and Freedom left their loyalty to caste leaders and started accepting class leaders with secular outlook, mostly hailing from partitioned Nayar joint-families or from Namboodiri familes. Thus casteism was slowly displaced by class consciousness. Leaders like K. Kelappan, A. K. Gopalan and P. Krishna Pillai were undertaking social issues like ‘Temple Entry’ and gained the heritage of ‘social radicalism’ before organising workers and peasants to raise new demands of ‘political radicalism’. The first mass-based political movement in Malabar was the ‘Congress – Khilafat’ movement which culminated in the ‘Mappila revolt’ of 1921. But basic differences existed between the Congress leaders and the Mappila tenants. So, Congress had to withdraw support to the movement. It resulted in the alienation of the Muslim tenants from the Congress party. Thus the Muslim tenants and workers irrespective of class interest, remained communal and supported the Muslim League.

Travancore: Administrative Modernisation

In 1850, the Travancore Government owed the British Government Rupees six lakhs. The administration was corrupt and incompetent. The Christian missionaries complained of it to the Government of Madras. In 1855, the Madras Governor, Harris recommended to the Governor- General the annexation of Travancore, but Lord Dalhousie refused to interfere (Jeffrey 56-57). In 1860, the British Government asked the Government of Travancore to introduce programmes of modernisation. During the 1860s Dewan Sir. T. Madhava Rao tried to remodel the administration to win a good name with the British Government. It resulted in the administrative modernisation of Travancore with far reaching consequences (Ibid 62-65, 70, 81 & 175; Nayar 19).

In 1854, the Madras Government asked the Travancore Government to free unconditionally all slaves. Cochin immediately responded by abolishing slavery in 1855. On January 24, 1856, Travancore too ended slavery. Till 1860, ‘uzhiyam’ (forced labour) existed in Travancore. It was done by lower castes like Ezhavas, but poor Syrian Christians also did it. In 1854, Resident Munroe had arranged for Christians to be exempted from doing ‘uzhiyam’ for temples. In 1821, Charles Mead won for his Shanar converts the right of exemption from doing ‘uzhiyam’ on Sundays. Proclamation to that effect was issued in 1851. From that time onwards, the converts refused to do ‘uzhiyam’ completely. Gradually, the other lower castemen also refused to do ‘uzhiyam’. The Government at that time did not have the confidence and the ability to use force against them (Jeffrey 48-49, 54-55). By 1857, ‘uzhiyam’ had fallen into disuse. In 1857, when the Government thought of reviving ‘uzhiyam’, Resident Cullen discouraged it. In 1860, the Public Works Department was created and it introduced salaried labour for the first time. Thus forced labour ceased to exist in Travancore. The ultimate result of the abolition of slavery and forced labour was that gradually the lower castes who formed the majority of the proletariats got liberated from the bondage of the tradition of casteism and became bold enough to struggle for the attainment of increased political rights in later times (Ibid 55-56).

The systematic working of the P.W.D. began in 1863. Since the ‘uzhiyam’ had ceased to exist, labour was hard to find. An ordinary ‘cooli’ (labourer) was getting one and a half ‘Annas’ and one meal per day. The wage was raised to four ‘Annas’ per day. The raised wage and regular cash payment solved the labour problem. In the barter economy of Travancore, based on caste restrictions, the introduction of cash payment was beneficial to the labouring classes of various castes to get out of the caste bounds and also to improve their standard of living, though on a limited scale. According to the census of 1872, the labour class formed 18% of the total population. Of that, 27% were Pulayas, 20% were Ezhavas, 15% were Christians, 9% Muslims and 6% Nayars.1 Since the Pulayas were agro-labourers, they were not benefitted by the new development. Ezhavas and Christians, who had the maximum number of workers benefitted greatly by the introduction of cash payment. In 1850, there was not a single good road in the entire state. In 1866, the

P.W.D. had opened 195 miles of road. By 1869, 266 miles of road was developed. In 1872, the ‘Quilon-Shenkotta’ and ‘Kottayam- Peerumed’ roads were developed. The latter linked Kottayam with Madurai. The expenditure of P.W.D. which was only Rs. 38,550 in 1855 rose to Rs.

12.21 lakhs in 1871 (Jeffrey 90-97). It led to the development of Kottayam and the occupation of the wasteland along the road by Syrian Christians.

In the field of commerce too Sir T. Madhava Rao carried out reforms according to the direction of the British Government. In 1860, as per the direction of Resident Malty, the State monopolies in trade, tobacco, pepper, cardamom and other spices were abolished. It led to the development of commerce at Alleppey because smuggling of goods to Cochin stopped. In seven years from 1861-1868, the export of goods increased from Rupees 72 to 78 lakhs (Ibid 95-97).

Sir T. Madhava Rao collected Rupees one and a half crores as the value of land. At that time, the land relations too were suitable due to the ‘socal stagnation’ caused by casteism. The ‘Sarkar Pattomland’ could

Table 1: Travancore Castes 1872: Comparitive Table of Occupations

Occupation

Adult

Males

Brahmin

Nayar

Christian

Muslim

Ezhava

Agriculture

232776 (%

3063 (%

98326 (%

to class 42%) (%

to caste

22%)

54770 (%

14908 (%

to class 6%) (% to

caste

11%)

26891 (%

to class 12%) (%

to caste

7%)

 

to popula-

to class

to class

 

tion 20%)

1%) (to

23%) (%

   

caste 8%)

to caste

     

12%)

Labour

204330

0(…0%)

12491

29573

6582

40405

(Gen)

(% to

(…0%)

(…6%)

(…16%)

(…9%)

(…12%)

 

…18%)

 

(…3%)

(…6%)

(…5%)

(…11%)

Traders

161760

1010

2300

22413

13917

7311

 

(…5%)

(…2%)

(…1%)

(…36%)

(…23%)

(…12%)

   

(…3%)

(…11%)

(…5%)

(…10%)

(…2%)

Men of rank

565775

4857

15676

11078

1094

7393

& property

(…5%)

(…9%)

(…28%)

(…20%)

(…5%)

(…13%)

Learned –

6073

1923

1127

1057

459

233

Profession

(…1%)

(…32%)

(…18%)

(…17%)

(…7%)

(…4%)

   

(…5%)

(…2%)

(…0.1%)

(…3%)

…0.02%)

Government

14703

2157

8647

651

384

92

Service

(…1.2%)

(…15%)

(…59%)

(…4.4%)

(…3%)

(…6%)

   

(…6%)

(…2%)

(…0.14%)

(…3%)

(…0.)

Travancore Castes 1881: Comparative Table of Occupations

 

Adult

Males

Chalien

Shanar

Christians

Hindus

Ezhava

Weaving &

13104 (%

2244

2244

1451

4620

4621

Dress-

to total

(…14%)

(…17%)

(…11%)

(…32%)

(…35%)

making

popu

(…28%)

(…2%)

(…0.3%)

(…3%)

(…1%)

 

0.55%)

         

Astrologers

1145

Brahmin

Nayar

Kaniyan

0

181

 

(…0.55%)

214

219

531

 

(…19%)

   

(…19%)

(…19%)

(…19%)

 

(…0.

   

(…0.58%)

(…0.05%)

(…6%)

 

05%)

   

Thandan

Shanar

Nooliyan

   

Toddy

50240

2004

20606

300

27331

Drawers

(…2%)

(…4%)

(…41%)

(…0.6%)

(…54%)

 

(…)

(…9%)

(…16 %)

(…14%)

(…7%)

Source: 1. Derived from The Census Report, Travancore, 1872, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1876, pp. 253-260.

    1. The Census Report, Travancore, 1881, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1884, pp.192-93,117-20, 205 & 251.

not be sold or mortgaged, nor could a tenant get compensation for his improvements. If a ‘tharavad’ (joint family) held ‘Sarkar Pattomland’, all it could do was to live on it, it had no money value to the land of the family beyond the crop it produced. Tax was paid in kind. Even the most wealthy family had no experience in cash economy. The land was not an asset to the government too. The Government could not sell the land for non-payment of rent, so the collection of rent due was a difficult task. To solve the problem, in 1865, a proclamation was made giving full ownership rights on payment of the land value. Rights were given to holders of 200,000 acres of ‘Sarkar Pattomland’ for the value of rupees one and a half crores (Ibid 88). In 1867, by another proclamation, tenants of the landlords were given security of tenure, thereby curtailing the economic leverage of the landlords against the tenants, who, whether Nayars, Syrians or Ezhavas gained independence and room for political maoeuvre which was unique in Travancore (Idem; Raj xi).

The majority of the people who benefited by proclamations of modernisation in land relations were the Nayars. It resulted in a new dynamism in the social and economic fields. The younger generation demanded the partition of newly owned ‘Sarkar land’ of the joint families for the formation of patrilineal familes, for marriage regulations, etc., which in turn was leading to the emergence of responsible and dynamic unit of family based on individualism. At the same time, when matrilineal joint family got partitioned, a member was getting land which was an asset only if it was properly cultivated. But the Nayar having no experience in doing manual labour, found it difficult to survive. So, the partitioned land was soon mortgaged, and in due course, sold to an enterprising Christian, Muslim or Ezhava. Such men mostly from the Nair community were attracted to radical political ideologies like communism in the 1930s and 1940s (Nair 131-135).

As part of administrative modernisation, only English educated persons were selected to the Government jobs above that of a peon. The rate of literacy in English among various castes was as follows, in 1891. Among Namboodiris it was 27%; Nayars 11% and Ezhavas 1.5%.2 In 1869, sixteen District schools were established. In the same year, King Ayilyam Thirunal laid the foundation stone of the Maharaja’s College, and afterwards told his brother-in-law, “Well, Thampi, I have just laid the foundation stone of anarchy”(Jeffrey 73).

Table 2: Travancore Castes, 1891: Educational Attainment

Community/Caste

1875

1891

Brahmin

27.1%

30.7%

Nayar

11.1%

22.1%

Ezhava

1.5%

6.3%

English Literates

No. of Persons

 
 

Male

Female

Total

Brahmin

318

1

314

Nayar

572

42

614

Christian

534

66

600

Ezhava

15

0

15

Source: Derived from, Report on the Census of Travancore, 1891. Ed. Nagam Aiya V., Madras: Addison & Co., 1894, pp. i. 474 – 477.

The Government of Travancore started encouraging plantations also. Though the crops of Kerala had been a major attraction for foreigners from the fifteenth century onwards, Kerala had no tradition of large gardens devoted solely to export crops. The ryots grew a little pepper and the hill tribes collected wild cardamom and sold it to the State (qtd in Jeffrey 98). In 1860, the State monopoly of spice trade was abolished and European planters were allowed to start the plantation industry. In August 1862, six European planters were given 15118 acres of land for the purpose. In 1871-‘72, the value of coffee export rose to rupees 5.97 lakhs. In 1876- ‘77, it was rupees 9.89 lakhs. By 1891, tea plantations were started. There were forty European planters and about 100 estates covering 37500 acres. By the sale of land the Government got rupees 5.78 lakhs. During the second half of the 19th century, coconut became a cash crop. The value of export of copra doubled and that of coir nearly tripled during 1871-1891 period. The benefit of the development of ‘cash economy’ based on plantation industry in the High Ranges, and the coir industry in Alleppey and its support base of the west-coastland partially went to the Syrian Christians and the Ezhavas respectively(qtd in Jeffrey 106).

Surplus Wealth: Problem of Distribution

The modernisation policies of Madhva Rao made Travancore have a budgetory surplus of rupees five lakhs by 1859- ‘60. But the wealth produced by modernisation was distributed only among caste-Hindus. The large majority of the people were kept away from the benefits of modernisation due to caste disabilities. The attitude of the Government seemed to be that Travancore could develop without altering the basic social relations among various castes and communities. Still, the other castes and communities were also affected by modernisation. Every section rose a little, but the people at the top got the maximum benefit (Nayar 20; Jeffrey 88). The Maharaja’s College, at the apex of the State education system, was more or less a preserve of the caste-Hindus. The non-caste Hindus did not get admission till a few years after Madhava Rao left the State. Even in Trivandrum, the capital of the State, the proclamations removing caste disabilities remained on paper only (Ibid 102).

Though the policies of the Government in education over a short period strengthened the caste-Hindus, their long term result was adversely affecting them. The growth of ‘cash economy’, which was the result of land reforms, large scale plantations, extensive public works and increased trade, undermined the semi-tribal feudal system of society in Travancore. On the other side, the Syrian Christians, Ezhavas and non-Malayali Brahmins who had less burdensome family institutions and who were prepared to attempt new occupations and who had some experience in dealing with money, improved their economic position in relation to the traditional privileged classes like Nayars and Namboodiris (Ibid 103). During the late 19th century, when cash economy was displacing the semi-tribal feudal system of Travancore, various castes and communities were attempting to adapt to the changes. Educational attainments were translated into power in the Government service. The spread of English education undermined the privileges which the non- Malayali Brahmins had traditionally enjoyed. When English education was fixed as the basic qualification for Government service, there was an

Table 3: Travancore 1873: Offices Held by Non-Malayali Brahmins

Name of Office

Brahmins

Total Offices

Executive

3

5

Sardar Court Judge

1

4

Zilla Court Judge

5

11

Huzur Cutchery job

7

14

Licenced Pleader

25

37

Head Master:

   

District Schools

10

17

H.M., Vernacular Schools

17

29

Palace Jobs

7

14

Total

75 (57%)

131

Source: Dervied from, Trivandrum Almanak, Trivandrum: n.p. 1873, pp.51-64.

influx of non- Malayali Brahmins into Travancore displacing the Nayars who traditionally filled the posts in the Government service. At the same time, the Government helped the Nayars to get educated in English schools. In 1861, there were only 269 students in the State. In 1862, it doubled to 517. In 1864, it tripled with Tamil Nayars 517, Malayali Nayars 424, Christians 315, Non-Malayali Brahmins 266, Muslims 37, and Namboodiri 1, total 1560 (qtd in Jeffrey 82).3 The State education system created a network of jobs, patronage and prestige which was reserved for caste-Hindus. The State Schools were closed against the Non-Caste Hindus. Their only hope was the Christian mission schools. The continuing emphasis on educational qualifications awakened expectations even among non-caste Hindus. They asked, if graduates are preferred for Government jobs, why not Ezhava graduates, why not Syrian Christians? (Ibid 82)4

Modernisation Among Nayars

In 1872, Nayars formed 20% of the population of Travancore. Of men of rank and property, they formed 28%. They held 18.5% of learned professions, 59% of jobs in the Government service and 42% of tenants.5

But by the end of the 19th century, they were in a precarious condition. They had to enforce traditional social privileges against the non-caste Hindu pressures and had to bargain for higher jobs against non-malayali Brahmins. The English educated Nayars found that they had to adapt themselves to the new situation of ‘cash economy’ and modernisation. The first M.A. Degree holder, P. Thanu Pillai formed in the 1870s the ‘Malayali Social Union’. Its aim was modernising the Nayar caste. But his hostility with the Brahmins resulted in his transfer to Quilon. In 1883, C. Krishna Pillai formed the ‘Malayali Sabha’.

Table 4: Land Transaction: Travancore, August 1907

Category

Sales in rupees

Mortgages in rupees

Total

in rupees

+ or –In rupees

Nayars Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

1220264

1739607

7640804

8998463

8861068

10738070

– 1877002

Samantas Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

11829

17298

63423

94605

75252

111903

-36651

Christians Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

2244641

1982647

8007137

6698124

9851778

8680771

+1171007

Ezhavas Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

1171197

1053763

4231665

4044083

5392862

5098476

+294386

Shanars Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

308643

303261

1249291

1171664

1557934

1474925

+83009

Source: Report of the Marumakkathayam Committee, Travancore, Trivandrum: Government Press,1908.

It too stood for social reforms and criticised the Government for patronising the Brahmins. The Sabha attacked the Government for excluding the Nayars from the top positions of the administration(qtd in Jeffrey 148-150 & 219).6

The Malayali Memorial, 1891

The Malayali Sabha agitated for the exclusion of Non-Malayali Brahmins from the State administration, in January 1891, in the form of a representation called, ‘The Malayali Memorial’. The ‘Memorial’ was the first mass based political movement in Travancore. It had allies from other castes and communities such as Ezhavas, and Syrian Christians. Dr. P. Palpu and Nidhiri were associated with the ‘Memorial’. It claimed to express the grievances of all Travancoreans (Ibid 219).7 But very soon, a favourable understanding was reached between the Nayar leaders of Trivandrum and the Brahmin Dewan on the question of Government jobs. It inactivated the Nayar organised activity for the time being. But, with the establishment of the Nayar Service Society in 1914, the progressive sections of the Nayar caste were united and it was instrumental in spreading the call for modernisation not only among the Nayars, but even outside it (Idem).

The British of Radicalism and the Nayars

The Cochin Nayar Regulation Act of 1921, The Travancore Nayar Regulation Act of 1925 and The Malabar Matrilineal Act of 1927 resulted in the partition of the joint family among the Nayars. Thus the efforts of

O. Chandu Menon, Kesari Nayanar, C. Sankaran Nayar, C. Krishna Pillai,

K. Kelappan, Changansseri Parameswaran Pillai, Mannathu Padmanabhan and others, for legalising the marriage reform among the Nayars almost materalised (Namboodiripad 248). But it precipitated new problems among the Nayars. The income from the partitioned share was much less than that of the salary of an elementary school teacher. Since the Nayars had no experience of working on land, they could not utilise it for productive purposes. It made them get loans by mortgaging the land, becoming bankrupt, leading to the sale of the land. Thus thousands of young men and women left their native land for a living.8

Though the social reform among the Nayars was sucessfully brought about by the Nayar Service Society, it lacked the machinery to solve the economic crisis that followed the Regulation Acts. It was partly because the Nayars with progressive views like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai had already become nationalists. They thought only a national Government could solve the economic problems and regarded communalism as unpatriotic. The position was also aggravated by the Christians playing minority politics. The N.S.S. leaders like Mannathu Padmanabhan and leaders of the Cochin Nayar Samajam tried to inflame Nayar communalism against the Christians. It was possible because the Christians who benefited by the cash economy were purchasing the partitioned land of the Nayars. Thus the N.S.S. began competing with the Christians to achieve parity in establishing schools, banks, estates etc. This kind of competition for parity among Nayars, Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims has emerged as a permanent socio-political factor in Kerala politics (Namboodiripad 250).

The failure to outdo the Christians resulted in hatred and frustration among the Nayars which had its reflection in politics. When the Travancore State Congress started agitating for responsible Government, the N.S.S. supported the ‘Dewan’s rule’ and accused the State Congress of being a party dominated by the Christians. It propagated that the Congress Government would result in the domination of the Christians. When a secret fraction of the Communist Party of India (C.P.I) was formed in Kerala in 1937, at Calicut, the three out of the four members, (P. Krishna Pillai, K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar) were from the partitioned joint families of Nayars (Infra 318).

Modernisation Among Ezhavas

The Ezhavas (Thiyars) of Kerala form 22.2 % of the total population and they are the single largest social group. In ritual status, they were just below Nayars and above other non-caste Hindus. Though they were untouchables and were denied formal education in public schools, according to the 1872 census report, 13% of the ‘men of rank and property’, 4% of ‘learned profession’, 19% of ‘astrologers’ were Ezhavas. At the same time, 54% of the ‘toddy drawers’, 35% of the ‘weavers and dress makers’, 12% of ‘agriculturists’, 12% of ‘traders’ and 20% of the ‘labourers’ belonged to the Ezhava caste. But, in the Government service, their representation was only 0.02%.9 The growth of cash economy opened up areas where Ezhavas could profitably employ themselves. Traditionally, they were dryland cultivators and planters of coconut trees. When the cash-economy developed, their traditional occupation was becoming an economic asset. That was different from the case of other non-caste Hindus like potters or black-smiths to whom the greater availability of factory-made goods in the nineteenth century was harmful to their existence (Jeffrey 141).

The West coastland is predominantly occupied by Ezhavas. The new land policy of Dewan Madhava Rao (Proclamations of 1865 and 1867) enabled them to occupy the wasteland and to plant coconut trees. Since there existed no original settlements of Namboodiris in the West- coastland, the Brahminical influence was comparatively nil in the region (Supra 51;n 66). The Ezhavas of the West-coastland became economically powerful when the commercial potentiality of coconut increased gradually during the later part of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century and when the trading centre of Alleppey began to prosper. The marginal financial power based on the cash crop, coconut, gave Ezhavas of the West-coastland room for political manoeuvre which took the shape of long agitations for social and political equality, which lasted till 1936.

From 1884 onwards, the British Government was getting petitions from the Ezhavas about caste discrimination (Palpu 3). The ‘Malayali Memorial’ stated the following about the Ezhavas and the public service:

…worse than all, there is not a single member of the Thiya community holding a Government appointment on rupees five or upwards a month in the State, though intelligent and educated men are not wanting among them…(Ibid; qtd in Jeffrey 142)10

The Ezhavas suffered many caste disabilities and they were aware of it. In 1870, the British Resident wrote:

There can be no doubt that the spirit which prevented Ezhavas from keeping milk cows, from using oil mills, metal vessels and umbrellas, from wearing shoes and any coarse clothes and ornaments is still alive and active in many parts of the country. (qtd in Jeffrey 143)11

The Ezhavas could worship only inferior deities like, ‘Mariamman’, ‘Yakshi’, ‘Karuppaswami’, ‘Madan’, ‘Bhoodathan’ etc. They could not have ‘Maha Temple’, but could have only ‘Paycoils’, ‘Ammancoils’, and ‘Elangom’ (Aiya 1876).

P. Palpu (1861-1950) was the pioneer of the ‘Civil Rights’ movement in Travancore. His father was denied the right to write the test to the pleadership examination on caste grounds. Palpu’s brother,

P. Velayudhan, who was a Deputy Collector in the Civil Service of the Madras Government, had applied for a job in Travancore in 1882, when he passed the B.A. Degree, but it was denied on caste basis. Palpu was denied admission to the medical education though he secured second position in the test in 1884. Later, he qualified himself as the first L. M. & S. degree holder from Travancore and applied for a job. He too was denied job on caste grounds. He entered into the Mysore Government service and became the Director of the Lymph Institute. He identified himself with the disabilities of his caste and started constitutional agitation against the caste policy of the Government of Travancore, which denied Civil Rights to the vast majority of the people. In this task, he got the support of G. P. Pillai, T. M. Nayar and K. P. Sankara Menon, who were the leaders of the ‘anti-Brahmin movement’ of the time (Gangadharan 1,8).12

Palpu was the third signatory of the ‘Malayali Memorial’ which was the first democratic agitation for popular rights in Travancore. Palpu sent a series of petitions of grievances to the Dewan Shungra Soobyer and in 1896, he submitted the ‘Ezhava Memorial’ to the Government of Travancore with 13,176 signatures. He made representations to the Madras Government, and also made arrangements for raising the issue of discrimination in the Madras Assembly. He made G. P. Pillai to go to England with a letter of introduction from Sister Nivedita to Herbert Roberts M. P., to ask questions in the Parliament about the treatment of depressed classes in Travancore. In 1885 in the National Social Conference held in Poona, G. P. Pillai, a close friend of Palpu, introduced a resolution on the issue of conversion of lower castes to Christianity due to social discrimination in Hinduism. As a result of those efforts, Dewan Shungra Soobyer agreed to Palpu’s demand to open the doors of Public Service in a limited fashion for Ezhavas. He said in February 1886:

…your community has a reasonable complaint …. excluding the community from Public Service, tends to increase the number of converts… Government is prepared to admit … your community where native Christians and Mohamedans are now entertained… the Thiya may get into police, P.W.D., Medical, Educational and … in Judicial Departments except Revenue. No endorsement describing the policy of the Government can be given, it is objectionable…(Ibid 28)

In 1924, he wrote to the British Prime Minister, Ramsay Mc Donald on behalf of the ‘working and depressed classes’ (Balakrishnan 98-106).

Socio-Spiritual Reform Movement:

Militant in Spirit, Non-violent in Action

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and by the beginning of the twentieth century, a revolutionary transformation was taking place in the society of Kerala. During that period, Kerala witnessed a profound awakening of ‘Humanism’ which expressed itself in a number of socio- spiritual reform movements, militant in spirit but peaceful and nonviolent in action. The revival movement was spearheaded by three great ‘Rishis’ (Saints) of traditional style, ie., Sree Narayana Guru (1856-1928), Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal (1854-1924) and Brahmananda Siva Yogi (1852-1929). These ascetic geniuses did the magic work of transforming the human beings of Kerala who were living like worms due to the cruel caste based feudal oppression that lasted for a period of thousand years, into a people with self-respect. Since that great change involved the revival of the ancient Vedanta philosophy and its application into practical life, recognising the dignity of individual, humanism and progress by attacking the fedual superstitions, it is aptly called, the ‘Renaissance Movement’ in Kerala. One important feature of the movement deserves specific mention – it awakened the masses to liberate themselves from bondage. As a result, common men of all castes, from Namboodiris to Pulayas, underwent fundamental changes in their outlook and activities so that, it paved the way for the evolution of a progressive-minded society in Kerala. In short, due to the above changes, the static, ritualistic, superstitious Kerala, which was once called by Swami Vivekananda a ‘lunatic asylum’, regenerated into a dynamic, worldly, rational and progressive minded Kerala.

Sree Narayana Guru Movement

Engels said, “Any movement that wants to do goodness to a people who are deeply immersed in spiritualism, have to take the cover of a religion” (qtd in K. Maheswaran Nayar 208). In Kerala the ‘Sree Narayana Guru Movement’ was serving such a role. Even before the clarion call of Marx and Engels for the ‘unity of workers all over the world’ reached India, Narayana Guru organised the downtrodden people of Kerala and gave the inspiring slogan, ‘Organise and be Strong’ (Ibid 87).13 The Guru had deep knowledge of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil, but knew no English. He is often called ‘the central pillar’ of the Cultural Renaissance in Kerala. The outstanding literary critic of Malayalam, Joseph Mundasseri qualified him as the ‘Polestar’ of the literary revolution and the ‘poet of poets’ (Nayar, Sree Narayana Guru, Religion & Marxism 87). The Guru has to his credit fifty two poetic works. He imbibed in himself all the spiritual and worldly traditions of Vedic knowledge, otherwise called ‘Practical Advaita’.

The whole of India and Kerala in particular were badly in need of a ‘Gospel of Liberation’. The existing feudal beliefs

in spirituality and asceticism made man reject worldliness. The rich caste-Hindus made the non-caste Hindus who formed the vast majority live like cattle and made them believe that their destiny was unchangeable. It was here that Narayana Guru turned to be a rebel (Sreedharan 2). The Guru stated that the basic knowledge of Vedanta is not to get rid of worldliness but to reform it to higher evolution. He commanded and fought for the basic ‘human rights’ of millions who were denied those opportunities. Thus his greatest achievement was in moulding the Indian concept of the ‘Theology of Liberation’ by smelting the entire Indian spiritual thoughts (Ibid 2). Narayana Guru’s ‘Liberation Philosophy’ embraces the entire humanity in all its aspects. It visualises a harmonious relation between the individual and the society, and leads man to the highest stage of evolution of wisdom. He said, “Time and place always precipitate a chief problem over other problems… Today, India needs what? Liberation from the rivalries of religions and castes” (Damodaran 59-60).

With the domination of the Brahmins, the basic values of human love and compassion disappeared from social life. Instead, the value created was, ‘worship of Brahmin’. Faith in rebirth made man merciless to the underdogs of society. The suffering men were believed to be men of ‘sinful origin’.14 The Guru went down to such a barren society to re- establish lost human values. In 1887, he preached his ‘Liberation Philosophy’ of ‘wiping out tears of the ignorant, the sick and the suffering’. That mission was well explained in the following four verses which he composed in 1887.

The sun has already risen, displacing the moonlight; Before fully immersing me, in that ocean of light,

I have to baptise millions;

Full of ignorance, disease and drunkenness.

(My translation) (Guru, “Subrahmanya Keerthanam” 72)

Here, the Guru proclaims the goal of his spiritual attainment as the liberation of the ignorant, the sick and the suffering. That vision was quite new to the traditional belief of the Hindu society. On the basic values of non-violence and compassion, he wrote three poems – ‘Ahimsa’, ‘Jeevakarunya Panchakom’ and ‘Anubhava Dasakom’. In 1887 itself, Guru projected one Upanishad, ‘Isavasyopanishad’, the opening stanza of which contained the question of accumulation of wealth. It says:

Since the Universal power resides everywhere, In everything, wherever worldly,

You sacrifice everything and live detached, Wealth is nobody’s. (Yati 9-11)

The Guru wanted every man to educate himself and be free. Even his concept of God is the ‘Arivilum Aeriya Arivu’ (Higher Knowledge of all Knowledges). In 1887, he wrote a poem of fifteen stanzas about ‘Arivu’ (Knowledge). Wherever he established temples, schools, libraries and workshops too were established. Later, he told people that no more temples were needed and instead, they can have schools to spread knowledge. His message for education was well responded to by the people. Even the downtrodden got educated. The call of the Guru, to “Educate and be Free” and “Organise and be Strong’, were taken with such missionary spirit that the labourers of Ambalapuzha – Sherthallai taluks achieved the highest literacy rate. There, by 1941, the general literacy rate shot up to 65%. Among the Ezhavas who formed 80% of the labourers of Alleppey – Sherthallai, the Sree Moolam Assembly recorded, “Most of them are able to read and some of them are able to edit newspapers. Many of them deliver splendid lecturers. Some of them are even able to compose beautiful poems in Malayalam” (Jeffrey, “India’s Working Class Revolt: Punnapra Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946’’ 103-04).

In 1888, Guru installed a ‘Sivalinga’ at Aruvipuram and declared his vision in four lines:

This is the ideal place wherein, Everyone lives in fraternity.

With no difference of caste,

Nor religious hatred. (My Translation)

With the installation of the Sivalinga, the Guru silently violated the thousand year old ritualistic monopoly of the Brahmins for the installation of noble gods, Sanskritised rituals and ‘Maha Temples’ (Great Temples). His temple at Tellichery named, ‘Jaganatha Temple’ was built in lines with the great Brahmin temple of Banares. It is a wonder how the Brahmins and the theocratic Government of the time could tolerate the Guru. Even after pollution was made unconstitutional by the Government of free India in 1982, the Brahmin disciple of Narayana Guru, Swami Ananda Theerdhan was fatally beaten down in the Guruvayur temple when he tried to participate in the Brahmin feast without wearing the ‘poonul’ (Holy thread) (Supra 104-07).15

Though the Guru selected the Ezhava caste as his immediate field of action, he never believed in casteism. What he did to Ezhavas became a model for other castes to copy. To disprove casteism, in 1914, he wrote the poem, ‘Jatinirnayam’ (Deciding caste) (Guru 487).16 In another poem, ‘Jatilakshanam’, Guru explains the symptoms of caste. All that have sexual intercourse and reproduce form is one caste. They remain in pairs. Each is a species with distinct body, sound, smell, fluid and temperature. Tell not caste, the body tells the caste. Humanity belongs to one caste. All emerged from the great ‘Ocean of Knowledge’. Each individual is like water that forms part of the ocean. Each kind is moulded by a master sculptor. He makes new moulds too, it is an unending process. Each kind is separately mentioned since difference in consciousness exists. Once the difference disappears, all are the same (Guru, “Jatilakshanam” 491).

Guru and the S. N. D. P. Yogam

With Narayana Guru as its President, the Aruvipuram S. N. D. P. Yogam was registered as a limited Company in March 1903. Differences of opinion exist about the role of the Guru in its establishment. There is a view that, the Guru just gave his consent to be its President, and had no active role in its creation or working. According to Moorkoth Kumaran, one of the devoted non-sanyasi disciples of the Guru:

…the bye-laws of the S.N.D.P. Yogam were read out to the Guru by Kumaran Asan. Guru objected to the purpose of the organisation being confined to the Ezhavas. He wanted it to be changed to, ‘the community of human family’. But the activists of the Yogam, mostly Ezhavas, thought it was not pragmatic or feasible to have such a goal as the basis of the Yogam. When the Guru found that they were incapable of such a wide vision, he gave his blessings, with the hope that someday they would realise the narrowness of their tribal affinity. (qtd in Omana 27-28)17

On verifying the original (unpublished) records for registering the

S.N.D.P. Yogam with the Government as a limited Company in March 1903, the following facts can be derived. The Government file contains two parts. Part I contains the Bye-laws and the proceedings. The Bye- laws contain sixteen clauses. None of the clauses speaks of any caste. The sixteenth clause clearly states the ‘casteless’ nature of the organisation. Below the sixteenth clause the signature of the Guru can be seen with those of ten other original share holders. There are two witnesses to the Bye-laws and Proceedings. The first witness is N. Kumaran Asan and the second witness is P. Narayana Pillai, a close disciple of the Guru. But Part II of the file gives a different picture. It is an application to the Dewan of Travancore to register the S. N. D. P. Yogam as a limited company by two persons – P. Parameswaran of Pettah and Marthandan Krishnan. There, the caste objective of the organisation is clearly given: “promoting and encouraging religious and secular education and industrious habits among the Ezhava community.” It closes with the order of the Dewan to issue the licence of the Yogam as a limited Company to the applicants, P. Parameswaran and Marthandan Krishnan.18

The Guru felt that the S. N. D. P. Yogam should function as the vanguard of his ‘Liberation Movement’. But as the leadership of the Yogam could not rise upto the expectations of the Guru; it could work only as a ‘caste organisation’. So the Guru issued a public statement in 1916, denouncing caste connections and sent a letter of resignation from the S. N. D. P. Yogam to P. Palpu. The two statements are:

We have no caste

Advaidasramam, Alwaye

1091 Edavam 15.

A few years have passed since we left all caste differences.Yet,

some particular caste treats us as one who belongs to their caste. Therefore, it is understood that several people misunderstood our reality.

We belong to no specific caste or religion. Regulations are made only for such disciples who have no caste or religion to become our descendants.

These things are published for the information of the public.

(Signed)

Narayana Guru19

Advaidasraman,

22 May, 1916

To

Dr. Palpu, L.M.S., D.P.H.

My dear Doctor,

Since the decisions of the Yogam are passed without our knowledge and the Yogam shows no consideration to the affairs relating to us and the Yogam has an increasing ‘caste pride’, as earlier, it has no place in our mind; now it is left from our words and actions.

(Signed)

Narayana Guru20

The traditional society of Kerala confined itself to the limited circles of castes and sub-castes. Only a fractional minority could rise above the narrow limits of casteism. The Sanyasi-disciples of Narayana Guru were such men of high ideals. They belonged to different castes and religions. Majority of them were caste-Hindus, from Brahmins to Nayar. His first sanyasi-disciple was a Nayar named, Kochappi Pillai, who was known as Sivalinga Swamikal. His last disciple Swami Anandatheerdhan, who passed away in 1987, belonged to an aristocratic Brahmin family. Another disciple, Chaitanya Swamikal, formerly known as Narayana Pillai, was a Nayar. He was an original signatory to the Bye-laws and Proceedings of the S.N.D.P.Yogam. He was so trusted by the Guru that the ‘power of attorney’ of the Guru’s properties was given in his name, ignoring the protests from the leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam. Another disciple, Dharmatheerdha Swamikal was formerly Advocate Parameswara Menon, who also was a Nayar. He was a leading lawyer of Trichur. He wrote the first biography of the Guru in English. ‘Satyavrada Swamikal’ was the right-handman and the spokesman of Guru. He was named to be the successor of the Guru. Formerly his name was Ayyappan Pillai. He too was a Nayar. The Christian disciple was Ernest Kirk, an English man (Upendran 196-202). Columbil Khadar was his Muslim disciple. Another close associate was, Aziz Musliar, a Muslim scholar, the Guru wanted Musliar to teach the Holy Koran at Sivagiri (Hameed npg).21

The Sanyasi-disciples of Narayana Guru were not hermits. They moved from village to village, preaching the new message of liberation: ‘Educate and be Free’, ‘Organise and be Strong’ ‘Making Libraries and Literary Centres’, ‘Opening Schools and Industries’, ‘Propagating Dignity of Labour’, ‘Abstention from Alcoholic Drinks’, ‘Propaganda Against Evil Customs and Superstitions’, ‘Anti-Caste Movements’, ‘Inter- Dining and Inter-Marriages’ etc. These calls got wonderful reception from the underdogs of society. Satyavrada Swamikal, having resemblance to Swami Vivekananda in appearance and speech inflated enthusiasm among the youth of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. For the revolutionary volunteer force, ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’, Swamikal was a great source of inspiration. In the biography of the late Communist leader, R. Sugathan, Puthupally Raghavan says that the publication of ‘Satyavrada Swamikal, Navajeevan helped very much in the spreading of socialist ideas among the labourers of Alleppey and Sherthallai. At that time, he was a regular speaker in the meetings of the labourers. Articles about socialism, the biography of Lenin, studies about Soviet Union etc., regularly appeared in the Navajeevan of Satyavrada Swamikal and Sahodaran of K. Ayyappan (Raghavan 22). To the instructions of the Guru, Swamikal organised the World Religious Conference at Alwaye, which was the first of its kind in Asia. It was Satyavrada Swamikal who introduced the leaders of the lime shell workers of Kumarakom to T. K. Madhavan. Those workers were suffering from slave like life under the monopolist, one Kuncheria. T. K. Madhavan organised them, terminated the monopoly with the help of the Government and organised the ‘Lime Shell Workers’ Co-operative Society’.22

Besides the Sanyasi-disciples, the Guru had disciples of familymen. The chief among them were, the great poet Kumaran Asan, Dr. Palpu, C.

V. Kunjuraman, T. K. Madhavan, Sahodaran Ayyappan, C. Kesavan, Moorkoth Kumaran and C. Krishnan. Of the second category of disciples, the majority were active leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam who worked for the betterment of the Ezhava caste. They used the spiritual influence of the Guru in the interests of the caste. It made the Guru resign from the Yogam in 1916. But the unselfish devotion, sincerity and dedication of T.

K. Madhavan to the teachings of the Guru, once again moved the Yogam close to the Guru. When T. K. Madhavan became the General Secretary of the Yogam, he gave assurance to the Guru that, he would enlist as members in the Yogam, people of all castes and communities and that the Yogam would work for the uplift of the downtrodden (Madhavan 281). S.N.D.P. Yogam under T. K. Madhavan took interest in labourers. As part of the annual meeting of the Yogam in 1917 at Quilon, a labour conference was held. The conference was presided over by T. K. Madhavan. It was the first labour conference in Kerala (Idem). In 1927, the Yogam workers of Kuttanad requested through a resolution to T. K. Madhavan that the Yogam must interfere in the labour problems of Kuttanad (Ibid 321-322). That might be because, the agro-labourers were mostly low caste people – Ezhavas and Pulayas. Very soon, the first agro- labour strike took place in Kuttanad, at the direction of T. K. Madhavan.23 At that time, most of the labour leaders of Alleppey – Sherthallai region worked in the S.N.D.P. Yogam and its supplementary organisations. Such organisations were the ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’, ‘Karappuram Sahodara Samajam’ etc. About the Communist leader, R. Sugathan, it was said:

The entire time after teaching in the school, Sreedharan (original name of Sugathan) spent in activities of the S.N.D.P. Yogam and anti-pollution work. In Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks, apart from the Yogam, other organisations such as, ‘Sahodara Samajam’, ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’ etc., worked actively. Under the banner of those organisations, public meetings were held daily. (Raghavan 23)

About the relation between the Yogam and the labourers, the once trade union leader and the General Secretary of the Yogam, V. K.Velayudhan says:

Since 90% of the Alleppey-Sherthallai coir factory workers were Ezhavas, it happened that the Yogam took some interest in the labourers. The Alleppey labour was represented in the S.N.D.P. Yogam Board. As the representatives of the labourers, two persons were taken in the Board of the Yogam. I remember, they were C. K. Velayudhan and R. Sugathan. (quoted in Raghavan 47)

After his resignation from the S.N.D.P. Yogam in 1916, Narayana Guru spent most of his time in the Advaita Ashram at Alwaye. From 1917 onwards K. Ayyappan was building a non-caste organisation, ‘The Sahodara Samajam’ (Brotherhood Organisation), with the blessings of the Guru. It stood for ‘Inter-Dinning’ and ‘Inter-Marriage’. Demonstrations with the slogans, “Truth, Equality, and Freedom”, making propaganda meetings at public places and burning the effigy of ‘caste-demon’ were frequent. These were carried out daily. The anniversary of the ‘Brotherhood Movement’ was held at the Advaida Ashram campus in 1921, presided over by Narayana Guru. The local police gave a detailed report to the Commissioner of Police about it. The report is indicative of the degree of awareness the teachings of Narayana Guru could generate at the grass-roots level, and how much the Government and the caste-Hindus were afraid of it.24

Vidyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal

The original genius of Kerala revived itself in Vidyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal. Swamikal laid the foundation for the cultural, literary and spiritual revival in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Like John the Baptist who paved the way for the activities of Jesus Christ, Swamikal prepared the ground for the work of Narayana Guru (Guru, “Guruvarul” 842). In those days, the Brahmins branded the Nayars as Sudras and denied them spiritual knowledge. Through his authoritative works, Swamikal wiped out the inferiority complex of the Nayar caste, made them aware of their ancient rich heritage and exposed the falsehood of ‘Smritis’ of the Brahmins. With the purpose, Swamikal wrote, ‘Vedadhikara Niroopanam’ and ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 26).

Swamiji’s first work, ‘Christumathaschedanam’ was published in 1890 (Swamikal 9). In Kerala, the role of the ‘Vaisya’ caste was performed by the Christians. They had special rights and were called, the ‘Pancha Varna’ (Fifth caste) (Logan 283-289). With the British rule, the Christian influence further increased. Missionary activity became very strong. They started to ridicule the Hindu religion (qtd in Swamikal 9). With the change in the land relations in Travancore, the power of the feudal chiefs declined. The Nayars were their traditional supervisors. When the power of the landlords declined, the wealthy Christians started buying the land and the Nayars had to accept their domination in some area of Travancore. This created problems of intolerance. For example, in Poonjar, though a princely family was once dominant there, when the Hindus tried to stage the story of Ramayana, the Christians objected, resulting in the killing of ten Hindus (Nayar, Autobiography Vol. I. 246- 247). Even Chattambi Swamikal was once blocked on his way to the Ettumannur temple and the temple was ridiculed as a ‘dungeon hell’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 26).25 It was in that circumstance, Swamikal published the ‘Christumataschedanam’.

Based on deep scholarly and rational analysis, Swamikal wrote the ‘Vedadhikaraniroopanam’ (Critical Analysis of the Authority to Study Vedas). It uprooted the traditional religious sanction that prohibited the vast majority from acquiring knowledge. Even the great poet of Malayalam literature, Thunchathu Ezhuthachan composed his classic work, ‘Ramayana’, apologetically since his caste had no religious sanction to learn, teach or hear spiritual knowledge (Pillai, “Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal” 35). The ‘Vedadhikaraniroopanam’ called for a ‘Universal Declaration of Knowledge’. To quote Swamikal:

… Lastly, does anybody accept when it is prohibited that the Sudras should not eat? If food is essential for survival of any living being, for man then, knowledge is equally essential. So, knowledge should not be denied, nobody has the right to do so. If the greatness of the Vedas is diminished by Sudras learning it, how long will its greatness last? Like nothing can make fire impure, whoever may study Vedas, it remains pure, its greatness never decreases. So without dogmatism, knowledge should be imparted to everyone’s desires. (qtd in Ibid 36)26

After establishing the right of the Vedic knowledge for Sudras, he ordained that the Sudras having Vedic knowledge can establish temples and idols. His motive was to democratise the Hindu religion. He had a practical scheme for that, ‘The Advaita Chinda Padhati’. To make the Hindu religion reach the non-Brahmin masses, Swamikal made his disciple Neelakandatheerdhapada Swamikal write two ritualistic books, ‘Devarchana Padhadi’ and ‘Aachara Padhadi’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 48).

The ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ which was published in 1913, marked the dawn of analytical research in the study of Kerala History. It inaugurated an intellectual revolution at the time. That great work pulled up and liberated, by revealing the history of a glorious past to a large majority of people who were living a shameful life for several centuries under Brahminical domination (Thirumulpad 2 & 3).27 Swamikal analyses one by one all the Namboodiri tales about Parasurama’s Kerala in the light of ‘Puranas’ (Epics), history and reason and threw them to the winds. The conclusion of the work can be listed as follows: 1. The land of Kerala is not a creation of Parasurama, he neither brought the Brahmins to Kerala nor did he make any gift of land, 2. Even before the Brahmins went to Kerala, it was occupied by a set of highly cultured people, they were ‘Nayars’ or ‘Nayakas’ (Leaders), 3. The ancient people were not affected by ‘Chatur Varna’, (Four fold Casteism), there was no casteism, 4. The original language of Kerala was Tamil and the people were Dravidians (Pillai, “Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal” 34 & 35). Thus Swamikal authoritatively denied the so-called Brahminical domination of ancient Kerala. Falsification of the Parasurama legends about Kerala and the glorification of an ancient past for the non-Brahmins provoked the conservative caste-Hindus. The then Dewan of Travancore, P. Rajagopalachari, Prof. Raja Raja Varma and the then Director of State Education, Rengaswami Iyyengar tried in vain, before Swamikal to challenge the ‘thesis’ of ‘Pracheena Malayalam’, at the residence of Mr. Iyyengar (Ibid 40). Pracheena Malayalam created ‘caste-pride’ among the Nayars. The pride that it radiated in the Nayar elite like Sir.

C. Sankaran Nayar and C. Krishna Pillai made them to declare loudly that Nayars are ‘Nayakars’. Sir C. Sankaran Nayar, who was to preside over the Amaravathi session of the Indian National Congress in 1897, on his journey to the north, found that the Brahmin Congressmen were refusing to dine with him by falsely identifying Nayar to Sudra (Menon 35).28 Instead of Sudras, the caste name ‘Nayar’ was adopted in the official documents of Travancore because of the awareness given by the ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ to the Nayar elite like C. Krishna Pillai (Pillai, Complete Works of Mannam 70).

Brahmananda Sivayogi & Vagbhadananda Guru

Brahmananda Sivayogi, whose original name was Govinda Menon, was born in Alathur in 1852. In 1907, he organised the youths by imparting rational thinking to fight against superstitions and blind faith. He questioned ‘God’, ‘idol worship’, ‘casteism’, and ‘religion’. ‘Human creativity’, ‘mental purity’, ‘human brotherhood’ and ‘cultural dynamism’ were upheld. The teachings of Sivayogi became popular during the life time of his disciple, Vagbhadananda Guru (Gopalakrishnan, “Brahmananda Sivayogi” 39-42).

Vagbhadananda Guru (1885-1940) too wanted to bring about social change by getting inspiration from the Vedanta philosophy. He boycotted temples and idols since the vast majority were kept away from temples and a minority owned them and benefited by them. In 1920, he founded an organisation for social change, ‘The Atmavidya Sangham’. It published newspapers and a magazine named, ‘Atmavidya Kahalam’, ‘Yajamanan’ & ‘Abhinava Kerala’ (Baby 48-50). Through Admavidya Sangham several youngsters entered the national movement. Communists like M. Kumaran Master said that the Sangham and its newspapers made them fight against casteism and helped them to become gradually communists. In politics, the Sangham actively supported the Civil Disobedience Movement, for which the Guru was seriously warned by the Government (Kurup, “Revolutionary Philosopher” ii). Influenced by Vagbhadananda, in 1935, A.V. Kunjambu organised the ‘Abhinava Yuvak Sangham’. It was organising the workers and peasants to agitate during 1930s, which later merged into the Communist movement. The first anniversary of the Sangham was convened in April 1936 at Karivallur. It was presided over by Vaghbhadananda and attended by peasant activists like Keraleeyan and Vishnubharatheeyan (Kurup, Modern Kerala 97).

The society of north Malabar was well prepared by the progressive thoughts of Vagbhadananda to receive the seeds of Marxism (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 260). When a Harijan worker in a tile factory of Feroke was beaten to death, K. P. Gopalan started hunger strike in front of the factory. In support of the strike, Guru made a speech, criticising capitalism and the oppressive Government. He said:

One who keeps with him a little money of four annas (1/4 of rupee) makes another to starve. Those who keep with them, large amount of wealth make more people to starve. Nobody has the right to accumulate wealth, which is to be spent for the common happiness of humanity. Mother nature has given her resources for all, hence all must have equal rights. This is the message of Bharata, the land of sages. (Kurup, Modern India 97)

To give employment to the members of the Sangham, a cooperative society was established at Ooralukal in Badagara. Many of the activities of the Sangham, like the movement against untouchability, Harijan upliftment, inter-dining and inter-marriage were later adopted by the Communist Party. Such a programme was the ‘Kuli’ agitation of the Communist Party in 1946, in the Badagara region (Kurup, “Revolutionary Philosopher” ii).

The S.N.D.P. Yogam Agitates for Civil Equality

Since the Ezhavas form the most populous community, and they were the sufferers of caste traditions, their awareness to fight for equality was taken as the progressive movement of that time, which helped to bring about social and political changes in Kerala. Their leaders, Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan, C. V. Kunjuraman, T. K. Madhavan,

K. Ayyappan, C. Krishnan, Moorkothu Kumaran, C. Kesavan etc. were the torch-bearers of the S.N.D.P. movement and created the history of Travancore from 1903-1936. From its origin in 1903, The S.N.D.P. Yogam articulated demands for ‘Civil Equality’. The politicisation of the Yogam started with the demands for ‘Civil Equality’ in 1918, leading to the ‘Temple-Entry Movement’, ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’ and reaching its heights in the ‘Abstention Movement’ (1932-1936). After the victory of the ‘Abstention Movement’, the Travancore State Congress was formed in 1938 to agitate for ‘Responsible Government’. The support of the S.N.D.P. Yogam to the agitations of the State Congress lasted only upto 14 August 1939. On that day, the yogam decided to withdraw from active politics to satisfy the interests of the English educated elite who wanted to secure favours of the Government. From that day onwards, the already politicised working class in the Yogam lost a confidence in caste leaders. Very soon, when the Kerala branch of the C.P.I. was formed, the drain of the mass base of the S.N.D.P. Yogam to the Communist Party started. The process was well explained by the party theoretician and one of the founder members of the Kerala branch of the C.P.I., K. Damodaran, “Now, Narayana Guru’s great anti-feudal tradition leads not the S.N.D.P., but the Communist Party” (Damodaran 1952).

The publications like, ‘Desabhimani’ by T. K. Madhavan, ‘Sahodaran’ by K. Ayyappan, ‘Vivekodayam’ by the S.N.D.P. Yogam, ‘Kerala Kaumdi’ by C. V. Kunjuraman, ‘Mithavadi’ by C. Krishnan etc. could consolidate the oppressed castes and create strong public opinion against discrimination. In 1905, some Government schools were opened to non-caste Hindus. In 1910, further thirty-five schools were opened to them. By 1917 of the total 2036 Government recognised schools, except ten or twelve, in all other schools, the non-caste Hindus were getting admission. In the Government schools totaling 1020, only in five or six, the non-caste Hindus were not getting admissions.29

Even in 1916 the S.N.D.P. Yogam had to agitate against denial of admission on caste grounds and against denying freedom of passage through public roads. For example, the Srirangapuram road of Cannanore was closed against the non-caste Hindus. There, K. Ayyappan and his followers violated the custom and passed through the road. Thereafter, everybody could use it. Similarly at Vaikom, on the main road, the non- caste Hindus had no entry. There, Satyavarada Swamikal, T. K. Madhavan and K. Ayyappan decided to break the ban. They walked through the road and thereafter, the road was freely used by the non- caste Hindus. About denial of school admission, even in 1916 the non- caste Hindus were not admitted in the schools of Cochin. Even on roads where non-caste Hindus were permitted to move, a new board of prohibition appeared. On 1 July 1916 a delegation of the S.N.D.P. Yogam met the Dewan of Cochin and represented grievances, “of not permitting the use of public roads, not admitting children in schools and prohibiting the use of ponds which the converts could freely use”(qtd in P.K.Gopalakrishnan 43-44).

Though there was comparatively less social discrimination in Malabar compared to Travancore and Cochin, the henchmen of Zamorin placed a ‘pollution board’ on Thaliroad, prohibiting entry for Thiyars. There, C. Krishnan and Manchery Rama Iyer violated the prohibition and restored freedom. On 23 April 1917 under the Theosophical Society, in the Annie Besant Hall, Brahmins, Nayars and Thiyars inter-dined. Though Annie Besant showed interest in eradicating untouchability, the then leaders of the Indian National Congress discarded it by saying that it was not a programme of the Congress. In many places, the awakened non-caste Hindus became revolutionary and refused to obey caste restrictions. That created tension in many places of Travancore and Cochin. Caste-Hindus resorted to violence to make the violators obey caste traditions, ending in many revolts. Such violences broke out in Eruvoor, Tripoonithura, Valapad, Thanissery (Mukundapuram taluk) and in Peringottukara of Cochin. In Travancore the entire region from Quilon to Trivandrum, south Chavara, Haripad and Thiruvalla taluk were affected by such revolts. As a result of the above revolts, caste restrictions on freedom of movement almost disappeared and the non- caste Hindus could move freely through public roads. By 1919 the attitude of the non-caste Hindus can be seen in the columns of their newspaper, Mithavadi:

Now for not moving away, from public roads, Nayars beat Ezhavas and Ezhavas beat Pulayas. It is better if this unprofitable practice ends voluntarily. Insistence to get beatings for the change is sorrowful. (Madhavan 73-99)

By the end of 1918 the S.N.D.P. Yogam left its mendicant policy and started demanding ‘Civil Rights’. That change of policy was initiated by T. K. Madhavan and followed by K. Ayyappan and C. Kesavan. Thus the politicisation of the S.N.D.P. Yogam started with the demand for Civil Equality, leading to the ‘Temple Entry Movement’, ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’, ‘Abstention of Liquor’, and ‘Khadi Movement’ and reached its heights in the ‘Abstention Movement’ (Ibid 73-78 & 98-99).

The Civil Equality Movement

On 4 Edavam 1093 (June 1918), the Travancore-Cochin Christian Assembly at Kottayam passed a resolution demanding Civil Equality. Then the term Civil Equality meant just distribution of Government jobs among major castes and communities, the seeds of which were sown with the Malayali Memorial of 1891 (Supra 40). On 23 Meenam 1094 (March 1919), the major communities of Kerala, the Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas who did not enjoy Civil Equality called a convention at Kottayam. There, T. K. Madhavan introduced the first resolution, to submit memorials of the people to the Government. The cause of the agitation was that the non-Hindus and the non-caste Hindus were not appointed in the Government service, particularly in the Revenue Department, since the Devaswom and Revenue departments were not separated. At the Kottayam convention, T. K. Madhavan spoke that Civil Equality was to be considered a political demand with religious sanctity.

In 1919, a memorial on Civil Equality was submitted to the Government and Madhavan took a leading part in it. He read the memorial before the Dewan. Progressive minded caste-Hindus like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai supported the demand. With the support of the British authorities, the Christians could get into the Revenue service without an agitation. When the Madras Governor Earl Wellington visited Travancore, at a royal banquet, the Governor wanted the Government to “protect the rights of the fellow believers of his and his Lady’s religion”. This had an immediate effect in the form of the ‘Devaswom Declaration’, i.e., separation of the Devaswom from the Revenue department. Thus the Christians could get into the administrative service of Travancore, but that opportunity was not given to the non-caste Hindus (Madhavan 73-76).

T. K. Madhavan realised that the non-caste Hindus like Ezhavas could get Civil Equality only if they achieve social equality connected to temples. In 1920 Kumaran Asan a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly, asked in the House whether “the non-caste Hindus would be given the Civil Right of freedom to travel through the roads near temples, which they got after conversion?” The reply of the Government was, “No” (Ibid 99-100). In 1919-’20 T. K. Madhavan was nominated as a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly. He knew that untouchability could be rooted out of Government service, public places and schools only if every Hindu could go and worship up to the place in the temple precincts where the Brahmin could go. In this respect all non-Brahmins were disadvantaged. So T. K. Madhavan decided to strike at that vulnerable point with all might by mobilising maximum support from the strongest of the non- Brahmin castes, the Nayars. By that time, the ‘Nayar Samajom’ that met at Ambalapuzha, presided over by P. K. Narayana Pillai, resolved to have Temple Entry with the right to conduct rituals for all Hindus, with no caste differences. Such resolutions were passed by caste-Hindu organisations throughout Kerala. One such resolution demanded the abolition of ‘Brahmin Sadhya,’ the feast served exclusively for Brahmins in the temples (Ibid 81-86).

The demand for Temple Entry for all non-caste Hindus was publicly made by a retired High Court Judge, C. Raman Tampi, a Nayar, while making his presidential address to an Ezhava Sabha at Quilon, in 1918. Followed by that, in the same year, T. K. Madhavan wrote a long editorial in the Desabhimani, demanding Temple Entry. In May 1918, the

S.N.D.P. Yogam annual met at Kottarakara, and appealed to the Government, through a resolution, to open temples to all Hindus. In 1919, Madhavan spoke in the Sree Moolam Assembly to prohibit through a royal proclamation the practice of pollution and to allow entry to all people into public institutions. But the conservatives of all castes were against temple entry for non-caste Hindus. At the same time, radical non-caste Hindus in many places forcibly entered temples. Such an incident occurred at Kadakavur, and the law-breakers were punished. On 17 Dhanu 1096 (1921), the non-caste Hindus met at Sivagiri and decided to boycott temples (Ibid 92). To make it a success, a committee consisting of T. K. Madhavan, N. Kumaran and C. V. Kayyalakkal was constituted. They formulated a tenfold programme for the boycott of temples and it was effectively propagated throughout the land through newspapers and public speeches (Ibid 81-86). T. K. Madhavan met the Dewan and conveyed protest against the prohibition. Protest meetings were organised throughout the country (Ibid 93).30 The propaganda work undertaken by Karappuram Seva Sangham of Sherthallai made the message of Civil Liberty and Temple Entry reach the grass-roots levels.31 On 24 Kumbham 1096 (1921), a protest meeting was organised in the L.M.S. Hall, Trivandrum. There, Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai,

M. N. Nayar, Advocate Achutha Menon and others spoke (Ibid 95).

In October 1922, the Congress Committee which existed only in name, met on the compound of the Anandavalleeswaram temple at Quilon. There T.K. Madhavan, who was not a member of the Congress until then, spoke:

The Congress Committee must accept the demand for Temple Entry as the first item of their programme since it forms the material for the realisation of the general decision of the Indian National Congress to abolish untouchability. (Ibid 103)

But the President of the Congress Committee, Sankara Menon wanted the consent of the A.I.C.C. to enlist the demand for Temple Entry in the programme since the mode of working of the Congress in the native states was different from its working in the British Indian Province. It was in that context that T. K. Madhavan met Gandhiji at Thirunelveli in October 1922. In the interview with Gandhiji, Madhavan was told:

The right to Temple Entry is a civil right. I advise you to resort to civil disobedience. Act with full self-confidence; you should enter temples. If laws are against you, you must be prepared to go to jail. (qtd in Ibid 114-121)

The interview with Gandhiji was given wide publicity by the English newspapers and changed the opinion of the caste-Hindu leadership in Kerala in favour of the Temple Entry movement. In 1924, when the A.I.C.C. was meeting at Kakinada, T. K. Madhavan went there with K. P. Kesava Menon and K. M. Panikkar. There, Madhavan met Maulana Mohamed Ali, the President of the Congress and convinced him of the necessity of the Congress taking up the cause of eradication of untouchability. Though Madhavan was not a member of the A.I.C.C., with special permission of the President, he circulated in the meeting a representation titled, “An Appeal to the Indian National Congress, for the Untouchable Castes of India”. Copies of the representation were circulated among the 400 members of the Committee, press representatives and other invitees. Immediately after the Programme Committee decided to act against untouchability, the A.I.C.C. met and resolved to direct the Provincial Committees to implement a creative programme against untouchability. Accordingly, on 24 Makaram 1099 (January 1924), the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee met at Ernakulam and constituted an Untouchability Eradication Committee consisting of K. Kelappan Nayar (convener), T. K. Madhavan, Kuroor Sankaran Namboodiripad,

T. Krishnaswami Iyer and K. Velayudhan Menon (Ibid 103-104, 119, 122, 131, 133 & 134).

The ideas of civil resistance and satyagraha were not new to the agitators for civil liberty in Kerala (Ibid 148). In 1919 an all-Kerala meeting was convened at Calicut to discuss the depressed conditions of the Thiyars of Cochin. The S.N.D.P. Yogam sent T.K. Madhavan as its representative. He said that the Thiyars must not practice pollution, and to eradicate it, they must conduct satyagraha. At his initiative, the Thiya Passive Resistance League was constituted at the meeting. On his return, he spoke on satyagraha at Tripunithura too. The annual meeting of the

S.N.D.P. Yogam in 1923 resolved that:

…Pollution is an evil superstition and its violation is for the common good; so, we must not respect or observe pollution practices. Hence this meeting calls on the members of the community to enter all public places fearlessly. (qtd in Ibid 149)

In Midhunam 1098 (July 1923), a conference against pollution was convened by V.K. Sankaran Namboodiripad and it called for volunteers to join the organisation to stage satyagraha to fight untouchability. It was in that background that the Vaikom Satyagraha was started on 17 Meenam 1099 (March 1924) (Ibid 68, 149& 160).

The Vaikom Satyagraha

The leaders of the Vaikom Satyagraha were K. Kelappan Nayar (Convener), T. K. Madhavan, Kuroor Sankaran Namboodiripad, T. R. Krishnaswami Iyer, K. Velayudha Menon, K. P. Kesava Menon, A. K. Pillai, Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai, M. N. Nayar, V. Achutha Menon, Satyavrada Swamikal and others. Since the Indian National Congress was led by caste-Hindus, the Ezhavas did not show much interest in the initial stages. Later, due to the efforts of T. K. Madhavan, they too actively participated. Every day, the volunteers violated the pollution law, courted arrest and went to jail for simple imprisonment of up to six months. In the second stage, the leaders T. K. Madhavan and K. P. Kesava Menon were arrested and sent to the central jail. The caste-Hindus took an active interest from the very beginning. On 16 Thulam 1100 (1925), the Caste- Hindu March started from Vaikom under the leadership of Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai, walked all the way to Trivandrum and submitted a memorandum to the Government. Other marches in support of the Satyagraha arrived. For instance, from Madras, Periyar Ramaswamy Nayakar was camping at Vaikom; from Punjab, the Akalis sent a delegation to Vaikom, and they ran a canteen to provide food to the volunteers. The caste-Hindus suffered a great deal in their efforts to make a success of the Satyagraha – Chittedathu Sanku Pillai was beaten to death; K. P. Kesava Pillai was beaten to a state where he started vomiting blood; Raman Elayathu was tortured with lime smeared on his eyes; testicles of some volunteers were smashed (Ibid 160, 192, 198).

On 23 Makaram 1100 (1925), the Government allowed N. Kumaran to move a resolution on ‘Freedom of Travel’ before the legislature. Voting on the resolution was fixed for 25 Makaram. The success of the Vaikom Satyagraha would depend on the successful passing of the resolution. Unfortunately, the resolution was rejected by one vote – 21voted for and 22 against the resolution. The one crucial vote that defeated the resolution was cast by P. Parameswaran, the brother of Dr. Palpu and one of the two applicants in whose names the licence of the S.N.D.P. Yogam as a limited company had been issued by the Government of Travancore (Supra 54).

P. Parameswaran was the first of the S.N.D.P. Yogam leaders who betrayed the cause of the common people, for currying favours with the Government.

Though the Vaikom Satyagraha remains the first organised political agitation for social change under the banner of the Indian National Congress, in its immediate result, it was a failure. It could not make the Government open all the public roads near temples for the movement of non-caste Hindus. Throughout the State, Madhavan with the help of the progressive-minded caste-Hindus walked on those roads where freedom of movement was not allowed, and thereby established the right to do so. This happened at Palghat, Cochin, North Pravur, Ambalapuzha, Thiruvarpu, Sucheendram etc (Madhavan 212-229). In 1926, Madhavan who was a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly sought permission to make a speech before the House on the ‘Right of Every Hindu to Enter Every Temple and Pray’. The Government denied him permission. It provoked him to issue a statement accusing the Government of denying freedom of expression which, he said, rendered his membership in the House useless. On those grounds, he resigned from the legislature on 3 March 1926 (Ibid 241-246).

Throughout his lifetime, T. K. Madhavan with the support of the progressive-minded caste-Hindus strove hard to win Temple Entry. The N.S.S. and the Yogakshema Sabha took a revolutionary stand on bringing about social change. Only people with vested interests from all castes, including some top leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam, non-Malayali Brahmins and the Government controlled by them stood against it. In 1930, at the Vaikom Ashram of Narayana Guru, the Temple Entry League was formed (Ibid 142). Under its auspices, a Temple Entry convention was organised at Ochira. It was presided over by Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai. The convention constituted a committee consisting of T. K. Madhavan (convener), Kottur Kunjukrishna Pillai and C. Kuttan Nayar. It was decided that the volunteers of the League enter important temples including the Sri. Padmanabha Swami Temple at Trivandrum on 2 Virkchikam 1107, the day Viceroy Lord Irwin was to visit the State, and stage demonstrations. But the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam,

M. Govindan, without consulting the Yogam Board, issued a statement against the plan of the Temple Entry League. So the League was forced to postpone the programme indefinitely (Ibid 253-255). The Travancore Government and the British Resident were very much worried of the movements for Civil Equality in 1921 and Temple Entry afterwards.

The Sahodara Samajam of K.Ayyappan

K. Ayyappan (1889-1968), was a prominent non-sanyasi disciple of Narayana Guru. To eradicate casteism, he founded the ‘Sahodara Samajam’ (The Brotherhood Movement) in 1917. The newspaper Sahodaran was started in the same year as its mouthpiece, and its publication lasted till 1956. There were four declared mottos of the movement: 1. Oppose the exploitation by the Brahmins, the whites, the landlords and the capitalists; 2. Oppose caste and communal differences and the resultant exploitation by priesthood; 3. Spread the teachings of great men and prevent superstition and fanaticism; 4. Prevent absolutism of power politics and support communal representation (Gangadharan 65).

Before the advent of the Communist movement in Kerala, Sahodaran was the chief spokesman of Socialism. Ayyappan took the initiative to organise labourers under the Vaipin Adi Thozhilali Sangham (The Pioneer Workers’ Union of Vaipin). The Sangham started a newspaper named Velakkaran (The Worker). It was published three days a week. Its office was located near Kurutholathodu, Cherai. Framed photographs of Karl Marx, Lenin and Stalin were hung on the walls of the newspaper office. The emblem of the Union showed an agro-labourer holding a spade on the centre of a globe (Ibid 72). In 1928, the Sahodaran press started the publication of an atheist magazine named Yuktivadi (Rationalist). The columns of Sahodaran covered areas like post-revolutionary Russia, Marx, Lenin and Stalin. They influenced and moulded revolutionaries like

V. T. Bhattathiripad. Ayyappan wrote many inspiring poems calling for

the liberation of the downtrodden (Ayyappan 95, 88-89, 92-95, 256, 99-100).32

The Abstention Movement

In Travancore, the three communities, Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims started the Abstention Movement as a protest against the Reforms Act of 1932. Travancore was the first Indian State to have a popular legislature, the Sri Moolam State Council, in 1888. In 1904, the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha was constituted. Gradually, the non-official members acquired a majority. But, as franchise was limited only to property holders, the caste-Hindus formed a majority in the House. For example, in 1922 the Christian representation was 7, which was reduced to 4 in 1931. In 1928 there was only one Muslim representative. In the four elections of 1922, 1925, 1928 and 1931, not a single Ezhava was elected. At the same time, the Nayar representation gradually increased from 12, 13, 13 to 15 (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 713).

By the 1932 Reforms Act a two-chambered legislature (Sri Chitra State Council and Sri Moolam Assembly) was created. But it too did not contain provisions for adequate representation to the major communities, Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas. So these communtities decided to agitate. The Reforms Act of 1932 was the brainchild of Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. With the accession of Sri Chitra Thirunal to the throne of Travancore in 1931, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was made the constitutional adviser to the Maharaja. Formerly, he was a member of the Executive Council of the Province of Madras, who had acted against the enactment of the Malabar Tenancy Bill, and G. Sankaran Nayar, who was the man behind the bill, had rushed to Trivandrum to organise a protest meeting against the appointment of Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer (Ibid 6). Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer has been described as an ‘evil genius’ who acted as an effective instrument of British imperialism in Travancore. During his period, Travancore was subjected to the most repressive dictatorship, and due to his grand intrigues, it degenerated into a hotbed of caste and communal rivalries (Sreenivasan 76-77). Though Sir Muhammed Habeebulla was made the Dewan in October 1933, Iyer, as the adviser to the Maharaja, wielded real power. Later, when Habeebullah resigned on 8 October 1936, his place was taken over by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer.

About Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the humanist journalist of the time A. Balakrishna Pillai wrote in the Kesari:

Entrusting the administration of Travancore with Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer – the person who made the Governor of Madras reject the Malabar Tenancy Bill, the bureaucrat who supported the notorious India Press Act, the ‘reformist’ who acted against the entry of non-caste Hindus into the ‘agraharam’ at Kalpathi, the ‘progressive’ who promised the cancellation of the Sarada Act to the conservative electorate in the event of his victory to the Council of State, and the Constitutional ’expert’ who was responsible for preparing the notorious Conservative Minutes of the Madras Province vis-a-vis the administrative Reforms of India – is like entrusting the protection of the chicken with the fox. (qtd in Narayana Pillai 3-4)

The other caste-Hindu leaders like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai were severely criticising the policy of the Government from the very beginning. But Pillai could get only the support of youngsters like

N. Sreekantan Nayar, Ponnara Sreedhar, Sanakara Narayanan Thampi, Varingam Raghavan Pillai, E. V. Krishna Pillai, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai,

M. N. Govindan Nayar and others, most of whom later emerged as the leaders of the radical group, the Youth League and then the Communists. The vast majority of Nayars who were lagging behind the Christians in the path towards modernisation were puzzled at their growing financial prosperity. Leaders like Mallur Govinda Pillai made good use of the chance to act against the Christians. The prominent social reformer Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai and the leaders of the N.S.S. which was in the forefront of the Temple Entry Movement, became the spokesmen of the caste-Hindus (Nayar, Autobiography 162-169).

Though the Abstention Movement was the biggest mass based political agitation of the time, it spewed communal venom into the politics of Travancore, which had far-reaching consequences for the future politics of Kerala. Since the S.N.D.P. Yogam had its own limitations to function as a political party, the Yogam summoned the Ezhava Mahajana Sabha at Alleppey on 27 November 1932, and created a political organisation called Ezhava Rashtriya Sabha. It took the following decisions: 1. Franchise should not be based on property rights; 2. Adult suffrage should be introduced or reservation of seats should be introduced; and,3. Methods for a common agitation should be sought in consultation with other communities that were denied rights. The Sabha formed a committee to represent these decisions to the Government. They met Dewan Habeebullah and Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. Other communities too met the Government with similar grievances. But it was all in vain. The three communities decided to join together and act collectively. It led to the Abstention Movement and the United Political Struggle (Sreenivasan 81-85).

About the 1932 Reforms Act, A. Balakrishna Pillai wrote in the

Kesari:

… Since this reform destroys whatever civic rights that exist at present … the right step to be taken is to abstain from the elections. A strong protest movement must be mobilised against the reform by calling public meetings and presenting substitute schemes of reform. At the same time, people must make an outcry that they have no confidence in its creator, Sir C.P., that his continuation as Adviser to the Maharaja is extremely harmful and that he should, therefore, be removed from that position. (qtd in Editorial of Kesari 59)33

On 18 December 1932, the All Christian Political Conference summoned a meeting of the representatives of the three communities in the L.M.S. Hall, Trivandrum. It was presided over by E. J. John. About 100 delegates of various organisations participated, the most prominent among them being M. V. Joseph, C. Kesavan, P. K. Kunju and others. There were delegates of the Travancore State Catholic Congress, the S.N.D.P. Yogam, Laganathul Muhammadeya Association, the All Travancore Muslim Service League and Hidayuthual Islamia Sabha (Kesavan 47-51). The meeting passed two resolutions: 1. Ensure proportional representation in the legislature and in the Government service to various communities; 2. Organise a Joint Political Committee with E. J. John as President and N. V. Joseph, K. T. Thomas, K. C. Eapen, P. A. Abraham, P. S. Muhammed, P. K. Kunju, C. V. Kunjuraman, M. Govindan and C. Kesavan as members (Ibid 51-52).

In 1933, the Committee met the Dewan and submitted memorials. Though both the Maharaja and the Dewan Sir Habeebullah responded favourably, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer took a negative stand. That prompted the agitators to boycott the elections. On 3 January 1933, the Committee passed a resolution appealing to the voters to abstain from casting their votes and from contesting in the coming elections. The Committee met again in the L.M.S. Hall on 25 January 1933 and passed the Abstention Resolution (Sreenivasan 89-91).

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer adopted a three-pronged strategy to defeat the agitation. Firstly, he consolidated the support of the caste-Hindus to resist the agitation. Secondly, he tried to create defectors among the Ezhavas. Thirdly, he tried to link the Abstention Movement to the Non- Cooperation Movement which was going on at the national level, so that he would get the approval of the British Government to suppress the Abstention Movement and also isolate the Christians from the British Government. The Travancore Government unleashed a torrent of prohibitions, arrests, suppressions and propaganda against the movement (Ibid 87). From the very beginning, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer tried to create a divide among the agitating communities (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 712-13). Excepting C. Kesavan, the two other Ezhava leaders of the Committee, C. V. Kunjuraman and

M. Govindan defected to the Government’s side in January 1933. The

Yogam President, Madhavan Vaidyar too moved to the side of the Government with them. Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer tried, through these defectors, to force the Yogam to withdraw from the Abstention Movement. A special meeting of the Yogam was convened for the purpose. It was held at Changanasseri on 12 March 1933. 1500 delegates were present. When the defectors moved a resolution for withdrawing S.N.D.P. from the Abstention Movement, they could muster only nine votes. At the meeting, a Political Committee was constituted with C. Kesavan as its Secretary (Kesavan, Jeevitha Samaram 73&76).

The Government banned all public meetings of the agitators. It fomented strong protest among the youth. They were prepared to violate the prohibition. The radical leader, C. Kesavan issued a statement on 27 May 1933 explaining that the young men wanted to violate the prohibitive orders but could not, not because they were afraid of the Government but because of the threat of resignation from their leader N. V. Joseph.34 Among the agitators, there were moderates and radicals. N. V. Joseph, T. M. Varghese, K. C. Mamman Mappila and others were leaders with moderate views. In an appeal to the electorate on 27 May 1933, C. Kesavan said:

…Our consciousness of freedom does not permit us to obey these prohibitive orders even for a moment. But my friend N. V. Joseph who controls the Abstention Movement told me just now that if the youth start Civil Disobedience, he would give up the movement and spend the rest of his life in some foreign country like Singapore or Ceylon. Anyway, let them have their way for two more months. Then, if the Government still follows the same policy, we know what should be done. (qtd in Ibid)

There was a time when Mamman Mappila and Malayala Manorama did not support the agitation for responsible Government. At one stage, the editor of Malayala Manorama K. C. Mamman Mappila, to please Sir

C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, openly declared, “The responsible Government is madness” (qtd in C. Narayana Pillai 167&176). On the other hand,

C. Kesavan was a radical who believed in the establishment of the Government of the working class through a radical change. He was the President of the revolutionary youth organisation of Sherthallai, the Ezhava Yuvajana Samajam (The Youth League). The abstract of the Presidential address he made in its first meeting on 1 July 1933 shows the force of his revolutionary ideas (qtd in K. Sreenivasan 103-11).35

On 21 August 1933, the All Travancore United Political Committee changed into Travancore United Political Congress. The elections of 3-6 June 1933 in Travancore were rendered null and void because of the non-cooperation of 70% of the population, all due to the efforts of the abstentionists. Then the Government promised the leaders of the agitation to settle the problem. But the very next day, all prohibitive orders were extended for one more month. At the expiry of the ban on 13 May 1935, a meeting was held at Kozhencherry, presided over by C. Kesavan. The meeting, through a resolution, requested to the Maharaja the immediate dismissal of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and also the dissolution of the legislature and its reconstitution on the basis of proportional representation. The presidential address of C. Kesavan got him arrested for sedition (Ibid 128-131).

C. Kesavan was arrested on 7 June 1935 at Alleppey in the presence of a large gathering of his followers. There he gave the following message to them:

… I expect to see a day when even the last vestige of caste domination is removed. I wish my arrest to be looked upon as a victorious step forward in establishing equality among the subjects of the Royalty. Neither the Government nor the casteist monopolists can pretend that there are no problems to be solved … This movement which stands for justice cannot be stopped… It is hardly a week since the Government issued the communique that it was ready to solve all problems. But, the party concerned has been prevented from acting upon it. My compatriots must obtain their birthrights through steady and undaunted efforts and never through conciliation. (qtd in P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala 369-76)

The public anger generated by the arrest of C. Kesavan gathered into a mass movement, which forced the Government to act immediately. The Government decided to reform the franchise laws. The declaration to the effect was issued on 16 August 1936. Reservation based on communal representation was accepted and franchise made liberal. A Public Service Commission was created under Justice Nokes. The Government agreed to recruit into the army eligible persons from all communities (Sreenivasan 42). By then C. P. Ramaswami Iyer had left Travancore as he had been appointed an acting member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy, Lord Wellington. On 8 October 1936, Dewan Sir Habeebullah tendered his resignation. Soon the Royal Palace issued a declaration about the appointment of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer as the new Dewan. But, before accepting the appointment, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer secured a promise from the Maharaja about issuing the Temple Entry Proclamation to wipe out ill feelings previously generated (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 42). As a result, on 9 November 1936, the famous Temple Entry Proclamation was made. In April-May 1937, the State election was conducted according to the new regulation. In the election, all candidates of the United Political Congress won. Accordingly, T. M. Varghese was made the Deputy President of the Legislature.

On 25 September 1937, C. Kesavan was released, six days prior to the completion of his full term. Throughout Travancore, the United Political Congress arranged grand meetings to receive and felicitate him. Of the receptions, the one given by the Ezhava Young Men’s Association of Sherthallai was significant for it was a pointer to the evolution of the working class movement in Kerala. Many of the views expressed there clearly indicated the degree of class awareness at the grassroots level. To quote the fifth paragraph of the printed felicitation:

… Here, the majority of the people are workers. Our land is known as the land of prosperity due to the fruits of their labour. They spread prosperity throughout the land by dint of their hard labour; yet, they suffer from starvation. Now they realise that they who form the majority, who labour to build mansions, languish in huts in slums. They wish for nothing more than the chance to live like human beings. Your leadership, we hope, will take them to their destination.36

As a result of the dissemination of radical ideas, the workers of Quilon, Ambalapuzha and Sherthallai taluks were emerging as the most politicised people of Travancore.37 The workers of Sherthallai were bold enough to attack the police in 1938, and the police, to escape from the place of the incident, had to seek the help of the military.38 The first trade union in Kerala, the Travancore Labour Association was formed on 31 March 1922 by a devotee of Sree Narayana Guru named Vadappuram Bava. Later it developed into the biggest trade union movement that exerted considerable political influence (Marakkar 6). The red flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer was first unfurled at the twelfth annual meeting of the Travancore Labour Association on 27 May 1937, hoisted by the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam,

V. K. Velayudhan.39 The agro-labourers of Kuttanad were taught the first lessons of collective bargaining by T. K.Madhavan.

Radicalism Among Namboodiris

The winds of social reform blew among the Namboodiris only after they had brought about changes among Nayars and Ezhavas. In the nineteenth century, the Namboodiris had become a degenerate people due to their life-style, lack of effective social interaction and primitive superstitions. They regarded the learning of English as a sin. Their traditional education was limited to the recitation of the Vedas and a large majority of them remained illiterate. Even the radical social reformer,

V. T. Bhattathiripad was practically unlettered; only much later he learned to read and write (Bhattathiripad 1, 10, 12, 29, 37 & 120).40

In 1908, the Yogakshema Sabha was formed with the avowed purpose of reforming the Namboodiris. Its organisers were Kuroor Unni Namboodiripad and Chittoor Narayanan Namboodiripad. Its aim was educational and economic progress among the Namboodiris. It made representation to the Government against the Nayar Regulation and the Tenant Reforms Act, which the Namboodiris feared would pose a threat to them. C. S. Subrahmanyam Potti who obtained a B.A degree in 1912, started campaigning for English education. In 1915 English schools for Namboodiris were started in Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. Young, educated Namboodiris became revolutionary and wanted to break all caste barriers. Their leadership was taken over by V.T. Bhattathiripad and E.M.S.Namboodiripad (Ibid 93-109).

Later the Namboodiris were divided under three groups of leadership. The first group comprised the conservatives who resisted change. The chief among them was Pachiman Raman Namboodiripad. The conservatives had a newspaper named Sudarsanam. The second group of leaders were the moderates who organised the Yogakshema Sabha. They stood for changes through peaceful means. They propagated reforms through the newspaper Yogakshemam. The third group were the radicals who stood for social progress at any cost. They had their own newspapers, Pasupatham and Unni Namboodiri. They wanted to root out all superstitions, and advocated female education, partition of family property, male marriage from the same caste, widow remarriage and even inter-caste marriage. They viewed the progress of the Namboodiri community as an indispensable part of the overall development of the people of Kerala. They were inspired by the anti-casteism of Narayana Guru, the rationalism of K. Ayyappan and the socialist views of Jawaharlal Nehru. For the first time in history, the artistic medium of drama was used by revolutionaries like V. T. Bhattathiripad to propagate progressive views. His play Adukalayil Ninnum Arangathekku (From Kitchen to the Stage) was a revolutionary venture that spoke out against all superstitions, illiteracy, old married men marrying young women, etc. Another popular play was Marakudakullile Maha Narakam (The Hell Behind the Hiding Umbrella). The young men behind the movement were V. T. Bhattathiripad, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, M. P. Bhattathiripad and others. As a result of their activities, women gave up the ‘khosha’ and started wearing sari and blouse. The first woman to do that in Travancore was the late writer Lalithambika Andarjanam (Andarjanam 1985). Outside Travancore, the first woman to discard the ‘khosha’ and to dress in modern costumes was the wife of Manezhi. A Marriage Sub-Committee was formed to promote men marrying from the same caste. They started picketing ‘sambandhams’ (marriage of Namboodiri man and Nayar woman) and polygamous marriages. By then, the Government introduced the Malabar Namboodiri Act (Bhattathiripad 1, 10, 12, 37 & 120).41

As a result of these efforts, individual family units emerged, which consisted of a Namboodiri male marrying and living with his Namboodiri wife. Boys and girls started going to public schools without being obsessed with the notion of pollution. Men began freely engaging in competitive work with people of other groups. It was under those circumstances that the revolutionary young men like E.M.S. Namboodiripad abandoned caste and entered into politics. E.M.S. Namboodiripad was one among the founding fathers of the Kerala branch of the Communist Party of India. In 1957, he became the first Chief Minister of the newly-formed state of Kerala after the reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis. By the time the C.P.I. split in 1964, he was the General Secretary of the Party at the national level. He became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was the chief theoretician of the C.P.I. (M) (Ibid 29, 37 &120).42

The Dalit Movement of Ayyankali

For more than a thousand years, the Dalits (Pulayas, Parayas, Kuravas etc.) of Kerala remained agro-slaves. They were liberated in Travancore by an illiterate leader named Ayyankali (1863-1941). Before agitating for equality, Ayyankali organised the young men and gave them training in martial arts. They came to be known as ‘Ayyankali Pada’ (Mani 19).43 Even as late as the early twentieth century, the Dalits were prevented from travelling along public roads. They could move only through forests or paddy fields and had to make a special sound to warn others of their approach. Their children were not given admission in public schools. Their women were allowed to cover only the lower part of the body with a piece of cloth. They could cover the upper part only with ornaments made of stone beads. They could not own land; they lived in huts near the paddy fields on wetlands. Ayyankali decided to violate the tradition. In 1893, to establish the right to travel, he bought a ‘villuvandi’ (special kind of bullock-cart used only by men of status) with the permission of the Government and started riding it. He dressed against the tradition – he wore a vest, an upper garment and a headdress. He was always well armed; so nobody could harm him (Chendarasseri 10-13).

During those days, the Dalits were denied entry into the coffee shops. They were served coffee in coconut shells outside the shops. Ayyankali snatched away such shells and advised his men to make coffee in their huts. In 1899, his band of fighters forcibly moved along the public road to Aralummood market at Balaramapuram. On the way, at Chaliya street, riot broke out when they were stopped by the Muslims. The riot spread to other places like Manakad, Nemom, Kazhakottam, Kovalam and Chennithala where caste-Hindus tried to suppress the Dalits who entered public roads (Ibid10-13).

In 1907, Ayyankali founded the social reform organisation for Dalits, the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham (The Congregation for the Downtrodden). Under its banner, both men and women met together every Sunday. It had a constitution drafted by M. Govindan. Within a short span, the Sangham could establish about 1000 branches throughout Travancore. Its branch committees worked on a democratic basis. Agents of Ayyankali known as ‘Managers’ supervised the proper working of the branch committees. A judicial system also functioned under the Sangham. Its Chief Justice was Ayyankali himself (Ibid 24-27).44

In 1904, Ayyankali called for a strike to get Dalit children admitted in Government schools. It was the first of its kind in Kerala. It lasted for three years. With the agro-laboureres on strike, the paddy fields throughout Madavurpara, Pallichal, Vizhinjam, Kaniyapuram and Kandala remained fallow. Though starvation and disease affected the striking labourers, they bore the ordeal with courage. The movement was guided by the Ayyankali Militia (Ayyankali Pada). In 1907, the Government of Travancore took the initiative to settle the problem. Accordingly, the First Class Magistrate, Kandala Nagam Pillai negotiated with the landlords and assured the admission of Dalit children in schools (Ibid 20-21).

The Dewan of Travancore, P. Rajagopalachari adopted a favourable attitude towards the downtrodden people. In the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha, P. K. Govinda Pillai argued for allotting land to the Dalits, admitting their children in schools with scholarships, giving them jobs in the Government service, opening special wards in hospitals and nominating a Dalit as their representative in the Assembly. In 1911, Ayyankali was nominated to the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha. He worked in that capacity for twenty-eight years. He made pleas before the Assembly on the need to solve the problem of residence, the need to provide land for farming and the need to admit Dalits in schools and in the Government service. In 1913, the Dewan, on the advice of Ayyankali, nominated two other Dalits, Charatan Solomon and G. Jesudas to the Praja Sabha (Chendarasseri 40-53, 56& 61).

Dalits were denied entry in the Nedumangad market by the caste- Hindus with the support of the Muslims. In 1912, Ayyankali forcibly entered the market and fought against the Muslim rowdies and subdued them. In 1913, Ayyankali represented to the Government that, at Kazhakuttom and Pallipuram alone, there were about 1000 Dalit families that had no land to reside in. As a result of the representation, the Government allotted five hundred acres of land to the Dalits, free of cost, to build houses at Vilappil Pakuthy of Neyyattinkara (Ibid 61-62, 67-70).

Two Dalits, Vellikara Chothi and K. K. Kumaran were nominated as Praja Sabha members in 1914 and 1915 respectively. Though the Government issued an order to admit Dalit students in the schools, the caste-Hindus cunningly preempted their admission. In 1914, Ayyankali pressurised the Government to direct its officers to go to the schools at the time of admissions and to ensure that the Dalit children were admitted. On one such occasion, the caste-Hindus set fire to the jeep of the Director of Education, Michel. Many a time, caste-Hindus set fire to the Dalit school which Ayyankali founded at Vengannur (Ibid 65-66, 70-74).

In 1915, the Dalits struck work throughout south and central Travancore against oppression and non-payment of wages. They also made a demand for limiting the number of their working hours. Ayyankali gave a call to the Dalit women to abandon the practice of wearing chains of stone beads and iron ear-rings, and to wear blouses instead. Caste- Hindus in Quilon district reacted violently against this. Tense situations developed at Perinad, Mavelikara and Chennithala. Large meetings were held at Parakulam, Thazhava, Anchalumood, Karula and Panayam. Riots broke out at Kandala near Balarampuram and at Perinad. These riots were widely known as ‘1090 riots’. In these riots, about three hundred huts of the Dalits were destroyed by either arson or pillage. In October 1915, the riots were put down and peace was established due to the efforts of the Government. Ayyankali did remarkable service to the Dalits in getting them educated and leading them in ‘collective bargaining’ (Ibid 102).45

In Cochin, K. P. Karuppan organised the Dalits. In Malabar, Congress leaders like K. Kelappan and the last disciple of Narayana Guru, Swami Anandatheerdhan undertook the cause of emancipating the Dalits. Sree Narayana Ashram of Payyannur, Sradhananda Vidyalaya of Badagara and Sabari Ashram of Olavakkode did yeomen service in this direction (Abraham 20, 21, 26, 28, 36-39, 41, 43 & 69, 70 & 73). Ayyankali, who had rebelled against inequalities and worked for an integrated movement of the Dalits, could understand very well the revolutionary spirit of the youthful leaders of the next generation. The Government, guided by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, used the crafty policy of ‘divide and rule’, which led to the birth of separate caste organisations for different groups of Dalits. This resulted in disintegrating the second generation of Dalit leadership. The larger interest of promoting the welfare of the labourers, who formed the large majority of the Dalits, was forgotten. At the same time, trade unions and political parties like the C.P.I. started attracting workers cutting across caste barriers. The Dalits

who were politically conscious, gravitated towards the rising working class movement (Chendarasseri 140-41).46

Struggle Against Oppression:

Belief of ‘Shahid’ Led to Rebellion

The traditional religious belief of the Hindus was one which stabilised social stagnation. The Hindu religion believed that the Sudra caste was created for serving, with implicit obedience, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Even the very thought of questioning a Brahmin was considered sinful (Supra 4-6). There was no scope for protest from such a group, unless a new awareness and awakening was created in them. The Hindu tenants in general bore the brunt of tenancy either with stoic indifference or with fatalistic resignation.

The majority of the tenants in Ernad and Valluvanad taluks of South Malabar were Muslims. They reacted violently against the cruel practices of the landlords. In the absence of proper leadership or class consciousness, the ideological influence of their religion provided the necessary moral force and justification to struggle against oppression and exploitation. C. Collet, Assistant Magistrate, reported on 10 September 1851:

… enquiries have shown that there is a notion prevalent among the lower orders that according to Islam, the fact of a jenmi having ejected from his lands a mortgagee or substantial tenants is sufficient pretext to murder him, to become ‘Shahid’ (Saint) and to ascertain a place in Muhammadan Paradise. This opinion has been openly stated before me by Moplas. (qtd in K.N.Panikkar 602)

The changes that the British introduced in the land tenure rendered the landless tenants destitute. As time went by, the relations between the landlords and the tenants started deteriorating till it led up to what has come to be known as the ‘Mappila riots’. During the first 129 years of the British rule, from 1792 to 1921, Malabar witnessed many Mappila riots, which had never occurred in the history of Malabar prior to the British rule (Nayar, Through Half Century 60). The period from 1792-1799 was noted for several Mappila riots. Riots broke out again between 1800 and 1805. About eighty riots took place from 1836-1900. In the revolt of 1855, the then District Magistrate of Malabar, Mr. Connally was murdered; seventy Mappilas were killed in retaliatory police firing (Pothuval 17-18).

In 1854, the Government passed the Moplah Outrages Act and the Moplah War Knives Act. Those enactments sanctioned repressive measures against the activists, one of which made provisions for cremating the corpse of the rioter. Cremating the dead went against the sanction of Islam, and that wounded the sentiments of the Mappilas. But none of the Acts tried to solve the tenural problems. In 1881, William Logan conducted an enquiry into the Mappila revolts and submitted a report. He, for the first time, exploded the myth of Mappila ‘fanaticism’ and pointed out that the agrarian discontent was the basic cause of the riots (qtd in K.N.Panikkar 612).47

The Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress (December 1920) passed the resolution for the Non-cooperation Khilafat Movement. It had its repercussions in Malabar too. In 1920, the Malabar District Congress met at Manjeri. A good number of Mappilas participated in the Congress. The Manjeri Congress declared war on the British Government and the Malabar landlords (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 282-83). The local leaders of the Congress tried to unify the people by directing popular sentiment against both British rule and landlordism. It united people beyond caste and religious lines. The Muslims had a privileged position as the Mullahs made instigating speeches in the mosques against the “British Devils.” There were Hindu political leaders present when such speeches were made. The Congress- Khilafat Committees and volunteers not only worked together, but both the organisations also had common leaders and office bearers throughout Malabar (Idem).

The British Government adopted the method of prohibitive orders, arrests, punishments, and suppression to terrorise people. At the same time, they provoked the poor Muslim peasants to violence, to annihilate them by brute force. In the ‘Wagon Tragedy’, sixty four people died of suffocation (Gough 725). Though the Indian National Congress passed resolutions to protect the interests of the Malabar tenants, it failed to follow up the tenancy problems (Infra, pp. 154, 200 & 201). The Congress failed to sustain the popular support it got in the initial stages of the Non-cooperation Movement because of its inability to lead the tenants in their struggle against landlords and the Government (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 283-84). At the same time, the British Government succeeded in bringing a rift in the popular front of the Congress-Khilafat Committees. The Mappila revolt of 1921 was a case in point of the British tactics. The 1920-’21 Congress-Khilafat Movement was the first mass based political movement guided by the Congress and the Muslim League. Rich and poor peasants, small merchants, professionals, handmill workers, lawyers, teachers and students struck work and boycotted British goods (Idem).

Though the Mappila population joined the Congress- Khilafat movement en mass, there existed two basic differences of opinion among them. Firstly, ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) was unacceptable to the Mappilas – they believed that a war unto death (‘Jihad’ and ‘Shahid’) was to be fought against the ‘satanic’ Government and the cruel landlords, one that uses violent methods if needed. Secondly, when the Congress demanded the enactment of the Tenancy Bills, it sought to protect only the interests of the ‘kanam tenants’ who were mostly Nayars; the majority of the Mappilas who rushed to join the Congress-Khilafat movement were sub-tenants. The Mappila agitators wanted to liberate all tenants from bondage. When they agitated against the Government, they destroyed not only police stations and treasuries but also registration offices and civil courts which were the fortresses of land records and relations (qtd in A. K. Pillai 350-352).48

The Mappila revolt of 1921 was a peasant revolt against the cruelties of landlordism and an evil Government, but it lacked proper leadership (Idem). It was a continuation of the agrarian conflicts of the nineteenth century. There was a remarkable difference between the agrarian conflicts of the nineteenth century and the rebellion of 1921. The earlier uprisings were localised and limited in scope. But the rebellion of 1921 was more intense and of wider range. According to C. S. Subrahmanyam, “The upper classes who own property are not in it… The men who are in jail, who have died, who have been arrested, who have been exiled, are men with little property”.49 The Viceroy, Lord Reading opined, “It is possible to argue that agrarian grievances were at least a predisposing factor, and some revision of the existing land tenure system may be desirable in the interest of peace in Malabar.”50 The conflict arising out of economic antagonism developed into widespread rebellion against the landlords and the British imperial power. The official estimate of the Mappila casualties were 2337 killed and 1652 wounded.51 The unofficial sources put the numbers above 10000; the Hindus killed were around 600 in number (Statesman 2 September 1922).52

When the movement became violent, the Congress leaders disowned it. In the next stage, martial law was declared and the army was called in. The British resorted to violent repression. At this, the poor Muslim tenants, heirs of the nineteenth century rebels, assembled in villages around their religious leaders with knives, spears, clubs and homemade firearms, and drove away or killed Hindu and Muslim landlords, Government servants and policemen. Muslim leaders of middle peasant rank took over the administration of 220 villages for several months. They killed five to six hundred landlords, policemen and others who aided the army. The British suppressed the movement and deported or executed many rebels. About 10,000 died in the rebellion (Idem). The Congress leader, K. Madhavan Nayar described the rebellion thus:

The attack of the Mappilas provoked vengeful acts from the Hindus and the police; the counter attack of the Mappilas was followed by stringent retaliation from the police and the army – this, in short, was the Malabar rebellion. (Nayar, Malabar Kalapam 216)53

NOTES

1 Census Report of Travancore, 1872, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1876, pp. 253-260. Also vide, Table 1.

2 Vide Table 2

3 Travancore Administration Reports, 1860-‘61, p.7. 1861-’62, p.10. 1852-‘63, p.21. qtd in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. Print.

4 Also vide Tables 2 & 3.

5 Vide Table 1.

6 Parameswaran Nayar, Raman Pillai, Biography, pp. 80-81, in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. pp.148-150 & 219. Print.

7 Also vide Table 3.

8 Sale of Land: 1917-1930

Year Average cost of the land per year 1917-1920 rupees 193 lakhs

1920-1925 “ 221 “

1925-1930 “ 33 “

Source: Wililam Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. III, pp.7-8, in E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees lst ed., Trivandrum: Kerala Grandhasala Sahakarana Sangham, 1948. p. 250. Print. Also vide Tabel 4.

9 Report of the Backward Classes Reservation Commission, Vol. II, Government of Kerala, 1970, Also vide Table 1.

10 Also vide, Ballard, British Resident to Chief Secretary, March 9, 1870 in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. p.142. Print.

11 Petition of Kurukacheril Madhavan and others of Sherthallai to Madras Government, April 6, 1884, MPP, May 9, 1889, quoted in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. p.143. Print.

12 Also vide P. Palpu. The Treatment of Thiyars in Travancore. Monograph, n p.,

p. 3. p. 18. Print.

13 Also vide, “The Words of the Guru More Relevant”, Deepika, Kottayam: 30 August, 1985, p.4.

14 Bhagavat Geeta states that ‘Woman’, ‘Vaisya’, and ‘Sudra’ are of sinful origin. Where as, ‘Brahmin’ and ‘Kshatriya’ are of noble origin.

Bhagavat Geeta, “Chapter IX, verses 32 & 33.”

15 In 1931-32 when the ‘Guruvayur Satyagraha’ was started. A. K. Gopalan and P. Krishna Pillai were severely beaten. In 1948, in the ‘Paliyam Satyagraha’, two satyagrahis were beaten dead. In 1924, at ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’, many times the volunteers were beaten and lime was put in the eyes of the volunteers.

16 ‘Jatinirnayam’ reads: Humaness marks out the humanity,/ As bovinity proclaims a cow./Brahmin and such other are not right/ Alas! nobody sees this truth./ One caste, one of religion,/One of womb, one of form,/ Herein no differences at all./Within a species, is it not/ That offspring truly breed? Humanity thus viewed,/ Is the only caste./ Of the Human species,/ Is even Brahmin born/ As is the Pariah too/ What difference is then in caste? As between man and man./ Of a Pariah woman, in bygone days/ The great sage Parasara was born./ Of a virgin of the fisherfolk./ The codifier of Vedas was born./ Translation).

Guru, Narayana “Jatilakshanam”, in, Comment., The Complete Works of Narayana Guru, T. Bhaskaran. Calicut: Mathrubhoomi, 1985. p. 487. Print.

17 Also vide, Balakrishnan, P. K. “Dr. Palpu.” Sree Narayanayugaprabhavam. Eds. T. Bhaskaran and M. K. Kumaran. Varkala: International Sree Narayana Guru Year Celebration Committee, 1977. pp.103-106. Print.

18 “Papers re: the Aruvipuram S.N.D.P. Yogam registered under Section 26 of Regulation I of 1063”, Docket Sheet No.8338 dated 1903, Record Section, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

19 Narayana Guru, “We have no caste.” Public Statement Prabudha Keralam. Malayalam Newspaper, Alleppey : No.9, Book 1, Issue 1, 1 Midhunam 1091.

20 “The resignation letter of Narayana Guru from the S.N.D.P.Yogam”, quoted in, Editorial note, Gurukulam Philosophical Magazine, Mal., Varkala: Vol. 22, No.12, March 1986, p. 575. Print.

21 Also vide, Moorkoth Kunjappa, “The Muslim Brothers of Narayana Guru”,

Malayala Manorama, Kottayam: 27 August, 1977.

22 Interview with Kunjappi Kochappan, Memb, No. 237, one of the 37 live founder members of the Kumarakom Line Shell Workers’ Cooperative Society.

23 Personal interview with the Communist leader, S. K. Das, Alleppey. He was the first General Convener of the ‘agro-labour-Conference’ held in 1940. Later he became the member of the State Council of the C.P.I.

24. The Police Inspector’s Office,

Alwaye, 16-5-1921

To,

The Commissioner,

Trivandrum.

Sir,

I am forwarding herewith an account of a very significant meeting held at the Advaita Asram ground, Alwaye the Head quarters of the Ezhava Movement, on 15th May 1921. The meeting was presided by the religious head of the Ezhavas, Sri Narayana Guru himself. He made a new announcement of great significance. He said, all Humanity form one caste, there is no objection to inter-dining and inter-marriage. A leaflet entitled, “The Great Message”, containing this pronouncement in the Guru’s own facsimile was printed and distributed at the meeting. A pamphlet with a portrait of the Guru expounding the doctrine was also distributed at the meeting. This new doctrine is have a big organised fight for the destruction of the Hindu social system. The doctrines will be expounded at the Ezhava meetings big and small (and in the Vaikom and Sherthallai taluks, the Ezhavas all over hold regular meetings every Sunday, besides the occasional master meetings of which alone we get reports) and will spread among the ignorant Ezhavas. They will be taught to think, they as a matter of right, entitled to marry the high caste women, but the Hindus wrongly prevent them from doing so. This will be considered a great grievance just as non-admission to Hindu temples, though dating from the time immemorial has become a grievance now. In fact, the real object of the agitation for temple admission is to become high caste and to get fusion with the high caste people. This pronouncement of the Guru makes that very clear. You can easily conceive what effect the preaching of this doctrine will have on public peace especially in taluks of Sherthallai and Vaikom where Ezhavas form a strong numerical majority. I do not expect many meetings will be held during the monsoon, but with the stopping of the rains, in August the Ezhava agitation in this new dangerous form will spread fast in Sherthallai and Vaikom and as caste- Hindu people are few and not strong in these places, the Ezhava agitation will result in very serious disturbances. If the agiation continues, adequate steps will have to be taken: prohibition of meetings will be difficult in practice as it would not be easy to prevent the small weekly meetings held regularly all over these taluks.

(signed), 30/10/’96,Inspector.

(signed) District Supt. Of Police, Kottayam, 24-5-1921.

Kerala Archives News letter, Vol. III, Nos. I & II, January & March 1977. The Directorate of State Archives, 1977, pp. 3-4.

25 Also vide Theerdhapada Swamikal quoted in, Chattambi Swamikal, Christumataschedanam, reprint, Kottayam: Viswa Hindu Books, 1982, p. 9.

26 Also vide Srivalsan, “The Influence of Chattambi Swamikal.” Kesari Annual. 1987, p. 30. Print.

27 Also vide F. Fawcet, Nayars of Malabar, reprint, 1st print 1901, New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1985, p. 227.

28 Also vide, Korath, V. M., “The Sword of the National Movement.”

Mathrubhoomi, Calicut: 23 June 1985, p. 4.

29 Mithavadi, Mal. Newspaper, February 1917, pp. 5-6.

30 The content of the Dewan’s letter is :

To

Sir,

T. K. Madhavan,

Prajasabha Member, Quilon.

Government of Travancore,

Secretariat, Trivandrum,

10 Feb. 1921.

Received your letter through the Peshkar, Quilon, regarding submission of the subjects in the Prajasabha. It was mentioned that ‘Civil Equality and Equality of Entry to all Hindus in the Temples maintained by Public Wealth, will be Referred to’. But, this subject comes under rule 19 (d) of the procedural acts of the Prajasabha and it falls under prohibited subjects since it is directly related to religion. Hence the Government changes your subject of submission as, ‘Civil Equality’ and believes that when you make references, you should not refer to the subject of ‘Temple Entry’.

(signed)

N. Rajarama Rao, B.A.,

Chief Secretary to the Government

(Abstract – Translation)

Madhavan, P. K. Biography of T. K. Madhavan, 1st Ed. 1936, reprint, Kottayam: DC, 1986. p.93. Print.

31 The ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’ and the ‘Karappuram Sahodara Sangham’ together constituted the biggest political organisation till 1930. It had 2000 activists, had its origion in 1920. Also vide P. K. Madhavan. Biography of T. K. Madhavan, 1st Ed. 1936, reprint, Kottayam: DC, 1986. p. 96. Print.

32 The word ’Sakhav’ (Comrade) in Malayalam literature was first used in the following poem, composed in 1918. Some parts of the ‘Awakening Poems of Liberation’ are given below:

  1. The land of Russia which wept in servitude, /Became free, – prosperous and famous,/ Because of the dedicated hard work of/ Youths like you./There the dynamice youths – men and women,/ Sacrificed lives to win freedom. /Listen ‘comrades’, create here too,/ Similar thrilling histories./ (“Ezhavolbodhanam”, wrote in 1918).
  2. Lakhs and lakhs of your brothers/ Cry of pain from brutal – suppression./ Listen, the only hope for them, you are/ Go brave, throw out the legs that punch them,/ Welcome- imprisonment, gallows and the canon shots./ (“Ujjeevanam”, pp.88-89).
  3. We do’t say how can/ Poverty be eradicated./ But the north- wind sings of a new way/ It exhorts the long work done,/ There is the field./ That meesage which gives/ Relief to the poor./ Oh! New Year, you give to us too./ (Northwind means red-Russia.”About Russia”, Annual, Sahodaran, 1927).
  4. It is to all who weep in poverty/… /You the restless workers, drive/ Yourselves to a new direction and path./…/ The elite are foolish and lazy,/ The religion and the – Government/ Both are foolish, evil and misdirected./ …/ Numberless live around you/ Unable to raise their heads due to suppression/ Bear the heavy burden to save them./Bear the heavy burden to save them./ Awaken them chanting the divine sound of freedom./ If peope en bloc advance to/ Realise basic rights/ None cas resist/ Can’t you see this historic edict in red./ The poor are helpless when/ The notorious statecraft squeeze/ The juice of the poor to preserve the rich./ Numberless children of God/ severely suffer evey where/ With No food, cloth and shelter, Nobody to care./ (“Pula Colony”, p.256).
  5. Gandhiji went to the temple of Cape/ For Holy vision,/ Even the reverened Gandhi could not/ Enter the temple, since He was a Vaisya./

…/That Gandhiji who makes problems even to/ The British Lion that terriorises the World./ By holding and shaking its mane/ But that Gandhiji wags his tail and/ Shamelessly licks the kicking feet of the Brahmin, pitiful: “Gandhi Sandesam” (pp. 99-100).

Ayyappan, K. “Ezhavalbodhanam”, “Ujjevanam”, “Pula Colony”, & “Gandhisandesam”. The Poetic Works of Sahodaran. Ed. M. K. Sanoo. Kottayam: DC, 1981. p.95, 88-89, 92-95, 256, 99-100. Print. (Translation).

33 Kesari quoted in, Editorials of Kesari, Kottayam: N.B.S., p.59.

34 Yuvabharathi, Mal. Newspaper, 27 May 1933.

35 The abstract of the Presidential address is: The Ezhavas form 1/6 of the poulation of Travancore. Of them, only 6.8% people live on some kind of capital. The rest of them, 83.2% are workers, agro-labourers, weavers, coir workers, toddy-tappers etc. The 1931 census shows it. To improve the condition of the workers, leaders must arise from among them. Specific group of workers should have their own organisations. They can strengthen by mobilising and sending their representatives to the legislature and getting favourable laws enacted. This is the only instrument by which we can influence the progress of the workers. I am aware that many of us visualise revolutionary changes. But, we are not sufficiently prepared for that. The political condition too is not sufficient for it… So, many basic changes in the views of the Keralities are yet to take place. We are most eligible to spread ideas of change among the people. The preparedness and the necessity for change exist among ourselves more than anybody else.

C. Kesavan quoted in K. Sreenivasan,. C. Kesavan. Trivandrum: Jayasree Publication, 1987. pp.103-111. Print.

36 Quoted from (Translation), File No. 1643, Subject: “Prescription of the Address presented to C. Kesavan at Sherthallai, “Year 1937, Government of Travancore, C. S. Records, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum (Unpublished Document).

37 File No. 746, “Subject : List of political and Quasi- political societies and Sabhas, “C. S., Government of Travancore (Unpublished Document).

38 File No. 195/44, Subject: “The Incidents of Sherthallai: Police Report”,

C. S., Goverenment of Travancore (Unpublished).

39 Kerala Kaumudi reported on 30 May:

… At 8 a.m., Mr. Velayudhan B.A.B.L., who is the General Secretary Yogam and who is also the Vice-President of the ‘United Political Congress’, accompanied by workers with ‘tom-tom-beatings and wind music’, arrived at the flag post in front of the auditorium. There, a group photo was taken. The Mr. Velayudhan hoisted the red flag carrying the emblem ‘sickle and hammer’. It was followed by a speech on the role of the labour movement. The programme ended after flag solute by the labour volunteers (Translation).

Kerala Kaumudi, Weekly Newspaper, Trivandrum: Vol. 28, 30 May 1937.

40 Also vide, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. pp.93-109. Print.

41 Also vide, K. Prasobhan, “ The Revival of the Namboodiri Community”, in, T. Bhaskaran Ed., Sree Narayana Yugaprabhavam, pp. 351,356, 357 & 359. Print.

42 Also vide, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. pp. 93-109. Print.

43 The ‘Ayyankali Pada’ was organised at Neyyattinkara, Kottukal, Venganur, Chovvara, Mallur, Vellar, Balaramapuram, Paachallur etc. K. S. Mani, “Ayyankali the Liberator of Blacks in Kerala”, Samskara Keralam, Quarterly, Trivandrum: Department of Cultural Publication, Government of Kerala, 1989, p.19.

44 Also vide, K. S. Mani. “Ayyankali the Liberator of Blacks in Kerala”, Samskara Keralam, Quarterly, Trivandrum: Department of Cultural Publication, Government of Kerala, 1989. pp.21& 22. Print.

45 Educational Attainment: Various Communities

Year

X’ian

Nayar

Ezhava

Muslim

Pulaya

Paraya

1089(1914)

84161

70752

23895

4853

2017

1097

1090(1915)

96648

81034

30790

6095

4256

1816

1091 (1916)

113020

94336

39224

8569

8494

2652

1092 (1917)

119563

99490

45429

9553

10913

4885

Chendarasseri, T.H.P. Ayyankali. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1979. Print.

46 T. T. Kesavan Sastry, son-in-law of Ayyankali formed ‘The All Kerala Pulaya Mahasabha’. In July 1937, its first meeting was held at the Government High School, Adoor. The meeting was presided by C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. It resulted in the final breakdown of ‘The Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham’. Separate Caste organisations such as, ‘Cheramar Mahasabha’, ‘Ayyanavar Mahasabha’, ‘Parayar Mahasabha’, ‘ Kuravar Mahasabha’ etc., were formed.

In 1936, the ‘Kuravar Mahasabha’ was formed by P. C. Adichan. Of the cashew peeling workers, the majority belonged to the Kuravas. When the caste leadership became pro-Government, for personal favours, the Kurava workers began to join the trade union under the leadership of K.

C. Govindan (the late, trade union leader). Against it, the Government was using the Kurava leader, P. C. Adichan to dissuade his caste men from joining the trade union. This kind of pro-Governmental actions of the caste leaders, at the cost of the workers, made them unpopular and made ‘working class movement’ popular (File 238).

T.H.P.Chendarasseri. Ayyankali. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1979. pp.140-

141. Print. Also vide, File No. 238, Subject: “Incitement of the Labourers of the Quilon Cashewnut Factories to strike,” Government of Travancore, Confidential Section: General Administration Department, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

47 Logan, “Report of the Malabar Special Commission”, para 263, 280, quoted in, K. N. Panikkar. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th

Centuries”, Ed., A. R. Desai, Peasant Struggles in India, Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. Print. p.612. Print.

48 Gayatri Vallabha Iyer, “Welcome Speech”, Second State Political Conference of the Indian National Congres, Palghat, May, 1923, quoted in, A. K. Pillai, Congress and Kerala, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1986, pp. 350-352. Print.

49 C. S. Subrahmanyam, “Assembly Speech”, Legislative Council Debates, Madras: 8 February 1922.

50 Lord Reading, Viceroy to Lord Wellington, Letter, 26 May 1922, F.No. 23, Home, Political, 1922.

51 Lord Reading, Viceroy to Lord Wellington, Letter, 26 May 1922, F.No. 129, Home, Political, 1923.

52 Statesman, English Daily, Madras: 2 September 1922. Also vide, Kathleen Gough. “Peasant Resistance and Revolt in South India.” Peasant Struggles in India. Ed. Desai. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. p.725. Print.

53 Also vide, K. N. Panikkar. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Ed. A. R. Desai. Peasant Struggles in India. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. p.622. Print.

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BUILD UP OF CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS: AGITATIONAL POLITICS IN TRAVANCORE

Abstract: In Travancore radicalism developed during the period of class- consciousness. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to form political parties. At that time, 60% of political activities were concentrated in the Alleppey-Sherthallai taluks. The political radicalism based on caste and regional interests weighed greater than the constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. Political radicalism amounted to about 90% of the total political activities of the State. During 1930s and 1940s even in organisations listed under radicalism, leaders began to give up radicalism, became moderates and even supporters of the Government.

At the same time, ‘Gandhian Satyagrahis’ turned out to be political radicalists.

Keywords: moderates, extremists, radicalism, agitations

In Travancore, radicalism developed during the period of class- consciousness. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to evolve political parties. At that time, 60% of the political activities were concentrated in the Alleppey- Sherthallai taluks. The political radicalism based on caste and regional interests outweighed the constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. Political radicalism reached about 90% of the total political activities of the State. During 1930s and 1940s even in organisations listed under radicalism, the leaders began to abandon radicalism and become moderates and even supporters of the Government. At the same time, Gandhian ‘Satyagrahis’ turned out to be political radicalists. The political radicalism in Travancore was spearheaded by: 1. Alleppey coir factory workers, 2. The Youth League, 3. The Travancore State Congress and. 4. The Communist radical group.

Analysis of the Agitational Politics in Travancore

For the analysis of the agitational politics of Travancore, it is found that a Government report of 1930, prepared at the request of the British Government, is particularly useful as it gives an account of the political activities of various organisations on territorial as well as behavioural basis. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to evolve political parties in Travancore. To trace its transformation, the following tables (No.1 & 2) based on secret police reports and reports of the revenue authorities are helpful.

Tables 1 & 2 indicate the extent and nature of the agitational politics of Travancore by the beginning of 1930. At that time, 60% of the political activists were in the Alleppey – Sherthallai region, 20% in Quilon, 6% in Nagercoil, 3% in Trivandrum and 1% distributed over Karunagappally, Kayamkulam, Mavelikara and Pathanamthitta. As far as the nature of political behaviour was concerned, extremism based on caste and regional interests outweighed the national and constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. The Congress activities of ‘Satyagraha’, ‘Harijan work’ etc., were limited to below 10% of the total political activity, whereas, political extremism reached about 90%.

The political development in Travancore during the later period showed that even in organisations listed under extremism, moderates were emerging. Either the extremists turned into moderates or they gave up politics, secured Government favours and became supporters of the Government. Three such typical cases may be examined, based on the secret police reports to the Government of Travancore. The first case is that of the S.N.D.P. leader, K. M. Kesavan who was reported to have said, “… If the temples of Travancore are not opened before 2nd January, the people are prepared to make a revolution. C.I.D. should make a report of these facts and bring these facts before His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore”.1 This extremist leader was used by Sri. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer to form a counter organisation to the S.N.D.P. Yogam named Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham (S.N.D.S.).2 The second case is that of V. K. Velayudhan, who was once the president of the Travancore Labour Association and the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam who was known, at one time, as ‘the Stalin of Alleppey’. When V. V. Giri presided over the 12th annual meeting of the Travancore Labour Association, it was V. K. Velayudhan who hoisted the red flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer, for the first time, in Travancore.3 In 1944, at the peak of the struggle for a responsible Government in Travancore, V. K. Velayudhan became a supporter of the Government, apologised for his previous political activities, retired from active politics and secured many favours from the Government.4

The third extremist political leader who became a moderate and secured Government favours was P. N. Krishna Pillai. In 1932, the Commissioner of Police reported the following about him to the Chief Secretary: “P. N. Krishna Pillai organises and speaks at many political meetings and is himself notorious for his extreme political views”.5 The Secret Police Daily Bulletin on 13th April 1939 reported, “At a labour meeting held on 11-4-1939 in Karunagappally, P. N. Krishna Pillai in the course of his speech, dealing with the might of the labourers if they get organised, referred to the labour strike of 1926 in England and said that even His Majesty the King Emperor had to flee for his life from the Buckingham Palace”.6 The extremist leader was won over by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer using two coir capitalists of Alleppey, K. C. Karunakaran and M. L. Janardhanan Pillai.7 In early 1931, Krishna Pillai met the Dewan and shortly thereafter, got the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union pass a resolution to the effect of depoliticising the coir factory workers of Alleppey–Sherthallai. It reads, “This meeting of the Managing Committee of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union resolves that the Union shall not identify with any political organisations in the State in its activities”.8 The coir capitalist, K. C. Karunakaran in his letter to the Dewan claimed that the resolution was the result of the pressure he exerted on P. N. Krishna Pillai. The information given by the Inspector General of Police showed that P. N. Krishna Pillai lost the leadership of the labourers, became less dangerous to the Government and was even prepared to tender an unconditional apology in writing for his past actions.9

The three cases of Gandhian activists who turned into extremist leaders were N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar and M. N. Govindan Nayar. According to a secret police report, N. P. Kurukkal belonged to a land- owning family at Vattiyurkav, Trivandrum. In 1920, when he was studying in the Vanchiyur School, he organised a strike against fee hike. He discontinued studies and became a member of the Trivandrum District Congress started under the Presidency of Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai and under the Secretaryship of A. K. Pillai. Together with

G. Sreedhar, he participated in the Nagpore flag-fight in 1922 and was arrested. During the period of the Salt Satyagraha, he became the Secretary of the City Congress Committee. Together with N. C. Sekhar and

Table 1: Politics of Travancore, 1930: Territorial Basis

I. Trivandrum

 

IV. Alleppey

 

1. Travancore

Political Association, 1928 (members)

100

1. Travancore Labour Association, 1924

1100

2. City Congress Committee, 1927

50

2. Temperance & Khadar Society

 

3. Youth League, 1930

20

3. Karappuram Sahodara Sangham Sherthallai, 1920

1000

4. S.I. States People’s Conference

11

4. Karappuram Sevasangham, 1920

1000

Total Activists

101

5. Temperance Association, 1929

40

II. Nagercoil

 

6. Kerala Reforms League, 1929

30

1. Khadar Society

210

7. Karappuram Union

20

2. Self- Respect League, 1928

85

8. Madhuvarjana Sangham, 1930

15

3. S. Satyagraha Committee, 1930

50

9. Youth League, Kuthiyathod

13

4. Sucheendram S. Committee, 1930

10

10. Congress Committee, 1930

12

5. A. India Spinners’ Association

10

Total Activists

3230

Total Activists

330

V. a) Mavelikkara Prohibition Society, 1930

17

III Quilon

 

b) Chengannur,

Congress Sabha

5

1. Qulion Labour Association 1928

600

c) Vallicode, G.V.Yuvajanasangham

12

2. S.Pradayani Sabha, Paravur, 1930

300

d) Kayamkulam, Provinvial C.L. 1930

13

3. Youth League, Perinad, 1930

500

Total Activists

47

4. Temperance Union, Kavanad, 1930

85

Total Organisation engaged to political activities

(Excepting Arya Samaj)

30

5. S & Prohibition Society, 1928

7

Total Political activists

5280

6. T. Union Karunagappally

 
  1. a) Mavellikkara 17 0.
    1. Chengannur 5
    2. Vallicode 12
    3. Kayamkulam 13

89%

Total Activists

1492

   

The percentage of Political activists

of each place to the total number in the State

 

i. Trivandrum-181(3.43%)

 

ii. Nagercoil-330 (6.25%)

 

iii.Quilon – 1492 (28.26%)

 

iv. Alleppey – 3230 (61.17%) Sherthallai

 

Source: Derived from; The Confidential Correspondence File No. 746, Year 1930,

Subject: “List of Political and Quasi- Political Societies in the State for the year ending 30th June, 1930”, C.S., Govt. of Travancore (unpublished).

G. Sreedhar, he broke the Salt laws at Calicut, Payyannur, Bombay and Darsana. In 1930, along with N. C. Sekhar, he went to Malabar to picket ‘foreign cloth’ shops, and they were arrested. After their release on 14-3- 1931, Kurukkal assuming the role of the Organising Secretary of the Provincial Unit of the C.P.I. in Kerala, issued a ‘recruitment pamphlet’ for enlisting members.10

According to the confidential police report, N. C. Sekhar was born in a poor family in Neyyattinkara taluk. After discontinuing his education, he went to Payyanur in 1105 (1930) along with N. P. Kurukkal,

K. Kumar, G. Sreedhar and other radicals to join the Salt Satyagraha. He

Samyukta:

A

Journal

of Women’s

Studies

(July 2013)

Vol. XIII.

No.

2

Table 2: Politics of Travancore, 1930: Behavioural Basis

I

II

III

IV

Congressmen assistating I.N.C. in Satyagraha, collecting funds & enlisting members

Congressmen engaged in Khadi & Harijan work

Radicals associate with the I.N.C

Political activists rooted in social radicalism follow political radicalism

1. City Congress Committee,

Trivandrum 50

1. Khadar Society Nagarcoil 210

1. Youth Leage Perinad, Quilon 500

1. Karappuram Sahodara Samajam, Shertallai 1000

2. Salt Satyagraha Committee,

Nagercoil 50

2. Prohibition Society, Mavelikara 17

2. Travancore Political Association

Trivandrum 100

2. Karappuram Seva Sangham, Shertallai 1000

3. Provincial Congress League, Kayamkulam 13

3. Madhuvarjana

Sangham, Shertalai 15

3. South Indian States People’s Conference, Trivandrum 11

3. Self-respect League, Nagercoil 85

4. Congress

Committee, Shertalai 12

4. Temperance & Khadar Society Alleppey

4. Sanmarga Sabha Paravur, Quilon 300

4. Kerala Reforms League, Vayalar 30

5. Gandhivilasom Yuvajana Sangham Vallicode 12

5. Spinners Association, Nagercoil 10

5. Temperance Union, Kavanad 50

5. Karappuram Union, Shertalai 20

6. Congress Sabha, Chengannur 5

6. Temperance Movement, Kanjirapally

6. Temperance

Association, Shertallai 40

6. Suchindram Satyagraha Committee 10

Total Activists 142

Total Activists 252

Total Activists 1041

Total Activists 2145

remedy for all social and

V

Trade Union movements Believed in Class War and Active in Politics

1. Travancore Labour

Number of Organisations & Percentage of Political Activists to the Total Number

Organisations

Total No.of organisations

6

6

9

Activists

%

  1. SupportingI.N.C
  2. Khadi & Harjan Work
  3. Radical congressmen
  4. Rooted in Social Radicalism, follow Political Radicalism

142

252

1041

2.7

4.8

19.7

Association, Alleppey

2. Quilon Labour Association Total Activists

1100

600

1700

6

2145

40.6

V. Trade Union Movement believing In class war, active in politics 2

1700

32.2

Source: Derived from; The Confidential Correspondence File No. 746, Year 1930, Govt. of Travancore.

picketed foreign cloth shops. He was arrested on 30th June, and was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment. He underwent imprisonment in the Cannanore jail. He took part in all the activities of the Congress in Neyyattinkara and Trivandrum. He participated in the picketing of foreign cloth shops at Trivandrum in 1107 (1932). He was arrested on 24-5-1107 for disobeying a prohibitory order issued by the District Magistrate, Trivandrum, and was convicted and sentenced to one month’s rigorous imprisonment. He was actively involved in making all arrangements for Gandhi’s visit to Travancore in early 1934. In 1935, he attended the meeting of the Malabar District Harijan Seva Sangh. He took interest in the Malaria relief work in Neyyattinkara taluk. In October 1935 he joined the labour agitation which eventually led to the labour strike in Thiruvannur. In 1936, he was the Joint Secretary of the Labour Union at Calicut, and an activist of the C.S.P. During 1934-‘35 he had contributed articles to newspapers condemning capitalism and holding out socialism as the political evils. He was a potential revolutionary, a radical Congressman and a Communist, anti-British and anti-Government, prone to be mischievous when suitable opportunities arose. N. P. Kurukkal, G. Sreedhar and other radicals were his close friends.11 In 1937,

P. Sundarayya and S. V. Ghate, the Central Committee members of the C.P.I., who were to organise the party in South India enlisted N. C. Sekhar together with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Krishna Pillai and K. Damodaran into the ‘secret fraction’ of the party in Kerala (Namboodiripad 201, 202 & 211).

The third case of the moderate political leader-turned-radical was that of M.N. Govindan Nayar. On 16 March 1936, the British Resident in a letter to Dewan Habibullah had enquired on the nature of the activities of M. N. Govindan Nayar and G. Ramachandran. Accordingly, the Police Commissioner had made an inquiry and reported, “Regarding Messrs.

M. N. Govindan Nayar and G. Ramachandran, there is nothing to be said against them except that they are in sympathy with the policies and ideals of the Indian National Congress and have been working for the Harijan Sevak Sangh”.12 Later M. N. Govindan Nayar became active in the agitations of the Travancore State Congress for responsible Government and rose to the national leadership of the Communist Party of India after 1947.13

The Coir Factory Workers’ Movement of Sherthallai-Alleppey

The history of the coir industry in Alleppey began in 1859, with the establishment of a small factory for the manufacture of coir mats by James Darragh, an Irish American Catholic. He also bought coir yarn, which was shipped to factories in Europe and America where it was woven (qtd in Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism: Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Workers” 1159). By 1890, about four European-Amercian firms and about a dozen Indian industrialists were engaged in the coir business. In 1890, an Alleppey Chamber of Commerce was founded. By 1901, the factories of Darragh and Smail at Alleppey employed 1,000 workers. In 1909, the annual export of manufactured coir goods averaged Rs.10.36 lakhs and yarn exports about Rs. 60 lakhs (qtd in Jeffrey 1159).14 The First World War produced a boom in the manufacturing industry. The loss of market in Europe and the shortage of shipping were incentives to increase manufacture of coir goods in Travancore. In the five years from 1914-‘15 to 1918-‘19, the average value of manufactured coir exports rose to Rs. 11.58 lakhs a year. By 1918-‘19, the export stood at Rs. 18.12 lakhs. The end of the war and the reopening of the European market produced a spectacular growth in the industry. In 1927-‘28 the value of manufactured exports rose by 400% to Rs. 90.4 lakhs from Rs. 18.13 lakhs in 1918-’19 (Idem).

In five to six years after the First World War, the coir industry suffered an acute shortage of labour. Contractors had to go about and canvas workmen to whom the management had to pay an advance. But, by 1931, due to the global economic depression, the prices of coir products crashed. Yet, there was a demand for the products. That was because of the fact that the lower middle classes of Europe and America looked for cheaper floor coverings when times were hard and saw coir as the answer. That meant a continuation of employment at lower wages. The quantity of production increased during that period from 47% to 80% while the value increased by only 28%. To achieve the increase in production, more workers were recruited. The census of 1931 enumerated 7000 factory workers and more than 1,20,000 cottage workers in the coir industry. In 1941 the number of factory workers was 32,000 while that of the cottage industry rose to 1,33,000 (Ibid 1159).15 By January 1934 wages dropped by 30%. At the same time, the price of paddy went down by 50%. By 1938, the worker’s wages were 75% less than in 1930, and the price of paddy was only 40% lower than the pre-depression level (Ibid 1159).16

During the post-war depression period, there was a good demand for coir products in the market, but prices remained low. Small fly-by- night factories increased in the countryside within a radius of about 30 miles of Alleppey. By 1938, in addition to Alleppey, there were 250 such factories with 700 looms (Ibid 73).17 In the ten years between 1929-‘38, more than 130 shippers had been listed in the official publications and then vanished; only 23 had survived throughout the 10 years. Small factories, started with low capital, could undercut the bigger enterprises in Alleppey (Ibid 1160). As small factories spread, a large number of people were exposed to the proletarian life of factory conditions. Men drifted into Alleppey for a few months or years of work in the factories, then went back to their villages and were replaced by others. To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The coir industry was thus distinct; large factories shading off into rudimentary country workshops and finally into the huts of thousands of people which produced coir yarn”(Idem).

In 1922 the coir factory workers of Alleppey were organised on the initiative of a labour contractor (Moopan), P. K. Bava. He was the head worker in the Empire Coir Works. The Civil Rights Movement of the time had given him the impetus to organise the workers. Initially it was called Labour Union. Bava was its first Secretary and he continued in that post till 1928. Very soon, sometime in 1922 itself, the name was changed to Travancore Labour Association (Raghavan 34-38). In the early days, the Travancore Labour Association worked more as a welfare organisation than as a trade union. But gradually it grew into the most powerful trade union, mainly due to the consistent efforts of the rank and file (Isaac 167). To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The Labour Association took the lead in none of the strikes. Rather, workers called on it for help. Once they had angrily and spontaneously struck work rather than accept heavier duties for lower wages”(Govindan 182; Jeffrey 1161).

The emergence of the proletarian movement in the Sherthallai– Alleppey belt was based on four factors. Firstly, the society was still pre- capitalist, and hence social values and social conflicts affected the workers too. Secondly, they were affected by the anti-colonial freedom struggle (and also the struggle for responsible Government in Travancore). Thirdly, the workers had to organise and agitate under trade unions to safeguard their class interests. Fourthly, to liberate the working class from the bourgeois social reform leadership, there was the deliberate interference of the working class political party (Isaac 167). The working class movement in the Sherthallai-Alleppey belt is a typical example of the interactions of the above four factors at different periods, at varying degrees.

By the end of the 19th century, with the advent of modernisation on a limited scale, a bourgeois class emerged in the society of Kerala. The socio-political system dominated by caste-Hindus was an impediment to the development of this class. The aim of the social reform movement was to remove those pre-capitalist obstacles that stood in the way of development. Of the social awakening movements, the most radical one was the Ezhava social reform movement. Bourgeois radicalism reached its zenith in the movement. The awakened Ezhava bourgeoisie, who were fighting to secure social and political status on par with their economic position, organised behind them the entire population, the majority of whom were workers (Ibid 168). The coir factory workers of Alleppey entered the stage of social and political activities through these movements. The dynamism of the Ezhava social reform movement almost intoxicated them. The coir factory workers of Sherthallai – Alleppey were leading a double life – of worker inside the factory and of Ezhava outside the factory. To fight against the capitalist, they had the trade union and to fight against the caste-Hindu domination, there was the S.N.D.P. Union (Idem).

During the 1924-‘37 period, the Travancore Labour Association was greatly influenced by extremist leaders like K. Ayyappan, P. Kesavadev, A. Balakrishna Pillai, E. V. Ramaswami Naikar and others. In 1924 at a labour meeting in Sherthallai, K. Ayyappan gave the following call to the workers: “… strike and get liberated like the Russians who liberated themselves by slaying the royal family. Never mind the gun of the army, the baton of the police and even the King” (Raghavan 38). The Government of Travancore took a serious view of his call and prohibited Ayyappan from making speeches in Travancore. It prompted Dewan Raghavayya to state, “The Communist ideology has started spreading”.18 In 1924, the Travancore Labour Association started a library and a literacy class for the workers. Lessons on the dignity of labour, value of knowledge, women emancipation, abstention from liquor, etc. were taught by dedicated speakers like K. Ayyappan, P. Kesavadev, Swami Satyavradan, R. Sugathan and others. The Association formed a Labourers’ Cooperative Society (No. 1014) and started issuing loans and consumer goods at the market price. In 1926, the Association, under the initiative of P. K. Bava, started a newspaper named Thozhilali (Worker) which survived till the general strike of 1938. Once or twice a week, meetings were conducted near factories to educate and enlighten the workers (Raghavan 4-40).

The Travancore Labour Association extended its activities by establishing branches throughout the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt. The four branches were at Aroor, Sherthallai, Muhamma and at the Chungom at Alleppey. The dedicated efforts of the Association enabled the workers of Alleppey to attain such commendable levels of literacy that many among them emerged as trade union leaders, political party leaders, speakers, writers and even editors of newspapers (qtd in Raghavan 39).19 To quote Robin Jeffrey,”Travancore was the most literate area of India (68% of male literacy in 1941), and one estimate put literacy among the factory workers at 75% in the late 1930s” (Jeffrey, “Status, Class and the Growth of Radical Politics” 138). Jeffrey continues, “The coir factories not only imparted the skills of the industry but introduced workers to the realities of factory life, to the grievances of factory labour, and ultimately to organisers from the Travancore Labour Association, to its weekly newspaper, Thozhilali (Worker)” (Jeffrey, Destroy Capitalism 1160).

The newspaper Thozhilali came out fairly regularly throughout the 1930s. It published a wide range of poems, articles and polemics, educating the workers in class solidarity and socialism. For example, it published a lengthy account of Marx’s contribution to workers’ literature, and poems like ‘The Workers’ Hand’ which concluded, “This world shall see the dawn of revolution; The world, sustained by the labour of workers, shall see the dawn of revolution”. It published features such as ‘Peaceful Path to Socialism in Sweden’, ‘The Beautification of Moscow’, ‘Soviet Reclamation and Hydroelectric Projects’, ‘Growth of the Literacy Movement in Soviet Union’, ‘Various Strikes in South India’, ‘Travancore Labour News’, ‘Call for Worker-peasant Solidarity to achieve Responsible Government in Travancore’, ‘About the Cry of a Beggar,’ a poem titled ‘Give Cash’, and a skit entitled ‘Public Men’ in which one character tells another, “Elder brother! A public institution is not enough. Revolution, that is what we need. We must put down all notables, we must unite all workers”(Idem).20

In the 1920s, traditional caste based values started crumbling and the vacuum created was replaced with the ideas of socialism and classlessness. The Brotherhood Movement of K. Ayyappan was preaching rationalism leading to atheism. Lord Rama was replaced by Comrade Lenin (Idem). Throughout the 1930s, the caste-Hindus and the Government of Travancore were threatened by the largescale conversion of non-caste Hindus. The strike of 1934 brought a range of slogans and songs to the lips of Alleppey workers such as, ‘Capitalists! We want wages in cash; When we ask for wages, will you attack us?’ and ‘Workers of all nations, unite!’ The slogan ‘Destory capitalism!’ gained wide currency. The idea was taking firm root that the factory owners were a group (some of them were Ezhavas) with interests that were directly antagonistic to the workers (Idem). Thus class consciousness and anti- capitalist sentiments spread rapidly throughout the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt. The fact that many of the coir workers were constantly moving back and forth between their villages and the factories meant that larger sections of the people were exposed to the ideas of class struggle. By carrying their ideas back to the countryside, they created around themselves a sympathetic rural buffer that could become a source of support in times of crisis (Ibid 1160).

The labour union of the coir factory workers was the first melting pot of secular politics in Travancore. In the state of Travancore, where communal issues often dominated politics, the welding of workers from all castes and religions into a militant union was proof of a growing class awareness. Ezhavas formed 80% of the work force, Christians 8%, Muslims 1% and Nayars 1%; the remaining 10% was formed by other non-caste Hindus (Ibid 1160).21 The founding Secretary of the Kerala branch of the Communist Party, P. Krishna Pillai was a coir factory worker. The coir factory became the meeting ground for workers of all castes and religions and in the Travancore Labour Association, the different streams merged to form a single class (Ibid 1160-61).

The nature of the working of the Labour Association in its early days can also be analysed by looking into the data available of the persons associated with it – the Chairpersons of its annual meetings and its Presidents – and its list of activities. Its early annual meetings were presided over by Sardar K. M. Panikkar, Z. M. Parot, B. Sivarao, Chenganassery Parameswaran Pillai, K. A. Krishnayyankar, E. V. Ramaswami Naikar, V. V. Giri, M. Ramavarma Thampan, R. Sankar, Pattom Thanu Pillai, K. K. Kuruvila and others. The early presidents of the Association were Dr. Antony, P. S. Mohammed, M. Krishnan Menon, P. K. Madhavan, N. Krishnan, A. Balakrishna Pillai, V. K. Velayudhan, P. N. Krishna Pillai and others. About them, a former General Secretary K. K. Kunjan says, “Labour leadership was held by a group of capitalists and their men. Its first President was Dr. Antony, the owner of Indian Coir Works. Others were advocates, employees (administrative staff) of factories or contractors. When the workers, acting on their own initiative, struck work demanding payment in cash and objecting to wage reduction etc., the leaders of the Association only mediated the strikes, to plead with the Government and the capitalists. They could not organise and lead strikes systematically at a higher level” (qtd in Andalat 97-98). Not only did the early leadership lack the ability to organise labour strikes effectively, but it also lacked the will to organise agitations against the Government. A typical case is that of P. S. Mohammed, the President of the Association in 1932. On 10th March 1932, in a letter to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Travancore, he stated, “… I need not tell you that ever since I took charge as President of the Association, I have tried my level best to make the Association a responsible body. You will have noticed that not a single labourer took part in the recent picketing that was followed by arrests. This shows that the Labour Association under my advice has been able to infuse in the minds of the labourers the need to respect law and authority … They do not have to interfere in political matters”.22

Seven years later in 1939 , Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore, through a coir manufacturer K. C. Karunakaran, managed to get a resolution passed by the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union to the effect that, “… the labour will have nothing to do with any political organisation in Travancore”.23 The following were the early activities of the Labour Association: 1. Collected a working fund; 2. Started a weekly newspaper; 3. Distributed pamphlets regularly; 4. Conducted library and literacy classes; 5. Gave medical aid; funeral expense of Rs. 25 was given at the time of the death of an adult and Rs. 15 at the death of a child;

6. Demanded medical inspection in factories; 7. Demanded the Government to set up funds to help the aged and unhealthy; 8. Took the initiative to organise trade unions in other sectors; for instance, the agro- labourers of Kuttanad, the rickshaw pullers, scavengers, boat workers, and oil mill workers were shown the path towards organisation by the coir workers; 9. In 1926, it appealed to social organisations to convene labour conferences; 10. Demanded compulsory primary education; and,

11. Demanded universal adult suffrage and responsible Government in Travancore (Andalat 99; Jeffrey 1161).

Politics of the Coir workers

Besides the above demands, the Association supported agitations of the national freedom movement. Robin Jeffrey has stated that, in April 1924, the Travancore Labour Association held a festive annual meeting in imitation of the Indian National Congress. During the conference, word was received of the arrest of leading satyagrahis at Vaikom. Fifty volunteers were at once despatched across the backwaters to aid the satyagraha movement of the Indian National Congress (ibid 1160). Among the volunteers was K. C. Govindan, a twenty-four year old coir weaver, who was later to serve as the General-Secretary of the Labour Association for more than five years.24 In 1930, the Travancore Government in its confidential report to the British Resident about the organisations of political importance, stated that the Travancore Labour Association had a very high membership and that the Association “… appears to have been taking part in political matters. When the Salt Satyagraha volunteers under the leadership of G. Sreedhar went to Payyannur through Alleppey, K. C. Govindan, Secretary of the Association, welcomed them on behalf of the Association. They even said that, if necessary, they would supply volunteers and money for the Salt Satyagraha Campaign”.25 On 7 June 1935, when the abstentionist leader C. Kesavan was arrested at Alleppey, all the coir factory workers struck work and held protest meetings. Later when he was released, a grand felicitation was accorded to him (Raghavan 47-48).

In 1934, the defunct K.P.C.C was reorganised and the C.S.P. leader

A. K. Gopalan was elected one of the secretaries. By 1935, the Congress started extending its activities to the villages. The party created tributary organisations of workers, peasants, teachers and students. In May 1935, along with the first Kerala Congress Conference, a labour conference was also held. A total number of 16 trade union delegates participated in it. Its organiser was P. Krishna Pillai, a product of the coir factory culture. The trade union delegates included A. K. Gopalan, R. Sugathan, N. C. Sekhar, K. K. Warrier, P. S. Namboodiri, K. P. Gopalan and P. K. Balan. In 1937 the second labour conference was held at Trichur. The Association sent R. Sugathan as its delegate (Ibid 55-56).

When the C.S.P. was formed in 1934, its leaders, particularly P. Krishna Pillai, were in contact with the labour leaders of Alleppey. Gradually, through regular contact and study classes, the idea of liberating the first trade union movement of Kerala from the influence of the bourgeoisie and converting it into a revolutionary trade union was envisioned. It was in that background that the first organised strike broke out in January 1934, the first of its kind launched by the labour Association. After striking work, the labourers conducted a procession through the streets of Alleppey shouting the slogans, ‘victory to the revolution!’, ‘workers of the world, unite!’, ‘capitalists, give wages in cash!’ etc (Ibid 41, 42, 57 & 58).

Parallel to the bourgeois leadership (P. S. Muhammed, Anirudhan and others), a proletarian leadership was emerging from among the workers themselves. Prominent among them were K. K. Kunjan, V. K. Purushothaman, K. C. Govindan, K. V. Pathros, P. G. Padmanabhan, V. I. Simon Asan, Swami Padmanabhan, K. K. Joseph, S. Damodaran, C. O. Mathew, V. K. Achuthan, O. J. Joseph, C. K. Kesavan, P. V. Andrews, K. Velayudhan, V. S. Achuthanandan and others (Menon 100-101).26 In 1936, P. Krishnan Pillai organised the first C.S.P. unit of Travancore in Alleppey. Its secretary was K. N. Dat and the unit members were K. K. Kunjan, P. K. Padmanabhan, P. V. Andrews, V. K. Purushothaman, K.V. Pathros, Simon Asan, P. A. Soloman and C. O. Mathew. The group worked among the labourers, and by 1937, grew powerful enough to capture the leadership of the Labour Association from the bourgeoisie-influenced leaders (Raghavan 58).

Even after the formation of the C.S.P. unit, the bourgeois influence did not completely end. In the 12th annual meeting of the Association, on 22 May 1937, the C.S.P. leadership attempted to rush through a resolution to insist that workers sever all relations with communal organisations. It gave rise to an outcry. The majority of the workers looked upon the resolution as a wicked tactic to torpedo the agitations against caste-Hindu domination. Finally as a compromise, the old practice was allowed to continue.27 But gradually, the Alleppey worker severed his caste connections and became class conscious. When strikes became widespread, it became a class conflict between the capitalists including the Ezhava capitalists and the working class of all castes. Thus, from experience, the workers realised that caste organisations were useless and incapable of even mediating in class conflicts (Ibid 169).

By the end of the 1930s, when the Government decided to accept the demands of the Abstention Movement, the Ezhava leaders felt that their caste disabilities had been corrected and that it was profitable to give up the anti-Governmental stance and to get closer to the government. Hence they stopped the support they extended to the State Congress for its agitations against the Government. It marked the successful culmination of the consistent efforts of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, through the Alleppey coir manufacturer K. C. Karunkaran, to get the S.N.D.P. Yogam withdraw from political activities and to confine itself to social activities alone.28 It was highly ironical that the special S.N.D.P. meeting which took such a decision on 28-5-1939 at Alleppey was presided over by its president K. Ayyappan who had once – in 1924 – called upon the Sherthallai-Alleppey labourers to create a ‘bloody revolution’ in the model of the ‘Russian revolution’ (Raghavan 38-39). The workers of Sherthallai had taken that call of Ayyappan in its true spirit and got into a direct confrontation with the police leading to military firing on 21-9-1938 (known as the Kanicha-Kulangara riot). The leader of the riot was A. K. Padmanabhan, the secretary of the Kalavancode branch of the Labour Union.

Moreover, in the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt, there was an identification of the labour force with the radical wing of the State Congress called the Youth League. The coir capitalists of Alleppey and their organisation, the Alleppey Chamber of Commerce openly supported the suppressive policies of the Travancore Government against the State Congress. On 13-10-1114 M.E (25-5-1939) the District Magistrate, based on a confidential police report, informed the Chief Secretary to the Government that the radical section of the State Congress led by T. K. Varghese Vaidyan and others had been very busy recruiting labour leaders into the Youth League. Twelve prominent members of the managing committee had so far enrolled themselves as members of the radical section of the State Congress. “It is reported that the labour are siding more and more with this section.” The very title of the government file dealing with the report, “Alleppey Labour Situation, the Police at Alleppey to be Strengthened – the Inspector Being Nervous”, is indicative of the nature of the labour situation in the Sherthallai-Alleppey belt.29

In the agitation of the State Congress for responsible Government, the coir capitalists of Alleppey openly supported the Government. On the contrary, the coir workers of Alleppey strongly supported the State Congress in its agitation for responsible Government and adult suffrage. On 2-11-1938 the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Alleppey reported to the I.G of Police:

… the driving force behind the Labour Union has been and still is the State Congress. The labour agitation has always been controlled and led by political agitators who take a leading part in the State Congress activities. Even the present strike and the demands of the labourers has been dictated by the State Congress High Command. Seeing that there is a lull in the labour agitation now, with possibilities of the struggle continuing being remote, the State Congress has come forward to foment trouble and revive the dying activities by demanding enquiries into alleged atrocities, all in the name of helping the labourers. The State Congress has, so to say, taken up the cause of the labourers and by sedulous propaganda, dissuaded willing workers from resuming work. It may be noted that the demands of the labourers include the establishment of responsible Government, release of political prisoners, repeal of the Regulation I of 1114 and the institution of enquiries into alleged atrocities of the authorities in connection with the State Congress activities. At the meetings of the labourers, exhortations are made to join the State Congress. It may also be noted that Messrs. P. K. Kunju, P. N. Krishna Pillai, V. K. Velayudhan and R. Sugathan are leading the labour movement.30

In a detailed report sent to the Government by the coir capitalist M.L. Janardhanan Pillai about the State Congress meeting at Kidangamparambu, the bastion of the coir workers, it is stated that the president of the meeting and leader of the Changanassery branch of the Youth League, K. S. Sebastian had said, “…in his capacity as an important office bearer of the Central Travancore Labour Union, he would say that, for all the ills of the workers, both economic and political, responsible government with adult franchise alone was the only panacea”.31

The March of 1935

In April 1935, the Labour Association decided to conduct a march to the capital, Trivandrum, and represent their long-standing grievances directly to the Maharaja (King). Fifty volunteers were elected for the purpose. The demands were: 1. Weekly payment of wage, 2. Uniform wage in all factories, 3. Introduction of modern labour laws, and 4. Representation of labour in the legislature. A Publicity Committee was formed under Quilon Joseph. By May 1935, the committee had conducted sixteen propaganda meetings throughout the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. A marching song too was composed, which began thus:

“The sweet talk of the capitalists and the landlords, cannot save the poor. The crafty ploy of exploiting the workers, with the might of capital, can’t last long…”.(Raghavan 49) (Translation)

When the labour march was being mobilised, the bourgeois leaders became upset. P. S. Muhammed openly turned against the march and Dr. K. P. Panikkar, the President of the Association, resigned. Alarmed at the prospect of the march, the government issued prohibitive orders. Such orders were issued to the labour leaders, K. C. Govindan (General Secretary), Quilon Joseph, V. K. Purushothaman and V. K. Velayudhan (Ibid 51). The ban was followed by arrest and imprisonment. When K. C. Govindan, Quilon Joseph and V. K. Purushothaman were arrested, the entire coir labour force struck work and conducted demonstrations against the arrest. The strike was spontaneous; the Association had not called for it. Protest meetings were held outside Alleppey too. At Trivandrum, they were presided over by Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai and at Quilon, by C. S. Subrahmanyam Potti (Idem).

The ban on the march, the arrest of the labour leaders, the protest meetings, the demonstrations and the strike had their effect. To satisfy the labourers, the Government introduced four bills in the Assembly: 1.The Factories Bill 2.The Workmen Compensation Bill, 3.The Trade Disputes Bill and 4.The Trade Union Bill. Besides that, the Government also withdrew the existing compulsory labour system in factories in response to a resolution introduced in the legislature by Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai. Thus, the organised coir factory workers of Alleppey became a force to be reckoned with (Ibid 57). The 12th annual meeting of the Labour Association was held on 22 May 1937. It was presided over by the then president of the Railway Men’s Federation, V.V. Giri, who was also the Labour Minister in the Madras province. At that meeting, the red-flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer was hoisted for the first time in Travancore by V. K. Velayudhan (Ibid 58). The annual meeting raised the following demands: 1. Increase the wages so that a worker could get a minimum wage of Rs. 30; 2. Fix the eight hour working time; 3. One month annual leave with full pay; 4. Old age pension;

  1. Maternity benefits for female workers; 6. Unemployment and illness allowance; 7. Compensation for accident; 8. Government to manage factories; 9. Separate representation for agro-labour and industrial labour in the Legislature; and, 10. Introduction of the I.L.O. recommendations (Ibid 63).

The Political Strike of 1938

As the next step to realising the demands, the Association organised daily, explanatory meetings among the factory workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. Through their newspaper, Thozhilali, intense propaganda was given to the need to make the Government implement modern labour laws.32 The workers were prepared for a general strike. The General Body of the Association met on 6 March 1938 and decided to launch a general strike. It elected a five member Strike Committee consisting of P. K. Kunju (Association President), P. N. Krishna Pillai,

C. K. Velayudhan, V. K. Purushothaman and R. Sugathan (convener). However, the Government decided to suppress the strike with the help of the Alleppey coir capitalists (Raghavan 64-65). On 24-25 March, the members of the Strike Committee were imprisoned and in the Quilon District, public meetings and demonstrations were prohibited. From Ambalapuzha to Aroor, the workers responded with a general strike and hartal; they violated the prohibitive orders, conducted demonstration before the Police Station and demanded the release of their leaders. The police beat the workers resulting in the death of a worker called Bava. To protest against the lathi charge and the killing of Bava, the coir factory workers struck work the next day and held a protest meeting at Kanjikuzhi, nine miles north of the prohibited area. At Quilon, the workers of Goodeker & Sons Coir Factory and A.D. Cotton Mill struck work and hoisted the black flag (Kunjan 63).

The Government was forced to release the labour leaders the very next day. The arrest of the labour leaders leading to the general strike, the hartal, the protest meetings, the lathi charge and the killing of Bava, all added vigour to the coir factory workers’ agitation for the implementation of labour laws. On 20 June 1936, the workers met on the Aalisseri ground, repeated the resolution adopted at the 12th annual meeting of the Association for a general strike, and formed a strike committee (Raghavan 67). By then, the Association had established its branches outside Alleppey. A branch was opened at a coastal area, which proved instrumental in the formation of the trade unions of dockworkers and fishermen. Another branch was established at Ponkunnam where the estate workers remained unorganised. For the organisation of the Ponkunnam branch, a meeting was held at Ranni (Pillai 21). The Ponkunnam branch was entrusted to the leadership of Kakanadan. The workers’ newspaper Thozhilai too started circulation among the estate workers. In July 1938, the Trade Union Act was introduced in Travancore. On 24 July 1938 the Association was renamed the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union, and it was registered as Trade Union No. 1 (Raghavan 71&73).

Workers Lead the Congress Strike

The coir factory workers were always an inseparable part of the political agitations of the State Congress. The State Congress Working Committee decided to launch its agitation against the Government on 26 August 1938. On the 25th the Government declared the Youth League and the State Congress illegal and banned their activities. However, the Congress decided to violate the prohibition at important centres like Trivandrum, Quilon, Alleppey, Kottayam, Changanassery, etc. At Alleppey, the Congress decided that leaders of the coir factory workers,

R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan should lead the agitation. At Kidanganparambu, thousands of workers assembled. Both the labour leaders addressed the gathering in violation of the prohibition. The workers shouted slogans, ‘We will secure responsible Government by force’, ‘Inquilab-Zindabad’, ‘State Congress Zindabad’, etc (Ibid 77&78).

The Role of S.V. Ghate and C.S.P.

The labour leaders R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan were arrested on 7 September 1938. Along with the coir factory workers, the motorboat workers numbering around 2000 and the country boat workers numbering about 5000, struck work. Apart from a wage raise, they demanded responsible Government based on adult suffrage. At the same time, the

C.S.P. had decided to take over the control of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Alleppey, and for finalising the details, the C.S.P. Central Committee met at Trichur. The C.P.I. Central Committee member S. V. Ghate was specially invited to participate in the meeting. The meeting evolved the strategy to organise the political strike of the coir factory workers. Accordingly, a red volunteer force of 5000 was created. To train them, Padmanabhan and Azis reached Alleppey from Malabar. K. K. Warrier and P. Krishna Pillai were assigned the duty of imparting political education to the workers (Warrier 24-42). About the role of P. Krishna Pillai in the 1938 strike, Robin Jeffrey writes,

In late August or early September, P. Krishna Pillai, the secretary of the C.S.P. in Malabar and already a secret communist, travelled to Travancore… P. Krishna Pillai reported “a fair chance of a political general strike” and asked for S. V. Ghate, the Bombay Communist, to come from Madras to Trichur to offer advice. Although P. Krishna Pillai has been organising workers and peasants in Malabar for eight years, he confessed to a colleague, that he had “no experience of a political strike” and was amazed at the sise of the Alleppey working class which was “numerically huge”. Ghate attended the Trichur meeting which decided to send workers to Alleppey to help organise a strike. P. Krishna Pillai himself became its acknowledged mastermind, moving freely by day disguised as a vegetable seller and holding meetings by night. (Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40″ 1162-63)

On October 19th the Coir factory workers met at Kidangamparambu grounds, evolved thirty demands and decided to go on strike indefinitely from October 23rd. Their leaders declared, “even if all our economic demands are sanctioned, we will not withdraw the strike if total responsible Government based on adult suffrage is not assured”(qtd in Raghavan 83). P. Krishna Pillai pointed out, “When V. K. Purushothaman introduced the resolution containing the demand for total responsible Government, the workers welcomed it with prolonged applause. That showed their interest in making a political demand” (Ibid 83). Accordingly, about 50,000 coir factory workers in the 30-miles long coir belt from Aroor to Vandanam near Ambalapuzha struck work on 23rd October 1938. At the same time, the workers sent 25 red volunteers to Trivandrum to participate in the State Congress demonstrations before the royal palace. The State Congress decided to conduct a massive demonstration before the royal palace on the birthday of the Maharaja, and to give a representation directly to the king demanding responsible government, adult suffrage, dismissal of the Dewan Sir C. P., release of political prisoners, withdrawal of the ban on the Youth League and the State Congress, withdrawal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, etc.

Though the Government had already issued a declaration on 22nd October announcing the release of political prisoners and the suspension of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, nothing was done (Pillai 582). In the forefront of the agitators marched the 25 red volunteers, selected from the striking workers of Alleppey, carrying a red flag. The military tried in vain to disband the agitators at the point of the bayonet. The King, the King’s mother and the Dewan escaped through the back door of the palace without meeting even the leaders of the popular agitation. The demonstrators, at the direction of their leader, Akkamma Cherian, assembled at the nearby Putharikandom Maidan. While the meeting was about to close, the Government released the prisoners including the labour leaders.33

Military Firing

In Alleppey, the coir factory workers who struck work met on the beach on 23rd evening after a massive demonstration. At the head of the demonstration, the 5000 strong red volunteers marched. At the end of the meeting, when the workers started dispersing, they heard the news of the unauthorised transportation of coir goods from certain factories. The volunteers gathered together again to picket the transportation of goods, resulting in police lathi charge on the workers. Additional military forces reached Alleppey by 7.30 p.m. In the firing which followed, two workers died and eight were seriously injured (Pillai 595-596). There were protest demonstrations and picketing the next day. The police beat the workers. In the evening, the red volunteers armed with spears and daggers mobilised at the Savacotta bridge. To disband them, the military opened fire, killing five and wounding several. The military destroyed the union office and the red volunteer camp. At Kalavancode, the local people joined the striking workers and created barricades on the highway (Idem). At Sherthallai, the police reported that a hundred red-shirted men, followed by 3000 workers, forced all shops to close and set up two camps where they gave talks and collected arecanut staves and daggers (Jeffrey, Destroy Capitalism 1163). The scare created by the police and the military suppression was so dreadful that when the 101-strong Strike Committee met on 26th, only eleven members were bold enough to be present. The Committee decided to continue the strike against all odds. For three weeks, there was not a single worker willing to work. However, in the third week, a minority withdrew from the strike and got ready to work.

P. Krishna Pillai directed the Committee members to lead the picketing to prevent them from joining work. Accordingly, K. K. Warrier, K. V. Patrose, C. O. Mathew and others took the lead.34 From Malabar, A. K. Gopalan led a march of supporters. From Trivandrum, two hundred and fifty radical Congressmen called the Youth League reached Alleppey to support the strike (Idem). Thus Alleppey became the melting pot of revolutionaries from the north and the south. To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The friendship and connections made then gave the future Communists a sense of an all-Kerala identity that their electoral opponents lacked even in 1950s” (Idem).

The public sentiment regarding the Government efforts in 1938 to suppress political agitations has been well explained by C. Narayana Pillai, “If the common people were shocked by the widespread terrorism which the Government used against the State Congress, the policy adopted against the coir factory workers’ strike infuriated the people”(Pillai 594). The coir factory workers’ strike in 1938 was more a political strike to mobilise strength for the agitation of the State Congress than one purely for the cause of labour.35 Together with the coir factory workers, the boat workers too struck work. It resulted in the total paralysis of water transport, commerce and industry (Raghavan 90). The general labour strike was the single major factor that weakened the Government and prevented it from taking stern action against the State Congress. That was all that the Congress did for the poverty-stricken workers in the prolonged strike (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 602). For three weeks, there was a reign of terror with police protection; the coir manufacturers kept the factories open expecting defectors from the striking workers. For three weeks, the workers stood united, putting up with starvation and suffering. The Congress enquiry committee visited Alleppey once and then was seen no more (Ibid 620-621). The coir factory workers who strongly supported the political agitations of the Congress, naturally expected help and support from the Congress when they were in difficulty. However, leaders like Pattom Thanu Pillai and T. M. Varghese helped only create dissension among the workers.36

Anti-Labour Right-wing Congress Leaders

The response of the right-wing State Congress leaders to the strike of the coir factory workers of Alleppey was reminiscent of the situation that prevailed in North Malabar in 1938. When the organised peasants agitated and were about to win their cause, the right-wing Congress leaders helped the landlords and the police to suppress the peasants (Supra 217, n. 71 & 291). In Alleppey too, the response of the right-wing State Congress leaders was cold. As C. Narayana Pillai reported, “The Government was adopting a new policy of filling the jails with labourers when political prisoners were released. Throughout the state, common people were organising protest meetings against the suppression of the labourers” (Pillai 596).

Suppression of the Organised Strength of the Workers

To the Government, the State Congress was a lesser evil compared to the organised might of the coir factory workers. The unconditional release of political prisoners on the 23rd was a deliberate move on the part of the Government to mobilise all forces against the striking workers and peasants (Raghavan 94). Unfortunately, the State Congress leaders did not completely realise the historic role played by the working class towards the freedom struggle in Travancore. Though they were released on 23rd, they did not rush to Alleppey immediately to help the striking workers. Instead, they basked in the limelight of the receptions and felicitations accorded to them throughout the state. Only on October 27th could they summon the Congress Working Committee and through a resolution condemn the brutality of the police and military on the striking workers. They also demanded a judicial enquiry into the firing, lathi charges, house-breaks, arson and violence, and constituted their own Congress Committee leadership for the labour agitations, thereby alienating themselves from the working class. The developments that followed in Alleppey showed that the workers had become more radical with the 1938 strike and were emboldened to react strongly against the moderate leaders. The strike completed 25 days, surviving all odds; still the workers did not surrender. At last, the coir capitalists and the Government expressed their desire for a negotiated settlement. The Government agreed to constitute a committee to enquire into the conditions of the labourers. It led to the appointment of the George Committee. Of its five members, two were labour representatives. A wage rise of 61/4% was also agreed upon.37

Radical Workers against Compromising Leaders

On the basis of the settlement, the Union President P. N. Krishna Pillai and the General Secretary R. Sugathan withdrew the strike and asked the workers to start work from the next day onwards. However, it was alleged that the settlement and the withdrawal of the strike were done without consulting the Strike Committee. So, the Committee conducted a house to house campaign among the workers asking them not to resume work. It created a crisis among the leaders (Raghavan 97).

About the settlement, the chief organiser of the strike and the founder secretary of the C.P.I. in Kerala, P. Krishna Pillai stated:

…The capitalists and the Government again tried for a settlement. They, together with the local Congress leaders like T.A. Abdullah and the trade union leaders like Mr. Sugathan, entered into an agreement. Those trade union workers did not show even the basic courtesy of discussing the terms of settlement with the Strike Committee. A. K. Gopalan was sent a message about the terms of the agreement only after the settlement. After that, without waiting for consent from the Strike Committee, a notice was issued asking the workers to terminate the strike and to resume work. The notice was a gross slight to the Strike Committee. Nobody except the workers who struck work had the right to terminate the strike. The Strike Committee was given neither the opportunity nor the time to take a decision after consulting the workers. The whole procedure smacked of indifference to the interests of the labourers. Even the terms of agreement were unsatisfactory. Nobody took the responsibility of ensuring that those capitalists who were not members of the Chamber of the Alleppey capitalists would honour the terms of the agreement… Still, the Strike Committee, tolerating all injustices, finally decided to ask the workers to resume work as was decided by Sugathan and others, all for the unity of the work force. (Pillai, “Review Report of the 1938 Strike” 98, 99, 100) (Translation)

By the end of the 1938 strike, the Alleppey labourers could fully distinguish their leadership on the basis of class interest. They had confidence in the C.S.P. leadership. However, they alienated themselves from the moderate leadership. To quote Puthupally Raghavan,

The leaders who had initially agreed to the important demands of the workers, after their release from jail began to issue statements and give propaganda that the demands of the labourers and their strike were untimely and that it should be withdrawn for that reason. Even Sugathan signed the statement. However, the strike continued in spite of the bourgeois resistance. (Raghavan 109) (Translation)

The sentiments of the workers against the leaders are well explained in certain Government records of the time. One such record reads:

Mr. K. S. Sebastian, President of the Changanassery branch of the Youth League, presided over a huge State Congress meeting held this evening (December 11, 1938) in the Kidaganparambu Maidan… Mr. C. K. Velayudhan, a member of the Managing Committee of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union who, along with Mr.

R. Sugathan, former General Secretary – both of them were imprisoned under Criminal Law Amendment Regulation for State Congress activities – was largely responsible for the termination of the general labour strike after the negotiations with employers for the one anna increase in wages, was hooted down several times, and even after the request of the President, the gathering that consisted mostly of workers did not allow Mr. Velayudhan to proceed…”38

R. Sugathan and C. K. Velayudhan were the unquestioned leaders of the Alleppey-Sherthallai coir factory workers. However, even their own followers hooted them down when they adopted the method of conciliation, which the extremist labourers did not like, though most of them, during the period of the strike, had been on the brink of starvation. Extremism, though not pragmatic, was the leading spirit that buoyed the coir factory workers. The political leaders who could not understand that spirit, however pragmatic they might be, lost the goodwill of the labourers.39

As a result of the 1938 strike, the Government enacted the Factories Act, the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act. In Alleppey an Industrial Relations Committee was formed. As a result, the long standing demands of the workers to abolish arbitrary fines and to end the highhandedness of the ‘Mooppans’ and contractors were realised. Uniform wages and modern labour laws were also implemented in all factories (Isaac 116-17). These developments made the coir capitalists realise that they could no longer afford to ignore the organised power of the coir workers. So they began to adapt to the changed situation and adopted the policy of conciliation (Ibid 117).

When the long-standing demands were realised, the Workers’ Union did not become inactive. The Union took special care to keep the rank and file active. For that purpose, Factory Committees and Departmental Committees were organised. They became the basic units of the Union’s organisational structure. These units democratised the functioning of the trade union movement. At the same time, there were consistent attempts on the part of the capitalists and the Government of Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer to depoliticise the Coir Factory Workers’ Union (Supra 241). But the workers resisted it. The Alleppey Chamber of Commerce seriously discussed the problem in its official journal:

In Travancore, the labourers are going to exert a decisive influence in future. It is imperative that the capitalists and the labourers reach an understanding about the live issues in their mutual relations… The capitalists must understand that trade unionism can be used as a defence against communism. The trade unionism intends only to improve the socio-economic condition of the workers. On the other hand, communism stands for revolution. Communism has started spreading in the society. The communist tide cannot be dammed except through the satisfied labourers organised under various established trade unions.”( Iyer, “Labour Wither Bound? Need for Employers to Unite 179)

The third All Kerala Trade Union Conference was held at Kanjikuzhi in the Vanaswarga Maidan on 19 February 1939. It was inaugurated by Moidu Maulavi and presided over by P. Narayanan Nayar. Delegates from various trade unions of coir, textile mills, tile, beedi, cashewnut, press, handloom, shopkeepers, municipal workers, boatmen etc., participated. The Conference was sponsored by the Coir Factory Workers’ Union and its critics started the propaganda that the conference was meant for inciting a revolution. The secret police reports reveal that the attitude of the workers about it was positive. One such report is about the speech made by the delegate of the coir factory workers, which says, “They say that it is revolutionary. For the worker, what else is there but the revolution? The workers wish and work for throwing out the present dictatorial Government and to establish a new Government and administrative system.”40

About the 1938 strike, Robin Jeffrey comments, “The strike challenged a system, not just an employer. The fact that the workers were prepared to embark on such a strike, and were able to sustain it, demonstrated a quality that may fairly be called ‘class-consciousness’. Further the strike brought home to all of Kerala the fact that the coir workers were a force that, in future, would have to be reckoned with… The strike had two other important consequences: it shattered the possibility that the coir workers might accept the leadership of the middle- class politicians of the Travancore State Congress; and it forged enduring all-Kerala links among future communists that fostered their activities for the next 20 years”(Jeffrey 1162).

Jeffrey indicates three external persuasions at work during the 1938 strike: 1. The Travancore State Congress, 2. The militant Youth League of Trivandrum, and, 3. The secret communists of the Malabar- based branch of the Congress Socialist Party. In the outcome, the State Congress lost disastrously, and the Youth Leagues and the socialists from Malabar, who both led and learned from the coir workers, drew close together. By 1940 most of them were official members of the Communist Party of India (Idem).

The Conservative Government, the City Congress Committee, the Youth League, the State Congress, and the Communist Radical Group.

Citadel of Orthodoxy

The ‘Fort’ at the capital city of Trivandrum can be regarded as the Citadel of Orthodoxy. In 1931 when Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state, the procession taking him wanted to go through the Fort area, the citadel of Brahmin orthodoxy. Though Nehru was a Brahmin, the Government regarded him ‘polluted’ as he had crossed the sea. To prevent Nehru from entering the Fort, the Government mobilised the army. In Travancore, on the one hand, there was a monarchial government and on the other, the people were moved only by the politics of communalism. But within a short span of seven years, radical changes took place, resulting in the decline of communal politics and the emergence of secular politics (George 169-170).

In Travancore, from 1926 onwards, there existed the Newspaper Regulation to muzzle the “… not less than 110 newspapers…” in the state.41 In 1931 when Gandhiji was arrested, the Government of Travancore expected popular agitation and issued prohibitive orders. In fact, the Congressmen at Trivandrum planned to protest but the Indian National Congress directed the City Congress Committee not to agitate since the National Congress did not have the agenda of Civil Disobedience in the princely states. Still, at Trivandrum, some courted arrest by violating both the Congress directive and the prohibition of the Government. They were Youth League leaders N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar, K. V. Parameswaran and others. The agitators were cruelly beaten at the time of the arrest and later inside the prison too (George 165-198).

The Congress Committee

According to the secret police report, the District Congress Committee at Trivandrum was organised early in the 1920s with Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai as its president and A. K. Pillai as its Secretary. Later it became defunct.42 About the Congress activities of the time, K. C. George writes:

Some meetings used to be held at Trivandrum under the auspices of the Congress. The known Congress leaders of the time were Messrs. V. Achutha Menon, K. G. Kunjukrishna Pillai, Kottoor Kunjukrishna Pillai, Paravur T. K. Narayana Pillai, C. I. Parameswaran Pillai and others. People called them, ‘Maidanam Congressmen’. Since they were lawyers, they met on certain Sundays according to their convenience; apart from that, there was hardly any political activity. After the Congress agitation of 1930-‘32, the movement became defunct. (George 194-95)

According to the secret report given by the Government of Travancore to the British Government, the City Congress Committee was organised in 1927, with its office located at Thycaud, to enlist volunteers and collect money for the Civil Disobedience Movement in British India. The membership of the committee was around fifty, but later they too quit. V. Achutha Menon, G. Sreedhar and N. P. Kurukkal and others were busy reviving the Congress during the Salt Satyagraha. Kurukkal was its General Secretary. It did not function properly and soon lost its general influence in Travancore.43

Radical Youth League

From the above observations, it can be said that the Congress in Trivandrum functioned very much like the Congress of North Malabar, which A. K. Gopalan referred to as the ‘Chalapuram Sunday Congress’. Like the C.S.P. worked within the K.P.C.C. fold, in Trivandrum, the political radicalists of the Youth League like P. Sreedhar, N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar and others worked within the City Congress fold (Supra 150 & 151). The Travancore Government records show that the Youth League was established at Trivandrum in 1930.44 Its founder was Ponnara Sreedhar and founding members included N. P. Kurkkal, N. C. Sekhar and others who believed that the Gandhian method was quite inadequate to agitate against British imperalism. In the beginning it worked only as a group rather than as a widespread organisation. All it did was to hold annual conferences by inviting a national leader and distributing pamphlets during the time of the conference (George 197). In 1931 the Youth League leader N. P. Kurukkal assumed the post of the Secretary of the Kerala Branch of the C.P.I, printed and distributed (fifty copies to Sankara Pillai of Salaikudi, Cochin and to one Nambiar attached to the Youth League, Sakti Mandiram, Thikodi near Calicut) a recruiting pamphlet. In the early years, the Youth League was influential only among political-minded students. The Travancore Government’s report to the British Government stated: “The Youth League resume political activity with the reopening of the Schools and colleges. The members do political propaganda work whenever there is an occasion for it”.45

From 1933 to 1936, the politics of Travancore was overwhelmed by the Abstention Movement. Till 1938, various castes and communities were agitating to get a share of Government jobs and other benefits. The Abstention Movement was its magnified form (George 203; Supra 60-70). So till the end of the Abstention movement, there was no place for national politics and Congress activities. Still, the Government of Travancore got directions from the British Government to adopt suppressive measures against the Congress and the Government acted accordingly. On 18 January 1932, The Madras States Agency at Trivandrum, in a secret letter to the Dewan of Travancore, directed:

…the final object of all revolutionary propaganda must be the overthrow of all constitutional government, and the resultant chaos and disorder will cause no less harm to the rulers and to the population of Indian states than to British India. The Government of India therefore, desires that Indian States should co-operate with them in combating this movement…the Government will welcome strong action on their part … They should be ready to co-operate in ensuring that the special activities of the Civil Disobedience movement such as boycott of British goods are not allowed to be practised in their states or territory, and that their states are not used as bases for agitation in British India…46

But the Government could not take any action because, according to the Police Commissioner, “…at the moment no boycott of British goods is practised … this Government will act at once to take appropriate measures”.47

A. K. Gopalan Organises the Congressmen

The District Magistrate, Trivandrum, in a letter dated 30 July 1934 to the Chief Secretary to the Government, stated:

…a meeting was held in the Gomathinayakom Memorial Hall, Trivandrum, on the evening of 26-7-1934 under the Presidency of Changnassery Parameswaran Pillai to make concerted efforts to enlist members for the Congress from Trivandrum… Messrs. A. K. Gopalan, Joint Secretary, Kerala Provincial Committee, K. Kumar,

P. K. Pillai, Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party and K. A. Damodara Menon spoke on the occasion. Messrs R. C. Das, Amsi Narayana Pillai, K. Narayana Pillai, N. P. Kurukkal, Sreedhar and

R. P. Iyer participated…The necessity of the subjects of native states joining the Congress was passed at the meeting and 80 members, mostly students, were enlisted…48

Shortly, on 10 August 1934, through a press communique, the Indian National Congress was banned in Travancore. It read:

… there have also been certain meetings, some of which have been held in the name of the Congress, advocating the abolition of private property and putting forward other proposals associated with the Communist organisations which have been declared unlawful in British India and which this Government will also treat likewise…while the Government… have not prevented organising Khadar and Harijan movements… the Government have reviewed the position carefully and have arrived at the decision which they are now communicating to their officers and to the public of Travancore that they cannot permit the holding of meetings and the conduct of propaganda within the state in furtherance of the objects of Communist organisations, or to enrol members for the Indian National Congress, or to take part in the internal politics or elections in British India or any Indian States.49

Students’ Federation

On 29 January 1938 the Madras States Agency, Trivandrum in a confidential letter informed the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer that in February 1938, the students of the Government Law College, Trivandrum were going to start the Students’ Federation. The organiser, P. Raghavaiah had already invited Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhya to deliver the inaugural address.50 It was just before the formation of the State Congress in Travancore.

The Travancore State Congress

On 23 February 1938, at the initiative of A. Narayana Pillai, about ten persons met at the ground floor of the Rashtreeya Hotel at Trivandrum for preliminary discussion to form a political party to start agitation for responsible Government in Travancore. The meeting was presided over by C. V. Kunjuraman. Among those who participated were Messrs. Pattom Thanu Pillai, T. M. Varghese, A. Narayana Pillai, P. S. Nataraja Pillai, Miss Annie Mascreen and others. It formed an adhoc committee headed by Pattom Thanu Pillai and P. S. Nataraja Pillai as Secretary. The Committee met at the residence of E. John Philipose on February 25 and elected a Working Committee consisting of 1. Pattom Thanu Pillai, 2. T.

M. Varghese, 3. K. T. Thomas, 4. V. Achutha Menon, 5. E. John Philipose, 5.P. K. Kunju 7. P. S. Nataraja Pillai, 8. A. J. John, 9. A. Narayana Pillai,10. C. Kesavan and 11. M. R. Madhava warrier. Pattom Thanu Pillai was elected as the President, K. T. Thomas and P. S. Nataraja Pillai were made the Secretaries and Madhava Warrier the Treasurer. A Publicity Committee consisting of Messrs. P. N. Krishna Pillai, C. Narayana Pillai,K. Sukumaran, Bodheswaran and Miss Annie Mascreen was also formed (Pillai 86, 91 & 96). The meeting resolved to give a memorial to the Maharaja demanding responsible Government based on adult suffrage.

In February 1938 at Haripura, the Indian National Congress accepted the political rights of the people of the native states. The Congress declared that it stood for full responsible government and the civil liberties of the people. But the resolution also stated that the popular agitations in the native states should not be under the banner of the Indian National Congress. Separate organisations should be formed for that. It necessitated the formation of political parties like the State Congress of Travancore (George, The Journey of My Life 211). After the Haripura Congress, the branch of the Indian National Congress at Trivandrum functioned only nominally. Almost all its members joined the State Congress. So after the formation of the State Congress, in the next meeting of the National Congress, a resolution was introduced to dissolve it (Pillai 95).

Suppression of the State Congress

A. Narayana Pillai, who took initiative to summon the first meeting of the State Congress was served with nonbailable arrest warrant, according to the Penal Act 124 & 153 for publishing two articles – 1. A call to the Nayar community to act with other communities to uphold common interests and 2. Procedural irregularities in the speech of Sir.

C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in the legislature. The State Congress took upon itself the responsibility for the defense of Narayana Pillai and formed a Defense Committee. To give national publicity against the violation of civil liberty in Travancore, an advocate of national fame K. F. Narriman was invited. On the day of his arrival, the Government issued prohibitive orders to the State Congress leaders barring entry to the airport, prohibiting all meetings and receptions. At the same time, the Government arranged for a lorry full of hired men in rags to wave the ‘black flag’ at Narriman and to shout ‘go back’. But all the black flags and placards were snatched away by a group of students led by the Youth Leaguer, P. T. Punnose. Narriman too was served a prohibitive order.51

To suppress the State Congress activity, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore organised criminals and rowdies.

N. Chandrasekharan Nayar, the Superintendent of Police, Kottayam, who later became the Inspector General of Police explains:

…The Police I.G. Karim, who was from Trichinappally, was notorious for framing false charges… Sir C. P. challenged the State Congress President Pattom Thanu Pillai to try and hold at least a meeting. He ordered to the police to disperse the State Congress meeting by force with the help of the rowdies and criminals; each officer was sanctioned Rs.10,000/- for the purpose. (Translation)52

The State Congress activity was prohibited in the Trivandrum Division on 7 March 1938 by the District Magistrate according to C. P. C.

227. It was prohibited in the Quilon District on March 27th and in Kottayam on April 10th. Section 144 was declared throughout the State. The Press Regulation was already in force. To criticise the Government was seditious. Those who criticised the Government were watched by the

C.I.D. Often they were manhandled or insulted at public places. Newspapers publishing news against the Government were taken to task. Samadarsi, Kaumudi daily and weekly, Tamilian, Malayala Manorama, Malayali etc., experienced difficulties. The judiciary too was at the command of Sir C. P. The advocate and political leader, A. Narayana Pillai, who was arrested on nonbailable charges of sedition, was denied even the right to see Mr. Narriman, a lawyer of national fame who was to brought to defend his case. The Government gave Rs. 24,000 annually to the A.P.I. (Associated Press of India) to publish news in favour of the Government. The State Public Relations Department was also used to propagate the views of the Government (Pillai 104, 134, 137,145 and 151).

There was a planned attempt to propagate the cult of the Maharaja, the Maharaja’s mother and the Dewan (Ibid 161-163). Sir C. P. skillfully managed to alienate the State Congress from the national leadership of the Congress Party. He was a favourite of the British Government and he also wielded influence at the higher levels of the Indian National Congress since he was once the General Secretary of the party. Pattabhi Seetha Ramaiah, who was the nominee of Gandhiji against Subash Chandra Bose in the A.I.C.C. election, was a close friend of C. P. The Madras Chief Minister, C. Rajagopalachari too was a friend of the Dewan (Ibid 161- 163, 173-174).

Memorial of the State Congress

The State Congress Working Committee submitted a memorial to the Maharaja. On 5 June 1938 the publication of the memorial was prohibited by the Government. The prohibited memorial contained six requests to the Maharaja.

      1. Subject to the special rights and powers of the Maharaja, those powers vested in the Dewan should be given to a ministry responsible to the legislature; 2. Along with the protection of the interests of the minorities, legislature should be reformed on the basis of adult suffrage; the convention of nomination of members should be ended and the two chambers of the legislature should be given the right to elect its chairman;

3. A declaration of the Fundamental Rights should be made, ensuring freedom of speech, freedom of organisation, freedom of worship, personal freedom ensuring protection from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and adequate wages for the worker; 4. Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer should be immediately dismissed from the post of Dewan; 5. The Press Act that gives power to the executive to control the press should be cancelled; and, 6. A free and extensive enquiry should be ordered into the activities of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in his official capacity, on all appointments and on all financial transactions (Ibid 219-20).

The National Congress

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was able to help create a new political party against the State Congress, with the help of Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai and members of other communities who supported Sir C. P. It was launched on 13 June 1938 and was named National Congress. Wherever State Congress tried to conduct meetings, criminals, rowdies and police dispersed them. It happened on 19 June at Nedunganda, on 26 June at Neyyattinkara and on 25 June at Chengannur. At Chengannur, intolerant of the rowdyism of the police, people pelted stones at the police and the police had to withdraw (Ibid 207-208, 246 & 340). The State Congress leadership was ineffective to organise the party for a widespread agitation against the Government’s suppression of civil liberty. But the people were eagerly waiting for directions from the State Congress leaders to violate the prohibitive laws. The youth and the workers became impatient over the cowardliness of the State Congress leaders. A leader of the State Congress and the author of the book, The Freedom Movement of Travancore writes,

The people of Travancore always move a few steps ahead of their leaders. It is the people who lead the leaders. With regard to political awareness, they are far ahead of the people of any other part of India. There is no place in Kerala for conservatism and middle class opportunism. Extremism and revolutionary slogans find wide currency here more than in any other state of India. (Ibid

257) (Translation)

An Italian Communist, Ottobono Terzi wrote in a Florentine paper on 7 March 1939 about the popular appeal of revolutionary ideas among the people of the native states of India . He opined that the soil of India was ripe to sow the seeds of Communism.53

Absence of National Leadership

In Travancore, no national level political leadership emerged in the State Congress. No leader ever showed national vision and broad- mindedness that could earn the confidence of other communities. A. J. John was the patron of Catholic interests, C. Kesavan and V. K. Velayudhan were protectors of Ezhava interests, T. M. Varghese and Philipose were the spokesmen of Marthoma and Orthodox church interests. Even the President of the State Congress, Pattom Thanu Pillai, in the ultimate analysis, was a communal leader. Thus, the State Congress was rather a loose federation of some castes and communities. The general feeling was that Pattom Thanu Pillai, a law-abiding conservative, did not like to drag the state into the Civil Disobedience Movement (Pillai 266-267).

C.S.P. Leadership

On 15 July 1938, the cavalry force and Armed Reserve Police got into the Science College and cruelly lathi charged the students in the presence of the military chief Col. Watkis. The students started showing black flags wherever Sir C. P. went. But the State Congress was always advising the students and the people not to disobey laws. By then the

K.P.C.C. sent Malabar leaders to support the people’s cause in Travancore.

In 1937, K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar who were members of the secret fraction of the C.P.I. in Kerala had been deputed to Trivandrum and Alleppey to mould the radicals. K. Damodaran had given a call to the Alleppey labourers to join the State Congress. His call to the leaders of the State Congress was to ensure the interests of the peasants and workers in the proposed responsible Government. About his speech at a labour meeting, the Secret Police reported, “K. Damodaran in the course of his speech said that capitalists enjoy at the cost of and by repressing the labourers and that the present legislature does not adequately represent the people. He further assured the audience that the labourers would surely be able to root out corruption and maladministration. He remarked that though the people pay taxes they were not given liberty of speech etc., and hence they should get the present form of administration changed and secure full responsible Government with adult franchise.”54 Already the secret fraction of the C.P.I. in Kerala, with the assistance of

S. V. Ghate was extending its hold over the extremist centres of the state. On 13th July, 1938, the Madras States Agency informed Sir. C. P. about the plan of S. V. Ghate to visit Trivandrum to advise and guide the local Communists.55 The explosive situation prevailing in the state was well exploited by the Youth League duly assisted by the C.S.P.- Communist leadership. On 9 August 1938, the Youth League announced its decision to violate the governmental ban on public meetings. Accordingly, the C.S.P. leader and a member of the secret fraction, N. C. Sekhar was chosen to violate the prohibition and to court arrest. Immediately, the government issued a prohibitive order against N. C. Sekhar for 15 days. But on the day of the announcement itself, N. C. Sekhar spoke at the railway station grounds and courted arrest (Pillai 309-340).

Youth League Continues Struggle

The next step of the Youth League was to conduct its annual conference on August 20-21 at the railway station grounds. Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya was to inaugurate the function. On her journey to Trivandrum by train, thousands welcomed her, shouting the slogans, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. On 20th, when she was getting out of the railway station, she was arrested. Her place was taken by the Malabar leader, K. Damodaran. After the meeting, the angry and agitated people marched through the main road and indulged in a little vandalism. Police arrested the leaders. Apart from K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar, other C.S.P men were also present at Trivandrum to maintain a hold on the radicals. The C.S.P. sent A. K. Narayanan, the cousin of the popular Malabar leader, A. K. Gopalan to organise the students. By then, the Government had changed the railway station ground into a police ground. This was for the purpose of prohibiting the conduct of political meetings there. But the Youth League decided to violate the prohibition.

A. K. Narayanan in the presence of a huge crowd violated the prohibition. He was brutally beaten by the police (George 273 & 275).56

The increasing popularity of the Youth League compelled the State Congress to start agitation. At its Alleppey meeting, it decided to form an action committee which was to operate from Ernakulam. The decision was communicated to Gandhiji for approval (George 272).57 A rumour was also in the air that some top leaders of the State Congress were in contact with the Government for a conciliation. An agitational atmosphere quickly developed in the state. Sir C. P. responded by declaring the State Congress and the Youth League illegal and implementing the black laws called ‘Regulation I of 114’ by which Sir C. P. assumed the extraordinary powers which were used by Governments only in times of foreign invasion.58 The Communique stated the necessity of its issue thus: “following the arrest of Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya on 20th August, the Youth League are openly advocating Communist doctrines and are inciting people to violence, and the resolution of the State Congress for Civil Disobedience”.59 To prepare for an all out war against popular agitations, on 7 November 1938, the Travancore Government sought the permission of the British Government for the use of ‘tear gas’ by the State Police. The British Resident denied the request on three grounds. 1. The tear gas had never been used against the mob anywhere in India; 2. The British Government was against its first use in an Indian state; 3. He was against its use in Travancore, when the state’s administration was subjected to so much malicious criticism both from within and without their boundaries.60

State Congress Agitation for Civil Liberty

Mahatma Gandhi, from Wardha, directed the State Congress to withdraw the allegations against Sir. C. P. and to agitate peacefully for civil liberty. When the State Congress decided to violate the prohibitive orders, the Chairman of its first meeting C. V. Kunjuraman withdrew his support. The State Congress agitation for civil liberty was started on 26 August 1938 at Trivandrum, Quilon, Alleppey and Kottayam. On 29th when the violation was taking place on the beach, the police started beating the gathering. The audience, mostly fishermen, retaliated by pelting stones and burning down the car of the police officer. On 30 August, the students demonstrated before the Maharaja. On 31 August, when N. K. Padmanabha Pillai was arrested at Neyyattinkara, the enraged people damaged and set fire to the car of the police Superintendent. When the situation went beyond the control of the police, the military was called in. The military Commander Watkis, at the point of the gun, warned the stone pelting mob that he would order firing. Then one of the residents of the locality, Raghavan stepped forward, bared his chest and shouted, “Here, fire.” Watkis shot him down (George 282, 293).61 At Quilon, the labour leader K. C. Govindan assured wholehearted support to the State Congress agitation. On 25 August evening, the ground on which the sathyagraha meeting was announced to be held, was occupied by the police, military and rowdies of the Government. The ground was declared a prohibited area. So the people were afraid and kept off from the ground. Soon a labour force of 10,000 workers from different factories under K. C. Govindan’s leadership marched to the prohibited ground fearlessly. They included the workers of A.D Cotton Mill, H & C., Tile factories, Saw mills etc. It gave confidence to the people and they too rushed to the ground. In the subsequent violence that was started by the police, a worker of the Cotton Mill was shot dead, several wounded and a Government transport bus was set fire to (Pillai 428-431).

The Malabar March of A. K. Gopalan

The C.S.P. – led K.P.C.C. decided to help the Travancore agitation by forming a sub-committee. The Working Committee of the C.S.P also met and decided that the party workers should actively take part in the agitation. It was decided to send a contingent of marchers to Travancore under the leadership of A. K. Gopalan, who led the most popular Guruvayur March in 1933 from Quilon District (Gopalan 108). To see off the march, an all-party meeting was held at the Calicut beach. It was the fourth march led by A. K. Gopalan. The Congress Committees and Karshaka Sanghams gave warm welcome to the march. The march reached Ernakulam on 16 September. At Ernakulam, another march from Bangalore joined the Malabar march. To get into the Travancore boundary by train, the volunteers reached Alwaye. When the train reached Alwaye, ignoring the prohibitive orders, the surroundings of the railway station were filled with excited people, shouting the slogans, “Hail Malabar March”, and “Hail State Congress”. The attempt of the police to send back the volunteers failed. They were arrested and sent to the Perumbavur lock-up. The courage, enthusiasm and conviction of the people madeA. K. Gopalan think, “I wish to die in the police firing. My death in the middle of the great agitation – in the great storm of agitation for responsible government – would help to win the goal” (Translation) (Ibid 110-111). The second Malabar march was led by Yusif. From Thellichery, under the leadership of Anandan the third march started. The fourth one started from Palghat. The fifth march began from Madurai (Ibid 111-112). The sacrifice of the Malabar leaders, particularly that of A. K. Gopalan was such that the downtrodden started worshipping him as their liberator. In the Magistrate’s court, Gopalan cross-examined the Police Inspector of Perumbavur for half an hour, which was another kind of political propaganda. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and sent to the Kottayam lock-up. There the prisoners were cruelly tortured. A. K. Gopalan started a fast to fight against it. Then he was shifted to the Vaikom sub-jail. He fasted for five days to get the prisoners shifted to the central jail. News spread throughout the country that A.K.G. had died in the prison. An explosive situation prevailed; shops were closed, and condolence meetings were held (Ibid 112-116).

Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal Agitations

Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal, places between Trivandrum and Kottarakara, became great centres of political unrest and agitation. The inhabitants of the locality were poor peasants who saw the State Congress agitation as the one to end all exploitation by the bureaucrats and landlords. In 1937 when Congress ministries were formed, the peasants became bold enough to agitate against oppression. The Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal agitations too broke out during that period. But it was not organised by the State Congress. There the peasants organised themselves on a class basis and acted on their own initiative. Leaders emerged among them. During that period, the landlords were organised under the political party called the National Congress, and were well protected by the state. The peasants naturally sided with the opposite camp of the State Congress. Their leader was Raghavan Pillai, who was described by the Police as Franco Raghavan Pillai. In the local markets of Kadakkal, Kilimannoor, Kallara etc., the contractors were exacting heavy taxes. The people complained several times to the local authorities about it, but it was of no use (George 307-308).

At Kilimannoor some public-spirited young men organised themselves and managed to stop the excess money collection by the contractors. Then they moved to Kadakkal, organised the youths there and led a procession through the market shouting slogans against excess collections. They conducted demonstrations before the police station.

Afterwards, they marched to the nearby school and demanded its closure. This continued for five days. They pelted stones at the police station, snatched the records and set fire to them. In the confrontation, men on both sides were wounded. Firing started at Kadakkal on 29 September 1938 (Pillai 533-535). To create a barricade against the military, they felled trees across the road and damaged the culverts. About 500 men armed with country guns, awaited the arrival of the military tt the M.C. road. The military took seven days to reach Kadakkal because of the barricades. By then, able-bodied men left their homes and sought asylum in the forest. There was undeclared military rule. Outsiders were prohibited entry. Even children were tortured before their mothers. There were reports of rape. Food crops and other valuables were plundered. The Government directed the police to make the people starve. The military set fire to more than eighty houses. At Kallara and Pangode, the same story was repeated. There too at the market place, the youngsters confronted the police with country guns. One constable was stabbed to death. Though the peasant movements were against the National Congress, the landlords and the oppressive government, the State Congress did not care to sponsor it. Instead, the leaders of the State Congress accused it and disowned it because of the violence (George 308). As a result, the peasants of the locality got alienated from the Congress party and became influential centres of the Communist Party.

Withdrawal of the Allegations

The conciliatory attitude of the State Congress leadership wounded the feelings of the people who rushed to the forefront of the agitation and courted arrest. The only place where the political movement was always active was Alleppey. The situation there was so fearful that the police found it difficult to maintain law and order. So the Government decided to replace the Armed Reserve Police with the military.62 On 24 December 1938 the State Congress Action Council met in the central jail and decided to withdraw the allegations against Sir C. P. It read, “On the advise of Mahatma Gandhi, the State Congress withdraws the allegations it raised against Dewanji together with the memorial submitted to the Maharaja”(Pillai 342-344) (Translation). Travancore split into two camps on the issue of withdrawing the allegations against Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. The large majority, especially the workers and the youth, resisted tooth and nail any attempt to withdraw the allegations. According to

C. Narayana Pillai, “It can be said without doubt that the advise given by Gandhiji to the State Congress was wrong. It was irrational, arbitrary and not based on the conditions prevailing in the state and against his hitherto-followed policies” (Ibid 666) (Translation). The State Congress leadership was acting against the very spirit of the agitating people. In a statement A. K. Pillai questioned the constitutional validity of the decision of the Action Council and declared it as an illegal body. Pillai said that the Wardha visit of the State Congress leaders was unfortunate (Ibid 683).

The Youth League Memorandum

By then, under the initiative of P. Krishna Pillai, the founder of the Communist movement in Kerala, about forty left-minded political leaders met at Pallana, in the house of Pandavathu Sankara Pillai. The meeting resolved to oppose the ‘receptions’ given to the State Congress leaders released from jails, and to organise people to carry on agitations. The Youth League was against withdrawing the memorandum containing allegations against Sir C. P. based on three reasons. Firstly, they believed that the people had every right to give memorandum to the reigning monarch; nobody can question that right. Secondly, framing charges against the signatories of such a memorandum is equal to questioning the very right to submit such a memorandum; to reestablish that right, mass agitations should be made. Thirdly, such a memorandum as the one given by the State Congress representing the people should not be withdrawn without popular consent (George 342-344). So the Youth League leaders planned to give a second memorandum to the Maharaja. They broached the idea with the K.P.C.C. representative, K. Damodaran. Then they consulted A. K. Pillai and K. Ayyappan. The final draft was made at the house of the latter. A general body of the Youth League was held in the Tourist Bunglow opposite the Guest House to get the final approval. More than 100 members participated. The meeting was presided over by A. K. Pillai. The tactic decided was to read the memorandum publicly and thereby to violate the prohibition. The plan was to print thousands of copies of the memorandum and distribute them among the people (Ibid 373-380).

The Radical Group

On 9 January 1939, when the Viceroy Lord Linlithgo visited Travancore, the Youth League showed black flags all along the way from Aroor to Trivandrum. Demonstrations were conducted from Aroor to Alleppey, Alleppey to Quilon and Quilon to Trivandrum. The arrested demonstrators were brutally beaten. The left-minded Congressmen were moving away from the State Congress. A split of the party was imminent. But the C.S.P. leaders like P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad wanted a complete transformation of the party into an agitational party. So their interference averted a split in the party (Krishnan 68-70). But Krishna Pillai, A. K. Pillai and others suggested the formation of a new group in the State Congress.63 It was proposed to be called Socialist Group. But to P.T. Punnoose, the very term ‘socialism’ created problems for Christians to join the party; so it was to be avoided. Hence the new name Radical Group was accepted. M. N. Govindan Nayar was made Secretary of the new group. The formal meeting of the Radical Group was held at Pandalam. There T. V. Thomas was made the Assistant Secretary of the new group. At the Karunagappally State Congress meeting, M. N. Govindan Nayar was the Volunteer Captain. The Radical Group functioned as the left-wing of the State Congress till 1942. Then, a majority of them joined the Communist Party (George 432-439).

NOTES

1 File No.793, Year 1933, Sub.”Guruvavur Satyagraha Jatha started from Kavamkulam”, sheet 2, para 2, Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

2 File No. 88, Year 1939, Subject: “S.N.D.S. Yogam – Appeal for Funds”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

3 Kerala Kaumudi, Malayalam Weekly Newspaper, Vol. 28, No. 22, May 30, 1937. Supra, p. 148; n. 148.

4 No. D. Dis. 529/44, CS., Year 1944, Subject: “Petition from V. K. Velayudhan praying for pardon”, Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

5 File No. 744, C.S., Year 1932, Subject: “Complaint Against P. N. Krishna Pillai” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

6 Secret Police Daily Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 46, 13th April 1939, in File No. 239, Year 1939, Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

7 File No. 460, Year 1939, Subject: “Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

File No. D. Dis. 1424, C.S., Year 1944, Subject: “Prosecution Against P. N. Krishna Pillai of Quilon – Withdrawal”, G.A.D., Records.

8 File No. 460/1939. Subject : ‘ Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators”.

9 NO. D. Dis. 1424/44, C.S., dt. 26-6-1944, Subject: “Case Prosecution against

P. N. Krishna Pillai – Withdrawal of.”

10 File No. 775, Year 1931, Subject: “Indian Communist Party Particulars about N. P. Kurukkal”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

11 Secret Police Report, Commissioner of Police to the Chief Secretary, Government of Travancore, in File No.1074, 1936, Subject: “N. C. Sekhar of Vengannoor” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

12 File No. 1073, Year 1936, Subject: “Activities of M. N. Govindan Nayar and

G. Ramachandran”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

13 “Publisher’s Note”, Autobiography of M. N., Part II, Mal., Trivandrum: Prabhath, 1988. Print.

14 “Report of the Board of Conciliation of Trade Disputes in the Mats and Matting Industry”,1939 Trivandrum: Government Press, 1953, p. 72, in Robin Jeffrey “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

15 Census of India, 1941, Vol. XXV, Travancore, Part I, p. 95 and Part II, p. 106, in, Robin Jeffrey “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

16 Hindu, Madras: English Newspaper, March 16, 1938, p. 2, in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

17 “Report of the Board of Conciliation of Trade Disputes in the Mats and Matting Industry”, 1939 Trivandrum: Government Press, 1953, p.73. Print.

18 Memorandum by Dewan Veeraraghavayya, dt. 24-04-1924 C.S., Government of Travancore.

19 Srimulam Assembly Proceedings, 1938, No.2, Vol.7, quoted in, Puthuppally Raghavan. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam.

p.39. Print.

20 Thozhilali, Weekly Newspaper, Alleppey, 8 October 1936 and 26 May 1938, quoted in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p. 1162. Print.

21 Nilkam Perumal, The Truth About Travancore. Madras. R.J. Ram, 1939. p. 54. in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s

Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p. 1160. Print.

22 File No. 781, Subject: “Certain Objectionable Speeches of Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat Trivandrum.

23 File No.460, 1939, Subject: “Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators” G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

24 Interview with S. K. Das. Vide Puthpally Raghavan. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam, Print.

25 File No.748, 1930, Subject : “List of Political Parties and quasi- political Societies”. C.S., Government of Travancore.

26 V. S. Achuthanandan has been the State Secretary of the C.P.I. (M) in Kerala from 1980-1991. In 1950, when the C.P.I. became legal, he became its State Committee member. In December 1985, he became the Politburo member of the CPI(M). He is noted in the C.P.M. circles for his spartan life style and tough stand on political issues. Born in 1924, in a typical working class family of Alleppey, Achuthanandan could not complete his school education because of economic difficulties. He found work in the coir factory. In 1930s he actively participated in the Sree Narayana Social reform movement against castesim, and anti- feudal oppressions. He worked in the State Congress activities for responsible government, and attracted by Communist ideology, finally landed in the Communist Party. Soon he emerged as one of the prominent trade union and political leaders of Alleppey. In 1946, he was one of the proletarian top leaders of the ‘Vayalar- Punnappra’ movement. Then he went underground till 1950. (Venu Menon).

Venu Menon, “V.S. Achuthanandan, Unknown Quantity,” The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay: Times of India Publication, 10 May 1987, p.15. Also Vide, Andalat. The Birth of the Working Class in Kerala, Mal. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1984. 100-101. Print.

27 C.S. NO. D.Dis. 3690, 1944, Government of Travancore, in Thomas Isaac. “The Proletarian Supremacy and the Working Class Party: Practical Lessons of Alleppey”, (Mal.) “The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement”, Seminar Papers, presented at the A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, Trivandrum, 15,16th August 1984, Trivandrum: Chintha. p. 168. Print.

28 File No. 1448, 1936, Subject: “Special Session of the S.N.D.P. Yogam, Sherthallai”, Enquiry Regarding (Contains Letter from K. C. Karunakaran to the Government advicing how to deal Yogam leaders to make them pro-government), Government of Travancore, G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. File No. 1535, 1936 “Letter from K.

C. Karunakaran”, dt. 22-5-1936 to the Government.

29 File No. 295, Year 1939, Subject: “Alleppey Labour Situation, The Police at Alleppey to be Strengthened – The Inspector Being Nervous”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

30 “Report of the A.S.P.”quoted in File No.159, 1938 Subject: “Whether Alleppey Labour was to be Amalgamated with the State Congress”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

31 K. S. Sebastian quoted in, File No. 213, 1938, Subject: “Speech of K. S. Sebastian at Alleppey”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

32 Thozhilali, Weekly Newspaper, Malayalam, Alleppey: Edavam 16, 11110

M.E. (May 1935).

33 The Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union Eighth Annual Report, pp. 9-10.

34 File No. 4490, 1944, C.S., Government of Travancore.

35 Passim., pp. 152 & 147.

36 Travancore Coir Factory Workers Union, 8th Annual Report, p. 10.

37 Travancore Coir Factory Workers Union, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1972, p. 46.

38 The State Congress Meeting at Alleppey on 11-12-1938, reported in File No. 213, 1938, Subject: “Speech of K. S. Sebastian at Alleppey”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D, records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

39 Interview with S. K. Das, one of the leaders of ‘Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt’.

40 C.S. No. D. Dis, 295, 1939, “Letter of the Police Inspector to the District Magistrate”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum, dt. 11-10-1939. Vide Thomas Isaac. “The Proletarian Supremacy and the Working Class Party: Practical Lessons of Alleppey”, (Mal.) “The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement”, Seminar Papers, presented at the A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, Trivandrum, 15,16th August 1984, Trivandrum: Chintha. p.

171. Print.

41 “Letter from the Dewan of Travancore to C.W.D. Cotton Esq.”, Agent to

G.G. Madras, in, File No. 832, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

42 File No. 775, 1931, Subject: “Particulars of N. P. Kurukkal, Indian Communist Party”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

43 Confidential Correspondence File No. 746. Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of

Travancore”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

44 File No. 746, Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum

45 File No. 745, Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

46 File No, 1314, 1932, Subject: “Co-operation of Indian States in Dealing with the Civil Disobedience Movement” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

47 “Statement of the Police Commissioner” in, File No. 1314, 1932, Subject: “Co-operation of Indian States in Dealing with the Civil Disobedience Movement” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

48 Copy of the letter No. 2515, dt.30th July 1934 in, File No. 938, 1934, Subject: “Meeting at the Gomathinayakom Library for Consulting Measures for Enlisting Congress Volunteers” Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

49 File No. 1096, 1936, Subject: “Ban on the Indian National Congress”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

50 “Letter of The Madras States Agency” in File No. 1671, 1938, Subject: “Organisation of a Students Federation in Trivandrum” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

51 P. T. Punnoose later became the State Secretary of the Communist Party of Travancore. No. D. Dis. 252, 1938, Subject: “Tour of Mr. Narriman- Speech before Kottayam Y.M.C.A”, C.S., Government of Travancore, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. (Unpublished).

52 N. Chandrasekharan Nayar, Retired Inspector General, ‘Interview’ by P.V. Murukan, Kerala Kaumudi, Mal. Daily, Trivandrum, September 13, 1990.

p. 2.

53 File No. 289, 1939, Subject: Terzi’s article titled, ‘A Dying Country’.

54 No. D. Dis. 73, 1939, “Secret Police Daily Bulletin”, Vol. I, No. 121, dated 17th June 1939, “K. Damodaran’s speech at labour meeting at Kayipuram C.S., Government of Travancore”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. (Unpublished).

55 File No. 73, 1938, Subject: “S. V. Ghate, Communist Agitator, Information Re: “(Unpublished). C.S., Government of Travancore.

56 Vide C. Narrayana Pillai. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore,

(Mal), Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972. p. 356. Print.

57 Vide C. Narrayana Pillai. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore,

(Mal), Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972. p. 352. Print.

58 File No. 283, 1938, Subject: “Draft of a Communique Regulation I of 114”.

59 File No. 283, 1938, Subject: “Draft of a Communique Regulation I of 114”.

60 File No. 180, 1938, Subject: “The Use of Tear Smoke” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

61 Vide No. D. Dis. 347, 1939, Subject: Conflicting Views of K. G. Kunjukrishna Pillai and the Advocate General Regarding the Advisability of proceeding with the Case regarding Crime No. 8/14 of Neyyattinkara Station, C. S., Government of Travancore.

62 File No. 176, Year 1939, Sub: “Replacement of Reserve Police by the Military, at Chengannur and Alleppey.,” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum..

63 No. D. Dis. 65, 1939, “Mr. A. K. Pillai – action against in respect of his speeches,” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

REFERENCES

Andalat, The Birth of the Working Class in Kerala, Mal. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1984. Print.

George, K. C. The Journey of My Life. Mal. Kottayam: B.S. Dist. 1985. Print.

Gopalan, A. K. The Story of My Life. Mal. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1985. Print. Govindan, K. C. “The History of the Labour Association,” (Mal.), Travancore

Coir Factory Workers’ Union Golden Jubilee Souvenir. Quilon: Janayugam, 1972. Print.

Isaac, Thomas. “The Proletarian Supremacy and the Working Class Party: Practical Lessons of Alleppey”, (Mal.) “The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement”, Seminar Papers, presented at the A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, Trivandrum, 15,16th August 1984, Trivandrum: Chintha. Print.

Iyer, Krishna. “Labour Wither Bound? Need for Employers to Unite”,

Commercial Review IV. 3. (March 1939): 179. Print.

Jeffrey, Robin. “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. Print.

—. “Status, Class and the Growth of Radical Politics, 1860-1940.” People, Princes and Paramount Power. Ed. Robin Jeffrey. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 1978, 138. Print.

—. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908.

New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. Print.

Karunakaran, K. C. “The Coir Industry.” Travancore Information and Listener, Vol. VIII, No.12, August 1948. Print.

Krishnan, T.V. Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. Print.

Kunjan, K. K. “The Communist Party of India.” The Fourth Party Congress Souvenir, 1956, in Andalat, The Birth of the Working Class in Kerala, Mal. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1984. 97-98. Print.

—. Comrade Sugathan Shasthipoorti Memorial Souvenir, 1962. Print.

Menon, Venu “V.S. Achuthanandan, Unknown Quantity.” The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay: Times of India Publication, 10 May 1987. Print.

Namboodiripad, E.M.S. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. Print.

Nayar, N. Chandrasekharan (Retired Inspector General). Interview by P. V. Murukan. Kerala Kaumudi, Mal. Daily, Trivandrum. 13 September 1990. Print.

Pillai, C. Narayana. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore, (Mal), Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972. Print.

Pillai, P. Krishna “Review Report of the 1938 Strike.” Janayugam C.P.I. Golden Jubilee Social Edition, 1975: 98, 99, 100. Print.

—. “The Memory of an Old Friend.” Com. R. Sugathan Shastipoorti Souvenir, 1962. Print.

Raghavan, Puthuppally. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam. Print.

Warrier, K. K. “Unforgettable Event.” Mal., Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Gold Jubilee Souvenir, 1972. Print.

FORMATION AND BUILD UP OF THE C.P.I. UNIT IN KERALA

Abstract: This section deals with the formation and build up of the C.P.I. Unit In Kerala. The C.P.I. unit was formally constituted in 1939. But in 1937 itself, at the initiative of P. Sundarayya and S.V. Ghate, members of the Central Committee of the C.P.I., top leaders of the C.S.P. unit in Kerala were enlisted into a ‘Secret Fraction’*. Since 1937 the C.S.P. in Kerala worked continuously for two and a half years for the formation of the C.P.I unit. They met in 1939 at Pinarayi-Parappuram in Tellichery and transformed the C.S.P. unit into the C.P.I. unit.

Keywords: C.P.I. unit, ideology, agitations, radicalism, communist party

The C.P.I. unit was formally constituted in 1939. But in 1937 itself, at the initiative of P. Sundarayya and S.V. Ghate, members of the Central Committee of the C.P.I., top leaders of the C.S.P. unit in Kerala were enlisted into a ‘secret fraction.’1 Since 1937 the C.S.P. in Kerala had worked continuously for two and a half years for the formation of the C.P.I unit. They met in 1939 at Pinarayi-Parappuram in Tellichery and transformed the C.S.P. unit into the C.P.I. unit. In 1940, the top leaders of the party went underground. Immediately after the Pinarayi meeting, the C.P.I units were formed in Cochin and Travancore. The Kerala unit of the C.P.I inherited the radical base of the C.S.P and the Radical Group of Travancore.

The newly formed party organised anti-war, anti-feudal agitations, resulting in the police firings at Morazha, Mattannur, Tellichery and Kayyur. The 1941-‘42 period was the testing time for the C.P.I. to identify with Indian nationalism. The Quit India movement created confusion among the Communists of Kerala, who were former C.S.P. leaders. The confusion lasted till 1948. During 1942-’48 period, only local communists tried to push the party forward when spontaneous unrests occurred. Such a spontaneous unrest was the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt of 1946. It was followed by the Karivalloor , Kavurnbayi, Munayan Kunnu, Korom, Onchiyam, Tellenkeri and Paliyam agitations. But the Paliyam agitation of Cochin (1947-1948) was very much in line with the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924.

The Anti-War Rallies

When the world was heading to a crisis due to the Nazi aggression, the Indian National Congress met on 29 January 1939 to elect its president. Subhash Chandra Bose, with the backing of the leftists, was elected with 1580 votes against Pattabhi Seetha Ramayya who got only 1377 votes, though he was backed by the rightists. But Gandhiji did not approve the victory of Bose. On Gandhiji’s appeal, twelve Working Committee members resigned. Thus Bose had to work without a working committee, which made him resign from the Congress and form the Forward Block. The Communists argued for the formation of a national front with the Socialists, Royalists, the left-wing and the right-wing in the Indian National Congress to work against the World War. But Gandhiji was against any kind of coalition with the Communists. The left Congressmen started criticising the Congress leadership on two bases. Firstly, they could not agree with the stand of the Congress on the freedom struggle of the people in the princely states. Secondly, they were against the policy of the provincial Congress ministries towards the peasant and labour movements. For example, K. M. Munshi, the Home Minister of Bombay restricted the freedom of agitation. The inclination of the U.P. ministry towards the Zamindar Sangham created the feeling that the Tenants Bill was going to be diluted. In Madras, the Rajaji ministry was reluctant to amend the Kudiyan Act of Malabar. Those doubts were justified when the Gandhi Sangham, an organisation of the right-wing, justified the actions of the provincial Governments. In June 1939 to resist the reactionary rightist moves in the Congress, a left Co-ordination Committee was created. It consisted of the Forward Block, Royalists, Socialists and Communists (Namboodiripad, The Communist party in Kerala 75-78).2

On 3 September 1939, the war started. On the same day, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared that India was at war with Germany. Later, he suspended all civil freedom and proclaimed the Defence Ordinance. It was done without consulting even the Indian National Congress, the biggest popular party in India. The Congress condemned the declaration of the Viceroy, but was not ready to agitate against the war. The war was adversely affecting the economic condition of the common man. The workers in Bombay, under the Communists, started agitations, demanding additional allowance in proportion to the rate of inflation. On 24 September 1939, upon a call from the C.S.P., anti-war rallies and meetings were held throughout Kerala. A secret fraction of the C.P.I. was already working in Kerala from 1937 onwards which consisted of the four top leaders of the C.S.P., P.Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, N. C. Sekhar and K. Damodaran. Even their close associates who claimed to be Marxists did not know about it. They were in regular contact with the South Indian leaders of the C.P.I., P. Sundarayya and S. V. Ghate. The secret publication, ‘The Path of the Working Class’ and other pamphlets were sent to the members of the fraction so that the programme of the C.S.P. was moulded in such a way that it was in agreement with the C.P.I. (Namboodiripad, How I Became A Communist 211). 3

The Last C.S.P. Conference

The last annual conference of the C.S.P. in Kerala met at Tellichery on 16th, 17th and 18th June 1939. 170 delegates from all over Kerala attended the conference. By 1939 the C.S.P. in Kerala had emerged as a full-fledged political party with a deep-rooted popular base. The meeting was presided over by P. Narayanan Nayar. K. Damodaran introduced the thesis, ‘The Threat of Fascism’. Then E.M.S. Namboodiripad introduced the thesis, ‘The Political Condition’. The thesis of E.M.S. Namboodiripad clearly stated that, any effort to keep out all the rightist Congressmen from the party would result only in helping the British to tighten their grip on India. So the need of the hour was to prepare the entire nation for anti-imperialist resistance. For that, there should be a United Front formed with the Communists, the Socialists, and the left Congressmen to work within the Congress and thereby to get the Congress to wage an anti-imperialist agitation. After a lively discussion, the thesis was accepted. The party passed a resolution to intensify the study of Marxism. It resolved to organise a very strong political movement against the imminent war and the attempt of the British imperialists to drag India into the war.4

The C.S.P. Conference elected P. Krishna Pillai as the General Secetary. An executive committee of 15 was constituted with the following members: 1. P. Krishna Pillai, 2. E.M.S.Namboodiripad, 3. P. Narayanan Nayar, 4. K. A. Keraleeyan, 5. Manchunatha Rao, 6. N. C. Sekhar, 7. A. K. Gopalan, 8. Chandroth Kunjiraman Nair 9. K. P. Gopalan 10. K. Kunjuraman, 11. E. P. Gopalan, 12. C. H. Kanaran, 13. K. K. Warrier, 14.

P. S. Namboodiri, and, 15. P. M. Krishna Menon. Two sub-committees were made – the Labour sub-committee and the Kisan sub-committee. The Labour sub-committee consisted of. N. C. Sekhar (Convener), K. P. Gopalan, P. S. Namboodiri, C. H. Kanaran, K. K. Warrier. The Kisan sub- committee consisted of K. A. Keraleeyan (Convener), E. P. Gopalan, P. Narayanan Nayar, K. Kunjuraman, P. M. Krishna Menon. The Prabhatham editorial board was reconstituted with E.M.S. Namboodiripad (Editor), P. Narayanan Nayar, K. Damodaran, N. C. Sekhar, Subrahmanya Sharma and Chandroth Kunjiraman Nayar as members.5

The Party School

In the school started for political education at Mankada, Pallipram classes were conducted for a period of 25 days from 8 May to 5 June 1939. The Principal of the School was T. J. George. 75 students attended the classes. The students were sent by the Congress Committees, Karshaka Sanghams, trade unions, Students Federation and Yuvajana Sanghams.

The teachers were E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. K.Vasu, K. Damodaran, Subrahmanya Sharma and T. J. George. Subjects taught were History and Economics with special emphasis on India. Each day, there were six hours of class and one hour of discussion. Special discussions were conducted on war, Fascism, Karshaka Sangham, Trade Union Movement, United Front etc. Through the school, Party cadres got political education. The basic principles of Marxism were taught. The participants went back to different villages of Kerala and they, in turn, trained the village volunteers. Through them the Marxist ideology spread among the youth, who later became strong supporters of Marxism (Namboodiripad, Keralam, the Motherland of the Malayalees 322-23).6

Transformation of the C.S.P. to the Unit of the C.P.I

In December 1939, the C.S.P. in Kerala decided to join the Communist Party. However, one of its leaders, the President of the K.P.C.C., Abdul Rehman Sahib and a group of his followers joined the Forward Block. In Kerala, the C.S.P. did not harbour any anti-Communist or anti-Soviet sentiment. The influence of Asoka Mehta and Masani was practically non-existent in the Kerala unit. There were some basic reasons for the pro-Marxist line of thinking in the C.S.P. unit of Kerala. They can be broadly classified into three: 1. The deep-rooted consciousness among the depressed classes of the rightwing to fight for justice; 2. The regular contact between the C.P.I. leaders and the top leaders of the C.S.P.; and, 3. The influence of Marxist literature (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 86).

The awareness of the need to fight for justice was created among the depressed for the first time during the social reform movement. In Malabar, the Atmavidya Sangham of Swami Vagbhadananda and the Payyannur Sri Narayana Ashram of Swami Aananda Theerdhan were instrumental in imparting this spirit among the depressed. A. K. Gopalan’s marches against untouchability and poverty gave them confidence to fight for justice, which took the shape of anti-feudal, anti- landlord, peasant agitations, strengthened by the class consciousness taught to them by the C.S.P. leaders. Excepting a few, the majority of the leaders of the peasant movement were children of poor peasants. They were deeply involved in class wars and agitations, with Marxism giving them the ideological justification for what they were doing. The Marxian class war was not an alien ideology to the peasants of north Malabar. They were already conditioned to receive it (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 10-11).7

The top leaders of the C.S.P. had already established contact with the revolutionary leaders, when they were in jail. To E.M.S., “… the seeds of the left-wing Congress… were laid in Cannanore jail and the individual responsible for it was Tiwari” (Namboodiripad, How I Became A Communist 138). Later, after the formation of the C.S.P., the Kerala leaders like P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who were also members of the A.I.C.C., got opportunities to meet the Communists. These leaders had been in touch with Sundarayya, a member of the newly constituted Central Committee of the C.P.I. from 1935 onwards. He was an accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case and had been just released. Sundarayya was the organiser of the C.P.I. in South India. E.M.S. Namboodiripad and P. Krishna Pillai used to have long discussions with Sundarayya. The leaders from Kerala found that there was a good deal of common ground between them and the C.P.I. (Ibid 200).

In those days, the Communists were only thinking along the lines of working within the Congress with a view to develop it as an effective anti-imperialist organisation. The Communist Party wanted to work outside the Congress; at the same time, they were keen that many of its members worked from within it. They needed the support of E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Krishna Pillai to put that into practice. It provided an opportunity for the Kerala leaders to work in cooperation with the C.P.I. Sundarayya was invited to help consolidate the left-movement in Kerala. As a member of the Central Committee of the C.P.I. and as the leading organiser of the party in South India, Sundarayya, on the advice of P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboothiripad, met several other leaders of the C.S.P. in Kerala.

In 1937 when Sundarayya, accompanied by S. V. Ghate, another Central Committee member of the C.P.I., visited E.M.S. and Krishna Pillai, some top leaders of the C.S.P. were enlisted into the ‘secret fraction’ of the

C.P.I. in Kerala. They were E.M.S. Namboothiripad, N. S. Sekhar, K. Damodaran and P. Krishna Pillai. The process of transforming the C.S.P. unit into a C.P.I. unit was entrusted to that fraction, particularly to P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboothiripad, which they did commendably in early 1940 (Ibid 201, 202 & 211).

The Socialist ideology was disseminated in Kerala mainly through the weekly newspaper, Prabhatham, published by the C.S.P. from Shornur. Later it was discontinued due to a prohibitive order issued by the Government for publishing a poem on ‘Bhagat Singh’. The people of Kerala began to know more about Soviet Union, Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and others through the columns of Prabhatham. With the closure of Prabhatham, E.M.S., K. Damodaran, and other C.S.P. leaders started publishing informative pamphlets about Marxism for the peasants and workers. Popular among them were, ‘The Nineteen Seventeen’ and ‘Why Self Government’, in Malayalam, by E.M.S. and ‘Karl Marx’, ‘What is Profit’, ‘Organisation of Poverty’ and ‘The May Day’, in Malayalam, by K. Damodaran. The publication of Prabhatham was re-started on 11 April 1938 from Calicut. It was the mouthpiece of the Marxist ideology in Kerala till its closure again in September 1939. Several articles on ‘Marxian Economics’, ‘Marxian Philosophy’, ‘Revolution and the State’, ‘The Communist International’ , ‘Fascism’ , ‘The Victory of the Communist Party of Soviet Union’, ‘Gandhism’, ‘Communist Party’ etc. appeared regularly in Prabhatham. The regular writers included Messrs. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran, K. K. Vasu and others. The national leaders of the C.P.I. Messrs. Adhikari, Z. A. Ahmed and P. C. Joshi too wrote articles in the Prabhatham. Those articles were very useful to the ordinary workers of the party to learn the tenets of Marxism. P. Krishna Pillai, Keraleeyan and N. C. Sekhar wrote regularly on the problems of the people in general (Balaram 145).

The Party opened a branch of the the Socialist Book Club of Allahabad in Kerala at Calicut. It was managed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Narayanan Nayar and Subrahmanya Sharma. The Book Club published both English and Malayalam pamphlets. The English pamphlets published were, ‘Philosophy’ by Stalin, ‘What to Do’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ‘To the Starving Poor of the Countryside’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘Wage, Work and Capital’ by Karl Marx, ‘The State and Revolution’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘The People’s Coalition’ by Demetrov and ‘The Success of Socialism in U.S.S.R.’ by Joseph Stalin. The Malayalam pamphlets published by the Book Club were, ‘What is Socialism’ by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, ‘The May Day’ by K. Damodaran and ‘Fascism’ by Subrahmanya Sharma. The people were very interested in reading those pamphlets, so much so that those who could not buy them, borrowed from others and read them (Ibid 147).

The Pinarayi Meeting

At the Pinarayi meeting, the entire C.S.P. leadership in Kerala decided to transform into the Communist party. Even before the decisive Pinarayi meeting, several meetings of the C.S.P. workers had been held at different places throughout Kerala. It was evident that the C.S.P. workers in Kerala aspired for a new strategy and ideology because they had lost confidence in the programme of the Congress and the C.S.P. When World War II broke out, the Congress leadership failed to mobilise all the anti- war forces and thereby to accelerate the national liberation movement as well. The Congress leadership followed a policy of conciliation and remained inactive. C.S.P. workers’ conferences were held at Pazhassinikadavu, Koothuparambu, Cheruthoor, Perinthalmanna, Puthupanam, Feroke, Aalathur, Trichur etc. At all those conferences, it was demanded that they adopt a new working plan immediately and leave no stone unturned to gain freedom from foreign rule at the earliest opportunity (Balaram 33, 36-37).

K. C. George, one of the early leaders of the Communist movement describes a secret, ten-day study class that the C.S.P.workers including himself attended from December 20th to 30, 1939 preceding the Pinarayi meeting at the house of Vishnubharatheeyan. It was organised at the initiative of P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. There were about 20 participants including K. P. Gopalan, K.P.R. Gopalan, Keraleeyan, Devadas, C. Unniraja, Sankara Narayanan Thampi and others. What took place was a group study of Communism. The classes started after the introductory talks given by P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S.Namboodiripad on the necessity of the C.S.P. men to convert themselves into communists (George 486-489). The book titled, A Hand Book of Marxism, containing the works of Marx and Lenin was read and translated. At the close of the ten-day class on the elementary lessons of Communism, P. Krishna Pillai declared, “Hereafter all of us are Communists” (Ibid 489). Thus was laid the foundation stone for the edifice of the Communist Party in Kerala. According to George, the official establishment of the Party took place shortly thereafter in January 1940, at the C.S.P. meeting at Pinarayi near Tellichery on the initiative of E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was then one of the Central Committee Secretaries of the C.S.P. and P. Krishna Pillai who was then the Secretary of the Kerala unit of the C.S.P. (Ibid 491).

About the date, location and importance of the Pinarayi meeting, differences of opinion exist. One of the organisers of the meeting, E.M.S. Nambootiripad says; “… As a culmination of these activities, an extensive conference of the C.S.P. workers was held at Pinarayi near Thellichery, either by the end of December 1939 or by early January 1940, and it was decided to transform the party into the Communist Party” (Translation) (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 88). N.E. Balaram, one of the participants of the Pinarayi meeting records the end of October 1939 as the date of the meeting. Similarly, T.V. Krishnan, the biographer of

P. Krishna Pillai mentions October 1939 as the time of the Pinarayi meeting (Balaram 33).8 To K. C. George, the Pinarayi meeting was held by the beginning of 1940 (George 491). Desabhimani, the official daily newspaper of the C.P.I.(M) in Kerala states that the Pinarayi meeting leading to the formation of the Communist Party was held fifty years ago, in the Vivekananda Reading Room of Parapurom, Pinarayi. To K.A. Keraleeyan another participant of the meeting, it was hosted by a tapper named Vadavuthi Appukkutti.9

To E.M.S. Namboodiripad:

The Communist Party has an inviolable principle.The lower units are organised only by the initiative of the top leadership. So without the blessings of the central leadership, the party organisation cannot come into existence. The comrades of the C.P.I. regard the Parapuram meeting as the founding of the Communist party, forgetting the above principle. But the C. P. I. (M), fully understanding the historical significance of the Parapuram meeting, believes that the founding of the party was in 1937. It is not wrong to say that the founding of the C.S.P. in 1934 and the Communist League which had taken shape in 1931, had prepared the way for the incidents of 1937 and 1939. (Namboodiripad, “An Assessment of the Pinarayi Parapuram Meeting” 20)(Translation)

Since 1937, the C.S.P. in Kerala had worked continuously for 2 ½ years under the leadership and control of the Central Committee of the C.P.I. The party that emerged in 1939 had to work secretly for another 2 ½ years (Idem).

The Pinarayi-Parapuram meeting was presided over by K. P. Gopalan. About a hundred C.S.P. leaders attended the meeting (Balaram 37).10 P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad made introductory speeches. They explained to the gathering the passive policy of the Wardha A.I.C.C. and the inactivity of the C.S.P. They stated that the

C.P.I. was the only party with the motivation and a clear programme to direct the national agitation and popular struggles against the calamities of war. The most important decision taken at the Pinarayi meeting was to transform the Kerala unit of the C.S.P. into the Kerala unit of the C.P.I. One or two persons opined that the party could adopt the name ‘Marxist Party’ for the time being and later change it to ‘Communist Party’. However, after deliberation, it was unanimously decided to adopt the name ‘Communist Party’. It was also decided to organise party groups and to summon mini-meetings of party workers. The Pinarayi meeting ended by midnight (Balaram 39).

The formation of the Communist Party was announced for the first time publicly on 26 January 1940 through wall writings such as, ‘Victory to Revolution’, ‘Destroy Imperialism’, ‘Communist Party Zindabad’ and other slogans (Ibid 104-105).11 The Government started taking repressive measures against the partymen immediately. The working of the party was prohibited and so, the top leaders went into hiding. In January 1940 itself, P. Krishna Pillai went underground and started organising the party secretly. With that began the secret political activities of the Communist Party in Kerala. P. Krishna Pillai summoned secret meetings of the party workers; basic units of the Party called ‘Cells’ were formed and a secret centre of the party was also established. P. Krishna Pillai was the party Secretary then (Balaram 251). In April 1940, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and other leaders also went underground. The secret centre started functioning from the Chirrakal taluk. Several party cells were organised. Taluk committees were formed for Kasargod, Chirrakal, Calicut, Ponnani and Palghat taluks. Party organisers were sent to other places too. The Chirrakal Taluk Secretary was T. K. Raju. The Taluk Secretary for Kottayam was N. E. Balaram. The Secretary for Kurumbranad Taluk was M. Kanaran. The Taluk Secretary for Calicut was N. Sankaran Master. The Valluvanad Taluk Secretary was Kongassery Krishnan. The Taluk secretary for Ponnani was T. K. Raman and the Taluk Secretary for Palghat, P. Kunjuraman Master. Other party organisers were A. K. Gopalan, N. C. Sekhar, M. Kumaran, Subrahmanya Sharma, Krishnan Menon, P. V. Chindan and others. Of the party organisers, only C. H. Kanaran had direct contact with the Central Party leadership (Ibid 254).

Party in Cochin and Travancore

Immediately after the Pinarayi meeting, the left-wing Congressmen formed themselves into the Communist Party in Cochin and Travancore too. In Cochin, a strong anti-imperialist movement had already been organised in 1939 under Labour Brotherhood, an organisation formed by C.S.P. leaders like K. K. Warrier to disseminate Marxist ideas among the workers. The Labour Brotherhood joined the Communist Party in 1939 itself (Krishnan, Sakhav 108-109). Shortly thereafter its leaders, K. K. Warrier, C. Achutha Menon, Andrews, P. M. Thomas, George, M. S. Kumaran and others were arrested (Ibid). A class-based, radical political movement had started in Cochin in 1932 itself. It was a peasant movement organised by K. M. Ibrahim at Kodungallur. It spread to the nearby areas of Mukundapuram and Vaipinkara. The main objective of the movement was to get relief from the increasing agrarian debt. K. M. Kunjumoideen, Mathai Manjooran and his brothers were the leaders of the movement. In November 1932, when Viceroy Lord Wellington visited the state, the peasants tried to conduct a demonstration, resulting in brutal lathicharge by the police. Soon the Government constituted a Debt Conciliation Board to give relief to the debt-ridden peasants. With that, the movement ceased to function (Menon 132-133).

In 1938, with the formation of the Cochin Karshaka Sabha (The Cochin Peasants’ Organisation), the peasants movement was revived. Its President was V. R. Krishnan Ezhuthachan and Secretary, C. Achutha Menon. It agitated for progressive land reforms like permanent tenure, fair lease, etc. In 1938, a peasants’ march was organised from Thiruvilyamala to Ernakulam. By 1942, the peasants’ movement transformed itself into a purely Communist organisation. It organised a Collective Cooperative Society at Aanamalai. By then, at the direction of the newly formed party, the peasants were actively involving themselves in political agitations (Ibid 131-132).

The industrial workers of Cochin were organised under a revolutionary trade union movement by Marxist- minded leaders like K. K. Warrier, P. Gangadharan, P. S. Namboodiri, A. G. Velayudhan and others. From 1935 onwards such trade unions had been organised in the Seetharam Textiles, Amballur Alagappa Textiles, Cochin Tin Factory, and Chalakkudy Potteries. Backed by the Aalathu Workers’ of Cochin and Azheekal, the Port Workers of Cochin struck work, resulting in the cruel torture of P. S. Namboodiri by the police. The toddy tappers of Andikad struck work not only for their economic gains but also for the freedom of the country. The toddy tappers and members of their families had to undergo severe torture from the Government during the period. About twenty toddy tappers were martyred. A majority of the freedom fighters of Cochin belonged to the Communist Party (Idem).

The coir workers of Alleppey were ready to embrace the newly formed Communist Party. Even in 1938, P. G. Padmanabhan, Secretary of the Coir Factory Labour Strike Committee of Alleppey had been circulating printed leaflets containing Communist ideas.12The political condition in Travancore was so tense that Dewan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, in order to suppress Socialist and Communist doctrines, had issued a communiqué limiting further the civil liberties of the people.13 On 6 December 1938, the British Resident in a secret and personal letter to Sir

C. P. informed him that the leading communists M. D. Mazumdar and P. Ramamurthi had visited Alleppey and given the local leaders a plan of action for conducting their future struggle. The letter further revealed the plan of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, H. Manjunatha Rao and S. V. Ghate to keep alive the political unrest in Travancore.14 Based on the secret police report on 19th May 1939 that the Alleppey labourers were shouting the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, and parading with the red-flag, Dewan Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer gave directions to the I.G. of Police to take action against such activities.15

The K.P.C.C. Election

After the secret meeting of the Communist leaders at the house of Vishnubharatheeyan in December 20th to 30th, P. Krishna Pillai directed

K. C. George to submit nomination papers for the K.P.C.C. election as a Communist Party candidate for its only seat in the Travancore constituency. The right-wing Congress candidate was the prominent Gandhian, G. Ramachandran. Since an arrest warrant was issued against Mr. George in Travancore, he could not enter the State and personally meet the voters. Still, George won the elections with a huge majority. The K.P.C.C. Returning Officer, P. N. Krishna Pillai informed George that both the candidates were neck and neck in Trivandrum, Quilon and Kottayam. But when the Alleppey votes were counted – most of which were the votes of the members of the Coir Workers’ Union – it spelt a great victory for George (George 496-97). It showed that the coir factory workers were members of the State Congress as well as members of the Indian National Congress. The majority of the Travancore Congressmen were left-minded (Idem). After the 1940 elections, the K.P.C.C. met at Calicut and elected Abdul Rehman Sahib as its President and P. Narayanan Nayar as the Secretary. Later, when they were arrested, two other left radicals, K. Damodaran and K. T. Kunjuraman Nambiar were elected to these posts. Thus, until 15 September 1940 when the K.P.C.C. was dismissed, it remained in the hands of the left radicals (Namboodiripad, The Communisty Party in Kerala 88-89).

In Travancore, the Communist Party unit was formed in Alleppey in 1940. Before the formation of the unit, a secret meeting was summoned by P. Krishna Pillai at Eramallur, north of Sherthallai, at the residence of one T. K. Raman. With P. Krishna Pillai, there were T. V. Thomas, K. K. Kunjan, and four others. A Party Committee consisting of K. K. Kunjan, P. K. Padmanabhan, P. A. Solamon, C. O. Mathew, Simon Asan, C. J. Joseph and others was formed. T. V. Thomas, who was the leader of the Radical Group of the State Congress was made the Secretary of the Unit (Chandrasenan 86).

Underground Activity

In1940 the K.P.C.C. was electing delegates to the Ramgarh Congress. P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran, K. C. George, Manjunatha Rao, K. Keraleeyan and others, all of whom were communists, were the delegates from Kerala (George 497 – 498). At the Ramgarh Congress, the Communist delegates voted against the political resolution, arguing that the Indian National Congress must make use of the situation created by the World War to organise popular agitations against the British Government. Thus, the British Government started looking upon the Communists as their enemies in India, and suppressing them. It became inevitable for the Communist Party to indulge in underground activities for a very long period (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party of Kerala 89).16 The Communist Party in Kerala had to conduct all political activities secretly. Unlike the Congress leaders who courted arrest and underwent imprisonment, the Communist leaders started avoiding arrest and organising agitations (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 94). They had to organise the party from underground. The newly formed illegal party was built up even when the anti-war agitations were going on. P. Krishna Pillai who first went underground, started to build up a strong secret organisation. He had previous experience of organising strikes in hiding – those of Alleppey coir factory workers and the agitations of the Travancore Youth League (Ibid 88).

The hold of the Communists in the Congress Committees gave them shelter to work openly. To quote E.M.S. Namboodiripad :

I was a Congress M.L.A. Since the legislature remained suspended, I could not work in that capacity. I continued to work as a member of the Kuttikrishna Menon Committee. Later, i could not continue even that work because the Communist Party directed me to go underground with P. Krishna Pillai. So the note of dissention was sent by post. (Ibid 89)

The left-wing Congressmen of Kerala were familiar with underground political activity. They had done underground political work during the 1932 Civil Disobedience Movement in Malabar, the 1938-39 agitations for responsible government in Travancore and the Alleppey strike (Idem). Still, the Communist underground activity was basically different from the previous underground activities. The earlier underground activity was for a short period and was confined to a limited area. The Communist activity was class based, and confined to the liberation of the underdogs of the society, especially the workers and the peasants. Therefore, the new Communist organisation had to be geared for it. It was a new experience for the youth who started their political career as left-Congressmen, matured as socialists and finally transformed themselves into Communists. The Communist cadres were taught about Marxist revolution as opposed to Gandhian non-violence (Ibid 89-90).

Bolshevik Pattern

For the success of the Marxian revolution, the C.P.I. unit of Kerala had to be organised according to the Bolshevik pattern to function under a central party leadership. The Kerala unit of the Communist Party retained the revolutionary base of the Congress Socialist Party (Ibid 90). The party members were first introduced to the change through the creation of an awareness of new rights and duties. A primary member of the party should submit himself to other superior party institutions. Even personal and domestic problems should be submitted to the party without any reservation and the decision of the party should be accepted without any hesitation. This was made compulsory for both primary members and leaders. Creation of this consciousness among the party members was the first task undertaken by the newly-formed Communist Party that was working from underground. The procedure adopted to create such a consciousness among the party members has been described in detail by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, one of the founding leaders of the C.P.I. unit in Kerala who later became the General Secretary of the C.P.I. (M). Accordingly, each member should prepare the routine work for each day in advance. At the end of the day, introspection should be made of the work done and that left undone. It should be submitted to the scrutiny of the unit and then, the next upper unit. The first of the records was called ‘job chart’ and the second one was called ‘diary’. It was felt that any member who did not submit himself to the above-mentioned control would sabotage the entire chain of underground activity. So the above conditions were instituted as mandatory for membership. In those days, the party membership numbered only in hundreds (Ibid 98-98).

‘Democratic centralism’ was the basis on which the party structure was to be built. Accordingly, the party member had to surrender everything to the party. His freedom of expression was restricted in such a way that he could express his opinion freely only when he was required to do so in the unit meeting (Ibid 34-35). The Communists had to fight constantly against bourgeois weakness. Even proletariats fell victim to bourgeois influence. To correct it, the party centre was in regular contact with the units. Study classes were conducted and the ‘Weekly Letter’ was sent regularly. The Weekly Letter assessed the national and international developments and on their basis analysed the problems at the regional level. The Weekly Letter used to reach the lower units regularly and consolidated unity of opinion and action among party members. Within months after the outbreak of the war, the central party leadership issued a leaflet entitled, ‘The Path of the Working Class’. It explained how the Communist approach was different from the approach of the Congress and other left parties to the World War, etc. It was an explanation of the vision of the working class about the ‘Indian Revolution’. Secret party papers were regularly sent to Kerala, containing articles and notes assessing contemporary developments. But, with the outbreak of the war, the central party newspaper, National Front and other regional party newspapers (Prabhatham in Kerala) stopped publication (Ibid 87).

Anti-war Agitations of 1940

Morazha,Mattanur, Thellichery riots

Within a few months, an extensive publication network and an effective political organisation were established in Kerala, capable of organising agitations of the workers and the peasants against the British Government, capitalists and landlords (Ibid). In early 1940 when P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and others went underground, a section of the party leaders worked openly by holding official positions of the K.P.C.C. The leaders of All Malabar Karshaka Sangham (Peasants’ organisation) and All MaIabar Trade Union also worked openly. The first task of the party was to awaken people’s consciousness against the deprivations caused by the war. The peasants’ organisations and trade unions waged a united agitation. A United Action Committee was formed. The Secretary of the Committee was K.P.R. Gopalan. The agitation began in September 1940. It raised four demands: 1. Dearness allowance in proportion to living index; 2. Government must open shops to supply foodstuff at a controlled price; 3. Punish the officials who collect War fund compulsorily; and, 4. Assure minimum price for agricultural products. The anti-war movement was made popular throughout Kerala by conducting demonstrations and public meetings and through a signature campaign against the war (Balaram 39).17

The left–K.P.C.C. gave a call to observe ‘protest day’ against police arrests and prosecution on May 20, 1940. But it was postponed on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. Later, on 21 July 1940, Protest Day was observed at 17 places in Malabar. As a continuation of that, the C.P.I. gave a call to observe Civil Liberty Day on 18 August 1940. But the District Magistrate issued a prohibitive order banning the demonstration and arrest warrants on all leaders of the Communist party. The K.P.C.C. met at Chalapuram and decided to observe Protest Day on 15 September against the declaration about India joining the War made by Lord Amery, the Indian Secretary and the Viceroy, Linlithgow. The K.P.C.C.meeting was presided over by Manchunatha Rao. It strongly protested against the Governmental suppression of popular agitations (Mohandas 51-52). Immediately the District Collector issued prohibitive orders without consulting even the Chief Secretary. As a protest, the K.P.C.C. Secretary K. Damodaran gave a call to violate the prohibitive order of the Collector.

Throughout Malabar, the prohibition was violated. In many places the police used force to disband public meetings. The police opened fire at three places – Morazha, Mattannur and TeIlichery (Idem).

Protest at Morazha:

In the Chirakkal taluk, it was decided to hold a peasant meeting together with the Protest Day meeting at Keechery. When the meeting was about to begin, the Police Inspector of Valapatanam, Kuttikrishna Menon and a police group arrived on the scene and served a prohibitive order. The organisers shifted the venue of the meeting to Anchalumpeedika of Morazha village under the jurisdiction of the Thaliparamba police station. The meeting began at 4 o’clock in the evening, after hoisting the red flag. Inspector Kuttikrishna Menon arrived there along with the Thaliparamba Inspector and the Sub-Magistrate. The Sub-Magistrate Gopalan Nayar declared the meeting unlawful. It was followed by Kuttikrishna Menon’s demand to Vishunbharatheeyan, the President of the meeting to disband the people (Idem). The President agreed to do so, but only at the end of the meeting. The Thaliparamba Police Inspector asked the agitators to disband. When the agitators refused, he started a lathi-charge against them. The unarmed agitators retaliated by throwing sticks and stones. Kuttikrishna Menon fired two rounds at them. A worker named Nurumbu was seriously wounded. The stone pelting against the police continued. The Thalipararmba Inspector and Magistrate fled for their lives. Inspector Kuttikrishna Menon was stoned down. He died at Anchalumpeedika. The Head Constable Gopalan Nambiar too died at the hospital (Idem). On the very same day, people confronted the police at Thellichery, Mattannur and Kuthuparambu. At Thellichery Messrs Abu and Chathulkutty were martyred (Idem).

Following the Morazha incident, police started a reign of terror. On the advice of the right-wing Congress leader, Samuel Aron, the police registered a murder case against 38 persons (Idem). A police camp was opened at Pappinisseri. Life became miserable there and in the neighbouring areas of Morazha, Andur, Kalyasseri, and Cherukunnu. Many were arrested and tortured to elicit information about the Communist leaders. However, the police could get no information about the leaders who had gone into hiding. By the end of September, the police had arrested most of the activists except K.P.R. Gopalan, P.R. Subrahmanya Shenoi, A. V. Kunjambu, P. Kumaran and C. K. Panicker (Ibid 43). The police suppression was kept a well-guarded secret. Newspapers were threatened from publishing the news. Due to the efforts of P. Krishna Pillai, Mathrubhoomi published the news of the reign of terror on 22 October 1940. The anti-British radicalism of the K.P.C.C. was creating problems for the Congress High Command. On 15 October 1940 the Communist-controlled K.P.C.C. was dismissed and an adhoc committee led by Nandakoliyar who hailed from Bombay was nominated (Fic 22).

Police announced a reward of Rs.500 and Rs.100 to those who gave information to arrest K.P.R. Gopalan and Subrahmanya Shenoi respectively. The case of the Morazha agitators was argued in the Tellichery Sessions Court by A. K. Pillai, V. R. Krishna Iyer and V. V. Rama Iyer. The Sessions Court gave seven years of rigorous imprisonment to K.P.R. Gopalan and T. Raghavan Nambiar, six years to V. P. Narayanan and Arrakal, and three years to Vishnubharatheeyan, Narayanan Nayanar, M. Ibrahim, P. Govindan Nambiar, E. Krishnan Kurukkal,

P. Gopalan Nambiar, T. V. Chathukutti Nambiar, C. C. Mohamed and Kunhikannan. All others were acquitted (Mohandas 53). But on appeal, the Madras High Court gave K.P.R. Goplan capital punishment on March 24, 1942. Against the death sentence of K.P.R. Gopalan, there was nationwide protest. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and V. V. Giri appealed to the Government to reduce the capital punishment (Idem).18 The problem was raised in the British Parliament by the leader of the British Communist Party. He could secure promise of remission of the death sentence of K.P.R. Gopalan from Amery. On 24 March 1942, the capital punishment of K.P.R. was reduced to life imprisonment (Idem). As far as the early growth of Communism in Kerala is concerned, the anti-war movement and the repressions at Morazha, Tellichery and Mattannur, were of great importance. They gave practical lessons in resisting the suppression of the Government through popular agitations. There were waves of popular agitations in north Malabar demanding the release of K.P.R.Gopalan. Those agitations could alter even the verdict of the Court (Idem).

The already existing links among the radicals of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore were consolidated and formalised with the emergence of the Communist Party. During the 1939-‘42 period, the Communist Party in Kerala was more popular than the Indian National Congress because the former was more anti-British than the latter. Victor M. Fic writes:

It must be emphasised, however, that since the outbreak of the war in September 1939 until July 1942, the Communist Party in Kerala was more anti-British than the Congress, and earned a large measure of credit for its refusal to compromise with the British when the war placed them in discomfiture in India. (Fic 23)

So the Communist Party appeared to many as a more patriotic and anti-imperialist force than the Congress and as the real leader of the entire anti-imperialist movement in Kerala at that time. During the anti- war, anti-British agitations of the 1939-‘42 period, the problems of economic depression such as inflation, unemployment, starvation etc. were precipitated. The Communist Party was moved by political radicalism and was not particularly concerned about non-violence and constitutional politics; within a short time, they could build up an all – Kerala organisation. The Congress, on the other hand, worked separately for Malabar, Cochin and Travancore. Through the formation of the Communist Party, the already existing links among the radicals all over Kerala was formalised in 1940. The long tradition of a unified Communist command in Kerala played a large part in the Party’s victory in the elections of 1957, because it had the statewide network, discipline and understanding that its opponents lacked (Jeffrey 93).

Throughout 1940, the Communists in Kerala conducted vigorous agitations against the war and the Gandhian Congress. At this time, many of the Communists stopped wearing ‘Khadi’. In those days, the majority of the rank and file of the Party undoubtedly came from the poor, lower castes. At the same time, thousands of caste-Hindus too became the supporters and followers of the Communist Party (Ibid 94- 95). It made the C.P.I. weekly, People’s Age claim: “the common struggle against their class enemies brought the Nayar and Thiyya kisans far closer to each other than any amount of anti-untouchability campaign ever did” (qtd in Jeffrey 95). The multi-caste nature of the Communist Party in Kerala was revealed in the K.P.C.C. elections of 1940. The left- wing in the Congress won sixty-two of the ninety seats. Of their successful candidates, 44% were Nayars, 30% were Thiyyas and other lower castes and 11% Muslims. On the contrary, more than 80% of the Gandhians who won the election were caste-Hindus, only about 10% were from the low castes. The Gandhians won 24 of their seats from South Malabar; the Communists dominated the northern part of the District where the peasant movement was flourishing and from the Calicut District (Jeffrey 95). In Kerala, the Communists acquired the reputation of being self-sacrificing, disciplined idealists, in striking contrast to the corrupt, faction-ridden Congressmen (Ibid 97). The Communist leaders of the upper castes during the period of the underground activity, lived in the huts of low caste peasants and labourers and ate with them. Thereby they won for themselves considerable affection among the downtrodden low caste people. It created the feeling that all feudal traditions of social and economic inequalities were crumbling down before the Communists (Ibid 96).

The Kayyur Revolt, March 1941

In March 1941 the militant peasants of Kayyur village (Kasargod taluk of the then Canara District) revolted. Majority of the villagers were feudal serfs. The overlord was the ‘Raja’ of the ‘Neeleswaram Kovilakom’. Through vassals like Pattelar, Ugrani and others, he ruled the village tyranically. To end the feudal suppression, in 1938 a branch of the Karshaka Sangham was established in Kayyur at the initiative of Subrahmanyam, Thirumunpu, A.V. Kunjambu, K.M. Madhavan and others (Sujathan 7). Though the peasant movement in north Malabar could win many of its demands against middle and small landlords, the big landlords like the Neeleswaram Raja continued their coercive feudal collections with the support of the British Government. The Kasaragod taluk Karshaka Sangham decided to conduct a march of 120 peasants against landlordism and British imperialism to Mangalore, the District Headquarters. At the same time, the Karshaka Sangham of the Kayyur village decided to go on strike by sending a list of their demands to the biggest landlord Neeleswaram Raja and thereafter leading a march to the Kovilakom (feudal mansion) ( Nayanar 20-21). Their slogans were, ‘Down with British rule’, ‘Down with landlordism’, ‘Victory to the Karshaka Sangham’, ‘Victory to the Soviet Union’, ‘Pay not the land lease’ and ‘Pay not the War fund’(Kurup 25).

The police, in collusion with the landlords, blocked the march and charged cases of anti-British activity and plan to plunder the Kovilakom against the agitators. On 26 March 1941, the peasant volunteers at sleep at the time were cruelly beaten and the peasant leaders T. V. Kunjambu and Kunjuraman were arrested by the police party led by the Sub- Inspector of Hosdurg. 27th March was a bloody day for the Kayyur village. The news of the arrest of the peasant leaders and the Police action spread like wild fire. The Karshaka Sangham organised a huge demonstration and a public meeting to show its strength. The peasants of the neighbouring villages Kalayikode and Palayi marched with the peasants of Kayyur, holding the red flag, to Cherayikara on 28 March. There in front of a toddy-shop, a Police Constable named Subrayan, fully drunk, blocked the march by holding a drawn dagger. He was one of the constables who had charged at the sleeping peasants the previous day.The demonstrators snatched his dagger, made him hold a red-flag and walk in front of the march. The peasants hooted at him and forced him to shout slogans against landlordism and British imperialism. Subrayan tried to flee, but he could not since another procession came marching against the first. With no other way out, he jumped into the Thejaswani Puzha (river) and was drowned. His body was recovered only two days later (Nayanar 21).

On 30 March there was a police hunt on the people of Kayyur. The police charged murder case against sixty-one persons. E. K. Nayanar, who later became the C.P.I. (M) Chief Minister of Kerala State twice, was the third accused. On the directions of the Communist Party, he went underground (Idem). After eleven months of trial, on 2 February 1942 the Sessions Court of Mangalore sentenced five of the accused to capital punishment and eighteen of the accused to various terms of imprisonment. There were popular agitations at the national level to relax the punishment. On 29 March 1943 Madathil Appu, Koyithattil Chirukandan, Pottrora Kunjambu Nayar and Pallickal Abubeker were hanged to death at the Cannanore central jail. Until their last breath, they shouted slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Communist Party Zindabad’ and ‘Karshaka Sangham Zindabad’ (Gopalan 26-70). The fifth to be hanged was Choorikadan Krishnan Nayar; but as he was a minor, the death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment (Kunjambu 12).

The Kayyur revolt was not accidental. It was the result of a planned effort on the part of the Communist Party to end feudal suppression and imperialistic exploitation (Ibid 24). The Communist Party Secretary, P. Krishna Pillai was arrested in Travancore. The Government of Travancore kept his arrest and detention as a top secret. Throughout Kerala, there was popular anxiety and widespread agitations following the arrest. The Congress newspaper, Mathrubhoomi wrote an editorial entitled, “Where is P. Krishna Pillai?” (Pothuval 74). Immediately after the Morazha revolt, and before the Kayyur revolt, P. Sundarayya visited Malabar. He reached Kayyur and met the leaders like A.V. Kunjambu, K. Keraleeyan, E. K. Nayanar and others (Nayanar 20-21). The visit of Sundarayya was kept a top secret. It imparted high spirits and enthusiasm to the Party workers. To quote one of the leaders of the revolt, A.V. Kunjambu: “The leaders of the army who had to train and lead them already got ready. It seemed to the cadres that this supreme Commander has reached to give the final order” (Translation) (Kunjambu 24). The positive culmination of such developments was the Kayyur revolt. Just before the execution of the four accused, P. C. Joshi, P. Sundarayya and P. Krishna Pillai visited the ‘condemned cell’. Though the party leaders were upset, the convicts maintained a stoic poise and told them: “Comrades, you should not worry over us. We are proud to have done our duty. Our only wish is for the success of our movement at any cost. Ask our comrades to go forward with renewed vigour till the goal is reached”(Translation) (Gopalan 269).

The Kayyur revolt assumed national importance when the All India Kisan Sabha met in 1943 at Bokney in Punjab and decided to observe the day of the Kayyur revolt – 29 March – as the All India Kisan Day. On that day, the peasants of all village units conducted demonstrations and pledged to carry forward the message of the martyrs of Kayyur (Kurup 23).

The ‘Imperialist War’ Becomes the ‘People’s War’

In June 1941, U.S.S.R. entered the Second World War against Germany as an ally of Britain. The C.P.I. had to submit itself to the dictates of the international Communist leaders. Thus, for the C.P.I., the hitherto ‘Imperialist War’ turned into the ‘Peoples’ War’. As a result, the Indian Communists had to forget their past differences with the British and support them. E.M.S.Namboodiripad explains the policy of the Party at the time as follows:

… meanwhile, … the character of the war changed. On 22 June 1942 the war ceased to be an attempt of antagonistic imperialist groups to partition the world among themselves, but a war to decide the future of the Soviet Union and the struggle of world Socialism…(Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 151)

E.M.S. Namboodiripad admitted in 1952 that even the genuinely left petty bourgeoisie, sympathetic towards the Soviet Union could not see any change in the character of the War, as long as Britain continued to rule over India. The C.P.I. leadership on the other hand felt that anything done to defend the land of Socialism was just (Ibid).

About the political line of the C.P.I. the most popular leader of the Party, A. K. Gopalan commented: “… the political line of the Party at that time ran counter to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the majority of the Indian people, and many serious mistakes were committed by its leadership…”(Gopalan 70). The 1942 anti-national policy of the Communist Party resulted in its alliance with the British Government. The former socialist allies of the Communist Party in its anti-war agitations and the right-wing Congress leadership charged the Communists with betrayal of the national cause. The Communists were labelled as ‘Paid agents of British Imperialism’. Thus the hard-won popularity of the C.P.I. through several anti-war agitations, when the Congress remained less active, started to decline (Fic 24-25).

Until 1942, there had been no anti-Soviet, anti-communist bias inside the socialist movement in Kerala. But the 1942 Communist stand on the war and the anti- British movement created a new generation of socialists in Kerala (Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 152- 154). the Communist Party in Kerala had been formed in 1940 by the separation of the radical wing from the Congress. This process was repeated in 1942, when another group of radicals split away and founded the Socialist Party of Kerala (Fic 27).

The political situation in 1942 was so complicated that it demanded a high degree of poise and maturity on the part of the C.P.I. leaders. It involved the linking of the national, anti-imperialist tasks of the Indian partymen with international goals and tasks. It again involved fighting the pro-fascist sentiments of the Indian people at large in such a way that it could expose the fascist agents and win over the majority of the anti- imperialists. It also required preservation and extension of the unity of the trade unions, the Kisan Sabhas, the student organisations etc. (Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 152 – 154). During the difficult period of 1942, its opponents hoped that the C.P.I. would shatter and disintegrate into pieces. Only the top leadership of the C.P.I. dealt with problems arising out its wartime policy. Local party units had been tackling the concrete problems faced by the workers and peasants (Fic 24&27).

Analysis of the secret records of the Travancore Government from 1941 to 1945 indicates that, on the one hand, the Government had continued to suppress the Communist Party since June 1941after the entry of the U.S.S.R. in the World War. On the other, the Communist Party regarded that the Government was conspiring with the capitalists and the landlords against the workers and the peasants. On 26 August 1941, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer informed the British Resident that his Government had seised Communist literature and secret information. His advice was that the Communist propaganda and activities were to be dreaded and had to be guarded against more than ever then. According to him, the Indian Communists were using the Anglo-Soviet Alliance as a convenient screen.19 The All Travancore Trade Union Congress gave a call to its workers to observe 24 October 1941 as Suppression Day. On that day, at the labour meeting at Alleppey, T. V. Thomas, the Communist leader declared that the workers were being denied even ordinary rights in the name of law. One hundred and forty workers were still in the central jail for participating in the strike three years ago. Two labour leaders C. K. Velayudhan and Mathew were still detained in the Kasba Station of Quilon. They were arrested by invoking the Defence of India Act. Nevertheless, the Government did nothing to bring to book the capitalists who cut wages. He asserted that compromise or conciliation with the Government was no more possible. He gave a call to the workers to join the Union, to change the decaying system and to set up the foundation for a new, effective system.20

On 5 October 1941 the Inspector General of Police reported to the Chief Secretary that the First Class Magistrate had directed the Police Inspector of Alleppey to be prepared to arrest a thousand labour agitators if need be.21 On 19 December 1941, the I.G. of Police advised the Government to declare the Communist Party of India as an unlawful association. Accordingly, the Government declared the Communist Party of India unlawful and prohibited the printing and publishing of the National Front and the New Age.22

On 16 September 1943, the Government of Travancore issued a press note banning the shouting of the slogans, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Long Live Revolution’.23 The secret police report on 30 October 1943 shows that there was a labour strike in the H & C, Quilon and the Chief Engineer of the Company complained to the police about the workers creating a racket by shouting the slogan, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.24 The ‘Abstract Intelligence of the Travancore Police’ dated 2 October 1943 describes the political condition that prevailed in those days. It says that the communists of Kottayam met on 28 September and discussed the Government’s press note regarding the Communist Party. The meeting demanded the distribution of wasteland for cultivation and resolved to open ‘demonstration farms’ with the purpose of increasing food production. In the meeting, the Communist leader C. G. Sadasivan accused the Government of favouring the landlords and the capitalists. He continued, “The British Government will automatically go away when the people get organised. No Government can tolerate the growth of people’s organisations; the British Government is no exception.”25 Page 82 of the ‘Abstract’ reveals that on 27 September three hundred workers of the weaving section of the A.D. Cotton Mills, Quilon struck work (Idem).

On 12 December 1942, the British Resident proposed to the Dewan of Travancore the construction of a parallel road to the main road, skirting the backwaters, from Alleppey to Sherthallai, to facilitate military movement.26 On 11 February 1944 the I.G. of Police reported that the General Secretary of the All India Students’ Federation was arriving at Trivandrum on 13-2-1944. He got an order issued by the Dewan that the

A.I.S.F. was a banned organisation.27

Another secret police report dated 17-6-1120 M.E. shows that in March 1945 the annual meetings of the All Travancore Trade Union Congress (A.T.T.U.C) and the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union were held at the same venue at Brahmamandiram, Karumady near Alleppey. The A.T.T.U.C. annual meeting started by 12 noon, presided over by T.V. Thomas. Only the representatives of different trade unions were admitted. One hundred and fifty such delegates were present. About a dozen resolutions were passed, beginning with felicitations to the red army of Russia. It put on record the protest against the oppressive measures of the farmers of Kuttanad against the agro-labourers, all done with the support of the local Government officers. Demand was made for a Government enquiry into it. The workers offered their wholehearted support for the formation of a national Government as well as the cooperation of the labourers to the State-Congress for the establishment of a responsible Government in Travancore. The other resolutions were about the welfare measures of workers to be adopted by the Government. The last resolution called for lifting the Governmental ban on demonstrations and slogan shouting.28

The A.T.T.U.C. annual meeting ended at 2 p.m., and the annual meeting of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union started its session at 6 p.m. It was presided over by N. M. Joshy. T. V. Thomas gave the welcome speech. The opening speech was made by R. Sankar:

He emphasised the necessity of concerted efforts on the part of all social and political organisations for the advancement of Travancore and British India and acknowledged that the labourers in Travancore have been working for exactly that. (Ibid)

The resolutions passed were more or less of the same nature as those of the morning session. A few additional resolutions included: 1. Support to the Greek agitation for independence; 2. Demand to the Government to lift the ban on Desabhimani and the ‘People’s War’; 3. Better sanitation facilities and a town hall for Alleppey; 4. Protest against the police torture of the General Secretary of the Union and demand for an enquiry; 5. Increase in wages and war allowance for workers; 6. Responsible Government in Travancore; and 7. All organisations, the State Congress, C.P.I., S.N.D.P., N.S.S., Muslim League, Karshaka Sangham etc., should work unitedly for a responsible Government in Travancore. The meeting ended by 10.30 p.m. There were a hundred volunteers, wearing red badges with emblems of the scythe and the hammer. A dozen among them including the volunteer captain wore red uniform.

The Agro-Labour Movement in Kuttanad

The peculiar method of paddy cultivation followed in Kuttanand gave it the honour of being the first centre of the Agro-Labour movement in India. As in Holland, paddy fields in Kuttanad lay below the water level. So the water of the Vembanad Lake was dammed by building bunds, which was done through the collective work of the agro-labourers. Majority of the agro-labourers belonged to the lower class, Ezhavas and Pulayas. Traditional feudal suppression in all its ugly forms still existed in Kuttanad. In 1941, when the agro-labourers were organised under the initiative of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Alleppey, they were suffering from severe hardships such as inflation caused by the war, cash payment when the price of rice shot up, (ten paise for a male worker and seven paise for a female worker), lack of rest at noontime, hard physical labour without rest from sunrise till sunset, long walk from the work site to the house of the landlord etc. Inspite of such hard labour, the worker still starved. It was under such circumstances that the agro- labourers of Kuttanad became organised. The source of inspiration came from the leaders of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union at Alleppey. The task of organising them was entrusted with S. K. Das by V. K. Purushothaman and P. K. Padmanabhan. Until then, nowhere in India had the agro-labourers been organised for collective bargaining. In 1941 (1115 M.E) twenty-five persons were invited to a preliminary meeting. The meeting was presided over by the Dalit leader, Thankan. There, S. K. Das was made the General Convener. The Union was registered in 1942 as Trade Union No. 4.29

After the formation of the Union, the agro-labourers of Kuttanad struck work in 1943 (1117 M.E). There were three demands: 1. Increase of wage, 2. Noon rest, and, 3. Eight hours’ working time. The landlords started beating the striking workers. For the first time, the workers retaliated in the same coin (Ibid).

On 23 February 1945, the President of the Karshaka Union (Farmers’ Union), Veliyanadu, Changanassery informed the Government:

A meeting of the Kuttanad Agro-Labour Union was arranged by the Communist and State Congress leaders, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai, P. T. Punnuse, C. Kesavan and others on 14th Kumbham at Manpuzhakari, Changanasseri. The object of the meeting was to plan the harassment of the cultivators at the time of the coming harvest using forced strikes and stay-outs. Pray take necessary action to keep peace and order by preventing the intervention of outside forces instigating labour strikes and trouble.30

The Chief Secretary to Government forwarded the complaint to the

I.G. of Police for immediate action.

On 18 December 1944, the I.G. of Police reported the speeches of T.

V. Thomas and C. Achutha Menon made at the sixth anniversary of the Kannitta Labour Union held at Alleppey on 19-11-1944. In the course of his welcome speech, T. V. Thomas said:

…the workers experience many difficulties in the state. They are denied representation in the legislature. The creation of the Trade Boards Bills etc., is calculated to lead to a labour agitation. When the A.T.T.U.C. arrives at decisions taking into account all these matters, it is the duty of the labourers to put them into effect. Further, the Trade Boards Bill is merely intended to prevent labour agitation. The labourers should view the same as a Bill meant for promoting strikes rather than conciliations. 31

The resolutions passed included: 1. Protest at the non- representation of labour in the legislature; 2. Request to lift the ban on processions, Desabhimani, People’s war, and the red flag; 3. Request to enhance wages by twenty-five percent; 4. Request to form a full-time labour department; 5. Request to bring food and supplies under the purview of the legislature; and 6. Request for the release of the labour leaders of Quilon. 32

In Kerala, at the beginning of the Second World War, the newly formed Communist Party had been more anti-British than the Congress party. The Morazha, Mattannur, Tellichery and Kayyur revolts were started as anti-British, anti-war agitations. The secret police reports of the Travancore Government show that even after mid-1941, the workers and peasants organised by the Communist Party continued to agitate, though the Party had changed its policy towards Britain, due to the Russian entry into the War. The workers agitated against economic depression, inflation, unemployment, starvation, etc., and demanded distribution of essential goods through ration shops, distribution of Government land among the peasants to grow more food, etc. At the same time, the right-wing conservative Congress leaders refused to mobilise the workers to agitate. Still, the suspension of the anti-British agitation due to Soviet entry in the war put the Kerala Communists in difficulty. The communists in Kerala who were former C.S.P. men were in a dilemma when Gandhi made the clarion call for the Quit India Movement in August 1942. The Communist leaders like P. Krishna Pillai, who could feel the pulse of the people, felt helpless. Within a few weeks after the first Communist Party Congress in 1943, the Party Secretary,

P. Krishna Pillai dismissed the State Committee (Namboodiripad, The Communist party in Kerala 192-94). He transferred all powers to himself. It precipitated a crisis in the party, which was to last till 1948. When Krishna Pillai announced the dismissal of the State Committee, the Central Committee interfered. In fact, E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was also a Central Committee member was directed to interfere. About it Namboodiripad writes thus:

The Secretary, whose action could, by no means, be justified, was not even reprimanded by the Central Committee. His action was not cancelled; and no suitable decision was taken by the Central Committee on the report submitted by a Central Committee member. The Central Committee member apprised the prominent comrades of what he found significant. His findings were readily accepted, since they came from a Central Committee member. The Central Committee accepted his report without any discussion. Accordingly, organisers were appointed and the Committee functioned through them. This continued from 1943 for a while. It was indicative of some of the changes to come. The change came when the Party Congress met in 194. (Translation) (Ibid 192-193)

Namboodiripad was indicating the lack of intra-Party criticism and the lack of effective control on the part of the Central Committee during 1943-‘48 period over the Kerala unit of the Communist Party. In the biography of P. Krishna Pillai, this period is referred to as the period of confusion (Krishnan, Sakhav 182-83). The frequent change in the leadership in the year 1946 is the best example of it. 1946 started with P. Krishna Pillai as the President of the Party and A. K. Gopalan as its Secretary. By September, E.M.S. Namboodiripad was made the President and the Secretary was P. Krishna Pillai (Idem). During the period, the Kerala unit of the Party was dominated by two persons, P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. E.M.S. Namboodiripad makes an introspection of the two dominant figures of the party as follows:

…We never seriously considered the fact that there might still be deficiencies in spite of our joint efforts. Even in our joint decisions, corrections were essential. We had comrades capable of doing that. Our duty was to create a collective leadership with everybody’s active participation. But we failed to do that. On the contrary, we had the tendency to make my word final in ideological and political affairs and that of ‘Sakhav’ the final word in organisational and practical affairs. What was the result? There was no active participation from the State Committee in framing policies and in solving the day-to-day problems. But there were periodic formal meetings of the State Committee. But the State Committee never functioned as a unit which could freely and seriously criticise and correct our activities; nor did it discharge its basic duty of directing our future activities. If that was how the State Committee functioned, need anything be said about the lower units? Till 1947, only at a few conferences and general body meetings were serious discussions in ideological and political subjects held. Even on these rare occasions, dissenting comrades only expressed their opinions. There was no serious discussion about them. The State Committee had no control over us on organisational and political matters, and the lower units had no control over the State Committee too. (Translation) (qtd in T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav 182-85)

Robin Jeffrey too throws light on the confused state of the C.P.I. during those days. He states:

The Communist Party’s national leadership, however, was divided, as we shall see, over how to react to this turmoil. Generally, throughout 1946, it attempted to damp down agitations in various regions; it was the local Communists who tried to push the party forward when spontaneous unrest occurred. (Jeffrey, “India’s working class revolt: Punnapra-Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946″ 99)

The Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt of October 1946

In South Kerala, a spontaneous unrest of the agro-labourers and the industrial workers, sponsored by the local Communist Party, culminated in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt in October 1946. About it, Robin Jeffrey writes:

Indian working classes, to be sure, have conducted long, bitter strikes, and peasants have sustained revolts in the countryside. But only once, it appears, have workers in an industry fashioned weapons, set-up armed enclaves and fought the military in pitched, if one sided battles. The event, named for two of the places involved, was led by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in October 1946 in the Princely State of Travancore, a southern part of what is today the State of Kerala. (Ibid 97)

The organised might of the Alleppey coir factory workers was the chief motive force behind the revolt. Alleppey coir workers, liberated, united and with nearly twenty years’ agitational experience were one of the real mass bases of Communist strength in India (Ibid 100). Even now Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks form one of the two major mass bases of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala. The other bastion of the C.P.I. (M) is North Malabar where Communist leaders like A. K. Gopalan, with their long association with the Social Reform Movement, were responsible for the liberation of the peasants from feudal bondage.

The secret police reports of the Travancore Government down from 1921 reveal that the workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks were deeply influenced by social and political radicalism. The District Superintendent of Police, Kottayam reported to the Commissioner of Police, Trivandrum on 24-5-1921 that very serious disturbances of public peace existed in the taluks of Vaikom and Sherthallai. He requested for additional force to maintain peace at Vaikom and Sherthallai taluks (Supra 140-41).33 In the same year (1921), the British Resident and the Government of Travancore were very much worried of the Civil Equality movement in Travancore and the Non-cooperation movement in Cochin and Malabar. The Resident wanted to move troops to Sherthallai as a precautionary measure in the event of the outbreak of the Non-cooperation movement in Cochin and Malabar. In 1929, the Devaswom Commissioner of Ambalapuzha taluk was very much afraid that the Temple Entry volunteers would forcibly enter temples. He reported that the people of the locality were campaigning against temples. So he requested the Government to send police protection.

In 1930, at repeated requests from the British Government, the Travancore Government sent a detailed report on the political activities of various organised bodies. An analysis of the report reveals that ninety- five percent (95%) of political activists rooted in social reform movement, who follow political radicalism, were from the Sherthallai taluk. Sixty- four percent (64%) of trade union activists, who believed in waging class wars, and were active in radical politics, existed in the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks (Idem). In 1938, the workers of Sherthallai were bold enough to attack a police party consisting of two Magistrates. The police fled and had to hide till the arrival of the military rescue party. The military fired at the workers. The leader of the riot (Kanichukulangara riot) was A. K. Padmanabhan, the secretary of the Kalavancode branch of the Labour Union. The ‘Secret Police Daily Bulletin’ on 13 April 1939 reported:

…At a labour meeting held on 11-04-1939… P. N. Krishna Pillai, in the course of his speech dealing with the might of the labourers, referred to the labour strike of 1926 in England and said that even His Majesty the King had to flee for his life from the Buckingham Palace.34

In 1924 at a labour meeting in Sherthallai, K. Ayyappan the most popular social reform leader of Cochin, gave the following call to the workers: “….. Strike and get liberated by slaying the royal family. Never mind the gun of the army, the baton of the police and even the King”(Translation) (Raghavan 38).35

In fact, the coir factory workers were moving back and forth between their villages and factories. A larger number of people were exposed to the ideas of class struggle. By carrying the idea of class war into the countryside, they created around themselves a sympathetic rural buffer which could become a source of support at times of crisis (Jeffrey 1160). Later the coir workers were instrumental in organising the rural poor who were still living under feudal suppression into various class-based unions such as Boat Rowers’ Union, Agro-Labourers’ Union, Toddy Tappers’ Union, Fishermen’s Union, Coconut-tree Climbers’ Union, etc.

The coir factory workers of Alleppey always supported the National Liberation Movement. In April 1924, they held a festive meeting in imitation of the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress. During its session, a message was received about the arrest of the ‘Satyagrahi’ leaders at Vaikom. At once fifty volunteers were dispatched across the backwaters to help the Vaikom Satyagraha, which was being staged at the initiative of the Indian National Congress (Ibid 1160). In 1930, the Government of Travancore reported to the British Government:

The Alleppey Labour Association appears to have been taking part in political matters. When the Salt Satyagraha volunteers under the leadership of G. Sreedhar went to Payyannur, through Alleppey, K. C. Govindan, Secretary of the Association welcomed them. He said that, if necessity arises, he would supply volunteers and money for the Salt Satyagraha campaign. (Raghavan 47-48)

On 7 June 1935 when C. Kesavan was arrested, all the coir factory workers struck work and held a protest meeting. Later, when he was released, they gave him a felicitation. The printed copies of the felicitation was full of revolutionary ideas and so it was banned and confiscated by the Government.

In the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt, there was an identification of the labour union with the radical wing of the State Congress. On 25-5- 1939 the District Magistrate based on a secret police report, informed the Government that the radical section of the State Congress was very busy in recruiting labour leaders into the Youth League.36 The coir factory workers always strongly supported the State Congress in its agitation for responsible Government and adult suffrage. On 02-11-1938, the A.S.P. of Alleppey reported to the I.G. of Police:

…the driving force behind the labour union has been and still is the State Congress. The labour agitation has always been controlled and led by political agitators who take part in the State Congress activities…It may be noted that the demands of the labourers include the establishment of ‘responsible Government’, ‘release of political prisoners’, ‘repeal of the Regulation I of 114’ and ‘Institution of Enquiries into the alleged atrocities of the authorities’ in connection with the State Congress activities. (Ibid)

The coir factory workers were an inseparable part of the political agitations of the State Congress. As part of the 26 August political agitation of 1938, the State Congress nominated R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan to violate prohibition and lead the agitation. The slogans of the agitators were: ‘We will secure responsible Government by force’, ‘State Congress Zindabad’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Raghavan 77-78). In the 1938 general strike, the C.S.P. leader P. Krishna Pillai who was directing the strike, amazed at the sise of the coir factory workers and considering himself inexperienced to lead a political strike of such a magnitude, specially invited the communist leader S. V. Ghate to come to Kerala and give advice on the manner of conducting the strike (Jeffrey 1162-63). In October 1938, an indefinite strike was started with thirty demands. At the same time, the workers declared:

Even if all our economic demands are sanctioned, we will not withdraw from the strike until full responsible Government based on adult suffrage is given. (Raghavan 83)

At the same time, the workers sent twenty five red volunteers to participate in the State Congress demonstrations before the royal place in 1938. On 23 October at Alleppey, two workers died and eight were seriously wounded in the military firing (Pillai 595-596). A red volunteer force of 5000 men had already been trained to confront aggressive attacks. On the second day of the strike, the red volunteers armed with spears and daggers mobilised at the Savacotta bridge. To disband them, the military opened fire, killing five and injuring many. The military destroyed the volunteer camp and the trade union office. At Kalavancode, the local people joined with the workers and created a barricade on the highway (Ibid 595-596). At Sherthallai, the red volunteers and workers forced all shops to close and set up two camps where they collected daggers and arecanut staves (Jeffrey 1163).

The general strike of 1938 was the single major factor that weakened the Government from taking stern action against the State Congress. The Government realised that the State Congress was a lesser evil compared to the coir factory workers. So the political prisoners were unconditionally released to mobilise all state forces against the striking workers (Raghavan 94). In 1946 when the State Congress decided to agitate against the ‘American Model’ constitutional reform of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the very same process was repeated, which culminated in the Punnapra- Vayalar revolt.

On 19 February 1939 the Coir Factory Workers’ Union sponsored the third All Kerala Trade Union Conference. There a delegate spoke: “They say that it is revolutionary. For the worker, what else is there but the revolution? The workers wish and work for kicking out the present dictatorial Government and to establish a new Government and administrative system.”37 To Robin Jeffrey, “The strike challenged a system, not just an employer… Further the strike brought home to all of Kerala that the coir workers were a force that, in future, would have to be reckoned with”(Jeffrey 1162).

Another notable aspect of the Alleppey coir factory workers is that the rank and file were always more militant than their leaders. To quote Jeffrey: “The Labour Association took the lead in none of the strikes. Rather the workers called on it for help once they had angrily and spontaneously struck work”(Ibid 1161). In April 1935, when the Labour Association decided to conduct an agitational march to the capital, the Government banned it and arrested its leaders. The response to it at Alleppey was spontaneous. The entire coir workers’ unit struck work and conducted demonstrations, without any call from the Association (Raghavan 51). In 1938, surviving all suppressions, the strike completed twenty-five days; still the workers did not surrender. Finally, on the basis of a negotiated settlement, the leaders withdrew the strike. But the striking workers wanted to continue the strike; they refused to work. The popular leaders, R. Sugathan and C. K. Velayudhan who stood for compromise were hooted down at a large State Congress meeting held on the Kidangamparambu grounds (qtd in Jeffrey 109).38

The traditional socio-economic deprivation of the poor was further worsened in the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks by the World Wars.

The decision of the Travancore Royalty to remain sovereign outside of free India and the proposed American Model constitution that was being framed were the other causes which prompted the coir factory workers to launch a general strike in 1946 which ultimately led to the Punnapra- Vayalar revolt. Preparations for the strike started two months in advance (Kunjan 39). As usual, the 1946 general strike was a political strike. The volunteers were given training by ex-servicemen. Camps were opened at several places to train volunteers. Since the workers were getting protection from the suppression of landlords and police at these camps, the entire working class of the locality lived day and night in the camps along with their families. For protection, they made arecanut staves and other weapons including broken stones, all except guns. They expected a confrontation with the army at any time. So, to get the support of the top-level state leaders of the Communist party, the radical proletarian leader K. V. Pathrose rushed to Calicut on 11 October (twentyfifth Kanni). Discussions were held with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Krishna Pillai and K. C. George. George was directed to go to Bombay to consult the Party General Secretary, P. C. Joshi. George reached Bombay on 13 October, but Joshi was in Calcutta at the time. George spoke to him over the telephone, but it was only a limited discussion. George was told to consult Dr. Adhikari. About it, George writes:

…But, everything could not be talked over the telephone, since it required detailed discussion and I had no more time to stay there, Dr. Joshi directed me to discuss the issue with Dr. Adhikari. The fact that the issue involved an inevitable confrontation with the military made Dr. Adhikari uncomfortable; still he accepted the decision of the Party Committee of Travancore. Thus, the decision of the Travancore Party got the approval of the Indian Communist Party. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 106-107)

On October 17, George returned to Calicut. There he met the state leaders of the Party. The Travancore Socialist leaders N. Sreekantan Nayar and Janardhana Kurup too were present. George was assigned the duty of going to Alleppey. On October 19 he reached Alleppey. George writes of the manner in which the revolt was conducted:

… Late at night, on October 19 Pathrose led me to a remote house. When we reached the courtyard, we saw K. K. Kunjan, C. G. Sadasivan and P. G. Padmanabhan there. That house was the headquarters of the strike… Though A.T.T.U.C. decided ‘Thulam 5’ (October 22) as the date of the General Strike, it was not formally announced because T. V. Thomas wanted to discuss it at the party level after my arrival. To do that, he arrived with Varughese Vaidyan at midnight. The entire area was well guarded by trained volunteers. Everyone was stopped and questioned; even friends were permitted entry only after asking for the password and special signal. T. V. Thomas and Varughese Vaidyan too had undergone such checks, and they were brought in by a carrier. There existed an atmosphere of a liberated warfront. Thomas commented, ‘Oh! Everything is in military order’. It became increasingly clear to me that the Travancore Party had taken every possible step, expecting an imminent military attack. Without wasting time, we discussed the problem. T. V. Thomas raised the point that it would become impossible, at a certain stage, for the leadership to withdraw the strike on gaining a few of the demands, like it happens in a strike for economic benefits, as the proposed general strike is a political one. It was agreed that the political strike became essential as the workers insisted on it; if it were merely for economic gains and to protest against the suppression of the workers, the strike itself would not be essential as Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was ready for a compromise. It was also decided that the members of the Action Committee should remain underground and the trade union leaders should work openly, always ready to court arrest. The meeting ended late at night. (Ibid 110-111)

M. N. Govindan Nayar, the secretary of the Travancore Communist Party just before the revolt, writes:

… I had no contact with the leaders of the agitation, … I did not know where they were… I got acquainted with S. Kumaran, C. G. Sadasivan and S. Damodaran only later. I was arrested near Anchal as accused No. 2 of the Punnapra-Vayalar conspiracy case. During the revolt, the only connection I had with the labour movement of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluk was through the A.T.T.U.C. It was true that I had visited Alleppey just before the revolt, three or four times. How could I be charged with conspiracy merely on that basis? (Nayar, Autobiography 211-12)

At the same time, Robin Jeffrey connects the national politics of

C.P.I. to the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt and thereby holds E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the only Central Committee member from Kerala, responsible for giving sanction to the armed rebellion in 1946. Jeffrey explains it:

The national leadership at this time lacked instruction from Soviet Union… National Communist leaders therefore, taxed themselves over the question of alliance with or opposition to the national bourgeoisie, and over whether the C.P.I. should be attempting to strengthen progressive elements within the Congress… Without instruction from Moscow, the C.P.I. attempted to ally itself with the Congress and the Muslim League… to oppose the British and win independence. The policy was associated with the general secretary, P. C. Joshi, a ‘moderate’, opposed to the adventurist tactics. But with the ‘new unprecedented features of the mass revolutionary upsurge’ from 1946, dispute over a more aggressive line increased within the party. The relevance of this dispute to Travancore was obvious. The fact that the moderates in the State Congress were prepared to negotiate with the princely government about the details of the ‘American model’ provided hard evidence for those who argued that the representatives of the national bourgeoisie could not be trusted. An independent more militant line of action was therefore called for… the balance tilted in their favour with the arrival in March 1946 of R. Palme Dutt, member of the communist party of Great Britain and possibly a bearer of authoritative instruction from Moscow… He attended a fateful meeting of the C.P.I. Central Committee in Bombay from 23 July to 5th August…the resulting resolution published in People’s Age on August 18, as undigested mixture of radical and moderate views, an uneasy and obvious compromise between Joshi and leftist factions (qtd in Jeffrey 109). This orientation however, was to lead directly to India’s first working class revolt. (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 108-109)

The People’s Age commented on the August resolution of the C.P.I. as follows:

The August Resolution had striking relevance for Travancore… It condemned the national bourgeois leadership of the Congress for compromising with the princes and coming out openly against the people’s struggles… The resolution concluded that India’s freedom struggle had entered a revolutionary phase… the resolution could have been written with Travancore in mind. (qtd in Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 109)

The only Malayali who attended the July-August Central Committee meeting was E.M.S. Namboodiripad. The resolution passed by the Committee ran into 10,000 words. Robin Jeffrey infers that E.M.S. too might have been involved in drafting the resolution. Anyhow, after Namboodiripad returned from Bombay there was a decisive change in the tactics of the Party in Kerala. In propagating the new tactics, Namboodiripad played a leading part (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 110). Until July 1946, the Party in Kerala – in Malabar, Cochin and Travancore – pursued a constitutional and generally peaceful line. British officials in Malabar, always watchful of the Communists, had no negative reports of them. In Travancore, the Communists pursued only constitutional agitations. The coir workers of Alleppey struck work from August 7-10 for famine relief and won most of their demands.39 This was an economic not a political strike, undertaken before the August Resolution, yet the strike involved the same men and women who were to take part in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt in October 1946 (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 111).

On 17 August 1946, the Kerala Communists met in Calicut to hear Namboodiripad’s report about the Central Committee meeting in Bombay.40 In Malabar, the party signaled a change of tactics by attempting to arouse the Moplahs, the large Muslim population in South Malabar. On 20 August, Namboodipad published an article entitled ‘The Call and the Warning’ in Desabhimani to commemorate the twenty fifth anniversary of the Moplah rebellion in Malabar in 1921. He wrote:

…All those factors that brought about the Moplah rebellion in 1921 are in existence even today. Today, as in 1921, we live in a period following the termination of a frightful World War… All sections of the people in all parts of India are going to go to battle as the Moplahs of Malabar had done in 1921.41

Prior to the publication of his article, Namboodiripad had explained the August Resolution at a meeting of the Communists of Kerala in Calicut which began on 17 August. They had resolved to reject the American Model constitution and the Dewan rule and to demand for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly in Travancore, the release of political prisoners, and the satisfaction of the immediate needs of the workers and peasants (qtd in Robin Jeffrey India’s Working Class Revolt 112).42 The conference ended on 20 August, the day “The Call and Warning” appeared in Desabhimani. Namboodiripad visited Travancore between first and ninth of September. Namboodiripad’s call echoed throughout the Amblapuzha-Shethallai taluks. The twenty fifth anniversary of the Moplah riot was observed in Vayalar too. At the Kalavankodam temple compound, N.S.P. Panicker, the Vice-President of the Sherthallai Coir Factory Workers Union spoke. He said:

The same situation that led to the Malabar revolt prevails today in Travancore too. We have no option except an armed rebellion. Everyone must take weapons and get ready (quoted in M.M. Varghese 75-76).43

Mr. Panicker was arrested on 5 October for giving a call for armed rebellion. The workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks started living in armed camps as a collective defense mechanism against suppressions of landlords and the police. But those camps became vulnerable to military attack after the Punnapra Police camp was invaded by the revolting workers. The leaders of the revolt started persuading the workers to disband the camps, but the volunteers resisted. An account to this effect is given by K. C. George:

It was certain that at any time, an attack could take place from the opposite camp. The problem of disbanding the camp too was discussed. It was Mr. Kumara Panicker who raised the problem before the comrades in the camp. But the idea of disbanding the camp was stiffly resisted by the volunteers. They refused to die like dogs at the hands of the hooligans, the landlords, and the police; instead, they preferred heroic collective death by resisting the army. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 164)

About the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar agitation, E.M.S. writes:

The most mass-based, anti-independent Travancore movement was given leadership by the trade unions of the Party, which was going to be a turning point in its history. The Party had lost most of the share of political leadership that it had enjoyed till then within the left movement because of its approach to the August agitation and the ‘divisive’ activities of the Muslim League based on the ‘two nation theory’. But with the advent of the anti-independent Travancore movement, the Communist Party got the opportunity to recapture it. (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 164)

…The people’s agitations in Travancore which had its origin in the Abstention Movement, developed through the first agitation for responsible government and assumed its highest form in the Punnapra-Vayalar agitation. The organised working class was in the forefront of the agitation continuously… As the vanguard of popular agitations, the working class was armed with ideology (Ibid 266-67).

According to the statistics of the Servants of India Society, 20,000 people died of starvation in the Sherthallai taluk in 1942-‘43 famine (qtd in M. N. Govindan 199 & 207). Why did such a heavy toll on lives occur in Sherthallai? M. N. Govindan Nayar, the late communist leader explained its cause as the peculiar socio-economic system that prevailed in the Sherthallai taluk. In other parts of Travancore, two thirds of the total land was owned by the state. To alienate the feudal lords, the eighteenth century king, Marthanda Varma took the tenants into confidence and made settlement with them directly (Rao 69). Since the Sherthallai taluk was a gift of Cochin and the landlords were subservient to the Travancore monarch, no change was effected in their holdings. So the traditional socio-economic system continued to exist; the landlords lost only political power. Though slavery was legally not in existence, landlords believed that the body of the tenant was their property, since the tenant resided and survived on the land of the lords. The agro- labourers had to work from sunrise to sunset. They could not bargain on the wages. Some landlords even enjoyed the right to ‘deflower’ the virgin brides of the workers. Thus the majority of the tenants of Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks, did not have any right on the land. They worked without rest for subsistence wages and slept under the shades of trees (Nayar, Autobiography 207).

With the clarion call given by the social reform movement, the outlook of the workers began to change at the beginning of the twentieth century. They became aware of the concept of equality and freedom. But the landlords still clung on to the old beliefs (Ibid 207-208). It was under such circumstances, with the outbreak of the World War, when the economy was slightly disturbed, 20,000 died of starvation (Idem). In 1946 again when there was inflation and scarcity of rice and consumer goods, the workers decided not let the 1942-‘43 starvation repeat itself. On 7 August 1946, the trade unions of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks struck work for three days against scarcity of consumer goods and inflation. The strike was a complete success; the government assured standard meals at the rate of five annas. 5000 such meals were distributed through the Coir Factory Workers’ Union. The 1943 starvation deaths always haunted the poor who survived. They joined hands with the coir workers and marched to the battlefield shouting slogans against landlordism and despotism (Ibid 199, 200 & 208).

The Punnapra village is about four miles south-west of Alleppey. The vast coconut groves of the village were owned by a few landlord families. Hundreds of their tenants lived in huts scattered around the coconut groves. The landlords were also owners of fishing boats and nets and made profitable business out of it. In that capacity, they were capitalists. The tenants of the coastlands were both coir yarn spinners and fishermen. The church too, in the fashion of landlords, owned fishing boats and nets. The local State Congress leader, Aplon Arouge too belonged to a landlord family (George, Punnapra Vayalar 20). The tenants had to serve as the rowdies of the landlord whenever needed. The tenants led a life of misery because of the social and economic exploitation. Eleven workers usually went for fishing in a boat; of the total catch, half had to be given to the landlord, sold to him at his price. The other half was to be shared among the eleven workers. Further, a share of it must be given to the soul of the dead landlord, the church and the temple (Ibid 23).

The fishermen were organised under a trade union of their own by the Coir Factory Workers’ Union leaders V. I. Simon Asan and V. K. Karunakaran in 1942 (Ibid).44 It grew into a powerful trade union bringing under its control the entire fishing community of the Amabalapuzha taluk. By then, other trade unions, Agro-Labour Union, Toddy Tappers’ Union, Coconut Tree Climbers’ Union, etc., had also spread to Punnapra. Those unions also had the style of functioning of the parent union – the Coir Factory Workers’ Union. Their interest was not confined to economic bargaining alone; instead it stood for the satisfaction of all needs for the development of the working class. Even individual rivalries were settled in the Union office. Such activities posed a real threat to the powerful landlords and other centres of vested interests reaching upto the Government. So the landlords organised armed rowdies, and they, in turn, got the support of the police to suppress the trade unions (George 23-25). Two such incidents took place in 1946. Martin, the leader of the fishermen was fatally wounded by the rowdies of the fishing capitalist, Vedappan. Another fisherman, Kuttappan was taken into police custody at the request of another capitalist, Pollayil Epolat. It happened when Kuttappan demanded the price of the fish sold to Epolat, who sought the help of the police to put an end to all such demands. The Alleppey police arrested three fishermen including Kuttappan. To release the three, the Fishermen Workers’ Union, numbering about two hundred, marched to the police station armed with oars, sickles, knives etc. They had the support of the Alleppey Coir Factory Workers’ Union. The police unconditionally released the three. After getting their fellowmen freed, the jubilant fishermen set fire to two godowns where Epolat preserved dry fish. This incident happened on 17 October (Kanni 31). On that day, for the protection of the landlords against the organised force of the workers, a police camp was opened at Punnapra in the house of Aplon Arouge (Varghese 11- 24). Since it was certain that there would be police suppression against the workers to satisfy the landlords, the workers left their houses and started living in camps at Paravur, Vadakal, Vattayal, Punnapra, Vandanam and Kalarkode, south of Alleppey. In the camp, volunteers were given military training and political education (George, Punnapra Vayalar 25-26). 45

K. C. George explains the formation of camps by workers:

… With the opening of the police camp, the life of the workers of the area was in danger. It made them collect together at Vadakal for self-protection. It later assumed the form of camps… these camps were thus formed by the workers on their own initiative. At the same time, their leadership, the trade union and the Communist Party, were devising certain tactics to confront the situation. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 96-97)

Vayalar, a village surrounded on three sides by water, exists very close to the Sherthallai town. In 1946, there was no road to reach there; the only route was through water. In the Sherthallai taluk, medieval landlordism continued to exist in all its ugly forms (Ibid 25-26). The extensive coconut groves and paddy fields of Sherthallai belonged to a few landlord families such as Andraper, Parayi Tharakan, Kattiyattu Sivarama Panicker, Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha, Kalluveettil Kunjachan, Azheekal Anthony and others. These landlords except Parayi Tharakan, in order to maintain their feudal domination, worked against the State Congress to get the support of the government (Ibid 26). They were opposed to all the progressive movements of the time. Andraper was the Vice-President of the All Travancore Landlord Sangham. He was notorious for the oppression of workers. Kattiyatttu Sivarama Panicker stiffly opposed the organisation of peasants and agro-labourers. Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha was the brother-in-law of Panicker. His two nephews, Chandrappan and Dasappan were also notorious for their suppression of agro-labourers. They wanted the agro-labourers to work without any fixed time and wage. Another landowner, Kalluveettil Kunjachan organised a rowdy gang to torture the agro-labourers. He was notorious for cruelties against women workers. Another notorious landlord was Azheekal Anthony. The victims of his cruelty were the fishermen and the coir spinners. He too had a notorious rowdy gang ready to indulge in any atrocity. He gave only nominal wages to the workers (Idem).

The communist leaders like P. Krishna Pillai, A. K. Gopalan, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. C. George, P. Gangadharan, P. T. Punnoose and others toured the area and conducted study classes among workers exhorting them to stand united and oppose the feudal bourgeoisie tooth and nail (Kusuman 59). The suffering workers, to get relief from the suppression, organised themselves in trade unions under the leadership of the communist party. As trade unions became stronger and more powerful when C. G. Sadasivan and C. K. Kumara Panikkar joined the Communist Party, the workers became self-confident. C. G. Sadasivan was a very popular State Congress leader. C. K. Kumara Panikkar belonged to a family (Cheerappanchira) which was associated with several legends of the martial tradition in the Chempakasseri principality. The sheer force of his personality attracted more workers, even men of the middle class, to the Communist Party. The workers’ camps at Vayalar were organised under his leadership. During the 1946 revolt, he was known as ‘Vayalar Stalin’ (Ibid 67).

The post-Second World War period witnessed a steep rise in the price of all commodities, especially food products. When the agricultural labourers demanded wages in kind rather than in cash, the landowners refused to concede. When the Union raised demands on this issue, false charges were registered against its members. Some landlords even refused to give the traditional practice of ‘theerpukatta’, a sheaf given to each reaper in the field. On one such instance, at Kanjikuzhi, the

Table 1: Trade Unions in Sherthallai, 1946: Membership, Leadership and Age of Unions

 

Name of Union

Member ship

Total

workers Taluk

Member ship

%

Leader ship

%

Age of

Union in 1946

1.

Coir Factory Workers Union -Muhamma

5000

5200

95%

100%

7 years

2.

“ Sherthallai

3200

3260

98%

100%

7 years

3.

“ Aroor

700

850

80%

85%

6 years

4.

Agro-Labour Union Sherthallai

3250

5000

65%

70%

10 years

5.

Beedi Workers’

Union Sherthallai

650

1100

60%

75%

2 years

6.

Kannitta & Oil Mill Workers Union, Sherthallai

500

550

90%

90%

1 ½ years

7.

Wood Workers’ Union, Sherthallai

500

600

80%

90%

1 ½ years

8.

Cocunut Climbers’ Union Sherthallai South

450

500

90%

95%

9

months

9.

“ Sherthallai North

350

400

80%

90%

1 year

10.

Toddy Tappers’ Union Sherthallai

300

1500

20%

30%

6

months

11.

Fishermen’s Union Sherthallai

250

1300

19%

30%

4

months

Source: K. G. George, Punnapra-Vayalar, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, p. 34.

reapers under the leadership of S. L. Puram Sadanandan made a forcible entry into the compound of the landlord, where the ‘kattas’ (unthrashed paddy in shief) were kept. Each reaper took a ‘katta’ and disappeared. Cases were framed against them for stealing and looting (Idem). There were constant complaints against the low quality of the rice distributed through ration shops, foul smelling and containing stones and worms. Infuriated women led by R. Sugathan marched to the ration shops with brooms in their hands. On seeing the march, the ration shop owners fled (Ibid 63-64). The organised strength of the workers further infuriated the landlords. They let loose their paid rowdies on the workers. The police instead of giving protection to the workers against the criminals, aided the criminals to suppress the workers. The plight of the workers became miserable. They could not move alone. They had to move in groups for self-protection. It was under such a state of anarchy and insecurity that the idea of camps and the recruitment of more volunteers came up. The workers organised themselves and prepared to pay back in the same coin (Ibid 64). Tension escalated by the day and there were frequent clashes between the workers and the rowdies of the landlords. The Raman Murder Case was the result of the change in the attitude of the workers which enabled them to retaliate. Raman was the notorious gang-leader of the landlord Sivarama Panikkar. He used to assault the workers and harass their women. But the workers could not complain against him as he was protected by the police. At the direction of Kumara Panikkar, the workers assaulted him. Though he was hospitalised, he died on the third day. About his death and of the consequent developments, the confidential Government record says:

It is believed that it was the incidents following Raman’s death namely the arrival of the military and the police at the spot, the removal of the red flag at the Ponnamveli Union Office, the assault on those inside and outside the office, and the arrest warrant for the leaders etcetera which induced the leaders to start camps.46

On 15 October, more than seventy military men camped at Ponnamveli. At the Sherthallai High School, a conference of landlords was held in the evening, in the presence of D.S.P. Vaidyanatha Iyer. According to the decision taken at the conference, about 600 paid rowdies of the landlords conducted a violent march at 7 o’clock (George, Punnapra Vayalar 68-69). On 16 October, seven trucks full of soldiers reached Ponnamveli. At about 10 o’clock, a thousand rowdies in the payroll of the landlords reached Sherthallai after conducting a procession of 4½ hours. At the centre of the procession moved the landlords Andraper, Kattiyattu Sivarama Panikkar, Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha, Kalluveettil Kunjachan, Azhikal Anthony, Kuttappa Kaimal and others. The notorious rowdy, Parambil Narayanan walked at the head of the procession, wearing ‘Khaki’ uniform and holding a small sword (vadivaal). At the front and rear moved military trucks with soldiers holding pointed guns to the sides of the road. The procession shouted the slogans, ‘We want the Dewan’s Rule’, ‘We want the Samy Rule’, ‘We will destroy trade unions’, ‘We will destroy the workers’, ‘Kill the Communists’ and ‘Victory to the Vanchinad’ (Ibid 69-70). Clearly, the landlords and their rowdies were establishing a reign of terror in Sherthallai with the support of the military and police. Three military camps were set up between the trade union offices at Sherthallai and Ponnamveli. It became a daily practice to hunt down anyone who looked like a worker, torture him in the military camp and hand him over to the police for further torture. Thus, the worker had to wage a life and death struggle for existence. It prompted people to live together in camps (Ibid 71). According to K. C. George:

…The camps which were formed by the people were systematised at the direction of the Party and, expecting a confrontation with the Government, necessary organisational and political activities were arranged. By then E.M.S. Namboodiripad reached Alleppey.

The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that he could conduct a meeting only in a ‘Kettuvallam’ (roofed boat) on the waters of the Vembanad lake. Workers in large numbers were seeking asylum in the camps… Union offices and flags were collectively guarded by the volunteers. The control of the camp was with a ‘trade council’, formed from all sections of workers. Such trade councils were controlled by the Action Committee. Besides the six camps in the Punnapra region, there were nine camps in the Sherthallai region – Olathala, Vayalar, Vayalar North, Varakad, Kalavankodam, Meenasseri, Muhamma, Mararikulam and Kattur. In all the camps, on October 17 (Kanni 31), there were 1641 volunteers. On October 18 (Thulam 1), the number rose to 2378. The inflow was restricted due to lack of food material. (Ibid 104-106)

On 18 October (Thulam 2), a meeting of the landlords of Sherthallai was held at the local Travellers Bungalow under the Presidency of Vaidhyanatha Iyer (D.S.P.) at which it was decided:

1. Stop the previous plan to set fire to the house of C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran since that cannot demoralise the workers. 2. C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran should be assassinated to create fear among the workers. Then the workers should be suppressed. So the two should be done away with. 3. For killing a worker, the murderer will get the pay and job of a police constable. 4. Policemen have to be directed to different places with the above instructions. Hence, rowdies should be organised immediately. (Ibid 112-13)

To the police and the military, the 22 October (Thulam 5) general strike was the day meant for suppressing the workers; the workers expected it and decided to retaliate by mobilising all their might (Ibid 113-14). The tense situation in the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks was deeply influenced by the general political condition of Travancore. It can be understood from a statement made by the radical State Congress leader,

C. Kesavan on 16 September 1946, which reads:

In my view, never in her history has our land witnessed such epoch making events, though the hard times are wrought with suffering. Dark pictures of starvation and suffering are visible everywhere. Clamour for rice, cloth, kerosene and sugar can be heard all over. The Government is employing its machinery to meet it. The ban on processions has been extended throughout Travancore for a further three months. Meetings and strikes too are prohibited. The army and reserve police are alerted in Quilon, Alleppey, Kottayam, Alwaye and Punalur. If we want the freedom struggle which was continuously fought since 114 (1938) to reach the final goal, we should not keep silent now. All prohibitive orders should be withdrawn and all political prisoners should be released. The army that patrols our streets should be called back. We should enjoy the freedom of all free people. To realise it, all patriots and freedom lovers should unite and agitate, casting aside all boundaries of caste and politics. It is my humble request to my fellow workers and countrymen. Surely, we will attain our goal. (Kesavan np)47

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer who had close relations with the British Government in India, wanted the coastal state of Travancore to remain sovereign after the British left India. But he was aware of the organised opposition against his plan. So he skillfully adopted the tactics of creating factions within the State Congress and to alienate and suppress the radical working class. He also tried to impress the people by posing as a progressive ruler by nationalising primary schools and making primary education universal, industrialising the state, making conditions ripe for the protection of the economic and political rights of the workers, and drafting the American model constitution for Travancore (Nayar, Autobiography 182-84).

Regarding the educational reform, the State Congress was divided. Christians who owned the majority of the schools rejected it; Hindus generally welcomed it. But the Communists had a different stand. They were against any Governmental action that weakened the Congress since the Congress was sure to attain power after independence. So they wanted any legislation of far-reaching importance to be made by the new Government. The view of the Communists was accepted by the 1945 State Congress Convention held at Quilon. It unanimously rejected the Education Bill of Sir. C. P. (Ibid 184). The radicals were of the view that all efforts should be consolidated to send Sir C. P. away and to get responsible Government. In January 1946, Sir C. P. announced the American model constitution for Travancore. To implement the reforms, the Maharaja extended the term of the Dewan for a further period of five years (qtd in Kusuman 87-104).48

The chief features of the 1946 reform were: 1. Introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage; 2. A two chambered legislature: the Sri Chitra State Council and the Sri Mulam Assembly, the first elected on the basis of interests and the other on a regional basis; 3. The executive powers to be vested in the Dewan and his Secretaries appointed by the Maharaja; and, 4. The Maharaja will remain as the supreme political authority (Nayar, Autobiography 188). The reform proposal was discussed by the State Congress and rejected. Its leaders attempted for an open discussion of the proposed reform in the legislature. But the Dewan prevented the move by stating it as seditious (Ibid 189). The denial of the right to discuss the reform resulted in popular anger. People started shouting the slogan, “The American model into the Arabian Sea!” By then, the State Congress President, Pattom Thanu Pillai issued a statement, which said that the reform contained certain very good aspects and that it could be given a chance. This went against the earlier decision taken by the State Congress. The stand of Pattom Thanu Pillai was severely criticised by the radical State Congress leaders like C. Kesavan, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai and the left political parties, the K.S.P. and the Communist Party. Sir C.P. realised that the Communist Party and its great support base, the Alleppey workers, were to be either befriended if possible, or suppressed for the realisation of his political aspirations. In August 1946, when the Alleppey workers struck work against scarcity and inflation, the Government declared the strike as a ‘national threat’ (Ibid 190-199). Sir C.P. started using the state force to suppress the labour movement.

The A.T.T.U.C. Working Committee met on 4 September (Chingom

16) at Quilon and decided to send a deputation – N. Sreekantan Nayar,

T.V. Thomas and Kannamthodathu Janardhanan Nayar – to the Government, to make the Government end the suppression of labour. It ended in failure. On September 9 (Chingom 24), the Committee met again at Alleppey and resolved to confront the aggressive move on the part of the Government with a general strike on 15 September. The strike was a complete success. On 24 September (Kanni 9), delegates of all trade unions met at Alleppey. Fifty five trade unions were represented by eighty five delegates. The meeting was presided over by T. V. Thomas. The delegates belonged to different political parties. As special invitees there were P. T. Punnose, the Secretary of the Tranvancore Communist Party and

C. Kesavan, the radical leader of the State Congress (George, Punnapra Vayalar 51).49 The meeting resolved on a general strike. About the date of the strike, P. T. Punnoose introduced a resolution which called for the proposed strike to be launched only after 26 October and the Committee to meet again on 27th to decide the date of the strike. The resolution was supported by N. Sreekantan Nayar. A speech made by C. Kesavan about the necessity of the strike resolution and the response of the radical Congressmen was significant. The abstract is given below:

The State Congress has decided to launch the agitation for responsible Government. I congratulate you for your unity and solidarity. We cannot bend our knees before the ‘Mylapore Pattar’ (Tamil Brahmin of Mylapore). You might have seen my statement of September 16. I keep getting thousands of letters from the youth all over the land, suggesting that it is high time that the agitation for responsible Government started and requesting me to take up its leadership.

In the last State Congress Working Committee, there was a strong demand made to start the agitation for a responsible Government immediately. But Pattom Thanu Pillai opined that the agitation would delay the present efforts being taken to make some amendments in the proposed constitution. To avoid a split, two weeks’ time is given for negotiation. In spite of C. P.’s assurance regarding the proper use of the veto power, the popular representative still has none of the important rights. So, in no way can we accept it!

We hope that a decision can be taken in the Working Committee. But I can tell you one thing. Whether the State Congress decides to agitate or not, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai and I, we will be in the agitational front. I am sure 75% of the youth are with us. Let’s start the agitation after the Working Committee meeting of 8th. (qtd in K. K Kunjan 32-33)

The two leaders C. Kesavan and P. T. Punnoose might have wished for a joint agitation of the Congress Party and the trade unions as in 1938. But the course of events took a different turn (Nayar, Autobiography 201). Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer adopted a two-way tactic to realise the constitutional reforms and the creation of an independent Travancore. His first line of policy was to isolate the trade union movement from the State Congress and then to suppress it. His second line of policy was to appease the trade unions by conceding all their non-political demands and thereby make them accept the ‘American model’ (Ibid 202).

On 7 and 8 October 1946, the Government summoned a tripartite conference of workers, capitalists and the Government. The meeting at the Durbar Hall was presided over by the Dewan. He spoke on the main points to be discussed – 4% bonus to the workers as deferred wage, leave with wages, fixation of working hours, minimum wages, recognition of trade unions, formation of an industrial relations committee, enquiry committee on the conditions of estate labourers, etc. (Ibid 202-203). The very next day (8 October) the labour delegation (T. V. Thomas, N. Sreekantan Nayar and Kannamthodathu Janardhanan Nayar) had to meet the Dewan at his residence, Bhaktivilasom. On the previous day, there had been a rumour that an arrest warrant had been issued against Janardhanan Nayar. So the other delegates advised him to go underground. T. V. Thomas gives an account of the interview between Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and the labour delegation:

…He started talking with the introduction, ‘I believe that you are happy about today’s decisions’. Then he asked, ‘What is your attitude to the Government?’ Our reply was, ‘Cooperation. What else can make us capable to confront the Capitalists?’ He liked that reply very much. With a happy smile, he said, ‘I expected the same reply from you. You are pragmatic’, he said. He added, ‘In the new constitution, I have kept two seats for you’. With surprise we asked, ‘Which constitution?’ With added surprise he said, ‘Don’t you know, I am giving shape to a new constitution’. Our question was, ‘Is it the American model constitution?’ It infuriated him, but he controlled his anger and asked as if nothing happened, ‘What is your opinion about the constitution with an unchangeable and rigid executive?’ We replied, ‘We are not capable of discussing the details of the constitution. But, one thing we can say authoritatively. The working class will be satisfied by nothing other than full responsible Government’. It seemed that he did not expect such an answer. In a displeased tone he said, ‘So, you are the supporters of the anarchists of the State Congress, you are with those who create anarchy’. Sreekantan Nayar retorted, ‘What do you mean by anarchy?’ Instead of answering him, he advised, ‘You must not align yourselves with the political parties. If you do, you will end up as losers. You can achieve many things through your organised strength. Your interference in politics will ruin you’. We replied, ‘The working class is the vanguard of the people. The interest of the people is of paramount interest to them. They cannot keep away from the people’. When he realised that we were not yielding to him, he used the final weapon, ‘It is a self- destructive stand. Do you know that you are speaking to a person commanding a police force of 8000 and an army of 4000?’ We said, ‘We know’. He quickly concluded the meeting, ‘Okay. We will meet again.’ (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 100-102)

About the immediate result of the talk, M. N. Govindan Nayar writes:

We were eagerly waiting to know the results of the talks. Immediately, K. Balakrishnan and I, we rushed to Quilon to inform C. Kesavan and Kumbalam. As Sir C. P. said, they were not arrested. Both of them were at the house of T. M. Varghese. We narrated everything in detail. They decided that Kumbalam should go underground and Kesavan should court arrest. Without delay, police reached the house of T. M. Varghese and arrested Kesavan. Within a few days, Kumbalam too was arrested. (Nayar, Autobiography 204)

The State Congress Working Committee did not meet and decide to agitate against the American model constitution and for responsible Government, as C. Kesavan and P. T. Punnoose expected. So, according to the standing decision, the Working Committee of A.T.T.U.C met again on 9 October at Alleppey. Accordingly, an Action Council was formed to decide the date of the strike; its Convener was T. V. Thomas (Kunjan 34). The committee felt that a confrontation with the Government was inevitable. So it decided to send information to the Party President K. C. George and wanted him to be at Alleppey. The messenger, K. V. Pathrose was sent to Calicut on October 11 (George 103). On 19 October (Thulam 2), the Action Council directed T. V. Thomas to give, on 20 October, the call for a general strike on 22 October (Thulam 5). The strike projected twenty-eight urgent demands: Release of political prisoners; withdrawal of police camps at the labour centres; granting of responsible Government based on adult suffrage; withdrawal of American model constitution; abolition of monarchy and Dewan’s rule; granting of civil rights and publishing rights; returning the deposit amount of newspapers confiscated; granting of the right to organisation and collective bargaining; giving farmlands to farmers, etc. There were two Action Councils, one at Alleppey and the other at Sherthallai. The Alleppey Council consisted of

T. V. Thomas, K. C. George, K. V. Pathrose, P. G. Padmanabhan and K. K. Kunjan. The Action Council at Sherthallai consisted of C. G. Sadasivan,

C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran. Though the formal headquarters of the Action Council functioned at the residence of S. Kumaran, most of the time, the leaders were out on the waters of the Vembanad Lake in a ‘kettuvallam’ (roofed boat), giving directions through messengers (Kunjan 39-41).

Based on the strike call of T. V. Thomas, on 20 October the Government declared Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Sherthallai, Fishermen Workers’ Union of Sherthallai and Ambalapuzha and the Travancore Communisty Party illegal. Their offices were sealed and property confiscated (George, Punnapra Vayalar 113-115). The next day (21 October), hundreds of arecanut trees were felled down and made into sharp spears. Workers were given training by the ex-service-men to fall flat, crawl and use spears against the Government forces. The general strike was conducted on 22 October (Thulam 5). In the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluk alone 50,000 workers struck work. They conducted demonstrations by carrying weapons and shouting slogans, ‘Amercian model into the Arabian Sea’, ‘Grant responsible Government’, ‘Abolish despotism’, ‘Abolish Dewan’s rule’ and ‘End labour suppression’ etc. From Paravur, unarmed ex-servicemen conducted demonstrations, which were blocked at Thiruvambadi by the reserve police. There, in the police firing, two were killed and several wounded (Kunjan 41). At 10 o’clock in the morning, Vaidyanatha Iyer, the D.S.P., led a route march of the reserve police to frighten the workers. The route march passed through the residential area near the Punnapra police camp. When it reached west of the Beach ward, the workers blocked the march. The D.S.P. tried to scare the workers with a pointed gun. The workers fell to the ground and tried to crawl away. The frightened D.S.P. begged pardon and withdrew (George, Punnapra Vayalar 116-118). 23 October passed quietly. In the evening, the conveners of the ‘trade councils’ (they were in charge of the volunteer camps) met at the headquarters of the Action Council. There the tactics to be used the next day were discussed. One of the participants,

M. T. Chandrasenan describes:

The main subject of discussion was the attack on the Punnapra Police Camp. There was a general opinion that since the number of policemen at the Punnapra Police Camp was limited, it would be easy to seise guns. The plan was accepted without much discussion. The method for its successful execution was adopted after discussion. It was decided to create a barricade at the south of the Kalarcode junction to attract the attention of the police; workers from the north would conduct a peaceful march through the streets of the town. Another march would be mobilised at the Kidangamparambu grounds to conduct formal civil disobedience.

If the Police or military moved to Punnapra inspite of these arrangements, they would be blocked on the way by the ex- servicemen volunteers. After adopting these plans, everyone dispersed in an excited mood to explain and implement them. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 119-120)

On 24 October, a resolute crowd of many thousands armed with arecanut staves, knives, choppers and iron bars surrounded the Reserve Police Camp (which had 24 constables and one Sub-Inspector). The Inspector asked the crowd, through a megaphone, to disperse. The leaders of the agitating mob demanded that the Police surrender their guns and disband their camp. The police responded by opening fire. Vasudevan, a Police Constable of the Punnapra camp who survived the attack narrates it thus:

… The Inspector was stabbed while he was talking over the megaphone. After that we opened fire. When we ran out of ammunition, we entered the camp, reloaded and continued firing. I was also stabbed; only ten constables survived without any serious injuries. Four died on the spot. Many of the injured fell unconscious and some remained so till the next day… We were rescued only the next morning by 5 o’clock. The rescue party of nearly a hundred policemen was led by the A.S.P. By this time the wounded constable Sreeharan had died. D.S.P. Vaidyanatha Iyer did not come. The loss of rifles from the camp prevented the military from arriving that night. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 155-57)

The siege lasted for one and a half hours, killed about thirty workers and four policemen. The agitating workers captured nine rifles (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 116). The seised rifles posed a problem to the foremost leader of the revolt, K. C. George who, as the Party President, had remained at the scene of action throughout. He writes:

… K. V. Pathrose sent me a letter seeking my advice on keeping the seised rifles. I couldn’t say anything other than to keep them safe somewhere, without giving them back to the enemy. Capturing so many rifles, no doubt, excited us … yet, safeguarding them turned out to be a real problem. Later, I realised that those who were directly involved in the seizure had tried to smuggle them out of Alleppey. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 158)

Mr. George throws more light on the problem of the seizure of rifles and about the leaders who were directly responsible for the invasion of the Punnapara police camp by quoting S. Damodaran:

On 7 Thulam (24 October), at about ten o’clock at night, someone was waiting in a boat on the Vembanad Lake at the point where the canal joins the lake. He had with him only a tobacco box which was six feet in length, one foot in breadth and one foot in height. Inside it, there were two or three pieces of sack soaked in oil. He kept looking towards the south till day break. He signalled to every approaching boat, but in vain. He was on assignment to receive the guns from Punnapra and protect them.

The entire area had been covered by the police and the military by eight o’clock that evening. The roads and other important routes could be traversed only with great difficulty. So the seised guns could not be transported according to plan. They had to be kept there itself and later, given away. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 158-159)

North of Alleppey, mobs blocked the roads, destroyed culverts and small bridges, and brought down telephone lines at Mararikulam, Muhamma and Sherthallai. On 7 Thulam (25 October) the bridge at Mararikulam (Kallupalam) was brought down to prevent reinforcement from being sent to Vayalar. The next day, on 26 October, nine people were killed when the police opened fire on the mob as they obstructed the reconstruction of the bridge at Mararikulam (Ibid 176).50 On 25 October, Martial Law was declared in the Ambalapuzha–Sherthallai taluks. For its effective implementation, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer declared himself the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and asuumed the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Leaflets proclaiming martial law were air-dropped on 26 October (Jeffrey 117). On 25th night, the bridge at Mararikulam was damaged to prevent reinforcement from being sent to Sherthallai. On 26 October, when the military tried to repair the bridge, the people resisted and the work could not be completed. In the police firing that followed, six volunteers died on the spot (George, Punnapra Vayalar 160-163).

At Muhamma, under the leadership of C. K. Karunakara Panikkar, 1500 volunteers were given training. Besides, thousands of people were enlisted in the ward committees. The strike call of the A.T.T.U.C. had been given in Muhamma too. For the purpose, an Action Council was formed there. Its President was C. K. Karunkara Panikkar and Convener, Mr.Ayyappan. Members of the Council were K. Damodaran,

C. Madhavan, T.K. Narayanan and others. On 24 October, volunteers in thousands conducted marches shouting anti-monarchical, anti-Dewan slogans (Ibid 160-163).

On 27 October, at noontime, the military attacked the bastion of the 1946 revolt, the Vayalar camp, which was surrounded by water on three sides, and which could be approached only by boat. The storming of the Vayalar camp was decisive. From 28 October, the task of the military was merely one of clearing up small pockets of resistance and arresting fugitives. According to K. C. George, three hundred to four hundred soldiers attacked the two hundred inmates of the camp at Vayalar and killed one hundred and fifty people. On the same day, in another attack, on the Menassery camp about 120 people were killed (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 117-118). In the Menassery camp, C. K. Kumara Panikkar sought the opinion of the volunteers about disbanding the camps. The volunteers rejected the idea outright, and some even complained that they did not expect such a cowardly statement from Panikkar (George, Punnapra Vayalar 183). In the Menassery camp, an eleven year old boy served as a scout, fought against the military, and was killed in the firing (Ibid 186). In the Olathala camp, eight volunteers lost their lives in the confrontation with the military. Since it was close to Vayalar, they knew all that was happening in the camp there. After the tragedy at Vayalar, C. K. Kumara Panikkar, C. K. Bhaskaran and others reached the Olathala camp at 6.30 in the evening. There they discussed their future plan of action. Panikkar wanted the camps to be disbanded. But many of his comrades demanded an immediate attack on the Ponnamveli military camp. The demand was withdrawn only after several hours of discussion. Finally, by eleven o’clock at night, on 11 Thulam (28 October), the decision was taken to disband all camps and for everyone to go underground (Ibid 197).

On 14 Thulam (31 October) the general strike was withdrawn by the A.T.T.U.C. On 12 November (26 Thulam) the martial law was withdrawn. According to the party directive, all activists went underground. The police and the military started a reign of terror against the revolutionaries and their relatives. The neighbour of C. K. Kumara Panikkar, Muthumanakari Mrs. Karthiyayini says:

Then I was the Secrtary of the Sherthallai Mahila Samajam and its President was Mrs. Devaki Krishnan. After fifteen days of the revolt at Vayalar, about 103 soldiers reached the house of Mr. Panikkar.

They looted everything and demolished the house. Only one building was left standing, but it was sealed. (Ibid 210-211)

According to K. C. George, after the massacre at Vayalar, on 10 October itself, the military started looting and demolishing houses. The houses included those of K. V. Velayudhan, General Secretary of the Toddy Tappers’ Union and M. K. Krishnan, Secretary of S.N.D.P. Yogam, Sherthallai (Ibid 192). Even as the arrests, torture and demolition of the houses were taking place with added vigour and vengeance, T. V. Thomas, the No.1 accused in the Punnapra-Vayalar Conspiracy Case, and P. K. Padmanabhan remained unarrested till 30 October (Tulam 13). Ever since the general strike began on 22 October and even after the curtain had come down on the Vayalar tragedy, why did the police refuse to arrest them, asks K. C. George and tries to find the answer in an interview given by T. V. Thomas, the abstract of which is given below:

I was arrested on 30 October (Thulam 13). From 27 October, the day of the firing at Vayalar, I remained in my house expecting arrest at any moment. On 29 October, my friend Sreenivasa Iyer informed me that the I.G Parthasarathy Iyyengar wanted me to see him at the T.B. Accordingly, I went to the T.B. The G.O.C. was there, but he was quite unwelcoming. So I entered the I.G’s room. He greeted me cheerfully and offered me a seat. When we were about to talk, the G.O.C. sent a message to the I.G. to meet him immediately. When the I.G.came back after some time, he said, ‘I want a long discussion on certain things with you. But the present time is not suitable, we can meet later.’ He saw me off. The next morning, a truckful of soldiers led by a Captain entered my house and arrested me. Two hours later, Padmanabhan too was arrested. In the middle of the night, we were taken to the military centre at Pangode. From there, on 31 October, we were taken to the central jail. (Ibid 217-219)

In an interview, the G.O.C., V. M. Parameswaran Pillai accuses the Police Commissioner of showing leniency to the labour leader T. V. Thomas. He says:

There took place an attempt at Alleppey to dissuade the trade union leader T. V. Thomas from the anti-government agitation by entertaining him with ‘Ambalapuzha paalpaayisam’ (sweet, milky porridge of the Ambalapuzha temple) and cheering him on with the sweet words of a prostitute. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 220)

The statement of the G.O.C. shows that he disagreed with the I.G. on the issue of delaying the arrest of T. V. Thomas. If not for the strong objection from the G.O.C., the arrest would have been delayed further.

I.G. Parthasarathy Iyyengar wanted a lengthy talk with T. V. Thomas; at the same time, he did not want it to be in the presence of the G.O.C. About it, George concludes:

From all these, it is quite clear that what was being attempted was to alienate the working class of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks from the leadership of the communist party by using T. V. Thomas. (Ibid 221)

About the attitude of the working class of the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks towards the Communist Party immediately after the suppression of the revolt, Robin Jeffrey writes:

If the Government’s aim was to destroy the Communist hold in Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai, it failed totally. A year later, 6000 people celebrated ‘martyrs day’ in Alleppey on 24 October, and even the police admitted that ‘great enthusiasm was shown by the labourers…’51 At another meeting to welcome the release of some prisoners early in October 1947, 15,000 attended at the lowest estimate, and police reported ‘an awe inspiring atmosphere of the whole function.’52 The Inspector General of police concluded that ‘it is a well known fact that these ill-educated labourers consider Communism as the only panacea for all their socio-economic evils’. His solution was that ‘this creed’ must be ‘put down with an iron hand’. 53 The iron hand, however, had already failed. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 119)

An analysis of the sequence of events narrated by K. C. George shows that the Communist Party leadership lacked a strategy to lead the movement to victory. Even in the 1938 general strike, to guide the agitators, all prominent leaders of the party from Kerala had stationed at Alleppey.

P. Krishna Pillai, remaining underground, had coordinated all the activities. At a critical point, P. Krishna Pillai had invited the national leader S. V. Ghate to come to Kerala and give necessary advice, which he did. At a crucial stage, when it would have been pragmatic for the agitating workers to withdraw the strike, they had refused to do so. That had put the local leaders in difficulty. A. K. Gopalan had promptly come to their help; he had met the workers at their homes and compelled them to accept the decision of the leaders. The 1946 revolt in Alleppey was significant in that, for the first time in the history of the Party, a planned confrontation with the military was launched (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 97). Still the strategy was not well thought out, for the workers numbering about 50,000 with the active support of the local population, armed with crude weapons like wooden spears confronted a military armed with stenguns. Hundreds were killed.

The ex-service men rallied behind the agitating workers and gave them training in self-defence. At Punnapara, nine rifles were seised by attacking the police camp. It frightened the military to move in the nighttime to rescue the police party. The use of those rifles or even country guns might have changed the entire course of events. Robin Jeffrey in his concluding analysis on the Punnapra – Vayalar revolt says:

But how they would lead there was left unspecified, and from the Travancore experience, it is clear that Communists had no idea of what the next step should be. Although ex-military men in uniform often led the workers against the police and the army, no one knew what to do with the nine rifles captured from the police at Punnapra. (Ibid 120)

K. C. George was the senior party man who was always there at the headquarters of the Action Council. He took charge of the operation on 19 October. By then the workers had attacked the camps, and all was over. George was satisfied with what happened. He writes:

… I could clearly understand that the leadership of the Travancore Communists Party had taken every possible precaution, expecting imminent military action. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 111)

George’s writings on the revolt hint at a lack of co-ordination and wholehearted cooperation between the Action Council and the leadership of the A.T.T.U.C, and between the Action Council and the top party leadership. For example, when the pragmatic trade union leader T. V. Thomas suspected that the political strike of the workers was leading to nowhere, he wanted to withdraw it. That was unacceptable to the Action Council and finally T. V. Thomas had to concede. On the same day, when he visited the headquarters of the Action Council for discussions with

K. C. George, on noting the military style of the arrangements made, he commented, ‘Oh! Everything is in military order’. Though it might have been an innocent remark, it could also be interpreted as a sarcastic comment of disapproval. Chapter 24 of George’s book titled A Question to Find an Answer makes it evident that the Government had hoped against hope to alienate the A.T.T.U.C under T. V. Thomas from the party- controlled Action Council, which was then mobilising and leading the militant workers against the Government (Ibid 216-229).

When George describes the problem of the seised rifles, he admits that there was no clear idea of what to do with them. But, on the same page of the book, he quotes M. T. Chandrasenan and concludes that the rifles were seised with a definite purpose in mind, of which he was in the dark (Ibid 158-159). M. N. Govindan Nayar, accused No.2 in the Punnapra-Vayalar Conspiracy Case, was the Party Secretary just before the revolt. He, a top leader of the party, declared that he had no contact with the leaders of the revolt and that he was in no way connected with it (Ibid 256).

When the camps were disbanded, the party directed the activists to go underground. But no direction was given to the Party units to protect them. So, several of the activists had to starve; many could not find shelter anywhere; so they returned to Alleppey and walked straight into the traps the police had set up for them. Such was the case of V. V. Thomas, an activist of the Punnapra-revolt and member of the Executive Committee of the Port ward of the C.P.I. He says:

I left the place on 10th (27 October) night according to directions from the leadership. With me there were three other comrades. We had no idea of where to go. Somehow, we managed to reach Ponnani through Ernakulam. We went to the Party office. The comrades there said, ‘The Communists should remain in their own place’. We decided to return; we had no money for even a meal; on the fourth day we reached Alleppey on 6 November. (Ibid 230-234)

The very next day he was arrested. The revolt of 1946 once again proved to the workers that the State Congress could never lead them to liberation. About the dilemma of the State Congress, Jeffrey writes:

The State Congress was in a distressing dilemma. It issued a statement accusing the Government of contributing to the strengthening and prestige of the Communist Party and asserted that ‘only a people’s Government…. can prevent such developments’. Ramaswami Iyer attacked the State Congress for ‘hunting with the hounds and running with the hare’. ‘Its role, he said, showed how little influence it had with labour’.54

At the same time, E.M.S.Namboodiripad said:

… the Dewan found that he had to crush the Left if he was to settle with the Right… the sufferings undergone and the sacrifices made by the workers under the Communist leadership weakened the forces of compromise and handed a grave setback to the American model constitution. Certainly there was a danger that the State Congress would accept the American model. (qtd in Robin Jeffrey 121)

Jeffrey asserts that in the fluid politics of 1946, such acceptance would lend crucial support to the Dewan’s plan for an independent Travancore and thereby to other Princes to attempt to establish independence once the British departed (Jeffrey India’s Working Class Revolt 121).

Robin Jeffrey concludes his analysis on the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt by stating that the August Resolution of the C.P.I. of 1946 had played an important role in bringing about the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt. At the same time, he admits that the August Resolution itself was incapable of sparking revolt, because elsewhere in India, it had only a docile reception. Thus, the August Resolution only triggered the spontaneous local protest of 1946. An organised angry working class already existed there, under the leadership of dedicated, well-led Communists seeking to capitalise on the post-war instability and the impending departure of the British (Ibid 120).

To Quote Mr. Jeffrey:

Here was a potential ‘partial struggle’ against a Princely state set on doing a deal with bourgeois nationalists. Enough such partial struggles would lead to ‘the seizure of power by the people’. (Idem)

The Punnapra-Vayalar revolt was the product of an organised, disciplined working class, taking its orders from the vanguard party it supported. It had nothing to do with communal or caste issues. The revolt was not economic because the workers had won their economic demands in the strike of early August (Ibid 121). The organisers and the participants did not have a pragmatic strategy. Yet, they were convinced that their actions were helping to advance some broad masterplan or historical force (Idem).

The Karivalloor Agitation, 20 December 1946

The Karivalloor agitation of 20 December 1946 was fought against blackmarketing of food grains by landlords and their support force, the Malabar Special Police, in the background of the deprivation caused by the World War. It also involved the problem of alien rule. The agitating people had the conviction that starvation and other related sufferings continued to exist because of the foreign rule. So, the people were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to confront the landlords and the armed forces of the British Government (Kunjambu 26, 31-32).

On 16 November 1946 in the Town Hall at Calicut, the Communist Party summoned a meeting of the Karshaka Sangham (Peasants’ Organisation) and the trade unions to discuss the problem of scarcity of food materials. The prominent leaders of the Kerala unit of the C.P.I.,

P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S.Namboodiripad, and A. K. Gopalan guided the meeting. It took a resolution on the following programme of action:

  1. Effective steps to be taken to prevent blackmarketing and hoarding;
  2. Make landlords sell their surplus food grains at a controlled price only to fair-price stores; 3. Ensure regular supply of rations of food grains, atleast eight ounces per family; and, 4. Cultivable wasteland should be distributed among the farmers to grow more food. It was based on the above programme that the ‘Punam Kuthu Samaram’ (Agitation for Wasteland Cultivation) was staged at Kavumbayi and the ‘Mangattu Parambu’ was occupied for tapioca cultivation (Ibid 32).

Based on the above programme, intense propaganda work was carried out among the people by the Payyannur Furka Committee of the Communist Party. Prevention of hoarding and blackmarketing and the distribution of food grains through fair-price-stores meant an invitation to a confrontation with the armed forces of vested interests. The villagers of Karivalloor and Peralam prepared themselves to face any situation (Ibid 32-33). The leaders who orgainsed the people were A. V. Kunjambu,

K. Krishnan Nayar, Kuleri Kunjambu, K. V. Sadananda Pai and others. Though the movement was organised by the Communist Party, people of all political parties actively participated. The then-K.P.C.C. President

K. Kelappan influenced the Prakasam Ministry of Madras to open P.C.C. Societies at the village level (Murali 56). The Revenue and Purchasing Inspectors of the Government turned a blind eye to the largescale illegal activities of the landlords on the one hand, and on the other, took stern action against the poor for minor violations of the law. In Malabar, whenever a family was in financial difficulty, the head of the family conducted a tea party to collect money from the villagers as gifts. This was called Kuri-Kalayanam. At Eramom, when such a function was taking place, a Purchase Inspector reached there to charge a case against the family. People got angry, cut an ear of the Inspector’s and drove him off. To punish the people, the Malabar Special Police (M.S.P.), notorious for suppression, proceeded to Eramom. The people were ready for a confrontation. Since the M.S.P. withdrew voluntarily after appraising the situation, the confrontation was averted (Idem).

The major part of the land of Karivalloor belonged to the landlord- family ‘Chirakkal Kovilakom’. The farmers of the village were the tenants of the Kovilakom. When the food problem became acute, the leader of the Karshaka Sangham, A.V. Kunjambu requested the landlord to sell the paddy collected as lease from the tenants to the P.C.C. store at a controlled price. The request was rejected. Then the Sangham made an attempt to get the tenants to pay the lease in cash. But without the knowledge of the Sangham, the Kovilakom supervisors collected the lease in kind and stored all the paddy in the granary. Later an attempt was made to sell it in the blackmarket, but it was blocked by the Karshaka Sangham (Ibid 57). It was in such a situation that a huge workers’ meeting was held at the Central U.P. School, Karivalloor on 16 December. They knew what the consequences of a confrontation with the M.S.P. would be. Knowing fully well that many of them would be killed, the meeting decided to block the movement of paddy from the granary for blackmarketing. About it, the leader of the movement, M. V. Kunjambu says:

There was a general feeling that in no time at all the soil of Karivalloor would be reddened with the blood of the patriots. The people of the area would have to confront, with whatever means available, a suppressive force equipped with modern weapons. The people were determined to challenge with staves, stones and catapults, a force carrying 303 rifles and machine guns. (Kunjambu Kayyur and Karivallur 34)

The strategy planned was to drive the M.S.P. away to the south of the river Kuniyan Puzha. The mob carrying staves, stones and catapults were to round up the M.S.P. and make the suppressive force retreat by pelting stones. Ample rubbles were already collected for the purpose. There were two ways to reach the granary. Two peasant marches were organised to block both the ways and thereby to prevent transportation of food grains. The first march was to move under M. V. Kunhambu and Krishnan Master, and the second under P. Kunjuraman and K. P. Kunjhikannan. All preparations were over by 18 December. On the morning of December 20, an M.S.P. platoon of 45 and some rowdies from Vazhapattanam, hired by the landlord, reached Karivalloor. They began loading paddy into a boat on the river. Soon the entire population of Karivalloor collected there. Under the leadership of M. V. Kunjambu, the people confronted the M.S.P. It is described by Kunjambu thus:

…One M.S.P. Jamedar fell down. Machine guns started spitting fire. On our side, there were several ex-servicemen. If there had been a few guns with us, no rowdy or policeman could have returned alive. After a long confrontation, the men carrying guns won a temporary victory. (Ibid 35-36)

In the resistance, two peasants were killed – Thundeel Kannan & Keeleri Kunjambu. The dead and the seriously injured were covered in coconut palm leaves and sent along with the paddy to the Payyannoor police station. Police charged cases against 182 persons. After the revolt was suppressed, the entire area had to suffer the brutality of the police and the rowdies of the landlords (Murali 57).55

The Kavumbayi Agitation, 30 December 1946

The Kavumbayi agitation of 30 December 1946 was a continuation of the prolonged peasant struggles connected with the ‘punam cultivation’ (seasonal cultivation of the forest land). The peasants of the hilly areas of Kasaragode, Chirakkal, Kottayam, Kurumbranad, Calicut, Ernad, and Vayanad taluks were traditionally engaged in punam cultivation. Every year after 10 Dhanu (fourth week of December), they would clear certain parts of the forest suitable for cultivation. After 10 Kumbham (fourth week of February), the dry logs and leaves would be burned. In March, under the scorching heat of the sun, the peasant, along with the members of his family, would prepare the land for cultivation. He did it facing perils from the forest in the form of elephants, snakes etc. If everything went well, the peasant would get a crop sufficient to feed his family for a whole year. The main crop was paddy, though other cereals and even cotton could be cultivated (Kunjambu, “Agrarian Problems” np).

Most of the punam lands of north Malabar existed in the Payyannur and Irikkur Furkas. Vast lands of the Irrikur Furka were owned by two landlords, Karakkattidom Nayanar (known as ‘jungle king’) and Kalyat Yashman (known as ‘lion of Kalyat’) (Padmanabhan 89). These landlords extracted a high rent of 25 to 30 ‘parahs’ of paddy for one acre of land from the punam cultivators. There were additional taxes in several names such as, ‘kuttikanam’, ‘aanakaval’, ‘sarcarvaram’, ‘kettukooli’ etc. In 1937 itself, branches of Karshaka Sanghams had been formed at Malapattam, Ellerinji, Eruvesi, Payyannur, Chuzhali, Nediyenga, Cheparambu and other places. The early organisations were the units of the Congress Party; later they converted into Karshaka Sanghams and transformed into the branches of the Communist Party (Ibid 89-90). Under the Sanghams, the punam cultivators agitated continuously to abolish the exploitative feudal dues. But the British Government of Madras always supported the landlords to suppress the peasants. In 1937, ‘Punitive Police’, a special police force for peasant suppression, was posted at Peringothu of the Payyannur Furka and at Elleringi of the Irrikur Furka. Its main duty was to frame false charges against the agitating peasants (Kunjambu np). In 1937 itself, the Rajaji Government of Madras ordered an enquiry into the sufferings of the peasants of North Malabar. Based on the report, the Kuttikrishna Menon Committee was constituted in 1939 to make a comprehensive study of the problems of the peasants of Malabar. The committee took a serious view of the problems of the punam cultivators. It condemned the exorbitant taxes levied by the landlords. But no legislation was made to abolish such taxes. So the peasants had to continue their agitations. In 1940, the peasants of Elleringi demanded that they be given punam without the levy of ‘kuttikanam’. The agitation was cruelly suppressed by the police and the landlords.

The suppression of the peasants by the landlords continued. In 1946, influenced by its August Resolution, the Communist Party organised agitations against blackmarketing and hoarding of food materials. In the Irrikur Furka, the agitation was given leadership by

P. Narayanan Nambiar, a member of the P.C.C. Director Board. He directed the peasants to confiscate the paddy hoarded by the Kalyat Yashman and to get punam free of ‘kuttikanam’. On the third week of September 1946, the dead body of the peasant leader was discovered in a well. Therefater, the peasants resorted to violence. When the Punitive Police failed to quell the peasant movement, the landlords sought the help of the M.S.P., notorious for its cruel suppression of popular agitations. The M.S.P. took control of the Irrikur Furka on 11 November. It entered the Kuyiloor Volunteer Camp, arrested seven volunteers, and dragged them along six kilometers to the Irrikur police station (Padmanabhan 90). Soon a protest march of the people proceeded to the police station. Before the march could reach the station, it was cruelly lathi charged. A case of ‘attacking the police station’ was registered against the Sangham leaders. Events quickly moved towards a confrontation between the people and the M.S.P. The call given to the peasants by the Communist Party to deal a death blow to landlordism and imperalism gave them inspiration. On 16 November 1946, the Communist Party summoned a combined meeting of the workers and peasants at the Town Hall, Calicut and gave the final signal for agitation. (Idem).

The landlords reacted negatively to the demands of the peasants. They intensified the suppressive measures. In the pretext of the ‘attack on the police station’, section 144 was declared in the ten ‘Amsams’ of the Irrikur police station. The M.S.P and the rowdies of the landlords indulged in looting and arson; even women and children were tortured. The schools and libraries of the Sangham were set fire to. Not wishing to retaliate in the same coin, P. Krishna Pillai advised the peasant delegation: “You must strike back with full preparation. The action must be such that it deals a shock to landlordism” (qtd in A. Padmanabhan 90).

Thus the peasants of Irrikur furka decided to strike back at their class enemy in the areas of punam cultivation (Nambiar 44).56 They collected together at ‘Velliyam mada’ by the fourth week of December. They demanded punam land without ‘kuttikanam’. The agitation lasted for five days. On 27 December, the M.S.P. moved in to suppress the agitation. They started identifying the houses of the agitating volunteers and torturing the women and children. This time the peasants had equipped themselves with country made guns. They collected together on the hilltop of Kavumbayi, expecting a confrontation with the M.S.P. on the night of 29 December. But the M.S.P. got into action only the next morning. They surrounded the hill from three sides. This time, the first short was fired from the country made gun of a peasant. It hit the M.S.P. Jamedar on his right shoulder. Reinforcement was sent. There was an exchange of fire between the farmers with their country made guns and the M.S.P. with the machine guns. In the police firing, five persons were killed. Two others were beaten to death. Of the five killed in firing, two had been caught alive and later shot dead. Ten other captives would have been shot but for the objection raised by an officer. On 8 January, another punam agitation camp at Kelamkottah was raided by the M.S.P. In February, the head of the rowdy gang of the Kalyat Yashman was killed in an encounter. The police registered cases against 159 persons in connection with the Kavumbayi agitation (Padmanabhan 90-91).

The Korom Revolt, 12 April 1948

The village of Korom is located at the heart of the old Payyanur furka. The village gave shelter to the communist leaders like P. Krishna Pillai, A. K. Gopalan, C. H. Kanaran and others during their years spent underground. Police called it a ‘red village’. The Korom Karshaka Sangham was organised in 1937. The revolt of 1948 was inspired by the call given by the Communist Party to prevent hoarding and blackmarketing, and to distribute the surplus food grains among the starving people (Kunjiraman 60).

The Government ordered the landlords to supply the surplus paddy to the fair-price store so that it could be distributed among the starving people. But no landlord was prepared to do so because he would get only Rs. 2 for a ‘parah’ of paddy from the store, while the same would fetch him Rs. 8 in the black market. So the landlords continued to sell in the black market by bribing the food inspectors. To put an end to it, the Party workers held a meeting on 1 November 1946. The meeting, presided over by A.V. Chindan, resolved to block the transportation of paddy for blackmarketing. On 2 November, the paddy of one Miniyeri Narayanan Nambiar was blocked by the workers of the Sangham at Koorkara. The whole stock was supplied to the society at Muthiyala. But the police charged a case of looting against eight activists. The famous lawyer V. R. Krishna Iyer (who later became Supreme Court Judge) appeared to defend the party workers. The court acquitted them (Ibid 60).

On 15 August 1947 the British imperial Government transferred power to the Indian people. It made the common man happy because he thought the new Government would end the suffering of the starving lot. However, hoarding and blackmarketing continued, and even in the festive season of ‘Vishu’ (harvest festival in Kerala), starvation existed among the poor. On 10 April 1948, Kunhiraman Master presided over a Sangham meeting. He said:

… We call ourselves men, but what is the use? The landlords are still hoarding paddy. They sell it at double the price in the black market. Can men of backbone sit quiet and take all this with abject meekness? … This Vishu, people must not starve! (Idem)

On the morning of 11 April, twenty three Sangham volunteers marched to the house of the landlord Mavila Kunjambu Nambiar and demanded paddy at fair price. When the landlord refused to concede their demand, the volunteers forced open the granary and collected paddy. When the distribution of the paddy was announced at Korkara, the starving people gathered there with baskets. Though the entire collected paddy was distributed, some people could still not get a share. To them the Sangham leaders announced, “… Nobody should be disappointed; everyone will get paddy. Come with us”(Ibid 61).

The starving people with empty baskets followed the leaders. They moved to the house of the Aalakad landlord. The volunteers forcibly took the paddy and distributed it among the people. By midnight, the police and the M.S.P. reached the village. Kunhiraman Master and T.P.C. Nambiar were arrested before daybreak. The M.S.P. went to the house of the landlord with the arrested leaders. The angry villagers organised themselves under A. V. Chindan and conducted a protest march. When it reached Mangoonam ‘chal’, M.S.P. started firing at the march. In the firing, an agro-labourer, Pokkan was killed. Four others died of torture in police custody later (Ibid 61).

The M.S.P. Shooting at Onchiyam; 30 April 1948

The village Onchiyam is situated in the old Kurumbranad taluk. On 30 April when the Communist Party Taluk Committee met at Onchiyam, the M.S.P., without any provocation, reached the village and arrested two innocent persons – Choy and his son Kanaran – when they refused to give information about M. K. Kelu and Mandodi Kannan. It provoked the villagers to follow the police force, which ultimately resulted in the killing of ten villagers (Kelu np).

M. K. Kelu was a founder member of the Communist Party in Kerala. He had initially been a Congressman. Later he became a Socialist, and in 1939 changed into a Communist. He attended the 1948 Calcutta Congress of the Communist Party and went underground from the second day of the Congress. He reached Kurumbanad taluk and attended the taluk committee meeting of the party. But he could not work openly because the police in Malabar was hunting down communists based on an ordinance passed by the Rajaji Government. Mandodi Kannan was very popular among the villagers (Idem). He was active in organising agitations against scarcity of food materials, hoarding and blackmarketing, and for getting land for cultivation (Idem).

When the two innocent villagers were arrested by the M.S.P., the people organised under Olavakkal Krishnan and followed the police demanding the release of the two. As the police were crossing a paddy field, they turned against the villagers and opened fire. Eight innocent villagers died. Later, two others died of police torture. The villagers were subjected to untold suffering after the shooting. Their houses were demolished and valuable things were destroyed and thrown into wells. Sixty five persons were imprisoned (Ibid 27-28).

Thillenkeri Revolt: 1948

The village of Thillenkeri is situated on the valley of the Purali hills. The peasants of Thillengeri actively participated in the 1948 revolts. They were organised by V. Anandan Master, V. Chathu Master and Kunjappu Master to fight against the cruelties of the landlords. There the Communist Party guided the Karshaka Sangham. The landlords of Thillenkeri were Chempu Keezhidom, Sankaran Kandi and Pullat (Prabhakaran 58).

Food scarcity was acute in 1948. Even on the festival day of Vishu, the villagers went hungry. Still, they had to observe the traditional custom of giving presents (‘Vachukanal’) to the landlord on the day. The Sangham decided to stop the practice. The problem of starvation still existed. The paddy hoarded by the landlords were sold at a high price in black markets. Led by the Sangham leaders, nearly three hundred peasants marched to the houses of the landlords with available cash. The landlords yielded, opened the granaries and distributed the paddy. This was repeated the next day, but, at the initiative of the Congressmen and the ‘Amsam Adhikari (Village officer),’ the police reached the place. They raided the houses of the Sangham activists. The house of their leader, Mr. Anandan, was completely destroyed. Police did not spare the other houses too (Idem).

The villagers gathered and moved in a procession to protest against police brutality. They passed through the paddy fields in the direction of the office of the ‘Amsam Adhikari’. On the way, they were shot at by the police in an ambush, which killed seven including their leader,

V. Anandan. Arrested peasants were sent to the Salem Jail. Of them, five were killed in the massacre on 11 February 1959 (Idem).

The Munayan Kunnu: Copying of Telengana A Temporary End; 1 May 1948

P. Kannan Nayar in his article ‘The Shooting of Munayan Kunnu and its Background’, says:

The Munayan Kunnu shooting took place at the height of the people’s agitations of 1948 in Malabar. The agitations resembled the Telengana model of holding territories by armed struggle and consolidating them … With the raid on the camp at Munayan Kunnu, the armed struggle of the people of north Malabar to liberate the area temporarily came to an end. (45)

Following the Korom revolt, the police intensified the suppression of the peasant agitations. Party leaders were widely arrested. The police got support from the Congressmen too. They looted and set fire to the houses of the communist activists. But the party leaders led the starving villagers, forced open the granaries of the landlords and distributed food grains. Two granaries of Vengayil Nayanar, the biggest landlord of Payyannur furka, at Kuttur and Prapoye, were forced opened by the villagers and the paddy distributed. The granary of another landlord Aalappadamby Sreedharan Nambeesan was also opened and the paddy distributed among the starving villagers. Throughout North Malabar and the neighbouring South Karnataka District, organised villagers under the leadership of the communist Karshaka Sanghams repeated the process. The agitations against hoarding, blackmarketing and distribution of the surplus food grains of the landlords got wholehearted support from the poor people.

The Communist activists were hunted down using any means by the landlords, the police and the Congressmen. It prompted the communists to intensify resistance. They started collecting every available weapon for resistance. A resistance camp was organised under the leadership of Mr. K. C. Kunjappu Master, the Communist Party Secretary of the Payyannur furka. Forty two communist volunteers, including a few members of the Furka Committee of the Party, were mobilised on the ‘Munayankunnu’ (Munayan Hill). The hill was a suitable place for a resistance camp. It was loacted in the East Elleri village of the Kasargode District. The armed volunteers, at first, collected at the Eramom village from different centres of agitation in the furka. They reached the hill after two days of walking. On the top of the hill, there was a thatched hut belonging to one of the party supporters, C. V. Krishnan Nayar. The camp was conducted for four days till 30 April. On 1 May, early in the morning, at 3 a.m., the camp was surrounded by the M.S.P., who started machine gunfire. The volunteers were in deep sleep. Before the volunteers could get their guns, the raid was over. Six died on the spot. Two others died later of torture in police custody (Ibid 46).

The 5 August 1946 resolution of the Communist Party of India gave the call for a national campaign of insurrection (Cock 247). The Party in Kerala used the local situation to strike a lasting blow to landlordism, capitalism, despotism and British Imperialism so that its lost popularity during the period of Quit India movement could be regained. The Party led the most radical working class of Kerala – of Punnapra-Vayalar – to a revolt during 24-27 October 1946, and in the resultant confrontation with the military, hundreds became martyrs and thousands made sacrifices in many ways. As a result, the Communist Party captured the vast coastal belt of these two taluks (the most densely populated taluks) as its bastion of permanent support base in South Kerala. Dr. K. K. N. Kurup writes:

The Communist Party and its tributary organisations sacrificed many of its members for the basic cause of making Travancore join the Indian Union. The Punnapra-Vayalar gave a new message to the peasants and workers of North Malabar – the message to strike strongly against imperialism and against feudal agrarian relations. (Kurup 26)

The peasant agitations were launched in Malabar in two stages – in 1946 and in 1948. The 1946 agitations were a continuation of the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt and the 1948 agitations were the result of the influence of the Telangana Struggle and the ‘Calcutta Thesis’ (Nayar, “The Shooting of Munayankunnu and Its Background” 45). The Malabar peasants agitated against hoarding and blackmarketing, and to get for cultivation the wastelands controlled by landlords and the government. In the first stage, as in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt, the volunteers confronted the machine guns of the Government force with stones, catapults and staffs. Their leader A.V. Kunjambu even aspired for a few guns (Kunjambu, Kayyur and Karivallur 35-36). As in the case of the Punnapra-Vayalar agitation, the 1946 revolts of Malabar too were cruelly suppressed. The Congress Party supported the landlords against the peasants. The Congress government of Madras issued an ordinance on 23 January 1947 to suppress the peasant revolts (Kurup 26). In the 1948 uprisings, for the first time, the peasant revolutionaries used country made guns against the Government force. But those guns were no match for the ‘303 rifles’ and the machine guns. R. B. Gour, in his foreword to the ‘Telangana Struggle Memoirs’ of a retired General writes:

The police action was more against the Communists in Telangana than against the Nizam. Sardar Patel was thundering on Fatch Maidan grounds that, ‘I shall not leave one Communist alive’…

A. R. speaks of ‘Razvi guns.’ What is this ‘Razvi’ gun?’… Let me tell the readers in confidence that these guns were hopeless and of no use against the armed police not to speak of the army. (Gour vii & ix)

The above statement speaks of the policy of the Congress Government towards the organised movements of the workers and peasants. It also reveals the poor quality of weaponry used by the Telangana revolutionaries. An analysis of the peasants’ struggles of 1946- ’48 reveals the following characteristics. Firstly, the peasant struggles developed in north Malabar as part of the national liberation movement. Secondly, all sections of peasants – rich and poor peasants and agro- labourers – participated in it. With the enactment of the Malabar Tenancy Act in 1930, the ‘non-cultivating’ tenants (Kana Kudiyans) gradually dissociated themselves from the movement. Thirdly, during the post-war period, 1946-’48, the movement was wholly changed into an agitation of the nominal tenants or that of the agro-labourers. Though the agro- labourers always participated in all the agitations of the tenants, their demands were not projected till an organisation was formed for them in 1941, a first of its kind in India, at Kuttanad on the initiative of the Alleppey Coir Factory Workers’ Union.57 In Malabar, such a union came into existence only on 2-11-1969, under the C.P.I. (M) leadership (Krishnan 29). In Telangana, even landowners of upto two hundred acres were protected by the Party and regarded as tenants. To quote the revolutionary leader, R. B. Gour:

It will be surprising to our young men and women that, during the anti-Nizam struggle, we adhered to a ceiling of 200 acres. This would obviously look ‘enormous’ and ‘monstrous’ today. We, in those days, drew a page from Vietnam comrades’ anti- Japanese struggle. They had proposed a high ceiling to isolate only the most oppressive and collaborating landlords and to win over the rest. Such was our approach too, in that particular phase of struggle for a democratic revolution. (Gour vii)

The fourth characteristic of the peasant movement during 1946- ’48 was that the entire leadership of the peasant movement was with the Karshaka Sangham which in turn was under the leadeship of the Communist Party. Fifthly, the 1946-’48 agitations were entirely different from the previous agitations. The peasants were fully convinced of the Marxist-Lenist philosophy of ‘class war’. They were fighting the battle to gain workers’ rule. So the starving peasants launched the most radical agitations of protest, with increased revolutionary ferver, demanding land for themselves and the abolition of landlordism. In conclusion, it can be stated that the peasant agitations of 1946-’48 and the early fifties were conducted under the leadership of the Karshaka Sanghams and the Communist Party, and hundreds of its volunteers were martyred and thousands suffered in many ways. The organisers of the Sanghams like A. K. Gopalan were regarded with affection by the young and the old alike. These factors helped in entrenching the mass base of the Communists in the rural areas. By projecting the problems of the small landholders and the agro-labourers (hut-dwellers), the Communist Party became very popular throughout Kerala, which enabled it to win the 1957 elections and to form the first Communist Ministry in Kerala (Kurup 26).

Paliyam Satyagraha: December 1947 to 11 March 1948

The Paliyam Satyagraha was staged by the Communist Party in Cochin, very much in line with the Vaikom Satyagraha which had taken place a quarter of a century ago and the Guruvayur Satyagraha which was staged sixteen years ago. It was staged as a part of the fight for freedom of travel through public roads near the temples of Paliyam at Chendamangalam for all human beings. The temples were owned by the most powerful feudal chieftain of Cochin, the Paliyathu Achan. The feudal family owned about sixty temples in different parts of the area. The polluting castes were prohibited from travelling along the roads adjacent to the temples. Three years earlier, the Temple Entry Programme Committee of Cochin had submitted a memorandum to the Government warning that they would start Satyagraha if freedom of travel was not allowed on those roads before 15 Kumbham 1115 (28 February 1940), (Gangadharan 152-53). Since the majority in the Committee were pacifists, they did not take any action immediately. The communists protested against the delay and decided to start the satyagraha.

In December 1947, C. Kesavan the radical Travancore State Congress leader inaugurated the satyagraha. The Communists could mobilise radicals of all castes to participate. The police and the rowdies of the landlords started cruel suppression leading to the martyrdom of several volunteers. Two young men of the Cochin royal family – Messrs Ravi Varma and Kerala Varma – also participated in the satyagraha and suffered torture. Even women belonging to royal families and Brahmin families like Rema Thampuratty of Kodungallur Kovilakom, Indira Thamburatty, Arya Pallom, Devasena Andarjanam and Ezhumavil Saraswathy Andarjanam took part in the satyagraha. Seeing no other way out, the King of Cochin issued the Temple Entry Proclamation in January 1948. But it was a post-dated proclamation. It would come into force only after three months. So, the party had to continue with the agitation (Ibid 153-154).

In March 1947, A. K. Gopalan declared that he would lead a march to Paliyam. He writes about it thus:

…Those were the days of the Paliyam satyagraha. Heavy attacks, lathi charges and arrests continued. I had to enrol volunteers and to help the agitation in many other ways. From Trichur I led a group of volunteers consisting of Namboodiri women. The news of Namboodiri women leading the next day’s agitation spread like wild fire. A few of the Namboodiri women and I, we addressed the next day’s public meeting. We received the information that the military was moving in from Trichur to arrest us. According to the party’s plan, I left Trichur that night. The next day, when the Namboodiri women were staging the satyagraha, they were lathi charged by the police. Mrs. Savitry and Priyadetha were cruelly beaten. It generated widespread anger. Popular agitations began against police cruelty. People confronted the police, resulting in the martyrdom of A.G. Velayudhan. Today, everybody can travel through the Paliyam road because we paid a high price for it. (Gopalan, The Story of My Life 176-177)

A Pulaya girl named Kali fell unconscious due to the bleeding caused by the lathi charge. Among those who died of police torture were

T. E. Balan, Andavan Vaidyan and Vadakumpuram Karunakaran (Gangadharan 155).

NOTES

1. Smallest group of Communist fellow travellers in a popular body, functioning secretly.

2. Vide N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. pp.232-35. Print.

3. Vide N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. pp.232-35. p.236. Print.

4. Prabhatham (Official Newspaper of the C.S.P.) Mal., Calicut, June 26, 1939. Vide N.E. Balaram “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. pp.232-35. p.236. pp.201-202. Print.

5. Prabhatham (Official Newspaper of the C.S.P.) Mal., Calicut, June 26, 1939.

6. Vide N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. pp.204-205. Print.

7. Vide N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975.

p.218. Print.

8. Vide.T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. p.99. Print.

9. K. A. Keraleeyan. interviewed by K.K.N. Kurup. Modern Kerala. pp.120 & 129.

10. The pariticipants included 1. P. Krishna Pillai, 2 E.M.S. Namboodiripad, 3.

K. Damodaran, 4. N. C. Sekhar, 5. A. K. Gopalan, 6. K.P.R. Gopalan, 7.C. H. Kanaran, 8. A.V. Kunjambu, 9. M. K. Kelu, 10. Moyyarathu Sankaran, 11. P. Narayanan Nayar, 12. N. E. Balaram13. E. P. Gopalan, 14. Chandroth Kunjiraman Nayar, 15. George Chadayamuri, 16. P. V. Kunjunnu Nayar,

17. William Snelex, 18. Janardhana Shenoy, 19. P. Gangadharan, 20. T. K. Raju, 21. P. K. BalaKrishnan, 22. T. V. Achuthan, 23. K. Keraleeyan,

24. K. K. Warrior, 25. Subramanya Sharma, 26. P. S. Namboodiri,

27. Subramanyam Thirumunbu, 28. P. M. Gopalan etc.

N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. p.37. Print. Vide T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. pp.99-100. Print.

11. Vide T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. p.105. Print.

12 . File No. 177, Year 1938, Sub: “Governmentum Muthalalimarum Sookshikanam” (The Government and Capitalist Beware!), Government of Travancore, C.S., Kerala Government Secretariat, G.A.D, Records, Trivandrum.

13 . File No. 283, Year 1938, Sub: “Draft of Regulation I of 114”. Government of Travancore, C.S., Kerala Government Secretariat, G.A.D, Records, Trivandrum.

14. File No. 206, Year 1938, Sub: “Communist Left Wing Agitator, Information reg:” Government of Travancore, C.S., Kerala Government Secretariat, G.A.D, Records, Trivandrum.

15 . File No.283, Year 1939, Sub: “Persons Shouting Inquilab Zindabad slogan or parading red flags to be proceeded Against.” Government of Travancore.

16 . Vide N. E. Balaram. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal., Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975.

p. 39. Print.

17. Vide T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. p. 113. Print.

18. Convicts in the Morazha Case

Name Nature of Punishment

    1. K.P.R. Gopalan Death Sentence
    2. G. R. Nambidar Life Imprisonment
    3. V. P. Narayan Life Imprisonment
    4. M. Ibrahim “
    5. A. Kunjiraman “
    6. Govindan Nayar “
    7. P. V. Achuthan Nambiar Acquitted
    8. Vishnubharatheeyan Aquitted
    9. P. G. Nambiar “
    10. T.V.C. Nambiar “
    11. K.V.N. Nambiar “
    12. E. N. Nambiar “
    13. E. N. Nambiar “
    14. M. Kunjuraman “
    15. C.E.K. Gurukal “
    16. T. N. Nambiar “
    17. P.V.A. Nambiar “
    18. T. D. Nambiar “
    19. C.H.C. Nambiar “
    20. M. G. Nambiar “
    21. P. B. Nambiar “
    22. A. Kunjappa “
    23. C. Abubekar “
    24. K. V. Kutti “
    25. K.V.K. Master “
    26. Eacha Appa “
    27. Pamban Raman “
    28. Mullah Kunjapa “
    29. T. T. Govindan “
    30. T. K. Master “
    31. K.K.P. Kannan “
    32. K. K. Nambiar “
    33. K.T.R. Vaidyar “
    34. P. Nusumbu “
    35. P. K. Kunjiraman “
    36. A. V. Kunjambu “
    37. Subrahmanya Shenoi Absconded
    38. P. Kumaran Absconded
    39. C. K. Panicker “

Mohandas, P. “Morazha”, Mal. Communist Party Fiftieth Annual Souvenir. Kannur, Fiftieth Celebration Committee, 1989-90. Print.

19 . No.D. Dis.1679, Year 1944, Subject “Communism Propaganda in India” Letter to the Resident, C.S., Government Travancore, G.A.D Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

20. No.D. Dis.156, Year 1945, Subject: “Labour meeting – Alleppey”, C. S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

21. No.Dis.756, Year 1944, Subject: “Labour Situation in Alleppey”, C.S., Government of Travancore, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

22 . No.Dis. 1362, Year 1944, Subject: “The Communist Party of India- the Proposal of I.G. to Declare it Unlawful”, Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

23 . No. D.Dis. 173, Year 1944, Subject: “Government Press Note – Banning the Slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’” Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

24. No.D. Dis. 685, Year 1943, Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

25. Travancore Police Abstract of Intelligence, 2. oct. 1943, Trivandrum: Vol.X, No. 39,in No.D.Dis.794, Year 1943. Subject: “C. G. Sadasivan, Objectionable Speech”, Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

26. No.D.Dis. 1014/44/ C.S. Dated 26-5-1944, Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

27. No.D.Dis 839 dated 16-5-1944, Subject: “ Arrival of Mrs. Prasantha Sanyal, General Secretary of A.I.S.F.”, Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

28. No.D.Dis.300, Dated 1-3-‘45, Subject: “Political Meeting of the A.T.T.U.C at Alleppey” Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

29. Interview with S. K. Das, on 4-9-1987, at Alleppey. Das was one of the leaders of the ‘Vayalar-Punnapra’ revolt and gone underground. He was a member of the ‘State Council’ of the C.P.I.

30. No.D.Dis. 276, Dated 28-2-45, Subject: “Labour Meeting of Kuttanad Karshaka Labour Union, Request to prevent” Government of Travancore, G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

31. No.D.Dis. 313, Dated 2-3-1945, Subject: “Labour Meeting of Kannitta Labour Union”, Government of Travancore, G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

32. No.D.Dis. 313/45, Dated 2-3-1945, subject : “Labour Meeting of the Kannitta Labour Union” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D, records, Government of Kerala Secretariat, Trivandrum.

33. Kerala Archives Newsletter.

34. Secret Police Bulletin, Vol. 46, 13 April 1939, Government of Travancore.

35. Secret Police Report of Sub-Inspector, Sherthallai to the D.S.P. dated 15-4- 1924.

36. File No. 159, Year 1938, C.S., Government of Travancore , G.A.D, records, Government of Kerala Secretariat, Trivandrum.

37. C.S.Dis. 295, Year 1939, “Letter of the Police Inspector”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D, records, Government of Kerala Secretariat, Trivandrum.

38. File No. 213, Year 1938. 154. People’s Age, August 18, 1949, pp.1, 2, 11 and 12.

39. Desabhimani, Calicut, August 13, 1946, p.1. August 14, p.1.

40. Desabhimani, Calicut, August 14, 1946, p.4.

41. Desabhimani, Calicut, August 20, 1946.

42. Desabhimani, Calicut, August 20, 1946, p.4; August 22, p.2

43. Also vide K. C. George. Punnapra- Vayalar. Trivandrum: Prabhatham. p.72. Print.

44. Also vide, Varghese, M. M. Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt: Unknown Data, Mal. Kottayam: DC, 1986. pp. 16-17. Print

45 . Also vide K. K. Kusuman. The Extremist Movement in Kerala. Trivandrum: Charitram, 1977. p.64. Print.

46. D.Dis. 11/47 Confidential Section, Government of Travancore, G.A.D, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

47. C. Kesavan, ‘Lovers of Freedom should Unite’, Leaflet Malayalam, dated 16 September 1946 (Translation). Also vide K. C. George. Punnapra- Vayalar. pp. 49-50. and K. K. Kusuman. The Extremist Movement in Kerala. pp. 60-61.

48. Government Press Communique, The Proposed New Constitution of Travancore, the Text given in K. K. Kusuman. The Extremist Movement in Kerala. Trivandrum: Charitram, 1977. pp. 87-104. Print.

49. Also vide K. K. Kunjan. Brief Biography of Comrade T. V. Thomas, Mal. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1984. p.31. Print.

50. Also vide Robin Jeffrey, “India’s working class revolt: Punnapra-Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946.” The Indian Economic and Social History Review. XVIII.2 (1981): 99 – 120. p.117. Print.

51. Report, A.S.P., Alleppey, 25 October 1947, C.S., 540/1947 in Robin Jeffrey. “India’s working class revolt: Punnapra-Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946.” The Indian Economic and Social History Review. XVIII.2 (1981): 99 – 120. p.119. Print.

52. Inspector General to the Registrar, 8 October 1947, C.S., 109/1948.

53. 9 October 1947, C.S.,109/1947.

54. Hindu. 31 October 1946, p.6.

55. Also Vide K. Narayanan, “Fortieth Anniversary of the Heroic Memory,”

Desabhimani, 20 December 1986, p.2.

56. About the problems of the ‘Punam’ cultivation, the leading peasants’ organiser, M. P. Narayanan Nambiar writes:

“The landlords decided not to give ‘Punam’ to those who had connections with the ‘Sangham’. The peasants collectively violated the prohibition. From 1941 to 43 the resistance continued. When the Congress ministry was formed in 1946 the landlords were ready for compromise. Thus ‘Keraleeyan’ and other leaders went to Madras to represent the problem. They returned with optimism to realise the truth that M.S.P. camps were opened at ‘Karumbayi and Elleringi’.

Narayanan Nambiar, “The Tenant Movement”. The Communist Party (Pinarayi- Parappuram Meeting), 50th Annual Souvenir. p.44.

57. Interview with S. K. Das one of the founder leaders of the agro-labourers of Kuttanad, p.70, 218 & 219.

REFERENCES

Balaram, N. E. “The Birth of the Communist Movement in Kerala.” Mal.,

Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. Print.

Chandrasenan, M. T. “The Origin of the Communist Party in Alleppey.” Indian Communist Party Golden Jubilee Edn. Quilon: Janayugom, 1975. Print.

Cock, George Wook. Kerala: A Portrait of the Malabar Coast. London: Faber & Faber, 1967. Print.

Fic, Victor M. Kerala: Yenan of India. Bombay: Nachiketa, 1970. Print. Gangadharan, C. K. “Sahodaran Ayyappan”, Mal., Creators of Modern Kerala-7,

Cochin: Kerala History Association, 1984. Print

George, K. C. The Journey of My Life, Mal. Kottayam: B.S. Dist. 1985. Print. George, K. C. Punnapra-Vayalar. Trivandrum: Prabhatham. Print.

Gopalan, A. K. Past and Present, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1959. Print.

—. The Story of My Life, Mal., (autobiography) Trivandrum: Chintha, 1985.

Print.

Gour, Raj Bahadur. Foreword in, Ramachandra Reddy Arutla, Telangana Struggle Memoirs. N. Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1984. Print.

Jeffrey, Robin. “Matriliny, Marxism and the Birth of the Communist Party in Kerala, 1930-40.” Journal of Asian Studies XXXV. 1(November 1978): 93. Print.

—. “India’s working class revolt: Punnapra-Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946.” The Indian Economic and Social History Review. XVIII.2 (1981): 99 – 120. Print.

—. “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. Print.

Kelu, M. K. “Onchiyam Martyrs.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939). Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Keraleeyan, K. A. Interviewed by K.K.N. Kurup. Modern Kerala. pp.120& 129.

Krishnan, R. “Agro-Labour Union: New Strides and Valiant Agitaions.” The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939). Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Krishnan, T. V. Sakhav. Biography of P. Krishna Pillai, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1975. Print.

Kunjambu, A. V. Kayyur and Karivallur, mal., Trivandrum: Chintha, 1986. Print.

—. “Agrarian Problems.” Navoyugam Weekly. Calicut: 22 January 1955. Print. Kunjan, K. K. Brief Biography of Comrade T. V. Thomas, Mal. Trivandrum:

Prabhatham, 1984. Print.

Kunjiraman, P. “The Martyrs of Korom.” The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939). Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Kurup, K.K.N. “The Peasants and the Anti-Imperialist Agitations of Kerala.” The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939). Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Kusuman, K. K. The Extremist Movement in Kerala. Trivandrum: Charitram, 1977. Print.

Menon, E. Gopalakrishna. “Freedom Struggle in the Cochin State.” The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement. Trivandrum: A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, 1984. Print.

Mohandas, P. “Morazha”, Mal. Communist Party Fiftieth Annual Souvenir.

Kannur, Fiftieth Celebration Committee, 1989-90. Print.

Murali, K. “Karivalloor”. The Communist Party (Pinarayi-Parappuram Meeting), Fiftieth Annual Souvenir. Kannur, Fiftieth Annual Celebration Committee, 1989. Print.

Nair, M. N. Govindan. Autobiography. Vol. I. Mala. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1984. Print.

Namboodiripad, E.M.S. “An Assessment of the Pinarayi Parapuram Meeting.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939) Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

—. Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees lst ed., Trivandrum: Kerala Grandhasala Sahakarana Sangham, 1948. Print.

—. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. Print.

—. The Communist Party in Kerala (Mal.), Part I, Trivandrum: Chintha, 1986.

Print.

—. The National Question in Kerala. Bombay: People’s Publishing House, 1952.

Print.

Nayanar, E. K. “Kayyur.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939) Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Nayar, P. Kannan “The Shooting of Munayankunnu and Its Background.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939) Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Overstreet G. D. and M. Windmiller. Communism in India. Berkeley: University of California P, 1950. Print.

Padmanabhan, A. “Kavumbayi Agitation.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939) Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Pillai, C. Narayana. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore, Mal., Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972, p.713.

Pothuval, A. K. The peasant Movement in Kerala. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1976. Print.

Prabhakaran, P. “The Martyrs of Thillenkeri.” Mal. in The Communisty Party 50th Annual Souvenir, (Pinarayi-Parapuram Meeting, 1939) Cannanore, 50th Annual Celebration Committee, 1989-’90. Print.

Raghavan, Puthppally. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam. Print.

Sujathan, P. “A Day too with the Heroic Memory of Kayyur,” (Mal.), Kerala Kaumudi, daily. Thiruvananthapuram: 29 March 1986. Print.

Varghese, M. M. Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt: Unknown Data, Mal. Kottayam: DC, 1986. Print.

APPENDIX I

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

CONFIDENTIAL Trivandrum

No. 22/30. 25th June 1930.

Societies, Sabhas etc. which are of importance politically.

………..

My dear Mr. Subramania Iyer.

Will you kindly have the accompanying form filled in for the State and returned to me by the 10th July at the latest?

      1. Only particulars of Societies, Sabhas etc. which are of importance politically are required. These which are purely religious need not be included.
      2. No details of patrons, office-bearers etc. are required.

Yours sincerely,

V. S. Subramanin Iyer Esq.. Dewan of Tranvancore.

(Copy of Sheet 3, File No. 746, Year 1930, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX Ia

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

List of Political and quasi-Political Societies, Sabhas and Anjumans in the State for the year ending the 30th June 1930.

APPENDIX Ib

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

(Copy of Sheet 15, File No. 746, Year 1930, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX Ic

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

APPENDIX Id

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

APPENDIX Ie

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

214

Appendix If

APPENDIX If

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

Appendix Ig

215

APPENDIX Ig

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

216

Appendix Ih

APPENDIX Ih

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

Appendix Ii

217

APPENDIX Ii

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

218

APPENDIX Ij

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

(Copy of Sheet 23, File No. 746, Year 1930, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX Ik

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

APPENDIX Il

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

Supplemental list of political and quasi- political societies, Sabhas and Anjumans.

(Copy of Sheet 25, File No. 746, Year 1930, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX Im

DEGREE OF POLITICAL RADICALISM IN 1930

(Copy of Sheet 26, File No. 746, Year 1930, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX II

SUPRESSION OF THE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE MOVEMENT: DIRECTION OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT

G. P. T.2430.1000. 3-12-1110

GOVERNMENT OF TRAVANCORE. CONFIDENTIAL SECTION. File No.1314.Year 1932

Subject: Cooperation of the Indian States in dealing with the Civil- Disobedience Movement.

Secret

Emblem

Camp Bolghatty,

D. O. C. 11/32

Madras States Agency

18th January 1932.

 

Trivandrum

 

Co-operation of Indian States in dealing with the Civil Disobedience Movement.

My dear Mr. Subramania Iyer,

I enclose a copy of the Notification No. F. 33/XIV/31- political dated the 4th January 1932 issued by the Government of India on the above subject. The Government of India are confident that the Indian states will be anxious to assist them in suppressing the subversive activities which are exposed in this statement of the Government of India’s policy.

It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that the states themselves, aparts from their traditional ties with the British Crown which will naturally induce them to support the established Government at the present crisis, are vitally interested in the preservation of law and order. Although in some cases the states have not hitherto been troubled with political activity antagonistic to their administration, it is clear that the final object of all revolutionary propaganda must be the overthrow of all constitutional Government, and that the resultant chaos and disorder will cause no less harm to the rulers and to the population of Indian states than in British India. The Government of India therefore desire that Indian states should co-operate with them in combating this movement. The precise method which should be adopted in each case is left to the Darbar’s discretion, though the Government of India anticipate that the Darbar will no doubt wish to act in close consultation with me. It will perhaps be of assistance to the Darbar to be informed of the measures which the Government of India have taken, and I enclose copies of the most recent ordinances (No S.II to V) which have been promulgated.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

The Government of India have desired me to explain that they have no desire to interfere with the internal administration of the states and realise that the matter is not free from difficulty. They feel, however, that the Durbars, if they know that the Government will become strong action on their part, will atleast be ready to co-operate in ensuring that special activities of the Civil Disobedience Movement such as boycott of British goods are not allowed to be practiced in their states or territory, and that their states are not used as basis for agitation in British India. The Government of India also hope that if the existing powers of states’ administrations are not sufficient for the purpose they will take the necessary power for these measures of Co-operation.

Diwan Bahadur V. S. Subramania Iyer, Yours Sincerely, Dewan of Tranvancore (sd)

DRAFT

Trivandrum,

My Dear Col. Pritchard, 27th feb. 1932. Please refer to your Secret D. O. C/11/32 dt. 18th Jan. 1932.

The Commissioner of police reports that at the moment no boycott of British goods is being practiced and no special action seems called for at present.

If any time it is noticed that British that boycott of British goods is practiced or any other act of subversive nature is resorted to, this Government will at once take appropriate measures.

Yours sincerely,

(sd)

Dewan

(Copy of File No. 1314, Year 1932, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

Appendix IIa

APPENDIX IIa

BAN ON THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS

The Press Communique 1936, C. S.,

Government of Travancore, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat.

Emblem Rewa C. I.

Political Department The 24th June 1936. Rewa Durbar. D. O. No. 301- c

Confidential Subject: BAN ON THE INDIAN NATIONAL

CONGRESS

Dear Sir,

I understand that the Indian National Congress has been banned in the Travancore State. I would be very grateful if the order is kindly sent to me.

Yours sincerely,

To (sd) 27/6-

The Dewan, Political Minister.

Travancore State,

Trivandrum.

Confidential

Rao Sahib N. Kunjan Pillai Trivandrum.

Chief Secretaryto the Government 29th July 1936. No. 590/36/C. S. Emblem

Dear Sir,

With reference to your D. O. No. 301-c., dated 24th June 1936, addressed to Dewan asking for a copy of the order banning the Indian National Congress, I send here with copy of a Press Communique issued by this Government on the subject.

Yours faithfully,

(sd) 29/7/1936

To

The Political Minister, Rewa Durbar.

Press Communique

The Travancore Government observe that meetings have recently been held within the State for the purpose of enrolling new members for the Indian National Congress and of conducting propaganda on its behalf. There have also been certain meetings, some of which have been held in the name of the Congress, advocating abolition of private property and putting forward other proposals associated with the communist organisations which have been declared unlawful in British India and which this Government will also treat like wise.

While the Government desires to afford full liberty of association and public meeting to the subjects of His Highness and while they have not prevented such activities originating in British India as Khadar and the Harijan Movement, they must strongly deprecate the intervention of Tranvancore subjects in political agitation relating to British India or any other Indian State – a course fraught with grave embarrassments and many harmful consequences. They must point out that responsible leaders have themselves, in recognition of these facts, declared against the advisability of the Congress operating in Indian States and that the present meetings seem to be in contravention of their advice.

The Government have reviewed the position carefully and have arrived at the decision which they are now communicating to their officers and to the public of Travancore that they cannot permit the holding of propaganda within the State in furtherance of the objects of Communist organisations in British India or to enrol members for the Indian National Congress, or to take active part in the internal politics or election in British India or any Indian State.

(sd) N. Kunjan Pillai,

Chief Secretary to Government

10th August 1934

(Copy of the Press Communique 1936, C.S., Government of Travancore, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat.)

APPENDIX III

Regulation I of 1114 to Suppress Socialistic and Communistic Doctrines of the ‘Youth League’ and the Campaign of Disobedience of Laws by State Congress

Communique

It has come to the notice of Government that a body of persons styling themselves the All Travancore ‘Youth League’ are openly advocating socialistic and communistic doctrines and are overtly as well as secretly inciting people to violence and to disturbances of the peace such as those which have followed the arrest of Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya on Saturday the 20th August. It has also been brought to the notice of Government that the Travancore State Congress has resolved upon a campaign of disobedience of laws and orders lawfully promulgated – a course of conduct which is bound to lead to grave dislocation of the ordinary life of the country and to many injurious consequences. It will be realised that the law at present extant in the State is inadequate and inappropriate for the purpose of coping with a situation brought about by subversive propaganda. Government therefore propose to arm themselves with the necessary powers and bring into operation a Regulation framed generally on the lines of the Criminal Law Amandment Acts now in force in British India.

(Copy of Sheet 4, File No. 283, Year 1938, Unpublished document)

Disappointing Political Condition in Travancore

228

PRESIDENT BOMBAY MUTUAL BUILDERS

RABINDRANATH TAGORE SIR PHEROZSHAH MEHTA ROAD

BOMBAY: 14TH June 1938

CHAIRMAN SAROJINI NAIDU

No. 2/3116

Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer, Dewan of Travancore, Trivandrum.

Sir :

I have been following carefully the trend of events in Travancore

State. I must confess at the very outset that it has been very disappointing and that the State has not been living up to its claims as being one of the most progressive States in South India. The ban on meeting in different parts of the States, the trial and conviction of one of the citisens for alleged solution, – a trial at which the accused was even denied the privilege generally accorded of being defended by an attorney of his choice, the suppression of newspapers through a rigorous Press Act and the prohibition of outside papers from entering into the State are some of the recent events that have legitimately caused alarm in the minds of the well- wishers of the State. The situation has been made much worse by a sense of insecurity to person and property. Some time ago two editors were reported to have been assaulted in broad day light on the public road. How we are told that members of the Travancore State Congress live in perpetual dread of personal injury and lose of property. The statement issued by Miss A. Maocarene M. A. B.L., Advocate, and member of the State Congress working Committee, on May 2nd last in connection with a nocturnal raid on her house has, I believe, been brought to your notice. The disavowal by the Commissioner of Police that her auspicious that rowdies are acting with the connivance of police would have carried more a conviction, if he had taken care to prevent repletion of similar unfortunate happenings.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

 

Posting a police men at the gate is a poor remedy and not antis factory answer to the serious allegations urged in her letter.

The Union urges a thorough investigation into these unfortunate incidents and suggest that prompt action be taken that people of the State whether they be political workers or otherwise, may feel their person and property safe from the vandalism of irresponsible persons.

Yours truly,

(sd)

Secretary

(Copy of Sheet 1, File No. 273, Year 1938, Government of Travancore, Unpublished document)

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

Coir Capitalist Congratulates Suppressive— Measures of the Government

M. L. JANARDANA PILLAY

F. R. S. A. ILOND. I

MEMBER

SRI MULAM ASSEMBLY (TRAVANCORE)

Respected Sir,

CONFIDENTIAL

Alleppey, 18th December 1938.

I beg to enclose for your information copy of the Mall reporter’s report of the speech delivered by one Mr. Sebastian of Changanacherry. The speed refers to some important matters which I think merit your notice.

230

I beg to tender my congratulations on the new amendments to the Criminal Law. They admirably serve the present purpose.

I beg to take the liberty of placing some facts in regard to the fresh attempt of the State Congress which is likely to be launched very soon.

(1) Many of the officers in key positions were not true and loyal to you last time. That difficulty should be avoided and this is more important than anything else. Absolute loyalty towards you personally and Government on the part of these officers is very very essential and this must be assured to your own satisfaction.

More particularly officers at Alleppey, Kottayam, Quilon, Parur, Minachil, Changanacherry, Thiruvalla and Neyyattinkaray should be men in whom you have entire confidence.

(Copy of Sheet 1, File No. 213, Year 1938, Unpublished document)

Compromising Leaders Hooted Down by Radical Workers

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

231

—- 4 —- ALLEPPEY. DECEMBER. 11.

Indictments against Warren Hastings and Robert Clive which even the Mother of Parliaments thought fit to indulge in. He averred that even the Indian National Congress had to indulge in personal attacks on some occasion though rarely.

He concluded by saying that he would not be surprised if when a Velayudhan’s or Pattom’s ministry were to come to power, as he said, he had no doubt as to that, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer would not be arrested at Madras on an extradition warrant and brought and tried here.

Mr. Apolone Aroje speaking next observed that if the Government were to state the number of men ready to face the bullet as a price for responsible government, the State Congress would be quite prepared to send them. As a matter of fact, he said, the State Congress never flinched and would never do so, however much Government might pile up repression after repression.

Mr. Joseph Ponnuran, Secretary of the local State Congress Committee, explained the significance of State Congress Working Committee’s resolution on absentention from drink and tobacco, exhorted them to take a vow to give up drink and the use of tobacco in any form completely.

Mr. C. K. Velayudhan, a member of the Managing Committee of Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union, who along with Mr. R. Sugathan, former General Secretary, (both of whom were imprisoned under the Criminal Law amendment Regulation for State Congress activities) was largely responsible for the termination of the labour

APPENDIX VIa

Compromising Leaders Hooted Down by Radical Workers

—- 5 —- ALLEPPEY. DECEMBER. 11.

general strike after his negotiations with employers for the one anna increase in wages, was hooted down several times, and even after the request of the President, the gathering that consisted mostly of workers, did not allow Mr. Velayudhan to proceed. Mr. Velayudhan in the loud noise, was heard to say that he had determined not to address them so long as they were not prepared to extend the same freedom of speech for which they themselves were clamouring.

The President, in winding up the proceedings, observed that the model of responsible government that he would like to be established in Travancore was that of Aundh. He would wish for local self government by means of Village Panchayats or the like. In his capacity as an important office bearer of the Central Travancore Labour Union, he would say that for all the ills of the workers, both economic and political, responsible government with adult franchise alone, was the only panacea. He felt that a fresh struggle would be begun a few days hence as matters, in his opinion, were fast drifting towards that course. But he would assure the State Congress would ultimately emerge victorious. His only request to them was that even if the leaders were imprisoned, they should carry on the agitation peacefully and non- violently.

Mr. Joseph Ponnuran proposed the vote of thanks.

The meeting dispersed amidst cries of Jais to “Mahatma Gandhi- ki- Jai, Bharathmatha- ki- Jai and State Congress- ki- Jai”.

(Copy of Sheet 5, File No. 213, Year 1938, Unpublished document)

APPENDIX VII

An Italian Communist on the Princely States of India

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

SECRIST

D. O. C. 33/39 Uottacamand

21st may 1939.

I enclose herewith a copy of an article entitled “Dying Country” by Comrade Ottobono Terzil appeared in a Florence paper dated 7th March 1939.

The author claims to have toured India recently but actually there is no record of his visit or of his activities while in India. I shall be grateful for my information on these points if this individual has visited the Travancore State.

Yours sincerely,

(sd)

Sachivotham

Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, R.S.I.S. Diwan of Travancore

APPENDIX VIIa

An Italian Communist on the Princely States of India

“LA HAZIONE”, 7th March 1939

….

A DYING COUNTRY

Comrade Ottobono Terzil of the Florence G. U. F. has just returned from a visit to India, and has submitted the following considerations as the result of his tour in the land of pariahs and Maharajahs.

India is now at the turning point of its history and ideology. Its immense population of three hundred million inhabitants is now in a ferment and in a state of nervousness which has no precedent in its age long history. Propaganda from Moscow works both openly and secretly in thousands of ways, and strikes deeply. British officials are aware of it and vainly endeavour to suppress its manifestations and to prohibit meetings. In short India is now in the classic condition of an endemic predisposition to communism. The explanation of this state of affairs is easily found in the medieval inequality between the poorest pariah and the rich Maharaja. While the tiller of the soil only hopes to satisfy his hunger the other pleasantly enjoys himself by oppressing his subjects with rates and taxes.

The communists germ which all know of but no one has seen is now materialising by the election of the social-democrat Bose to the Presidency of the Indian Chamber. The idealist, Mahatma Gandhi, the exponent of hypothetical liberty, has four years proclaimed civil disobedience, but his words are lost to a primitive and uneducated people. His policy of equality of caste has gained a few proselytes only fit to bow themselves to the ground as British troops pass to quell a riots. Gandhi is now the dearest and most faithful friend of the British.

Last month I had a talk at Lahore with a young Indian Communist. He expressed the view that the star of the Maharajahs, the damned exponents of western Capitalism, will shortly set for ever.

A serious problem has now arisen in India, one which must make us Italians ponder over, that is race hatred and xenophobia. It would take too long to recite the tale of murders and bloody repressions. I have seen at Amritsar the bullet pitted walls where…

(Copy of Sheet 1, File No. 289, Year 1939, Unpublished document)

Left Wing Radicals: Secret Police Report

794/43 dated 23- 12- 43

NOTE: “The recipient of this issue of the Secret Abstract is requested to report at once if the issue immediately previous to this has not been received by him so far.”

Register No. 2

SECRET

Emblem TRAVANCORE POLICE

ABSTRACT OF INTELLIGENCE

[Vol. X.] TRIVANDRUM, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2, 1043/KANNI 16.1110. [No.39]

General Political Situation

  1. Gandhi Jayanthi: – There was no procession in connection with the celebration. Khaddar was hawed at several places at concession ratos and there was display of charka spinning by girls at some of the Khaddar atalls. On the 2nd October, there was a meeting at Quilon under the presidency of K. P. Janardanan Nair (para 59). He spoke about the policy of Mr. Gandhi, his non-violence and the necessity of khaddar propaganda. T. M. Varghese (para 189) R. Sankar, (para 59) K. Gopla Pillai, (Vol. IX, para 182) and K. V. Parameswar (Vol. VII para 127), also spoke on the occasion. At the instance of the students of the Sanadhana Dharma Vidyasala, a meeting was convened at the Allisory maidan, Alleppy under the presidency of P. N. Krishna Pillai (para 139).
  2. Left Wing: – Communists of Kottayam met on the 28th September and discussed about the recout press communiqués regarding communist activities and about getting waste lands registered for purposes of cultivation, increasing production of food materials and opening demonstration farms. At a meeting of the Press Workers’ Union held at Kottayam on the 29th, P. N. Kesavan presiding , speeches were made by K. C. Nainan (Vol VIII para133) and C. G. Sadasivan (para 116).

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

236 Appendix VIII

The latter observed that the Government who were favouring the janmis and the capitalists till now have begun to press them hard by passing laws in favour of the workers. Referring to the recent press communiqué warning communists about their propaganda agaist the British Government’s policy. He said that no Government would tolerate the growth of peoples’ organisations and that nothing need be said about the British Government as they would automatically go away when the people get organised. He also stated that the Communist Party has got in a months’ time Rs. 500 from Kottayam and that the labourers of one factory at Alleppey have donated Rs. 400. ‘Grow more food’ propaganda meetings were held at Quilon and Trivandrum on the 26th September.

G. Sreedhar (Vol. IX para 168) was arrested on the 1st October night for detention under rule 26 of the Defence of Travancore Rules. Prior to his arrest, his residence and that of the State Congress President, Pattom Thanu Pillai, were searched but nothing incriminating was found. Sreedhar had been to Madras to attend the Radical Democratic Convention and was keeping touch with A. K. Pillai (Vol. IX, para 64) who is proceeding to England.

Labour.

  1. At a committee meeting of the Cashewnut Workers’ Union, Quilon on the 1st, K. P. Nanoo (Vol VII, para 277) was elected as the general secretary and delegates were nominated for attending the ensuing anniversary of the…

(Copy of Sheet 1, No. D. Dis. 794-43 – Unpublished)

Government Press Note: Banning the Slogans, ‘Inquilab—Zindabad’

PRESS NOTE

Government have observed that various political and other organisations are arranging for meetings and processions where slogans like “Inquilab Zindabad” or “Long live Revolution” are being shouted. Government wish to make it absolutely clear that although many of the persons who shout slogans may not understand the meaning of what they are saying, yet such demonstrations are likely prejudicially to affect the minds of the people at this juncture. Government also wish to make it clear that they will regard the shouting of such slogans as an act of prejudicial to the peace and safety of the country and proceed under the Defence of Travancore Rules against those who indulge in such practices.

Sd/- G. Parameswaran Pillai, Chief Secretary to Government.

Puzur Cutcherry,

Trivandrum, 18th September 1943.

(Copy of Sheet 2, No.D. Dis. 173-44-C.S., 1944, Unpublished)

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

Gandhi’s Fast: Preventing Publicity; Resident’s Letter

238

SECRET

MADRAS STATES AGENCY

Express Letter

From – Rapieben, Trivandrum. To – The Diwan of Travancore.

No. 6.236/43—1. Dated, the 10th February 1943.

Gandhi has intimated His Excellency the Viceroy that he proposes to underline a fast for a limited period of 3 weeks. The Government of India have decided to release him and his party for the purpose and for the period of fast and will be issuing statement as soon as the fast starts.

2. His release if, of course, purely a counter-move and is not intended to concede to him on the strength of his fast facilities which it was the object of his detention to deny. Government cannot restrict his contacts as a free man but have decided to do what they can to prevent the Press from exploiting the fast and to deny his access to it as a medium of propaganda. This means that suitable action to bring the Press under control from the outset must be taken in all Provinces etc. with the announcement of the fast and his release.

3. The following is Government’s policy in the matter and I shall be obliged if you would/ such corresponding action in the State, as local circumstances would warrant, to exercise effective Press Control in the State while he is at liberty.

“Meeting of provincial Press Advisery Committees and/or local editors are being called in all Provinces etc., on the day on which the news breaks for a time and the position and requirements will be explained to them. They will be told quite firmly that while bare bulletins about Gandhi’s health and reasonable editorial comment will be allowed, Government do not intend, in the interested of public security, to allow publication or Statements by, or interviews with Gandhi or any playing up of the situation in the form of inflammatory editorial comment or cartoons, flaring headlines,undue typographical or pictorial displays or colourful reports, the effect of which would be to enlist the sympathy of the public in favour of Gandhi or otherwise to slip up popular excitement or apprehension

4. You should decide in the light of your relations with the Press in the State and of your discussion with the Editors how far these objects can be secured by voluntary co-operation or by statutory orders under rule 41 of the Defence of India Rule.

Ban on the CPI in Travancore

240

Rajyasevapravina C. 879/41/C-8.

G. S. A. Karim Sahib M. B. E.

Inspector- General of Police Trivandrum September 1941

My dear Rajyasevapravina,

In forwarding herewith the copy of judgment in C. O; Nos. 4 and 5 of 117 of the Division First Class Magistrate, Trivandrum, I write to inform you that from the literature seised from the possession of the accused V. Govindan Nair and also from secret enquiries made, it is clear that there are local State Congress workers and others who are tools in the hands of British Indian Communists engaged in organising a local Communist Party affiliated to the Kerala Branch of the Communist Party in India. As matters stand at present, such agitators have to be prosecuted under the Defence of Travancore Act. In one or two instances, difficulties have been experienced to book the offenders concerned as there was not sufficient evidence for their prosecution except for the fact that they are partisans of the communist party of India. To obviate such difficulties and strengthen the hands of Law and Order for taking action, I think it is highly necessary that Notifications should be issued by the Travancore Government on the Lines of those in force in British India Prohibiting the Communist activities within the State. I am sending herewith a draft thereof with copy of Notifications in force in the Madras Presidency forwarded to me by the Superintendent of Police, Special Branch, C. I. D., Madras.

Yours sincerely,

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (July 2013) Vol. XIII. No. 2

Enclosures:-

  1. Copy of judgment in

C. C.4/17 of the Div.

1 st Cl. Mag. Trivandrum

  1. Copy of judgment in

C. C. 5/17 of the above court.

  1. Copy of Order No. Ms.813 dated 4-8-34 issued by the Govt. of Madras.
  2. do. No. 231 dated 29-1-40 issued by Do-
  3. do. No. 1229 dated 11-6-11 issued by Do.
  4. do.

(Copy of Sheet 1, No. D. Dis. 1362-44-C.S.)

APPENDIX XIa

Ban on the CPI in British India

CONFIDENTIAL

No. 1323 Legal Remembrancer’s Office, Trivandrum, 19- Dec- 1941.

My dear Sir,

With reference to your D. O. Roc. No. 879/41/C. S., dated 17th December 1941 re: declaration of the communist party, its committees, sub – committees etc., to be unlawful associations under the Travancore Criminal Law Amendment Act I of 1114, I write to inform you that there is no legal objection in issuing a notification under Section 3 of Act I of 114. I may however state that the Government of India Notification was issued so early as 23rd July 1934. Probably, that notification may still be in force. No Notification for the purpose has so far been issued under the Criminal Law Amendment Act I of 1114. We have dealt with the Khaksars in Notification No. 343/41/C. S., dated 10th June 1941, but I believe that they are not the same as communists. The draft of the necessary notification is put up below:-

Draft.

“Whereas the Government of His Highness the Maharaja are of opinion that the Association known by the name of the Communist Party in India and its Committees, sub-committees and branches have for their object interference with the administration of the law and the maintenance of law and order and constitute a danger to the public peace;

Now therefore in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Travancore Criminal Law Amendment Act I of 1114, the Government of His Highness the Maharaja are pleased to declare the said Association, its committees, sub-committees and branches within the State to be unlawful associations within the meaning of the Travancore Criminal Law Amendment Act I of 1114.”

My dear Sir, Yours faithfully,

Rajyasevapravina (sd/-)

S. Parameswaran Pillai,

Chief Secretary to Government:

(Copy of Sheet 2, No. D. Dis. 1362-44-C.S., Unpublished)

Contributor:

N. SASIDHARAN. N. Is a Marxist Historian, retd. as Professor from the department of Political Science, Sree Narayana College, Kollam. He has written extensively on the emergence of the the communist movement in Kerala in consonance with the social reform movements. His studies based on original research has deepened our understanding of the provenance of the communist movement in the state.

TOWARDS CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS: RADICAL POLITICS

IN KERALAM

N. SASIDHARAN

KERALA: PRE-BRITISH AND BRITISH PERIODS LEAD TO SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RADICALISM

Abstract: An analysis of a deep-rooted political movement requires a clear understanding of the traditional socio-economic and political conditions of the country that moulded it. It is particularly true of Kerala, the socio- economic life of which had remained largely unchanged till the late eighteenth century. With the political domination of the British, new economic opportunities and awareness were generated. It made revolutionary changes in the socio-economic and political systems of Kerala. This section is a brief analysis of the semi-tribal system that prevailed before the Brahmin domination and the caste-based socio-economic system of the Brahmins that lasted for a thousand years.

Keywords: radicalism, untouchability, unapproachability, casteism, land relations, namboodiripad, communist movement, state congress, government of Travancore, Krishna Pillai, factory workers, Kerala government, national congress, trade union, youth league, Narayana Guru, workers union, British government, political radicalism, labour association, agro-labourers, coir workers, abstention movement, civil equality

An analysis of a deep-rooted political movement requires a clear understanding of the traditional socio-economic and political conditions of the country that moulded it. It is particularly true of Kerala, the socio- economic life of which had remained largely unchanged till the late eighteenth century. With the political domination of the British, new economic opportunities and awareness were generated. It made revolutionary changes in the socio-economic and political systems of Kerala. This section is a brief analysis of the semi-tribal system that prevailed before the Brahmin domination and the caste-based socio- economic system of the Brahmins that lasted for a thousand years. Before the establishment of the British domination, with the Mysorean invasion in the eighteenth century, a new land relation was introduced in Malabar. This continued with suitable changes for stabilising the British domination, very much in favour of landlords, which unleashed grave peasant problems that greatly influenced the future politics of Malabar. But the condition in Travancore was different. There King Marthanda Varma established a centralised monarchy. The Government of Travancore took tenants into confidence against the landlords. Thus from the peculiar socio-economic conditions that existed in Travancore emanated new political forces of radicalism.

Kerala till 8th Century A.D.

No authentic historical records exist about Kerala of the ancient and medieval periods. The only available materials are Tamil classics like, ‘Pathittipathu’, ‘Chilapathikaram’ and the travel accounts of foreigners. In Kerala, Tamil continued to be language for long time. So, the two ancient classics form the source of the ancient history of Kerala from fourth to the early seventh century A.D. The two classics describe four classes of people, ‘Kuravas’ (jungle folks)’, ‘Itayas’ (shepherds), ‘Uzhavas’ (farmers) and ‘Valayas’ (fishermen) inhabiting the hilly forests, pastures, plains and coastal regions respectively. There was no matriarchy or caste differentiation (Chaitanya 3-6).

The people lived in village communities under Chieftains. Over the Chieftain was the King. The King belonged to the ‘Chera’ dynasty. The Kings had no delusions of grandeur. They were unassuming and simple (Idem). The kingdom was not very vast. It was confined to central Kerala and some parts of Coimbatore (Marx 58). Ezhimala of Malabar and Aay of Travancore were free from Chera control. The Chera rule came to an end by the ninth century A.D. It was due to foreign invasion and Brahmin migration.

Thousand Years of Brahmin Domination

Though the Brahmin migration to Kerala had started from the first century A.D., the groups which moved from ‘Kolhapur’ were bringing about radical changes in Kerala. There were many instances of the latter groups taking up arms and carving out principalities. According to William Logan, 36,000 Brahmins carried weapons at that time. The leaders of the Kolhapur Brahmins were called, ‘Nambiathiris’(Logan 278-315). Gradually, these groups covered Kerala with a network of ‘temple centred’ Brahmin settlements. The settlers adopted a new name, ‘Namboodiris’ and emerged powerful in all respects. They possessed a large extent of land and a number of tenants under their control, with accompanying privileges.1

Unquestioned Masters

The Brahmins with their more advanced method of cultivation, knowledge of the calendar, astrology, magic, witchcraft, medicine, ritualistic religion and a strong sense of solidarity, subjugated the society of Kerala and became its unquestioned masters. It lasted without basic change for a period of about one thousand years (Chaitanya 7). During this period, society was divided into several castes on occupational basis. The gradation was such that the Namboodiris were at the top of the caste pyramid and all others fell into inferior grades at various levels. According to ‘Jatinirnaya’ a work attributed to Sri Sankara, there are seventy-four main castes (eight Brahmin castes, two Nyuna jatis, two Andarala jatis, eighteen Sudra castes and other castes) (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 53).

Stagnant Society

The Brahmins realising the advantages of the occupational division of society had given it the religious sanction of divine origin. Untouchability and unapproachability based on pollution (theendal), existed only in Kerala; as a result, there was practically no interaction within the social system. To Gilbert Slater, “Malabar social life has a property analogous to that of the sands of Egypt, of retaining free from decay every ancient custom whichever existed there”(qtd in Iyer ii). The ‘theendal’ or pollution was of two kinds; between the Brahmins and other castes, and among the lower castes. Even the ‘Pulaya’ (a lower caste) had caste pride because, the ‘Paraya’ (another lower caste) was untouchable to him and hence inferior. The caste obsession was always an impediment in organised agitations against Brahminical domination. The Malayalam term for caste is ‘jati’, derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘jatam’ denoting birth. For each occupation a caste was created and they performed their occupation on inheritance basis, violation of which was met with severe punishment (Logan 53-112). There were three sanctified works of Namboodiris for perpetuating their domination. They were, ‘Keralolpathi’, ‘Kerala Mahatmyam’ and ‘Sankara Smriti’ preaching caste based society on a religious basis. Social stagnation based on casteism was given sanction in other religious works also.2

The Brahmins could not maintain power in Kerala without the support of the natives. So they took the ruling tribes of the land into confidence and entrusted them with the task of the protection of the Brahmins and called them ‘Nayars’ (leaders) (Logan 117-118). The Namboodiri-Nayar relationship was further strengthened by ‘Sambandham’ (Namboodiri marrying the Nayar women). The newly created social and political organisation, with the domination of the Brahmins was preserved under the supervision of the Nayars. The Namboodiris organised the Nayars as their protectors and gave them the status of ‘Kshatriyas’ at the political level. But the contradiction was that, at the social level, the Brahmins were careful not to raise the Nayars to the status of ‘Kshatriyas’, instead, they were regarded as ‘Sudras’. The shrewed Brahmins secured protection at the cost of the Nayars, but to prevent themselves from being displaced, Nayars were ranked as the lowest of the ’Caste-Hindus’ and the social domination was further cemented by the canons of their religion (Idem).

The New Land Relations

From the collaboration of the new castes (Namboodiri – Nayar), there emerged a new and effective form of land relations in the numerous principalities of Kerala, which was to last for centuries, down to the period of British domination. The land relations were also so devised that the domination of the Brahmins on the land was well protected. The Brahmin legends like ‘Keralolpathi’ describe the whole land of Kerala as a gift to them by Lord Parasurama. They called themselves as ‘Bhoosuran’ (the landlord). Before the Brahminical domination, land in Kerala was nobody’s property, like the sea. It was because of two reasons. First, population was limited and second, organised cultivation did not exist. A limited change was effected in the semi-tribal economy of Kerala by the Brahmins who devised spiritual and temporal methods to keep the land under their control (Logan 654-655).

About the Brahmin dominated land relations in Kerala, two views exist. According to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, with the introduction of casteism by the Brahmins, each caste had to render certain specific services to the community on hereditary basis. The non- farming professionals such as the Brahmins, rulers and soldiers were awarded land for their services. The peasants were to give a share of their crop- products to these people who owned the land. When powerful chieftains and Brahmins were regularly given a share of the crop, it became a permanent practice, and their share was set apart first. The farmer was allowed to take his share only afterwards. Thus the dual ownership of land developed; the cultivating tenant and the non-cultivating owner possessed claim on land. Gradually, the minority who were the non- farming and who were getting only a small share of the crop became landlords (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 54- 59). According to T. C. Varghese, the real owner of the land was the peasant. In the unsettled condition, the crop was often plundered by the invaders. But the temple land and the land of the Brahmins were safe. In those days of frequent warfare, the transfer of the land in favour of Brahmins or Brahmin temples was the best way to safeguard the property. Thus the Brahmin temples possessed vast landed property (Varghese 14-15). It was administered by a Brahmin-dominated body called, ‘Urala Samiti’. These lands were taken back for the cultivation, after a legal deed. Such specified cultivator was called ‘Karalar’. Thus the dual ownership on land emerged. In the beginning, there were rules to prevent the ‘Uralas’ (Brahmin members of the ‘Urala Samiti’), from usurping the right of the ‘Karalas’ and from converting the ‘Devaswom’ (property of the temple) into ‘Brahmaswoms’ (property of the Brahmins). In course of time, the ‘Uranma’ (the right of the Brahmins on the land) absorbed the ‘Karaima’ (the right of the tenant on the land) and the ‘Uranma’ became hereditary. Still, the right was not absolute, it was regulated by conventions, so that the ‘Uralars’ could not evict a tenant. But the term ‘Uranma’ was later interpreted by the Brahmins as containing the meaning that they were the real owners of the land. The British administrators acquiesced to this claim and bestowed upon the ‘Jenmis’ (landlords) the absolute ownership of the land (Ravindran 128-131). According to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the peasants had loyalty to the Namboodiris and their temples. They were proud of saying that their land and its crops were the share of a temple or a Namboodiri family. Peasants submitted their entire land to the Namboodiri families and became the tenants (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 58). A. K. Pothuval narrates the story of such a peasant, an owner of three acres of land submitting it to ‘Vellora Devaswom’(17).

The earlier ‘primitive communist’ or ‘tribal society’ was brought down by the developing ‘caste society’ in Kerala. Here, authority tended to run from the landlord’s family to those under it. It was more or less, ‘a modified form of European feudalism’ (Namboodiripad, Kerala: Society and Politics; A Historical Survey 43,47,50). Till the coming of the Britishers there were four classes connected with the land. The ‘jenmi’ (landlord) was at the top, below him was the ‘Kanamdar’ (supervising tenant), still below was the ‘kudiyan’ (cultivating tenant), and at the bottom the agro- slaves. The chief landlords were the ‘Namboodiris’ (Malayali Brahmins), the ‘Rajas’ (members of royal families) and some ‘Tharavads’ (Nayar joint families). The Kanamdars (the supervising tenants) held land in the nature of ‘usufructuary mortgagees’. The Kanamdars sublet the land to the real tenants, ie., Thiyars (Ezhavas) and Mappilas (Muslims of Malabar and Syrian Christians of Travancore), who worked on drylands. The agro-slaves were Pulayas, the lowest of the caste hierarchy who worked on wetlands (Chadwick 41). The notable difference between the land relations of Kerala of that time and that of European feudalism was that, in Kerala, dual ownership of landlord and the peasants existed. It was wrong to say that either the ‘Jenmi’ or the ‘Kudiyan’ possessed full ownership on the land. During that period evolved the ‘Jenmi-Kanam maryada’ or ‘Landlord-Tenant convention’ or ‘Territorial practices’ (Logan 654 -655).

The landlords, because of caste rigidities, were allowed neither to cultivate the land by themselves nor to supervise the cultivation, because, the cultivators belonged to the polluting castes. So, a system of land relations had to be evolved, whereby cultivation could go on with the labour of the lower castes, while maintaining intact the ownership rights of the Brahmins. Thus an intermediary class, ‘Kanamdars’ arose to supervise the ‘Kanam’ (the land held by the tenants). The Kanamdars were mostly Nayars, the supporting caste of the Brahmins (Varghese 13- 14). Once the land was transferred to the Kanamdars, they were given the freedom to confer kanam rights to anyone they liked, subject to certain conventions. The Nayars, who were the main beneficiaries, considered direct cultivation as something below their status. So almost the whole land, taken on kanam basis was leased to people of lower castes, such as Christians, Thiyars and Muslims.3

The new landlords did not assert their rights in a way that infringed upon the rights of the peasants. The Kanamdars were required to pay only nominal dues in the form of products from land and in the form of services, as a token of allegiance to their superiors. Likewise, the sub- tenants had to pay only very low rent to the Kanamdars (Logan 652-53). Till the eighteenth century, land tax was not levied. The rulers of Kerala derived their income mainly from their private lands and inposts like commercial duties. In many Chieftaincies, trading in pepper was a state monopoly (Ward & Connor 13). The economic condition of Kerala at that time was unimaginably poor. Till the beginning of the nineteenth century, the chief crop in Kerala was rice. Its production was quite insufficient to meet even the needs of its limited consumers (Ibid 115). Three months were regarded as months of poverty- May, June and July. During those months, famine, disease and starvation deaths were common. In coastal areas, to buy food, mothers used even to sell their children (Logan 230; Jeffrey 47). The main reason for the scarcity of rice production in Kerala was the poor management of cultivation due to the lack of communication between the worker and the owner of the land based on caste restrictions. The only caste meant for wetland cultivation was the Pulaya, who formed only 10% of the population (Aiya 182-183). They were alienated from the landlord, and were considered ‘unseeables’ according to caste traditions (Logan 638).

Effect of Geography: Localised Living and Localised Thinking

The peculiar life-style of the people of Kerala – localised living and localised thinking – is the product of its geography. Kerala is an elongated territory of 360 miles. She is cut into several separate regions by the westward flowing forty-one rivers and ten lakes that form the back waters which open out to the Arabian Sea (Manorama Year Book 640). It is inferred that the west coast from Crangannore to Quilon had emerged from the sea, due to physio-geographical changes (Chacko 14-16). The people who lived on these lands separated by rivers and lakes had evolved a peculiar life-style of localised living and localised thinking. The influence of the above lifestyle even resulted in localising the social and political movements of the later periods. The socio-political developments of a particular region in Kerala at a particular time could not immediately produce response at other regions (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 67,70,71). For example, the resistance of ‘Raja of Pazhassi’ (1793- ‘97 ; 1800-’05) against the British, found no response in other parts of Kerala. Dewan Velu Thampi’s ‘Kundara Proclamation’ of 1809 could produce only limited response in other parts of Kerala. The ‘Kurichya rebellion’ of 1812, against the British was strictly confined to the Wayanad hills. The ‘Mappila revolts’ (1800-1805; 1836; 1855 and 1821), too did not produce any response in other parts of Kerala. Other examples also exist. The nature of the terrain made it difficult to develop roads as means of transportation. Even in 1850, there was not a single road in Travancore, to travel across the entire state. In 1872, there was not a single wheeled vehicle outside Quilon (Jeffrey 16-18).

The 18th century Kerala: Encounter with the Foreigners

When the western trading companies were exerting political influence in Kerala during the eighteenth century A.D., Calicut, Cochin and Travancore were the most powerful principalities. In 1723, the English East India Company adopted the policy of ‘active interference’ in local politics (Logan 16-18). Thus the Company assisted both Marthanda Varma, the King of Travancore and Zamorin, the King of Calicut in their quarrel with the local Chiefs and with the Dutch. The East India Company got a golden opportunity to tighten its grips further on Kerala during the Mysorean invasion of Malabar (Ibid 447). The Mysorean army passed through Malabar without any resistance. In 1757, the Zamorin surrendered before Haider Ali and offered an indemnity of 12,00,000 rupees. Cochin also surrendered without resistance and offered a huge tribute (qtd in Logan 450-51).4 The Mysore rule introduced ‘Land tax’ for the first time in Malabar, in 1766. Like taxation, people also experienced for the first time, subjugation under a centralised political power.5 In the subsequent Anglo-Mysore war, when Tippu Sultan surrendered on February 22, 1792, and when the Treaty of Srirangapatam was signed on 18 March 1792, the English East India Company got control of Malabar (Logan 508, 512 & 522).

Land Relations Under British Rule

On account of the Mysore invasion, the society of Malabar which was functioning within a customary framework was shaken up badly, resulting in chaos and confusion. This enabled the British to interpret according to their convenience, the land relations. The English East India Company created landlordism in Malabar, forgetting all traditional practices, to maintain the British domination by creating a group of elite, who always depended upon them (Logan 654-655). It was based on permanent settlement like the ‘Zamindari’ system which they introduced in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, U.P and other places (Munro 547). The company wanted the landlords to be their agents to preserve their power in Malabar. So, the Company entered into direct relations with them (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 161-65). The British settlement in Malabar was equal to the Mysorean settlement. The Mysore settlement as seen from the British records, was that, 6/20 of the gross product should go to the state, leaving 11/20 to the cultivators and 3/20 to the landlords (qtd in Logan 654-655).6 The collection of land revenue was done by th deputies of the landlords, who always supported the British. But soon the responsibility of revenue collection was taken over by the East India Company. The Princes were given 20% of the revenue collection as ‘Malikhan Allowance’.

The land tenure policy of the English East India Company was based on two factors. First, it was aimed at getting a large share of agricultural produce and land revenue. Secondly, the Company was interested in creating and recognising a few superiors having absolute right on the land, to act as the ‘British agents’ in the region (Munroe 547). During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the cultivated land area in Malabar was only 0.58 million acres. Of that, 0.50 million acres was wetland. Total cultivable land was five million acres (Ward and Connor 4). Before the coming of the Britishers, the ownership of land was shared by the landlord and the tenant. The East India Company changed the old order, made the landlord the absolute owner with the right to evict the tenants. As a result, the tenant became a mere ‘leaseholder’ at the mercy of the landlords (Idem).

The British were more concerned of the revenue from land than class harmony in Malabar. For that, they thought it was better to arm the landlords with more powers than to make the ryots secure in their holdings. Thus began the long period of peasant unrest in Malabar. The landlords, who were hitherto satisfied with a minor share of produce began to claim a larger share and the Company was ready to accede to that demand.

According to the 1805 settlement, the state’s share was fixed as 40%, the landlord’s 26.7% and the cultivator’s 33.3% of the gross produce. The 1805 settlement was increasing the financial burden of the tenants, compared to the Mysorean settlement. The table given is self- explanatory (Varghese 27-29).

Table 1: Land Settlement in Malabar: Mysorean and British

Mysore 1766

East India Company

Difference

State 6/20 (30%)

40.0%

+10.0%

Landlord3/20 (15%)

26.7%

+ 11.7%

Tenant11/20 (55%)

33.3%

-21.7%

Source: Derived from, T. C. Varghese, Agrarian change and Economic Consequences: Land Tenure in Kerala, Calcutta: Allied Publishers, 1970, pp.27-29.

Even the 21.7% of the total produce allotted to the tenant existed only in law. In actual practice, he was left at the mercy of the landlord. The Government did not interfere to check the abuses which the landlords indulged in (Idem). The British including Logan and Baden Powell showed that the earlier British civil servants completely misunderstood the customary land relations which existed in Malabar for centuries (Logan 654-655). The Company tried to introduce British ideas through their courts. The most common methods of tenant exploitation by landlords were through the enhancement of rent, eviction and imposition of renewal of fees (Panikkar 605).

Travancore:

Centralised Monarchy: Better Land Relations

In Travancore, as against Malabar, the growing monarchical power had to suppress the dissident feudal chiefs. To alienate the feudal lords, the tenants were taken into confidence and settlement was done directly with the tenants. As a result, the land relations that evolved in Travancore were more like the ryotwari system than the zamindari system. The East India Company entered into a treaty with Travancore in 1788. By the treaty, Travancore had to pay Rs.78,000 per annum. It was revised in 1805, by which, the amount was raised to Rs. 800,000, in addition, the military expense was to be shared if found essential. The Governor- General was given powers to interfere in the internal affairs of Travancore (Varghese 19).

The land tenure in Travancore was complex. It can be broadly classified into two. I. Jenmom lands and II. Sarkar lands. The Jenmom lands or the lands under landlords were of four kinds, I. ‘Brahmaswoms’ (lands of Brahmins); 2. ‘Devaswoms’ ( lands of temples); 3. ‘Edavakas’ (lands of feudal chieftains) and 4. Lands of royal families. On the basis of taxation, the ‘Jenmom’ lands were further divided into three. 1. The lands which were entirely free from taxation, 2. Originally exempted from taxation but subsequently became taxable and 3. Subject to light demand (Rao 69-71).

The system of land tenure in Travancore was based on ‘ryotwari’ principle of ‘sarkarland’ (Ibid 69). It was a direct settlement with the cultivators. The ‘sarkarland’ consisted of 2/3 of the whole land. There, 156 types of tenures existed (Idem). 1/8 of the ‘sarkarland’ was held by tenants on favourable terms called ‘otti’ and cognate tenures which had the characteristics of direct mortgages from the state. The possession of such lands was diffused all over the households of various castes, except the lowest, though there was a concentration of it in the hands of the caste-Hindus, especially the Nayars (Pillai 374).

The revenue settlement was made in Travancore, in 1751. It allowed the continuance of the existing land tenure, and created confidence in the minds of the ryots in the conquered territories. The assessment fixed was moderate (Rao n.p). In the settlement of 1802, the total amount fixed was less than nine lakh rupees (Ward and Cannor 115). The Government was interested in protecting the tenants of the landlords. At that time, on Jenmom lands, the tenants had no permanent rights. The courts of the Britishers in Madras started giving verdicts by recognising the absolute rights of the landlords. It was against the traditional territorial practices. The immediate result was indiscriminate evictions. To prevent such evictions in Travancore, a Royal Edict was issued in 1829 (qtd in The Jenmi-Kudiyan Committee Report 1).7 It prohibited indiscriminate eviction of tenants and at the same time, ensured the legitimate dues to the Jenmis. In 1865, another proclamation was issued, giving full ownership of the ‘sarkarlands’ to the cultivators (Pillai 337). It conferred ownership rights to the tenants, heritable and salable (Idem). The proclamation of 1865 encouraged the tenants to invest maximum labour and capital on the land, as it assured their permanent possession and ownership. Since the land of the lords was only 20% of the total land, almost the whole agricultural population consisted of tenants and agro-laboureres (Census of India 1910 90). Atleast, 2/3 of the population depended on land (Idem).

Development of the West- coastland: Centre of Social and Political Radicalism

As against the traditional practice of the tenant occupying the land of landlord, in Travancore, the tenant first occupied the wasteland and cultivated it. Only after that, it was made ‘Pandaravaka’ (State property). It is well explained by the seventeenth century satirist poet, Kunchan Nambiar as follows:

If the wasteland is tilled

That too made ‘Pandaravaka’. If it is not submitted to

The tough- men of the revenue office,

They topple down everything. (Nambiar 1253)

The west – coastland, which has occupied by about half the population of Kerala, was an uninhabited wasteland till the eighteenth century (Chacko 14-16). The reclamation of the most important centre of the west–coastland, Alleppey, was started by the Dewan, Raja Kesavadasan and it was continued by the Dewan, Velu Thampi (Menon 13-14; 184-85). Due to the encouragement given by the Government, land hungry peasants, mostly of the lower castes were reclaiming, cultivating and occupying the west-coast land. The new land policy of the Government of Travancore enabled them to plant coconut trees and to own it. Thus the new settlers of the west-coastland became economically influential when the commercial potentiality of coconut increased during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of the original Namboodiri settlements mentioned in ‘Keralolpathi’, only half a dozen existed in Travancore.8 Of those, none existed in the west-coast land. Since there existed no original Nambodiri settlement to preserve casteism, social immobility was not so rigid. Thus new socio-economic forces were released by the changed conditions.

Graph 1

Economic development of Travancore: 1864-1905 The West- coast land; Economic Base

Source: “ Travancore Administrative Report.” In., Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance; Society and Politics in Travancore. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976,p.133.

The marginal financial power based on the cash crop, coconut gave the lower castes of the west-coastland the ability for political bargaining. The Ezhava caste was getting the maximum benefit of it. Ever since 1921, the west-coastland emerged as the centre of social and political radicalism.

Against the general condition of Travancore, in land relations, the condition of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks was different. Ambalapuzha was the former Chempakasseri Principality, which was annexed to Travancore by King Marthanda Varma. The Sherthallai taluk was a gift of Cochin to Travancore. Since the landlords of the region were submissive to the Travancore monarch, no change was effected in land relations. So, the traditional feudal system continued to exist; the landlords lost only political power. At the same time, the outlook of the tenants and the agro-labourers of these taluks underwent radical changes with the clarion call of the social reform movement in the early twentieth century. But the landlords were sticking on to old beliefs. It remained the basic cause of the ‘Punnapra Vayalar revolt’ of 1946 (Infra 376-377).

Cochin: Land Relations

Cochin, the smallest political unit in the region was intermediate to that of Travancore and Malabar in the nature of land ownership and other land rights. In Cochin, monarchy was weak, power was really exercised by the Nayar Chieftain ,‘Paliyath Achan’, the traditional adviser to the King. Landlordism and casteism were more severe in Cochin than in the other two regions (Varghese 20). Cochin too accepted the political supremacy of the English East India Company. In 1791, Cochin entered into a treaty of defence with the Company. Accordingly, Cochin had to pay Rs.100, 000 per annum to the Company. In 1809, it was raised to Rs. 270,000. In 1819, the amount was reduced to Rs.240.000. Many import and export duties were abolished to throw open Cochin harbour for British commerce. As in Travancore, the state attempted to strengthen itself by subduing the Chieftains. But it did not succeed. As a result, only 1/3 of the cultivating land was brought under the state, of which, considerable portion of land was the private property of the King himself (Ibid 19).

In 1812 Colonel Munro, Resident-cum-Dewan, ordered the annexure of lands and properties belonging to about one hundred and seventy-nine temples to the State. In Cochin, the landlords were so powerful that the State would not, in any way interfere with the affairs of their tenants. The pattern of land relations and interests in Cochin during the first half of the nineteenth century were similar to that of Malabar. The only difference was that a considerable part of the land belonged to the State.9

NOTES

1 ‘Keralolpathi’, a Namboodiri legend of Kerala gives a list of thirty two original Brahmin settlements in Kerala. They are,

1. Payyannur 2. Taliparamba 3. Alathiyur

4. Karathur 5. Sukpuram 6. Panniyur

7. Karikattu 8. Isamangalam 9. Trichur

10. Perumanam 11. Chenmanda 12. Iringalakuda

13. Avitattur 14. N. Paravur 15. Airanikulam

16. Muzhikulam 17. Kuzhur 18. Aatur

19. Chengamanad 20. Tirumpupattu 21. Uliyanur

22. Kazhakutanad 23. Erumannur 24. Kumaranallur

25. Chengannur 26. Kaviyur 27. Venmani

28. Niramankara 29. Kadamuri 30. Aranmula

31. Thiruvalla & 32. Kidangoor

Kerala Through the Ages, Trivandrum: Government of Kerala, Department of Public Relations, 1976, pp.24-25.

2 The Hindu religious books regard the violation of caste function a sin. It is so described in the ‘Brahmasutra’ of Sri Sankara (Chapter I, Section 3, topic 9); Uthara Ramacharita of Bhavabhooti (Utharakanda states Lord Rama chopping the head of a Sudra saint Jambuka for violating caste function); In Mahabharata Dronacharya cut off the right thumb of Ekalavya since the study of marital art was against his caste function. Casteism is justified in the several verses of Bhagavat Gita (Chapter I, verses 42-44; Chapter II, verse2; Chapter IV, verses 1 & 13 and Chapter IX, verses 32& 33).

Shea, W. Thomas. Land Tenure Structure of Malabar and Its Influence Upon Capital Formation in Agriculture, A Diss. in South Asia Regional Studies, Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Pennsylvania, 1959, p. 5.

3 Regarding the tenancy of the time, William Logan gives a ninefold classification, such as,

1. Permanent tenure 2. Kanam ordinary 3. Kanam ordinary

4. Otti 5. Otti quasi 6. Lease (verum pattom)

7. Mortgage (panayam) 8.Mortgage for definite period

Logan, William. Malabar Manual. Madras: Government Press, 1951, p.41.

4 Jonathan Dungan, President, First Malabar Commission, evidence taken from the Zamorin in 1793, Asiatic Researches, Vol. V, pp.30-31.

5 Report, Madras Survey and Land Reforms Committee, Vol.II, Madras: Government Press, 1915, p. 41.

6 Sir John Shore, Minutes of Governor-General, “The General and Supplementary Reports of the Joint Commissioners of the Province of Malabar in the years 1782-’93.”

7 Maharaja of Travancore, “Royal Edict, 1829”, quote in, The Jenmi-Kudiyan Committee Report, 1916, Trivandrum: Government Press, p. 1.

8 The six original settlements in Kerala were,

1. Aranmula 2. Chengannur 3. Thiruvalla

4. Kaviyur 5. Venmani & 6. Kidangur

Kerala Through the Ages, Trivandrum: Government of Kerala, Department of Public Relations, 1976, pp.24-25.

9 Cochin Dewan’s Order, Land Revenue Settlement of Cochin. February 8, 1909. Also vide, Krishna Menon, Comp., The Cochin Dewaswom Manual, introd., Ernakulam: Government Press, 1938, para 3.

REFERENCES

Aitchison., Collections of Treaties Engagements and Sanads, Section 3, “Malabar Coast,” Calcutta: Government of India, 1930. Print.

Aiya, V. Nagam. Report on the Census of Travancore, 1881. Trivandrum: Travancore Government P, 1884. Print.

Census of India 1910, “ Travancore”. Report, Delhi: Government of India. Print. Chaitanya, Krishna. A History of Malayalam Literature. New Delhi: Orient

Longman, 1971. Print.

Chacko, I. C. Principles of Geography. n.p., n.d. Print.

Chadwick. Introductory Reports for Taluks: Report of the Madras Lands Reforms Committee Vol.II, Madras: Government P, 1951. Print.

Iyer, Subra. Economic Life in a Malabar Village. Introduction by Gilbert Slater, Bangalore: B.P.P., 1921. Print.

Jeffrey, Robin. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. Print.

Logan, William. Malabar Manual. Trans. T. V. Krishnan et al. Calicut: Mathrubhoomi, 1985. Print.

Manorama Year Book. Kottayam: Manorama Publishing House, 1985. Print. Marx, Karl. Notes on Indian History, 664 A.D to 1858 A.D., 2nd ed., Moscow:

Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947. Print.

Menon, P. Sankunni. History of Travancore. Trivandrum: Government of Kerala Gazeteers, Reprint, 1983. Print.

Munro, Sir Thomas. “Minutes of 1822”, par. 8, Selection of Papers from the East India House. Vol. XIII, 1926. Print.

Nambiar, Kunchan. Thullalkathakal. Malayalam, n. p.:Academy, n.d. Print.

Namboodiripad, E.M.S. Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees lst ed., Trivandrum: Kerala Grandhasala Sahakarana Sangham, 1948. Print.

—. Kerala: Society and Politics; A Historical Survey. New Delhi: NBC, 1984. Print.

—. The Communist Party in Kerala (Mal.), Part I, Trivandrum: Chintha, 1986.

Print.

Panikkar, K. N. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” A.

R. Desai, (Ed.). Peasant Struggles in India. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. Print.

Pillai, T. K. Velu. The Travancore State Manual Vol. IV. Trivandrum : Government P, 1940. Print.

—. The Travancore State Manual, Vol. I. Trivandrum: Government P, 1940.

Print.

Pothuval, A. K. The Story of Peasant Struggles. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1978.

Print.

Ravindran, T. K. Institutions and Movements in Kerala – History. Trivandrum: Charitram, 1978. Print.

Rao, M. R. Krishna. A Revenue Handbook of Travancore. Madras: Addison & Co., 1889. Print.

Rao, Sir T. Madhava. “Land Revenue.” Administrative Report of Travancore 1868.

Trivandrum: Government P, 1868. Print.

Varghese, T. C. Agrarian Change and Economic Consequences: Land Tenure in Kerala. Calcutta: Allied, 1970. Print.

Ward and Cannor. A Descriptive Memoir of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin.

Madras: Survey General’s Office, 1827. Print.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RADICALISM DURING THE PRE-CLASS CONSCIOUS PERIOD

Abstract: This section focuses on the social and political changes that happened during the pre-class conscious period. 1850-1936 C.E. is taken to be the pre- class conscious period in Kerala. This study traces the various socio-spiritual reform movements, agitations and the influence of renaissance leaders of that

period.

Keywords: administrative modernisation, radicalism, socio-spiritual reform movements

1850-1936 A.D. is taken to be the pre-class conscious period in Kerala. From 1860 A.D. the Travancore Government started the ‘administrative modernisation’- abolition of slavery, abolition of ‘uzhiyam’ (forced labour), creation of the P.W.D., introduction of cash economy and salaried labour, increase of export, full ownership rights to tenants, patriarchal family, encouraging English education, industries – coir and plantation and so on. The modernisation brought about a budgetary surplus, the bulk of which was distributed among the high castes. The large majority, the non-caste Hindus were kept away from the benefits. At the same time, modernisation started the process of undermining the semi-tribal feudal system of society. The various castes and communities from the ‘Namboodiri’ to the ‘Pulaya’ were trying to adapt to the changes. Each caste tried to effect modernisation and attempted to gain power by securing maximum Government jobs. In this, the greatest degree of benefit went to the non-Malayali Brahmins. The Christians were benefited by the introduction of cash economy. There was a threat of displacement of the Nayars from their traditional status. Those who were suffering traditional discrimination organised themselves and started agitating for equality. At the same time, the major social groups allied together and started to agitate against the non- Malayali Brahmin domination. It assumed the form of the pioneer movement of the ‘Malayali sub-nationalism’- ‘Malayali Memorial’ of 1891.

The early twentieth century witnessed a spiritual revival based on the ‘Vedantic Thought’, by Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal, Brahmananda Siva Yogi and Vaghbhadananda Guru. They stood for a total change based on ‘Humanism’. It effected radical changes among all social groups. The ‘Civil Equality’ movement, the ‘Temple Entry Agitations’ leading to the ‘Vaikom Sathyagraha’ and the ‘Abstention Movement’ were the radical socio-political agitations which resulted from the revival. With the ‘Temple Entry Proclamation’ of 1936, the leaders of social radicalism almost stopped their anti-Government agitations and started supporting the Government. But the workers and peasants who were already influenced by the radical views of Equality and Freedom left their loyalty to caste leaders and started accepting class leaders with secular outlook, mostly hailing from partitioned Nayar joint-families or from Namboodiri familes. Thus casteism was slowly displaced by class consciousness. Leaders like K. Kelappan, A. K. Gopalan and P. Krishna Pillai were undertaking social issues like ‘Temple Entry’ and gained the heritage of ‘social radicalism’ before organising workers and peasants to raise new demands of ‘political radicalism’. The first mass-based political movement in Malabar was the ‘Congress – Khilafat’ movement which culminated in the ‘Mappila revolt’ of 1921. But basic differences existed between the Congress leaders and the Mappila tenants. So, Congress had to withdraw support to the movement. It resulted in the alienation of the Muslim tenants from the Congress party. Thus the Muslim tenants and workers irrespective of class interest, remained communal and supported the Muslim League.

Travancore: Administrative Modernisation

In 1850, the Travancore Government owed the British Government Rupees six lakhs. The administration was corrupt and incompetent. The Christian missionaries complained of it to the Government of Madras. In 1855, the Madras Governor, Harris recommended to the Governor- General the annexation of Travancore, but Lord Dalhousie refused to interfere (Jeffrey 56-57). In 1860, the British Government asked the Government of Travancore to introduce programmes of modernisation. During the 1860s Dewan Sir. T. Madhava Rao tried to remodel the administration to win a good name with the British Government. It resulted in the administrative modernisation of Travancore with far reaching consequences (Ibid 62-65, 70, 81 & 175; Nayar 19).

In 1854, the Madras Government asked the Travancore Government to free unconditionally all slaves. Cochin immediately responded by abolishing slavery in 1855. On January 24, 1856, Travancore too ended slavery. Till 1860, ‘uzhiyam’ (forced labour) existed in Travancore. It was done by lower castes like Ezhavas, but poor Syrian Christians also did it. In 1854, Resident Munroe had arranged for Christians to be exempted from doing ‘uzhiyam’ for temples. In 1821, Charles Mead won for his Shanar converts the right of exemption from doing ‘uzhiyam’ on Sundays. Proclamation to that effect was issued in 1851. From that time onwards, the converts refused to do ‘uzhiyam’ completely. Gradually, the other lower castemen also refused to do ‘uzhiyam’. The Government at that time did not have the confidence and the ability to use force against them (Jeffrey 48-49, 54-55). By 1857, ‘uzhiyam’ had fallen into disuse. In 1857, when the Government thought of reviving ‘uzhiyam’, Resident Cullen discouraged it. In 1860, the Public Works Department was created and it introduced salaried labour for the first time. Thus forced labour ceased to exist in Travancore. The ultimate result of the abolition of slavery and forced labour was that gradually the lower castes who formed the majority of the proletariats got liberated from the bondage of the tradition of casteism and became bold enough to struggle for the attainment of increased political rights in later times (Ibid 55-56).

The systematic working of the P.W.D. began in 1863. Since the ‘uzhiyam’ had ceased to exist, labour was hard to find. An ordinary ‘cooli’ (labourer) was getting one and a half ‘Annas’ and one meal per day. The wage was raised to four ‘Annas’ per day. The raised wage and regular cash payment solved the labour problem. In the barter economy of Travancore, based on caste restrictions, the introduction of cash payment was beneficial to the labouring classes of various castes to get out of the caste bounds and also to improve their standard of living, though on a limited scale. According to the census of 1872, the labour class formed 18% of the total population. Of that, 27% were Pulayas, 20% were Ezhavas, 15% were Christians, 9% Muslims and 6% Nayars.1 Since the Pulayas were agro-labourers, they were not benefitted by the new development. Ezhavas and Christians, who had the maximum number of workers benefitted greatly by the introduction of cash payment. In 1850, there was not a single good road in the entire state. In 1866, the

P.W.D. had opened 195 miles of road. By 1869, 266 miles of road was developed. In 1872, the ‘Quilon-Shenkotta’ and ‘Kottayam- Peerumed’ roads were developed. The latter linked Kottayam with Madurai. The expenditure of P.W.D. which was only Rs. 38,550 in 1855 rose to Rs.

12.21 lakhs in 1871 (Jeffrey 90-97). It led to the development of Kottayam and the occupation of the wasteland along the road by Syrian Christians.

In the field of commerce too Sir T. Madhava Rao carried out reforms according to the direction of the British Government. In 1860, as per the direction of Resident Malty, the State monopolies in trade, tobacco, pepper, cardamom and other spices were abolished. It led to the development of commerce at Alleppey because smuggling of goods to Cochin stopped. In seven years from 1861-1868, the export of goods increased from Rupees 72 to 78 lakhs (Ibid 95-97).

Sir T. Madhava Rao collected Rupees one and a half crores as the value of land. At that time, the land relations too were suitable due to the ‘socal stagnation’ caused by casteism. The ‘Sarkar Pattomland’ could

Table 1: Travancore Castes 1872: Comparitive Table of Occupations

Occupation

Adult

Males

Brahmin

Nayar

Christian

Muslim

Ezhava

Agriculture

232776 (%

3063 (%

98326 (%

to class 42%) (%

to caste

22%)

54770 (%

14908 (%

to class 6%) (% to

caste

11%)

26891 (%

to class 12%) (%

to caste

7%)

to popula-

to class

to class

tion 20%)

1%) (to

23%) (%

caste 8%)

to caste

12%)

Labour

204330

0(…0%)

12491

29573

6582

40405

(Gen)

(% to

(…0%)

(…6%)

(…16%)

(…9%)

(…12%)

…18%)

(…3%)

(…6%)

(…5%)

(…11%)

Traders

161760

1010

2300

22413

13917

7311

(…5%)

(…2%)

(…1%)

(…36%)

(…23%)

(…12%)

(…3%)

(…11%)

(…5%)

(…10%)

(…2%)

Men of rank

565775

4857

15676

11078

1094

7393

& property

(…5%)

(…9%)

(…28%)

(…20%)

(…5%)

(…13%)

Learned –

6073

1923

1127

1057

459

233

Profession

(…1%)

(…32%)

(…18%)

(…17%)

(…7%)

(…4%)

(…5%)

(…2%)

(…0.1%)

(…3%)

…0.02%)

Government

14703

2157

8647

651

384

92

Service

(…1.2%)

(…15%)

(…59%)

(…4.4%)

(…3%)

(…6%)

(…6%)

(…2%)

(…0.14%)

(…3%)

(…0.)

Travancore Castes 1881: Comparative Table of Occupations

Adult

Males

Chalien

Shanar

Christians

Hindus

Ezhava

Weaving &

13104 (%

2244

2244

1451

4620

4621

Dress-

to total

(…14%)

(…17%)

(…11%)

(…32%)

(…35%)

making

popu

(…28%)

(…2%)

(…0.3%)

(…3%)

(…1%)

0.55%)

Astrologers

1145

Brahmin

Nayar

Kaniyan

0

181

(…0.55%)

214

219

531

(…19%)

(…19%)

(…19%)

(…19%)

(…0.

(…0.58%)

(…0.05%)

(…6%)

05%)

Thandan

Shanar

Nooliyan

Toddy

50240

2004

20606

300

27331

Drawers

(…2%)

(…4%)

(…41%)

(…0.6%)

(…54%)

(…)

(…9%)

(…16 %)

(…14%)

(…7%)

Source: 1. Derived from The Census Report, Travancore, 1872, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1876, pp. 253-260.

    1. The Census Report, Travancore, 1881, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1884, pp.192-93,117-20, 205 & 251.

not be sold or mortgaged, nor could a tenant get compensation for his improvements. If a ‘tharavad’ (joint family) held ‘Sarkar Pattomland’, all it could do was to live on it, it had no money value to the land of the family beyond the crop it produced. Tax was paid in kind. Even the most wealthy family had no experience in cash economy. The land was not an asset to the government too. The Government could not sell the land for non-payment of rent, so the collection of rent due was a difficult task. To solve the problem, in 1865, a proclamation was made giving full ownership rights on payment of the land value. Rights were given to holders of 200,000 acres of ‘Sarkar Pattomland’ for the value of rupees one and a half crores (Ibid 88). In 1867, by another proclamation, tenants of the landlords were given security of tenure, thereby curtailing the economic leverage of the landlords against the tenants, who, whether Nayars, Syrians or Ezhavas gained independence and room for political maoeuvre which was unique in Travancore (Idem; Raj xi).

The majority of the people who benefited by proclamations of modernisation in land relations were the Nayars. It resulted in a new dynamism in the social and economic fields. The younger generation demanded the partition of newly owned ‘Sarkar land’ of the joint families for the formation of patrilineal familes, for marriage regulations, etc., which in turn was leading to the emergence of responsible and dynamic unit of family based on individualism. At the same time, when matrilineal joint family got partitioned, a member was getting land which was an asset only if it was properly cultivated. But the Nayar having no experience in doing manual labour, found it difficult to survive. So, the partitioned land was soon mortgaged, and in due course, sold to an enterprising Christian, Muslim or Ezhava. Such men mostly from the Nair community were attracted to radical political ideologies like communism in the 1930s and 1940s (Nair 131-135).

As part of administrative modernisation, only English educated persons were selected to the Government jobs above that of a peon. The rate of literacy in English among various castes was as follows, in 1891. Among Namboodiris it was 27%; Nayars 11% and Ezhavas 1.5%.2 In 1869, sixteen District schools were established. In the same year, King Ayilyam Thirunal laid the foundation stone of the Maharaja’s College, and afterwards told his brother-in-law, “Well, Thampi, I have just laid the foundation stone of anarchy”(Jeffrey 73).

Table 2: Travancore Castes, 1891: Educational Attainment

Community/Caste

1875

1891

Brahmin

27.1%

30.7%

Nayar

11.1%

22.1%

Ezhava

1.5%

6.3%

English Literates

No. of Persons

Male

Female

Total

Brahmin

318

1

314

Nayar

572

42

614

Christian

534

66

600

Ezhava

15

0

15

Source: Derived from, Report on the Census of Travancore, 1891. Ed. Nagam Aiya V., Madras: Addison & Co., 1894, pp. i. 474 – 477.

The Government of Travancore started encouraging plantations also. Though the crops of Kerala had been a major attraction for foreigners from the fifteenth century onwards, Kerala had no tradition of large gardens devoted solely to export crops. The ryots grew a little pepper and the hill tribes collected wild cardamom and sold it to the State (qtd in Jeffrey 98). In 1860, the State monopoly of spice trade was abolished and European planters were allowed to start the plantation industry. In August 1862, six European planters were given 15118 acres of land for the purpose. In 1871-‘72, the value of coffee export rose to rupees 5.97 lakhs. In 1876- ‘77, it was rupees 9.89 lakhs. By 1891, tea plantations were started. There were forty European planters and about 100 estates covering 37500 acres. By the sale of land the Government got rupees 5.78 lakhs. During the second half of the 19th century, coconut became a cash crop. The value of export of copra doubled and that of coir nearly tripled during 1871-1891 period. The benefit of the development of ‘cash economy’ based on plantation industry in the High Ranges, and the coir industry in Alleppey and its support base of the west-coastland partially went to the Syrian Christians and the Ezhavas respectively(qtd in Jeffrey 106).

Surplus Wealth: Problem of Distribution

The modernisation policies of Madhva Rao made Travancore have a budgetory surplus of rupees five lakhs by 1859- ‘60. But the wealth produced by modernisation was distributed only among caste-Hindus. The large majority of the people were kept away from the benefits of modernisation due to caste disabilities. The attitude of the Government seemed to be that Travancore could develop without altering the basic social relations among various castes and communities. Still, the other castes and communities were also affected by modernisation. Every section rose a little, but the people at the top got the maximum benefit (Nayar 20; Jeffrey 88). The Maharaja’s College, at the apex of the State education system, was more or less a preserve of the caste-Hindus. The non-caste Hindus did not get admission till a few years after Madhava Rao left the State. Even in Trivandrum, the capital of the State, the proclamations removing caste disabilities remained on paper only (Ibid 102).

Though the policies of the Government in education over a short period strengthened the caste-Hindus, their long term result was adversely affecting them. The growth of ‘cash economy’, which was the result of land reforms, large scale plantations, extensive public works and increased trade, undermined the semi-tribal feudal system of society in Travancore. On the other side, the Syrian Christians, Ezhavas and non-Malayali Brahmins who had less burdensome family institutions and who were prepared to attempt new occupations and who had some experience in dealing with money, improved their economic position in relation to the traditional privileged classes like Nayars and Namboodiris (Ibid 103). During the late 19th century, when cash economy was displacing the semi-tribal feudal system of Travancore, various castes and communities were attempting to adapt to the changes. Educational attainments were translated into power in the Government service. The spread of English education undermined the privileges which the non- Malayali Brahmins had traditionally enjoyed. When English education was fixed as the basic qualification for Government service, there was an

Table 3: Travancore 1873: Offices Held by Non-Malayali Brahmins

Name of Office

Brahmins

Total Offices

Executive

3

5

Sardar Court Judge

1

4

Zilla Court Judge

5

11

Huzur Cutchery job

7

14

Licenced Pleader

25

37

Head Master:

District Schools

10

17

H.M., Vernacular Schools

17

29

Palace Jobs

7

14

Total

75 (57%)

131

Source: Dervied from, Trivandrum Almanak, Trivandrum: n.p. 1873, pp.51-64.

influx of non- Malayali Brahmins into Travancore displacing the Nayars who traditionally filled the posts in the Government service. At the same time, the Government helped the Nayars to get educated in English schools. In 1861, there were only 269 students in the State. In 1862, it doubled to 517. In 1864, it tripled with Tamil Nayars 517, Malayali Nayars 424, Christians 315, Non-Malayali Brahmins 266, Muslims 37, and Namboodiri 1, total 1560 (qtd in Jeffrey 82).3 The State education system created a network of jobs, patronage and prestige which was reserved for caste-Hindus. The State Schools were closed against the Non-Caste Hindus. Their only hope was the Christian mission schools. The continuing emphasis on educational qualifications awakened expectations even among non-caste Hindus. They asked, if graduates are preferred for Government jobs, why not Ezhava graduates, why not Syrian Christians? (Ibid 82)4

Modernisation Among Nayars

In 1872, Nayars formed 20% of the population of Travancore. Of men of rank and property, they formed 28%. They held 18.5% of learned professions, 59% of jobs in the Government service and 42% of tenants.5

But by the end of the 19th century, they were in a precarious condition. They had to enforce traditional social privileges against the non-caste Hindu pressures and had to bargain for higher jobs against non-malayali Brahmins. The English educated Nayars found that they had to adapt themselves to the new situation of ‘cash economy’ and modernisation. The first M.A. Degree holder, P. Thanu Pillai formed in the 1870s the ‘Malayali Social Union’. Its aim was modernising the Nayar caste. But his hostility with the Brahmins resulted in his transfer to Quilon. In 1883, C. Krishna Pillai formed the ‘Malayali Sabha’.

Table 4: Land Transaction: Travancore, August 1907

Category

Sales in rupees

Mortgages in rupees

Total

in rupees

+ or –In rupees

Nayars Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

1220264

1739607

7640804

8998463

8861068

10738070

– 1877002

Samantas Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

11829

17298

63423

94605

75252

111903

-36651

Christians Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

2244641

1982647

8007137

6698124

9851778

8680771

+1171007

Ezhavas Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

1171197

1053763

4231665

4044083

5392862

5098476

+294386

Shanars Buyers or mortgagees Sellors or mortgagors

308643

303261

1249291

1171664

1557934

1474925

+83009

Source: Report of the Marumakkathayam Committee, Travancore, Trivandrum: Government Press,1908.

It too stood for social reforms and criticised the Government for patronising the Brahmins. The Sabha attacked the Government for excluding the Nayars from the top positions of the administration(qtd in Jeffrey 148-150 & 219).6

The Malayali Memorial, 1891

The Malayali Sabha agitated for the exclusion of Non-Malayali Brahmins from the State administration, in January 1891, in the form of a representation called, ‘The Malayali Memorial’. The ‘Memorial’ was the first mass based political movement in Travancore. It had allies from other castes and communities such as Ezhavas, and Syrian Christians. Dr. P. Palpu and Nidhiri were associated with the ‘Memorial’. It claimed to express the grievances of all Travancoreans (Ibid 219).7 But very soon, a favourable understanding was reached between the Nayar leaders of Trivandrum and the Brahmin Dewan on the question of Government jobs. It inactivated the Nayar organised activity for the time being. But, with the establishment of the Nayar Service Society in 1914, the progressive sections of the Nayar caste were united and it was instrumental in spreading the call for modernisation not only among the Nayars, but even outside it (Idem).

The British of Radicalism and the Nayars

The Cochin Nayar Regulation Act of 1921, The Travancore Nayar Regulation Act of 1925 and The Malabar Matrilineal Act of 1927 resulted in the partition of the joint family among the Nayars. Thus the efforts of

O. Chandu Menon, Kesari Nayanar, C. Sankaran Nayar, C. Krishna Pillai,

K. Kelappan, Changansseri Parameswaran Pillai, Mannathu Padmanabhan and others, for legalising the marriage reform among the Nayars almost materalised (Namboodiripad 248). But it precipitated new problems among the Nayars. The income from the partitioned share was much less than that of the salary of an elementary school teacher. Since the Nayars had no experience of working on land, they could not utilise it for productive purposes. It made them get loans by mortgaging the land, becoming bankrupt, leading to the sale of the land. Thus thousands of young men and women left their native land for a living.8

Though the social reform among the Nayars was sucessfully brought about by the Nayar Service Society, it lacked the machinery to solve the economic crisis that followed the Regulation Acts. It was partly because the Nayars with progressive views like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai had already become nationalists. They thought only a national Government could solve the economic problems and regarded communalism as unpatriotic. The position was also aggravated by the Christians playing minority politics. The N.S.S. leaders like Mannathu Padmanabhan and leaders of the Cochin Nayar Samajam tried to inflame Nayar communalism against the Christians. It was possible because the Christians who benefited by the cash economy were purchasing the partitioned land of the Nayars. Thus the N.S.S. began competing with the Christians to achieve parity in establishing schools, banks, estates etc. This kind of competition for parity among Nayars, Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims has emerged as a permanent socio-political factor in Kerala politics (Namboodiripad 250).

The failure to outdo the Christians resulted in hatred and frustration among the Nayars which had its reflection in politics. When the Travancore State Congress started agitating for responsible Government, the N.S.S. supported the ‘Dewan’s rule’ and accused the State Congress of being a party dominated by the Christians. It propagated that the Congress Government would result in the domination of the Christians. When a secret fraction of the Communist Party of India (C.P.I) was formed in Kerala in 1937, at Calicut, the three out of the four members, (P. Krishna Pillai, K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar) were from the partitioned joint families of Nayars (Infra 318).

Modernisation Among Ezhavas

The Ezhavas (Thiyars) of Kerala form 22.2 % of the total population and they are the single largest social group. In ritual status, they were just below Nayars and above other non-caste Hindus. Though they were untouchables and were denied formal education in public schools, according to the 1872 census report, 13% of the ‘men of rank and property’, 4% of ‘learned profession’, 19% of ‘astrologers’ were Ezhavas. At the same time, 54% of the ‘toddy drawers’, 35% of the ‘weavers and dress makers’, 12% of ‘agriculturists’, 12% of ‘traders’ and 20% of the ‘labourers’ belonged to the Ezhava caste. But, in the Government service, their representation was only 0.02%.9 The growth of cash economy opened up areas where Ezhavas could profitably employ themselves. Traditionally, they were dryland cultivators and planters of coconut trees. When the cash-economy developed, their traditional occupation was becoming an economic asset. That was different from the case of other non-caste Hindus like potters or black-smiths to whom the greater availability of factory-made goods in the nineteenth century was harmful to their existence (Jeffrey 141).

The West coastland is predominantly occupied by Ezhavas. The new land policy of Dewan Madhava Rao (Proclamations of 1865 and 1867) enabled them to occupy the wasteland and to plant coconut trees. Since there existed no original settlements of Namboodiris in the West- coastland, the Brahminical influence was comparatively nil in the region (Supra 51;n 66). The Ezhavas of the West-coastland became economically powerful when the commercial potentiality of coconut increased gradually during the later part of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century and when the trading centre of Alleppey began to prosper. The marginal financial power based on the cash crop, coconut, gave Ezhavas of the West-coastland room for political manoeuvre which took the shape of long agitations for social and political equality, which lasted till 1936.

From 1884 onwards, the British Government was getting petitions from the Ezhavas about caste discrimination (Palpu 3). The ‘Malayali Memorial’ stated the following about the Ezhavas and the public service:

…worse than all, there is not a single member of the Thiya community holding a Government appointment on rupees five or upwards a month in the State, though intelligent and educated men are not wanting among them…(Ibid; qtd in Jeffrey 142)10

The Ezhavas suffered many caste disabilities and they were aware of it. In 1870, the British Resident wrote:

There can be no doubt that the spirit which prevented Ezhavas from keeping milk cows, from using oil mills, metal vessels and umbrellas, from wearing shoes and any coarse clothes and ornaments is still alive and active in many parts of the country. (qtd in Jeffrey 143)11

The Ezhavas could worship only inferior deities like, ‘Mariamman’, ‘Yakshi’, ‘Karuppaswami’, ‘Madan’, ‘Bhoodathan’ etc. They could not have ‘Maha Temple’, but could have only ‘Paycoils’, ‘Ammancoils’, and ‘Elangom’ (Aiya 1876).

P. Palpu (1861-1950) was the pioneer of the ‘Civil Rights’ movement in Travancore. His father was denied the right to write the test to the pleadership examination on caste grounds. Palpu’s brother,

P. Velayudhan, who was a Deputy Collector in the Civil Service of the Madras Government, had applied for a job in Travancore in 1882, when he passed the B.A. Degree, but it was denied on caste basis. Palpu was denied admission to the medical education though he secured second position in the test in 1884. Later, he qualified himself as the first L. M. & S. degree holder from Travancore and applied for a job. He too was denied job on caste grounds. He entered into the Mysore Government service and became the Director of the Lymph Institute. He identified himself with the disabilities of his caste and started constitutional agitation against the caste policy of the Government of Travancore, which denied Civil Rights to the vast majority of the people. In this task, he got the support of G. P. Pillai, T. M. Nayar and K. P. Sankara Menon, who were the leaders of the ‘anti-Brahmin movement’ of the time (Gangadharan 1,8).12

Palpu was the third signatory of the ‘Malayali Memorial’ which was the first democratic agitation for popular rights in Travancore. Palpu sent a series of petitions of grievances to the Dewan Shungra Soobyer and in 1896, he submitted the ‘Ezhava Memorial’ to the Government of Travancore with 13,176 signatures. He made representations to the Madras Government, and also made arrangements for raising the issue of discrimination in the Madras Assembly. He made G. P. Pillai to go to England with a letter of introduction from Sister Nivedita to Herbert Roberts M. P., to ask questions in the Parliament about the treatment of depressed classes in Travancore. In 1885 in the National Social Conference held in Poona, G. P. Pillai, a close friend of Palpu, introduced a resolution on the issue of conversion of lower castes to Christianity due to social discrimination in Hinduism. As a result of those efforts, Dewan Shungra Soobyer agreed to Palpu’s demand to open the doors of Public Service in a limited fashion for Ezhavas. He said in February 1886:

…your community has a reasonable complaint …. excluding the community from Public Service, tends to increase the number of converts… Government is prepared to admit … your community where native Christians and Mohamedans are now entertained… the Thiya may get into police, P.W.D., Medical, Educational and … in Judicial Departments except Revenue. No endorsement describing the policy of the Government can be given, it is objectionable…(Ibid 28)

In 1924, he wrote to the British Prime Minister, Ramsay Mc Donald on behalf of the ‘working and depressed classes’ (Balakrishnan 98-106).

Socio-Spiritual Reform Movement:

Militant in Spirit, Non-violent in Action

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and by the beginning of the twentieth century, a revolutionary transformation was taking place in the society of Kerala. During that period, Kerala witnessed a profound awakening of ‘Humanism’ which expressed itself in a number of socio- spiritual reform movements, militant in spirit but peaceful and nonviolent in action. The revival movement was spearheaded by three great ‘Rishis’ (Saints) of traditional style, ie., Sree Narayana Guru (1856-1928), Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal (1854-1924) and Brahmananda Siva Yogi (1852-1929). These ascetic geniuses did the magic work of transforming the human beings of Kerala who were living like worms due to the cruel caste based feudal oppression that lasted for a period of thousand years, into a people with self-respect. Since that great change involved the revival of the ancient Vedanta philosophy and its application into practical life, recognising the dignity of individual, humanism and progress by attacking the fedual superstitions, it is aptly called, the ‘Renaissance Movement’ in Kerala. One important feature of the movement deserves specific mention – it awakened the masses to liberate themselves from bondage. As a result, common men of all castes, from Namboodiris to Pulayas, underwent fundamental changes in their outlook and activities so that, it paved the way for the evolution of a progressive-minded society in Kerala. In short, due to the above changes, the static, ritualistic, superstitious Kerala, which was once called by Swami Vivekananda a ‘lunatic asylum’, regenerated into a dynamic, worldly, rational and progressive minded Kerala.

Sree Narayana Guru Movement

Engels said, “Any movement that wants to do goodness to a people who are deeply immersed in spiritualism, have to take the cover of a religion” (qtd in K. Maheswaran Nayar 208). In Kerala the ‘Sree Narayana Guru Movement’ was serving such a role. Even before the clarion call of Marx and Engels for the ‘unity of workers all over the world’ reached India, Narayana Guru organised the downtrodden people of Kerala and gave the inspiring slogan, ‘Organise and be Strong’ (Ibid 87).13 The Guru had deep knowledge of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil, but knew no English. He is often called ‘the central pillar’ of the Cultural Renaissance in Kerala. The outstanding literary critic of Malayalam, Joseph Mundasseri qualified him as the ‘Polestar’ of the literary revolution and the ‘poet of poets’ (Nayar, Sree Narayana Guru, Religion & Marxism 87). The Guru has to his credit fifty two poetic works. He imbibed in himself all the spiritual and worldly traditions of Vedic knowledge, otherwise called ‘Practical Advaita’.

The whole of India and Kerala in particular were badly in need of a ‘Gospel of Liberation’. The existing feudal beliefs

in spirituality and asceticism made man reject worldliness. The rich caste-Hindus made the non-caste Hindus who formed the vast majority live like cattle and made them believe that their destiny was unchangeable. It was here that Narayana Guru turned to be a rebel (Sreedharan 2). The Guru stated that the basic knowledge of Vedanta is not to get rid of worldliness but to reform it to higher evolution. He commanded and fought for the basic ‘human rights’ of millions who were denied those opportunities. Thus his greatest achievement was in moulding the Indian concept of the ‘Theology of Liberation’ by smelting the entire Indian spiritual thoughts (Ibid 2). Narayana Guru’s ‘Liberation Philosophy’ embraces the entire humanity in all its aspects. It visualises a harmonious relation between the individual and the society, and leads man to the highest stage of evolution of wisdom. He said, “Time and place always precipitate a chief problem over other problems… Today, India needs what? Liberation from the rivalries of religions and castes” (Damodaran 59-60).

With the domination of the Brahmins, the basic values of human love and compassion disappeared from social life. Instead, the value created was, ‘worship of Brahmin’. Faith in rebirth made man merciless to the underdogs of society. The suffering men were believed to be men of ‘sinful origin’.14 The Guru went down to such a barren society to re- establish lost human values. In 1887, he preached his ‘Liberation Philosophy’ of ‘wiping out tears of the ignorant, the sick and the suffering’. That mission was well explained in the following four verses which he composed in 1887.

The sun has already risen, displacing the moonlight; Before fully immersing me, in that ocean of light,

I have to baptise millions;

Full of ignorance, disease and drunkenness.

(My translation) (Guru, “Subrahmanya Keerthanam” 72)

Here, the Guru proclaims the goal of his spiritual attainment as the liberation of the ignorant, the sick and the suffering. That vision was quite new to the traditional belief of the Hindu society. On the basic values of non-violence and compassion, he wrote three poems – ‘Ahimsa’, ‘Jeevakarunya Panchakom’ and ‘Anubhava Dasakom’. In 1887 itself, Guru projected one Upanishad, ‘Isavasyopanishad’, the opening stanza of which contained the question of accumulation of wealth. It says:

Since the Universal power resides everywhere, In everything, wherever worldly,

You sacrifice everything and live detached, Wealth is nobody’s. (Yati 9-11)

The Guru wanted every man to educate himself and be free. Even his concept of God is the ‘Arivilum Aeriya Arivu’ (Higher Knowledge of all Knowledges). In 1887, he wrote a poem of fifteen stanzas about ‘Arivu’ (Knowledge). Wherever he established temples, schools, libraries and workshops too were established. Later, he told people that no more temples were needed and instead, they can have schools to spread knowledge. His message for education was well responded to by the people. Even the downtrodden got educated. The call of the Guru, to “Educate and be Free” and “Organise and be Strong’, were taken with such missionary spirit that the labourers of Ambalapuzha – Sherthallai taluks achieved the highest literacy rate. There, by 1941, the general literacy rate shot up to 65%. Among the Ezhavas who formed 80% of the labourers of Alleppey – Sherthallai, the Sree Moolam Assembly recorded, “Most of them are able to read and some of them are able to edit newspapers. Many of them deliver splendid lecturers. Some of them are even able to compose beautiful poems in Malayalam” (Jeffrey, “India’s Working Class Revolt: Punnapra Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946’’ 103-04).

In 1888, Guru installed a ‘Sivalinga’ at Aruvipuram and declared his vision in four lines:

This is the ideal place wherein, Everyone lives in fraternity.

With no difference of caste,

Nor religious hatred. (My Translation)

With the installation of the Sivalinga, the Guru silently violated the thousand year old ritualistic monopoly of the Brahmins for the installation of noble gods, Sanskritised rituals and ‘Maha Temples’ (Great Temples). His temple at Tellichery named, ‘Jaganatha Temple’ was built in lines with the great Brahmin temple of Banares. It is a wonder how the Brahmins and the theocratic Government of the time could tolerate the Guru. Even after pollution was made unconstitutional by the Government of free India in 1982, the Brahmin disciple of Narayana Guru, Swami Ananda Theerdhan was fatally beaten down in the Guruvayur temple when he tried to participate in the Brahmin feast without wearing the ‘poonul’ (Holy thread) (Supra 104-07).15

Though the Guru selected the Ezhava caste as his immediate field of action, he never believed in casteism. What he did to Ezhavas became a model for other castes to copy. To disprove casteism, in 1914, he wrote the poem, ‘Jatinirnayam’ (Deciding caste) (Guru 487).16 In another poem, ‘Jatilakshanam’, Guru explains the symptoms of caste. All that have sexual intercourse and reproduce form is one caste. They remain in pairs. Each is a species with distinct body, sound, smell, fluid and temperature. Tell not caste, the body tells the caste. Humanity belongs to one caste. All emerged from the great ‘Ocean of Knowledge’. Each individual is like water that forms part of the ocean. Each kind is moulded by a master sculptor. He makes new moulds too, it is an unending process. Each kind is separately mentioned since difference in consciousness exists. Once the difference disappears, all are the same (Guru, “Jatilakshanam” 491).

Guru and the S. N. D. P. Yogam

With Narayana Guru as its President, the Aruvipuram S. N. D. P. Yogam was registered as a limited Company in March 1903. Differences of opinion exist about the role of the Guru in its establishment. There is a view that, the Guru just gave his consent to be its President, and had no active role in its creation or working. According to Moorkoth Kumaran, one of the devoted non-sanyasi disciples of the Guru:

…the bye-laws of the S.N.D.P. Yogam were read out to the Guru by Kumaran Asan. Guru objected to the purpose of the organisation being confined to the Ezhavas. He wanted it to be changed to, ‘the community of human family’. But the activists of the Yogam, mostly Ezhavas, thought it was not pragmatic or feasible to have such a goal as the basis of the Yogam. When the Guru found that they were incapable of such a wide vision, he gave his blessings, with the hope that someday they would realise the narrowness of their tribal affinity. (qtd in Omana 27-28)17

On verifying the original (unpublished) records for registering the

S.N.D.P. Yogam with the Government as a limited Company in March 1903, the following facts can be derived. The Government file contains two parts. Part I contains the Bye-laws and the proceedings. The Bye- laws contain sixteen clauses. None of the clauses speaks of any caste. The sixteenth clause clearly states the ‘casteless’ nature of the organisation. Below the sixteenth clause the signature of the Guru can be seen with those of ten other original share holders. There are two witnesses to the Bye-laws and Proceedings. The first witness is N. Kumaran Asan and the second witness is P. Narayana Pillai, a close disciple of the Guru. But Part II of the file gives a different picture. It is an application to the Dewan of Travancore to register the S. N. D. P. Yogam as a limited company by two persons – P. Parameswaran of Pettah and Marthandan Krishnan. There, the caste objective of the organisation is clearly given: “promoting and encouraging religious and secular education and industrious habits among the Ezhava community.” It closes with the order of the Dewan to issue the licence of the Yogam as a limited Company to the applicants, P. Parameswaran and Marthandan Krishnan.18

The Guru felt that the S. N. D. P. Yogam should function as the vanguard of his ‘Liberation Movement’. But as the leadership of the Yogam could not rise upto the expectations of the Guru; it could work only as a ‘caste organisation’. So the Guru issued a public statement in 1916, denouncing caste connections and sent a letter of resignation from the S. N. D. P. Yogam to P. Palpu. The two statements are:

We have no caste

Advaidasramam, Alwaye

1091 Edavam 15.

A few years have passed since we left all caste differences.Yet,

some particular caste treats us as one who belongs to their caste. Therefore, it is understood that several people misunderstood our reality.

We belong to no specific caste or religion. Regulations are made only for such disciples who have no caste or religion to become our descendants.

These things are published for the information of the public.

(Signed)

Narayana Guru19

Advaidasraman,

22 May, 1916

To

Dr. Palpu, L.M.S., D.P.H.

My dear Doctor,

Since the decisions of the Yogam are passed without our knowledge and the Yogam shows no consideration to the affairs relating to us and the Yogam has an increasing ‘caste pride’, as earlier, it has no place in our mind; now it is left from our words and actions.

(Signed)

Narayana Guru20

The traditional society of Kerala confined itself to the limited circles of castes and sub-castes. Only a fractional minority could rise above the narrow limits of casteism. The Sanyasi-disciples of Narayana Guru were such men of high ideals. They belonged to different castes and religions. Majority of them were caste-Hindus, from Brahmins to Nayar. His first sanyasi-disciple was a Nayar named, Kochappi Pillai, who was known as Sivalinga Swamikal. His last disciple Swami Anandatheerdhan, who passed away in 1987, belonged to an aristocratic Brahmin family. Another disciple, Chaitanya Swamikal, formerly known as Narayana Pillai, was a Nayar. He was an original signatory to the Bye-laws and Proceedings of the S.N.D.P.Yogam. He was so trusted by the Guru that the ‘power of attorney’ of the Guru’s properties was given in his name, ignoring the protests from the leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam. Another disciple, Dharmatheerdha Swamikal was formerly Advocate Parameswara Menon, who also was a Nayar. He was a leading lawyer of Trichur. He wrote the first biography of the Guru in English. ‘Satyavrada Swamikal’ was the right-handman and the spokesman of Guru. He was named to be the successor of the Guru. Formerly his name was Ayyappan Pillai. He too was a Nayar. The Christian disciple was Ernest Kirk, an English man (Upendran 196-202). Columbil Khadar was his Muslim disciple. Another close associate was, Aziz Musliar, a Muslim scholar, the Guru wanted Musliar to teach the Holy Koran at Sivagiri (Hameed npg).21

The Sanyasi-disciples of Narayana Guru were not hermits. They moved from village to village, preaching the new message of liberation: ‘Educate and be Free’, ‘Organise and be Strong’ ‘Making Libraries and Literary Centres’, ‘Opening Schools and Industries’, ‘Propagating Dignity of Labour’, ‘Abstention from Alcoholic Drinks’, ‘Propaganda Against Evil Customs and Superstitions’, ‘Anti-Caste Movements’, ‘Inter- Dining and Inter-Marriages’ etc. These calls got wonderful reception from the underdogs of society. Satyavrada Swamikal, having resemblance to Swami Vivekananda in appearance and speech inflated enthusiasm among the youth of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. For the revolutionary volunteer force, ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’, Swamikal was a great source of inspiration. In the biography of the late Communist leader, R. Sugathan, Puthupally Raghavan says that the publication of ‘Satyavrada Swamikal, Navajeevan helped very much in the spreading of socialist ideas among the labourers of Alleppey and Sherthallai. At that time, he was a regular speaker in the meetings of the labourers. Articles about socialism, the biography of Lenin, studies about Soviet Union etc., regularly appeared in the Navajeevan of Satyavrada Swamikal and Sahodaran of K. Ayyappan (Raghavan 22). To the instructions of the Guru, Swamikal organised the World Religious Conference at Alwaye, which was the first of its kind in Asia. It was Satyavrada Swamikal who introduced the leaders of the lime shell workers of Kumarakom to T. K. Madhavan. Those workers were suffering from slave like life under the monopolist, one Kuncheria. T. K. Madhavan organised them, terminated the monopoly with the help of the Government and organised the ‘Lime Shell Workers’ Co-operative Society’.22

Besides the Sanyasi-disciples, the Guru had disciples of familymen. The chief among them were, the great poet Kumaran Asan, Dr. Palpu, C.

V. Kunjuraman, T. K. Madhavan, Sahodaran Ayyappan, C. Kesavan, Moorkoth Kumaran and C. Krishnan. Of the second category of disciples, the majority were active leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam who worked for the betterment of the Ezhava caste. They used the spiritual influence of the Guru in the interests of the caste. It made the Guru resign from the Yogam in 1916. But the unselfish devotion, sincerity and dedication of T.

K. Madhavan to the teachings of the Guru, once again moved the Yogam close to the Guru. When T. K. Madhavan became the General Secretary of the Yogam, he gave assurance to the Guru that, he would enlist as members in the Yogam, people of all castes and communities and that the Yogam would work for the uplift of the downtrodden (Madhavan 281). S.N.D.P. Yogam under T. K. Madhavan took interest in labourers. As part of the annual meeting of the Yogam in 1917 at Quilon, a labour conference was held. The conference was presided over by T. K. Madhavan. It was the first labour conference in Kerala (Idem). In 1927, the Yogam workers of Kuttanad requested through a resolution to T. K. Madhavan that the Yogam must interfere in the labour problems of Kuttanad (Ibid 321-322). That might be because, the agro-labourers were mostly low caste people – Ezhavas and Pulayas. Very soon, the first agro- labour strike took place in Kuttanad, at the direction of T. K. Madhavan.23 At that time, most of the labour leaders of Alleppey – Sherthallai region worked in the S.N.D.P. Yogam and its supplementary organisations. Such organisations were the ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’, ‘Karappuram Sahodara Samajam’ etc. About the Communist leader, R. Sugathan, it was said:

The entire time after teaching in the school, Sreedharan (original name of Sugathan) spent in activities of the S.N.D.P. Yogam and anti-pollution work. In Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks, apart from the Yogam, other organisations such as, ‘Sahodara Samajam’, ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’ etc., worked actively. Under the banner of those organisations, public meetings were held daily. (Raghavan 23)

About the relation between the Yogam and the labourers, the once trade union leader and the General Secretary of the Yogam, V. K.Velayudhan says:

Since 90% of the Alleppey-Sherthallai coir factory workers were Ezhavas, it happened that the Yogam took some interest in the labourers. The Alleppey labour was represented in the S.N.D.P. Yogam Board. As the representatives of the labourers, two persons were taken in the Board of the Yogam. I remember, they were C. K. Velayudhan and R. Sugathan. (quoted in Raghavan 47)

After his resignation from the S.N.D.P. Yogam in 1916, Narayana Guru spent most of his time in the Advaita Ashram at Alwaye. From 1917 onwards K. Ayyappan was building a non-caste organisation, ‘The Sahodara Samajam’ (Brotherhood Organisation), with the blessings of the Guru. It stood for ‘Inter-Dinning’ and ‘Inter-Marriage’. Demonstrations with the slogans, “Truth, Equality, and Freedom”, making propaganda meetings at public places and burning the effigy of ‘caste-demon’ were frequent. These were carried out daily. The anniversary of the ‘Brotherhood Movement’ was held at the Advaida Ashram campus in 1921, presided over by Narayana Guru. The local police gave a detailed report to the Commissioner of Police about it. The report is indicative of the degree of awareness the teachings of Narayana Guru could generate at the grass-roots level, and how much the Government and the caste-Hindus were afraid of it.24

Vidyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal

The original genius of Kerala revived itself in Vidyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal. Swamikal laid the foundation for the cultural, literary and spiritual revival in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Like John the Baptist who paved the way for the activities of Jesus Christ, Swamikal prepared the ground for the work of Narayana Guru (Guru, “Guruvarul” 842). In those days, the Brahmins branded the Nayars as Sudras and denied them spiritual knowledge. Through his authoritative works, Swamikal wiped out the inferiority complex of the Nayar caste, made them aware of their ancient rich heritage and exposed the falsehood of ‘Smritis’ of the Brahmins. With the purpose, Swamikal wrote, ‘Vedadhikara Niroopanam’ and ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 26).

Swamiji’s first work, ‘Christumathaschedanam’ was published in 1890 (Swamikal 9). In Kerala, the role of the ‘Vaisya’ caste was performed by the Christians. They had special rights and were called, the ‘Pancha Varna’ (Fifth caste) (Logan 283-289). With the British rule, the Christian influence further increased. Missionary activity became very strong. They started to ridicule the Hindu religion (qtd in Swamikal 9). With the change in the land relations in Travancore, the power of the feudal chiefs declined. The Nayars were their traditional supervisors. When the power of the landlords declined, the wealthy Christians started buying the land and the Nayars had to accept their domination in some area of Travancore. This created problems of intolerance. For example, in Poonjar, though a princely family was once dominant there, when the Hindus tried to stage the story of Ramayana, the Christians objected, resulting in the killing of ten Hindus (Nayar, Autobiography Vol. I. 246- 247). Even Chattambi Swamikal was once blocked on his way to the Ettumannur temple and the temple was ridiculed as a ‘dungeon hell’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 26).25 It was in that circumstance, Swamikal published the ‘Christumataschedanam’.

Based on deep scholarly and rational analysis, Swamikal wrote the ‘Vedadhikaraniroopanam’ (Critical Analysis of the Authority to Study Vedas). It uprooted the traditional religious sanction that prohibited the vast majority from acquiring knowledge. Even the great poet of Malayalam literature, Thunchathu Ezhuthachan composed his classic work, ‘Ramayana’, apologetically since his caste had no religious sanction to learn, teach or hear spiritual knowledge (Pillai, “Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal” 35). The ‘Vedadhikaraniroopanam’ called for a ‘Universal Declaration of Knowledge’. To quote Swamikal:

… Lastly, does anybody accept when it is prohibited that the Sudras should not eat? If food is essential for survival of any living being, for man then, knowledge is equally essential. So, knowledge should not be denied, nobody has the right to do so. If the greatness of the Vedas is diminished by Sudras learning it, how long will its greatness last? Like nothing can make fire impure, whoever may study Vedas, it remains pure, its greatness never decreases. So without dogmatism, knowledge should be imparted to everyone’s desires. (qtd in Ibid 36)26

After establishing the right of the Vedic knowledge for Sudras, he ordained that the Sudras having Vedic knowledge can establish temples and idols. His motive was to democratise the Hindu religion. He had a practical scheme for that, ‘The Advaita Chinda Padhati’. To make the Hindu religion reach the non-Brahmin masses, Swamikal made his disciple Neelakandatheerdhapada Swamikal write two ritualistic books, ‘Devarchana Padhadi’ and ‘Aachara Padhadi’ (Nayar, Chattambi Swamikal 48).

The ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ which was published in 1913, marked the dawn of analytical research in the study of Kerala History. It inaugurated an intellectual revolution at the time. That great work pulled up and liberated, by revealing the history of a glorious past to a large majority of people who were living a shameful life for several centuries under Brahminical domination (Thirumulpad 2 & 3).27 Swamikal analyses one by one all the Namboodiri tales about Parasurama’s Kerala in the light of ‘Puranas’ (Epics), history and reason and threw them to the winds. The conclusion of the work can be listed as follows: 1. The land of Kerala is not a creation of Parasurama, he neither brought the Brahmins to Kerala nor did he make any gift of land, 2. Even before the Brahmins went to Kerala, it was occupied by a set of highly cultured people, they were ‘Nayars’ or ‘Nayakas’ (Leaders), 3. The ancient people were not affected by ‘Chatur Varna’, (Four fold Casteism), there was no casteism, 4. The original language of Kerala was Tamil and the people were Dravidians (Pillai, “Vidhyadhiraja Sree Chattambi Swamikal” 34 & 35). Thus Swamikal authoritatively denied the so-called Brahminical domination of ancient Kerala. Falsification of the Parasurama legends about Kerala and the glorification of an ancient past for the non-Brahmins provoked the conservative caste-Hindus. The then Dewan of Travancore, P. Rajagopalachari, Prof. Raja Raja Varma and the then Director of State Education, Rengaswami Iyyengar tried in vain, before Swamikal to challenge the ‘thesis’ of ‘Pracheena Malayalam’, at the residence of Mr. Iyyengar (Ibid 40). Pracheena Malayalam created ‘caste-pride’ among the Nayars. The pride that it radiated in the Nayar elite like Sir.

C. Sankaran Nayar and C. Krishna Pillai made them to declare loudly that Nayars are ‘Nayakars’. Sir C. Sankaran Nayar, who was to preside over the Amaravathi session of the Indian National Congress in 1897, on his journey to the north, found that the Brahmin Congressmen were refusing to dine with him by falsely identifying Nayar to Sudra (Menon 35).28 Instead of Sudras, the caste name ‘Nayar’ was adopted in the official documents of Travancore because of the awareness given by the ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ to the Nayar elite like C. Krishna Pillai (Pillai, Complete Works of Mannam 70).

Brahmananda Sivayogi & Vagbhadananda Guru

Brahmananda Sivayogi, whose original name was Govinda Menon, was born in Alathur in 1852. In 1907, he organised the youths by imparting rational thinking to fight against superstitions and blind faith. He questioned ‘God’, ‘idol worship’, ‘casteism’, and ‘religion’. ‘Human creativity’, ‘mental purity’, ‘human brotherhood’ and ‘cultural dynamism’ were upheld. The teachings of Sivayogi became popular during the life time of his disciple, Vagbhadananda Guru (Gopalakrishnan, “Brahmananda Sivayogi” 39-42).

Vagbhadananda Guru (1885-1940) too wanted to bring about social change by getting inspiration from the Vedanta philosophy. He boycotted temples and idols since the vast majority were kept away from temples and a minority owned them and benefited by them. In 1920, he founded an organisation for social change, ‘The Atmavidya Sangham’. It published newspapers and a magazine named, ‘Atmavidya Kahalam’, ‘Yajamanan’ & ‘Abhinava Kerala’ (Baby 48-50). Through Admavidya Sangham several youngsters entered the national movement. Communists like M. Kumaran Master said that the Sangham and its newspapers made them fight against casteism and helped them to become gradually communists. In politics, the Sangham actively supported the Civil Disobedience Movement, for which the Guru was seriously warned by the Government (Kurup, “Revolutionary Philosopher” ii). Influenced by Vagbhadananda, in 1935, A.V. Kunjambu organised the ‘Abhinava Yuvak Sangham’. It was organising the workers and peasants to agitate during 1930s, which later merged into the Communist movement. The first anniversary of the Sangham was convened in April 1936 at Karivallur. It was presided over by Vaghbhadananda and attended by peasant activists like Keraleeyan and Vishnubharatheeyan (Kurup, Modern Kerala 97).

The society of north Malabar was well prepared by the progressive thoughts of Vagbhadananda to receive the seeds of Marxism (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 260). When a Harijan worker in a tile factory of Feroke was beaten to death, K. P. Gopalan started hunger strike in front of the factory. In support of the strike, Guru made a speech, criticising capitalism and the oppressive Government. He said:

One who keeps with him a little money of four annas (1/4 of rupee) makes another to starve. Those who keep with them, large amount of wealth make more people to starve. Nobody has the right to accumulate wealth, which is to be spent for the common happiness of humanity. Mother nature has given her resources for all, hence all must have equal rights. This is the message of Bharata, the land of sages. (Kurup, Modern India 97)

To give employment to the members of the Sangham, a cooperative society was established at Ooralukal in Badagara. Many of the activities of the Sangham, like the movement against untouchability, Harijan upliftment, inter-dining and inter-marriage were later adopted by the Communist Party. Such a programme was the ‘Kuli’ agitation of the Communist Party in 1946, in the Badagara region (Kurup, “Revolutionary Philosopher” ii).

The S.N.D.P. Yogam Agitates for Civil Equality

Since the Ezhavas form the most populous community, and they were the sufferers of caste traditions, their awareness to fight for equality was taken as the progressive movement of that time, which helped to bring about social and political changes in Kerala. Their leaders, Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan, C. V. Kunjuraman, T. K. Madhavan,

K. Ayyappan, C. Krishnan, Moorkothu Kumaran, C. Kesavan etc. were the torch-bearers of the S.N.D.P. movement and created the history of Travancore from 1903-1936. From its origin in 1903, The S.N.D.P. Yogam articulated demands for ‘Civil Equality’. The politicisation of the Yogam started with the demands for ‘Civil Equality’ in 1918, leading to the ‘Temple-Entry Movement’, ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’ and reaching its heights in the ‘Abstention Movement’ (1932-1936). After the victory of the ‘Abstention Movement’, the Travancore State Congress was formed in 1938 to agitate for ‘Responsible Government’. The support of the S.N.D.P. Yogam to the agitations of the State Congress lasted only upto 14 August 1939. On that day, the yogam decided to withdraw from active politics to satisfy the interests of the English educated elite who wanted to secure favours of the Government. From that day onwards, the already politicised working class in the Yogam lost a confidence in caste leaders. Very soon, when the Kerala branch of the C.P.I. was formed, the drain of the mass base of the S.N.D.P. Yogam to the Communist Party started. The process was well explained by the party theoretician and one of the founder members of the Kerala branch of the C.P.I., K. Damodaran, “Now, Narayana Guru’s great anti-feudal tradition leads not the S.N.D.P., but the Communist Party” (Damodaran 1952).

The publications like, ‘Desabhimani’ by T. K. Madhavan, ‘Sahodaran’ by K. Ayyappan, ‘Vivekodayam’ by the S.N.D.P. Yogam, ‘Kerala Kaumdi’ by C. V. Kunjuraman, ‘Mithavadi’ by C. Krishnan etc. could consolidate the oppressed castes and create strong public opinion against discrimination. In 1905, some Government schools were opened to non-caste Hindus. In 1910, further thirty-five schools were opened to them. By 1917 of the total 2036 Government recognised schools, except ten or twelve, in all other schools, the non-caste Hindus were getting admission. In the Government schools totaling 1020, only in five or six, the non-caste Hindus were not getting admissions.29

Even in 1916 the S.N.D.P. Yogam had to agitate against denial of admission on caste grounds and against denying freedom of passage through public roads. For example, the Srirangapuram road of Cannanore was closed against the non-caste Hindus. There, K. Ayyappan and his followers violated the custom and passed through the road. Thereafter, everybody could use it. Similarly at Vaikom, on the main road, the non- caste Hindus had no entry. There, Satyavarada Swamikal, T. K. Madhavan and K. Ayyappan decided to break the ban. They walked through the road and thereafter, the road was freely used by the non- caste Hindus. About denial of school admission, even in 1916 the non- caste Hindus were not admitted in the schools of Cochin. Even on roads where non-caste Hindus were permitted to move, a new board of prohibition appeared. On 1 July 1916 a delegation of the S.N.D.P. Yogam met the Dewan of Cochin and represented grievances, “of not permitting the use of public roads, not admitting children in schools and prohibiting the use of ponds which the converts could freely use”(qtd in P.K.Gopalakrishnan 43-44).

Though there was comparatively less social discrimination in Malabar compared to Travancore and Cochin, the henchmen of Zamorin placed a ‘pollution board’ on Thaliroad, prohibiting entry for Thiyars. There, C. Krishnan and Manchery Rama Iyer violated the prohibition and restored freedom. On 23 April 1917 under the Theosophical Society, in the Annie Besant Hall, Brahmins, Nayars and Thiyars inter-dined. Though Annie Besant showed interest in eradicating untouchability, the then leaders of the Indian National Congress discarded it by saying that it was not a programme of the Congress. In many places, the awakened non-caste Hindus became revolutionary and refused to obey caste restrictions. That created tension in many places of Travancore and Cochin. Caste-Hindus resorted to violence to make the violators obey caste traditions, ending in many revolts. Such violences broke out in Eruvoor, Tripoonithura, Valapad, Thanissery (Mukundapuram taluk) and in Peringottukara of Cochin. In Travancore the entire region from Quilon to Trivandrum, south Chavara, Haripad and Thiruvalla taluk were affected by such revolts. As a result of the above revolts, caste restrictions on freedom of movement almost disappeared and the non- caste Hindus could move freely through public roads. By 1919 the attitude of the non-caste Hindus can be seen in the columns of their newspaper, Mithavadi:

Now for not moving away, from public roads, Nayars beat Ezhavas and Ezhavas beat Pulayas. It is better if this unprofitable practice ends voluntarily. Insistence to get beatings for the change is sorrowful. (Madhavan 73-99)

By the end of 1918 the S.N.D.P. Yogam left its mendicant policy and started demanding ‘Civil Rights’. That change of policy was initiated by T. K. Madhavan and followed by K. Ayyappan and C. Kesavan. Thus the politicisation of the S.N.D.P. Yogam started with the demand for Civil Equality, leading to the ‘Temple Entry Movement’, ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’, ‘Abstention of Liquor’, and ‘Khadi Movement’ and reached its heights in the ‘Abstention Movement’ (Ibid 73-78 & 98-99).

The Civil Equality Movement

On 4 Edavam 1093 (June 1918), the Travancore-Cochin Christian Assembly at Kottayam passed a resolution demanding Civil Equality. Then the term Civil Equality meant just distribution of Government jobs among major castes and communities, the seeds of which were sown with the Malayali Memorial of 1891 (Supra 40). On 23 Meenam 1094 (March 1919), the major communities of Kerala, the Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas who did not enjoy Civil Equality called a convention at Kottayam. There, T. K. Madhavan introduced the first resolution, to submit memorials of the people to the Government. The cause of the agitation was that the non-Hindus and the non-caste Hindus were not appointed in the Government service, particularly in the Revenue Department, since the Devaswom and Revenue departments were not separated. At the Kottayam convention, T. K. Madhavan spoke that Civil Equality was to be considered a political demand with religious sanctity.

In 1919, a memorial on Civil Equality was submitted to the Government and Madhavan took a leading part in it. He read the memorial before the Dewan. Progressive minded caste-Hindus like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai supported the demand. With the support of the British authorities, the Christians could get into the Revenue service without an agitation. When the Madras Governor Earl Wellington visited Travancore, at a royal banquet, the Governor wanted the Government to “protect the rights of the fellow believers of his and his Lady’s religion”. This had an immediate effect in the form of the ‘Devaswom Declaration’, i.e., separation of the Devaswom from the Revenue department. Thus the Christians could get into the administrative service of Travancore, but that opportunity was not given to the non-caste Hindus (Madhavan 73-76).

T. K. Madhavan realised that the non-caste Hindus like Ezhavas could get Civil Equality only if they achieve social equality connected to temples. In 1920 Kumaran Asan a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly, asked in the House whether “the non-caste Hindus would be given the Civil Right of freedom to travel through the roads near temples, which they got after conversion?” The reply of the Government was, “No” (Ibid 99-100). In 1919-’20 T. K. Madhavan was nominated as a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly. He knew that untouchability could be rooted out of Government service, public places and schools only if every Hindu could go and worship up to the place in the temple precincts where the Brahmin could go. In this respect all non-Brahmins were disadvantaged. So T. K. Madhavan decided to strike at that vulnerable point with all might by mobilising maximum support from the strongest of the non- Brahmin castes, the Nayars. By that time, the ‘Nayar Samajom’ that met at Ambalapuzha, presided over by P. K. Narayana Pillai, resolved to have Temple Entry with the right to conduct rituals for all Hindus, with no caste differences. Such resolutions were passed by caste-Hindu organisations throughout Kerala. One such resolution demanded the abolition of ‘Brahmin Sadhya,’ the feast served exclusively for Brahmins in the temples (Ibid 81-86).

The demand for Temple Entry for all non-caste Hindus was publicly made by a retired High Court Judge, C. Raman Tampi, a Nayar, while making his presidential address to an Ezhava Sabha at Quilon, in 1918. Followed by that, in the same year, T. K. Madhavan wrote a long editorial in the Desabhimani, demanding Temple Entry. In May 1918, the

S.N.D.P. Yogam annual met at Kottarakara, and appealed to the Government, through a resolution, to open temples to all Hindus. In 1919, Madhavan spoke in the Sree Moolam Assembly to prohibit through a royal proclamation the practice of pollution and to allow entry to all people into public institutions. But the conservatives of all castes were against temple entry for non-caste Hindus. At the same time, radical non-caste Hindus in many places forcibly entered temples. Such an incident occurred at Kadakavur, and the law-breakers were punished. On 17 Dhanu 1096 (1921), the non-caste Hindus met at Sivagiri and decided to boycott temples (Ibid 92). To make it a success, a committee consisting of T. K. Madhavan, N. Kumaran and C. V. Kayyalakkal was constituted. They formulated a tenfold programme for the boycott of temples and it was effectively propagated throughout the land through newspapers and public speeches (Ibid 81-86). T. K. Madhavan met the Dewan and conveyed protest against the prohibition. Protest meetings were organised throughout the country (Ibid 93).30 The propaganda work undertaken by Karappuram Seva Sangham of Sherthallai made the message of Civil Liberty and Temple Entry reach the grass-roots levels.31 On 24 Kumbham 1096 (1921), a protest meeting was organised in the L.M.S. Hall, Trivandrum. There, Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai,

M. N. Nayar, Advocate Achutha Menon and others spoke (Ibid 95).

In October 1922, the Congress Committee which existed only in name, met on the compound of the Anandavalleeswaram temple at Quilon. There T.K. Madhavan, who was not a member of the Congress until then, spoke:

The Congress Committee must accept the demand for Temple Entry as the first item of their programme since it forms the material for the realisation of the general decision of the Indian National Congress to abolish untouchability. (Ibid 103)

But the President of the Congress Committee, Sankara Menon wanted the consent of the A.I.C.C. to enlist the demand for Temple Entry in the programme since the mode of working of the Congress in the native states was different from its working in the British Indian Province. It was in that context that T. K. Madhavan met Gandhiji at Thirunelveli in October 1922. In the interview with Gandhiji, Madhavan was told:

The right to Temple Entry is a civil right. I advise you to resort to civil disobedience. Act with full self-confidence; you should enter temples. If laws are against you, you must be prepared to go to jail. (qtd in Ibid 114-121)

The interview with Gandhiji was given wide publicity by the English newspapers and changed the opinion of the caste-Hindu leadership in Kerala in favour of the Temple Entry movement. In 1924, when the A.I.C.C. was meeting at Kakinada, T. K. Madhavan went there with K. P. Kesava Menon and K. M. Panikkar. There, Madhavan met Maulana Mohamed Ali, the President of the Congress and convinced him of the necessity of the Congress taking up the cause of eradication of untouchability. Though Madhavan was not a member of the A.I.C.C., with special permission of the President, he circulated in the meeting a representation titled, “An Appeal to the Indian National Congress, for the Untouchable Castes of India”. Copies of the representation were circulated among the 400 members of the Committee, press representatives and other invitees. Immediately after the Programme Committee decided to act against untouchability, the A.I.C.C. met and resolved to direct the Provincial Committees to implement a creative programme against untouchability. Accordingly, on 24 Makaram 1099 (January 1924), the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee met at Ernakulam and constituted an Untouchability Eradication Committee consisting of K. Kelappan Nayar (convener), T. K. Madhavan, Kuroor Sankaran Namboodiripad,

T. Krishnaswami Iyer and K. Velayudhan Menon (Ibid 103-104, 119, 122, 131, 133 & 134).

The ideas of civil resistance and satyagraha were not new to the agitators for civil liberty in Kerala (Ibid 148). In 1919 an all-Kerala meeting was convened at Calicut to discuss the depressed conditions of the Thiyars of Cochin. The S.N.D.P. Yogam sent T.K. Madhavan as its representative. He said that the Thiyars must not practice pollution, and to eradicate it, they must conduct satyagraha. At his initiative, the Thiya Passive Resistance League was constituted at the meeting. On his return, he spoke on satyagraha at Tripunithura too. The annual meeting of the

S.N.D.P. Yogam in 1923 resolved that:

…Pollution is an evil superstition and its violation is for the common good; so, we must not respect or observe pollution practices. Hence this meeting calls on the members of the community to enter all public places fearlessly. (qtd in Ibid 149)

In Midhunam 1098 (July 1923), a conference against pollution was convened by V.K. Sankaran Namboodiripad and it called for volunteers to join the organisation to stage satyagraha to fight untouchability. It was in that background that the Vaikom Satyagraha was started on 17 Meenam 1099 (March 1924) (Ibid 68, 149& 160).

The Vaikom Satyagraha

The leaders of the Vaikom Satyagraha were K. Kelappan Nayar (Convener), T. K. Madhavan, Kuroor Sankaran Namboodiripad, T. R. Krishnaswami Iyer, K. Velayudha Menon, K. P. Kesava Menon, A. K. Pillai, Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai, M. N. Nayar, V. Achutha Menon, Satyavrada Swamikal and others. Since the Indian National Congress was led by caste-Hindus, the Ezhavas did not show much interest in the initial stages. Later, due to the efforts of T. K. Madhavan, they too actively participated. Every day, the volunteers violated the pollution law, courted arrest and went to jail for simple imprisonment of up to six months. In the second stage, the leaders T. K. Madhavan and K. P. Kesava Menon were arrested and sent to the central jail. The caste-Hindus took an active interest from the very beginning. On 16 Thulam 1100 (1925), the Caste- Hindu March started from Vaikom under the leadership of Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai, walked all the way to Trivandrum and submitted a memorandum to the Government. Other marches in support of the Satyagraha arrived. For instance, from Madras, Periyar Ramaswamy Nayakar was camping at Vaikom; from Punjab, the Akalis sent a delegation to Vaikom, and they ran a canteen to provide food to the volunteers. The caste-Hindus suffered a great deal in their efforts to make a success of the Satyagraha – Chittedathu Sanku Pillai was beaten to death; K. P. Kesava Pillai was beaten to a state where he started vomiting blood; Raman Elayathu was tortured with lime smeared on his eyes; testicles of some volunteers were smashed (Ibid 160, 192, 198).

On 23 Makaram 1100 (1925), the Government allowed N. Kumaran to move a resolution on ‘Freedom of Travel’ before the legislature. Voting on the resolution was fixed for 25 Makaram. The success of the Vaikom Satyagraha would depend on the successful passing of the resolution. Unfortunately, the resolution was rejected by one vote – 21voted for and 22 against the resolution. The one crucial vote that defeated the resolution was cast by P. Parameswaran, the brother of Dr. Palpu and one of the two applicants in whose names the licence of the S.N.D.P. Yogam as a limited company had been issued by the Government of Travancore (Supra 54).

P. Parameswaran was the first of the S.N.D.P. Yogam leaders who betrayed the cause of the common people, for currying favours with the Government.

Though the Vaikom Satyagraha remains the first organised political agitation for social change under the banner of the Indian National Congress, in its immediate result, it was a failure. It could not make the Government open all the public roads near temples for the movement of non-caste Hindus. Throughout the State, Madhavan with the help of the progressive-minded caste-Hindus walked on those roads where freedom of movement was not allowed, and thereby established the right to do so. This happened at Palghat, Cochin, North Pravur, Ambalapuzha, Thiruvarpu, Sucheendram etc (Madhavan 212-229). In 1926, Madhavan who was a member of the Sree Moolam Assembly sought permission to make a speech before the House on the ‘Right of Every Hindu to Enter Every Temple and Pray’. The Government denied him permission. It provoked him to issue a statement accusing the Government of denying freedom of expression which, he said, rendered his membership in the House useless. On those grounds, he resigned from the legislature on 3 March 1926 (Ibid 241-246).

Throughout his lifetime, T. K. Madhavan with the support of the progressive-minded caste-Hindus strove hard to win Temple Entry. The N.S.S. and the Yogakshema Sabha took a revolutionary stand on bringing about social change. Only people with vested interests from all castes, including some top leaders of the S.N.D.P. Yogam, non-Malayali Brahmins and the Government controlled by them stood against it. In 1930, at the Vaikom Ashram of Narayana Guru, the Temple Entry League was formed (Ibid 142). Under its auspices, a Temple Entry convention was organised at Ochira. It was presided over by Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai. The convention constituted a committee consisting of T. K. Madhavan (convener), Kottur Kunjukrishna Pillai and C. Kuttan Nayar. It was decided that the volunteers of the League enter important temples including the Sri. Padmanabha Swami Temple at Trivandrum on 2 Virkchikam 1107, the day Viceroy Lord Irwin was to visit the State, and stage demonstrations. But the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam,

M. Govindan, without consulting the Yogam Board, issued a statement against the plan of the Temple Entry League. So the League was forced to postpone the programme indefinitely (Ibid 253-255). The Travancore Government and the British Resident were very much worried of the movements for Civil Equality in 1921 and Temple Entry afterwards.

The Sahodara Samajam of K.Ayyappan

K. Ayyappan (1889-1968), was a prominent non-sanyasi disciple of Narayana Guru. To eradicate casteism, he founded the ‘Sahodara Samajam’ (The Brotherhood Movement) in 1917. The newspaper Sahodaran was started in the same year as its mouthpiece, and its publication lasted till 1956. There were four declared mottos of the movement: 1. Oppose the exploitation by the Brahmins, the whites, the landlords and the capitalists; 2. Oppose caste and communal differences and the resultant exploitation by priesthood; 3. Spread the teachings of great men and prevent superstition and fanaticism; 4. Prevent absolutism of power politics and support communal representation (Gangadharan 65).

Before the advent of the Communist movement in Kerala, Sahodaran was the chief spokesman of Socialism. Ayyappan took the initiative to organise labourers under the Vaipin Adi Thozhilali Sangham (The Pioneer Workers’ Union of Vaipin). The Sangham started a newspaper named Velakkaran (The Worker). It was published three days a week. Its office was located near Kurutholathodu, Cherai. Framed photographs of Karl Marx, Lenin and Stalin were hung on the walls of the newspaper office. The emblem of the Union showed an agro-labourer holding a spade on the centre of a globe (Ibid 72). In 1928, the Sahodaran press started the publication of an atheist magazine named Yuktivadi (Rationalist). The columns of Sahodaran covered areas like post-revolutionary Russia, Marx, Lenin and Stalin. They influenced and moulded revolutionaries like

V. T. Bhattathiripad. Ayyappan wrote many inspiring poems calling for

the liberation of the downtrodden (Ayyappan 95, 88-89, 92-95, 256, 99-100).32

The Abstention Movement

In Travancore, the three communities, Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims started the Abstention Movement as a protest against the Reforms Act of 1932. Travancore was the first Indian State to have a popular legislature, the Sri Moolam State Council, in 1888. In 1904, the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha was constituted. Gradually, the non-official members acquired a majority. But, as franchise was limited only to property holders, the caste-Hindus formed a majority in the House. For example, in 1922 the Christian representation was 7, which was reduced to 4 in 1931. In 1928 there was only one Muslim representative. In the four elections of 1922, 1925, 1928 and 1931, not a single Ezhava was elected. At the same time, the Nayar representation gradually increased from 12, 13, 13 to 15 (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 713).

By the 1932 Reforms Act a two-chambered legislature (Sri Chitra State Council and Sri Moolam Assembly) was created. But it too did not contain provisions for adequate representation to the major communities, Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas. So these communtities decided to agitate. The Reforms Act of 1932 was the brainchild of Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. With the accession of Sri Chitra Thirunal to the throne of Travancore in 1931, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was made the constitutional adviser to the Maharaja. Formerly, he was a member of the Executive Council of the Province of Madras, who had acted against the enactment of the Malabar Tenancy Bill, and G. Sankaran Nayar, who was the man behind the bill, had rushed to Trivandrum to organise a protest meeting against the appointment of Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer (Ibid 6). Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer has been described as an ‘evil genius’ who acted as an effective instrument of British imperialism in Travancore. During his period, Travancore was subjected to the most repressive dictatorship, and due to his grand intrigues, it degenerated into a hotbed of caste and communal rivalries (Sreenivasan 76-77). Though Sir Muhammed Habeebulla was made the Dewan in October 1933, Iyer, as the adviser to the Maharaja, wielded real power. Later, when Habeebullah resigned on 8 October 1936, his place was taken over by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer.

About Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the humanist journalist of the time A. Balakrishna Pillai wrote in the Kesari:

Entrusting the administration of Travancore with Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer – the person who made the Governor of Madras reject the Malabar Tenancy Bill, the bureaucrat who supported the notorious India Press Act, the ‘reformist’ who acted against the entry of non-caste Hindus into the ‘agraharam’ at Kalpathi, the ‘progressive’ who promised the cancellation of the Sarada Act to the conservative electorate in the event of his victory to the Council of State, and the Constitutional ’expert’ who was responsible for preparing the notorious Conservative Minutes of the Madras Province vis-a-vis the administrative Reforms of India – is like entrusting the protection of the chicken with the fox. (qtd in Narayana Pillai 3-4)

The other caste-Hindu leaders like Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai were severely criticising the policy of the Government from the very beginning. But Pillai could get only the support of youngsters like

N. Sreekantan Nayar, Ponnara Sreedhar, Sanakara Narayanan Thampi, Varingam Raghavan Pillai, E. V. Krishna Pillai, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai,

M. N. Govindan Nayar and others, most of whom later emerged as the leaders of the radical group, the Youth League and then the Communists. The vast majority of Nayars who were lagging behind the Christians in the path towards modernisation were puzzled at their growing financial prosperity. Leaders like Mallur Govinda Pillai made good use of the chance to act against the Christians. The prominent social reformer Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai and the leaders of the N.S.S. which was in the forefront of the Temple Entry Movement, became the spokesmen of the caste-Hindus (Nayar, Autobiography 162-169).

Though the Abstention Movement was the biggest mass based political agitation of the time, it spewed communal venom into the politics of Travancore, which had far-reaching consequences for the future politics of Kerala. Since the S.N.D.P. Yogam had its own limitations to function as a political party, the Yogam summoned the Ezhava Mahajana Sabha at Alleppey on 27 November 1932, and created a political organisation called Ezhava Rashtriya Sabha. It took the following decisions: 1. Franchise should not be based on property rights; 2. Adult suffrage should be introduced or reservation of seats should be introduced; and,3. Methods for a common agitation should be sought in consultation with other communities that were denied rights. The Sabha formed a committee to represent these decisions to the Government. They met Dewan Habeebullah and Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. Other communities too met the Government with similar grievances. But it was all in vain. The three communities decided to join together and act collectively. It led to the Abstention Movement and the United Political Struggle (Sreenivasan 81-85).

About the 1932 Reforms Act, A. Balakrishna Pillai wrote in the

Kesari:

… Since this reform destroys whatever civic rights that exist at present … the right step to be taken is to abstain from the elections. A strong protest movement must be mobilised against the reform by calling public meetings and presenting substitute schemes of reform. At the same time, people must make an outcry that they have no confidence in its creator, Sir C.P., that his continuation as Adviser to the Maharaja is extremely harmful and that he should, therefore, be removed from that position. (qtd in Editorial of Kesari 59)33

On 18 December 1932, the All Christian Political Conference summoned a meeting of the representatives of the three communities in the L.M.S. Hall, Trivandrum. It was presided over by E. J. John. About 100 delegates of various organisations participated, the most prominent among them being M. V. Joseph, C. Kesavan, P. K. Kunju and others. There were delegates of the Travancore State Catholic Congress, the S.N.D.P. Yogam, Laganathul Muhammadeya Association, the All Travancore Muslim Service League and Hidayuthual Islamia Sabha (Kesavan 47-51). The meeting passed two resolutions: 1. Ensure proportional representation in the legislature and in the Government service to various communities; 2. Organise a Joint Political Committee with E. J. John as President and N. V. Joseph, K. T. Thomas, K. C. Eapen, P. A. Abraham, P. S. Muhammed, P. K. Kunju, C. V. Kunjuraman, M. Govindan and C. Kesavan as members (Ibid 51-52).

In 1933, the Committee met the Dewan and submitted memorials. Though both the Maharaja and the Dewan Sir Habeebullah responded favourably, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer took a negative stand. That prompted the agitators to boycott the elections. On 3 January 1933, the Committee passed a resolution appealing to the voters to abstain from casting their votes and from contesting in the coming elections. The Committee met again in the L.M.S. Hall on 25 January 1933 and passed the Abstention Resolution (Sreenivasan 89-91).

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer adopted a three-pronged strategy to defeat the agitation. Firstly, he consolidated the support of the caste-Hindus to resist the agitation. Secondly, he tried to create defectors among the Ezhavas. Thirdly, he tried to link the Abstention Movement to the Non- Cooperation Movement which was going on at the national level, so that he would get the approval of the British Government to suppress the Abstention Movement and also isolate the Christians from the British Government. The Travancore Government unleashed a torrent of prohibitions, arrests, suppressions and propaganda against the movement (Ibid 87). From the very beginning, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer tried to create a divide among the agitating communities (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 712-13). Excepting C. Kesavan, the two other Ezhava leaders of the Committee, C. V. Kunjuraman and

M. Govindan defected to the Government’s side in January 1933. The

Yogam President, Madhavan Vaidyar too moved to the side of the Government with them. Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer tried, through these defectors, to force the Yogam to withdraw from the Abstention Movement. A special meeting of the Yogam was convened for the purpose. It was held at Changanasseri on 12 March 1933. 1500 delegates were present. When the defectors moved a resolution for withdrawing S.N.D.P. from the Abstention Movement, they could muster only nine votes. At the meeting, a Political Committee was constituted with C. Kesavan as its Secretary (Kesavan, Jeevitha Samaram 73&76).

The Government banned all public meetings of the agitators. It fomented strong protest among the youth. They were prepared to violate the prohibition. The radical leader, C. Kesavan issued a statement on 27 May 1933 explaining that the young men wanted to violate the prohibitive orders but could not, not because they were afraid of the Government but because of the threat of resignation from their leader N. V. Joseph.34 Among the agitators, there were moderates and radicals. N. V. Joseph, T. M. Varghese, K. C. Mamman Mappila and others were leaders with moderate views. In an appeal to the electorate on 27 May 1933, C. Kesavan said:

…Our consciousness of freedom does not permit us to obey these prohibitive orders even for a moment. But my friend N. V. Joseph who controls the Abstention Movement told me just now that if the youth start Civil Disobedience, he would give up the movement and spend the rest of his life in some foreign country like Singapore or Ceylon. Anyway, let them have their way for two more months. Then, if the Government still follows the same policy, we know what should be done. (qtd in Ibid)

There was a time when Mamman Mappila and Malayala Manorama did not support the agitation for responsible Government. At one stage, the editor of Malayala Manorama K. C. Mamman Mappila, to please Sir

C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, openly declared, “The responsible Government is madness” (qtd in C. Narayana Pillai 167&176). On the other hand,

C. Kesavan was a radical who believed in the establishment of the Government of the working class through a radical change. He was the President of the revolutionary youth organisation of Sherthallai, the Ezhava Yuvajana Samajam (The Youth League). The abstract of the Presidential address he made in its first meeting on 1 July 1933 shows the force of his revolutionary ideas (qtd in K. Sreenivasan 103-11).35

On 21 August 1933, the All Travancore United Political Committee changed into Travancore United Political Congress. The elections of 3-6 June 1933 in Travancore were rendered null and void because of the non-cooperation of 70% of the population, all due to the efforts of the abstentionists. Then the Government promised the leaders of the agitation to settle the problem. But the very next day, all prohibitive orders were extended for one more month. At the expiry of the ban on 13 May 1935, a meeting was held at Kozhencherry, presided over by C. Kesavan. The meeting, through a resolution, requested to the Maharaja the immediate dismissal of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and also the dissolution of the legislature and its reconstitution on the basis of proportional representation. The presidential address of C. Kesavan got him arrested for sedition (Ibid 128-131).

C. Kesavan was arrested on 7 June 1935 at Alleppey in the presence of a large gathering of his followers. There he gave the following message to them:

… I expect to see a day when even the last vestige of caste domination is removed. I wish my arrest to be looked upon as a victorious step forward in establishing equality among the subjects of the Royalty. Neither the Government nor the casteist monopolists can pretend that there are no problems to be solved … This movement which stands for justice cannot be stopped… It is hardly a week since the Government issued the communique that it was ready to solve all problems. But, the party concerned has been prevented from acting upon it. My compatriots must obtain their birthrights through steady and undaunted efforts and never through conciliation. (qtd in P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala 369-76)

The public anger generated by the arrest of C. Kesavan gathered into a mass movement, which forced the Government to act immediately. The Government decided to reform the franchise laws. The declaration to the effect was issued on 16 August 1936. Reservation based on communal representation was accepted and franchise made liberal. A Public Service Commission was created under Justice Nokes. The Government agreed to recruit into the army eligible persons from all communities (Sreenivasan 42). By then C. P. Ramaswami Iyer had left Travancore as he had been appointed an acting member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy, Lord Wellington. On 8 October 1936, Dewan Sir Habeebullah tendered his resignation. Soon the Royal Palace issued a declaration about the appointment of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer as the new Dewan. But, before accepting the appointment, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer secured a promise from the Maharaja about issuing the Temple Entry Proclamation to wipe out ill feelings previously generated (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 42). As a result, on 9 November 1936, the famous Temple Entry Proclamation was made. In April-May 1937, the State election was conducted according to the new regulation. In the election, all candidates of the United Political Congress won. Accordingly, T. M. Varghese was made the Deputy President of the Legislature.

On 25 September 1937, C. Kesavan was released, six days prior to the completion of his full term. Throughout Travancore, the United Political Congress arranged grand meetings to receive and felicitate him. Of the receptions, the one given by the Ezhava Young Men’s Association of Sherthallai was significant for it was a pointer to the evolution of the working class movement in Kerala. Many of the views expressed there clearly indicated the degree of class awareness at the grassroots level. To quote the fifth paragraph of the printed felicitation:

… Here, the majority of the people are workers. Our land is known as the land of prosperity due to the fruits of their labour. They spread prosperity throughout the land by dint of their hard labour; yet, they suffer from starvation. Now they realise that they who form the majority, who labour to build mansions, languish in huts in slums. They wish for nothing more than the chance to live like human beings. Your leadership, we hope, will take them to their destination.36

As a result of the dissemination of radical ideas, the workers of Quilon, Ambalapuzha and Sherthallai taluks were emerging as the most politicised people of Travancore.37 The workers of Sherthallai were bold enough to attack the police in 1938, and the police, to escape from the place of the incident, had to seek the help of the military.38 The first trade union in Kerala, the Travancore Labour Association was formed on 31 March 1922 by a devotee of Sree Narayana Guru named Vadappuram Bava. Later it developed into the biggest trade union movement that exerted considerable political influence (Marakkar 6). The red flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer was first unfurled at the twelfth annual meeting of the Travancore Labour Association on 27 May 1937, hoisted by the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam,

V. K. Velayudhan.39 The agro-labourers of Kuttanad were taught the first lessons of collective bargaining by T. K.Madhavan.

Radicalism Among Namboodiris

The winds of social reform blew among the Namboodiris only after they had brought about changes among Nayars and Ezhavas. In the nineteenth century, the Namboodiris had become a degenerate people due to their life-style, lack of effective social interaction and primitive superstitions. They regarded the learning of English as a sin. Their traditional education was limited to the recitation of the Vedas and a large majority of them remained illiterate. Even the radical social reformer,

V. T. Bhattathiripad was practically unlettered; only much later he learned to read and write (Bhattathiripad 1, 10, 12, 29, 37 & 120).40

In 1908, the Yogakshema Sabha was formed with the avowed purpose of reforming the Namboodiris. Its organisers were Kuroor Unni Namboodiripad and Chittoor Narayanan Namboodiripad. Its aim was educational and economic progress among the Namboodiris. It made representation to the Government against the Nayar Regulation and the Tenant Reforms Act, which the Namboodiris feared would pose a threat to them. C. S. Subrahmanyam Potti who obtained a B.A degree in 1912, started campaigning for English education. In 1915 English schools for Namboodiris were started in Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. Young, educated Namboodiris became revolutionary and wanted to break all caste barriers. Their leadership was taken over by V.T. Bhattathiripad and E.M.S.Namboodiripad (Ibid 93-109).

Later the Namboodiris were divided under three groups of leadership. The first group comprised the conservatives who resisted change. The chief among them was Pachiman Raman Namboodiripad. The conservatives had a newspaper named Sudarsanam. The second group of leaders were the moderates who organised the Yogakshema Sabha. They stood for changes through peaceful means. They propagated reforms through the newspaper Yogakshemam. The third group were the radicals who stood for social progress at any cost. They had their own newspapers, Pasupatham and Unni Namboodiri. They wanted to root out all superstitions, and advocated female education, partition of family property, male marriage from the same caste, widow remarriage and even inter-caste marriage. They viewed the progress of the Namboodiri community as an indispensable part of the overall development of the people of Kerala. They were inspired by the anti-casteism of Narayana Guru, the rationalism of K. Ayyappan and the socialist views of Jawaharlal Nehru. For the first time in history, the artistic medium of drama was used by revolutionaries like V. T. Bhattathiripad to propagate progressive views. His play Adukalayil Ninnum Arangathekku (From Kitchen to the Stage) was a revolutionary venture that spoke out against all superstitions, illiteracy, old married men marrying young women, etc. Another popular play was Marakudakullile Maha Narakam (The Hell Behind the Hiding Umbrella). The young men behind the movement were V. T. Bhattathiripad, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, M. P. Bhattathiripad and others. As a result of their activities, women gave up the ‘khosha’ and started wearing sari and blouse. The first woman to do that in Travancore was the late writer Lalithambika Andarjanam (Andarjanam 1985). Outside Travancore, the first woman to discard the ‘khosha’ and to dress in modern costumes was the wife of Manezhi. A Marriage Sub-Committee was formed to promote men marrying from the same caste. They started picketing ‘sambandhams’ (marriage of Namboodiri man and Nayar woman) and polygamous marriages. By then, the Government introduced the Malabar Namboodiri Act (Bhattathiripad 1, 10, 12, 37 & 120).41

As a result of these efforts, individual family units emerged, which consisted of a Namboodiri male marrying and living with his Namboodiri wife. Boys and girls started going to public schools without being obsessed with the notion of pollution. Men began freely engaging in competitive work with people of other groups. It was under those circumstances that the revolutionary young men like E.M.S. Namboodiripad abandoned caste and entered into politics. E.M.S. Namboodiripad was one among the founding fathers of the Kerala branch of the Communist Party of India. In 1957, he became the first Chief Minister of the newly-formed state of Kerala after the reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis. By the time the C.P.I. split in 1964, he was the General Secretary of the Party at the national level. He became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was the chief theoretician of the C.P.I. (M) (Ibid 29, 37 &120).42

The Dalit Movement of Ayyankali

For more than a thousand years, the Dalits (Pulayas, Parayas, Kuravas etc.) of Kerala remained agro-slaves. They were liberated in Travancore by an illiterate leader named Ayyankali (1863-1941). Before agitating for equality, Ayyankali organised the young men and gave them training in martial arts. They came to be known as ‘Ayyankali Pada’ (Mani 19).43 Even as late as the early twentieth century, the Dalits were prevented from travelling along public roads. They could move only through forests or paddy fields and had to make a special sound to warn others of their approach. Their children were not given admission in public schools. Their women were allowed to cover only the lower part of the body with a piece of cloth. They could cover the upper part only with ornaments made of stone beads. They could not own land; they lived in huts near the paddy fields on wetlands. Ayyankali decided to violate the tradition. In 1893, to establish the right to travel, he bought a ‘villuvandi’ (special kind of bullock-cart used only by men of status) with the permission of the Government and started riding it. He dressed against the tradition – he wore a vest, an upper garment and a headdress. He was always well armed; so nobody could harm him (Chendarasseri 10-13).

During those days, the Dalits were denied entry into the coffee shops. They were served coffee in coconut shells outside the shops. Ayyankali snatched away such shells and advised his men to make coffee in their huts. In 1899, his band of fighters forcibly moved along the public road to Aralummood market at Balaramapuram. On the way, at Chaliya street, riot broke out when they were stopped by the Muslims. The riot spread to other places like Manakad, Nemom, Kazhakottam, Kovalam and Chennithala where caste-Hindus tried to suppress the Dalits who entered public roads (Ibid10-13).

In 1907, Ayyankali founded the social reform organisation for Dalits, the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham (The Congregation for the Downtrodden). Under its banner, both men and women met together every Sunday. It had a constitution drafted by M. Govindan. Within a short span, the Sangham could establish about 1000 branches throughout Travancore. Its branch committees worked on a democratic basis. Agents of Ayyankali known as ‘Managers’ supervised the proper working of the branch committees. A judicial system also functioned under the Sangham. Its Chief Justice was Ayyankali himself (Ibid 24-27).44

In 1904, Ayyankali called for a strike to get Dalit children admitted in Government schools. It was the first of its kind in Kerala. It lasted for three years. With the agro-laboureres on strike, the paddy fields throughout Madavurpara, Pallichal, Vizhinjam, Kaniyapuram and Kandala remained fallow. Though starvation and disease affected the striking labourers, they bore the ordeal with courage. The movement was guided by the Ayyankali Militia (Ayyankali Pada). In 1907, the Government of Travancore took the initiative to settle the problem. Accordingly, the First Class Magistrate, Kandala Nagam Pillai negotiated with the landlords and assured the admission of Dalit children in schools (Ibid 20-21).

The Dewan of Travancore, P. Rajagopalachari adopted a favourable attitude towards the downtrodden people. In the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha, P. K. Govinda Pillai argued for allotting land to the Dalits, admitting their children in schools with scholarships, giving them jobs in the Government service, opening special wards in hospitals and nominating a Dalit as their representative in the Assembly. In 1911, Ayyankali was nominated to the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha. He worked in that capacity for twenty-eight years. He made pleas before the Assembly on the need to solve the problem of residence, the need to provide land for farming and the need to admit Dalits in schools and in the Government service. In 1913, the Dewan, on the advice of Ayyankali, nominated two other Dalits, Charatan Solomon and G. Jesudas to the Praja Sabha (Chendarasseri 40-53, 56& 61).

Dalits were denied entry in the Nedumangad market by the caste- Hindus with the support of the Muslims. In 1912, Ayyankali forcibly entered the market and fought against the Muslim rowdies and subdued them. In 1913, Ayyankali represented to the Government that, at Kazhakuttom and Pallipuram alone, there were about 1000 Dalit families that had no land to reside in. As a result of the representation, the Government allotted five hundred acres of land to the Dalits, free of cost, to build houses at Vilappil Pakuthy of Neyyattinkara (Ibid 61-62, 67-70).

Two Dalits, Vellikara Chothi and K. K. Kumaran were nominated as Praja Sabha members in 1914 and 1915 respectively. Though the Government issued an order to admit Dalit students in the schools, the caste-Hindus cunningly preempted their admission. In 1914, Ayyankali pressurised the Government to direct its officers to go to the schools at the time of admissions and to ensure that the Dalit children were admitted. On one such occasion, the caste-Hindus set fire to the jeep of the Director of Education, Michel. Many a time, caste-Hindus set fire to the Dalit school which Ayyankali founded at Vengannur (Ibid 65-66, 70-74).

In 1915, the Dalits struck work throughout south and central Travancore against oppression and non-payment of wages. They also made a demand for limiting the number of their working hours. Ayyankali gave a call to the Dalit women to abandon the practice of wearing chains of stone beads and iron ear-rings, and to wear blouses instead. Caste- Hindus in Quilon district reacted violently against this. Tense situations developed at Perinad, Mavelikara and Chennithala. Large meetings were held at Parakulam, Thazhava, Anchalumood, Karula and Panayam. Riots broke out at Kandala near Balarampuram and at Perinad. These riots were widely known as ‘1090 riots’. In these riots, about three hundred huts of the Dalits were destroyed by either arson or pillage. In October 1915, the riots were put down and peace was established due to the efforts of the Government. Ayyankali did remarkable service to the Dalits in getting them educated and leading them in ‘collective bargaining’ (Ibid 102).45

In Cochin, K. P. Karuppan organised the Dalits. In Malabar, Congress leaders like K. Kelappan and the last disciple of Narayana Guru, Swami Anandatheerdhan undertook the cause of emancipating the Dalits. Sree Narayana Ashram of Payyannur, Sradhananda Vidyalaya of Badagara and Sabari Ashram of Olavakkode did yeomen service in this direction (Abraham 20, 21, 26, 28, 36-39, 41, 43 & 69, 70 & 73). Ayyankali, who had rebelled against inequalities and worked for an integrated movement of the Dalits, could understand very well the revolutionary spirit of the youthful leaders of the next generation. The Government, guided by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, used the crafty policy of ‘divide and rule’, which led to the birth of separate caste organisations for different groups of Dalits. This resulted in disintegrating the second generation of Dalit leadership. The larger interest of promoting the welfare of the labourers, who formed the large majority of the Dalits, was forgotten. At the same time, trade unions and political parties like the C.P.I. started attracting workers cutting across caste barriers. The Dalits

who were politically conscious, gravitated towards the rising working class movement (Chendarasseri 140-41).46

Struggle Against Oppression:

Belief of ‘Shahid’ Led to Rebellion

The traditional religious belief of the Hindus was one which stabilised social stagnation. The Hindu religion believed that the Sudra caste was created for serving, with implicit obedience, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Even the very thought of questioning a Brahmin was considered sinful (Supra 4-6). There was no scope for protest from such a group, unless a new awareness and awakening was created in them. The Hindu tenants in general bore the brunt of tenancy either with stoic indifference or with fatalistic resignation.

The majority of the tenants in Ernad and Valluvanad taluks of South Malabar were Muslims. They reacted violently against the cruel practices of the landlords. In the absence of proper leadership or class consciousness, the ideological influence of their religion provided the necessary moral force and justification to struggle against oppression and exploitation. C. Collet, Assistant Magistrate, reported on 10 September 1851:

… enquiries have shown that there is a notion prevalent among the lower orders that according to Islam, the fact of a jenmi having ejected from his lands a mortgagee or substantial tenants is sufficient pretext to murder him, to become ‘Shahid’ (Saint) and to ascertain a place in Muhammadan Paradise. This opinion has been openly stated before me by Moplas. (qtd in K.N.Panikkar 602)

The changes that the British introduced in the land tenure rendered the landless tenants destitute. As time went by, the relations between the landlords and the tenants started deteriorating till it led up to what has come to be known as the ‘Mappila riots’. During the first 129 years of the British rule, from 1792 to 1921, Malabar witnessed many Mappila riots, which had never occurred in the history of Malabar prior to the British rule (Nayar, Through Half Century 60). The period from 1792-1799 was noted for several Mappila riots. Riots broke out again between 1800 and 1805. About eighty riots took place from 1836-1900. In the revolt of 1855, the then District Magistrate of Malabar, Mr. Connally was murdered; seventy Mappilas were killed in retaliatory police firing (Pothuval 17-18).

In 1854, the Government passed the Moplah Outrages Act and the Moplah War Knives Act. Those enactments sanctioned repressive measures against the activists, one of which made provisions for cremating the corpse of the rioter. Cremating the dead went against the sanction of Islam, and that wounded the sentiments of the Mappilas. But none of the Acts tried to solve the tenural problems. In 1881, William Logan conducted an enquiry into the Mappila revolts and submitted a report. He, for the first time, exploded the myth of Mappila ‘fanaticism’ and pointed out that the agrarian discontent was the basic cause of the riots (qtd in K.N.Panikkar 612).47

The Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress (December 1920) passed the resolution for the Non-cooperation Khilafat Movement. It had its repercussions in Malabar too. In 1920, the Malabar District Congress met at Manjeri. A good number of Mappilas participated in the Congress. The Manjeri Congress declared war on the British Government and the Malabar landlords (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 282-83). The local leaders of the Congress tried to unify the people by directing popular sentiment against both British rule and landlordism. It united people beyond caste and religious lines. The Muslims had a privileged position as the Mullahs made instigating speeches in the mosques against the “British Devils.” There were Hindu political leaders present when such speeches were made. The Congress- Khilafat Committees and volunteers not only worked together, but both the organisations also had common leaders and office bearers throughout Malabar (Idem).

The British Government adopted the method of prohibitive orders, arrests, punishments, and suppression to terrorise people. At the same time, they provoked the poor Muslim peasants to violence, to annihilate them by brute force. In the ‘Wagon Tragedy’, sixty four people died of suffocation (Gough 725). Though the Indian National Congress passed resolutions to protect the interests of the Malabar tenants, it failed to follow up the tenancy problems (Infra, pp. 154, 200 & 201). The Congress failed to sustain the popular support it got in the initial stages of the Non-cooperation Movement because of its inability to lead the tenants in their struggle against landlords and the Government (Namboodiripad, Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees 283-84). At the same time, the British Government succeeded in bringing a rift in the popular front of the Congress-Khilafat Committees. The Mappila revolt of 1921 was a case in point of the British tactics. The 1920-’21 Congress-Khilafat Movement was the first mass based political movement guided by the Congress and the Muslim League. Rich and poor peasants, small merchants, professionals, handmill workers, lawyers, teachers and students struck work and boycotted British goods (Idem).

Though the Mappila population joined the Congress- Khilafat movement en mass, there existed two basic differences of opinion among them. Firstly, ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) was unacceptable to the Mappilas – they believed that a war unto death (‘Jihad’ and ‘Shahid’) was to be fought against the ‘satanic’ Government and the cruel landlords, one that uses violent methods if needed. Secondly, when the Congress demanded the enactment of the Tenancy Bills, it sought to protect only the interests of the ‘kanam tenants’ who were mostly Nayars; the majority of the Mappilas who rushed to join the Congress-Khilafat movement were sub-tenants. The Mappila agitators wanted to liberate all tenants from bondage. When they agitated against the Government, they destroyed not only police stations and treasuries but also registration offices and civil courts which were the fortresses of land records and relations (qtd in A. K. Pillai 350-352).48

The Mappila revolt of 1921 was a peasant revolt against the cruelties of landlordism and an evil Government, but it lacked proper leadership (Idem). It was a continuation of the agrarian conflicts of the nineteenth century. There was a remarkable difference between the agrarian conflicts of the nineteenth century and the rebellion of 1921. The earlier uprisings were localised and limited in scope. But the rebellion of 1921 was more intense and of wider range. According to C. S. Subrahmanyam, “The upper classes who own property are not in it… The men who are in jail, who have died, who have been arrested, who have been exiled, are men with little property”.49 The Viceroy, Lord Reading opined, “It is possible to argue that agrarian grievances were at least a predisposing factor, and some revision of the existing land tenure system may be desirable in the interest of peace in Malabar.”50 The conflict arising out of economic antagonism developed into widespread rebellion against the landlords and the British imperial power. The official estimate of the Mappila casualties were 2337 killed and 1652 wounded.51 The unofficial sources put the numbers above 10000; the Hindus killed were around 600 in number (Statesman 2 September 1922).52

When the movement became violent, the Congress leaders disowned it. In the next stage, martial law was declared and the army was called in. The British resorted to violent repression. At this, the poor Muslim tenants, heirs of the nineteenth century rebels, assembled in villages around their religious leaders with knives, spears, clubs and homemade firearms, and drove away or killed Hindu and Muslim landlords, Government servants and policemen. Muslim leaders of middle peasant rank took over the administration of 220 villages for several months. They killed five to six hundred landlords, policemen and others who aided the army. The British suppressed the movement and deported or executed many rebels. About 10,000 died in the rebellion (Idem). The Congress leader, K. Madhavan Nayar described the rebellion thus:

The attack of the Mappilas provoked vengeful acts from the Hindus and the police; the counter attack of the Mappilas was followed by stringent retaliation from the police and the army – this, in short, was the Malabar rebellion. (Nayar, Malabar Kalapam 216)53

NOTES

1 Census Report of Travancore, 1872, Trivandrum: Government Press, 1876, pp. 253-260. Also vide, Table 1.

2 Vide Table 2

3 Travancore Administration Reports, 1860-‘61, p.7. 1861-’62, p.10. 1852-‘63, p.21. qtd in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. Print.

4 Also vide Tables 2 & 3.

5 Vide Table 1.

6 Parameswaran Nayar, Raman Pillai, Biography, pp. 80-81, in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. pp.148-150 & 219. Print.

7 Also vide Table 3.

8 Sale of Land: 1917-1930

Year Average cost of the land per year 1917-1920 rupees 193 lakhs

1920-1925 “ 221 “

1925-1930 “ 33 “

Source: Wililam Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. III, pp.7-8, in E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Keralam the Motherland of the Malayalees lst ed., Trivandrum: Kerala Grandhasala Sahakarana Sangham, 1948. p. 250. Print. Also vide Tabel 4.

9 Report of the Backward Classes Reservation Commission, Vol. II, Government of Kerala, 1970, Also vide Table 1.

10 Also vide, Ballard, British Resident to Chief Secretary, March 9, 1870 in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. p.142. Print.

11 Petition of Kurukacheril Madhavan and others of Sherthallai to Madras Government, April 6, 1884, MPP, May 9, 1889, quoted in Robin Jeffrey. The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. New Delhi: Vikas, 1976. p.143. Print.

12 Also vide P. Palpu. The Treatment of Thiyars in Travancore. Monograph, n p.,

p. 3. p. 18. Print.

13 Also vide, “The Words of the Guru More Relevant”, Deepika, Kottayam: 30 August, 1985, p.4.

14 Bhagavat Geeta states that ‘Woman’, ‘Vaisya’, and ‘Sudra’ are of sinful origin. Where as, ‘Brahmin’ and ‘Kshatriya’ are of noble origin.

Bhagavat Geeta, “Chapter IX, verses 32 & 33.”

15 In 1931-32 when the ‘Guruvayur Satyagraha’ was started. A. K. Gopalan and P. Krishna Pillai were severely beaten. In 1948, in the ‘Paliyam Satyagraha’, two satyagrahis were beaten dead. In 1924, at ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’, many times the volunteers were beaten and lime was put in the eyes of the volunteers.

16 ‘Jatinirnayam’ reads: Humaness marks out the humanity,/ As bovinity proclaims a cow./Brahmin and such other are not right/ Alas! nobody sees this truth./ One caste, one of religion,/One of womb, one of form,/ Herein no differences at all./Within a species, is it not/ That offspring truly breed? Humanity thus viewed,/ Is the only caste./ Of the Human species,/ Is even Brahmin born/ As is the Pariah too/ What difference is then in caste? As between man and man./ Of a Pariah woman, in bygone days/ The great sage Parasara was born./ Of a virgin of the fisherfolk./ The codifier of Vedas was born./ Translation).

Guru, Narayana “Jatilakshanam”, in, Comment., The Complete Works of Narayana Guru, T. Bhaskaran. Calicut: Mathrubhoomi, 1985. p. 487. Print.

17 Also vide, Balakrishnan, P. K. “Dr. Palpu.” Sree Narayanayugaprabhavam. Eds. T. Bhaskaran and M. K. Kumaran. Varkala: International Sree Narayana Guru Year Celebration Committee, 1977. pp.103-106. Print.

18 “Papers re: the Aruvipuram S.N.D.P. Yogam registered under Section 26 of Regulation I of 1063”, Docket Sheet No.8338 dated 1903, Record Section, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

19 Narayana Guru, “We have no caste.” Public Statement Prabudha Keralam. Malayalam Newspaper, Alleppey : No.9, Book 1, Issue 1, 1 Midhunam 1091.

20 “The resignation letter of Narayana Guru from the S.N.D.P.Yogam”, quoted in, Editorial note, Gurukulam Philosophical Magazine, Mal., Varkala: Vol. 22, No.12, March 1986, p. 575. Print.

21 Also vide, Moorkoth Kunjappa, “The Muslim Brothers of Narayana Guru”,

Malayala Manorama, Kottayam: 27 August, 1977.

22 Interview with Kunjappi Kochappan, Memb, No. 237, one of the 37 live founder members of the Kumarakom Line Shell Workers’ Cooperative Society.

23 Personal interview with the Communist leader, S. K. Das, Alleppey. He was the first General Convener of the ‘agro-labour-Conference’ held in 1940. Later he became the member of the State Council of the C.P.I.

24. The Police Inspector’s Office,

Alwaye, 16-5-1921

To,

The Commissioner,

Trivandrum.

Sir,

I am forwarding herewith an account of a very significant meeting held at the Advaita Asram ground, Alwaye the Head quarters of the Ezhava Movement, on 15th May 1921. The meeting was presided by the religious head of the Ezhavas, Sri Narayana Guru himself. He made a new announcement of great significance. He said, all Humanity form one caste, there is no objection to inter-dining and inter-marriage. A leaflet entitled, “The Great Message”, containing this pronouncement in the Guru’s own facsimile was printed and distributed at the meeting. A pamphlet with a portrait of the Guru expounding the doctrine was also distributed at the meeting. This new doctrine is have a big organised fight for the destruction of the Hindu social system. The doctrines will be expounded at the Ezhava meetings big and small (and in the Vaikom and Sherthallai taluks, the Ezhavas all over hold regular meetings every Sunday, besides the occasional master meetings of which alone we get reports) and will spread among the ignorant Ezhavas. They will be taught to think, they as a matter of right, entitled to marry the high caste women, but the Hindus wrongly prevent them from doing so. This will be considered a great grievance just as non-admission to Hindu temples, though dating from the time immemorial has become a grievance now. In fact, the real object of the agitation for temple admission is to become high caste and to get fusion with the high caste people. This pronouncement of the Guru makes that very clear. You can easily conceive what effect the preaching of this doctrine will have on public peace especially in taluks of Sherthallai and Vaikom where Ezhavas form a strong numerical majority. I do not expect many meetings will be held during the monsoon, but with the stopping of the rains, in August the Ezhava agitation in this new dangerous form will spread fast in Sherthallai and Vaikom and as caste- Hindu people are few and not strong in these places, the Ezhava agitation will result in very serious disturbances. If the agiation continues, adequate steps will have to be taken: prohibition of meetings will be difficult in practice as it would not be easy to prevent the small weekly meetings held regularly all over these taluks.

(signed), 30/10/’96,Inspector.

(signed) District Supt. Of Police, Kottayam, 24-5-1921.

Kerala Archives News letter, Vol. III, Nos. I & II, January & March 1977. The Directorate of State Archives, 1977, pp. 3-4.

25 Also vide Theerdhapada Swamikal quoted in, Chattambi Swamikal, Christumataschedanam, reprint, Kottayam: Viswa Hindu Books, 1982, p. 9.

26 Also vide Srivalsan, “The Influence of Chattambi Swamikal.” Kesari Annual. 1987, p. 30. Print.

27 Also vide F. Fawcet, Nayars of Malabar, reprint, 1st print 1901, New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1985, p. 227.

28 Also vide, Korath, V. M., “The Sword of the National Movement.”

Mathrubhoomi, Calicut: 23 June 1985, p. 4.

29 Mithavadi, Mal. Newspaper, February 1917, pp. 5-6.

30 The content of the Dewan’s letter is :

To

Sir,

T. K. Madhavan,

Prajasabha Member, Quilon.

Government of Travancore,

Secretariat, Trivandrum,

10 Feb. 1921.

Received your letter through the Peshkar, Quilon, regarding submission of the subjects in the Prajasabha. It was mentioned that ‘Civil Equality and Equality of Entry to all Hindus in the Temples maintained by Public Wealth, will be Referred to’. But, this subject comes under rule 19 (d) of the procedural acts of the Prajasabha and it falls under prohibited subjects since it is directly related to religion. Hence the Government changes your subject of submission as, ‘Civil Equality’ and believes that when you make references, you should not refer to the subject of ‘Temple Entry’.

(signed)

N. Rajarama Rao, B.A.,

Chief Secretary to the Government

(Abstract – Translation)

Madhavan, P. K. Biography of T. K. Madhavan, 1st Ed. 1936, reprint, Kottayam: DC, 1986. p.93. Print.

31 The ‘Karappuram Sevasangham’ and the ‘Karappuram Sahodara Sangham’ together constituted the biggest political organisation till 1930. It had 2000 activists, had its origion in 1920. Also vide P. K. Madhavan. Biography of T. K. Madhavan, 1st Ed. 1936, reprint, Kottayam: DC, 1986. p. 96. Print.

32 The word ’Sakhav’ (Comrade) in Malayalam literature was first used in the following poem, composed in 1918. Some parts of the ‘Awakening Poems of Liberation’ are given below:

  1. The land of Russia which wept in servitude, /Became free, – prosperous and famous,/ Because of the dedicated hard work of/ Youths like you./There the dynamice youths – men and women,/ Sacrificed lives to win freedom. /Listen ‘comrades’, create here too,/ Similar thrilling histories./ (“Ezhavolbodhanam”, wrote in 1918).
  2. Lakhs and lakhs of your brothers/ Cry of pain from brutal – suppression./ Listen, the only hope for them, you are/ Go brave, throw out the legs that punch them,/ Welcome- imprisonment, gallows and the canon shots./ (“Ujjeevanam”, pp.88-89).
  3. We do’t say how can/ Poverty be eradicated./ But the north- wind sings of a new way/ It exhorts the long work done,/ There is the field./ That meesage which gives/ Relief to the poor./ Oh! New Year, you give to us too./ (Northwind means red-Russia.”About Russia”, Annual, Sahodaran, 1927).
  4. It is to all who weep in poverty/… /You the restless workers, drive/ Yourselves to a new direction and path./…/ The elite are foolish and lazy,/ The religion and the – Government/ Both are foolish, evil and misdirected./ …/ Numberless live around you/ Unable to raise their heads due to suppression/ Bear the heavy burden to save them./Bear the heavy burden to save them./ Awaken them chanting the divine sound of freedom./ If peope en bloc advance to/ Realise basic rights/ None cas resist/ Can’t you see this historic edict in red./ The poor are helpless when/ The notorious statecraft squeeze/ The juice of the poor to preserve the rich./ Numberless children of God/ severely suffer evey where/ With No food, cloth and shelter, Nobody to care./ (“Pula Colony”, p.256).
  5. Gandhiji went to the temple of Cape/ For Holy vision,/ Even the reverened Gandhi could not/ Enter the temple, since He was a Vaisya./

…/That Gandhiji who makes problems even to/ The British Lion that terriorises the World./ By holding and shaking its mane/ But that Gandhiji wags his tail and/ Shamelessly licks the kicking feet of the Brahmin, pitiful: “Gandhi Sandesam” (pp. 99-100).

Ayyappan, K. “Ezhavalbodhanam”, “Ujjevanam”, “Pula Colony”, & “Gandhisandesam”. The Poetic Works of Sahodaran. Ed. M. K. Sanoo. Kottayam: DC, 1981. p.95, 88-89, 92-95, 256, 99-100. Print. (Translation).

33 Kesari quoted in, Editorials of Kesari, Kottayam: N.B.S., p.59.

34 Yuvabharathi, Mal. Newspaper, 27 May 1933.

35 The abstract of the Presidential address is: The Ezhavas form 1/6 of the poulation of Travancore. Of them, only 6.8% people live on some kind of capital. The rest of them, 83.2% are workers, agro-labourers, weavers, coir workers, toddy-tappers etc. The 1931 census shows it. To improve the condition of the workers, leaders must arise from among them. Specific group of workers should have their own organisations. They can strengthen by mobilising and sending their representatives to the legislature and getting favourable laws enacted. This is the only instrument by which we can influence the progress of the workers. I am aware that many of us visualise revolutionary changes. But, we are not sufficiently prepared for that. The political condition too is not sufficient for it… So, many basic changes in the views of the Keralities are yet to take place. We are most eligible to spread ideas of change among the people. The preparedness and the necessity for change exist among ourselves more than anybody else.

C. Kesavan quoted in K. Sreenivasan,. C. Kesavan. Trivandrum: Jayasree Publication, 1987. pp.103-111. Print.

36 Quoted from (Translation), File No. 1643, Subject: “Prescription of the Address presented to C. Kesavan at Sherthallai, “Year 1937, Government of Travancore, C. S. Records, GAD, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum (Unpublished Document).

37 File No. 746, “Subject : List of political and Quasi- political societies and Sabhas, “C. S., Government of Travancore (Unpublished Document).

38 File No. 195/44, Subject: “The Incidents of Sherthallai: Police Report”,

C. S., Goverenment of Travancore (Unpublished).

39 Kerala Kaumudi reported on 30 May:

… At 8 a.m., Mr. Velayudhan B.A.B.L., who is the General Secretary Yogam and who is also the Vice-President of the ‘United Political Congress’, accompanied by workers with ‘tom-tom-beatings and wind music’, arrived at the flag post in front of the auditorium. There, a group photo was taken. The Mr. Velayudhan hoisted the red flag carrying the emblem ‘sickle and hammer’. It was followed by a speech on the role of the labour movement. The programme ended after flag solute by the labour volunteers (Translation).

Kerala Kaumudi, Weekly Newspaper, Trivandrum: Vol. 28, 30 May 1937.

40 Also vide, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. pp.93-109. Print.

41 Also vide, K. Prasobhan, “ The Revival of the Namboodiri Community”, in, T. Bhaskaran Ed., Sree Narayana Yugaprabhavam, pp. 351,356, 357 & 359. Print.

42 Also vide, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. How I Became A Communist. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1976. pp. 93-109. Print.

43 The ‘Ayyankali Pada’ was organised at Neyyattinkara, Kottukal, Venganur, Chovvara, Mallur, Vellar, Balaramapuram, Paachallur etc. K. S. Mani, “Ayyankali the Liberator of Blacks in Kerala”, Samskara Keralam, Quarterly, Trivandrum: Department of Cultural Publication, Government of Kerala, 1989, p.19.

44 Also vide, K. S. Mani. “Ayyankali the Liberator of Blacks in Kerala”, Samskara Keralam, Quarterly, Trivandrum: Department of Cultural Publication, Government of Kerala, 1989. pp.21& 22. Print.

45 Educational Attainment: Various Communities

Year

X’ian

Nayar

Ezhava

Muslim

Pulaya

Paraya

1089(1914)

84161

70752

23895

4853

2017

1097

1090(1915)

96648

81034

30790

6095

4256

1816

1091 (1916)

113020

94336

39224

8569

8494

2652

1092 (1917)

119563

99490

45429

9553

10913

4885

Chendarasseri, T.H.P. Ayyankali. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1979. Print.

46 T. T. Kesavan Sastry, son-in-law of Ayyankali formed ‘The All Kerala Pulaya Mahasabha’. In July 1937, its first meeting was held at the Government High School, Adoor. The meeting was presided by C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. It resulted in the final breakdown of ‘The Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham’. Separate Caste organisations such as, ‘Cheramar Mahasabha’, ‘Ayyanavar Mahasabha’, ‘Parayar Mahasabha’, ‘ Kuravar Mahasabha’ etc., were formed.

In 1936, the ‘Kuravar Mahasabha’ was formed by P. C. Adichan. Of the cashew peeling workers, the majority belonged to the Kuravas. When the caste leadership became pro-Government, for personal favours, the Kurava workers began to join the trade union under the leadership of K.

C. Govindan (the late, trade union leader). Against it, the Government was using the Kurava leader, P. C. Adichan to dissuade his caste men from joining the trade union. This kind of pro-Governmental actions of the caste leaders, at the cost of the workers, made them unpopular and made ‘working class movement’ popular (File 238).

T.H.P.Chendarasseri. Ayyankali. Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1979. pp.140-

141. Print. Also vide, File No. 238, Subject: “Incitement of the Labourers of the Quilon Cashewnut Factories to strike,” Government of Travancore, Confidential Section: General Administration Department, Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

47 Logan, “Report of the Malabar Special Commission”, para 263, 280, quoted in, K. N. Panikkar. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th

Centuries”, Ed., A. R. Desai, Peasant Struggles in India, Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. Print. p.612. Print.

48 Gayatri Vallabha Iyer, “Welcome Speech”, Second State Political Conference of the Indian National Congres, Palghat, May, 1923, quoted in, A. K. Pillai, Congress and Kerala, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, 1986, pp. 350-352. Print.

49 C. S. Subrahmanyam, “Assembly Speech”, Legislative Council Debates, Madras: 8 February 1922.

50 Lord Reading, Viceroy to Lord Wellington, Letter, 26 May 1922, F.No. 23, Home, Political, 1922.

51 Lord Reading, Viceroy to Lord Wellington, Letter, 26 May 1922, F.No. 129, Home, Political, 1923.

52 Statesman, English Daily, Madras: 2 September 1922. Also vide, Kathleen Gough. “Peasant Resistance and Revolt in South India.” Peasant Struggles in India. Ed. Desai. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. p.725. Print.

53 Also vide, K. N. Panikkar. “Peasant Revolts in Malabar in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Ed. A. R. Desai. Peasant Struggles in India. Bombay: Oxford UP, 1979. p.622. Print.

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Andarjanam, Lalithambika. Malayala Manorama. Kottayam: 2 September 1985.

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Ayyappan, K. “Ezhavalbodhanam”, “Ujjevanam”, “Pula Colony”, & “Gandhisandesam”. The Poetic Works of Sahodaran. Ed. M. K. Sanoo. Kottayam: DC, 1981. Print.

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BUILD UP OF CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS: AGITATIONAL POLITICS IN TRAVANCORE

Abstract: In Travancore radicalism developed during the period of class- consciousness. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to form political parties. At that time, 60% of political activities were concentrated in the Alleppey-Sherthallai taluks. The political radicalism based on caste and regional interests weighed greater than the constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. Political radicalism amounted to about 90% of the total political activities of the State. During 1930s and 1940s even in organisations listed under radicalism, leaders began to give up radicalism, became moderates and even supporters of the Government.

At the same time, ‘Gandhian Satyagrahis’ turned out to be political radicalists.

Keywords: moderates, extremists, radicalism, agitations

In Travancore, radicalism developed during the period of class- consciousness. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to evolve political parties. At that time, 60% of the political activities were concentrated in the Alleppey- Sherthallai taluks. The political radicalism based on caste and regional interests outweighed the constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. Political radicalism reached about 90% of the total political activities of the State. During 1930s and 1940s even in organisations listed under radicalism, the leaders began to abandon radicalism and become moderates and even supporters of the Government. At the same time, Gandhian ‘Satyagrahis’ turned out to be political radicalists. The political radicalism in Travancore was spearheaded by: 1. Alleppey coir factory workers, 2. The Youth League, 3. The Travancore State Congress and. 4. The Communist radical group.

Analysis of the Agitational Politics in Travancore

For the analysis of the agitational politics of Travancore, it is found that a Government report of 1930, prepared at the request of the British Government, is particularly useful as it gives an account of the political activities of various organisations on territorial as well as behavioural basis. Moderate and extremist organisations of different social and economic backgrounds interacted to evolve political parties in Travancore. To trace its transformation, the following tables (No.1 & 2) based on secret police reports and reports of the revenue authorities are helpful.

Tables 1 & 2 indicate the extent and nature of the agitational politics of Travancore by the beginning of 1930. At that time, 60% of the political activists were in the Alleppey – Sherthallai region, 20% in Quilon, 6% in Nagercoil, 3% in Trivandrum and 1% distributed over Karunagappally, Kayamkulam, Mavelikara and Pathanamthitta. As far as the nature of political behaviour was concerned, extremism based on caste and regional interests outweighed the national and constitutional politics of the Indian National Congress. The Congress activities of ‘Satyagraha’, ‘Harijan work’ etc., were limited to below 10% of the total political activity, whereas, political extremism reached about 90%.

The political development in Travancore during the later period showed that even in organisations listed under extremism, moderates were emerging. Either the extremists turned into moderates or they gave up politics, secured Government favours and became supporters of the Government. Three such typical cases may be examined, based on the secret police reports to the Government of Travancore. The first case is that of the S.N.D.P. leader, K. M. Kesavan who was reported to have said, “… If the temples of Travancore are not opened before 2nd January, the people are prepared to make a revolution. C.I.D. should make a report of these facts and bring these facts before His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore”.1 This extremist leader was used by Sri. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer to form a counter organisation to the S.N.D.P. Yogam named Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham (S.N.D.S.).2 The second case is that of V. K. Velayudhan, who was once the president of the Travancore Labour Association and the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam who was known, at one time, as ‘the Stalin of Alleppey’. When V. V. Giri presided over the 12th annual meeting of the Travancore Labour Association, it was V. K. Velayudhan who hoisted the red flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer, for the first time, in Travancore.3 In 1944, at the peak of the struggle for a responsible Government in Travancore, V. K. Velayudhan became a supporter of the Government, apologised for his previous political activities, retired from active politics and secured many favours from the Government.4

The third extremist political leader who became a moderate and secured Government favours was P. N. Krishna Pillai. In 1932, the Commissioner of Police reported the following about him to the Chief Secretary: “P. N. Krishna Pillai organises and speaks at many political meetings and is himself notorious for his extreme political views”.5 The Secret Police Daily Bulletin on 13th April 1939 reported, “At a labour meeting held on 11-4-1939 in Karunagappally, P. N. Krishna Pillai in the course of his speech, dealing with the might of the labourers if they get organised, referred to the labour strike of 1926 in England and said that even His Majesty the King Emperor had to flee for his life from the Buckingham Palace”.6 The extremist leader was won over by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer using two coir capitalists of Alleppey, K. C. Karunakaran and M. L. Janardhanan Pillai.7 In early 1931, Krishna Pillai met the Dewan and shortly thereafter, got the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union pass a resolution to the effect of depoliticising the coir factory workers of Alleppey–Sherthallai. It reads, “This meeting of the Managing Committee of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union resolves that the Union shall not identify with any political organisations in the State in its activities”.8 The coir capitalist, K. C. Karunakaran in his letter to the Dewan claimed that the resolution was the result of the pressure he exerted on P. N. Krishna Pillai. The information given by the Inspector General of Police showed that P. N. Krishna Pillai lost the leadership of the labourers, became less dangerous to the Government and was even prepared to tender an unconditional apology in writing for his past actions.9

The three cases of Gandhian activists who turned into extremist leaders were N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar and M. N. Govindan Nayar. According to a secret police report, N. P. Kurukkal belonged to a land- owning family at Vattiyurkav, Trivandrum. In 1920, when he was studying in the Vanchiyur School, he organised a strike against fee hike. He discontinued studies and became a member of the Trivandrum District Congress started under the Presidency of Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai and under the Secretaryship of A. K. Pillai. Together with

G. Sreedhar, he participated in the Nagpore flag-fight in 1922 and was arrested. During the period of the Salt Satyagraha, he became the Secretary of the City Congress Committee. Together with N. C. Sekhar and

Table 1: Politics of Travancore, 1930: Territorial Basis

I. Trivandrum

IV. Alleppey

1. Travancore

Political Association, 1928 (members)

100

1. Travancore Labour Association, 1924

1100

2. City Congress Committee, 1927

50

2. Temperance & Khadar Society

3. Youth League, 1930

20

3. Karappuram Sahodara Sangham Sherthallai, 1920

1000

4. S.I. States People’s Conference

11

4. Karappuram Sevasangham, 1920

1000

Total Activists

101

5. Temperance Association, 1929

40

II. Nagercoil

6. Kerala Reforms League, 1929

30

1. Khadar Society

210

7. Karappuram Union

20

2. Self- Respect League, 1928

85

8. Madhuvarjana Sangham, 1930

15

3. S. Satyagraha Committee, 1930

50

9. Youth League, Kuthiyathod

13

4. Sucheendram S. Committee, 1930

10

10. Congress Committee, 1930

12

5. A. India Spinners’ Association

10

Total Activists

3230

Total Activists

330

V. a) Mavelikkara Prohibition Society, 1930

17

III Quilon

b) Chengannur,

Congress Sabha

5

1. Qulion Labour Association 1928

600

c) Vallicode, G.V.Yuvajanasangham

12

2. S.Pradayani Sabha, Paravur, 1930

300

d) Kayamkulam, Provinvial C.L. 1930

13

3. Youth League, Perinad, 1930

500

Total Activists

47

4. Temperance Union, Kavanad, 1930

85

Total Organisation engaged to political activities

(Excepting Arya Samaj)

30

5. S & Prohibition Society, 1928

7

Total Political activists

5280

6. T. Union Karunagappally

  1. a) Mavellikkara 17 0.

    1. Chengannur 5
    2. Vallicode 12
    3. Kayamkulam 13

89%

Total Activists

1492

The percentage of Political activists

of each place to the total number in the State

i. Trivandrum-181(3.43%)

ii. Nagercoil-330 (6.25%)

iii.Quilon – 1492 (28.26%)

iv. Alleppey – 3230 (61.17%) Sherthallai

Source: Derived from; The Confidential Correspondence File No. 746, Year 1930,

Subject: “List of Political and Quasi- Political Societies in the State for the year ending 30th June, 1930”, C.S., Govt. of Travancore (unpublished).

G. Sreedhar, he broke the Salt laws at Calicut, Payyannur, Bombay and Darsana. In 1930, along with N. C. Sekhar, he went to Malabar to picket ‘foreign cloth’ shops, and they were arrested. After their release on 14-3- 1931, Kurukkal assuming the role of the Organising Secretary of the Provincial Unit of the C.P.I. in Kerala, issued a ‘recruitment pamphlet’ for enlisting members.10

According to the confidential police report, N. C. Sekhar was born in a poor family in Neyyattinkara taluk. After discontinuing his education, he went to Payyanur in 1105 (1930) along with N. P. Kurukkal,

K. Kumar, G. Sreedhar and other radicals to join the Salt Satyagraha. He

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Table 2: Politics of Travancore, 1930: Behavioural Basis

I

II

III

IV

Congressmen assistating I.N.C. in Satyagraha, collecting funds & enlisting members

Congressmen engaged in Khadi & Harijan work

Radicals associate with the I.N.C

Political activists rooted in social radicalism follow political radicalism

1. City Congress Committee,

Trivandrum 50

1. Khadar Society Nagarcoil 210

1. Youth Leage Perinad, Quilon 500

1. Karappuram Sahodara Samajam, Shertallai 1000

2. Salt Satyagraha Committee,

Nagercoil 50

2. Prohibition Society, Mavelikara 17

2. Travancore Political Association

Trivandrum 100

2. Karappuram Seva Sangham, Shertallai 1000

3. Provincial Congress League, Kayamkulam 13

3. Madhuvarjana

Sangham, Shertalai 15

3. South Indian States People’s Conference, Trivandrum 11

3. Self-respect League, Nagercoil 85

4. Congress

Committee, Shertalai 12

4. Temperance & Khadar Society Alleppey

4. Sanmarga Sabha Paravur, Quilon 300

4. Kerala Reforms League, Vayalar 30

5. Gandhivilasom Yuvajana Sangham Vallicode 12

5. Spinners Association, Nagercoil 10

5. Temperance Union, Kavanad 50

5. Karappuram Union, Shertalai 20

6. Congress Sabha, Chengannur 5

6. Temperance Movement, Kanjirapally

6. Temperance

Association, Shertallai 40

6. Suchindram Satyagraha Committee 10

Total Activists 142

Total Activists 252

Total Activists 1041

Total Activists 2145

remedy for all social and

V

Trade Union movements Believed in Class War and Active in Politics

1. Travancore Labour

Number of Organisations & Percentage of Political Activists to the Total Number

Organisations

Total No.of organisations

6

6

9

Activists

%

  1. SupportingI.N.C
  2. Khadi & Harjan Work
  3. Radical congressmen
  4. Rooted in Social Radicalism, follow Political Radicalism

142

252

1041

2.7

4.8

19.7

Association, Alleppey

2. Quilon Labour Association Total Activists

1100

600

1700

6

2145

40.6

V. Trade Union Movement believing In class war, active in politics 2

1700

32.2

Source: Derived from; The Confidential Correspondence File No. 746, Year 1930, Govt. of Travancore.

picketed foreign cloth shops. He was arrested on 30th June, and was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment. He underwent imprisonment in the Cannanore jail. He took part in all the activities of the Congress in Neyyattinkara and Trivandrum. He participated in the picketing of foreign cloth shops at Trivandrum in 1107 (1932). He was arrested on 24-5-1107 for disobeying a prohibitory order issued by the District Magistrate, Trivandrum, and was convicted and sentenced to one month’s rigorous imprisonment. He was actively involved in making all arrangements for Gandhi’s visit to Travancore in early 1934. In 1935, he attended the meeting of the Malabar District Harijan Seva Sangh. He took interest in the Malaria relief work in Neyyattinkara taluk. In October 1935 he joined the labour agitation which eventually led to the labour strike in Thiruvannur. In 1936, he was the Joint Secretary of the Labour Union at Calicut, and an activist of the C.S.P. During 1934-‘35 he had contributed articles to newspapers condemning capitalism and holding out socialism as the political evils. He was a potential revolutionary, a radical Congressman and a Communist, anti-British and anti-Government, prone to be mischievous when suitable opportunities arose. N. P. Kurukkal, G. Sreedhar and other radicals were his close friends.11 In 1937,

P. Sundarayya and S. V. Ghate, the Central Committee members of the C.P.I., who were to organise the party in South India enlisted N. C. Sekhar together with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Krishna Pillai and K. Damodaran into the ‘secret fraction’ of the party in Kerala (Namboodiripad 201, 202 & 211).

The third case of the moderate political leader-turned-radical was that of M.N. Govindan Nayar. On 16 March 1936, the British Resident in a letter to Dewan Habibullah had enquired on the nature of the activities of M. N. Govindan Nayar and G. Ramachandran. Accordingly, the Police Commissioner had made an inquiry and reported, “Regarding Messrs.

M. N. Govindan Nayar and G. Ramachandran, there is nothing to be said against them except that they are in sympathy with the policies and ideals of the Indian National Congress and have been working for the Harijan Sevak Sangh”.12 Later M. N. Govindan Nayar became active in the agitations of the Travancore State Congress for responsible Government and rose to the national leadership of the Communist Party of India after 1947.13

The Coir Factory Workers’ Movement of Sherthallai-Alleppey

The history of the coir industry in Alleppey began in 1859, with the establishment of a small factory for the manufacture of coir mats by James Darragh, an Irish American Catholic. He also bought coir yarn, which was shipped to factories in Europe and America where it was woven (qtd in Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism: Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Workers” 1159). By 1890, about four European-Amercian firms and about a dozen Indian industrialists were engaged in the coir business. In 1890, an Alleppey Chamber of Commerce was founded. By 1901, the factories of Darragh and Smail at Alleppey employed 1,000 workers. In 1909, the annual export of manufactured coir goods averaged Rs.10.36 lakhs and yarn exports about Rs. 60 lakhs (qtd in Jeffrey 1159).14 The First World War produced a boom in the manufacturing industry. The loss of market in Europe and the shortage of shipping were incentives to increase manufacture of coir goods in Travancore. In the five years from 1914-‘15 to 1918-‘19, the average value of manufactured coir exports rose to Rs. 11.58 lakhs a year. By 1918-‘19, the export stood at Rs. 18.12 lakhs. The end of the war and the reopening of the European market produced a spectacular growth in the industry. In 1927-‘28 the value of manufactured exports rose by 400% to Rs. 90.4 lakhs from Rs. 18.13 lakhs in 1918-’19 (Idem).

In five to six years after the First World War, the coir industry suffered an acute shortage of labour. Contractors had to go about and canvas workmen to whom the management had to pay an advance. But, by 1931, due to the global economic depression, the prices of coir products crashed. Yet, there was a demand for the products. That was because of the fact that the lower middle classes of Europe and America looked for cheaper floor coverings when times were hard and saw coir as the answer. That meant a continuation of employment at lower wages. The quantity of production increased during that period from 47% to 80% while the value increased by only 28%. To achieve the increase in production, more workers were recruited. The census of 1931 enumerated 7000 factory workers and more than 1,20,000 cottage workers in the coir industry. In 1941 the number of factory workers was 32,000 while that of the cottage industry rose to 1,33,000 (Ibid 1159).15 By January 1934 wages dropped by 30%. At the same time, the price of paddy went down by 50%. By 1938, the worker’s wages were 75% less than in 1930, and the price of paddy was only 40% lower than the pre-depression level (Ibid 1159).16

During the post-war depression period, there was a good demand for coir products in the market, but prices remained low. Small fly-by- night factories increased in the countryside within a radius of about 30 miles of Alleppey. By 1938, in addition to Alleppey, there were 250 such factories with 700 looms (Ibid 73).17 In the ten years between 1929-‘38, more than 130 shippers had been listed in the official publications and then vanished; only 23 had survived throughout the 10 years. Small factories, started with low capital, could undercut the bigger enterprises in Alleppey (Ibid 1160). As small factories spread, a large number of people were exposed to the proletarian life of factory conditions. Men drifted into Alleppey for a few months or years of work in the factories, then went back to their villages and were replaced by others. To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The coir industry was thus distinct; large factories shading off into rudimentary country workshops and finally into the huts of thousands of people which produced coir yarn”(Idem).

In 1922 the coir factory workers of Alleppey were organised on the initiative of a labour contractor (Moopan), P. K. Bava. He was the head worker in the Empire Coir Works. The Civil Rights Movement of the time had given him the impetus to organise the workers. Initially it was called Labour Union. Bava was its first Secretary and he continued in that post till 1928. Very soon, sometime in 1922 itself, the name was changed to Travancore Labour Association (Raghavan 34-38). In the early days, the Travancore Labour Association worked more as a welfare organisation than as a trade union. But gradually it grew into the most powerful trade union, mainly due to the consistent efforts of the rank and file (Isaac 167). To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The Labour Association took the lead in none of the strikes. Rather, workers called on it for help. Once they had angrily and spontaneously struck work rather than accept heavier duties for lower wages”(Govindan 182; Jeffrey 1161).

The emergence of the proletarian movement in the Sherthallai– Alleppey belt was based on four factors. Firstly, the society was still pre- capitalist, and hence social values and social conflicts affected the workers too. Secondly, they were affected by the anti-colonial freedom struggle (and also the struggle for responsible Government in Travancore). Thirdly, the workers had to organise and agitate under trade unions to safeguard their class interests. Fourthly, to liberate the working class from the bourgeois social reform leadership, there was the deliberate interference of the working class political party (Isaac 167). The working class movement in the Sherthallai-Alleppey belt is a typical example of the interactions of the above four factors at different periods, at varying degrees.

By the end of the 19th century, with the advent of modernisation on a limited scale, a bourgeois class emerged in the society of Kerala. The socio-political system dominated by caste-Hindus was an impediment to the development of this class. The aim of the social reform movement was to remove those pre-capitalist obstacles that stood in the way of development. Of the social awakening movements, the most radical one was the Ezhava social reform movement. Bourgeois radicalism reached its zenith in the movement. The awakened Ezhava bourgeoisie, who were fighting to secure social and political status on par with their economic position, organised behind them the entire population, the majority of whom were workers (Ibid 168). The coir factory workers of Alleppey entered the stage of social and political activities through these movements. The dynamism of the Ezhava social reform movement almost intoxicated them. The coir factory workers of Sherthallai – Alleppey were leading a double life – of worker inside the factory and of Ezhava outside the factory. To fight against the capitalist, they had the trade union and to fight against the caste-Hindu domination, there was the S.N.D.P. Union (Idem).

During the 1924-‘37 period, the Travancore Labour Association was greatly influenced by extremist leaders like K. Ayyappan, P. Kesavadev, A. Balakrishna Pillai, E. V. Ramaswami Naikar and others. In 1924 at a labour meeting in Sherthallai, K. Ayyappan gave the following call to the workers: “… strike and get liberated like the Russians who liberated themselves by slaying the royal family. Never mind the gun of the army, the baton of the police and even the King” (Raghavan 38). The Government of Travancore took a serious view of his call and prohibited Ayyappan from making speeches in Travancore. It prompted Dewan Raghavayya to state, “The Communist ideology has started spreading”.18 In 1924, the Travancore Labour Association started a library and a literacy class for the workers. Lessons on the dignity of labour, value of knowledge, women emancipation, abstention from liquor, etc. were taught by dedicated speakers like K. Ayyappan, P. Kesavadev, Swami Satyavradan, R. Sugathan and others. The Association formed a Labourers’ Cooperative Society (No. 1014) and started issuing loans and consumer goods at the market price. In 1926, the Association, under the initiative of P. K. Bava, started a newspaper named Thozhilali (Worker) which survived till the general strike of 1938. Once or twice a week, meetings were conducted near factories to educate and enlighten the workers (Raghavan 4-40).

The Travancore Labour Association extended its activities by establishing branches throughout the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt. The four branches were at Aroor, Sherthallai, Muhamma and at the Chungom at Alleppey. The dedicated efforts of the Association enabled the workers of Alleppey to attain such commendable levels of literacy that many among them emerged as trade union leaders, political party leaders, speakers, writers and even editors of newspapers (qtd in Raghavan 39).19 To quote Robin Jeffrey,”Travancore was the most literate area of India (68% of male literacy in 1941), and one estimate put literacy among the factory workers at 75% in the late 1930s” (Jeffrey, “Status, Class and the Growth of Radical Politics” 138). Jeffrey continues, “The coir factories not only imparted the skills of the industry but introduced workers to the realities of factory life, to the grievances of factory labour, and ultimately to organisers from the Travancore Labour Association, to its weekly newspaper, Thozhilali (Worker)” (Jeffrey, Destroy Capitalism 1160).

The newspaper Thozhilali came out fairly regularly throughout the 1930s. It published a wide range of poems, articles and polemics, educating the workers in class solidarity and socialism. For example, it published a lengthy account of Marx’s contribution to workers’ literature, and poems like ‘The Workers’ Hand’ which concluded, “This world shall see the dawn of revolution; The world, sustained by the labour of workers, shall see the dawn of revolution”. It published features such as ‘Peaceful Path to Socialism in Sweden’, ‘The Beautification of Moscow’, ‘Soviet Reclamation and Hydroelectric Projects’, ‘Growth of the Literacy Movement in Soviet Union’, ‘Various Strikes in South India’, ‘Travancore Labour News’, ‘Call for Worker-peasant Solidarity to achieve Responsible Government in Travancore’, ‘About the Cry of a Beggar,’ a poem titled ‘Give Cash’, and a skit entitled ‘Public Men’ in which one character tells another, “Elder brother! A public institution is not enough. Revolution, that is what we need. We must put down all notables, we must unite all workers”(Idem).20

In the 1920s, traditional caste based values started crumbling and the vacuum created was replaced with the ideas of socialism and classlessness. The Brotherhood Movement of K. Ayyappan was preaching rationalism leading to atheism. Lord Rama was replaced by Comrade Lenin (Idem). Throughout the 1930s, the caste-Hindus and the Government of Travancore were threatened by the largescale conversion of non-caste Hindus. The strike of 1934 brought a range of slogans and songs to the lips of Alleppey workers such as, ‘Capitalists! We want wages in cash; When we ask for wages, will you attack us?’ and ‘Workers of all nations, unite!’ The slogan ‘Destory capitalism!’ gained wide currency. The idea was taking firm root that the factory owners were a group (some of them were Ezhavas) with interests that were directly antagonistic to the workers (Idem). Thus class consciousness and anti- capitalist sentiments spread rapidly throughout the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt. The fact that many of the coir workers were constantly moving back and forth between their villages and the factories meant that larger sections of the people were exposed to the ideas of class struggle. By carrying their ideas back to the countryside, they created around themselves a sympathetic rural buffer that could become a source of support in times of crisis (Ibid 1160).

The labour union of the coir factory workers was the first melting pot of secular politics in Travancore. In the state of Travancore, where communal issues often dominated politics, the welding of workers from all castes and religions into a militant union was proof of a growing class awareness. Ezhavas formed 80% of the work force, Christians 8%, Muslims 1% and Nayars 1%; the remaining 10% was formed by other non-caste Hindus (Ibid 1160).21 The founding Secretary of the Kerala branch of the Communist Party, P. Krishna Pillai was a coir factory worker. The coir factory became the meeting ground for workers of all castes and religions and in the Travancore Labour Association, the different streams merged to form a single class (Ibid 1160-61).

The nature of the working of the Labour Association in its early days can also be analysed by looking into the data available of the persons associated with it – the Chairpersons of its annual meetings and its Presidents – and its list of activities. Its early annual meetings were presided over by Sardar K. M. Panikkar, Z. M. Parot, B. Sivarao, Chenganassery Parameswaran Pillai, K. A. Krishnayyankar, E. V. Ramaswami Naikar, V. V. Giri, M. Ramavarma Thampan, R. Sankar, Pattom Thanu Pillai, K. K. Kuruvila and others. The early presidents of the Association were Dr. Antony, P. S. Mohammed, M. Krishnan Menon, P. K. Madhavan, N. Krishnan, A. Balakrishna Pillai, V. K. Velayudhan, P. N. Krishna Pillai and others. About them, a former General Secretary K. K. Kunjan says, “Labour leadership was held by a group of capitalists and their men. Its first President was Dr. Antony, the owner of Indian Coir Works. Others were advocates, employees (administrative staff) of factories or contractors. When the workers, acting on their own initiative, struck work demanding payment in cash and objecting to wage reduction etc., the leaders of the Association only mediated the strikes, to plead with the Government and the capitalists. They could not organise and lead strikes systematically at a higher level” (qtd in Andalat 97-98). Not only did the early leadership lack the ability to organise labour strikes effectively, but it also lacked the will to organise agitations against the Government. A typical case is that of P. S. Mohammed, the President of the Association in 1932. On 10th March 1932, in a letter to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Travancore, he stated, “… I need not tell you that ever since I took charge as President of the Association, I have tried my level best to make the Association a responsible body. You will have noticed that not a single labourer took part in the recent picketing that was followed by arrests. This shows that the Labour Association under my advice has been able to infuse in the minds of the labourers the need to respect law and authority … They do not have to interfere in political matters”.22

Seven years later in 1939 , Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore, through a coir manufacturer K. C. Karunakaran, managed to get a resolution passed by the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union to the effect that, “… the labour will have nothing to do with any political organisation in Travancore”.23 The following were the early activities of the Labour Association: 1. Collected a working fund; 2. Started a weekly newspaper; 3. Distributed pamphlets regularly; 4. Conducted library and literacy classes; 5. Gave medical aid; funeral expense of Rs. 25 was given at the time of the death of an adult and Rs. 15 at the death of a child;

6. Demanded medical inspection in factories; 7. Demanded the Government to set up funds to help the aged and unhealthy; 8. Took the initiative to organise trade unions in other sectors; for instance, the agro- labourers of Kuttanad, the rickshaw pullers, scavengers, boat workers, and oil mill workers were shown the path towards organisation by the coir workers; 9. In 1926, it appealed to social organisations to convene labour conferences; 10. Demanded compulsory primary education; and,

11. Demanded universal adult suffrage and responsible Government in Travancore (Andalat 99; Jeffrey 1161).

Politics of the Coir workers

Besides the above demands, the Association supported agitations of the national freedom movement. Robin Jeffrey has stated that, in April 1924, the Travancore Labour Association held a festive annual meeting in imitation of the Indian National Congress. During the conference, word was received of the arrest of leading satyagrahis at Vaikom. Fifty volunteers were at once despatched across the backwaters to aid the satyagraha movement of the Indian National Congress (ibid 1160). Among the volunteers was K. C. Govindan, a twenty-four year old coir weaver, who was later to serve as the General-Secretary of the Labour Association for more than five years.24 In 1930, the Travancore Government in its confidential report to the British Resident about the organisations of political importance, stated that the Travancore Labour Association had a very high membership and that the Association “… appears to have been taking part in political matters. When the Salt Satyagraha volunteers under the leadership of G. Sreedhar went to Payyannur through Alleppey, K. C. Govindan, Secretary of the Association, welcomed them on behalf of the Association. They even said that, if necessary, they would supply volunteers and money for the Salt Satyagraha Campaign”.25 On 7 June 1935, when the abstentionist leader C. Kesavan was arrested at Alleppey, all the coir factory workers struck work and held protest meetings. Later when he was released, a grand felicitation was accorded to him (Raghavan 47-48).

In 1934, the defunct K.P.C.C was reorganised and the C.S.P. leader

A. K. Gopalan was elected one of the secretaries. By 1935, the Congress started extending its activities to the villages. The party created tributary organisations of workers, peasants, teachers and students. In May 1935, along with the first Kerala Congress Conference, a labour conference was also held. A total number of 16 trade union delegates participated in it. Its organiser was P. Krishna Pillai, a product of the coir factory culture. The trade union delegates included A. K. Gopalan, R. Sugathan, N. C. Sekhar, K. K. Warrier, P. S. Namboodiri, K. P. Gopalan and P. K. Balan. In 1937 the second labour conference was held at Trichur. The Association sent R. Sugathan as its delegate (Ibid 55-56).

When the C.S.P. was formed in 1934, its leaders, particularly P. Krishna Pillai, were in contact with the labour leaders of Alleppey. Gradually, through regular contact and study classes, the idea of liberating the first trade union movement of Kerala from the influence of the bourgeoisie and converting it into a revolutionary trade union was envisioned. It was in that background that the first organised strike broke out in January 1934, the first of its kind launched by the labour Association. After striking work, the labourers conducted a procession through the streets of Alleppey shouting the slogans, ‘victory to the revolution!’, ‘workers of the world, unite!’, ‘capitalists, give wages in cash!’ etc (Ibid 41, 42, 57 & 58).

Parallel to the bourgeois leadership (P. S. Muhammed, Anirudhan and others), a proletarian leadership was emerging from among the workers themselves. Prominent among them were K. K. Kunjan, V. K. Purushothaman, K. C. Govindan, K. V. Pathros, P. G. Padmanabhan, V. I. Simon Asan, Swami Padmanabhan, K. K. Joseph, S. Damodaran, C. O. Mathew, V. K. Achuthan, O. J. Joseph, C. K. Kesavan, P. V. Andrews, K. Velayudhan, V. S. Achuthanandan and others (Menon 100-101).26 In 1936, P. Krishnan Pillai organised the first C.S.P. unit of Travancore in Alleppey. Its secretary was K. N. Dat and the unit members were K. K. Kunjan, P. K. Padmanabhan, P. V. Andrews, V. K. Purushothaman, K.V. Pathros, Simon Asan, P. A. Soloman and C. O. Mathew. The group worked among the labourers, and by 1937, grew powerful enough to capture the leadership of the Labour Association from the bourgeoisie-influenced leaders (Raghavan 58).

Even after the formation of the C.S.P. unit, the bourgeois influence did not completely end. In the 12th annual meeting of the Association, on 22 May 1937, the C.S.P. leadership attempted to rush through a resolution to insist that workers sever all relations with communal organisations. It gave rise to an outcry. The majority of the workers looked upon the resolution as a wicked tactic to torpedo the agitations against caste-Hindu domination. Finally as a compromise, the old practice was allowed to continue.27 But gradually, the Alleppey worker severed his caste connections and became class conscious. When strikes became widespread, it became a class conflict between the capitalists including the Ezhava capitalists and the working class of all castes. Thus, from experience, the workers realised that caste organisations were useless and incapable of even mediating in class conflicts (Ibid 169).

By the end of the 1930s, when the Government decided to accept the demands of the Abstention Movement, the Ezhava leaders felt that their caste disabilities had been corrected and that it was profitable to give up the anti-Governmental stance and to get closer to the government. Hence they stopped the support they extended to the State Congress for its agitations against the Government. It marked the successful culmination of the consistent efforts of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, through the Alleppey coir manufacturer K. C. Karunkaran, to get the S.N.D.P. Yogam withdraw from political activities and to confine itself to social activities alone.28 It was highly ironical that the special S.N.D.P. meeting which took such a decision on 28-5-1939 at Alleppey was presided over by its president K. Ayyappan who had once – in 1924 – called upon the Sherthallai-Alleppey labourers to create a ‘bloody revolution’ in the model of the ‘Russian revolution’ (Raghavan 38-39). The workers of Sherthallai had taken that call of Ayyappan in its true spirit and got into a direct confrontation with the police leading to military firing on 21-9-1938 (known as the Kanicha-Kulangara riot). The leader of the riot was A. K. Padmanabhan, the secretary of the Kalavancode branch of the Labour Union.

Moreover, in the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt, there was an identification of the labour force with the radical wing of the State Congress called the Youth League. The coir capitalists of Alleppey and their organisation, the Alleppey Chamber of Commerce openly supported the suppressive policies of the Travancore Government against the State Congress. On 13-10-1114 M.E (25-5-1939) the District Magistrate, based on a confidential police report, informed the Chief Secretary to the Government that the radical section of the State Congress led by T. K. Varghese Vaidyan and others had been very busy recruiting labour leaders into the Youth League. Twelve prominent members of the managing committee had so far enrolled themselves as members of the radical section of the State Congress. “It is reported that the labour are siding more and more with this section.” The very title of the government file dealing with the report, “Alleppey Labour Situation, the Police at Alleppey to be Strengthened – the Inspector Being Nervous”, is indicative of the nature of the labour situation in the Sherthallai-Alleppey belt.29

In the agitation of the State Congress for responsible Government, the coir capitalists of Alleppey openly supported the Government. On the contrary, the coir workers of Alleppey strongly supported the State Congress in its agitation for responsible Government and adult suffrage. On 2-11-1938 the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Alleppey reported to the I.G of Police:

… the driving force behind the Labour Union has been and still is the State Congress. The labour agitation has always been controlled and led by political agitators who take a leading part in the State Congress activities. Even the present strike and the demands of the labourers has been dictated by the State Congress High Command. Seeing that there is a lull in the labour agitation now, with possibilities of the struggle continuing being remote, the State Congress has come forward to foment trouble and revive the dying activities by demanding enquiries into alleged atrocities, all in the name of helping the labourers. The State Congress has, so to say, taken up the cause of the labourers and by sedulous propaganda, dissuaded willing workers from resuming work. It may be noted that the demands of the labourers include the establishment of responsible Government, release of political prisoners, repeal of the Regulation I of 1114 and the institution of enquiries into alleged atrocities of the authorities in connection with the State Congress activities. At the meetings of the labourers, exhortations are made to join the State Congress. It may also be noted that Messrs. P. K. Kunju, P. N. Krishna Pillai, V. K. Velayudhan and R. Sugathan are leading the labour movement.30

In a detailed report sent to the Government by the coir capitalist M.L. Janardhanan Pillai about the State Congress meeting at Kidangamparambu, the bastion of the coir workers, it is stated that the president of the meeting and leader of the Changanassery branch of the Youth League, K. S. Sebastian had said, “…in his capacity as an important office bearer of the Central Travancore Labour Union, he would say that, for all the ills of the workers, both economic and political, responsible government with adult franchise alone was the only panacea”.31

The March of 1935

In April 1935, the Labour Association decided to conduct a march to the capital, Trivandrum, and represent their long-standing grievances directly to the Maharaja (King). Fifty volunteers were elected for the purpose. The demands were: 1. Weekly payment of wage, 2. Uniform wage in all factories, 3. Introduction of modern labour laws, and 4. Representation of labour in the legislature. A Publicity Committee was formed under Quilon Joseph. By May 1935, the committee had conducted sixteen propaganda meetings throughout the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. A marching song too was composed, which began thus:

“The sweet talk of the capitalists and the landlords, cannot save the poor. The crafty ploy of exploiting the workers, with the might of capital, can’t last long…”.(Raghavan 49) (Translation)

When the labour march was being mobilised, the bourgeois leaders became upset. P. S. Muhammed openly turned against the march and Dr. K. P. Panikkar, the President of the Association, resigned. Alarmed at the prospect of the march, the government issued prohibitive orders. Such orders were issued to the labour leaders, K. C. Govindan (General Secretary), Quilon Joseph, V. K. Purushothaman and V. K. Velayudhan (Ibid 51). The ban was followed by arrest and imprisonment. When K. C. Govindan, Quilon Joseph and V. K. Purushothaman were arrested, the entire coir labour force struck work and conducted demonstrations against the arrest. The strike was spontaneous; the Association had not called for it. Protest meetings were held outside Alleppey too. At Trivandrum, they were presided over by Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai and at Quilon, by C. S. Subrahmanyam Potti (Idem).

The ban on the march, the arrest of the labour leaders, the protest meetings, the demonstrations and the strike had their effect. To satisfy the labourers, the Government introduced four bills in the Assembly: 1.The Factories Bill 2.The Workmen Compensation Bill, 3.The Trade Disputes Bill and 4.The Trade Union Bill. Besides that, the Government also withdrew the existing compulsory labour system in factories in response to a resolution introduced in the legislature by Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai. Thus, the organised coir factory workers of Alleppey became a force to be reckoned with (Ibid 57). The 12th annual meeting of the Labour Association was held on 22 May 1937. It was presided over by the then president of the Railway Men’s Federation, V.V. Giri, who was also the Labour Minister in the Madras province. At that meeting, the red-flag with the emblem of the sickle and the hammer was hoisted for the first time in Travancore by V. K. Velayudhan (Ibid 58). The annual meeting raised the following demands: 1. Increase the wages so that a worker could get a minimum wage of Rs. 30; 2. Fix the eight hour working time; 3. One month annual leave with full pay; 4. Old age pension;

  1. Maternity benefits for female workers; 6. Unemployment and illness allowance; 7. Compensation for accident; 8. Government to manage factories; 9. Separate representation for agro-labour and industrial labour in the Legislature; and, 10. Introduction of the I.L.O. recommendations (Ibid 63).

The Political Strike of 1938

As the next step to realising the demands, the Association organised daily, explanatory meetings among the factory workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks. Through their newspaper, Thozhilali, intense propaganda was given to the need to make the Government implement modern labour laws.32 The workers were prepared for a general strike. The General Body of the Association met on 6 March 1938 and decided to launch a general strike. It elected a five member Strike Committee consisting of P. K. Kunju (Association President), P. N. Krishna Pillai,

C. K. Velayudhan, V. K. Purushothaman and R. Sugathan (convener). However, the Government decided to suppress the strike with the help of the Alleppey coir capitalists (Raghavan 64-65). On 24-25 March, the members of the Strike Committee were imprisoned and in the Quilon District, public meetings and demonstrations were prohibited. From Ambalapuzha to Aroor, the workers responded with a general strike and hartal; they violated the prohibitive orders, conducted demonstration before the Police Station and demanded the release of their leaders. The police beat the workers resulting in the death of a worker called Bava. To protest against the lathi charge and the killing of Bava, the coir factory workers struck work the next day and held a protest meeting at Kanjikuzhi, nine miles north of the prohibited area. At Quilon, the workers of Goodeker & Sons Coir Factory and A.D. Cotton Mill struck work and hoisted the black flag (Kunjan 63).

The Government was forced to release the labour leaders the very next day. The arrest of the labour leaders leading to the general strike, the hartal, the protest meetings, the lathi charge and the killing of Bava, all added vigour to the coir factory workers’ agitation for the implementation of labour laws. On 20 June 1936, the workers met on the Aalisseri ground, repeated the resolution adopted at the 12th annual meeting of the Association for a general strike, and formed a strike committee (Raghavan 67). By then, the Association had established its branches outside Alleppey. A branch was opened at a coastal area, which proved instrumental in the formation of the trade unions of dockworkers and fishermen. Another branch was established at Ponkunnam where the estate workers remained unorganised. For the organisation of the Ponkunnam branch, a meeting was held at Ranni (Pillai 21). The Ponkunnam branch was entrusted to the leadership of Kakanadan. The workers’ newspaper Thozhilai too started circulation among the estate workers. In July 1938, the Trade Union Act was introduced in Travancore. On 24 July 1938 the Association was renamed the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union, and it was registered as Trade Union No. 1 (Raghavan 71&73).

Workers Lead the Congress Strike

The coir factory workers were always an inseparable part of the political agitations of the State Congress. The State Congress Working Committee decided to launch its agitation against the Government on 26 August 1938. On the 25th the Government declared the Youth League and the State Congress illegal and banned their activities. However, the Congress decided to violate the prohibition at important centres like Trivandrum, Quilon, Alleppey, Kottayam, Changanassery, etc. At Alleppey, the Congress decided that leaders of the coir factory workers,

R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan should lead the agitation. At Kidanganparambu, thousands of workers assembled. Both the labour leaders addressed the gathering in violation of the prohibition. The workers shouted slogans, ‘We will secure responsible Government by force’, ‘Inquilab-Zindabad’, ‘State Congress Zindabad’, etc (Ibid 77&78).

The Role of S.V. Ghate and C.S.P.

The labour leaders R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan were arrested on 7 September 1938. Along with the coir factory workers, the motorboat workers numbering around 2000 and the country boat workers numbering about 5000, struck work. Apart from a wage raise, they demanded responsible Government based on adult suffrage. At the same time, the

C.S.P. had decided to take over the control of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Alleppey, and for finalising the details, the C.S.P. Central Committee met at Trichur. The C.P.I. Central Committee member S. V. Ghate was specially invited to participate in the meeting. The meeting evolved the strategy to organise the political strike of the coir factory workers. Accordingly, a red volunteer force of 5000 was created. To train them, Padmanabhan and Azis reached Alleppey from Malabar. K. K. Warrier and P. Krishna Pillai were assigned the duty of imparting political education to the workers (Warrier 24-42). About the role of P. Krishna Pillai in the 1938 strike, Robin Jeffrey writes,

In late August or early September, P. Krishna Pillai, the secretary of the C.S.P. in Malabar and already a secret communist, travelled to Travancore… P. Krishna Pillai reported “a fair chance of a political general strike” and asked for S. V. Ghate, the Bombay Communist, to come from Madras to Trichur to offer advice. Although P. Krishna Pillai has been organising workers and peasants in Malabar for eight years, he confessed to a colleague, that he had “no experience of a political strike” and was amazed at the sise of the Alleppey working class which was “numerically huge”. Ghate attended the Trichur meeting which decided to send workers to Alleppey to help organise a strike. P. Krishna Pillai himself became its acknowledged mastermind, moving freely by day disguised as a vegetable seller and holding meetings by night. (Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40″ 1162-63)

On October 19th the Coir factory workers met at Kidangamparambu grounds, evolved thirty demands and decided to go on strike indefinitely from October 23rd. Their leaders declared, “even if all our economic demands are sanctioned, we will not withdraw the strike if total responsible Government based on adult suffrage is not assured”(qtd in Raghavan 83). P. Krishna Pillai pointed out, “When V. K. Purushothaman introduced the resolution containing the demand for total responsible Government, the workers welcomed it with prolonged applause. That showed their interest in making a political demand” (Ibid 83). Accordingly, about 50,000 coir factory workers in the 30-miles long coir belt from Aroor to Vandanam near Ambalapuzha struck work on 23rd October 1938. At the same time, the workers sent 25 red volunteers to Trivandrum to participate in the State Congress demonstrations before the royal palace. The State Congress decided to conduct a massive demonstration before the royal palace on the birthday of the Maharaja, and to give a representation directly to the king demanding responsible government, adult suffrage, dismissal of the Dewan Sir C. P., release of political prisoners, withdrawal of the ban on the Youth League and the State Congress, withdrawal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, etc.

Though the Government had already issued a declaration on 22nd October announcing the release of political prisoners and the suspension of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, nothing was done (Pillai 582). In the forefront of the agitators marched the 25 red volunteers, selected from the striking workers of Alleppey, carrying a red flag. The military tried in vain to disband the agitators at the point of the bayonet. The King, the King’s mother and the Dewan escaped through the back door of the palace without meeting even the leaders of the popular agitation. The demonstrators, at the direction of their leader, Akkamma Cherian, assembled at the nearby Putharikandom Maidan. While the meeting was about to close, the Government released the prisoners including the labour leaders.33

Military Firing

In Alleppey, the coir factory workers who struck work met on the beach on 23rd evening after a massive demonstration. At the head of the demonstration, the 5000 strong red volunteers marched. At the end of the meeting, when the workers started dispersing, they heard the news of the unauthorised transportation of coir goods from certain factories. The volunteers gathered together again to picket the transportation of goods, resulting in police lathi charge on the workers. Additional military forces reached Alleppey by 7.30 p.m. In the firing which followed, two workers died and eight were seriously injured (Pillai 595-596). There were protest demonstrations and picketing the next day. The police beat the workers. In the evening, the red volunteers armed with spears and daggers mobilised at the Savacotta bridge. To disband them, the military opened fire, killing five and wounding several. The military destroyed the union office and the red volunteer camp. At Kalavancode, the local people joined the striking workers and created barricades on the highway (Idem). At Sherthallai, the police reported that a hundred red-shirted men, followed by 3000 workers, forced all shops to close and set up two camps where they gave talks and collected arecanut staves and daggers (Jeffrey, Destroy Capitalism 1163). The scare created by the police and the military suppression was so dreadful that when the 101-strong Strike Committee met on 26th, only eleven members were bold enough to be present. The Committee decided to continue the strike against all odds. For three weeks, there was not a single worker willing to work. However, in the third week, a minority withdrew from the strike and got ready to work.

P. Krishna Pillai directed the Committee members to lead the picketing to prevent them from joining work. Accordingly, K. K. Warrier, K. V. Patrose, C. O. Mathew and others took the lead.34 From Malabar, A. K. Gopalan led a march of supporters. From Trivandrum, two hundred and fifty radical Congressmen called the Youth League reached Alleppey to support the strike (Idem). Thus Alleppey became the melting pot of revolutionaries from the north and the south. To quote Robin Jeffrey, “The friendship and connections made then gave the future Communists a sense of an all-Kerala identity that their electoral opponents lacked even in 1950s” (Idem).

The public sentiment regarding the Government efforts in 1938 to suppress political agitations has been well explained by C. Narayana Pillai, “If the common people were shocked by the widespread terrorism which the Government used against the State Congress, the policy adopted against the coir factory workers’ strike infuriated the people”(Pillai 594). The coir factory workers’ strike in 1938 was more a political strike to mobilise strength for the agitation of the State Congress than one purely for the cause of labour.35 Together with the coir factory workers, the boat workers too struck work. It resulted in the total paralysis of water transport, commerce and industry (Raghavan 90). The general labour strike was the single major factor that weakened the Government and prevented it from taking stern action against the State Congress. That was all that the Congress did for the poverty-stricken workers in the prolonged strike (Pillai, The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore 602). For three weeks, there was a reign of terror with police protection; the coir manufacturers kept the factories open expecting defectors from the striking workers. For three weeks, the workers stood united, putting up with starvation and suffering. The Congress enquiry committee visited Alleppey once and then was seen no more (Ibid 620-621). The coir factory workers who strongly supported the political agitations of the Congress, naturally expected help and support from the Congress when they were in difficulty. However, leaders like Pattom Thanu Pillai and T. M. Varghese helped only create dissension among the workers.36

Anti-Labour Right-wing Congress Leaders

The response of the right-wing State Congress leaders to the strike of the coir factory workers of Alleppey was reminiscent of the situation that prevailed in North Malabar in 1938. When the organised peasants agitated and were about to win their cause, the right-wing Congress leaders helped the landlords and the police to suppress the peasants (Supra 217, n. 71 & 291). In Alleppey too, the response of the right-wing State Congress leaders was cold. As C. Narayana Pillai reported, “The Government was adopting a new policy of filling the jails with labourers when political prisoners were released. Throughout the state, common people were organising protest meetings against the suppression of the labourers” (Pillai 596).

Suppression of the Organised Strength of the Workers

To the Government, the State Congress was a lesser evil compared to the organised might of the coir factory workers. The unconditional release of political prisoners on the 23rd was a deliberate move on the part of the Government to mobilise all forces against the striking workers and peasants (Raghavan 94). Unfortunately, the State Congress leaders did not completely realise the historic role played by the working class towards the freedom struggle in Travancore. Though they were released on 23rd, they did not rush to Alleppey immediately to help the striking workers. Instead, they basked in the limelight of the receptions and felicitations accorded to them throughout the state. Only on October 27th could they summon the Congress Working Committee and through a resolution condemn the brutality of the police and military on the striking workers. They also demanded a judicial enquiry into the firing, lathi charges, house-breaks, arson and violence, and constituted their own Congress Committee leadership for the labour agitations, thereby alienating themselves from the working class. The developments that followed in Alleppey showed that the workers had become more radical with the 1938 strike and were emboldened to react strongly against the moderate leaders. The strike completed 25 days, surviving all odds; still the workers did not surrender. At last, the coir capitalists and the Government expressed their desire for a negotiated settlement. The Government agreed to constitute a committee to enquire into the conditions of the labourers. It led to the appointment of the George Committee. Of its five members, two were labour representatives. A wage rise of 61/4% was also agreed upon.37

Radical Workers against Compromising Leaders

On the basis of the settlement, the Union President P. N. Krishna Pillai and the General Secretary R. Sugathan withdrew the strike and asked the workers to start work from the next day onwards. However, it was alleged that the settlement and the withdrawal of the strike were done without consulting the Strike Committee. So, the Committee conducted a house to house campaign among the workers asking them not to resume work. It created a crisis among the leaders (Raghavan 97).

About the settlement, the chief organiser of the strike and the founder secretary of the C.P.I. in Kerala, P. Krishna Pillai stated:

…The capitalists and the Government again tried for a settlement. They, together with the local Congress leaders like T.A. Abdullah and the trade union leaders like Mr. Sugathan, entered into an agreement. Those trade union workers did not show even the basic courtesy of discussing the terms of settlement with the Strike Committee. A. K. Gopalan was sent a message about the terms of the agreement only after the settlement. After that, without waiting for consent from the Strike Committee, a notice was issued asking the workers to terminate the strike and to resume work. The notice was a gross slight to the Strike Committee. Nobody except the workers who struck work had the right to terminate the strike. The Strike Committee was given neither the opportunity nor the time to take a decision after consulting the workers. The whole procedure smacked of indifference to the interests of the labourers. Even the terms of agreement were unsatisfactory. Nobody took the responsibility of ensuring that those capitalists who were not members of the Chamber of the Alleppey capitalists would honour the terms of the agreement… Still, the Strike Committee, tolerating all injustices, finally decided to ask the workers to resume work as was decided by Sugathan and others, all for the unity of the work force. (Pillai, “Review Report of the 1938 Strike” 98, 99, 100) (Translation)

By the end of the 1938 strike, the Alleppey labourers could fully distinguish their leadership on the basis of class interest. They had confidence in the C.S.P. leadership. However, they alienated themselves from the moderate leadership. To quote Puthupally Raghavan,

The leaders who had initially agreed to the important demands of the workers, after their release from jail began to issue statements and give propaganda that the demands of the labourers and their strike were untimely and that it should be withdrawn for that reason. Even Sugathan signed the statement. However, the strike continued in spite of the bourgeois resistance. (Raghavan 109) (Translation)

The sentiments of the workers against the leaders are well explained in certain Government records of the time. One such record reads:

Mr. K. S. Sebastian, President of the Changanassery branch of the Youth League, presided over a huge State Congress meeting held this evening (December 11, 1938) in the Kidaganparambu Maidan… Mr. C. K. Velayudhan, a member of the Managing Committee of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union who, along with Mr.

R. Sugathan, former General Secretary – both of them were imprisoned under Criminal Law Amendment Regulation for State Congress activities – was largely responsible for the termination of the general labour strike after the negotiations with employers for the one anna increase in wages, was hooted down several times, and even after the request of the President, the gathering that consisted mostly of workers did not allow Mr. Velayudhan to proceed…”38

R. Sugathan and C. K. Velayudhan were the unquestioned leaders of the Alleppey-Sherthallai coir factory workers. However, even their own followers hooted them down when they adopted the method of conciliation, which the extremist labourers did not like, though most of them, during the period of the strike, had been on the brink of starvation. Extremism, though not pragmatic, was the leading spirit that buoyed the coir factory workers. The political leaders who could not understand that spirit, however pragmatic they might be, lost the goodwill of the labourers.39

As a result of the 1938 strike, the Government enacted the Factories Act, the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act. In Alleppey an Industrial Relations Committee was formed. As a result, the long standing demands of the workers to abolish arbitrary fines and to end the highhandedness of the ‘Mooppans’ and contractors were realised. Uniform wages and modern labour laws were also implemented in all factories (Isaac 116-17). These developments made the coir capitalists realise that they could no longer afford to ignore the organised power of the coir workers. So they began to adapt to the changed situation and adopted the policy of conciliation (Ibid 117).

When the long-standing demands were realised, the Workers’ Union did not become inactive. The Union took special care to keep the rank and file active. For that purpose, Factory Committees and Departmental Committees were organised. They became the basic units of the Union’s organisational structure. These units democratised the functioning of the trade union movement. At the same time, there were consistent attempts on the part of the capitalists and the Government of Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer to depoliticise the Coir Factory Workers’ Union (Supra 241). But the workers resisted it. The Alleppey Chamber of Commerce seriously discussed the problem in its official journal:

In Travancore, the labourers are going to exert a decisive influence in future. It is imperative that the capitalists and the labourers reach an understanding about the live issues in their mutual relations… The capitalists must understand that trade unionism can be used as a defence against communism. The trade unionism intends only to improve the socio-economic condition of the workers. On the other hand, communism stands for revolution. Communism has started spreading in the society. The communist tide cannot be dammed except through the satisfied labourers organised under various established trade unions.”( Iyer, “Labour Wither Bound? Need for Employers to Unite 179)

The third All Kerala Trade Union Conference was held at Kanjikuzhi in the Vanaswarga Maidan on 19 February 1939. It was inaugurated by Moidu Maulavi and presided over by P. Narayanan Nayar. Delegates from various trade unions of coir, textile mills, tile, beedi, cashewnut, press, handloom, shopkeepers, municipal workers, boatmen etc., participated. The Conference was sponsored by the Coir Factory Workers’ Union and its critics started the propaganda that the conference was meant for inciting a revolution. The secret police reports reveal that the attitude of the workers about it was positive. One such report is about the speech made by the delegate of the coir factory workers, which says, “They say that it is revolutionary. For the worker, what else is there but the revolution? The workers wish and work for throwing out the present dictatorial Government and to establish a new Government and administrative system.”40

About the 1938 strike, Robin Jeffrey comments, “The strike challenged a system, not just an employer. The fact that the workers were prepared to embark on such a strike, and were able to sustain it, demonstrated a quality that may fairly be called ‘class-consciousness’. Further the strike brought home to all of Kerala the fact that the coir workers were a force that, in future, would have to be reckoned with… The strike had two other important consequences: it shattered the possibility that the coir workers might accept the leadership of the middle- class politicians of the Travancore State Congress; and it forged enduring all-Kerala links among future communists that fostered their activities for the next 20 years”(Jeffrey 1162).

Jeffrey indicates three external persuasions at work during the 1938 strike: 1. The Travancore State Congress, 2. The militant Youth League of Trivandrum, and, 3. The secret communists of the Malabar- based branch of the Congress Socialist Party. In the outcome, the State Congress lost disastrously, and the Youth Leagues and the socialists from Malabar, who both led and learned from the coir workers, drew close together. By 1940 most of them were official members of the Communist Party of India (Idem).

The Conservative Government, the City Congress Committee, the Youth League, the State Congress, and the Communist Radical Group.

Citadel of Orthodoxy

The ‘Fort’ at the capital city of Trivandrum can be regarded as the Citadel of Orthodoxy. In 1931 when Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state, the procession taking him wanted to go through the Fort area, the citadel of Brahmin orthodoxy. Though Nehru was a Brahmin, the Government regarded him ‘polluted’ as he had crossed the sea. To prevent Nehru from entering the Fort, the Government mobilised the army. In Travancore, on the one hand, there was a monarchial government and on the other, the people were moved only by the politics of communalism. But within a short span of seven years, radical changes took place, resulting in the decline of communal politics and the emergence of secular politics (George 169-170).

In Travancore, from 1926 onwards, there existed the Newspaper Regulation to muzzle the “… not less than 110 newspapers…” in the state.41 In 1931 when Gandhiji was arrested, the Government of Travancore expected popular agitation and issued prohibitive orders. In fact, the Congressmen at Trivandrum planned to protest but the Indian National Congress directed the City Congress Committee not to agitate since the National Congress did not have the agenda of Civil Disobedience in the princely states. Still, at Trivandrum, some courted arrest by violating both the Congress directive and the prohibition of the Government. They were Youth League leaders N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar, K. V. Parameswaran and others. The agitators were cruelly beaten at the time of the arrest and later inside the prison too (George 165-198).

The Congress Committee

According to the secret police report, the District Congress Committee at Trivandrum was organised early in the 1920s with Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai as its president and A. K. Pillai as its Secretary. Later it became defunct.42 About the Congress activities of the time, K. C. George writes:

Some meetings used to be held at Trivandrum under the auspices of the Congress. The known Congress leaders of the time were Messrs. V. Achutha Menon, K. G. Kunjukrishna Pillai, Kottoor Kunjukrishna Pillai, Paravur T. K. Narayana Pillai, C. I. Parameswaran Pillai and others. People called them, ‘Maidanam Congressmen’. Since they were lawyers, they met on certain Sundays according to their convenience; apart from that, there was hardly any political activity. After the Congress agitation of 1930-‘32, the movement became defunct. (George 194-95)

According to the secret report given by the Government of Travancore to the British Government, the City Congress Committee was organised in 1927, with its office located at Thycaud, to enlist volunteers and collect money for the Civil Disobedience Movement in British India. The membership of the committee was around fifty, but later they too quit. V. Achutha Menon, G. Sreedhar and N. P. Kurukkal and others were busy reviving the Congress during the Salt Satyagraha. Kurukkal was its General Secretary. It did not function properly and soon lost its general influence in Travancore.43

Radical Youth League

From the above observations, it can be said that the Congress in Trivandrum functioned very much like the Congress of North Malabar, which A. K. Gopalan referred to as the ‘Chalapuram Sunday Congress’. Like the C.S.P. worked within the K.P.C.C. fold, in Trivandrum, the political radicalists of the Youth League like P. Sreedhar, N. P. Kurukkal, N. C. Sekhar and others worked within the City Congress fold (Supra 150 & 151). The Travancore Government records show that the Youth League was established at Trivandrum in 1930.44 Its founder was Ponnara Sreedhar and founding members included N. P. Kurkkal, N. C. Sekhar and others who believed that the Gandhian method was quite inadequate to agitate against British imperalism. In the beginning it worked only as a group rather than as a widespread organisation. All it did was to hold annual conferences by inviting a national leader and distributing pamphlets during the time of the conference (George 197). In 1931 the Youth League leader N. P. Kurukkal assumed the post of the Secretary of the Kerala Branch of the C.P.I, printed and distributed (fifty copies to Sankara Pillai of Salaikudi, Cochin and to one Nambiar attached to the Youth League, Sakti Mandiram, Thikodi near Calicut) a recruiting pamphlet. In the early years, the Youth League was influential only among political-minded students. The Travancore Government’s report to the British Government stated: “The Youth League resume political activity with the reopening of the Schools and colleges. The members do political propaganda work whenever there is an occasion for it”.45

From 1933 to 1936, the politics of Travancore was overwhelmed by the Abstention Movement. Till 1938, various castes and communities were agitating to get a share of Government jobs and other benefits. The Abstention Movement was its magnified form (George 203; Supra 60-70). So till the end of the Abstention movement, there was no place for national politics and Congress activities. Still, the Government of Travancore got directions from the British Government to adopt suppressive measures against the Congress and the Government acted accordingly. On 18 January 1932, The Madras States Agency at Trivandrum, in a secret letter to the Dewan of Travancore, directed:

…the final object of all revolutionary propaganda must be the overthrow of all constitutional government, and the resultant chaos and disorder will cause no less harm to the rulers and to the population of Indian states than to British India. The Government of India therefore, desires that Indian States should co-operate with them in combating this movement…the Government will welcome strong action on their part … They should be ready to co-operate in ensuring that the special activities of the Civil Disobedience movement such as boycott of British goods are not allowed to be practised in their states or territory, and that their states are not used as bases for agitation in British India…46

But the Government could not take any action because, according to the Police Commissioner, “…at the moment no boycott of British goods is practised … this Government will act at once to take appropriate measures”.47

A. K. Gopalan Organises the Congressmen

The District Magistrate, Trivandrum, in a letter dated 30 July 1934 to the Chief Secretary to the Government, stated:

…a meeting was held in the Gomathinayakom Memorial Hall, Trivandrum, on the evening of 26-7-1934 under the Presidency of Changnassery Parameswaran Pillai to make concerted efforts to enlist members for the Congress from Trivandrum… Messrs. A. K. Gopalan, Joint Secretary, Kerala Provincial Committee, K. Kumar,

P. K. Pillai, Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party and K. A. Damodara Menon spoke on the occasion. Messrs R. C. Das, Amsi Narayana Pillai, K. Narayana Pillai, N. P. Kurukkal, Sreedhar and

R. P. Iyer participated…The necessity of the subjects of native states joining the Congress was passed at the meeting and 80 members, mostly students, were enlisted…48

Shortly, on 10 August 1934, through a press communique, the Indian National Congress was banned in Travancore. It read:

… there have also been certain meetings, some of which have been held in the name of the Congress, advocating the abolition of private property and putting forward other proposals associated with the Communist organisations which have been declared unlawful in British India and which this Government will also treat likewise…while the Government… have not prevented organising Khadar and Harijan movements… the Government have reviewed the position carefully and have arrived at the decision which they are now communicating to their officers and to the public of Travancore that they cannot permit the holding of meetings and the conduct of propaganda within the state in furtherance of the objects of Communist organisations, or to enrol members for the Indian National Congress, or to take part in the internal politics or elections in British India or any Indian States.49

Students’ Federation

On 29 January 1938 the Madras States Agency, Trivandrum in a confidential letter informed the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer that in February 1938, the students of the Government Law College, Trivandrum were going to start the Students’ Federation. The organiser, P. Raghavaiah had already invited Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhya to deliver the inaugural address.50 It was just before the formation of the State Congress in Travancore.

The Travancore State Congress

On 23 February 1938, at the initiative of A. Narayana Pillai, about ten persons met at the ground floor of the Rashtreeya Hotel at Trivandrum for preliminary discussion to form a political party to start agitation for responsible Government in Travancore. The meeting was presided over by C. V. Kunjuraman. Among those who participated were Messrs. Pattom Thanu Pillai, T. M. Varghese, A. Narayana Pillai, P. S. Nataraja Pillai, Miss Annie Mascreen and others. It formed an adhoc committee headed by Pattom Thanu Pillai and P. S. Nataraja Pillai as Secretary. The Committee met at the residence of E. John Philipose on February 25 and elected a Working Committee consisting of 1. Pattom Thanu Pillai, 2. T.

M. Varghese, 3. K. T. Thomas, 4. V. Achutha Menon, 5. E. John Philipose, 5.P. K. Kunju 7. P. S. Nataraja Pillai, 8. A. J. John, 9. A. Narayana Pillai,10. C. Kesavan and 11. M. R. Madhava warrier. Pattom Thanu Pillai was elected as the President, K. T. Thomas and P. S. Nataraja Pillai were made the Secretaries and Madhava Warrier the Treasurer. A Publicity Committee consisting of Messrs. P. N. Krishna Pillai, C. Narayana Pillai,K. Sukumaran, Bodheswaran and Miss Annie Mascreen was also formed (Pillai 86, 91 & 96). The meeting resolved to give a memorial to the Maharaja demanding responsible Government based on adult suffrage.

In February 1938 at Haripura, the Indian National Congress accepted the political rights of the people of the native states. The Congress declared that it stood for full responsible government and the civil liberties of the people. But the resolution also stated that the popular agitations in the native states should not be under the banner of the Indian National Congress. Separate organisations should be formed for that. It necessitated the formation of political parties like the State Congress of Travancore (George, The Journey of My Life 211). After the Haripura Congress, the branch of the Indian National Congress at Trivandrum functioned only nominally. Almost all its members joined the State Congress. So after the formation of the State Congress, in the next meeting of the National Congress, a resolution was introduced to dissolve it (Pillai 95).

Suppression of the State Congress

A. Narayana Pillai, who took initiative to summon the first meeting of the State Congress was served with nonbailable arrest warrant, according to the Penal Act 124 & 153 for publishing two articles – 1. A call to the Nayar community to act with other communities to uphold common interests and 2. Procedural irregularities in the speech of Sir.

C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in the legislature. The State Congress took upon itself the responsibility for the defense of Narayana Pillai and formed a Defense Committee. To give national publicity against the violation of civil liberty in Travancore, an advocate of national fame K. F. Narriman was invited. On the day of his arrival, the Government issued prohibitive orders to the State Congress leaders barring entry to the airport, prohibiting all meetings and receptions. At the same time, the Government arranged for a lorry full of hired men in rags to wave the ‘black flag’ at Narriman and to shout ‘go back’. But all the black flags and placards were snatched away by a group of students led by the Youth Leaguer, P. T. Punnose. Narriman too was served a prohibitive order.51

To suppress the State Congress activity, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore organised criminals and rowdies.

N. Chandrasekharan Nayar, the Superintendent of Police, Kottayam, who later became the Inspector General of Police explains:

…The Police I.G. Karim, who was from Trichinappally, was notorious for framing false charges… Sir C. P. challenged the State Congress President Pattom Thanu Pillai to try and hold at least a meeting. He ordered to the police to disperse the State Congress meeting by force with the help of the rowdies and criminals; each officer was sanctioned Rs.10,000/- for the purpose. (Translation)52

The State Congress activity was prohibited in the Trivandrum Division on 7 March 1938 by the District Magistrate according to C. P. C.

227. It was prohibited in the Quilon District on March 27th and in Kottayam on April 10th. Section 144 was declared throughout the State. The Press Regulation was already in force. To criticise the Government was seditious. Those who criticised the Government were watched by the

C.I.D. Often they were manhandled or insulted at public places. Newspapers publishing news against the Government were taken to task. Samadarsi, Kaumudi daily and weekly, Tamilian, Malayala Manorama, Malayali etc., experienced difficulties. The judiciary too was at the command of Sir C. P. The advocate and political leader, A. Narayana Pillai, who was arrested on nonbailable charges of sedition, was denied even the right to see Mr. Narriman, a lawyer of national fame who was to brought to defend his case. The Government gave Rs. 24,000 annually to the A.P.I. (Associated Press of India) to publish news in favour of the Government. The State Public Relations Department was also used to propagate the views of the Government (Pillai 104, 134, 137,145 and 151).

There was a planned attempt to propagate the cult of the Maharaja, the Maharaja’s mother and the Dewan (Ibid 161-163). Sir C. P. skillfully managed to alienate the State Congress from the national leadership of the Congress Party. He was a favourite of the British Government and he also wielded influence at the higher levels of the Indian National Congress since he was once the General Secretary of the party. Pattabhi Seetha Ramaiah, who was the nominee of Gandhiji against Subash Chandra Bose in the A.I.C.C. election, was a close friend of C. P. The Madras Chief Minister, C. Rajagopalachari too was a friend of the Dewan (Ibid 161- 163, 173-174).

Memorial of the State Congress

The State Congress Working Committee submitted a memorial to the Maharaja. On 5 June 1938 the publication of the memorial was prohibited by the Government. The prohibited memorial contained six requests to the Maharaja.

      1. Subject to the special rights and powers of the Maharaja, those powers vested in the Dewan should be given to a ministry responsible to the legislature; 2. Along with the protection of the interests of the minorities, legislature should be reformed on the basis of adult suffrage; the convention of nomination of members should be ended and the two chambers of the legislature should be given the right to elect its chairman;

3. A declaration of the Fundamental Rights should be made, ensuring freedom of speech, freedom of organisation, freedom of worship, personal freedom ensuring protection from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and adequate wages for the worker; 4. Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer should be immediately dismissed from the post of Dewan; 5. The Press Act that gives power to the executive to control the press should be cancelled; and, 6. A free and extensive enquiry should be ordered into the activities of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in his official capacity, on all appointments and on all financial transactions (Ibid 219-20).

The National Congress

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was able to help create a new political party against the State Congress, with the help of Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai and members of other communities who supported Sir C. P. It was launched on 13 June 1938 and was named National Congress. Wherever State Congress tried to conduct meetings, criminals, rowdies and police dispersed them. It happened on 19 June at Nedunganda, on 26 June at Neyyattinkara and on 25 June at Chengannur. At Chengannur, intolerant of the rowdyism of the police, people pelted stones at the police and the police had to withdraw (Ibid 207-208, 246 & 340). The State Congress leadership was ineffective to organise the party for a widespread agitation against the Government’s suppression of civil liberty. But the people were eagerly waiting for directions from the State Congress leaders to violate the prohibitive laws. The youth and the workers became impatient over the cowardliness of the State Congress leaders. A leader of the State Congress and the author of the book, The Freedom Movement of Travancore writes,

The people of Travancore always move a few steps ahead of their leaders. It is the people who lead the leaders. With regard to political awareness, they are far ahead of the people of any other part of India. There is no place in Kerala for conservatism and middle class opportunism. Extremism and revolutionary slogans find wide currency here more than in any other state of India. (Ibid

257) (Translation)

An Italian Communist, Ottobono Terzi wrote in a Florentine paper on 7 March 1939 about the popular appeal of revolutionary ideas among the people of the native states of India . He opined that the soil of India was ripe to sow the seeds of Communism.53

Absence of National Leadership

In Travancore, no national level political leadership emerged in the State Congress. No leader ever showed national vision and broad- mindedness that could earn the confidence of other communities. A. J. John was the patron of Catholic interests, C. Kesavan and V. K. Velayudhan were protectors of Ezhava interests, T. M. Varghese and Philipose were the spokesmen of Marthoma and Orthodox church interests. Even the President of the State Congress, Pattom Thanu Pillai, in the ultimate analysis, was a communal leader. Thus, the State Congress was rather a loose federation of some castes and communities. The general feeling was that Pattom Thanu Pillai, a law-abiding conservative, did not like to drag the state into the Civil Disobedience Movement (Pillai 266-267).

C.S.P. Leadership

On 15 July 1938, the cavalry force and Armed Reserve Police got into the Science College and cruelly lathi charged the students in the presence of the military chief Col. Watkis. The students started showing black flags wherever Sir C. P. went. But the State Congress was always advising the students and the people not to disobey laws. By then the

K.P.C.C. sent Malabar leaders to support the people’s cause in Travancore.

In 1937, K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar who were members of the secret fraction of the C.P.I. in Kerala had been deputed to Trivandrum and Alleppey to mould the radicals. K. Damodaran had given a call to the Alleppey labourers to join the State Congress. His call to the leaders of the State Congress was to ensure the interests of the peasants and workers in the proposed responsible Government. About his speech at a labour meeting, the Secret Police reported, “K. Damodaran in the course of his speech said that capitalists enjoy at the cost of and by repressing the labourers and that the present legislature does not adequately represent the people. He further assured the audience that the labourers would surely be able to root out corruption and maladministration. He remarked that though the people pay taxes they were not given liberty of speech etc., and hence they should get the present form of administration changed and secure full responsible Government with adult franchise.”54 Already the secret fraction of the C.P.I. in Kerala, with the assistance of

S. V. Ghate was extending its hold over the extremist centres of the state. On 13th July, 1938, the Madras States Agency informed Sir. C. P. about the plan of S. V. Ghate to visit Trivandrum to advise and guide the local Communists.55 The explosive situation prevailing in the state was well exploited by the Youth League duly assisted by the C.S.P.- Communist leadership. On 9 August 1938, the Youth League announced its decision to violate the governmental ban on public meetings. Accordingly, the C.S.P. leader and a member of the secret fraction, N. C. Sekhar was chosen to violate the prohibition and to court arrest. Immediately, the government issued a prohibitive order against N. C. Sekhar for 15 days. But on the day of the announcement itself, N. C. Sekhar spoke at the railway station grounds and courted arrest (Pillai 309-340).

Youth League Continues Struggle

The next step of the Youth League was to conduct its annual conference on August 20-21 at the railway station grounds. Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya was to inaugurate the function. On her journey to Trivandrum by train, thousands welcomed her, shouting the slogans, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. On 20th, when she was getting out of the railway station, she was arrested. Her place was taken by the Malabar leader, K. Damodaran. After the meeting, the angry and agitated people marched through the main road and indulged in a little vandalism. Police arrested the leaders. Apart from K. Damodaran and N. C. Sekhar, other C.S.P men were also present at Trivandrum to maintain a hold on the radicals. The C.S.P. sent A. K. Narayanan, the cousin of the popular Malabar leader, A. K. Gopalan to organise the students. By then, the Government had changed the railway station ground into a police ground. This was for the purpose of prohibiting the conduct of political meetings there. But the Youth League decided to violate the prohibition.

A. K. Narayanan in the presence of a huge crowd violated the prohibition. He was brutally beaten by the police (George 273 & 275).56

The increasing popularity of the Youth League compelled the State Congress to start agitation. At its Alleppey meeting, it decided to form an action committee which was to operate from Ernakulam. The decision was communicated to Gandhiji for approval (George 272).57 A rumour was also in the air that some top leaders of the State Congress were in contact with the Government for a conciliation. An agitational atmosphere quickly developed in the state. Sir C. P. responded by declaring the State Congress and the Youth League illegal and implementing the black laws called ‘Regulation I of 114’ by which Sir C. P. assumed the extraordinary powers which were used by Governments only in times of foreign invasion.58 The Communique stated the necessity of its issue thus: “following the arrest of Mrs. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya on 20th August, the Youth League are openly advocating Communist doctrines and are inciting people to violence, and the resolution of the State Congress for Civil Disobedience”.59 To prepare for an all out war against popular agitations, on 7 November 1938, the Travancore Government sought the permission of the British Government for the use of ‘tear gas’ by the State Police. The British Resident denied the request on three grounds. 1. The tear gas had never been used against the mob anywhere in India; 2. The British Government was against its first use in an Indian state; 3. He was against its use in Travancore, when the state’s administration was subjected to so much malicious criticism both from within and without their boundaries.60

State Congress Agitation for Civil Liberty

Mahatma Gandhi, from Wardha, directed the State Congress to withdraw the allegations against Sir. C. P. and to agitate peacefully for civil liberty. When the State Congress decided to violate the prohibitive orders, the Chairman of its first meeting C. V. Kunjuraman withdrew his support. The State Congress agitation for civil liberty was started on 26 August 1938 at Trivandrum, Quilon, Alleppey and Kottayam. On 29th when the violation was taking place on the beach, the police started beating the gathering. The audience, mostly fishermen, retaliated by pelting stones and burning down the car of the police officer. On 30 August, the students demonstrated before the Maharaja. On 31 August, when N. K. Padmanabha Pillai was arrested at Neyyattinkara, the enraged people damaged and set fire to the car of the police Superintendent. When the situation went beyond the control of the police, the military was called in. The military Commander Watkis, at the point of the gun, warned the stone pelting mob that he would order firing. Then one of the residents of the locality, Raghavan stepped forward, bared his chest and shouted, “Here, fire.” Watkis shot him down (George 282, 293).61 At Quilon, the labour leader K. C. Govindan assured wholehearted support to the State Congress agitation. On 25 August evening, the ground on which the sathyagraha meeting was announced to be held, was occupied by the police, military and rowdies of the Government. The ground was declared a prohibited area. So the people were afraid and kept off from the ground. Soon a labour force of 10,000 workers from different factories under K. C. Govindan’s leadership marched to the prohibited ground fearlessly. They included the workers of A.D Cotton Mill, H & C., Tile factories, Saw mills etc. It gave confidence to the people and they too rushed to the ground. In the subsequent violence that was started by the police, a worker of the Cotton Mill was shot dead, several wounded and a Government transport bus was set fire to (Pillai 428-431).

The Malabar March of A. K. Gopalan

The C.S.P. – led K.P.C.C. decided to help the Travancore agitation by forming a sub-committee. The Working Committee of the C.S.P also met and decided that the party workers should actively take part in the agitation. It was decided to send a contingent of marchers to Travancore under the leadership of A. K. Gopalan, who led the most popular Guruvayur March in 1933 from Quilon District (Gopalan 108). To see off the march, an all-party meeting was held at the Calicut beach. It was the fourth march led by A. K. Gopalan. The Congress Committees and Karshaka Sanghams gave warm welcome to the march. The march reached Ernakulam on 16 September. At Ernakulam, another march from Bangalore joined the Malabar march. To get into the Travancore boundary by train, the volunteers reached Alwaye. When the train reached Alwaye, ignoring the prohibitive orders, the surroundings of the railway station were filled with excited people, shouting the slogans, “Hail Malabar March”, and “Hail State Congress”. The attempt of the police to send back the volunteers failed. They were arrested and sent to the Perumbavur lock-up. The courage, enthusiasm and conviction of the people madeA. K. Gopalan think, “I wish to die in the police firing. My death in the middle of the great agitation – in the great storm of agitation for responsible government – would help to win the goal” (Translation) (Ibid 110-111). The second Malabar march was led by Yusif. From Thellichery, under the leadership of Anandan the third march started. The fourth one started from Palghat. The fifth march began from Madurai (Ibid 111-112). The sacrifice of the Malabar leaders, particularly that of A. K. Gopalan was such that the downtrodden started worshipping him as their liberator. In the Magistrate’s court, Gopalan cross-examined the Police Inspector of Perumbavur for half an hour, which was another kind of political propaganda. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and sent to the Kottayam lock-up. There the prisoners were cruelly tortured. A. K. Gopalan started a fast to fight against it. Then he was shifted to the Vaikom sub-jail. He fasted for five days to get the prisoners shifted to the central jail. News spread throughout the country that A.K.G. had died in the prison. An explosive situation prevailed; shops were closed, and condolence meetings were held (Ibid 112-116).

Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal Agitations

Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal, places between Trivandrum and Kottarakara, became great centres of political unrest and agitation. The inhabitants of the locality were poor peasants who saw the State Congress agitation as the one to end all exploitation by the bureaucrats and landlords. In 1937 when Congress ministries were formed, the peasants became bold enough to agitate against oppression. The Pangode, Kallara and Kadakkal agitations too broke out during that period. But it was not organised by the State Congress. There the peasants organised themselves on a class basis and acted on their own initiative. Leaders emerged among them. During that period, the landlords were organised under the political party called the National Congress, and were well protected by the state. The peasants naturally sided with the opposite camp of the State Congress. Their leader was Raghavan Pillai, who was described by the Police as Franco Raghavan Pillai. In the local markets of Kadakkal, Kilimannoor, Kallara etc., the contractors were exacting heavy taxes. The people complained several times to the local authorities about it, but it was of no use (George 307-308).

At Kilimannoor some public-spirited young men organised themselves and managed to stop the excess money collection by the contractors. Then they moved to Kadakkal, organised the youths there and led a procession through the market shouting slogans against excess collections. They conducted demonstrations before the police station.

Afterwards, they marched to the nearby school and demanded its closure. This continued for five days. They pelted stones at the police station, snatched the records and set fire to them. In the confrontation, men on both sides were wounded. Firing started at Kadakkal on 29 September 1938 (Pillai 533-535). To create a barricade against the military, they felled trees across the road and damaged the culverts. About 500 men armed with country guns, awaited the arrival of the military tt the M.C. road. The military took seven days to reach Kadakkal because of the barricades. By then, able-bodied men left their homes and sought asylum in the forest. There was undeclared military rule. Outsiders were prohibited entry. Even children were tortured before their mothers. There were reports of rape. Food crops and other valuables were plundered. The Government directed the police to make the people starve. The military set fire to more than eighty houses. At Kallara and Pangode, the same story was repeated. There too at the market place, the youngsters confronted the police with country guns. One constable was stabbed to death. Though the peasant movements were against the National Congress, the landlords and the oppressive government, the State Congress did not care to sponsor it. Instead, the leaders of the State Congress accused it and disowned it because of the violence (George 308). As a result, the peasants of the locality got alienated from the Congress party and became influential centres of the Communist Party.

Withdrawal of the Allegations

The conciliatory attitude of the State Congress leadership wounded the feelings of the people who rushed to the forefront of the agitation and courted arrest. The only place where the political movement was always active was Alleppey. The situation there was so fearful that the police found it difficult to maintain law and order. So the Government decided to replace the Armed Reserve Police with the military.62 On 24 December 1938 the State Congress Action Council met in the central jail and decided to withdraw the allegations against Sir C. P. It read, “On the advise of Mahatma Gandhi, the State Congress withdraws the allegations it raised against Dewanji together with the memorial submitted to the Maharaja”(Pillai 342-344) (Translation). Travancore split into two camps on the issue of withdrawing the allegations against Sir. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer. The large majority, especially the workers and the youth, resisted tooth and nail any attempt to withdraw the allegations. According to

C. Narayana Pillai, “It can be said without doubt that the advise given by Gandhiji to the State Congress was wrong. It was irrational, arbitrary and not based on the conditions prevailing in the state and against his hitherto-followed policies” (Ibid 666) (Translation). The State Congress leadership was acting against the very spirit of the agitating people. In a statement A. K. Pillai questioned the constitutional validity of the decision of the Action Council and declared it as an illegal body. Pillai said that the Wardha visit of the State Congress leaders was unfortunate (Ibid 683).

The Youth League Memorandum

By then, under the initiative of P. Krishna Pillai, the founder of the Communist movement in Kerala, about forty left-minded political leaders met at Pallana, in the house of Pandavathu Sankara Pillai. The meeting resolved to oppose the ‘receptions’ given to the State Congress leaders released from jails, and to organise people to carry on agitations. The Youth League was against withdrawing the memorandum containing allegations against Sir C. P. based on three reasons. Firstly, they believed that the people had every right to give memorandum to the reigning monarch; nobody can question that right. Secondly, framing charges against the signatories of such a memorandum is equal to questioning the very right to submit such a memorandum; to reestablish that right, mass agitations should be made. Thirdly, such a memorandum as the one given by the State Congress representing the people should not be withdrawn without popular consent (George 342-344). So the Youth League leaders planned to give a second memorandum to the Maharaja. They broached the idea with the K.P.C.C. representative, K. Damodaran. Then they consulted A. K. Pillai and K. Ayyappan. The final draft was made at the house of the latter. A general body of the Youth League was held in the Tourist Bunglow opposite the Guest House to get the final approval. More than 100 members participated. The meeting was presided over by A. K. Pillai. The tactic decided was to read the memorandum publicly and thereby to violate the prohibition. The plan was to print thousands of copies of the memorandum and distribute them among the people (Ibid 373-380).

The Radical Group

On 9 January 1939, when the Viceroy Lord Linlithgo visited Travancore, the Youth League showed black flags all along the way from Aroor to Trivandrum. Demonstrations were conducted from Aroor to Alleppey, Alleppey to Quilon and Quilon to Trivandrum. The arrested demonstrators were brutally beaten. The left-minded Congressmen were moving away from the State Congress. A split of the party was imminent. But the C.S.P. leaders like P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad wanted a complete transformation of the party into an agitational party. So their interference averted a split in the party (Krishnan 68-70). But Krishna Pillai, A. K. Pillai and others suggested the formation of a new group in the State Congress.63 It was proposed to be called Socialist Group. But to P.T. Punnoose, the very term ‘socialism’ created problems for Christians to join the party; so it was to be avoided. Hence the new name Radical Group was accepted. M. N. Govindan Nayar was made Secretary of the new group. The formal meeting of the Radical Group was held at Pandalam. There T. V. Thomas was made the Assistant Secretary of the new group. At the Karunagappally State Congress meeting, M. N. Govindan Nayar was the Volunteer Captain. The Radical Group functioned as the left-wing of the State Congress till 1942. Then, a majority of them joined the Communist Party (George 432-439).

NOTES

1 File No.793, Year 1933, Sub.”Guruvavur Satyagraha Jatha started from Kavamkulam”, sheet 2, para 2, Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

2 File No. 88, Year 1939, Subject: “S.N.D.S. Yogam – Appeal for Funds”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

3 Kerala Kaumudi, Malayalam Weekly Newspaper, Vol. 28, No. 22, May 30, 1937. Supra, p. 148; n. 148.

4 No. D. Dis. 529/44, CS., Year 1944, Subject: “Petition from V. K. Velayudhan praying for pardon”, Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

5 File No. 744, C.S., Year 1932, Subject: “Complaint Against P. N. Krishna Pillai” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

6 Secret Police Daily Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 46, 13th April 1939, in File No. 239, Year 1939, Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

7 File No. 460, Year 1939, Subject: “Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

File No. D. Dis. 1424, C.S., Year 1944, Subject: “Prosecution Against P. N. Krishna Pillai of Quilon – Withdrawal”, G.A.D., Records.

8 File No. 460/1939. Subject : ‘ Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators”.

9 NO. D. Dis. 1424/44, C.S., dt. 26-6-1944, Subject: “Case Prosecution against

P. N. Krishna Pillai – Withdrawal of.”

10 File No. 775, Year 1931, Subject: “Indian Communist Party Particulars about N. P. Kurukkal”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

11 Secret Police Report, Commissioner of Police to the Chief Secretary, Government of Travancore, in File No.1074, 1936, Subject: “N. C. Sekhar of Vengannoor” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

12 File No. 1073, Year 1936, Subject: “Activities of M. N. Govindan Nayar and

G. Ramachandran”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

13 “Publisher’s Note”, Autobiography of M. N., Part II, Mal., Trivandrum: Prabhath, 1988. Print.

14 “Report of the Board of Conciliation of Trade Disputes in the Mats and Matting Industry”,1939 Trivandrum: Government Press, 1953, p. 72, in Robin Jeffrey “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

15 Census of India, 1941, Vol. XXV, Travancore, Part I, p. 95 and Part II, p. 106, in, Robin Jeffrey “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

16 Hindu, Madras: English Newspaper, March 16, 1938, p. 2, in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p1159. Print.

17 “Report of the Board of Conciliation of Trade Disputes in the Mats and Matting Industry”, 1939 Trivandrum: Government Press, 1953, p.73. Print.

18 Memorandum by Dewan Veeraraghavayya, dt. 24-04-1924 C.S., Government of Travancore.

19 Srimulam Assembly Proceedings, 1938, No.2, Vol.7, quoted in, Puthuppally Raghavan. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam.

p.39. Print.

20 Thozhilali, Weekly Newspaper, Alleppey, 8 October 1936 and 26 May 1938, quoted in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p. 1162. Print.

21 Nilkam Perumal, The Truth About Travancore. Madras. R.J. Ram, 1939. p. 54. in Robin Jeffrey, “Destroy Capitalism, Growing Solidarity of Alleppey’s

Coir Factory Workers 1930-40,” Economic And Political Weekly, Bombay: 21 July 1984: 1162-63. p. 1160. Print.

22 File No. 781, Subject: “Certain Objectionable Speeches of Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat Trivandrum.

23 File No.460, 1939, Subject: “Cases Against Alleppey Labour Agitators” G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

24 Interview with S. K. Das. Vide Puthpally Raghavan. The Biography of Comrade Sugathan. Trivandrum; Janayugam, Print.

25 File No.748, 1930, Subject : “List of Political Parties and quasi- political Societies”. C.S., Government of Travancore.

26 V. S. Achuthanandan has been the State Secretary of the C.P.I. (M) in Kerala from 1980-1991. In 1950, when the C.P.I. became legal, he became its State Committee member. In December 1985, he became the Politburo member of the CPI(M). He is noted in the C.P.M. circles for his spartan life style and tough stand on political issues. Born in 1924, in a typical working class family of Alleppey, Achuthanandan could not complete his school education because of economic difficulties. He found work in the coir factory. In 1930s he actively participated in the Sree Narayana Social reform movement against castesim, and anti- feudal oppressions. He worked in the State Congress activities for responsible government, and attracted by Communist ideology, finally landed in the Communist Party. Soon he emerged as one of the prominent trade union and political leaders of Alleppey. In 1946, he was one of the proletarian top leaders of the ‘Vayalar- Punnappra’ movement. Then he went underground till 1950. (Venu Menon).

Venu Menon, “V.S. Achuthanandan, Unknown Quantity,” The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay: Times of India Publication, 10 May 1987, p.15. Also Vide, Andalat. The Birth of the Working Class in Kerala, Mal. Trivandrum: Chintha, 1984. 100-101. Print.

27 C.S. NO. D.Dis. 3690, 1944, Government of Travancore, in Thomas Isaac. “The Proletarian Supremacy and the Working Class Party: Practical Lessons of Alleppey”, (Mal.) “The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement”, Seminar Papers, presented at the A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, Trivandrum, 15,16th August 1984, Trivandrum: Chintha. p. 168. Print.

28 File No. 1448, 1936, Subject: “Special Session of the S.N.D.P. Yogam, Sherthallai”, Enquiry Regarding (Contains Letter from K. C. Karunakaran to the Government advicing how to deal Yogam leaders to make them pro-government), Government of Travancore, G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. File No. 1535, 1936 “Letter from K.

C. Karunakaran”, dt. 22-5-1936 to the Government.

29 File No. 295, Year 1939, Subject: “Alleppey Labour Situation, The Police at Alleppey to be Strengthened – The Inspector Being Nervous”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

30 “Report of the A.S.P.”quoted in File No.159, 1938 Subject: “Whether Alleppey Labour was to be Amalgamated with the State Congress”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

31 K. S. Sebastian quoted in, File No. 213, 1938, Subject: “Speech of K. S. Sebastian at Alleppey”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

32 Thozhilali, Weekly Newspaper, Malayalam, Alleppey: Edavam 16, 11110

M.E. (May 1935).

33 The Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union Eighth Annual Report, pp. 9-10.

34 File No. 4490, 1944, C.S., Government of Travancore.

35 Passim., pp. 152 & 147.

36 Travancore Coir Factory Workers Union, 8th Annual Report, p. 10.

37 Travancore Coir Factory Workers Union, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1972, p. 46.

38 The State Congress Meeting at Alleppey on 11-12-1938, reported in File No. 213, 1938, Subject: “Speech of K. S. Sebastian at Alleppey”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D, records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

39 Interview with S. K. Das, one of the leaders of ‘Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt’.

40 C.S. No. D. Dis, 295, 1939, “Letter of the Police Inspector to the District Magistrate”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum, dt. 11-10-1939. Vide Thomas Isaac. “The Proletarian Supremacy and the Working Class Party: Practical Lessons of Alleppey”, (Mal.) “The Indian Freedom Struggle and the Communist Movement”, Seminar Papers, presented at the A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies, Trivandrum, 15,16th August 1984, Trivandrum: Chintha. p.

171. Print.

41 “Letter from the Dewan of Travancore to C.W.D. Cotton Esq.”, Agent to

G.G. Madras, in, File No. 832, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

42 File No. 775, 1931, Subject: “Particulars of N. P. Kurukkal, Indian Communist Party”, C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

43 Confidential Correspondence File No. 746. Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of

Travancore”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

44 File No. 746, Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum

45 File No. 745, Year 1930, Subject: “List of Political Parties and Quasi-political Societies.” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

46 File No, 1314, 1932, Subject: “Co-operation of Indian States in Dealing with the Civil Disobedience Movement” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

47 “Statement of the Police Commissioner” in, File No. 1314, 1932, Subject: “Co-operation of Indian States in Dealing with the Civil Disobedience Movement” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

48 Copy of the letter No. 2515, dt.30th July 1934 in, File No. 938, 1934, Subject: “Meeting at the Gomathinayakom Library for Consulting Measures for Enlisting Congress Volunteers” Government of Travancore, C.S., G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

49 File No. 1096, 1936, Subject: “Ban on the Indian National Congress”. C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

50 “Letter of The Madras States Agency” in File No. 1671, 1938, Subject: “Organisation of a Students Federation in Trivandrum” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

51 P. T. Punnoose later became the State Secretary of the Communist Party of Travancore. No. D. Dis. 252, 1938, Subject: “Tour of Mr. Narriman- Speech before Kottayam Y.M.C.A”, C.S., Government of Travancore, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. (Unpublished).

52 N. Chandrasekharan Nayar, Retired Inspector General, ‘Interview’ by P.V. Murukan, Kerala Kaumudi, Mal. Daily, Trivandrum, September 13, 1990.

p. 2.

53 File No. 289, 1939, Subject: Terzi’s article titled, ‘A Dying Country’.

54 No. D. Dis. 73, 1939, “Secret Police Daily Bulletin”, Vol. I, No. 121, dated 17th June 1939, “K. Damodaran’s speech at labour meeting at Kayipuram C.S., Government of Travancore”, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum. (Unpublished).

55 File No. 73, 1938, Subject: “S. V. Ghate, Communist Agitator, Information Re: “(Unpublished). C.S., Government of Travancore.

56 Vide C. Narrayana Pillai. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore,

(Mal), Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972. p. 356. Print.

57 Vide C. Narrayana Pillai. The History of the Freedom Struggle of Travancore,

(Mal), Trivandrum: Forward Publication, 1972. p. 352. Print.

58 File No. 283, 1938, Subject: “Draft of a Communique Regulation I of 114”.

59 File No. 283, 1938, Subject: “Draft of a Communique Regulation I of 114”.

60 File No. 180, 1938, Subject: “The Use of Tear Smoke” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Records, Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

61 Vide No. D. Dis. 347, 1939, Subject: Conflicting Views of K. G. Kunjukrishna Pillai and the Advocate General Regarding the Advisability of proceeding with the Case regarding Crime No. 8/14 of Neyyattinkara Station, C. S., Government of Travancore.

62 File No. 176, Year 1939, Sub: “Replacement of Reserve Police by the Military, at Chengannur and Alleppey.,” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D., Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum..

63 No. D. Dis. 65, 1939, “Mr. A. K. Pillai – action against in respect of his speeches,” C.S., Government of Travancore, G.A.D. Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum.

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FORMATION AND BUILD UP OF THE C.P.I. UNIT IN KERALA

Abstract: This section deals with the formation and build up of the C.P.I. Unit In Kerala. The C.P.I. unit was formally constituted in 1939. But in 1937 itself, at the initiative of P. Sundarayya and S.V. Ghate, members of the Central Committee of the C.P.I., top leaders of the C.S.P. unit in Kerala were enlisted into a ‘Secret Fraction’*. Since 1937 the C.S.P. in Kerala worked continuously for two and a half years for the formation of the C.P.I unit. They met in 1939 at Pinarayi-Parappuram in Tellichery and transformed the C.S.P. unit into the C.P.I. unit.

Keywords: C.P.I. unit, ideology, agitations, radicalism, communist party

The C.P.I. unit was formally constituted in 1939. But in 1937 itself, at the initiative of P. Sundarayya and S.V. Ghate, members of the Central Committee of the C.P.I., top leaders of the C.S.P. unit in Kerala were enlisted into a ‘secret fraction.’1 Since 1937 the C.S.P. in Kerala had worked continuously for two and a half years for the formation of the C.P.I unit. They met in 1939 at Pinarayi-Parappuram in Tellichery and transformed the C.S.P. unit into the C.P.I. unit. In 1940, the top leaders of the party went underground. Immediately after the Pinarayi meeting, the C.P.I units were formed in Cochin and Travancore. The Kerala unit of the C.P.I inherited the radical base of the C.S.P and the Radical Group of Travancore.

The newly formed party organised anti-war, anti-feudal agitations, resulting in the police firings at Morazha, Mattannur, Tellichery and Kayyur. The 1941-‘42 period was the testing time for the C.P.I. to identify with Indian nationalism. The Quit India movement created confusion among the Communists of Kerala, who were former C.S.P. leaders. The confusion lasted till 1948. During 1942-’48 period, only local communists tried to push the party forward when spontaneous unrests occurred. Such a spontaneous unrest was the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt of 1946. It was followed by the Karivalloor , Kavurnbayi, Munayan Kunnu, Korom, Onchiyam, Tellenkeri and Paliyam agitations. But the Paliyam agitation of Cochin (1947-1948) was very much in line with the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924.

The Anti-War Rallies

When the world was heading to a crisis due to the Nazi aggression, the Indian National Congress met on 29 January 1939 to elect its president. Subhash Chandra Bose, with the backing of the leftists, was elected with 1580 votes against Pattabhi Seetha Ramayya who got only 1377 votes, though he was backed by the rightists. But Gandhiji did not approve the victory of Bose. On Gandhiji’s appeal, twelve Working Committee members resigned. Thus Bose had to work without a working committee, which made him resign from the Congress and form the Forward Block. The Communists argued for the formation of a national front with the Socialists, Royalists, the left-wing and the right-wing in the Indian National Congress to work against the World War. But Gandhiji was against any kind of coalition with the Communists. The left Congressmen started criticising the Congress leadership on two bases. Firstly, they could not agree with the stand of the Congress on the freedom struggle of the people in the princely states. Secondly, they were against the policy of the provincial Congress ministries towards the peasant and labour movements. For example, K. M. Munshi, the Home Minister of Bombay restricted the freedom of agitation. The inclination of the U.P. ministry towards the Zamindar Sangham created the feeling that the Tenants Bill was going to be diluted. In Madras, the Rajaji ministry was reluctant to amend the Kudiyan Act of Malabar. Those doubts were justified when the Gandhi Sangham, an organisation of the right-wing, justified the actions of the provincial Governments. In June 1939 to resist the reactionary rightist moves in the Congress, a left Co-ordination Committee was created. It consisted of the Forward Block, Royalists, Socialists and Communists (Namboodiripad, The Communist party in Kerala 75-78).2

On 3 September 1939, the war started. On the same day, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared that India was at war with Germany. Later, he suspended all civil freedom and proclaimed the Defence Ordinance. It was done without consulting even the Indian National Congress, the biggest popular party in India. The Congress condemned the declaration of the Viceroy, but was not ready to agitate against the war. The war was adversely affecting the economic condition of the common man. The workers in Bombay, under the Communists, started agitations, demanding additional allowance in proportion to the rate of inflation. On 24 September 1939, upon a call from the C.S.P., anti-war rallies and meetings were held throughout Kerala. A secret fraction of the C.P.I. was already working in Kerala from 1937 onwards which consisted of the four top leaders of the C.S.P., P.Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, N. C. Sekhar and K. Damodaran. Even their close associates who claimed to be Marxists did not know about it. They were in regular contact with the South Indian leaders of the C.P.I., P. Sundarayya and S. V. Ghate. The secret publication, ‘The Path of the Working Class’ and other pamphlets were sent to the members of the fraction so that the programme of the C.S.P. was moulded in such a way that it was in agreement with the C.P.I. (Namboodiripad, How I Became A Communist 211). 3

The Last C.S.P. Conference

The last annual conference of the C.S.P. in Kerala met at Tellichery on 16th, 17th and 18th June 1939. 170 delegates from all over Kerala attended the conference. By 1939 the C.S.P. in Kerala had emerged as a full-fledged political party with a deep-rooted popular base. The meeting was presided over by P. Narayanan Nayar. K. Damodaran introduced the thesis, ‘The Threat of Fascism’. Then E.M.S. Namboodiripad introduced the thesis, ‘The Political Condition’. The thesis of E.M.S. Namboodiripad clearly stated that, any effort to keep out all the rightist Congressmen from the party would result only in helping the British to tighten their grip on India. So the need of the hour was to prepare the entire nation for anti-imperialist resistance. For that, there should be a United Front formed with the Communists, the Socialists, and the left Congressmen to work within the Congress and thereby to get the Congress to wage an anti-imperialist agitation. After a lively discussion, the thesis was accepted. The party passed a resolution to intensify the study of Marxism. It resolved to organise a very strong political movement against the imminent war and the attempt of the British imperialists to drag India into the war.4

The C.S.P. Conference elected P. Krishna Pillai as the General Secetary. An executive committee of 15 was constituted with the following members: 1. P. Krishna Pillai, 2. E.M.S.Namboodiripad, 3. P. Narayanan Nayar, 4. K. A. Keraleeyan, 5. Manchunatha Rao, 6. N. C. Sekhar, 7. A. K. Gopalan, 8. Chandroth Kunjiraman Nair 9. K. P. Gopalan 10. K. Kunjuraman, 11. E. P. Gopalan, 12. C. H. Kanaran, 13. K. K. Warrier, 14.

P. S. Namboodiri, and, 15. P. M. Krishna Menon. Two sub-committees were made – the Labour sub-committee and the Kisan sub-committee. The Labour sub-committee consisted of. N. C. Sekhar (Convener), K. P. Gopalan, P. S. Namboodiri, C. H. Kanaran, K. K. Warrier. The Kisan sub- committee consisted of K. A. Keraleeyan (Convener), E. P. Gopalan, P. Narayanan Nayar, K. Kunjuraman, P. M. Krishna Menon. The Prabhatham editorial board was reconstituted with E.M.S. Namboodiripad (Editor), P. Narayanan Nayar, K. Damodaran, N. C. Sekhar, Subrahmanya Sharma and Chandroth Kunjiraman Nayar as members.5

The Party School

In the school started for political education at Mankada, Pallipram classes were conducted for a period of 25 days from 8 May to 5 June 1939. The Principal of the School was T. J. George. 75 students attended the classes. The students were sent by the Congress Committees, Karshaka Sanghams, trade unions, Students Federation and Yuvajana Sanghams.

The teachers were E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. K.Vasu, K. Damodaran, Subrahmanya Sharma and T. J. George. Subjects taught were History and Economics with special emphasis on India. Each day, there were six hours of class and one hour of discussion. Special discussions were conducted on war, Fascism, Karshaka Sangham, Trade Union Movement, United Front etc. Through the school, Party cadres got political education. The basic principles of Marxism were taught. The participants went back to different villages of Kerala and they, in turn, trained the village volunteers. Through them the Marxist ideology spread among the youth, who later became strong supporters of Marxism (Namboodiripad, Keralam, the Motherland of the Malayalees 322-23).6

Transformation of the C.S.P. to the Unit of the C.P.I

In December 1939, the C.S.P. in Kerala decided to join the Communist Party. However, one of its leaders, the President of the K.P.C.C., Abdul Rehman Sahib and a group of his followers joined the Forward Block. In Kerala, the C.S.P. did not harbour any anti-Communist or anti-Soviet sentiment. The influence of Asoka Mehta and Masani was practically non-existent in the Kerala unit. There were some basic reasons for the pro-Marxist line of thinking in the C.S.P. unit of Kerala. They can be broadly classified into three: 1. The deep-rooted consciousness among the depressed classes of the rightwing to fight for justice; 2. The regular contact between the C.P.I. leaders and the top leaders of the C.S.P.; and, 3. The influence of Marxist literature (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 86).

The awareness of the need to fight for justice was created among the depressed for the first time during the social reform movement. In Malabar, the Atmavidya Sangham of Swami Vagbhadananda and the Payyannur Sri Narayana Ashram of Swami Aananda Theerdhan were instrumental in imparting this spirit among the depressed. A. K. Gopalan’s marches against untouchability and poverty gave them confidence to fight for justice, which took the shape of anti-feudal, anti- landlord, peasant agitations, strengthened by the class consciousness taught to them by the C.S.P. leaders. Excepting a few, the majority of the leaders of the peasant movement were children of poor peasants. They were deeply involved in class wars and agitations, with Marxism giving them the ideological justification for what they were doing. The Marxian class war was not an alien ideology to the peasants of north Malabar. They were already conditioned to receive it (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 10-11).7

The top leaders of the C.S.P. had already established contact with the revolutionary leaders, when they were in jail. To E.M.S., “… the seeds of the left-wing Congress… were laid in Cannanore jail and the individual responsible for it was Tiwari” (Namboodiripad, How I Became A Communist 138). Later, after the formation of the C.S.P., the Kerala leaders like P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who were also members of the A.I.C.C., got opportunities to meet the Communists. These leaders had been in touch with Sundarayya, a member of the newly constituted Central Committee of the C.P.I. from 1935 onwards. He was an accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case and had been just released. Sundarayya was the organiser of the C.P.I. in South India. E.M.S. Namboodiripad and P. Krishna Pillai used to have long discussions with Sundarayya. The leaders from Kerala found that there was a good deal of common ground between them and the C.P.I. (Ibid 200).

In those days, the Communists were only thinking along the lines of working within the Congress with a view to develop it as an effective anti-imperialist organisation. The Communist Party wanted to work outside the Congress; at the same time, they were keen that many of its members worked from within it. They needed the support of E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Krishna Pillai to put that into practice. It provided an opportunity for the Kerala leaders to work in cooperation with the C.P.I. Sundarayya was invited to help consolidate the left-movement in Kerala. As a member of the Central Committee of the C.P.I. and as the leading organiser of the party in South India, Sundarayya, on the advice of P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboothiripad, met several other leaders of the C.S.P. in Kerala.

In 1937 when Sundarayya, accompanied by S. V. Ghate, another Central Committee member of the C.P.I., visited E.M.S. and Krishna Pillai, some top leaders of the C.S.P. were enlisted into the ‘secret fraction’ of the

C.P.I. in Kerala. They were E.M.S. Namboothiripad, N. S. Sekhar, K. Damodaran and P. Krishna Pillai. The process of transforming the C.S.P. unit into a C.P.I. unit was entrusted to that fraction, particularly to P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboothiripad, which they did commendably in early 1940 (Ibid 201, 202 & 211).

The Socialist ideology was disseminated in Kerala mainly through the weekly newspaper, Prabhatham, published by the C.S.P. from Shornur. Later it was discontinued due to a prohibitive order issued by the Government for publishing a poem on ‘Bhagat Singh’. The people of Kerala began to know more about Soviet Union, Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and others through the columns of Prabhatham. With the closure of Prabhatham, E.M.S., K. Damodaran, and other C.S.P. leaders started publishing informative pamphlets about Marxism for the peasants and workers. Popular among them were, ‘The Nineteen Seventeen’ and ‘Why Self Government’, in Malayalam, by E.M.S. and ‘Karl Marx’, ‘What is Profit’, ‘Organisation of Poverty’ and ‘The May Day’, in Malayalam, by K. Damodaran. The publication of Prabhatham was re-started on 11 April 1938 from Calicut. It was the mouthpiece of the Marxist ideology in Kerala till its closure again in September 1939. Several articles on ‘Marxian Economics’, ‘Marxian Philosophy’, ‘Revolution and the State’, ‘The Communist International’ , ‘Fascism’ , ‘The Victory of the Communist Party of Soviet Union’, ‘Gandhism’, ‘Communist Party’ etc. appeared regularly in Prabhatham. The regular writers included Messrs. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran, K. K. Vasu and others. The national leaders of the C.P.I. Messrs. Adhikari, Z. A. Ahmed and P. C. Joshi too wrote articles in the Prabhatham. Those articles were very useful to the ordinary workers of the party to learn the tenets of Marxism. P. Krishna Pillai, Keraleeyan and N. C. Sekhar wrote regularly on the problems of the people in general (Balaram 145).

The Party opened a branch of the the Socialist Book Club of Allahabad in Kerala at Calicut. It was managed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Narayanan Nayar and Subrahmanya Sharma. The Book Club published both English and Malayalam pamphlets. The English pamphlets published were, ‘Philosophy’ by Stalin, ‘What to Do’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ‘To the Starving Poor of the Countryside’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘Wage, Work and Capital’ by Karl Marx, ‘The State and Revolution’ by V. I. Lenin, ‘The People’s Coalition’ by Demetrov and ‘The Success of Socialism in U.S.S.R.’ by Joseph Stalin. The Malayalam pamphlets published by the Book Club were, ‘What is Socialism’ by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, ‘The May Day’ by K. Damodaran and ‘Fascism’ by Subrahmanya Sharma. The people were very interested in reading those pamphlets, so much so that those who could not buy them, borrowed from others and read them (Ibid 147).

The Pinarayi Meeting

At the Pinarayi meeting, the entire C.S.P. leadership in Kerala decided to transform into the Communist party. Even before the decisive Pinarayi meeting, several meetings of the C.S.P. workers had been held at different places throughout Kerala. It was evident that the C.S.P. workers in Kerala aspired for a new strategy and ideology because they had lost confidence in the programme of the Congress and the C.S.P. When World War II broke out, the Congress leadership failed to mobilise all the anti- war forces and thereby to accelerate the national liberation movement as well. The Congress leadership followed a policy of conciliation and remained inactive. C.S.P. workers’ conferences were held at Pazhassinikadavu, Koothuparambu, Cheruthoor, Perinthalmanna, Puthupanam, Feroke, Aalathur, Trichur etc. At all those conferences, it was demanded that they adopt a new working plan immediately and leave no stone unturned to gain freedom from foreign rule at the earliest opportunity (Balaram 33, 36-37).

K. C. George, one of the early leaders of the Communist movement describes a secret, ten-day study class that the C.S.P.workers including himself attended from December 20th to 30, 1939 preceding the Pinarayi meeting at the house of Vishnubharatheeyan. It was organised at the initiative of P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. There were about 20 participants including K. P. Gopalan, K.P.R. Gopalan, Keraleeyan, Devadas, C. Unniraja, Sankara Narayanan Thampi and others. What took place was a group study of Communism. The classes started after the introductory talks given by P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S.Namboodiripad on the necessity of the C.S.P. men to convert themselves into communists (George 486-489). The book titled, A Hand Book of Marxism, containing the works of Marx and Lenin was read and translated. At the close of the ten-day class on the elementary lessons of Communism, P. Krishna Pillai declared, “Hereafter all of us are Communists” (Ibid 489). Thus was laid the foundation stone for the edifice of the Communist Party in Kerala. According to George, the official establishment of the Party took place shortly thereafter in January 1940, at the C.S.P. meeting at Pinarayi near Tellichery on the initiative of E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was then one of the Central Committee Secretaries of the C.S.P. and P. Krishna Pillai who was then the Secretary of the Kerala unit of the C.S.P. (Ibid 491).

About the date, location and importance of the Pinarayi meeting, differences of opinion exist. One of the organisers of the meeting, E.M.S. Nambootiripad says; “… As a culmination of these activities, an extensive conference of the C.S.P. workers was held at Pinarayi near Thellichery, either by the end of December 1939 or by early January 1940, and it was decided to transform the party into the Communist Party” (Translation) (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 88). N.E. Balaram, one of the participants of the Pinarayi meeting records the end of October 1939 as the date of the meeting. Similarly, T.V. Krishnan, the biographer of

P. Krishna Pillai mentions October 1939 as the time of the Pinarayi meeting (Balaram 33).8 To K. C. George, the Pinarayi meeting was held by the beginning of 1940 (George 491). Desabhimani, the official daily newspaper of the C.P.I.(M) in Kerala states that the Pinarayi meeting leading to the formation of the Communist Party was held fifty years ago, in the Vivekananda Reading Room of Parapurom, Pinarayi. To K.A. Keraleeyan another participant of the meeting, it was hosted by a tapper named Vadavuthi Appukkutti.9

To E.M.S. Namboodiripad:

The Communist Party has an inviolable principle.The lower units are organised only by the initiative of the top leadership. So without the blessings of the central leadership, the party organisation cannot come into existence. The comrades of the C.P.I. regard the Parapuram meeting as the founding of the Communist party, forgetting the above principle. But the C. P. I. (M), fully understanding the historical significance of the Parapuram meeting, believes that the founding of the party was in 1937. It is not wrong to say that the founding of the C.S.P. in 1934 and the Communist League which had taken shape in 1931, had prepared the way for the incidents of 1937 and 1939. (Namboodiripad, “An Assessment of the Pinarayi Parapuram Meeting” 20)(Translation)

Since 1937, the C.S.P. in Kerala had worked continuously for 2 ½ years under the leadership and control of the Central Committee of the C.P.I. The party that emerged in 1939 had to work secretly for another 2 ½ years (Idem).

The Pinarayi-Parapuram meeting was presided over by K. P. Gopalan. About a hundred C.S.P. leaders attended the meeting (Balaram 37).10 P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad made introductory speeches. They explained to the gathering the passive policy of the Wardha A.I.C.C. and the inactivity of the C.S.P. They stated that the

C.P.I. was the only party with the motivation and a clear programme to direct the national agitation and popular struggles against the calamities of war. The most important decision taken at the Pinarayi meeting was to transform the Kerala unit of the C.S.P. into the Kerala unit of the C.P.I. One or two persons opined that the party could adopt the name ‘Marxist Party’ for the time being and later change it to ‘Communist Party’. However, after deliberation, it was unanimously decided to adopt the name ‘Communist Party’. It was also decided to organise party groups and to summon mini-meetings of party workers. The Pinarayi meeting ended by midnight (Balaram 39).

The formation of the Communist Party was announced for the first time publicly on 26 January 1940 through wall writings such as, ‘Victory to Revolution’, ‘Destroy Imperialism’, ‘Communist Party Zindabad’ and other slogans (Ibid 104-105).11 The Government started taking repressive measures against the partymen immediately. The working of the party was prohibited and so, the top leaders went into hiding. In January 1940 itself, P. Krishna Pillai went underground and started organising the party secretly. With that began the secret political activities of the Communist Party in Kerala. P. Krishna Pillai summoned secret meetings of the party workers; basic units of the Party called ‘Cells’ were formed and a secret centre of the party was also established. P. Krishna Pillai was the party Secretary then (Balaram 251). In April 1940, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and other leaders also went underground. The secret centre started functioning from the Chirrakal taluk. Several party cells were organised. Taluk committees were formed for Kasargod, Chirrakal, Calicut, Ponnani and Palghat taluks. Party organisers were sent to other places too. The Chirrakal Taluk Secretary was T. K. Raju. The Taluk Secretary for Kottayam was N. E. Balaram. The Secretary for Kurumbranad Taluk was M. Kanaran. The Taluk Secretary for Calicut was N. Sankaran Master. The Valluvanad Taluk Secretary was Kongassery Krishnan. The Taluk secretary for Ponnani was T. K. Raman and the Taluk Secretary for Palghat, P. Kunjuraman Master. Other party organisers were A. K. Gopalan, N. C. Sekhar, M. Kumaran, Subrahmanya Sharma, Krishnan Menon, P. V. Chindan and others. Of the party organisers, only C. H. Kanaran had direct contact with the Central Party leadership (Ibid 254).

Party in Cochin and Travancore

Immediately after the Pinarayi meeting, the left-wing Congressmen formed themselves into the Communist Party in Cochin and Travancore too. In Cochin, a strong anti-imperialist movement had already been organised in 1939 under Labour Brotherhood, an organisation formed by C.S.P. leaders like K. K. Warrier to disseminate Marxist ideas among the workers. The Labour Brotherhood joined the Communist Party in 1939 itself (Krishnan, Sakhav 108-109). Shortly thereafter its leaders, K. K. Warrier, C. Achutha Menon, Andrews, P. M. Thomas, George, M. S. Kumaran and others were arrested (Ibid). A class-based, radical political movement had started in Cochin in 1932 itself. It was a peasant movement organised by K. M. Ibrahim at Kodungallur. It spread to the nearby areas of Mukundapuram and Vaipinkara. The main objective of the movement was to get relief from the increasing agrarian debt. K. M. Kunjumoideen, Mathai Manjooran and his brothers were the leaders of the movement. In November 1932, when Viceroy Lord Wellington visited the state, the peasants tried to conduct a demonstration, resulting in brutal lathicharge by the police. Soon the Government constituted a Debt Conciliation Board to give relief to the debt-ridden peasants. With that, the movement ceased to function (Menon 132-133).

In 1938, with the formation of the Cochin Karshaka Sabha (The Cochin Peasants’ Organisation), the peasants movement was revived. Its President was V. R. Krishnan Ezhuthachan and Secretary, C. Achutha Menon. It agitated for progressive land reforms like permanent tenure, fair lease, etc. In 1938, a peasants’ march was organised from Thiruvilyamala to Ernakulam. By 1942, the peasants’ movement transformed itself into a purely Communist organisation. It organised a Collective Cooperative Society at Aanamalai. By then, at the direction of the newly formed party, the peasants were actively involving themselves in political agitations (Ibid 131-132).

The industrial workers of Cochin were organised under a revolutionary trade union movement by Marxist- minded leaders like K. K. Warrier, P. Gangadharan, P. S. Namboodiri, A. G. Velayudhan and others. From 1935 onwards such trade unions had been organised in the Seetharam Textiles, Amballur Alagappa Textiles, Cochin Tin Factory, and Chalakkudy Potteries. Backed by the Aalathu Workers’ of Cochin and Azheekal, the Port Workers of Cochin struck work, resulting in the cruel torture of P. S. Namboodiri by the police. The toddy tappers of Andikad struck work not only for their economic gains but also for the freedom of the country. The toddy tappers and members of their families had to undergo severe torture from the Government during the period. About twenty toddy tappers were martyred. A majority of the freedom fighters of Cochin belonged to the Communist Party (Idem).

The coir workers of Alleppey were ready to embrace the newly formed Communist Party. Even in 1938, P. G. Padmanabhan, Secretary of the Coir Factory Labour Strike Committee of Alleppey had been circulating printed leaflets containing Communist ideas.12The political condition in Travancore was so tense that Dewan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, in order to suppress Socialist and Communist doctrines, had issued a communiqué limiting further the civil liberties of the people.13 On 6 December 1938, the British Resident in a secret and personal letter to Sir

C. P. informed him that the leading communists M. D. Mazumdar and P. Ramamurthi had visited Alleppey and given the local leaders a plan of action for conducting their future struggle. The letter further revealed the plan of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, H. Manjunatha Rao and S. V. Ghate to keep alive the political unrest in Travancore.14 Based on the secret police report on 19th May 1939 that the Alleppey labourers were shouting the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, and parading with the red-flag, Dewan Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer gave directions to the I.G. of Police to take action against such activities.15

The K.P.C.C. Election

After the secret meeting of the Communist leaders at the house of Vishnubharatheeyan in December 20th to 30th, P. Krishna Pillai directed

K. C. George to submit nomination papers for the K.P.C.C. election as a Communist Party candidate for its only seat in the Travancore constituency. The right-wing Congress candidate was the prominent Gandhian, G. Ramachandran. Since an arrest warrant was issued against Mr. George in Travancore, he could not enter the State and personally meet the voters. Still, George won the elections with a huge majority. The K.P.C.C. Returning Officer, P. N. Krishna Pillai informed George that both the candidates were neck and neck in Trivandrum, Quilon and Kottayam. But when the Alleppey votes were counted – most of which were the votes of the members of the Coir Workers’ Union – it spelt a great victory for George (George 496-97). It showed that the coir factory workers were members of the State Congress as well as members of the Indian National Congress. The majority of the Travancore Congressmen were left-minded (Idem). After the 1940 elections, the K.P.C.C. met at Calicut and elected Abdul Rehman Sahib as its President and P. Narayanan Nayar as the Secretary. Later, when they were arrested, two other left radicals, K. Damodaran and K. T. Kunjuraman Nambiar were elected to these posts. Thus, until 15 September 1940 when the K.P.C.C. was dismissed, it remained in the hands of the left radicals (Namboodiripad, The Communisty Party in Kerala 88-89).

In Travancore, the Communist Party unit was formed in Alleppey in 1940. Before the formation of the unit, a secret meeting was summoned by P. Krishna Pillai at Eramallur, north of Sherthallai, at the residence of one T. K. Raman. With P. Krishna Pillai, there were T. V. Thomas, K. K. Kunjan, and four others. A Party Committee consisting of K. K. Kunjan, P. K. Padmanabhan, P. A. Solamon, C. O. Mathew, Simon Asan, C. J. Joseph and others was formed. T. V. Thomas, who was the leader of the Radical Group of the State Congress was made the Secretary of the Unit (Chandrasenan 86).

Underground Activity

In1940 the K.P.C.C. was electing delegates to the Ramgarh Congress. P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran, K. C. George, Manjunatha Rao, K. Keraleeyan and others, all of whom were communists, were the delegates from Kerala (George 497 – 498). At the Ramgarh Congress, the Communist delegates voted against the political resolution, arguing that the Indian National Congress must make use of the situation created by the World War to organise popular agitations against the British Government. Thus, the British Government started looking upon the Communists as their enemies in India, and suppressing them. It became inevitable for the Communist Party to indulge in underground activities for a very long period (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party of Kerala 89).16 The Communist Party in Kerala had to conduct all political activities secretly. Unlike the Congress leaders who courted arrest and underwent imprisonment, the Communist leaders started avoiding arrest and organising agitations (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 94). They had to organise the party from underground. The newly formed illegal party was built up even when the anti-war agitations were going on. P. Krishna Pillai who first went underground, started to build up a strong secret organisation. He had previous experience of organising strikes in hiding – those of Alleppey coir factory workers and the agitations of the Travancore Youth League (Ibid 88).

The hold of the Communists in the Congress Committees gave them shelter to work openly. To quote E.M.S. Namboodiripad :

I was a Congress M.L.A. Since the legislature remained suspended, I could not work in that capacity. I continued to work as a member of the Kuttikrishna Menon Committee. Later, i could not continue even that work because the Communist Party directed me to go underground with P. Krishna Pillai. So the note of dissention was sent by post. (Ibid 89)

The left-wing Congressmen of Kerala were familiar with underground political activity. They had done underground political work during the 1932 Civil Disobedience Movement in Malabar, the 1938-39 agitations for responsible government in Travancore and the Alleppey strike (Idem). Still, the Communist underground activity was basically different from the previous underground activities. The earlier underground activity was for a short period and was confined to a limited area. The Communist activity was class based, and confined to the liberation of the underdogs of the society, especially the workers and the peasants. Therefore, the new Communist organisation had to be geared for it. It was a new experience for the youth who started their political career as left-Congressmen, matured as socialists and finally transformed themselves into Communists. The Communist cadres were taught about Marxist revolution as opposed to Gandhian non-violence (Ibid 89-90).

Bolshevik Pattern

For the success of the Marxian revolution, the C.P.I. unit of Kerala had to be organised according to the Bolshevik pattern to function under a central party leadership. The Kerala unit of the Communist Party retained the revolutionary base of the Congress Socialist Party (Ibid 90). The party members were first introduced to the change through the creation of an awareness of new rights and duties. A primary member of the party should submit himself to other superior party institutions. Even personal and domestic problems should be submitted to the party without any reservation and the decision of the party should be accepted without any hesitation. This was made compulsory for both primary members and leaders. Creation of this consciousness among the party members was the first task undertaken by the newly-formed Communist Party that was working from underground. The procedure adopted to create such a consciousness among the party members has been described in detail by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, one of the founding leaders of the C.P.I. unit in Kerala who later became the General Secretary of the C.P.I. (M). Accordingly, each member should prepare the routine work for each day in advance. At the end of the day, introspection should be made of the work done and that left undone. It should be submitted to the scrutiny of the unit and then, the next upper unit. The first of the records was called ‘job chart’ and the second one was called ‘diary’. It was felt that any member who did not submit himself to the above-mentioned control would sabotage the entire chain of underground activity. So the above conditions were instituted as mandatory for membership. In those days, the party membership numbered only in hundreds (Ibid 98-98).

‘Democratic centralism’ was the basis on which the party structure was to be built. Accordingly, the party member had to surrender everything to the party. His freedom of expression was restricted in such a way that he could express his opinion freely only when he was required to do so in the unit meeting (Ibid 34-35). The Communists had to fight constantly against bourgeois weakness. Even proletariats fell victim to bourgeois influence. To correct it, the party centre was in regular contact with the units. Study classes were conducted and the ‘Weekly Letter’ was sent regularly. The Weekly Letter assessed the national and international developments and on their basis analysed the problems at the regional level. The Weekly Letter used to reach the lower units regularly and consolidated unity of opinion and action among party members. Within months after the outbreak of the war, the central party leadership issued a leaflet entitled, ‘The Path of the Working Class’. It explained how the Communist approach was different from the approach of the Congress and other left parties to the World War, etc. It was an explanation of the vision of the working class about the ‘Indian Revolution’. Secret party papers were regularly sent to Kerala, containing articles and notes assessing contemporary developments. But, with the outbreak of the war, the central party newspaper, National Front and other regional party newspapers (Prabhatham in Kerala) stopped publication (Ibid 87).

Anti-war Agitations of 1940

Morazha,Mattanur, Thellichery riots

Within a few months, an extensive publication network and an effective political organisation were established in Kerala, capable of organising agitations of the workers and the peasants against the British Government, capitalists and landlords (Ibid). In early 1940 when P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and others went underground, a section of the party leaders worked openly by holding official positions of the K.P.C.C. The leaders of All Malabar Karshaka Sangham (Peasants’ organisation) and All MaIabar Trade Union also worked openly. The first task of the party was to awaken people’s consciousness against the deprivations caused by the war. The peasants’ organisations and trade unions waged a united agitation. A United Action Committee was formed. The Secretary of the Committee was K.P.R. Gopalan. The agitation began in September 1940. It raised four demands: 1. Dearness allowance in proportion to living index; 2. Government must open shops to supply foodstuff at a controlled price; 3. Punish the officials who collect War fund compulsorily; and, 4. Assure minimum price for agricultural products. The anti-war movement was made popular throughout Kerala by conducting demonstrations and public meetings and through a signature campaign against the war (Balaram 39).17

The left–K.P.C.C. gave a call to observe ‘protest day’ against police arrests and prosecution on May 20, 1940. But it was postponed on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. Later, on 21 July 1940, Protest Day was observed at 17 places in Malabar. As a continuation of that, the C.P.I. gave a call to observe Civil Liberty Day on 18 August 1940. But the District Magistrate issued a prohibitive order banning the demonstration and arrest warrants on all leaders of the Communist party. The K.P.C.C. met at Chalapuram and decided to observe Protest Day on 15 September against the declaration about India joining the War made by Lord Amery, the Indian Secretary and the Viceroy, Linlithgow. The K.P.C.C.meeting was presided over by Manchunatha Rao. It strongly protested against the Governmental suppression of popular agitations (Mohandas 51-52). Immediately the District Collector issued prohibitive orders without consulting even the Chief Secretary. As a protest, the K.P.C.C. Secretary K. Damodaran gave a call to violate the prohibitive order of the Collector.

Throughout Malabar, the prohibition was violated. In many places the police used force to disband public meetings. The police opened fire at three places – Morazha, Mattannur and TeIlichery (Idem).

Protest at Morazha:

In the Chirakkal taluk, it was decided to hold a peasant meeting together with the Protest Day meeting at Keechery. When the meeting was about to begin, the Police Inspector of Valapatanam, Kuttikrishna Menon and a police group arrived on the scene and served a prohibitive order. The organisers shifted the venue of the meeting to Anchalumpeedika of Morazha village under the jurisdiction of the Thaliparamba police station. The meeting began at 4 o’clock in the evening, after hoisting the red flag. Inspector Kuttikrishna Menon arrived there along with the Thaliparamba Inspector and the Sub-Magistrate. The Sub-Magistrate Gopalan Nayar declared the meeting unlawful. It was followed by Kuttikrishna Menon’s demand to Vishunbharatheeyan, the President of the meeting to disband the people (Idem). The President agreed to do so, but only at the end of the meeting. The Thaliparamba Police Inspector asked the agitators to disband. When the agitators refused, he started a lathi-charge against them. The unarmed agitators retaliated by throwing sticks and stones. Kuttikrishna Menon fired two rounds at them. A worker named Nurumbu was seriously wounded. The stone pelting against the police continued. The Thalipararmba Inspector and Magistrate fled for their lives. Inspector Kuttikrishna Menon was stoned down. He died at Anchalumpeedika. The Head Constable Gopalan Nambiar too died at the hospital (Idem). On the very same day, people confronted the police at Thellichery, Mattannur and Kuthuparambu. At Thellichery Messrs Abu and Chathulkutty were martyred (Idem).

Following the Morazha incident, police started a reign of terror. On the advice of the right-wing Congress leader, Samuel Aron, the police registered a murder case against 38 persons (Idem). A police camp was opened at Pappinisseri. Life became miserable there and in the neighbouring areas of Morazha, Andur, Kalyasseri, and Cherukunnu. Many were arrested and tortured to elicit information about the Communist leaders. However, the police could get no information about the leaders who had gone into hiding. By the end of September, the police had arrested most of the activists except K.P.R. Gopalan, P.R. Subrahmanya Shenoi, A. V. Kunjambu, P. Kumaran and C. K. Panicker (Ibid 43). The police suppression was kept a well-guarded secret. Newspapers were threatened from publishing the news. Due to the efforts of P. Krishna Pillai, Mathrubhoomi published the news of the reign of terror on 22 October 1940. The anti-British radicalism of the K.P.C.C. was creating problems for the Congress High Command. On 15 October 1940 the Communist-controlled K.P.C.C. was dismissed and an adhoc committee led by Nandakoliyar who hailed from Bombay was nominated (Fic 22).

Police announced a reward of Rs.500 and Rs.100 to those who gave information to arrest K.P.R. Gopalan and Subrahmanya Shenoi respectively. The case of the Morazha agitators was argued in the Tellichery Sessions Court by A. K. Pillai, V. R. Krishna Iyer and V. V. Rama Iyer. The Sessions Court gave seven years of rigorous imprisonment to K.P.R. Gopalan and T. Raghavan Nambiar, six years to V. P. Narayanan and Arrakal, and three years to Vishnubharatheeyan, Narayanan Nayanar, M. Ibrahim, P. Govindan Nambiar, E. Krishnan Kurukkal,

P. Gopalan Nambiar, T. V. Chathukutti Nambiar, C. C. Mohamed and Kunhikannan. All others were acquitted (Mohandas 53). But on appeal, the Madras High Court gave K.P.R. Goplan capital punishment on March 24, 1942. Against the death sentence of K.P.R. Gopalan, there was nationwide protest. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and V. V. Giri appealed to the Government to reduce the capital punishment (Idem).18 The problem was raised in the British Parliament by the leader of the British Communist Party. He could secure promise of remission of the death sentence of K.P.R. Gopalan from Amery. On 24 March 1942, the capital punishment of K.P.R. was reduced to life imprisonment (Idem). As far as the early growth of Communism in Kerala is concerned, the anti-war movement and the repressions at Morazha, Tellichery and Mattannur, were of great importance. They gave practical lessons in resisting the suppression of the Government through popular agitations. There were waves of popular agitations in north Malabar demanding the release of K.P.R.Gopalan. Those agitations could alter even the verdict of the Court (Idem).

The already existing links among the radicals of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore were consolidated and formalised with the emergence of the Communist Party. During the 1939-‘42 period, the Communist Party in Kerala was more popular than the Indian National Congress because the former was more anti-British than the latter. Victor M. Fic writes:

It must be emphasised, however, that since the outbreak of the war in September 1939 until July 1942, the Communist Party in Kerala was more anti-British than the Congress, and earned a large measure of credit for its refusal to compromise with the British when the war placed them in discomfiture in India. (Fic 23)

So the Communist Party appeared to many as a more patriotic and anti-imperialist force than the Congress and as the real leader of the entire anti-imperialist movement in Kerala at that time. During the anti- war, anti-British agitations of the 1939-‘42 period, the problems of economic depression such as inflation, unemployment, starvation etc. were precipitated. The Communist Party was moved by political radicalism and was not particularly concerned about non-violence and constitutional politics; within a short time, they could build up an all – Kerala organisation. The Congress, on the other hand, worked separately for Malabar, Cochin and Travancore. Through the formation of the Communist Party, the already existing links among the radicals all over Kerala was formalised in 1940. The long tradition of a unified Communist command in Kerala played a large part in the Party’s victory in the elections of 1957, because it had the statewide network, discipline and understanding that its opponents lacked (Jeffrey 93).

Throughout 1940, the Communists in Kerala conducted vigorous agitations against the war and the Gandhian Congress. At this time, many of the Communists stopped wearing ‘Khadi’. In those days, the majority of the rank and file of the Party undoubtedly came from the poor, lower castes. At the same time, thousands of caste-Hindus too became the supporters and followers of the Communist Party (Ibid 94- 95). It made the C.P.I. weekly, People’s Age claim: “the common struggle against their class enemies brought the Nayar and Thiyya kisans far closer to each other than any amount of anti-untouchability campaign ever did” (qtd in Jeffrey 95). The multi-caste nature of the Communist Party in Kerala was revealed in the K.P.C.C. elections of 1940. The left- wing in the Congress won sixty-two of the ninety seats. Of their successful candidates, 44% were Nayars, 30% were Thiyyas and other lower castes and 11% Muslims. On the contrary, more than 80% of the Gandhians who won the election were caste-Hindus, only about 10% were from the low castes. The Gandhians won 24 of their seats from South Malabar; the Communists dominated the northern part of the District where the peasant movement was flourishing and from the Calicut District (Jeffrey 95). In Kerala, the Communists acquired the reputation of being self-sacrificing, disciplined idealists, in striking contrast to the corrupt, faction-ridden Congressmen (Ibid 97). The Communist leaders of the upper castes during the period of the underground activity, lived in the huts of low caste peasants and labourers and ate with them. Thereby they won for themselves considerable affection among the downtrodden low caste people. It created the feeling that all feudal traditions of social and economic inequalities were crumbling down before the Communists (Ibid 96).

The Kayyur Revolt, March 1941

In March 1941 the militant peasants of Kayyur village (Kasargod taluk of the then Canara District) revolted. Majority of the villagers were feudal serfs. The overlord was the ‘Raja’ of the ‘Neeleswaram Kovilakom’. Through vassals like Pattelar, Ugrani and others, he ruled the village tyranically. To end the feudal suppression, in 1938 a branch of the Karshaka Sangham was established in Kayyur at the initiative of Subrahmanyam, Thirumunpu, A.V. Kunjambu, K.M. Madhavan and others (Sujathan 7). Though the peasant movement in north Malabar could win many of its demands against middle and small landlords, the big landlords like the Neeleswaram Raja continued their coercive feudal collections with the support of the British Government. The Kasaragod taluk Karshaka Sangham decided to conduct a march of 120 peasants against landlordism and British imperialism to Mangalore, the District Headquarters. At the same time, the Karshaka Sangham of the Kayyur village decided to go on strike by sending a list of their demands to the biggest landlord Neeleswaram Raja and thereafter leading a march to the Kovilakom (feudal mansion) ( Nayanar 20-21). Their slogans were, ‘Down with British rule’, ‘Down with landlordism’, ‘Victory to the Karshaka Sangham’, ‘Victory to the Soviet Union’, ‘Pay not the land lease’ and ‘Pay not the War fund’(Kurup 25).

The police, in collusion with the landlords, blocked the march and charged cases of anti-British activity and plan to plunder the Kovilakom against the agitators. On 26 March 1941, the peasant volunteers at sleep at the time were cruelly beaten and the peasant leaders T. V. Kunjambu and Kunjuraman were arrested by the police party led by the Sub- Inspector of Hosdurg. 27th March was a bloody day for the Kayyur village. The news of the arrest of the peasant leaders and the Police action spread like wild fire. The Karshaka Sangham organised a huge demonstration and a public meeting to show its strength. The peasants of the neighbouring villages Kalayikode and Palayi marched with the peasants of Kayyur, holding the red flag, to Cherayikara on 28 March. There in front of a toddy-shop, a Police Constable named Subrayan, fully drunk, blocked the march by holding a drawn dagger. He was one of the constables who had charged at the sleeping peasants the previous day.The demonstrators snatched his dagger, made him hold a red-flag and walk in front of the march. The peasants hooted at him and forced him to shout slogans against landlordism and British imperialism. Subrayan tried to flee, but he could not since another procession came marching against the first. With no other way out, he jumped into the Thejaswani Puzha (river) and was drowned. His body was recovered only two days later (Nayanar 21).

On 30 March there was a police hunt on the people of Kayyur. The police charged murder case against sixty-one persons. E. K. Nayanar, who later became the C.P.I. (M) Chief Minister of Kerala State twice, was the third accused. On the directions of the Communist Party, he went underground (Idem). After eleven months of trial, on 2 February 1942 the Sessions Court of Mangalore sentenced five of the accused to capital punishment and eighteen of the accused to various terms of imprisonment. There were popular agitations at the national level to relax the punishment. On 29 March 1943 Madathil Appu, Koyithattil Chirukandan, Pottrora Kunjambu Nayar and Pallickal Abubeker were hanged to death at the Cannanore central jail. Until their last breath, they shouted slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Communist Party Zindabad’ and ‘Karshaka Sangham Zindabad’ (Gopalan 26-70). The fifth to be hanged was Choorikadan Krishnan Nayar; but as he was a minor, the death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment (Kunjambu 12).

The Kayyur revolt was not accidental. It was the result of a planned effort on the part of the Communist Party to end feudal suppression and imperialistic exploitation (Ibid 24). The Communist Party Secretary, P. Krishna Pillai was arrested in Travancore. The Government of Travancore kept his arrest and detention as a top secret. Throughout Kerala, there was popular anxiety and widespread agitations following the arrest. The Congress newspaper, Mathrubhoomi wrote an editorial entitled, “Where is P. Krishna Pillai?” (Pothuval 74). Immediately after the Morazha revolt, and before the Kayyur revolt, P. Sundarayya visited Malabar. He reached Kayyur and met the leaders like A.V. Kunjambu, K. Keraleeyan, E. K. Nayanar and others (Nayanar 20-21). The visit of Sundarayya was kept a top secret. It imparted high spirits and enthusiasm to the Party workers. To quote one of the leaders of the revolt, A.V. Kunjambu: “The leaders of the army who had to train and lead them already got ready. It seemed to the cadres that this supreme Commander has reached to give the final order” (Translation) (Kunjambu 24). The positive culmination of such developments was the Kayyur revolt. Just before the execution of the four accused, P. C. Joshi, P. Sundarayya and P. Krishna Pillai visited the ‘condemned cell’. Though the party leaders were upset, the convicts maintained a stoic poise and told them: “Comrades, you should not worry over us. We are proud to have done our duty. Our only wish is for the success of our movement at any cost. Ask our comrades to go forward with renewed vigour till the goal is reached”(Translation) (Gopalan 269).

The Kayyur revolt assumed national importance when the All India Kisan Sabha met in 1943 at Bokney in Punjab and decided to observe the day of the Kayyur revolt – 29 March – as the All India Kisan Day. On that day, the peasants of all village units conducted demonstrations and pledged to carry forward the message of the martyrs of Kayyur (Kurup 23).

The ‘Imperialist War’ Becomes the ‘People’s War’

In June 1941, U.S.S.R. entered the Second World War against Germany as an ally of Britain. The C.P.I. had to submit itself to the dictates of the international Communist leaders. Thus, for the C.P.I., the hitherto ‘Imperialist War’ turned into the ‘Peoples’ War’. As a result, the Indian Communists had to forget their past differences with the British and support them. E.M.S.Namboodiripad explains the policy of the Party at the time as follows:

… meanwhile, … the character of the war changed. On 22 June 1942 the war ceased to be an attempt of antagonistic imperialist groups to partition the world among themselves, but a war to decide the future of the Soviet Union and the struggle of world Socialism…(Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 151)

E.M.S. Namboodiripad admitted in 1952 that even the genuinely left petty bourgeoisie, sympathetic towards the Soviet Union could not see any change in the character of the War, as long as Britain continued to rule over India. The C.P.I. leadership on the other hand felt that anything done to defend the land of Socialism was just (Ibid).

About the political line of the C.P.I. the most popular leader of the Party, A. K. Gopalan commented: “… the political line of the Party at that time ran counter to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the majority of the Indian people, and many serious mistakes were committed by its leadership…”(Gopalan 70). The 1942 anti-national policy of the Communist Party resulted in its alliance with the British Government. The former socialist allies of the Communist Party in its anti-war agitations and the right-wing Congress leadership charged the Communists with betrayal of the national cause. The Communists were labelled as ‘Paid agents of British Imperialism’. Thus the hard-won popularity of the C.P.I. through several anti-war agitations, when the Congress remained less active, started to decline (Fic 24-25).

Until 1942, there had been no anti-Soviet, anti-communist bias inside the socialist movement in Kerala. But the 1942 Communist stand on the war and the anti- British movement created a new generation of socialists in Kerala (Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 152- 154). the Communist Party in Kerala had been formed in 1940 by the separation of the radical wing from the Congress. This process was repeated in 1942, when another group of radicals split away and founded the Socialist Party of Kerala (Fic 27).

The political situation in 1942 was so complicated that it demanded a high degree of poise and maturity on the part of the C.P.I. leaders. It involved the linking of the national, anti-imperialist tasks of the Indian partymen with international goals and tasks. It again involved fighting the pro-fascist sentiments of the Indian people at large in such a way that it could expose the fascist agents and win over the majority of the anti- imperialists. It also required preservation and extension of the unity of the trade unions, the Kisan Sabhas, the student organisations etc. (Namboodiripad, The National Question in Kerala 152 – 154). During the difficult period of 1942, its opponents hoped that the C.P.I. would shatter and disintegrate into pieces. Only the top leadership of the C.P.I. dealt with problems arising out its wartime policy. Local party units had been tackling the concrete problems faced by the workers and peasants (Fic 24&27).

Analysis of the secret records of the Travancore Government from 1941 to 1945 indicates that, on the one hand, the Government had continued to suppress the Communist Party since June 1941after the entry of the U.S.S.R. in the World War. On the other, the Communist Party regarded that the Government was conspiring with the capitalists and the landlords against the workers and the peasants. On 26 August 1941, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer informed the British Resident that his Government had seised Communist literature and secret information. His advice was that the Communist propaganda and activities were to be dreaded and had to be guarded against more than ever then. According to him, the Indian Communists were using the Anglo-Soviet Alliance as a convenient screen.19 The All Travancore Trade Union Congress gave a call to its workers to observe 24 October 1941 as Suppression Day. On that day, at the labour meeting at Alleppey, T. V. Thomas, the Communist leader declared that the workers were being denied even ordinary rights in the name of law. One hundred and forty workers were still in the central jail for participating in the strike three years ago. Two labour leaders C. K. Velayudhan and Mathew were still detained in the Kasba Station of Quilon. They were arrested by invoking the Defence of India Act. Nevertheless, the Government did nothing to bring to book the capitalists who cut wages. He asserted that compromise or conciliation with the Government was no more possible. He gave a call to the workers to join the Union, to change the decaying system and to set up the foundation for a new, effective system.20

On 5 October 1941 the Inspector General of Police reported to the Chief Secretary that the First Class Magistrate had directed the Police Inspector of Alleppey to be prepared to arrest a thousand labour agitators if need be.21 On 19 December 1941, the I.G. of Police advised the Government to declare the Communist Party of India as an unlawful association. Accordingly, the Government declared the Communist Party of India unlawful and prohibited the printing and publishing of the National Front and the New Age.22

On 16 September 1943, the Government of Travancore issued a press note banning the shouting of the slogans, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Long Live Revolution’.23 The secret police report on 30 October 1943 shows that there was a labour strike in the H & C, Quilon and the Chief Engineer of the Company complained to the police about the workers creating a racket by shouting the slogan, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.24 The ‘Abstract Intelligence of the Travancore Police’ dated 2 October 1943 describes the political condition that prevailed in those days. It says that the communists of Kottayam met on 28 September and discussed the Government’s press note regarding the Communist Party. The meeting demanded the distribution of wasteland for cultivation and resolved to open ‘demonstration farms’ with the purpose of increasing food production. In the meeting, the Communist leader C. G. Sadasivan accused the Government of favouring the landlords and the capitalists. He continued, “The British Government will automatically go away when the people get organised. No Government can tolerate the growth of people’s organisations; the British Government is no exception.”25 Page 82 of the ‘Abstract’ reveals that on 27 September three hundred workers of the weaving section of the A.D. Cotton Mills, Quilon struck work (Idem).

On 12 December 1942, the British Resident proposed to the Dewan of Travancore the construction of a parallel road to the main road, skirting the backwaters, from Alleppey to Sherthallai, to facilitate military movement.26 On 11 February 1944 the I.G. of Police reported that the General Secretary of the All India Students’ Federation was arriving at Trivandrum on 13-2-1944. He got an order issued by the Dewan that the

A.I.S.F. was a banned organisation.27

Another secret police report dated 17-6-1120 M.E. shows that in March 1945 the annual meetings of the All Travancore Trade Union Congress (A.T.T.U.C) and the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union were held at the same venue at Brahmamandiram, Karumady near Alleppey. The A.T.T.U.C. annual meeting started by 12 noon, presided over by T.V. Thomas. Only the representatives of different trade unions were admitted. One hundred and fifty such delegates were present. About a dozen resolutions were passed, beginning with felicitations to the red army of Russia. It put on record the protest against the oppressive measures of the farmers of Kuttanad against the agro-labourers, all done with the support of the local Government officers. Demand was made for a Government enquiry into it. The workers offered their wholehearted support for the formation of a national Government as well as the cooperation of the labourers to the State-Congress for the establishment of a responsible Government in Travancore. The other resolutions were about the welfare measures of workers to be adopted by the Government. The last resolution called for lifting the Governmental ban on demonstrations and slogan shouting.28

The A.T.T.U.C. annual meeting ended at 2 p.m., and the annual meeting of the Travancore Coir Factory Workers’ Union started its session at 6 p.m. It was presided over by N. M. Joshy. T. V. Thomas gave the welcome speech. The opening speech was made by R. Sankar:

He emphasised the necessity of concerted efforts on the part of all social and political organisations for the advancement of Travancore and British India and acknowledged that the labourers in Travancore have been working for exactly that. (Ibid)

The resolutions passed were more or less of the same nature as those of the morning session. A few additional resolutions included: 1. Support to the Greek agitation for independence; 2. Demand to the Government to lift the ban on Desabhimani and the ‘People’s War’; 3. Better sanitation facilities and a town hall for Alleppey; 4. Protest against the police torture of the General Secretary of the Union and demand for an enquiry; 5. Increase in wages and war allowance for workers; 6. Responsible Government in Travancore; and 7. All organisations, the State Congress, C.P.I., S.N.D.P., N.S.S., Muslim League, Karshaka Sangham etc., should work unitedly for a responsible Government in Travancore. The meeting ended by 10.30 p.m. There were a hundred volunteers, wearing red badges with emblems of the scythe and the hammer. A dozen among them including the volunteer captain wore red uniform.

The Agro-Labour Movement in Kuttanad

The peculiar method of paddy cultivation followed in Kuttanand gave it the honour of being the first centre of the Agro-Labour movement in India. As in Holland, paddy fields in Kuttanad lay below the water level. So the water of the Vembanad Lake was dammed by building bunds, which was done through the collective work of the agro-labourers. Majority of the agro-labourers belonged to the lower class, Ezhavas and Pulayas. Traditional feudal suppression in all its ugly forms still existed in Kuttanad. In 1941, when the agro-labourers were organised under the initiative of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Alleppey, they were suffering from severe hardships such as inflation caused by the war, cash payment when the price of rice shot up, (ten paise for a male worker and seven paise for a female worker), lack of rest at noontime, hard physical labour without rest from sunrise till sunset, long walk from the work site to the house of the landlord etc. Inspite of such hard labour, the worker still starved. It was under such circumstances that the agro- labourers of Kuttanad became organised. The source of inspiration came from the leaders of the Coir Factory Workers’ Union at Alleppey. The task of organising them was entrusted with S. K. Das by V. K. Purushothaman and P. K. Padmanabhan. Until then, nowhere in India had the agro-labourers been organised for collective bargaining. In 1941 (1115 M.E) twenty-five persons were invited to a preliminary meeting. The meeting was presided over by the Dalit leader, Thankan. There, S. K. Das was made the General Convener. The Union was registered in 1942 as Trade Union No. 4.29

After the formation of the Union, the agro-labourers of Kuttanad struck work in 1943 (1117 M.E). There were three demands: 1. Increase of wage, 2. Noon rest, and, 3. Eight hours’ working time. The landlords started beating the striking workers. For the first time, the workers retaliated in the same coin (Ibid).

On 23 February 1945, the President of the Karshaka Union (Farmers’ Union), Veliyanadu, Changanassery informed the Government:

A meeting of the Kuttanad Agro-Labour Union was arranged by the Communist and State Congress leaders, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai, P. T. Punnuse, C. Kesavan and others on 14th Kumbham at Manpuzhakari, Changanasseri. The object of the meeting was to plan the harassment of the cultivators at the time of the coming harvest using forced strikes and stay-outs. Pray take necessary action to keep peace and order by preventing the intervention of outside forces instigating labour strikes and trouble.30

The Chief Secretary to Government forwarded the complaint to the

I.G. of Police for immediate action.

On 18 December 1944, the I.G. of Police reported the speeches of T.

V. Thomas and C. Achutha Menon made at the sixth anniversary of the Kannitta Labour Union held at Alleppey on 19-11-1944. In the course of his welcome speech, T. V. Thomas said:

…the workers experience many difficulties in the state. They are denied representation in the legislature. The creation of the Trade Boards Bills etc., is calculated to lead to a labour agitation. When the A.T.T.U.C. arrives at decisions taking into account all these matters, it is the duty of the labourers to put them into effect. Further, the Trade Boards Bill is merely intended to prevent labour agitation. The labourers should view the same as a Bill meant for promoting strikes rather than conciliations. 31

The resolutions passed included: 1. Protest at the non- representation of labour in the legislature; 2. Request to lift the ban on processions, Desabhimani, People’s war, and the red flag; 3. Request to enhance wages by twenty-five percent; 4. Request to form a full-time labour department; 5. Request to bring food and supplies under the purview of the legislature; and 6. Request for the release of the labour leaders of Quilon. 32

In Kerala, at the beginning of the Second World War, the newly formed Communist Party had been more anti-British than the Congress party. The Morazha, Mattannur, Tellichery and Kayyur revolts were started as anti-British, anti-war agitations. The secret police reports of the Travancore Government show that even after mid-1941, the workers and peasants organised by the Communist Party continued to agitate, though the Party had changed its policy towards Britain, due to the Russian entry into the War. The workers agitated against economic depression, inflation, unemployment, starvation, etc., and demanded distribution of essential goods through ration shops, distribution of Government land among the peasants to grow more food, etc. At the same time, the right-wing conservative Congress leaders refused to mobilise the workers to agitate. Still, the suspension of the anti-British agitation due to Soviet entry in the war put the Kerala Communists in difficulty. The communists in Kerala who were former C.S.P. men were in a dilemma when Gandhi made the clarion call for the Quit India Movement in August 1942. The Communist leaders like P. Krishna Pillai, who could feel the pulse of the people, felt helpless. Within a few weeks after the first Communist Party Congress in 1943, the Party Secretary,

P. Krishna Pillai dismissed the State Committee (Namboodiripad, The Communist party in Kerala 192-94). He transferred all powers to himself. It precipitated a crisis in the party, which was to last till 1948. When Krishna Pillai announced the dismissal of the State Committee, the Central Committee interfered. In fact, E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was also a Central Committee member was directed to interfere. About it Namboodiripad writes thus:

The Secretary, whose action could, by no means, be justified, was not even reprimanded by the Central Committee. His action was not cancelled; and no suitable decision was taken by the Central Committee on the report submitted by a Central Committee member. The Central Committee member apprised the prominent comrades of what he found significant. His findings were readily accepted, since they came from a Central Committee member. The Central Committee accepted his report without any discussion. Accordingly, organisers were appointed and the Committee functioned through them. This continued from 1943 for a while. It was indicative of some of the changes to come. The change came when the Party Congress met in 194. (Translation) (Ibid 192-193)

Namboodiripad was indicating the lack of intra-Party criticism and the lack of effective control on the part of the Central Committee during 1943-‘48 period over the Kerala unit of the Communist Party. In the biography of P. Krishna Pillai, this period is referred to as the period of confusion (Krishnan, Sakhav 182-83). The frequent change in the leadership in the year 1946 is the best example of it. 1946 started with P. Krishna Pillai as the President of the Party and A. K. Gopalan as its Secretary. By September, E.M.S. Namboodiripad was made the President and the Secretary was P. Krishna Pillai (Idem). During the period, the Kerala unit of the Party was dominated by two persons, P. Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. E.M.S. Namboodiripad makes an introspection of the two dominant figures of the party as follows:

…We never seriously considered the fact that there might still be deficiencies in spite of our joint efforts. Even in our joint decisions, corrections were essential. We had comrades capable of doing that. Our duty was to create a collective leadership with everybody’s active participation. But we failed to do that. On the contrary, we had the tendency to make my word final in ideological and political affairs and that of ‘Sakhav’ the final word in organisational and practical affairs. What was the result? There was no active participation from the State Committee in framing policies and in solving the day-to-day problems. But there were periodic formal meetings of the State Committee. But the State Committee never functioned as a unit which could freely and seriously criticise and correct our activities; nor did it discharge its basic duty of directing our future activities. If that was how the State Committee functioned, need anything be said about the lower units? Till 1947, only at a few conferences and general body meetings were serious discussions in ideological and political subjects held. Even on these rare occasions, dissenting comrades only expressed their opinions. There was no serious discussion about them. The State Committee had no control over us on organisational and political matters, and the lower units had no control over the State Committee too. (Translation) (qtd in T. V. Krishnan, Sakhav 182-85)

Robin Jeffrey too throws light on the confused state of the C.P.I. during those days. He states:

The Communist Party’s national leadership, however, was divided, as we shall see, over how to react to this turmoil. Generally, throughout 1946, it attempted to damp down agitations in various regions; it was the local Communists who tried to push the party forward when spontaneous unrest occurred. (Jeffrey, “India’s working class revolt: Punnapra-Vayalar and the Communist Conspiracy of 1946″ 99)

The Punnapra-Vayalar Revolt of October 1946

In South Kerala, a spontaneous unrest of the agro-labourers and the industrial workers, sponsored by the local Communist Party, culminated in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt in October 1946. About it, Robin Jeffrey writes:

Indian working classes, to be sure, have conducted long, bitter strikes, and peasants have sustained revolts in the countryside. But only once, it appears, have workers in an industry fashioned weapons, set-up armed enclaves and fought the military in pitched, if one sided battles. The event, named for two of the places involved, was led by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in October 1946 in the Princely State of Travancore, a southern part of what is today the State of Kerala. (Ibid 97)

The organised might of the Alleppey coir factory workers was the chief motive force behind the revolt. Alleppey coir workers, liberated, united and with nearly twenty years’ agitational experience were one of the real mass bases of Communist strength in India (Ibid 100). Even now Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks form one of the two major mass bases of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala. The other bastion of the C.P.I. (M) is North Malabar where Communist leaders like A. K. Gopalan, with their long association with the Social Reform Movement, were responsible for the liberation of the peasants from feudal bondage.

The secret police reports of the Travancore Government down from 1921 reveal that the workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks were deeply influenced by social and political radicalism. The District Superintendent of Police, Kottayam reported to the Commissioner of Police, Trivandrum on 24-5-1921 that very serious disturbances of public peace existed in the taluks of Vaikom and Sherthallai. He requested for additional force to maintain peace at Vaikom and Sherthallai taluks (Supra 140-41).33 In the same year (1921), the British Resident and the Government of Travancore were very much worried of the Civil Equality movement in Travancore and the Non-cooperation movement in Cochin and Malabar. The Resident wanted to move troops to Sherthallai as a precautionary measure in the event of the outbreak of the Non-cooperation movement in Cochin and Malabar. In 1929, the Devaswom Commissioner of Ambalapuzha taluk was very much afraid that the Temple Entry volunteers would forcibly enter temples. He reported that the people of the locality were campaigning against temples. So he requested the Government to send police protection.

In 1930, at repeated requests from the British Government, the Travancore Government sent a detailed report on the political activities of various organised bodies. An analysis of the report reveals that ninety- five percent (95%) of political activists rooted in social reform movement, who follow political radicalism, were from the Sherthallai taluk. Sixty- four percent (64%) of trade union activists, who believed in waging class wars, and were active in radical politics, existed in the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks (Idem). In 1938, the workers of Sherthallai were bold enough to attack a police party consisting of two Magistrates. The police fled and had to hide till the arrival of the military rescue party. The military fired at the workers. The leader of the riot (Kanichukulangara riot) was A. K. Padmanabhan, the secretary of the Kalavancode branch of the Labour Union. The ‘Secret Police Daily Bulletin’ on 13 April 1939 reported:

…At a labour meeting held on 11-04-1939… P. N. Krishna Pillai, in the course of his speech dealing with the might of the labourers, referred to the labour strike of 1926 in England and said that even His Majesty the King had to flee for his life from the Buckingham Palace.34

In 1924 at a labour meeting in Sherthallai, K. Ayyappan the most popular social reform leader of Cochin, gave the following call to the workers: “….. Strike and get liberated by slaying the royal family. Never mind the gun of the army, the baton of the police and even the King”(Translation) (Raghavan 38).35

In fact, the coir factory workers were moving back and forth between their villages and factories. A larger number of people were exposed to the ideas of class struggle. By carrying the idea of class war into the countryside, they created around themselves a sympathetic rural buffer which could become a source of support at times of crisis (Jeffrey 1160). Later the coir workers were instrumental in organising the rural poor who were still living under feudal suppression into various class-based unions such as Boat Rowers’ Union, Agro-Labourers’ Union, Toddy Tappers’ Union, Fishermen’s Union, Coconut-tree Climbers’ Union, etc.

The coir factory workers of Alleppey always supported the National Liberation Movement. In April 1924, they held a festive meeting in imitation of the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress. During its session, a message was received about the arrest of the ‘Satyagrahi’ leaders at Vaikom. At once fifty volunteers were dispatched across the backwaters to help the Vaikom Satyagraha, which was being staged at the initiative of the Indian National Congress (Ibid 1160). In 1930, the Government of Travancore reported to the British Government:

The Alleppey Labour Association appears to have been taking part in political matters. When the Salt Satyagraha volunteers under the leadership of G. Sreedhar went to Payyannur, through Alleppey, K. C. Govindan, Secretary of the Association welcomed them. He said that, if necessity arises, he would supply volunteers and money for the Salt Satyagraha campaign. (Raghavan 47-48)

On 7 June 1935 when C. Kesavan was arrested, all the coir factory workers struck work and held a protest meeting. Later, when he was released, they gave him a felicitation. The printed copies of the felicitation was full of revolutionary ideas and so it was banned and confiscated by the Government.

In the Sherthallai-Alleppey labour belt, there was an identification of the labour union with the radical wing of the State Congress. On 25-5- 1939 the District Magistrate based on a secret police report, informed the Government that the radical section of the State Congress was very busy in recruiting labour leaders into the Youth League.36 The coir factory workers always strongly supported the State Congress in its agitation for responsible Government and adult suffrage. On 02-11-1938, the A.S.P. of Alleppey reported to the I.G. of Police:

…the driving force behind the labour union has been and still is the State Congress. The labour agitation has always been controlled and led by political agitators who take part in the State Congress activities…It may be noted that the demands of the labourers include the establishment of ‘responsible Government’, ‘release of political prisoners’, ‘repeal of the Regulation I of 114’ and ‘Institution of Enquiries into the alleged atrocities of the authorities’ in connection with the State Congress activities. (Ibid)

The coir factory workers were an inseparable part of the political agitations of the State Congress. As part of the 26 August political agitation of 1938, the State Congress nominated R. Sugathan and V. K. Velayudhan to violate prohibition and lead the agitation. The slogans of the agitators were: ‘We will secure responsible Government by force’, ‘State Congress Zindabad’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Raghavan 77-78). In the 1938 general strike, the C.S.P. leader P. Krishna Pillai who was directing the strike, amazed at the sise of the coir factory workers and considering himself inexperienced to lead a political strike of such a magnitude, specially invited the communist leader S. V. Ghate to come to Kerala and give advice on the manner of conducting the strike (Jeffrey 1162-63). In October 1938, an indefinite strike was started with thirty demands. At the same time, the workers declared:

Even if all our economic demands are sanctioned, we will not withdraw from the strike until full responsible Government based on adult suffrage is given. (Raghavan 83)

At the same time, the workers sent twenty five red volunteers to participate in the State Congress demonstrations before the royal place in 1938. On 23 October at Alleppey, two workers died and eight were seriously wounded in the military firing (Pillai 595-596). A red volunteer force of 5000 men had already been trained to confront aggressive attacks. On the second day of the strike, the red volunteers armed with spears and daggers mobilised at the Savacotta bridge. To disband them, the military opened fire, killing five and injuring many. The military destroyed the volunteer camp and the trade union office. At Kalavancode, the local people joined with the workers and created a barricade on the highway (Ibid 595-596). At Sherthallai, the red volunteers and workers forced all shops to close and set up two camps where they collected daggers and arecanut staves (Jeffrey 1163).

The general strike of 1938 was the single major factor that weakened the Government from taking stern action against the State Congress. The Government realised that the State Congress was a lesser evil compared to the coir factory workers. So the political prisoners were unconditionally released to mobilise all state forces against the striking workers (Raghavan 94). In 1946 when the State Congress decided to agitate against the ‘American Model’ constitutional reform of Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, the very same process was repeated, which culminated in the Punnapra- Vayalar revolt.

On 19 February 1939 the Coir Factory Workers’ Union sponsored the third All Kerala Trade Union Conference. There a delegate spoke: “They say that it is revolutionary. For the worker, what else is there but the revolution? The workers wish and work for kicking out the present dictatorial Government and to establish a new Government and administrative system.”37 To Robin Jeffrey, “The strike challenged a system, not just an employer… Further the strike brought home to all of Kerala that the coir workers were a force that, in future, would have to be reckoned with”(Jeffrey 1162).

Another notable aspect of the Alleppey coir factory workers is that the rank and file were always more militant than their leaders. To quote Jeffrey: “The Labour Association took the lead in none of the strikes. Rather the workers called on it for help once they had angrily and spontaneously struck work”(Ibid 1161). In April 1935, when the Labour Association decided to conduct an agitational march to the capital, the Government banned it and arrested its leaders. The response to it at Alleppey was spontaneous. The entire coir workers’ unit struck work and conducted demonstrations, without any call from the Association (Raghavan 51). In 1938, surviving all suppressions, the strike completed twenty-five days; still the workers did not surrender. Finally, on the basis of a negotiated settlement, the leaders withdrew the strike. But the striking workers wanted to continue the strike; they refused to work. The popular leaders, R. Sugathan and C. K. Velayudhan who stood for compromise were hooted down at a large State Congress meeting held on the Kidangamparambu grounds (qtd in Jeffrey 109).38

The traditional socio-economic deprivation of the poor was further worsened in the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks by the World Wars.

The decision of the Travancore Royalty to remain sovereign outside of free India and the proposed American Model constitution that was being framed were the other causes which prompted the coir factory workers to launch a general strike in 1946 which ultimately led to the Punnapra- Vayalar revolt. Preparations for the strike started two months in advance (Kunjan 39). As usual, the 1946 general strike was a political strike. The volunteers were given training by ex-servicemen. Camps were opened at several places to train volunteers. Since the workers were getting protection from the suppression of landlords and police at these camps, the entire working class of the locality lived day and night in the camps along with their families. For protection, they made arecanut staves and other weapons including broken stones, all except guns. They expected a confrontation with the army at any time. So, to get the support of the top-level state leaders of the Communist party, the radical proletarian leader K. V. Pathrose rushed to Calicut on 11 October (twentyfifth Kanni). Discussions were held with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Krishna Pillai and K. C. George. George was directed to go to Bombay to consult the Party General Secretary, P. C. Joshi. George reached Bombay on 13 October, but Joshi was in Calcutta at the time. George spoke to him over the telephone, but it was only a limited discussion. George was told to consult Dr. Adhikari. About it, George writes:

…But, everything could not be talked over the telephone, since it required detailed discussion and I had no more time to stay there, Dr. Joshi directed me to discuss the issue with Dr. Adhikari. The fact that the issue involved an inevitable confrontation with the military made Dr. Adhikari uncomfortable; still he accepted the decision of the Party Committee of Travancore. Thus, the decision of the Travancore Party got the approval of the Indian Communist Party. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 106-107)

On October 17, George returned to Calicut. There he met the state leaders of the Party. The Travancore Socialist leaders N. Sreekantan Nayar and Janardhana Kurup too were present. George was assigned the duty of going to Alleppey. On October 19 he reached Alleppey. George writes of the manner in which the revolt was conducted:

… Late at night, on October 19 Pathrose led me to a remote house. When we reached the courtyard, we saw K. K. Kunjan, C. G. Sadasivan and P. G. Padmanabhan there. That house was the headquarters of the strike… Though A.T.T.U.C. decided ‘Thulam 5’ (October 22) as the date of the General Strike, it was not formally announced because T. V. Thomas wanted to discuss it at the party level after my arrival. To do that, he arrived with Varughese Vaidyan at midnight. The entire area was well guarded by trained volunteers. Everyone was stopped and questioned; even friends were permitted entry only after asking for the password and special signal. T. V. Thomas and Varughese Vaidyan too had undergone such checks, and they were brought in by a carrier. There existed an atmosphere of a liberated warfront. Thomas commented, ‘Oh! Everything is in military order’. It became increasingly clear to me that the Travancore Party had taken every possible step, expecting an imminent military attack. Without wasting time, we discussed the problem. T. V. Thomas raised the point that it would become impossible, at a certain stage, for the leadership to withdraw the strike on gaining a few of the demands, like it happens in a strike for economic benefits, as the proposed general strike is a political one. It was agreed that the political strike became essential as the workers insisted on it; if it were merely for economic gains and to protest against the suppression of the workers, the strike itself would not be essential as Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was ready for a compromise. It was also decided that the members of the Action Committee should remain underground and the trade union leaders should work openly, always ready to court arrest. The meeting ended late at night. (Ibid 110-111)

M. N. Govindan Nayar, the secretary of the Travancore Communist Party just before the revolt, writes:

… I had no contact with the leaders of the agitation, … I did not know where they were… I got acquainted with S. Kumaran, C. G. Sadasivan and S. Damodaran only later. I was arrested near Anchal as accused No. 2 of the Punnapra-Vayalar conspiracy case. During the revolt, the only connection I had with the labour movement of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluk was through the A.T.T.U.C. It was true that I had visited Alleppey just before the revolt, three or four times. How could I be charged with conspiracy merely on that basis? (Nayar, Autobiography 211-12)

At the same time, Robin Jeffrey connects the national politics of

C.P.I. to the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt and thereby holds E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the only Central Committee member from Kerala, responsible for giving sanction to the armed rebellion in 1946. Jeffrey explains it:

The national leadership at this time lacked instruction from Soviet Union… National Communist leaders therefore, taxed themselves over the question of alliance with or opposition to the national bourgeoisie, and over whether the C.P.I. should be attempting to strengthen progressive elements within the Congress… Without instruction from Moscow, the C.P.I. attempted to ally itself with the Congress and the Muslim League… to oppose the British and win independence. The policy was associated with the general secretary, P. C. Joshi, a ‘moderate’, opposed to the adventurist tactics. But with the ‘new unprecedented features of the mass revolutionary upsurge’ from 1946, dispute over a more aggressive line increased within the party. The relevance of this dispute to Travancore was obvious. The fact that the moderates in the State Congress were prepared to negotiate with the princely government about the details of the ‘American model’ provided hard evidence for those who argued that the representatives of the national bourgeoisie could not be trusted. An independent more militant line of action was therefore called for… the balance tilted in their favour with the arrival in March 1946 of R. Palme Dutt, member of the communist party of Great Britain and possibly a bearer of authoritative instruction from Moscow… He attended a fateful meeting of the C.P.I. Central Committee in Bombay from 23 July to 5th August…the resulting resolution published in People’s Age on August 18, as undigested mixture of radical and moderate views, an uneasy and obvious compromise between Joshi and leftist factions (qtd in Jeffrey 109). This orientation however, was to lead directly to India’s first working class revolt. (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 108-109)

The People’s Age commented on the August resolution of the C.P.I. as follows:

The August Resolution had striking relevance for Travancore… It condemned the national bourgeois leadership of the Congress for compromising with the princes and coming out openly against the people’s struggles… The resolution concluded that India’s freedom struggle had entered a revolutionary phase… the resolution could have been written with Travancore in mind. (qtd in Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 109)

The only Malayali who attended the July-August Central Committee meeting was E.M.S. Namboodiripad. The resolution passed by the Committee ran into 10,000 words. Robin Jeffrey infers that E.M.S. too might have been involved in drafting the resolution. Anyhow, after Namboodiripad returned from Bombay there was a decisive change in the tactics of the Party in Kerala. In propagating the new tactics, Namboodiripad played a leading part (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 110). Until July 1946, the Party in Kerala – in Malabar, Cochin and Travancore – pursued a constitutional and generally peaceful line. British officials in Malabar, always watchful of the Communists, had no negative reports of them. In Travancore, the Communists pursued only constitutional agitations. The coir workers of Alleppey struck work from August 7-10 for famine relief and won most of their demands.39 This was an economic not a political strike, undertaken before the August Resolution, yet the strike involved the same men and women who were to take part in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt in October 1946 (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 111).

On 17 August 1946, the Kerala Communists met in Calicut to hear Namboodiripad’s report about the Central Committee meeting in Bombay.40 In Malabar, the party signaled a change of tactics by attempting to arouse the Moplahs, the large Muslim population in South Malabar. On 20 August, Namboodipad published an article entitled ‘The Call and the Warning’ in Desabhimani to commemorate the twenty fifth anniversary of the Moplah rebellion in Malabar in 1921. He wrote:

…All those factors that brought about the Moplah rebellion in 1921 are in existence even today. Today, as in 1921, we live in a period following the termination of a frightful World War… All sections of the people in all parts of India are going to go to battle as the Moplahs of Malabar had done in 1921.41

Prior to the publication of his article, Namboodiripad had explained the August Resolution at a meeting of the Communists of Kerala in Calicut which began on 17 August. They had resolved to reject the American Model constitution and the Dewan rule and to demand for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly in Travancore, the release of political prisoners, and the satisfaction of the immediate needs of the workers and peasants (qtd in Robin Jeffrey India’s Working Class Revolt 112).42 The conference ended on 20 August, the day “The Call and Warning” appeared in Desabhimani. Namboodiripad visited Travancore between first and ninth of September. Namboodiripad’s call echoed throughout the Amblapuzha-Shethallai taluks. The twenty fifth anniversary of the Moplah riot was observed in Vayalar too. At the Kalavankodam temple compound, N.S.P. Panicker, the Vice-President of the Sherthallai Coir Factory Workers Union spoke. He said:

The same situation that led to the Malabar revolt prevails today in Travancore too. We have no option except an armed rebellion. Everyone must take weapons and get ready (quoted in M.M. Varghese 75-76).43

Mr. Panicker was arrested on 5 October for giving a call for armed rebellion. The workers of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks started living in armed camps as a collective defense mechanism against suppressions of landlords and the police. But those camps became vulnerable to military attack after the Punnapra Police camp was invaded by the revolting workers. The leaders of the revolt started persuading the workers to disband the camps, but the volunteers resisted. An account to this effect is given by K. C. George:

It was certain that at any time, an attack could take place from the opposite camp. The problem of disbanding the camp too was discussed. It was Mr. Kumara Panicker who raised the problem before the comrades in the camp. But the idea of disbanding the camp was stiffly resisted by the volunteers. They refused to die like dogs at the hands of the hooligans, the landlords, and the police; instead, they preferred heroic collective death by resisting the army. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 164)

About the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar agitation, E.M.S. writes:

The most mass-based, anti-independent Travancore movement was given leadership by the trade unions of the Party, which was going to be a turning point in its history. The Party had lost most of the share of political leadership that it had enjoyed till then within the left movement because of its approach to the August agitation and the ‘divisive’ activities of the Muslim League based on the ‘two nation theory’. But with the advent of the anti-independent Travancore movement, the Communist Party got the opportunity to recapture it. (Namboodiripad, The Communist Party in Kerala 164)

…The people’s agitations in Travancore which had its origin in the Abstention Movement, developed through the first agitation for responsible government and assumed its highest form in the Punnapra-Vayalar agitation. The organised working class was in the forefront of the agitation continuously… As the vanguard of popular agitations, the working class was armed with ideology (Ibid 266-67).

According to the statistics of the Servants of India Society, 20,000 people died of starvation in the Sherthallai taluk in 1942-‘43 famine (qtd in M. N. Govindan 199 & 207). Why did such a heavy toll on lives occur in Sherthallai? M. N. Govindan Nayar, the late communist leader explained its cause as the peculiar socio-economic system that prevailed in the Sherthallai taluk. In other parts of Travancore, two thirds of the total land was owned by the state. To alienate the feudal lords, the eighteenth century king, Marthanda Varma took the tenants into confidence and made settlement with them directly (Rao 69). Since the Sherthallai taluk was a gift of Cochin and the landlords were subservient to the Travancore monarch, no change was effected in their holdings. So the traditional socio-economic system continued to exist; the landlords lost only political power. Though slavery was legally not in existence, landlords believed that the body of the tenant was their property, since the tenant resided and survived on the land of the lords. The agro- labourers had to work from sunrise to sunset. They could not bargain on the wages. Some landlords even enjoyed the right to ‘deflower’ the virgin brides of the workers. Thus the majority of the tenants of Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks, did not have any right on the land. They worked without rest for subsistence wages and slept under the shades of trees (Nayar, Autobiography 207).

With the clarion call given by the social reform movement, the outlook of the workers began to change at the beginning of the twentieth century. They became aware of the concept of equality and freedom. But the landlords still clung on to the old beliefs (Ibid 207-208). It was under such circumstances, with the outbreak of the World War, when the economy was slightly disturbed, 20,000 died of starvation (Idem). In 1946 again when there was inflation and scarcity of rice and consumer goods, the workers decided not let the 1942-‘43 starvation repeat itself. On 7 August 1946, the trade unions of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks struck work for three days against scarcity of consumer goods and inflation. The strike was a complete success; the government assured standard meals at the rate of five annas. 5000 such meals were distributed through the Coir Factory Workers’ Union. The 1943 starvation deaths always haunted the poor who survived. They joined hands with the coir workers and marched to the battlefield shouting slogans against landlordism and despotism (Ibid 199, 200 & 208).

The Punnapra village is about four miles south-west of Alleppey. The vast coconut groves of the village were owned by a few landlord families. Hundreds of their tenants lived in huts scattered around the coconut groves. The landlords were also owners of fishing boats and nets and made profitable business out of it. In that capacity, they were capitalists. The tenants of the coastlands were both coir yarn spinners and fishermen. The church too, in the fashion of landlords, owned fishing boats and nets. The local State Congress leader, Aplon Arouge too belonged to a landlord family (George, Punnapra Vayalar 20). The tenants had to serve as the rowdies of the landlord whenever needed. The tenants led a life of misery because of the social and economic exploitation. Eleven workers usually went for fishing in a boat; of the total catch, half had to be given to the landlord, sold to him at his price. The other half was to be shared among the eleven workers. Further, a share of it must be given to the soul of the dead landlord, the church and the temple (Ibid 23).

The fishermen were organised under a trade union of their own by the Coir Factory Workers’ Union leaders V. I. Simon Asan and V. K. Karunakaran in 1942 (Ibid).44 It grew into a powerful trade union bringing under its control the entire fishing community of the Amabalapuzha taluk. By then, other trade unions, Agro-Labour Union, Toddy Tappers’ Union, Coconut Tree Climbers’ Union, etc., had also spread to Punnapra. Those unions also had the style of functioning of the parent union – the Coir Factory Workers’ Union. Their interest was not confined to economic bargaining alone; instead it stood for the satisfaction of all needs for the development of the working class. Even individual rivalries were settled in the Union office. Such activities posed a real threat to the powerful landlords and other centres of vested interests reaching upto the Government. So the landlords organised armed rowdies, and they, in turn, got the support of the police to suppress the trade unions (George 23-25). Two such incidents took place in 1946. Martin, the leader of the fishermen was fatally wounded by the rowdies of the fishing capitalist, Vedappan. Another fisherman, Kuttappan was taken into police custody at the request of another capitalist, Pollayil Epolat. It happened when Kuttappan demanded the price of the fish sold to Epolat, who sought the help of the police to put an end to all such demands. The Alleppey police arrested three fishermen including Kuttappan. To release the three, the Fishermen Workers’ Union, numbering about two hundred, marched to the police station armed with oars, sickles, knives etc. They had the support of the Alleppey Coir Factory Workers’ Union. The police unconditionally released the three. After getting their fellowmen freed, the jubilant fishermen set fire to two godowns where Epolat preserved dry fish. This incident happened on 17 October (Kanni 31). On that day, for the protection of the landlords against the organised force of the workers, a police camp was opened at Punnapra in the house of Aplon Arouge (Varghese 11- 24). Since it was certain that there would be police suppression against the workers to satisfy the landlords, the workers left their houses and started living in camps at Paravur, Vadakal, Vattayal, Punnapra, Vandanam and Kalarkode, south of Alleppey. In the camp, volunteers were given military training and political education (George, Punnapra Vayalar 25-26). 45

K. C. George explains the formation of camps by workers:

… With the opening of the police camp, the life of the workers of the area was in danger. It made them collect together at Vadakal for self-protection. It later assumed the form of camps… these camps were thus formed by the workers on their own initiative. At the same time, their leadership, the trade union and the Communist Party, were devising certain tactics to confront the situation. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 96-97)

Vayalar, a village surrounded on three sides by water, exists very close to the Sherthallai town. In 1946, there was no road to reach there; the only route was through water. In the Sherthallai taluk, medieval landlordism continued to exist in all its ugly forms (Ibid 25-26). The extensive coconut groves and paddy fields of Sherthallai belonged to a few landlord families such as Andraper, Parayi Tharakan, Kattiyattu Sivarama Panicker, Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha, Kalluveettil Kunjachan, Azheekal Anthony and others. These landlords except Parayi Tharakan, in order to maintain their feudal domination, worked against the State Congress to get the support of the government (Ibid 26). They were opposed to all the progressive movements of the time. Andraper was the Vice-President of the All Travancore Landlord Sangham. He was notorious for the oppression of workers. Kattiyatttu Sivarama Panicker stiffly opposed the organisation of peasants and agro-labourers. Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha was the brother-in-law of Panicker. His two nephews, Chandrappan and Dasappan were also notorious for their suppression of agro-labourers. They wanted the agro-labourers to work without any fixed time and wage. Another landowner, Kalluveettil Kunjachan organised a rowdy gang to torture the agro-labourers. He was notorious for cruelties against women workers. Another notorious landlord was Azheekal Anthony. The victims of his cruelty were the fishermen and the coir spinners. He too had a notorious rowdy gang ready to indulge in any atrocity. He gave only nominal wages to the workers (Idem).

The communist leaders like P. Krishna Pillai, A. K. Gopalan, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, K. C. George, P. Gangadharan, P. T. Punnoose and others toured the area and conducted study classes among workers exhorting them to stand united and oppose the feudal bourgeoisie tooth and nail (Kusuman 59). The suffering workers, to get relief from the suppression, organised themselves in trade unions under the leadership of the communist party. As trade unions became stronger and more powerful when C. G. Sadasivan and C. K. Kumara Panikkar joined the Communist Party, the workers became self-confident. C. G. Sadasivan was a very popular State Congress leader. C. K. Kumara Panikkar belonged to a family (Cheerappanchira) which was associated with several legends of the martial tradition in the Chempakasseri principality. The sheer force of his personality attracted more workers, even men of the middle class, to the Communist Party. The workers’ camps at Vayalar were organised under his leadership. During the 1946 revolt, he was known as ‘Vayalar Stalin’ (Ibid 67).

The post-Second World War period witnessed a steep rise in the price of all commodities, especially food products. When the agricultural labourers demanded wages in kind rather than in cash, the landowners refused to concede. When the Union raised demands on this issue, false charges were registered against its members. Some landlords even refused to give the traditional practice of ‘theerpukatta’, a sheaf given to each reaper in the field. On one such instance, at Kanjikuzhi, the

Table 1: Trade Unions in Sherthallai, 1946: Membership, Leadership and Age of Unions

Name of Union

Member ship

Total

workers Taluk

Member ship

%

Leader ship

%

Age of

Union in 1946

1.

Coir Factory Workers Union -Muhamma

5000

5200

95%

100%

7 years

2.

“ Sherthallai

3200

3260

98%

100%

7 years

3.

“ Aroor

700

850

80%

85%

6 years

4.

Agro-Labour Union Sherthallai

3250

5000

65%

70%

10 years

5.

Beedi Workers’

Union Sherthallai

650

1100

60%

75%

2 years

6.

Kannitta & Oil Mill Workers Union, Sherthallai

500

550

90%

90%

1 ½ years

7.

Wood Workers’ Union, Sherthallai

500

600

80%

90%

1 ½ years

8.

Cocunut Climbers’ Union Sherthallai South

450

500

90%

95%

9

months

9.

“ Sherthallai North

350

400

80%

90%

1 year

10.

Toddy Tappers’ Union Sherthallai

300

1500

20%

30%

6

months

11.

Fishermen’s Union Sherthallai

250

1300

19%

30%

4

months

Source: K. G. George, Punnapra-Vayalar, Trivandrum: Prabhatham, p. 34.

reapers under the leadership of S. L. Puram Sadanandan made a forcible entry into the compound of the landlord, where the ‘kattas’ (unthrashed paddy in shief) were kept. Each reaper took a ‘katta’ and disappeared. Cases were framed against them for stealing and looting (Idem). There were constant complaints against the low quality of the rice distributed through ration shops, foul smelling and containing stones and worms. Infuriated women led by R. Sugathan marched to the ration shops with brooms in their hands. On seeing the march, the ration shop owners fled (Ibid 63-64). The organised strength of the workers further infuriated the landlords. They let loose their paid rowdies on the workers. The police instead of giving protection to the workers against the criminals, aided the criminals to suppress the workers. The plight of the workers became miserable. They could not move alone. They had to move in groups for self-protection. It was under such a state of anarchy and insecurity that the idea of camps and the recruitment of more volunteers came up. The workers organised themselves and prepared to pay back in the same coin (Ibid 64). Tension escalated by the day and there were frequent clashes between the workers and the rowdies of the landlords. The Raman Murder Case was the result of the change in the attitude of the workers which enabled them to retaliate. Raman was the notorious gang-leader of the landlord Sivarama Panikkar. He used to assault the workers and harass their women. But the workers could not complain against him as he was protected by the police. At the direction of Kumara Panikkar, the workers assaulted him. Though he was hospitalised, he died on the third day. About his death and of the consequent developments, the confidential Government record says:

It is believed that it was the incidents following Raman’s death namely the arrival of the military and the police at the spot, the removal of the red flag at the Ponnamveli Union Office, the assault on those inside and outside the office, and the arrest warrant for the leaders etcetera which induced the leaders to start camps.46

On 15 October, more than seventy military men camped at Ponnamveli. At the Sherthallai High School, a conference of landlords was held in the evening, in the presence of D.S.P. Vaidyanatha Iyer. According to the decision taken at the conference, about 600 paid rowdies of the landlords conducted a violent march at 7 o’clock (George, Punnapra Vayalar 68-69). On 16 October, seven trucks full of soldiers reached Ponnamveli. At about 10 o’clock, a thousand rowdies in the payroll of the landlords reached Sherthallai after conducting a procession of 4½ hours. At the centre of the procession moved the landlords Andraper, Kattiyattu Sivarama Panikkar, Pattathil Velayudhan Kartha, Kalluveettil Kunjachan, Azhikal Anthony, Kuttappa Kaimal and others. The notorious rowdy, Parambil Narayanan walked at the head of the procession, wearing ‘Khaki’ uniform and holding a small sword (vadivaal). At the front and rear moved military trucks with soldiers holding pointed guns to the sides of the road. The procession shouted the slogans, ‘We want the Dewan’s Rule’, ‘We want the Samy Rule’, ‘We will destroy trade unions’, ‘We will destroy the workers’, ‘Kill the Communists’ and ‘Victory to the Vanchinad’ (Ibid 69-70). Clearly, the landlords and their rowdies were establishing a reign of terror in Sherthallai with the support of the military and police. Three military camps were set up between the trade union offices at Sherthallai and Ponnamveli. It became a daily practice to hunt down anyone who looked like a worker, torture him in the military camp and hand him over to the police for further torture. Thus, the worker had to wage a life and death struggle for existence. It prompted people to live together in camps (Ibid 71). According to K. C. George:

…The camps which were formed by the people were systematised at the direction of the Party and, expecting a confrontation with the Government, necessary organisational and political activities were arranged. By then E.M.S. Namboodiripad reached Alleppey.

The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that he could conduct a meeting only in a ‘Kettuvallam’ (roofed boat) on the waters of the Vembanad lake. Workers in large numbers were seeking asylum in the camps… Union offices and flags were collectively guarded by the volunteers. The control of the camp was with a ‘trade council’, formed from all sections of workers. Such trade councils were controlled by the Action Committee. Besides the six camps in the Punnapra region, there were nine camps in the Sherthallai region – Olathala, Vayalar, Vayalar North, Varakad, Kalavankodam, Meenasseri, Muhamma, Mararikulam and Kattur. In all the camps, on October 17 (Kanni 31), there were 1641 volunteers. On October 18 (Thulam 1), the number rose to 2378. The inflow was restricted due to lack of food material. (Ibid 104-106)

On 18 October (Thulam 2), a meeting of the landlords of Sherthallai was held at the local Travellers Bungalow under the Presidency of Vaidhyanatha Iyer (D.S.P.) at which it was decided:

1. Stop the previous plan to set fire to the house of C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran since that cannot demoralise the workers. 2. C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran should be assassinated to create fear among the workers. Then the workers should be suppressed. So the two should be done away with. 3. For killing a worker, the murderer will get the pay and job of a police constable. 4. Policemen have to be directed to different places with the above instructions. Hence, rowdies should be organised immediately. (Ibid 112-13)

To the police and the military, the 22 October (Thulam 5) general strike was the day meant for suppressing the workers; the workers expected it and decided to retaliate by mobilising all their might (Ibid 113-14). The tense situation in the Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks was deeply influenced by the general political condition of Travancore. It can be understood from a statement made by the radical State Congress leader,

C. Kesavan on 16 September 1946, which reads:

In my view, never in her history has our land witnessed such epoch making events, though the hard times are wrought with suffering. Dark pictures of starvation and suffering are visible everywhere. Clamour for rice, cloth, kerosene and sugar can be heard all over. The Government is employing its machinery to meet it. The ban on processions has been extended throughout Travancore for a further three months. Meetings and strikes too are prohibited. The army and reserve police are alerted in Quilon, Alleppey, Kottayam, Alwaye and Punalur. If we want the freedom struggle which was continuously fought since 114 (1938) to reach the final goal, we should not keep silent now. All prohibitive orders should be withdrawn and all political prisoners should be released. The army that patrols our streets should be called back. We should enjoy the freedom of all free people. To realise it, all patriots and freedom lovers should unite and agitate, casting aside all boundaries of caste and politics. It is my humble request to my fellow workers and countrymen. Surely, we will attain our goal. (Kesavan np)47

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer who had close relations with the British Government in India, wanted the coastal state of Travancore to remain sovereign after the British left India. But he was aware of the organised opposition against his plan. So he skillfully adopted the tactics of creating factions within the State Congress and to alienate and suppress the radical working class. He also tried to impress the people by posing as a progressive ruler by nationalising primary schools and making primary education universal, industrialising the state, making conditions ripe for the protection of the economic and political rights of the workers, and drafting the American model constitution for Travancore (Nayar, Autobiography 182-84).

Regarding the educational reform, the State Congress was divided. Christians who owned the majority of the schools rejected it; Hindus generally welcomed it. But the Communists had a different stand. They were against any Governmental action that weakened the Congress since the Congress was sure to attain power after independence. So they wanted any legislation of far-reaching importance to be made by the new Government. The view of the Communists was accepted by the 1945 State Congress Convention held at Quilon. It unanimously rejected the Education Bill of Sir. C. P. (Ibid 184). The radicals were of the view that all efforts should be consolidated to send Sir C. P. away and to get responsible Government. In January 1946, Sir C. P. announced the American model constitution for Travancore. To implement the reforms, the Maharaja extended the term of the Dewan for a further period of five years (qtd in Kusuman 87-104).48

The chief features of the 1946 reform were: 1. Introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage; 2. A two chambered legislature: the Sri Chitra State Council and the Sri Mulam Assembly, the first elected on the basis of interests and the other on a regional basis; 3. The executive powers to be vested in the Dewan and his Secretaries appointed by the Maharaja; and, 4. The Maharaja will remain as the supreme political authority (Nayar, Autobiography 188). The reform proposal was discussed by the State Congress and rejected. Its leaders attempted for an open discussion of the proposed reform in the legislature. But the Dewan prevented the move by stating it as seditious (Ibid 189). The denial of the right to discuss the reform resulted in popular anger. People started shouting the slogan, “The American model into the Arabian Sea!” By then, the State Congress President, Pattom Thanu Pillai issued a statement, which said that the reform contained certain very good aspects and that it could be given a chance. This went against the earlier decision taken by the State Congress. The stand of Pattom Thanu Pillai was severely criticised by the radical State Congress leaders like C. Kesavan, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai and the left political parties, the K.S.P. and the Communist Party. Sir C.P. realised that the Communist Party and its great support base, the Alleppey workers, were to be either befriended if possible, or suppressed for the realisation of his political aspirations. In August 1946, when the Alleppey workers struck work against scarcity and inflation, the Government declared the strike as a ‘national threat’ (Ibid 190-199). Sir C.P. started using the state force to suppress the labour movement.

The A.T.T.U.C. Working Committee met on 4 September (Chingom

16) at Quilon and decided to send a deputation – N. Sreekantan Nayar,

T.V. Thomas and Kannamthodathu Janardhanan Nayar – to the Government, to make the Government end the suppression of labour. It ended in failure. On September 9 (Chingom 24), the Committee met again at Alleppey and resolved to confront the aggressive move on the part of the Government with a general strike on 15 September. The strike was a complete success. On 24 September (Kanni 9), delegates of all trade unions met at Alleppey. Fifty five trade unions were represented by eighty five delegates. The meeting was presided over by T. V. Thomas. The delegates belonged to different political parties. As special invitees there were P. T. Punnose, the Secretary of the Tranvancore Communist Party and

C. Kesavan, the radical leader of the State Congress (George, Punnapra Vayalar 51).49 The meeting resolved on a general strike. About the date of the strike, P. T. Punnoose introduced a resolution which called for the proposed strike to be launched only after 26 October and the Committee to meet again on 27th to decide the date of the strike. The resolution was supported by N. Sreekantan Nayar. A speech made by C. Kesavan about the necessity of the strike resolution and the response of the radical Congressmen was significant. The abstract is given below:

The State Congress has decided to launch the agitation for responsible Government. I congratulate you for your unity and solidarity. We cannot bend our knees before the ‘Mylapore Pattar’ (Tamil Brahmin of Mylapore). You might have seen my statement of September 16. I keep getting thousands of letters from the youth all over the land, suggesting that it is high time that the agitation for responsible Government started and requesting me to take up its leadership.

In the last State Congress Working Committee, there was a strong demand made to start the agitation for a responsible Government immediately. But Pattom Thanu Pillai opined that the agitation would delay the present efforts being taken to make some amendments in the proposed constitution. To avoid a split, two weeks’ time is given for negotiation. In spite of C. P.’s assurance regarding the proper use of the veto power, the popular representative still has none of the important rights. So, in no way can we accept it!

We hope that a decision can be taken in the Working Committee. But I can tell you one thing. Whether the State Congress decides to agitate or not, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai and I, we will be in the agitational front. I am sure 75% of the youth are with us. Let’s start the agitation after the Working Committee meeting of 8th. (qtd in K. K Kunjan 32-33)

The two leaders C. Kesavan and P. T. Punnoose might have wished for a joint agitation of the Congress Party and the trade unions as in 1938. But the course of events took a different turn (Nayar, Autobiography 201). Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer adopted a two-way tactic to realise the constitutional reforms and the creation of an independent Travancore. His first line of policy was to isolate the trade union movement from the State Congress and then to suppress it. His second line of policy was to appease the trade unions by conceding all their non-political demands and thereby make them accept the ‘American model’ (Ibid 202).

On 7 and 8 October 1946, the Government summoned a tripartite conference of workers, capitalists and the Government. The meeting at the Durbar Hall was presided over by the Dewan. He spoke on the main points to be discussed – 4% bonus to the workers as deferred wage, leave with wages, fixation of working hours, minimum wages, recognition of trade unions, formation of an industrial relations committee, enquiry committee on the conditions of estate labourers, etc. (Ibid 202-203). The very next day (8 October) the labour delegation (T. V. Thomas, N. Sreekantan Nayar and Kannamthodathu Janardhanan Nayar) had to meet the Dewan at his residence, Bhaktivilasom. On the previous day, there had been a rumour that an arrest warrant had been issued against Janardhanan Nayar. So the other delegates advised him to go underground. T. V. Thomas gives an account of the interview between Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and the labour delegation:

…He started talking with the introduction, ‘I believe that you are happy about today’s decisions’. Then he asked, ‘What is your attitude to the Government?’ Our reply was, ‘Cooperation. What else can make us capable to confront the Capitalists?’ He liked that reply very much. With a happy smile, he said, ‘I expected the same reply from you. You are pragmatic’, he said. He added, ‘In the new constitution, I have kept two seats for you’. With surprise we asked, ‘Which constitution?’ With added surprise he said, ‘Don’t you know, I am giving shape to a new constitution’. Our question was, ‘Is it the American model constitution?’ It infuriated him, but he controlled his anger and asked as if nothing happened, ‘What is your opinion about the constitution with an unchangeable and rigid executive?’ We replied, ‘We are not capable of discussing the details of the constitution. But, one thing we can say authoritatively. The working class will be satisfied by nothing other than full responsible Government’. It seemed that he did not expect such an answer. In a displeased tone he said, ‘So, you are the supporters of the anarchists of the State Congress, you are with those who create anarchy’. Sreekantan Nayar retorted, ‘What do you mean by anarchy?’ Instead of answering him, he advised, ‘You must not align yourselves with the political parties. If you do, you will end up as losers. You can achieve many things through your organised strength. Your interference in politics will ruin you’. We replied, ‘The working class is the vanguard of the people. The interest of the people is of paramount interest to them. They cannot keep away from the people’. When he realised that we were not yielding to him, he used the final weapon, ‘It is a self- destructive stand. Do you know that you are speaking to a person commanding a police force of 8000 and an army of 4000?’ We said, ‘We know’. He quickly concluded the meeting, ‘Okay. We will meet again.’ (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 100-102)

About the immediate result of the talk, M. N. Govindan Nayar writes:

We were eagerly waiting to know the results of the talks. Immediately, K. Balakrishnan and I, we rushed to Quilon to inform C. Kesavan and Kumbalam. As Sir C. P. said, they were not arrested. Both of them were at the house of T. M. Varghese. We narrated everything in detail. They decided that Kumbalam should go underground and Kesavan should court arrest. Without delay, police reached the house of T. M. Varghese and arrested Kesavan. Within a few days, Kumbalam too was arrested. (Nayar, Autobiography 204)

The State Congress Working Committee did not meet and decide to agitate against the American model constitution and for responsible Government, as C. Kesavan and P. T. Punnoose expected. So, according to the standing decision, the Working Committee of A.T.T.U.C met again on 9 October at Alleppey. Accordingly, an Action Council was formed to decide the date of the strike; its Convener was T. V. Thomas (Kunjan 34). The committee felt that a confrontation with the Government was inevitable. So it decided to send information to the Party President K. C. George and wanted him to be at Alleppey. The messenger, K. V. Pathrose was sent to Calicut on October 11 (George 103). On 19 October (Thulam 2), the Action Council directed T. V. Thomas to give, on 20 October, the call for a general strike on 22 October (Thulam 5). The strike projected twenty-eight urgent demands: Release of political prisoners; withdrawal of police camps at the labour centres; granting of responsible Government based on adult suffrage; withdrawal of American model constitution; abolition of monarchy and Dewan’s rule; granting of civil rights and publishing rights; returning the deposit amount of newspapers confiscated; granting of the right to organisation and collective bargaining; giving farmlands to farmers, etc. There were two Action Councils, one at Alleppey and the other at Sherthallai. The Alleppey Council consisted of

T. V. Thomas, K. C. George, K. V. Pathrose, P. G. Padmanabhan and K. K. Kunjan. The Action Council at Sherthallai consisted of C. G. Sadasivan,

C. K. Kumara Panikkar and C. K. Bhaskaran. Though the formal headquarters of the Action Council functioned at the residence of S. Kumaran, most of the time, the leaders were out on the waters of the Vembanad Lake in a ‘kettuvallam’ (roofed boat), giving directions through messengers (Kunjan 39-41).

Based on the strike call of T. V. Thomas, on 20 October the Government declared Coir Factory Workers’ Union of Sherthallai, Fishermen Workers’ Union of Sherthallai and Ambalapuzha and the Travancore Communisty Party illegal. Their offices were sealed and property confiscated (George, Punnapra Vayalar 113-115). The next day (21 October), hundreds of arecanut trees were felled down and made into sharp spears. Workers were given training by the ex-service-men to fall flat, crawl and use spears against the Government forces. The general strike was conducted on 22 October (Thulam 5). In the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluk alone 50,000 workers struck work. They conducted demonstrations by carrying weapons and shouting slogans, ‘Amercian model into the Arabian Sea’, ‘Grant responsible Government’, ‘Abolish despotism’, ‘Abolish Dewan’s rule’ and ‘End labour suppression’ etc. From Paravur, unarmed ex-servicemen conducted demonstrations, which were blocked at Thiruvambadi by the reserve police. There, in the police firing, two were killed and several wounded (Kunjan 41). At 10 o’clock in the morning, Vaidyanatha Iyer, the D.S.P., led a route march of the reserve police to frighten the workers. The route march passed through the residential area near the Punnapra police camp. When it reached west of the Beach ward, the workers blocked the march. The D.S.P. tried to scare the workers with a pointed gun. The workers fell to the ground and tried to crawl away. The frightened D.S.P. begged pardon and withdrew (George, Punnapra Vayalar 116-118). 23 October passed quietly. In the evening, the conveners of the ‘trade councils’ (they were in charge of the volunteer camps) met at the headquarters of the Action Council. There the tactics to be used the next day were discussed. One of the participants,

M. T. Chandrasenan describes:

The main subject of discussion was the attack on the Punnapra Police Camp. There was a general opinion that since the number of policemen at the Punnapra Police Camp was limited, it would be easy to seise guns. The plan was accepted without much discussion. The method for its successful execution was adopted after discussion. It was decided to create a barricade at the south of the Kalarcode junction to attract the attention of the police; workers from the north would conduct a peaceful march through the streets of the town. Another march would be mobilised at the Kidangamparambu grounds to conduct formal civil disobedience.

If the Police or military moved to Punnapra inspite of these arrangements, they would be blocked on the way by the ex- servicemen volunteers. After adopting these plans, everyone dispersed in an excited mood to explain and implement them. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 119-120)

On 24 October, a resolute crowd of many thousands armed with arecanut staves, knives, choppers and iron bars surrounded the Reserve Police Camp (which had 24 constables and one Sub-Inspector). The Inspector asked the crowd, through a megaphone, to disperse. The leaders of the agitating mob demanded that the Police surrender their guns and disband their camp. The police responded by opening fire. Vasudevan, a Police Constable of the Punnapra camp who survived the attack narrates it thus:

… The Inspector was stabbed while he was talking over the megaphone. After that we opened fire. When we ran out of ammunition, we entered the camp, reloaded and continued firing. I was also stabbed; only ten constables survived without any serious injuries. Four died on the spot. Many of the injured fell unconscious and some remained so till the next day… We were rescued only the next morning by 5 o’clock. The rescue party of nearly a hundred policemen was led by the A.S.P. By this time the wounded constable Sreeharan had died. D.S.P. Vaidyanatha Iyer did not come. The loss of rifles from the camp prevented the military from arriving that night. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 155-57)

The siege lasted for one and a half hours, killed about thirty workers and four policemen. The agitating workers captured nine rifles (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 116). The seised rifles posed a problem to the foremost leader of the revolt, K. C. George who, as the Party President, had remained at the scene of action throughout. He writes:

… K. V. Pathrose sent me a letter seeking my advice on keeping the seised rifles. I couldn’t say anything other than to keep them safe somewhere, without giving them back to the enemy. Capturing so many rifles, no doubt, excited us … yet, safeguarding them turned out to be a real problem. Later, I realised that those who were directly involved in the seizure had tried to smuggle them out of Alleppey. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 158)

Mr. George throws more light on the problem of the seizure of rifles and about the leaders who were directly responsible for the invasion of the Punnapara police camp by quoting S. Damodaran:

On 7 Thulam (24 October), at about ten o’clock at night, someone was waiting in a boat on the Vembanad Lake at the point where the canal joins the lake. He had with him only a tobacco box which was six feet in length, one foot in breadth and one foot in height. Inside it, there were two or three pieces of sack soaked in oil. He kept looking towards the south till day break. He signalled to every approaching boat, but in vain. He was on assignment to receive the guns from Punnapra and protect them.

The entire area had been covered by the police and the military by eight o’clock that evening. The roads and other important routes could be traversed only with great difficulty. So the seised guns could not be transported according to plan. They had to be kept there itself and later, given away. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 158-159)

North of Alleppey, mobs blocked the roads, destroyed culverts and small bridges, and brought down telephone lines at Mararikulam, Muhamma and Sherthallai. On 7 Thulam (25 October) the bridge at Mararikulam (Kallupalam) was brought down to prevent reinforcement from being sent to Vayalar. The next day, on 26 October, nine people were killed when the police opened fire on the mob as they obstructed the reconstruction of the bridge at Mararikulam (Ibid 176).50 On 25 October, Martial Law was declared in the Ambalapuzha–Sherthallai taluks. For its effective implementation, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer declared himself the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and asuumed the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Leaflets proclaiming martial law were air-dropped on 26 October (Jeffrey 117). On 25th night, the bridge at Mararikulam was damaged to prevent reinforcement from being sent to Sherthallai. On 26 October, when the military tried to repair the bridge, the people resisted and the work could not be completed. In the police firing that followed, six volunteers died on the spot (George, Punnapra Vayalar 160-163).

At Muhamma, under the leadership of C. K. Karunakara Panikkar, 1500 volunteers were given training. Besides, thousands of people were enlisted in the ward committees. The strike call of the A.T.T.U.C. had been given in Muhamma too. For the purpose, an Action Council was formed there. Its President was C. K. Karunkara Panikkar and Convener, Mr.Ayyappan. Members of the Council were K. Damodaran,

C. Madhavan, T.K. Narayanan and others. On 24 October, volunteers in thousands conducted marches shouting anti-monarchical, anti-Dewan slogans (Ibid 160-163).

On 27 October, at noontime, the military attacked the bastion of the 1946 revolt, the Vayalar camp, which was surrounded by water on three sides, and which could be approached only by boat. The storming of the Vayalar camp was decisive. From 28 October, the task of the military was merely one of clearing up small pockets of resistance and arresting fugitives. According to K. C. George, three hundred to four hundred soldiers attacked the two hundred inmates of the camp at Vayalar and killed one hundred and fifty people. On the same day, in another attack, on the Menassery camp about 120 people were killed (Jeffrey, India’s Working Class Revolt 117-118). In the Menassery camp, C. K. Kumara Panikkar sought the opinion of the volunteers about disbanding the camps. The volunteers rejected the idea outright, and some even complained that they did not expect such a cowardly statement from Panikkar (George, Punnapra Vayalar 183). In the Menassery camp, an eleven year old boy served as a scout, fought against the military, and was killed in the firing (Ibid 186). In the Olathala camp, eight volunteers lost their lives in the confrontation with the military. Since it was close to Vayalar, they knew all that was happening in the camp there. After the tragedy at Vayalar, C. K. Kumara Panikkar, C. K. Bhaskaran and others reached the Olathala camp at 6.30 in the evening. There they discussed their future plan of action. Panikkar wanted the camps to be disbanded. But many of his comrades demanded an immediate attack on the Ponnamveli military camp. The demand was withdrawn only after several hours of discussion. Finally, by eleven o’clock at night, on 11 Thulam (28 October), the decision was taken to disband all camps and for everyone to go underground (Ibid 197).

On 14 Thulam (31 October) the general strike was withdrawn by the A.T.T.U.C. On 12 November (26 Thulam) the martial law was withdrawn. According to the party directive, all activists went underground. The police and the military started a reign of terror against the revolutionaries and their relatives. The neighbour of C. K. Kumara Panikkar, Muthumanakari Mrs. Karthiyayini says:

Then I was the Secrtary of the Sherthallai Mahila Samajam and its President was Mrs. Devaki Krishnan. After fifteen days of the revolt at Vayalar, about 103 soldiers reached the house of Mr. Panikkar.

They looted everything and demolished the house. Only one building was left standing, but it was sealed. (Ibid 210-211)

According to K. C. George, after the massacre at Vayalar, on 10 October itself, the military started looting and demolishing houses. The houses included those of K. V. Velayudhan, General Secretary of the Toddy Tappers’ Union and M. K. Krishnan, Secretary of S.N.D.P. Yogam, Sherthallai (Ibid 192). Even as the arrests, torture and demolition of the houses were taking place with added vigour and vengeance, T. V. Thomas, the No.1 accused in the Punnapra-Vayalar Conspiracy Case, and P. K. Padmanabhan remained unarrested till 30 October (Tulam 13). Ever since the general strike began on 22 October and even after the curtain had come down on the Vayalar tragedy, why did the police refuse to arrest them, asks K. C. George and tries to find the answer in an interview given by T. V. Thomas, the abstract of which is given below:

I was arrested on 30 October (Thulam 13). From 27 October, the day of the firing at Vayalar, I remained in my house expecting arrest at any moment. On 29 October, my friend Sreenivasa Iyer informed me that the I.G Parthasarathy Iyyengar wanted me to see him at the T.B. Accordingly, I went to the T.B. The G.O.C. was there, but he was quite unwelcoming. So I entered the I.G’s room. He greeted me cheerfully and offered me a seat. When we were about to talk, the G.O.C. sent a message to the I.G. to meet him immediately. When the I.G.came back after some time, he said, ‘I want a long discussion on certain things with you. But the present time is not suitable, we can meet later.’ He saw me off. The next morning, a truckful of soldiers led by a Captain entered my house and arrested me. Two hours later, Padmanabhan too was arrested. In the middle of the night, we were taken to the military centre at Pangode. From there, on 31 October, we were taken to the central jail. (Ibid 217-219)

In an interview, the G.O.C., V. M. Parameswaran Pillai accuses the Police Commissioner of showing leniency to the labour leader T. V. Thomas. He says:

There took place an attempt at Alleppey to dissuade the trade union leader T. V. Thomas from the anti-government agitation by entertaining him with ‘Ambalapuzha paalpaayisam’ (sweet, milky porridge of the Ambalapuzha temple) and cheering him on with the sweet words of a prostitute. (qtd in K. C. George, Punnapra Vayalar 220)

The statement of the G.O.C. shows that he disagreed with the I.G. on the issue of delaying the arrest of T. V. Thomas. If not for the strong objection from the G.O.C., the arrest would have been delayed further.

I.G. Parthasarathy Iyyengar wanted a lengthy talk with T. V. Thomas; at the same time, he did not want it to be in the presence of the G.O.C. About it, George concludes:

From all these, it is quite clear that what was being attempted was to alienate the working class of Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai taluks from the leadership of the communist party by using T. V. Thomas. (Ibid 221)

About the attitude of the working class of the Ambalapuzha- Sherthallai taluks towards the Communist Party immediately after the suppression of the revolt, Robin Jeffrey writes:

If the Government’s aim was to destroy the Communist hold in Ambalapuzha-Sherthallai, it failed totally. A year later, 6000 people celebrated ‘martyrs day’ in Alleppey on 24 October, and even the police admitted that ‘great enthusiasm was shown by the labourers…’51 At another meeting to welcome the release of some prisoners early in October 1947, 15,000 attended at the lowest estimate, and police reported ‘an awe inspiring atmosphere of the whole function.’52 The Inspector General of police concluded that ‘it is a well known fact that these ill-educated labourers consider Communism as the only panacea for all their socio-economic evils’. His solution was that ‘this creed’ must be ‘put down with an iron hand’. 53 The iron hand, however, had already failed. (George, Punnapra Vayalar 119)

An analysis of the sequence of events narrated by K. C. George shows that the Communist Party leadership lacked a strategy to lead the movement to victory. Even in the 1938 general strike, to guide the agitators, all prominent leaders of the party from Kerala had stationed at Alleppey.

P. Krishna Pillai, remaining underground, had coordinated all the activities. At a critical point, P. Krishna Pillai had invited the national leader S. V. Ghate to come to Kerala and give necessary advice, which he did. At a crucial stage, when it