A chance conversation on twitter led to this post (hopefully in 3 parts). It is a pleasant co-incidence that this happened at the time of the 80th Anniversary of the signing of the Poona Pact. The Poona Pact was signed on September 24th, 1932 and Gandhiji withdrew from his fast on September 26th. But that is a minor jump in to the future. It all started in 1924-25 in what is known as Vykom Satyagraha.
The Ezhavas had been agitating the issue of use of roads by all communities, especially the lower castes since 1905. T.K.Madhavan, the organizing secretary of SNDP, the ezhava organisation was chaffing at the treatment of the lower castes by the Travancore Administration. On the advice of K.M.Pannikar, he met Gandhiji on September 23rd, 1921 to apprise him of the struggle. Madhavan later attended the 1923 session of AICC at Kakinada and Congress agreed to include eradication of untouchability in their agenda and authorized the KPCC to undertake the task. Congress officially got involved in the Vykom Satyagraha.
To Quote from “Mohandas” a biography by Raj Mohan Gandhi (Page 298):
“Gandhi backed a satyagraha began in 1924 in the town of Vykom (Vaikkam) in the princely state of Travancore against a longstanding denial to untouchables of the use of public roads adjacent to a temple and to Brahmin homes. Though forced at times to stand in waist deep flood water, the satyagrahis kept up their opposition for months, peacefully entering the forbidden streets and picketing barriers. Visiting Vykom, Gandhi proposed a referendum of Caste Hindus on the question – he was certain that only an orthodox minority would defend the prohibitions.
The demand was rejected but in June 1925 prohibited roads on three sides of the temple were thrown open to the ‘untouchables’. The victory was incomplete, for the road to temple’s east was still closed to ‘untouchables’, but all of India had seen the obduracy of the orthodox and followed the Vykom Sathyagraha, a milestone in the battle against untouchability.”
An excerpt from Gandhiji’s speech from The Hindu – dated 23rd March, 1925:
But for me, at any rate for the time being, my politics do not go beyond the spinning-wheel. Its revolutions are so rapid and so certain that in their sweep they take in every other activity. It is, together with the unity between all the races and the removal of untouchability, the foundation on which you may erect any political or other national structure. Without the removal of untouchability, any structure you may seek to build will topple like a house on sand. I, therefore, offer no apology for engaging your attention for a while on the Vykom satyagraha.
I have every hope that, before consolidated and organized public opinion, the wall of prejudice that
surrounds orthodoxy will go. I am of opinion that the Government of Travancore is not against reform. Untouchability is a curse which every Hindu is bound to remove at the earliest opportunity. I have seen it in its worst form, not only as unapproachability but also as invisibility. Mere sight of a certain man is considered by blind orthodoxy as a sin.
A gentleman has just now handed me a note containing some questions on this matter.
I will gladly answer. He asks if the untouchables are allowed the use of roads you would support their further claim to enter Hindu temples like any other Hindu. I am surprised at this question at this time of the day. My answer is emphatically in the affirmative. I claim that to the untouchables, not only public roads should be open but also all temples which are open to non-Brahmins, and all public schools where non-Brahmins and others are admitted and all public places such as public wells or travellers’ bungalows, or anything which is supposed to belong to the public at large, should be open to the untouchables as they are to us. Not till this simple elementary, primary human right is guaran-teed to every single human being on this piece of God’s earth will I consider that the claim in regard to untouchability is vindicated. It is not so much a right that belongs to the untouchables as it is the duty which we, the caste Hindus, owe to them. It is the least penance that we owe to the untouchables and to the world at large.”
What started with the Vykom Satyagraha continued in to the *Fast that led to Poona Pact*