Hundred Years of Vaikom Satyagraha

Context: Vaikom Satyagraha has completed 100 years. 

Context of Vaikom Satyagraha

  • Vaikom is a religious town located at 35 km from Kochi inside Kingdom of Travancore. The town is famous for Vaikom Shiva Temple. Hence, the city was known as Varanasi of the South. The temple did not permit lower castes to enter it and even the roads around the Vaikom Shiva temple were closed to the polluting castes. 
  • Untouchability was very deep rooted in Travancore Kingdom and other parts of Kerala. Swami Vivekananda referred to Travancore a ‘lunatic asylum’.  

Launch of Vaikom Satyagraha

  • In 1921, Social activist T K Madhavan met with Mahatma Gandhi at Tirunelveli to seek his advice and support for launching an agitation and suggested civil disobedience and non-violent satyagraha. 
  • Gandhi’s involvement in the struggle proved crucial as it mobilised the educated upper-caste Hindu opinion in favour of temple entry. 
  • Madhavan joined the Congress and participated in the party’s Kakinada session in 1923 where a resolution was passed for the eradication of untouchability. The resolution also stated that temple entry was the birth-right of all Hindus and authorised the state Congress to take charge of the struggle. Following which Kerala Congress formed an untouchability eradication council under the leadership of K Kelappan that arrived in Vaikom in February 1924 to take out a procession through the prohibited roads on March 1. 
  • On March 30, 1924, two untouchables along and an upper caste Nair community person took the road around Vaikom Shiva temple that closed to ‘polluting castes’. They were arrested and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Gandhi approved the agitation and suggested civil disobedience and non-violent satyagraha. However, the banning of the procession by the local administration led to a change of strategy to satyagraha. 
  • Ashram of Sree Narayan Guru functioned as the camp for the satyagrahis. As volunteers and prominent leaders tried to walk through the prohibited roads, they were arrested. The arrested leaders did not seek a bail. 
  • Cross religious support: Even Christians and Sikhs supported the Vaikom Satyagraha. A group of 15 Akalis led by Lala Lal Singh and Kripal Singh opened a vegetarian mess for anyone who visited the Ashram where Satyagrahis stayed.
  • Contribution of Periyar: Social reformer and President of Madras Congress Committee E V Ramaswamy Naicker arrived at Vaikom when some leaders of the Satyagraha leaders were jailed. 
  • Flood: Later in the year, Kerala experienced heavy floods. The volunteers of Vaikom satyagraha stood neck deep in water on the road leading to the temple by taking turns of three hours for about two months till the waters receded. The government later barricaded the roads around the temple for satyagrahis not to enter the prohibited roads. Then, Gandhi organised a peaceful jatha of Hindus from Vaikom to Thiruvananthapuram and back. This jatha helped raise social consciousness against untouchability. 
  • Role of Gandhi: Gandhi arrived in Kerala in March 1925 and held discussions with all sides. He met the maharani of Travancore, orthodox Hindus and local Congress leaders and negotiated a settlement by which the government agreed to revoke the prohibitory orders and remove the barricades and Satyagrahis agreed to not enter the prohibited roads.
  • The Satyagraha continued for eight more months and forced the government to give further grants. The roads around the Vaikom temple except for two lanes leading to eastern Gopuram were opened to all castes. Following this, Vaikom Satyagraha was called off. Thus, the Satyagrahis gained access to some roads around the temple and no right to enter the temple. 
  • Long term impact: Despite limited success of the Vaikom Satyagraha, it triggered similar movements in region demanding entry inside temples and eventually paved way for Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936 that granted lower castes the right to worship in Hindu temples. 

About T. K. Madhavan (1885-1930)

  • Madhavan was an Indian social reformer, journalist and revolutionary. He was involved with the Sree Narayan Dharma Paripalana (SNDP). 
  • He led the struggle against untouchability in Kerala known as Vaikom Satyagraha.

About E V Ramaswamy Naicker ‘Periyar’

  • Considered to be the most distinguished leader of Dravidian movement and anti-brahmin movement in South India. 
  • His sharp speeches in Vaikom and other parts of Vaikom against untouchability created a big impact. Thus, he was conferred the title of ‘Hero of Vaikom’. 

About K. Kelappan (1889-1971)

  • He was a freedom fighter, educationist and journalist. He was the lead figure the Congress during India’s Independence Movement in Kerala was known as ‘Kerala Gandhi’
  • Was the founding member & President of Nair Service Society & Kerala Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti
  • He was an important figure in lower caste struggle particularly Vaikom Satyagraha and Guruvayur Temple Entry Movement.
  • Kelappan led the Guruvayur Satyagraha which was an effort for temple entry for untouchables into Guruvayur Temple. Kelappan undertook a hunger strike for 12 days when it was abandoned at the request of Mahatma Gandhi. 
  • He led the Salt Satyagraha in Kerala. He led a batch of Congress workers on foot from Kozhikode to the beaches of Payyanur and broke the salt laws.  

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