NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
HINDU CASTE AND POLLUTION
According to the census of 1875, the number of distinct castes found in Travancore is no less than 420; but many of these are merely subdivisions of other castes, or large families separated from the parent stock through various causes. Some may eat together, but individuals belonging to distinct castes never intermarry.
People of any caste coming from a neighbouring country are usually treated as distinct by their fellows here, their customs and social consideration often being, in some respects, different. Thus there are Ilavars in Tinnevelly, and Ilavars in Canara, who are in a much more degraded condition than with us. Caste is not a mere form of “division of labour.” This theory is but an excuse offered by some for Hindu Caste.
The institution is based and defended on definite religious grounds, and is strictly maintained in practice, being woven into the very texture of Hindu society. “Caste,” says Barth in his ‘Religions of India,’ “is the express badge of Hinduism. Caste is not merely the symbol of Hinduism; but, according to the testimony of all who have studied it on the spot, it is its stronghold. It is, therefore, a religious fact of the first order.”
The gulf which separates one caste from another is often very great, as great, almost, as between distinct species of animals; or as that which exists between mankind and their cattle or dogs. The cordon of division is strangely effective and complete in its operation. There are little hamlets of lowcaste people situated in secluded valleys and corners of the rice fields, near which one might pass for years without observing them; and there are Brahman agrahrams or closes, intentionally retired from public view, where the entrance of a stranger would be regarded with hostility, horror, and alarm, and would lead at once to personal attack upon him.
Pretences are sometimes made by individuals to higher than their real caste. During a festival at Trevandrum, several goldsmiths putting on the dress and ornaments of a superior caste, walked boldly into the temple. We have known one or two apostates from Christianity, well educated in English, who assumed Sudra names, and passed in distant parts of the country as such. But impostors are detected by very simple means.
A Shanar youth who took the high-caste seat at a public cook-shop was discovered by his mode of eating rice, picking it up with the fingers, while a Brahman scoops it up gently with the side of the hand lest he should tear with his nails the leaves which they are accustomed to use as plates. Strangers at feasts are therefore closely scrutinized and watched. Still, changes in caste do, in odd instances, succeed. A Tamilian, for instance, readily alters his kudumi from the back to the front of the head; and becomes a Malayali.
Eating together is one of the grand tests of identity of caste, and earnest discussions are often held as to what constitutes pollution in eating.
A typical case occurred in Calicut. A Brahman had been confined in the jail there, and bathed in the common well; but after his release asserted that he had eaten no cooked food, only fruits, which do not convey pollution, and drank only the water of the cocoanut. The Ranee of Calicut charged him with polluting the temple, of which she is manager, by entering it, he being now impure and out-caste, and his daily prayers without efficacy. Tamil Brahmans, it is said, might do all this without losing caste, but in Malabar opinions differ.
The suit, as such, was dismissed by the British Courts, but it was very properly held that the Ranee’s permission was needed to enter her temple. Brahman prisoners in the jail at Trevandrum are taken outside for their meals, so that their caste standing may not be affected.
In the Pujapura jail, where there are no Brahmans, but a few caste men, it is somewhat amusing to see small clay walls of about a foot in height built to separate between the cooking places of the different castes — a feeble but harmless attempt to preserve their caste purity.
In 1873, when the Nagercoil temple was declared to have been polluted by the entrance of the children of Sesha Iyengar, a Brahman who had given his young virgin daughter again in marriage after the death of her betrothed husband, expensive ceremonies were performed for the purification of the sacred edifice. The priests, though professedly celibate, were known to live in intercourse with the temple women; wicked men and cheats of various kinds might enter, but not a remarried widow, or any who had “aided and abetted” in her crime.
A minor purification was first performed, but a greater and more thorough cleansing being required, Namburi Brahmans skilled in the Tantras were called. The ceremonies cost the Sirkar over Rs. 320. A sacrificial fire was kindled and fed with choice material, sprigs of Ficus religiosa, milk, butter, and ghee.
Around this fire were one large and twenty-one small pots representative of demons, each girt with cotton cloth, painted with mystic diagrams, and adorned with flowers and mango leaves. Propitiatory offerings were made and incantations uttered; then the contents of the smaller vessels were poured into the large one, and all emptied over the head of the serpent god who had been insulted. The ceremony closed with the gift of a cow to Brahmans.
In the Satapatha Brahmana of the White Yajur Veda, ceremonial impurity proceeding during the celebration of sacrificial rites from the touch of a carpenter, or any other sacrificially impure person, is represented as removed by the sprinkling of sacrificial water.
This passage Dr. John Wilson thinks “forms a key to the caste institution of sparsha, or defilement by contact. What occurred at sacrifices was afterwards extended to what may occur in any circumstance in social life, to the debasement of large classes of the community.”
This absurd notion is carried to a preposterous extreme in Travancore, and is certainly one of the greatest evils that afflict the country — the fons et origo of much distress and suffering to nearly all classes. Ordinary cleanliness is doubtless a virtue, and the pretty tanks close by the temples are, when supplied with clean water, both ornamental and useful. But the idea of ceremonial caste pollution sadly hinders the people from social intercourse with one another and from improving intimacy with other nations.
Europeans, because they eat flesh and mingle with all castes, are excluded from access to the interior of a native house, or entering beyond the common reception hall of a Hindu palace. After shaking hands with a European, the caste Hindu must bathe to remove the pollution; and there are special occasions when it is highly inconvenient to them to meet foreigners even in the most casual manner.
A native gentleman once conversing with an English visitor at such a time, was obliged to ask him to excuse the omission of the usual shaking of hands, and to lay his letter on the table, whence it could be lifted without pollution. A distinguished Brahman priest and Rajah once granted an interview on the express condition that I should not expect to shake hands, as the old gentleman could not conveniently bathe just then ! Some intelligent natives, however, are beginning to feel weary of these absurd and tiresome regulations, and express the wish that they were rid of them.
A British military officer of rank offering his hand to a young Hindu noble one day, the latter drew back exclaiming, “I cannot touch you to-day. I am holy just now. We are a very religious people, you know.” The gallant officer only remarked, “Well, you will shake hands with me the next time that I ask you.” “Oh, certainly,” replied the innocent youth. This is precisely the spirit so severely condemned in Holy Scripture — “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.”
Some naughty boys, however, after playing with others of inferior case, only go round the corner, wait a while there, and then return and tell their mother they have bathed.
Should a Pulayan touch a Brahman, the latter must make expiation by immediately bathing, and reading much of the sacred books, and changing his Brahmanical thread. If the same man touch a Nayar, he has only to bathe afterwards.
Temples must not be approached within a certain distance by the low castes. The stone lingam in front of the temple at Cottayam is said to be a slave, turned into stone for too near approach! A European unwittingly passed along the Brahmans’ pathway with his palankeen bearers, between the temple and the tank. Complaint was at once made that the temple was polluted; and the Sirkar had to pay the expense of re-consecration. During the continuance of the Murajapam festival, Europeans are excluded from nearly the whole of the fort in Trevandrum. In former times the Mission catechists had difficulty even in passing through the streets outside the fort to attend for report at the Mission House.
Brahman temples, therefore, are not for the use of all classes. The low castes have their own temples and deities of an inferior kind, and dare not touch even the outer walls of a Hindu temple. They may, indeed, make offerings to noted shrines from a distance; their money fortunately, is not polluted, nor raw rice and other provisions which it is their work to cultivate and gather, else the Brahmans would starve outright. At several temples there are special festival days on which the lower castes have permission to approach a little nearer for worship and amusement.
Because of this theory of pollution, our mission churches, to which persons of all castes are freely welcomed, could only be built, in former times, in retired localities, or at some distance from the public road. Scarcely could a desirable site be sought for purchase, or reclaimed from waste, but the objection was raised that it was near some road used by a religious procession, or some sacred stone, or well.
The official reply to a formal request for permission to purchase the land on which one mission church now stands was that it was too near the road by which some procession went, therefore permission could not be granted. The result has proved this all nonsense. In asking the Sirkar for permission to take up another piece of waste land, the Gumastha measured our land, omitting thirty feet all along the side of the road on the ground that the native Christians would pollute the public passing by it. The matter had to be brought before the Dewan and pressed; and a second registration was made for this narrow strip of land in order to give us frontage to the road.
All dread the raising of the lower classes and their admission to the common rights of humanity. “The very essence of caste lies in the degradation of others.” Hence, as Rev. H. Baker wrote, “Every slight objection to any site that is chosen for the building of churches is attended to, false statements are made by the district officers, and five or six years pass away before a decision is come to; and that is mostly unfavourable.”
All this superstitious punctiliousness is fraught with serious inconvenience to the unenlightened high castes themselves. They are unable to travel by sea unless they could land daily to cook and eat their food, that prepared with the water on board ship being ceremonially unclean. When travelling by rail along with other classes, they dare not even take a draught of water to refresh themselves; and often there is great suffering from hunger where habitations belonging to their own caste are not at hand.
A friend of ours calling a native doctor to the Hills for a serious emergency, the poor man could eat nothing but plaintain fruits during the two days he was in patient and kindly attendance. Barbosa, however, says that, in his day, “during the time the Nayrs are at war, they may touch any peasant, and eat and drink with them in their houses, without any penalty.” But such a sensible arrangement is not recognized now.
It will be easy to see how the idea of caste pollution affects the use of the public road by people of low caste. Each caste is familiar with the prescribed distances within which they may approach, or be approached by every other caste in the whole scale. A Nair, for example, may approach but must not touch a Namburi Brahman — a Pulayan must remain at a distance of ninety-six steps. Until lately Pulayans were not allowed even to approach the roads.
When they had palm-leaf umbrellas and other small articles to sell, they laid them down near the highway, and standing at the appointed distance shouted to their customers. Landowners could not approach their labourers in the rice fields, but must call to them from the boundary. Hence the habit of shouting aloud in conversation, which many respectable men have acquired. Cottayam Pulayars put a few green twigs on the road side, near where they are working, to warn off high-castes.
Pulayars walking on the high road are required to run off into the jungles or fields when high-caste people pass along. Where there is plenty of room, a kind of side-walk is sometimes formed in this way. It is most painful to see a poor and inoffensive woman, with a load on her back, or burdened with an infant, compelled to scramble up the steep sides of the road and retire into the jungle, to allow a high-caste man to pass; or seeking for a favourable chance to cross the highway, or go along it.
She waits till one party has gone on — then makes a dash — but perhaps is balked by meeting another party in the opposite direction. What discomfort, misery, and waste of time all over the country, and that for no rational purpose or appreciable advantage to any one ! If the Pulayar did not speedily move out of the way, instant death was the penalty : the low- caste man in former times would be at once cut down by the sword of the Nair. Now-adays respectable passengers, when polluted by accident or by the obstinacy of inferiors, sometimes, on the principle that they “may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb,” join in giving a good thrashing to the disrespectful low-caste passengers.
On one occasion a party of Brahman travellers meeting a set of coolies carrying a heavy log of timber, ordered them to put it down and run off the road. This they positively declined, under the circumstances, to do, and the Brahmans began to beat them; but the coolies did, at last, lay down their load, and gave them as much as they got.
There are, again, cases in which high-caste people are glad, for the moment, quietly to ignore these rules, and a Chogan or Ilavan gets a good thrashing for his over-anxiety to keep a Brahman pure by informing the latter that he was defiled by too near approach, when he would have passed on unconsciously and without further disturbance.
At one period I was quite surprised to see all Pulayars get far out of my way when driving along the roads, as most of them should know that a missionary cared nothing for their approach. After being puzzled for some time as to the cause of this, I detected my horsekeeper, an Ilavan, behind me making threatening signs and gestures to Pulayars approaching, that they might run off, in order to save his caste dignity !
Yet Ilavars and Chogans were, and still are in most parts, similarly driven out of the way by Brahmans. Missionaries have pleaded the cause of all classes alike, and to a large extent succeeded in procuring the emancipation of Shanars and Ilavars from such bonds, but as soon as one caste has somewhat risen from their degradation they inflict similar indignities upon their inferiors, unless restrained by the fear of God, or a sense of justice to their fellow-men. A most cruel and selfish thing is Hindu caste !
Where the road is too narrow, or closed in with walls, it may suffice for the inferior to keep to the far side; but sometimes no quarter is shown to the unfortunate low-caste passenger. On one occasion I found three native Christians, who had kindly accompanied me to help the cart across a river, tied, on attempting to return to their homes, to the wheels of the carts belonging to certain bandymen, because they did not leave the road, which in fact was impossible at that place, there being strong hedges on either side. Happily, as I myself was able to bear testimony on behalf of my poor friends, there was no great difficulty or delay in procuring the punishment of the brutal bandymen by a fine of three rupees each.
In 1878, a Sudra, a drunken and violent character, happening to pass by the road from the market, saw a Pariah Christian woman, fatigued and footsore, sitting down by the roadside to rest a while. The man assaulted and struck her with his stick on account of her not moving to a distance to avoid polluting him. Her son, who was present, defended his mother, giving the assailant two strokes in return, with a stick he had in his hand.
This was supposed by the judge, who afterwards dealt with the case, to be “natural enough, though it may be a grievous offence for a low-caste man, especially a Pariah, to strike one of the higher caste, according to the Dharma Sastram. But it must be remembered that the prisoner was a catechumen of the Mission, and that the necessary results of education and civilisation are a feeling of self-worthiness, and a yearning after independent thought and action. With these, one’s rights as recognized, or not recognized, by Society and by political Government are felt and dwelt upon.”
About a month afterwards the Sudra died of intermittent fever, and a noble opportunity was presented to the police officials, who came to bury the poor man, to magnify a petty case into a great crime, and win fame by displaying their zeal and ability in detecting murder; at the same time to inflict a blow on the spread of religion and freedom amongst the obnoxious Pariahs.
Accordingly seven Christian men were seized, mostly heads of families, and charged with the murder of the Sudra, and they were kept in prison for more than a month before they were acquitted and released, while their persecutors went scot free. In the judgment, the Court remarked, “This is a petty case : the circumstances lie in narrow compass though, evidently, from caste prejudice, of which the committing officer may be supposed not to be free, it has been made to assume the formidable proportions of murder.
One witness says, ‘ I deposed none of those things — what further they might have written at the Police Cutcherry I am not able to say, since my statement was not read over to me. I simply affix my mark in the paper presented to me, as I was desired to do.’ — There was sufficient in the affair to excite the strong caste prejudice of the scribe who took down the evidence; and the opportunity for spicing it with extravagant statements, in order, perhaps, to supply at least some grounds that might seem prima facie to justify the prisoner’s commitment, was not to be lost when impunity was secure and they could be subjected to imprisonment pending their trial and acquittal if not found guilty.”
Such is Travancore justice as administered by the inferior officials, with whom the people have firstly and mostly to do !
In former times, Europeans were not allowed to travel in the interior of the country, but were obliged to keep to the seashore. The first British Residents also lived near the coast, the present Residency in the town having been built only in 1820. Early missionaries, travelling, as they did, much about the country, occasionally came across processions, and were driven out of the way: in some cases their palankeens also were broken.
Great improvement is manifest, however, in this respect. A few years ago, a friend and myself were returning in two bullock carts from a meeting in the South, along the main road, when we met the gods being carried back from their annual visit to the capital. An escort of sepoys accompanied them, their officer walking in front with sword drawn.
We pulled up our carts as close to one side as possible, but as high walls stood on either side, we could not go quite out of the way; nor, indeed, was I desirous to do so, as it seems a plain duty to claim all the rights of citizens and taxpayers for the sake of the humbler classes of the community, who are afraid to insist upon any right, scarcely knowing what their legal rights are, and are unable to plead their own cause. The officer bade us get out of the way for the gods. I showed him that this was impossible, neither was it required in these days of freedom, when all Christians enjoyed the right to use the public highways, “But there is a proclamation that you must get out of the way.”
“No,” we replied, “there is not. You may remove us, or our carts, as you please; but we have gone quite close to the side, and you have plenty of room to pass.”
“I will report you,” said he.
“Very well, do so,” and they quietly passed on. We heard nothing further on the subject.
“A Vedan, it is said, pollutes the road while he is upon it, but a Pulayan pollutes all the road by which he has gone.”
Englishmen can scarcely realise the horror which superstitious natives feel when there is any chance of being approached by a Pulayan, and the disgust with which these unfortunate people are viewed. It is a great struggle for a caste Hindu to pay us a visit, or to enter a Church, even to ask medicine or other aid, when there is risk of coming near such.
Yet it is certain that no true civilisation or progress, no national prosperity,, no true religion is possible till this wicked hatred and aversion are removed by the improvement in cleanliness, education, and moral character of the low castes on the one hand, and by the enlightenment, philanthropy and spiritual conversion of the high castes on the other. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
In proportion as civilisation is introduced, popular education spreads, and new life is inspired into the activities of the people, these barbarous restrictions become intolerable and are continually broken through, sometimes leading to the commission of breaches of the peace by those offended at the impudence, as it is deemed, of the lower castes.
After the commencement of evangelistic work amongst the Pulayars by the Church Missionary Society, in 1851, at Mallapalli, great opposition was shown by the slaveholders; the slaves who came to learn were oppressed, and those who ventured to teach them were treated as utterly polluted, and expelled from society. Soon there arose the question whether Christian converts from such classes should be allowed to walk along the public roads, as Syrians and Muhammadans are permitted to do, or should be kept in the same degraded state as before.
The Dewan decided that this liberty should not be granted, and an order was issued on the occasion of a recent convert, an Ilavan, passing near a temple in the neighbourhood of the Mission House, asserting that “though an Illowan becomes a Christian, he still remained an Illowan,” and directing that converts to the Christian religion should not pass through the public highway, but must pass through the field road, that is the road the jackals go!
It was urged by the Society that this placed Protestant Christian converts at an unfair disadvantage as compared with converts to the Syrian Church, or to Muhammadanism, who are permitted to enjoy the status accorded to these bodies. And after much delay the adverse decision, happily, was overruled by the Madras Government. In 1870, again, the Madras Government, urged by a case which had occurred some time previously, in which an Englishman was assaulted for passing through a Brahman village, and his assailants were only punished by a trifling fine, passed a censure on the Sirkar for permitting numerous caste disabilities, urged their removal, and expressed surprise that any class of the public should be excluded from public thoroughfares.
They recommended the adoption of the principle that “the public high streets of all towns are the property, not of any particular caste, but of the whole community; and that every man, be his caste or religion what it may, has a right to the full use of them, provided that he does not obstruct or molest others in the use of them; and must be supported in the exercise of that right.”
About the same time the matter was made the subject of lengthened public discussion in consequence of a proclamation which was made with beat of drum through the streets, by the officers of the district, excluding Pulayars from the main road near Trevandrum.
This having been noticed and taken up by the Acting Resident, an announcement appeared in the “Travancore Government Gazette” that the notification was un-authorized and improper, for which the Tahsildar was punished, and the Provertikar dismissed from the service; and that the road in question is open to all classes of the people at all times. But in the very next issue appeared a special proclamation that the Maharajah himself directed that the Provertikar should not be dismissed, but only fined a month’s salary, that being a sufficient punishment for his fault.
Search has been made, and inquiries instituted of high officials, but no copy of any general Proclamation has been found, conceding the right of all subjects to the use of the highways, so that there is nothing in black and white and readily accessible, for those outside the capital, where this right is disputed or practically denied, to appeal to. It would appear that no such proclamation has ever been issued, so no one is assured of his rights. Why should this not be done now? Is the Sirkar still unwilling, or is it afraid, to grant liberty?
It is, indeed, said that a notification was to be issued, coming into force from the beginning of M.E 1058 — 15th August, 1882, allowing these castes henceforward full liberty to walk through public roads, and to appear before public courts without inconvenience; but I have been unable to learn whether this report is correct or not, or to procure a copy. Has it been widely published — or published at all ?
Throughout the whole of North Travancore, the low castes enjoy practically no right of way; and caste divisions and evils are rampant. Even Christian converts of low-caste origin have gained no right of way on the public roads yet; and it is said that they are advised by the missionaries not to claim this, but to give way under all circumstances, else they will get beaten and persecuted, and false charges will be raised against them. Even Syrians are accustomed to bathe after touching a Pulayan, and will not admit converts from this class.
Respectable Hindus with whom I conversed in the Cottayam District denied strongly, and with apparent sincerity of conviction, that there is any law making the public roads free to all classes. The native Christians had not heard of it either; and a missionary of whom I made inquiries had not been able to procure any copy of such law or proclamation, being informed by the Dewan that he could not find anything of the kind. Accordingly, Valan boatmen must keep 50 or 60 paces off Namburis.
A Chogan must walk on the far side of the road, if a Nair passes; but must go out of the road altogether for a Brahman. Pulayars meeting me, cried po, po (“go”), and stood still, till I assured them they need not fear me. At Cottayam, low-caste people are not allowed to appear in the common market to dispose of the small articles they bring for sale on market days. In taking the sick to the Hospital at Cottayam, the gauntlet had to be run. A separate hospital has now been built for low castes, but it is rather difficult of access, and a long detour is to be taken through the rice fields, the distance by road being about a quarter of a mile.
A poor slave has been known to let his child die — and they love their offspring — rather than undergo the delay and chance of a beating in a visit to the hospital. Caste takes no account of necessities, charities, or infirmities. Yet Pulayar criminals are taken through the Chetty Street. In the Cochin state it is said that the condition of the low castes is not so bad, Pulayars being allowed to go through the streets and even into houses.
Another serious evil arising out of the idea of caste pollution is that the covering of the bosom with clothing is forbidden, in order to the easy recognition and avoidance of the lower castes by their masters. This rule of going uncovered above the waist as a mark of respect to superiors is carried through all grades of society, except the Brahmans.
The highest subject uncovers in the presence of the Sovereign, and His Highness also before his god Patmanabhan. This was also the form of salutation even from females to any respectable person. Hence deadly offence was given by persons who had resided for some time in Tinnevelly and Ceylon, or by Christians who were taught in the churches to cover themselves in accordance with the claims of modesty and health.
Such marks of degradation have sometimes been imposed on slaves by other nations. In Batavia, at the beginning of this century, all slaves were strictly prohibited from walking on the flagged causeway in front of the houses, as also from wearing stockings and shoes, in order that their naked feet might be the means of making their condition notorious. While, on the other hand, the Roman people would not agree to a proposition which was made in the Senate, to distinguish the slaves by a particular dress from citizens, lest the number of the former being thus easily ascertainable might become dangerous to the state.
The upper-cloth covering the bosom is taken off before a superior, and tied either round the waist or the head. Ornaments and jewels were similarly dealt with, being forbidden to persons of inferior caste, except by special grant. Each caste and class had its own ornaments and style of dress, differing in pattern, value, and material. The higher castes wear gold on the upper part of the body only, and silver, as being less honourable, on the lower members. Pulayars could only wear brass, and Hill people, Vedars, Kuravars, &c., a large number of strings of glass beads around the neck and hanging on the breast.
Even to wear the ornaments customary to each caste it was supposed that special permission was required from the Sirkar, showing how the officers kept back the humblest rights of the people; and a notification was published by the Ranee when General Munro was Dewan, and again republished in M.E. 1040 (1864) by Sir Madava Row, that ornaments such as they have been in the habit of wearing according to the custom of each caste might be worn without asking special permission of the Sirkar, or paying a fee for the privilege.
It will now be seen that the free access of the lower classes of the population to Courts of Justice, Government officials, and fairs and markets, however essential to the public peace, security, and prosperity, is still more difficult of attainment. In consequence of the mingling and interference of superstition with every event and business of life, and the consecration of the country to idols, most of the public buildings were in the vicinity of the temples, and to them the lower castes could not be allowed access. Nor could the officials, being all of high caste, afford to be continually polluted by the near approach of low-caste witnesses, complainants, or petitioners.
As the witness could not come to the court, the court must go to the witness. But it must not go too near him, and the frequent result is that the witness’s evidence is taken by the court, or a clerk deputed for the purpose, calling the questions to an intermediate peon, and the peon shouting them to the witness and repeating his replies to the presiding officer, the distance at which the witness is obliged to keep from that functionary being too great to allow of the questions and replies being distinctly audible, or intelligible.
A painful picture has been drawn in one of the public papers of the sufferings of students at these places in the Cochin territory, but equally true of Travancore, and by no means overdrawn. The writer says, “Notwithstanding the civilisation that education ought to inculcate in the minds of the rulers of a State, we are sorry to say that neither time nor education seems to have worked any change in the old usages of the Tahsildars’ Cutcherries. Parties to a suit, if they be of low caste, are not privileged to approach such places, but have to keep away at a distance of fifty or sixty paces from them, the examination of witnesses and every other proceeding of a suit being conducted at that respectable distance.
It is very amusing to watch a case of this description going on, for the Gumashta (clerk) of the cutcherry has to cry out at the top of his voice every question, and the witnesses or defendants, as the case may be, have in turn to respond to them, by as loud yells, so that all the proceedings are not only audible to those in court, but to those out of and far from it, presenting a scene more like a serious quarrel than a court of law.
The low-caste people who wish to present petitions are thus kept away from the court, and are made to stand day after day in the hot sun, their heads not being permitted to be covered, or they are exposed to merciless rain until by some chance they come to be discovered, or the Tahsildar is pleased to call for the petition. This procedure is diametrically opposite to the distinct orders of the British Resident conveyed upon the subject several years ago, abolishing the barbarous practice in the local courts, and we hope, therefore, that the Dewan will take the necessary steps to put a stop to the invidious distinction of caste prejudice and pollution so rampant in public places of business.”*
Rev. J. H. Hawksworth, writing in 1855 of the shameful attempts made by the slaves’ owners to deter the Pulayars from attending Christian instruction, tells how a schoolhouse was maliciously burnt down a second time, and a slave cruelly beaten and left lying senseless for attending it. His own master sent him a day or two afterwards to prefer a complaint at the police office, and he called to ask the gentleman how he could get within shouting distance of the officials.
A slave acquainted with the neighbourhood was sent to accompany the complainant. They had to pass through rice fields, jungles and gardens, keeping out of reach of the owners. In this they failed; a man caught them and gave one of them a thrashing, while the other escaped. The attempt to reach the police office was abandoned for the day. A second attempt was subsequently made, and resulted in a second thrashing. However, the complaint was ultimately lodged, the slave’s deposition was taken at the top of his voice, and all attempts to get the case beyond that stage proved abortive.
So also a distinguished native clergyman, the Rev. George Matthan, in 1856, relating a case of cruel beating of a slave by his master for keeping the Sabbath day, says, “I thought it would be of no use to complain to the authorities; for I despair of justice being obtained, from the general corruption of the courts of law in this country, and from the jealous eye with which any attempt to raise the slaves would be viewed by the officials.”
Such arrangements are tantamount to a positive denial of justice in many cases. Taxes also are paid by go-betweens; and rents to Brahman or Chetry nobles, some of whose agents are almost inaccessible to their humbler tenants; who can only induce some high-caste friend to take their letters, or applications, into the sacred street in which the officials reside. The position of many of the public buildings has long been the subject of serious complaint by various classes of the inhabitants.
The ordinary and only road to the cutcherry at Suchindram is through the Brahman street, and only open to high castes, so that even the native missionaries — men equal in character, attainments, and influence for good, to any Brahman in the country — dare not, on account of caste defilement, approach by it, but must go by a circuitous and filthy path through the rice swamps : the site for new offices has therefore been selected at Kottar. Several cutcherries have been rebuilt in more accessible situations, but even this has not wholly remedied the state of things. In some of the new buildings business was not regularly conducted for a considerable time.
The officials occupied them only occasionally, when they could not help it, and especially when superior inspection was anticipated. They naturally prefer working in the vicinity of the temples, sharing in their privileges and pleasures, and being themselves thereby to a great extent protected from personal pollution by low-caste suitors. The more hindrances that are presented to such, the better and the easier for officials of this temperament. In ordinary cases the low classes are not allowed nearer to the cutcherry than from 40 to 100 yards.
At Mavelikara a new cutcherry was professedly erected, but being only a temporary building with mud walls, it was not in use more than ten days; afterwards it tumbled to pieces, and has only recently been re-erected. At Chenganur a new building was put up, afterwards it disappeared, and it is again rebuilt, but very close to the temple. At Ambalapuley the officials resort to the new office when low castes apply; but as there are almost always some such in attendance, the officials should remain permanently in the new building.
At Karundgapally there is a new cutcherry; but the officials are mostly Brahmans, so that low castes, and even Chogan Christians, must stand at a distance. The Cottayam cutcherry is an old building and very inconvenient, Chogans being unable to enter, or Pulayans to approach very near. The distance required is about sixty yards. Changanacherry standing close to a temple, is worst of all, as Pulayars are not allowed to approach within about 200 yards, and cannot give their evidence with convenience.
At Neduvengaud, though the new public offices are in an accessible spot, yet the caste prejudices of the Government servants are so strong that access is not yet allowed to low caste people — they are all kept, even Christians, at a distance of at least twenty feet; and were they to complain or intrude, the officials, being all of one mind and having a common interest on this question, and being the wealthy employers, masters and neighbours of the poor people, could readily take revenge when opportunity presented itself.
At Kotarakara, even in the new Munsiff’s Court, no one thinks of admitting any low caste men into the court house as component parts of “the public,” and such a thing dare not be proposed. One kindly official whom I saw there took great credit to himself for having ventured to propose that witnesses or suitors of low caste should be allowed to come up quite close to the window on the outside, and that a verandah should even be erected for their protection from sun and rain.
Such reforms, though continually pressed on the Sirkar by the British Government and by enlightened public opinion, and from time to time promised and even begun, are carried on slowly and grudgingly, and are still very incomplete. As to means, the amount expended for the admiration of European visitors on the costly Museum at Trevandrum, or for the Brahmans on a single Sexennial Festival, would have sufficed to rebuild all the district cutcherries in Travancore, and thus benefit thousands of households amongst the humbler population; or would have sufficed to establish a hundred village schools open to all classes.
A thorough and universal reform in this one matter would confer unspeakable benefit upon the masses of the population, of whom nearly one half are subject to these serious disabilities, born to toil and to contempt. Some of the very same classes in Malabar now creditably fill most important appointments. It is not right that large classes who contribute their quota to the revenue should be excluded from the courts, schools, and other institutions maintained by the public funds.
It is now caste, not slavery, that stands in the way of further progress. Public servants in their public capacity should be expected, as some of the ablest and best of the higher officers already do to a large extent, to lay aside all consideration of the pollution by low-castes; and, as in British India, permit the approach of all for business in business hours, or when the exigencies of the public service demand it.
The Metropolitan of India lately expressed his great disappointment and astonishment to find, during his late tour in South India, that in Travancore, the position of women should be so degraded, even compared to other parts of India, and that the most oppressive and degrading of caste rules should still be in force, the lower orders being compelled to leave the public roads and retire to the jungle to allow high caste men to pass unmolested.
Degraded by the oppression of centuries, loaded with such disabilities that it is impossible for them to rise or take any social standing in the country, their condition even yet is indeed pitiable. The present able and enlightened Maharajah could do nothing to render his reign more illustrious than by adopting effectual measures to ameliorate the condition of these poor people. (Diocesan Gazette March, 1882.)
The same pernicious notion of caste pollution hinders the obtaining of public employment by persons who have belonged to the lower castes, however they may rise in character, ability or reputation. The union with civil duties of religious functions which have no necessary connection with them, such as the administration and management of the Temples and Government Free Inns for Brahmans, not only occupies the time of the revenue officers, but makes it impossible for Christians or persons of humble birth ever to occupy such posts in the public service. They would pollute their more sacred fellow-officials and the temple buildings.
At one time when a small proportion of respectable Syrian Christians were admitted into the service of the Sirkar through the influence of Colonel Munro, it was quite ridiculous to see them standing at the appointed distance professedly superintending the measurement of grain and the writing of accounts, outside the gate of the sacred enclosure. Native Christians are thus excluded from the Revenue and Magisterial Departments of the public service, which are the best paid and most honourable.
Those native Christians who make up the total of 651 in Government employment are mostly in inferior positions as messengers, &c., chiefly under the European officials. So long as the present plan of administering the temple funds and superintending the feeding of Brahmans obtains, only Brahmans and Sudras can be appointed in the principal departments.
Recently, however, a separate Sheristadar has been appointed for the superintendence of these religious duties; and there is no good reason why separate Devassam and Ootooperah establishments should not be organized in each District, thus removing the main substantial difficulty in the way of admitting a fair and equal proportion of all classes to the responsibilities, honours, and emoluments of the public service now so largely monopolised by a few.
Over and above the religious aspect of this question there is of course, a strong conservative feeling among high castes, that if a man of low-caste birth were admitted to positions of authority, high-caste men would, on occcasions, have to stand before him, a situation very repugnant to caste prejudice. But this does not present any practical difficulty in British India.
The same obstacle stands in the way of primary education, caste prejudice being allowed to hinder the admission of low-caste children into most of the Government schools in Travancore. To the lower castes, both Christian and heathen, is still denied the very essential right to a full share in the education supplied by the State at the public cost. Of the English and Vernacular District Schools only about a third are open to low-castes, while from the 199 Village Schools established all over the country, except in the far north they are absolutely and universally excluded. A grant-in-aid is indeed made to Mission Schools; but it is highly undesirable that these should be regarded or forced into the position of being schools for low-caste children only.
To remove this stigma and unite the people into one nation, the whole of the Sirkar schools should be opened, as in British India, to all classes of the population. Personal experience certainly corroborates the remark of a recent writer on India. “So fiercely are the higher castes opposed, not only to associating with low-caste pupils, but to their being educated at all, that it is with the greatest difficulty we can obtain sites for Christian schools in the villages, if the high-caste people can throw impediments in our way.” (“Every Day Life in India,” by Rowe, p. 80.) In certain Government village schools to the north of Cottayam, even Syrian Christian boys (who are admitted as of good caste), are seated apart, at a distance from the other children, lest the Hindu boys should be polluted by accidentally touching them; when this does happen, complaint is made to the teacher. The Chogans form the principal part of the population in those parts, but dare not approach the school, and are deprived of the privileges of education and civilisation on account of the supposed inferiority of their caste.
"The objection urged against granting to the lower castes admission into the public schools is the trite and futile one that, if they were admitted, the higher castes would at once leave the school. Even so able an administrator and scholar as Sir Madava Row was led astray by this notion. “The religion,” said he in his Report for M.E 1042 “of the high-caste pupil forbids his associating with the low-caste pupil; and if the State in present circumstances throw the schools open indiscriminately to all castes, the practical alternatives offered to the high-castes are either that they should forego the advantage of State education, or secure that advantage under serious violence to religious feelings.”
But what becomes of the religious and conscientious objections of the highcaste pupils in the High School and College at Trevandrum, which are open to all who can manage to obtain the primary education and the means to continue it, and are actually attended by lads of low-castes and Christian converts of all sorts, except Pulayars ?
Do the Brahman and Sudra scholars of those institutions feel that they are losing their souls by sitting on the same benches with low-caste scholars, for the poor reward of an English education and the temporal benefits anticipated therefrom? So of the few District Schools open to all. And if it were a part of the religion of a moiety of the people to deprive the other moiety of their civil rights, such religious prejudices must give way, if common justice and the public good are to prevail.
Just think of the amazing selfishness arid effrontery of the demand made on the part of the wealthier and more respectable inhabitants. They have any amount of pecuniary means at command to establish schools for themselves as exclusive in principle as they please. To save their own pockets, however, they claim admission to the public schools, which may be regarded as a kind of charity. And they not only accept this charity, but they even venture to assert a claim to its exclusive enjoyment The wealthier classes are to benefit by the public expenditure for benevolent purposes : they will also drive off the poorer classes who shall dare to apply for the same, and who yet have contributed their proportionate share towards the general expenditure !
But the experiment has been made over and over again in the railways, government service, army, and schools of British India. So long, indeed, as but a few schools are open to all, we may expect the high-castes to hold aloof from them as inferior and stigmatized by the presence of the despised children, and to hold out the threat in other schools, that if the low-castes are admitted they will leave.
Mission schools in various parts of India have met with the same objection, and by manfully holding out against caste assumption they have gained the day, and their scholars have yielded within, at most, a few weeks. Let the experiment be but fairly and heartily tried in Travancore, and it will be seen how soon pretended “religious” objections will drop in all, as they have in the schools already open, and in British India. A broad and whole-hearted policy will command respect and secure the desired end, where timid and partial efforts might fail in presence of popular ignorance and ingrained prejudice.
It was once proposed to open separate schools for the instruction of Christian converts and others of low-caste. We trust that such a suggestion will never be carried into effect. For what would it be but to “aggravate as well as perpetuate unnecessary and hurtful distinctions of caste “which have already brought such mischief. Such a movement could not be other that retrogressive, tending to prop up the decaying system of caste, and lending fresh life to the evils still in existence, but now declining in strength through the spread of knowledge.
Nor would it be fair to the Christian community rapidly increasing in numbers, growing in intelligence, and rising in social position, to deny them opportunities for beneficial educational intercourse with respectable Hindus, and the advantages of emulation in the race for instruction and progress. Separate schools cannot properly be called public schools.
As to the indefeasible right of native Christians to a share in the public institutions of the country, few in these days will entertain any doubt. In a petition presented to the Maharajah in 1873, the point was dealt with as follows : —
“The native Protestant Christian community realize very strongly the disabilities to which they are still subjected, notwithstanding the remarkable manner and extent to which they have, as a body, risen in the social scale, despite of many obstacles. They deeply feel their anomalous and undeserved exclusion from the benefits of the Sirkar schools, while they are strenuously endeavouring to fulfil their part as your Highness’s loyal and obedient subjects; and as upright, peaceable, and industrious citizens.
"They have been already educated to a greater or less extent in the Vernaculars or in English, some of them for several generations past. They willingly contribute their full quota to the funds of the State, the amount of which is annually increasing. Several of them are actually paying annually much larger sums than neighbours of other castes, who are allowed access to the Sirkar schools. We therefore beg your Highness to issue orders for the admission of all cleanly, decently-dressed, and well-behaved children into all the schools supported at the public expense.”
It would be highly to the interest of the Travancore Government itself to elevate its subjects from the unfortunate condition of servitude and disability in which one third of the entire population are found at the present day, and to prevent their rising from which every effort is put forth by certain classes. Greater intelligence amongst the labourers would result in an enormous increase of production, and accession of wealth.
The waste lands in the interior of the country would soon be fully brought under cultivation, producing a most gratifying addition to the revenue. New manufactures and employments, as well as improvements in processes, might then with ease be introduced and augmented : comfort, enlightenment, and prosperity would assuredly follow the amelioration of the social condition of the people.
In these days it can scarcely be disputed that it is highly to the interest and advantage of a government to seek the welfare of all its subjects alike, not only to enlighten the upper classes and create in them a thirst for knowledge and refinement suited to their station, but also to raise the masses of the people to some incipient degree of intelligence and civilisation. This indeed is the professed principle of the Sirkar.
The administration Report for M.E, 1043 (1867) says — “The vernacular schools are growing extremely popular and will receive far greater development in a few years more, so that no subject of His Highness, however humble will have any excuse for being ignorant of reading and writing, and of arithmetic, geography, history, and the principles of morality.” Even the lowest in caste, it would appear from these words, are intended to be considered in their educational schemes, and this is undoubtedly right and desirable. But at present the excuse is available to them that they are not yet admitted into the Sirkar schools.
Were the low-caste population permitted fully to share in the advantages of government education, the utter helplessness, arising from ignorance, which places them at the mercy of the high-caste employers, inferior officials, and writers of legal documents, would be removed; they would be emboldened to claim the enjoyment of rights to which they are now entitled by law; and would be enabled by their ability to read and write, to judge whether they are being imposed upon or not, and to represent their grievances to the proper quarter for redress. (Unfortunately, this is precisely what the majority of the higher castes do not wish.) Absurd and groundless alarms, which produce endless suffering among these poor people, would then of necessity cease.
On one occasion, the Muhammadans of a certain locality near the capital, took advantage of the census to work upon the ignorance and fears of the surrounding Pulayar population, asserting that all their fowls and sheep were to be confiscated on the final day of enumeration, and that therefore they had better sell them off at any price; which was accordingly done, much to the profit of the wily rogues; and the unfortunate low-castes were thus deprived of their domestic animals. This could not have occurred had some little instruction, however elementary, been enjoyed by the Pulayars.
The education of the lower castes would also tend largely to develop the industrial and agricultural resources of the State. Considerable quantities of waste land are from time to time cleared by these people on private account; but they know not how to secure and register their rights over the property thus formed; and indeed receive but scant attention when they venture to apply to Sirkar officials for formal registration, so that lands cleared by them are, perhaps, enjoyed during the lifetime of the enterprising labourer, but fall, after his death, into the hands of the nearest high-caste employer or capitalist.
There is thus a lack of encouragement to these hardy people to clear and cultivate the jungle lands abounding at the foot of the Ghauts. Some little education would enable them to help themselves and to defend their own interests against unscrupulous oppressors; and the result would soon appear in their augmented ability to contribute to the public income.
Nearly all the expense incurred and effort put forth at present by the Sirkar is on behalf of the higher castes, and for higher and secondary education; with some exceptions, the mass of the labouring population has not yet been materially benefited or allowed to benefit. The expenditure, according to last published Report (M.E. 1056) on “Education, Science, and Art,” amounted to Rs. 183,696, but of this only Rs. 60,131 were for vernacular education, and this sum included the large District Schools, mostly for Brahman and Sudra boys.
About Rs. I9,000 is the expenditure for grants-in-aid to Mission Schools and a few others, to which alone all castes are admitted — say one tenth of the whole expenditure for one-third of the entire population, llavars, Shanars, Pariahs, Pulayars, and such like, constituting over a third of the population, are refused admission into the village or primary schools.
These castes are not yet regarded as of the masses that are to be educated; they are too humble in rank to be as yet admitted into the circle of “subjects of His Highness who are to be left without any excuse for being ignorant of reading and writing.”It was natural and proper that the Sirkar should begin with the higher classes. The higher educational institutions are now in full and very successful operation, and yearly increasing in efficiency, but the educated natives are doing little or nothing to raise the slave castes, and the great want of the country now is primary elementary education for the mass of the people, down to the very humblest. Once let them get a start in education and they can go on.
The words of Lord Mayo in his noble despatch of 1869, on the subject of education in British India, reaffirming the policy prescribed in 1854, very appropriately describe the present state of the case in Travancore. “
In 1854, the Court of Directors declared that up to that date the efforts of the Government had been too exclusively directed towards providing the means of acquiring a very high degree of education for a small number of natives of India, drawn for the most part from what we should call here the higher classes. Our attention should now be directed to a consideration, if possible, still more important, and one which has been hitherto, we are bound to admit, too much neglected, namely, how useful and practical knowledge suited to every station in life, may be best conveyed to the mass of the people who are utterly incapable of obtaining any education worthy of the name by their own unaided efforts. The higher classes will now be gradually called upon to depend more upon themselves.”
Certainly the Annual Reports of the Administration of Travancore for the last twenty years show a highly admirable increase of attention to higher education, and of expenditure upon it which reflects great credit on the Government, yet we cannot forget that nearly all the effort and most of the expenditure have been on behalf of the higher castes, who really have it in their power to help themselves did they desire to do so, while the lower castes are left almost untouched by the present system of education.
The last Census Report states that out of 32 taluks, or counties, there are six in which less than 4 per cent of the population can read and write; and one with less than 3 per cent. Out of 97,730 Shanars, only 1,924 males and 8 females can read and write; and out of 383,017 Ilavars only 5,928 males and 93 females. Of 56,274 Coravens only 58 males and no females; of 63688 Pariahs only 192 males and no females; and of 188,916 Pulayars only 183 males and no females.
This is all that has been effected, notwithstanding abundance of funds and loud professions of high aims, for the most necessitous portions of the population, by the English education of the nobles and high-caste people of Travancore; and even of this small amount of education, much must be attributable to the labours of the Missionary Societies, strangers and foreigners, who have so long laboured and pleaded for the outcasts. Is it not high time to do something for these unfortunates ?
Let the educated natives of Travancore show the practical effect of the higher education enjoyed by themselves, by allowing it to filter downwards a little. Let them take a decided stand against the social evils of caste. Let them make an attempt in real earnest to raise the masses by primary education and by a few firm and resolute measures against the cruel oppression of the poor and helpless; and a solid and general advance in national prosperity, power, and happiness will speedily be evident to the world.