For the present generation, freedom struggle is but a glorious chapter in the annals of the nation's history. A struggle which was non violent, pitted the moral strength of a subjugated nation against the might of a colonial power to emerge victorious as a free land. We present history of the national movements in States and also regional agitations, which proved to be a milestone in the country's freedom struggle. This is an opportune moment to recreate the past and learn from the experience of these events. Kerala has the unique distinction of being a region where patriotic Indians revolted against the British rulers even before the first freedom struggle of 1857, which was labelled by the British as 'Sepoy Mutiny'. In the three zones of Kerala, namely, Malabar, Cochin and Travancore, there were uprisings against the British in the end of 18th century and in the beginning of 19th century. In Malabar, it was a native prince, Kerala Varma, Pazhassi Raja who led the revolt, while in Cochin it was spearheaded by Paliath Achan, the Prime Minister of Cochin State and in Travancore by Veluthampy Dalava, the Prime Minister of the State. All these revolts were brutally suppressed by the British.
By the end of 19th century, people of Kerala began to take interest in the affairs of the country as they felt a new hope of liberation, with the advent of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The earliest leader of the organisation from Kerala was G.P. Pillai, the well-known Editor of "Madras Standard" who had initiated agitations for civil rights in Travancore State. A forceful writer and orator, he had wide contacts in India and Great Britain and became General Secretary of the Indian National Congress twice. Gandhiji who was then emerging as a leader, had acknowledged the help and guidance given to him by G.P. Pillai in the South African Indian issue and also in the Temperance Movement (Prohibition). C. Sankaran Nair, the noted jurist, was another person from Kerala who adorned the leadership of the nationalist organisation. Sankaran Nair has the distinction of being the only Keralite to become the president of the INC during its long history spanning over a century.
The fifth Malabar District Political Conference held at Manjeri on April 28, 1920 in the presence of Anie Besant adopted a resolution rejecting the proposed Mongague-Chelmsford Reforms and this generated widespread enthusiasm among the people who wanted radical constitutional reforms and freedom from British regime.
In 1921, while trying to address a banned public meeting in Madras K. Madhavan Nair, U. Gopala Menon, Ponmadath Moideen Koya, Kurur Neelkantan Namboothiripad and Moothedath Narayanan Menon were arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. In the same year in April, people all over Malabar, Cochin, Travancore assembled on a common platform and held the first All Kerala Political Conference at Ottapalam under the presidency of Andhra Kesari T. Prakasam.
Historic Vaikom Satyagraha, which attracted all India attention was started on March 30, 1924. The Satyagraha was started to establish the right for all people to walk through the temple roads. Leaders like K.P. Kesava Menon and T.K. Madhavan led the agitation.
A 'Savarna Jatha' proceeded to Trivandrum and presented a mass petition to the Regent Maharani of Travancore requesting her to remove ban and give freedom to all people to walk through the Vaikom temple roads and to put an end to the practice of untouchability in the State. Gandhiji held discussions with the authorities of Travancore and later had correspondence with them. When Satyagraha entered the twentieth month, the temple roads, except the one on the eastern side, were opened to all people and the Vaikom Satyagraha ended.
Non Cooperation Movement and Salt Satyagraha
As decided at the Nagpur session (1920), Non Cooperation movement was started throughout the country.In Kerala, too, there was widespread boycott of foreign goods, courts and educational institutions. The Malabar Rebellion of 1921 and the students agitation of 1922 in Travancore were events of great political significance during this period.
The Salt-Satyagraha under the leadership of Gandhiji had its own repercussions in Kerala. Payyannur in Malabar, was the main venue of the Satyagraha in Kerala. Many batches of Satyagrahis from different parts of Kerala marched to Payyannur to take part in the Satyagraha.
Many leaders like K. Madhavan Nair, K. Kelappan and Muhammad Abdur Rahiman were arrested for breaking salt-law and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Side by side with the Salt Satyagraha, picketing of toddy shops and the boycott of foreign goods were also organised and large number of satyagrahis courted imprisonment. As there was no salt satyagraha in native States, freedom fighters from Cochin and Travancore went outside the States and broke salt law in British Indian provinces and were imprisoned. Civil disobedience movement came to an end with the release of Gandhiji and Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed on March 4, 1931.
Temple Entry for Untouchables
At the fifth All Kerala Political Conference held at Badagara from May 3 to 6, 1931 under the presidency of J.M. Sengupta, many important resolutions including the one demanding temple entry for the so called untouchables, were passed. The famous Gurvayur Satyagraha (1931-32) was an off-shoot of this resolution. As Zamorin Raja, the hereditary trustee of Guruvayur Sreekrishna Temple did not agree to allow the untouchables to worship in the temple, local leaders decided to launch a satyagraha for achieving this end. Appeals of eminent people throughout India including Gandhiji, Mahakavi Rabindranath Tagore and others to allow the untouchables into the temple had no effect on the adamant Zanmorin.
A satyagraha was started under the leadership of K. Kelappan, with many satyagrahis being manhandled and arrested. As a last resort, Kelappan began 'fast unto death' to achieve the aim. When Kelappan's condition became critical, and there were numerous appeals to save his life, Gandhiji intervened and persuaded him to end his fast. After that, a referendum regarding temple-entry of untouchables was conducted among the Hindus of Ponnani Taluk, where the temple was situated and a huge majority of the people voted in favour of throwing open the temple to them.
Quit India Movement
The Quit India Movement launched in August 1942 was widespread in Cochin and Malabar, though not so extensive in Travancore. During the Quit India Movement there were sensational and violent incidents in Malabar involving disruption of communication and attack on government offices and police stations. The Keezhariyur Bomb case, in which 27 persons including Dr.K.B. Menon, Socialist leader and Secretary of Indian Civil Liberties Union were charge-sheeted, was the important episode of the struggle in Malabar. Even underground papers like 'Swathantra Bharatam' were brought out during the struggle.
Agitation in Travancore and Cochin
After the Haripura session of the Indian National Congress which decided that separate organisations should be formed in native States for the agitation for responsible government, the Travancore State Congress and the Cochin State Prajamandal were formed.
Both in Travancore and Cochin the autocratic regimes tried their best to suppress the agitation for responsible government and complete Independence. In Cochin State, the Government's attitude was more liberal than that of Travancore government. In Travancore, Dewan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer declared that Travancore will remain independent without joining the Indian Union, after the British left India. People of Travancore continued their struggle and they had to fight against 'Independent Travancore Plan' also. As a result of the agitation, at last, Dewan Ramaswami Iyer had to leave Travancore State. With India achieving Independence in August 1947, Travancore and Cochin acceded to the Indian Union.
Struggle in Mahe
Even after the British left India, the Portuguese and French governments were not prepared to leave their settlements on Indian soil. So the people in these settlements had to wage war against these powers. In Mahe, which was a French enclave on the Malabar coast, the people underwent a heroic and prolonged struggle till the French left their settlements in India. Freedom fight in Mahe forms a part of the struggle for freedom in Kerala. It may be mentioned that Kerala had a proud share in the Indian Independence Struggle.
There was no dearth of patriotic fervour amongst the people of Kerala when India was going through the struggle for independence.Malabar was a centre of political agitation from the inception of the national movement. Many stalwarts of the Indian National Congress were from Malabar. The Non-Cooperation Movement and the Khilafat agitation found enthusiastic supporters in Malabar too. Mahatma Gandhi spearheaded the Salt Satyagraha of 1930 and the Civil Disobedience movement of 1932. These popular uprisings found an echo in Malabar too. The Muslim League also had a branch here, though it became a force to reckon with only in 1934. Abdul Rahman Ali Raja of Cannanore became the President of the Muslim League in 1937. The Communist Party found a foothold in Kerala around 1939.
The winds of patriotism swept through the princely states of Travancore and Cochin during the freedom struggle.Travancore had a long history of popular uprisings, the earliest on which was led by Velu Thampi in 1799. The Malayali Memorial signed in 1891, which chronicled the grievances of the local populace, raised the political consciousness of the people. Likewise, the Ezhava Memorial of 1896 was a petition that spelt out the injustices the Ezhava community had suffered for a long time. The Indian National Congress established a Congress Committee in Thiruvananthapuram. Travancore remained in a state of political unrest for many years.
Cochin also remained in the eye of the storm for several years during the national movement. The people of Cochin participated in several uprisings like the Electricity agitation, the agitation for a responsible government, to name a few. A committee of the Indian National Congress was set up in Cochin too.
Prepared by biju p r,assistant professor in political science,govt brennen college,thalassery,kerala,india.