History- Important places, persons in news

[op-ed snap] Periyar, the hero of Vaikom

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Periyar; Vaikom

Mains level : Vaikom Satyagraha

Context

Vaikom is associated with the name of the great Malayalam writer, Muhammad Basheer and also with an important satyagraha during the freedom struggle. In Tamil Nadu, it conjures up the figure of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.

Vaikom

    • Social Justice – Vaikom is a metaphor for social justice — when scores of satyagrahis from the Tamil country joined hands with their brethren in a heroic struggle.
    • Temple entry – It was in the princely state of Travancore. The four streets surrounding the temple of the presiding deity were out of bounds for Ezhavas and other castes counted as ritually lower. 
    • T K Madhavan – In 1924, a satyagraha was launched against this injustice by T.K. Madhavan. In the initial stages, K.P. Kesava Menon and George Joseph led the struggle. Other prominent figures included Kurur Neelakanthan Namboodiri and Mannathu Padmanabhan. Towards the end, M.K. Gandhi reached Vaikom and gave it the finishing flourish.

Leadership at a critical juncture

    • The satyagraha began with the active support of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
    • Within a week all its leaders were behind bars. George Joseph sought directions from Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari. He also wrote to Periyar pleading with him to lead the satyagraha.
    • Periyar was in the midst of political work. As he was then the president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Periyar handed over temporary charge to Rajaji before reaching Vaikom in 1924. 
    • From that date to the day of the victory celebrations in 1925, he was in the struggle giving it leadership at a critical juncture.

Periyar’s role

    • Against violence – Periyar presided over the satyagraha in the face of violence and indignity inflicted by the orthodox and the repression of the police. 
    • Mobilising – To mobilise support, he visited villages in and around Vaikom and delivered public speeches in several towns.
    • Gandhi – When the Kerala leaders asked for Gandhi’s permission to make the satyagraha an all-India affair, Gandhi refused saying that volunteers from Tamil Nadu would keep it alive. 
    • In reportsthe British Resident said in his report to the government of Madras: “In fact, the movement would have collapsed long ago but for the support it has received from outside Travancore…”
    • Historian T.K. Ravindran observes that Periyar’s arrival gave “a new life to the movement”.

Role in the Satyagraha

    • Argument – He made a cogent and compelling case for it. He used his wit and folk logic to punch holes in the argument of the orthodox.
    • Government repression – As his campaign met with an enthusiastic response, the government imposed prohibitory orders on him. The administration arrested him on May 21. 
    • Non- cooperation – Periyar refused to cooperate with the court saying that the trial was no more than an eyewash and braved the magistrate to inflict any punishment.
    • In the jail – Rajaji wrote in a letter to The Hindu that Periyar was condemned to “rigorous imprisonment and irons and jail clothing and to deprive him of all society to which other satyagraha prisoners were rightly deemed entitled is totally unjustifiable”.
    • Fellow prisoner Kesava Menon wrote to the government expressing objection. The indignities continued until all the satyagrahis were released when the minor king Chithira Tirunal ascended the throne.

At the forefront

    • Contribution – As president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee he arranged for a contribution of ₹1,000. 
    • Participation – He was part of every consultative meeting, peace committee, campaign party, etc., including the eight-member deputation constituted to meet the Diwan. 
    • With leaders – Every major personality who came to Vaikom met with Periyar. This included Swami Shraddhananda of the Arya Samaj. Rajaji met Periyar. Gandhi too consulted him during his visit. Periyar was present in the small closed door meeting of Gandhi with Sree Narayana Guru.

Outcome of Satyagraha

    • Partial victory – The satyagraha ended in partial victory in 1925: 3 out of 4 streets were thrown open. 
    • Final victory came 11 years later with the Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936. By that time, Periyar had become a bitter critic of Gandhi. Even his views on satyagraha changed.

Conclusion

    • Periyar had arrived at Vaikom and had given a new life to a sagging movement.
    • He was jailed twice, and was the only person to be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment.
    • Apart from being the only leader from outside the State to be invited to the victory celebrations, he was even asked to preside over it.
    • Thiru.Vi. Kalyanasundara Mudaliar called him the Vaikom Veerar, the hero of Vaikom, even at the time of the struggle.
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