Why in news?
- Recently, Kerala Chief Minister and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister inaugurated the centenary celebrations of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
- On March 30, 1924, in the temple town of Vaikom in the princely state of Travancore, a non-violent agitation started, marking the beginning of “temple entry movements” across the country.
History of Vaikom Satyagraha:
- At the time, caste discrimination and untouchability was rife across India, with some of the most rigid and dehumanising norms documented in Travancore.
- Lower castes like the Ezhavas and Pulayas were considered polluting and various rules were in place to distance them from upper castes. These included a prohibition, not just on temple entry, but even on walking on the roads surrounding temples.
- The Vaikom Satyagraha was launched in opposition to this. Amidst rising nationalist sentiment and agitations across the country, it foregrounded social reform. Not only that, for the first time, it brought Gandhian methods of nonviolent protest to Travancore.
- A look back at the events at Vaikom, the historical context in which they occurred, and their enduring legacy.
The lead up to the Vaikom Satyagraha
- The issue of temple entry was first raised by Ezhava leader TK Madhavan in a 1917 editorial in his paper Deshabhimani. Inspired by the success of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, by 1920, he began to advocate for more direct methods.
- Till 1917, the Indian National Congress refused to take up social reform, otherwise the growing political unity of Indians against the British got disrupted.
- But with the rise of MK Gandhi and increased activism within lower caste communities and untouchables, social reform soon found itself front and centre of Congress’s and Gandhi’s politics.
- When Gandhi came to south India in 1921, Madhavan managed to arrange a meeting with him and secured his support for a mass agitation to enter temples.
- In the 1923 Kakinada session of the INC, a resolution was passed by the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee to take up anti-untouchability as a key issue. This was followed by a massive public messaging campaign and a movement to open Hindu temples and all public roads to avarnas.
- Vaikom, a small town with a revered Shiva temple, was chosen as the location for the first satyagraha. Notably, to widen the appeal of the movement, leaders including Madhavan, chose not to emphasize on the issue of temple re-entry to begin with. Rather, the movement focussed on opening up the four roads around the temple to avarnas.
The Main Supporters
- The focus of the national media was on Vaikom at this time. Leaders such as Periyar, who was arrested multiple times, and C Rajagopalachari came to Vaikom to offer support and lead the protesters. On the other hand, counter-agitations raged on and protesters were often met with violence and intimidation from conservative caste Hindus.
- In March 1925, Gandhi began his tour of Travancore and was able to iron out a compromise: three out of the four roads surrounding the temples were opened up for everyone but the fourth, eastern road, was kept reserved for brahmins.
- This was finally implemented in November 1925, when the government completed diversionary roads that could be used by the low castes without polluting the temple. On November 23, 1925, the last satyagrahi was recalled from Vaikom.
Importance of Vaikom Satyagraha
- In November 1936, almost a decade after the conclusion of the Satyagraha, the historic Temple Entry Proclamation was signed by the Maharaja of Travancore which removed the age-old ban on the entry of marginalized castes into the temples of Travancore.
- Even looking at the Vaikom satyagraha with a critical lens, this eventual outcome can be seen as a major success. It showed the effectiveness of Gandhian civil disobedience as a tool for protest.
- The Vaikom satyagraha brought untouchability, unapproachability, and unseeability to the forefront of political issues in India