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Commentary on Travancore State Manual
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!
The real reformers of India, Malabar & Travancore

Then the next item that this book brings out is the position of the English rulers as the most prominent social reformers in the Indian peninsula region, which includes Malabar District (of Madras Presidency) and the Travancore kingdom. It is true that Guru Sree Narayana has been credited as a social reformer with regard to the Ezhavas of Travancore kingdom. I am not very sure as to what his exact achievements were. I understand that he was a Vedic scholar as mentioned in the Wikipedia. Moreover, he did building a few temples, which was a deed actually not allowed for the lower caste Ezhavas. He was possibly a person with a lot of personal daring and scholarship.

However, there is huge background to this social reformation and this is directly connected to the English domination of this geographical area. A new language which was devoid of feudal content, no pejorative words for You, He, Him, His, She, Her, Hers, They, Them etc. And a new social structuring seen in English interaction. These things were to create great social changes. Many of them quite painful, for some. For, it was more or less leading the servant classes who sat on the floor to dare to think of sitting on a chair, and to aspire for higher social positions. It was a dangerous and quite unnerving situation. For, the lower classes were aspiring for all this without proper English education.

See these quotes:

1. But the Pillamars and Madampimars (petty chiefs) resented this act of the Rani, and in November 1697 A.D., the factory of Anjengo was violently attacked on the plea that the English were pirates, but without success. Mr. Logan writes:

“It may however be doubted whether this, their ostensible reason, was the true one, for as will presently appear, the presence of the English in Travancore was gradually leading to a revolution in that State”

[Naturally this development was clearly understood as dangerous by the upper castes. One can’t blame them. My Comment]

2. From Velu Tampi’s Proclamation: It is the nature of the English nation to get possession of countries by treacherous means, and should they obtain ascendancy in Travancore, they will .............................. suppress the Brahmanical communities,..................................... get low caste people to inflict heavy punishments for slight faults, ..........................compel intermarriages with Brahman women without reference to caste or creed and practise all the unjust and unlawful things which characterize Kaliyuga.

[Actually all this was done by the Indian government after the formation of India in 1947. In fact, if one were to make a slight disparaging comment about a lower caste man, he can currently end up in prison. My Comment]

3. In 1833 A.D., there was a disturbance raised by the Shanars of South Travancore, but the riot was easily put down without military aid.

4. Shanar converts and Hindus— Disturbances in South Travancore. Reference has already been made to the establishment of the London Mission Society in South Travancore and the great toleration afforded to the Christian Missions by the Travancore Government that led to the rapid spread of Christianity in Nanjanad.

5. The result was that the Shanar converts (it may be observed here that the Mission work of conversion was mostly if not exclusively confined to the Shanars, Pariahs and other low-caste people), who were looked down upon by the high-caste Hindus, relying on the support of the missionaries, caused great annoyance to them.

6. The casus belli in this case arose from the Shanar Christian females assuming the costume of high-caste women. By long-standing custom, the inferior classes of the population were forbidden to wear an upper cloth of the kind used by the higher classes.

[My Comment: It would be similar to the Constables wearing IPS officers’ uniform]

7. During the administration of Col. Munro, a Circular order was issued permitting the women referred to, to cover their bodies with jackets {kuppayam) like the women of Syrian Christians, Moplas, and such others, but the Native Christian females would not have anything less than the apparel of the highest castes. So they took the liberty of appearing in public not only with the kuppayam already sanctioned, but with an additional cloth or scarf over the shoulders as worn by the women of the higher castes. These pretensions of the Shanar convert women were resented by the high-caste Nayars and other Sudras who took the law into their own hands and used violence to those who infringed long-standing custom and caste distinctions.

8. The women of the Shanars or toddy-drawers who abound in South Travancore and from among whom the Protestant Missionaries have for the last sixty years reaped the richest harvest, had been prevented from covering the upper part of their person.

9. The mutual jealousies between the Sahanars and the Sudras were dormant for some time, but the Queen’s Proclamation of November 1858 on the assumption of the direct Government of India renovated these feelings. The Shanara imagined that it permitted them to infringe existing rules while the Sudras equally considered it as sanctioning their taking the law into their own hands to repress what they took as an aggression into their caste domains. Serious affrays ensued, and these were aggravated by the gratuitous interference of petty Sirkar officials whose general standard of capacity and moral worth we have already alluded to. Public peace was imperilled.

[My Comment: British government had taken over the rule from the East India Company]

10. “Numbers of Shanars, and Soodras with Lubbays waited on me and complained against each other, on the subject of the upper cloth.”

11. In December 1858 A.D., the two communities had assumed hostile positions against each other and troubles of a serious nature broke out. The Sudras openly attacked the Shanar women who dared to appear in public in high-caste costume and the Shanars duly retaliated.

12. Sir Charles Trevelyan, as Governor of Madras wrote to the Resident in these strong terms: “I have seldom met with a case, in which not only truth and justice, but every feeling of our common humanity are so entirely on one side. The whole civilised world would cry shame upon us, if we did not make a firm stand on such an occasion.

13. Dewan’s reply to English Governor in Madras: As the Shanars took it upon themselves to infringe the Proclamation of 1004 M.E., so the Soodras took it upon themselves to punish such infringement. The Shanar women were attacked when they openly appeared with what was considered the high caste costume. The Shanars on the other hand did not confine themselves to a bare defence. They too retaliated the outrages on Soodra women.

14. “The decree of interference which for many years past has been exercised by the representative of the British Government in the Affairs greatly rests with the British Government and it has thereby become their duty to insist upon the observance of a system of toleration, in a more decided manner, than they would be at liberty to adopt, if they had merely to bring their influence to bear on an independent State.”

15. A Royal Proclamation was accordingly issued on the 26th July 1859 abolishing all restrictions in the matter of the covering of the upper parts of Shanar women and granting them perfect liberty to meet the requirements of decency any way they might deem proper with the simple reservation, however, that they should not imitate the dress of the women of high castes.

Now, what has to be borne in mind is that this history mentions a lot of socio-political activity by the Shanars, which included meetings and united actions. The question is who the leaders of this movement were. Who gave them the moral support? It is sure that without some moral support, people who are kept on the lower side of the feudal language, like Nee, Avan, Aval, Avattakkal etc. will not be able to negotiate with honour and dignity. Their only option would be to create rumpus and go in for rioting.

Moreover, there is a story connected to Sree Narayana Guru. When some higher caste persons came and queried upon him as to his right to set up a Shiva temple, and do puja there, he is said to have answered that he was only consecrating an Ezhava Shivan. Even though that it might be quite easy to believe that anyone lower class person can get away with such wisecracking, the truth is the even now, not many persons would dare to answer in such a tone when addressed by persons with authority. Unless they have some powerful backing. As to the Shanar leadership, it can be seen that they were crushed by police power. Now, what would that mean? In Travancore, even now, it would mean taking to the police station and beating up to a pulp, amid a shower of such abusive words as Poorimon, Pundachimon, Thayoolimon etc.

The moot question is why the current day Ezhava leadership doesn’t try to seek out these poor leaders who never seem to have arrived in the limelight.

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