FIRST UPRISING: AGAINST NAIR DOMINANCE IN TRAVANCORE (1822-1859)
The educational and social services rendered by the Protestant Christian Missionaries, in addition to their usual evangelism among the oppressed community of South Travancore opened the eyes of the Nadar Community which suffered most, towards liberation. In the persecutions which followed in various places in South Travancore the Hindus, Romanists and Muslims united together against the Protestant Christians particularly Nadars. The Nairs were foremost in action, but the Brahmins and others were behind the scenes. Samuel Mateer observedThe Land of Charity, Madras, 1991, p.278, “On the whole then, it was determined, that by some means or by any means a stop must be put to the progress of Christianity and to the spread of the reforms and innovations already in progress and impending.” The Christians, particularly the Nadar Protestants rose up to break the yoke of bondage imposed on them by the high castes, particularly by the Nairs.
The Nadars who embraced Protestant Christianity with the help of the missionaries managed to obtain many a relaxation from the government. In all, the relief from the Ooliam service hurt much the Nairs directly. For the Nairs lived by the exploitative labour freely rendered by the Nadars at their beck and call. Nadars began to refuse their invitation and often demanded wages for the work doneC.M. Agur, Church History of Travancore (1903) App. XVIII (3). A Proclamation exempting Christian from compulsory duties connected with Pagodas, Moorajebam and other, Hindu religious festivals and Devasam work, dated 16th Margali 991 (1815). Hence the Nairs were infuriated.
Secondly, the women of those who embraced Christianity were allowed to use upper garment to cover bosom like the high caste Nair ladiesIbid., App. XVIII (4). Order from Colonel J. Munro, Resident Dewan to the Sarvadicariacars of Trivandrum and Neiyattangurry Taluq dated Quilon the 19th of Dhanoo 988 (1812). This was considered an insult by the Nairs.
Thirdly, the economic and social progress of the Christian Nadars under the patronage of the missionaries irritated the Nairs. Their anger was mainly on the missionaries who were responsible for the progress and courage of the Nadars. Therefore the Nairs decided to wipe out the missionaries, their mission churches the schools and the Nadar convertsD. Peter (Ed) Years of Challenge, 1828-1853 (1994) pp.38-44. Revd. C. Mead to Captain Sibbald Officer Commanding stationed at Udayagiry on the subject of disturbances. In all these struggles, Nadars of Kalkulam and Vilavancode taluks of South Travancore suffered much, since the Nair settlements were comparatively high in those taluks.
The struggle first started in Kalkulam taluk. In May 1822, a few Nadar women went to the church covering the upper part of their body with a jacket. They were molested by the Nairs, their jackets were torn to pieces and filthy words were used against themR.N. Yesudhas, The History of London Missionary Society in Travancore – 1806-1908,Trivandrum, 1980, p.175. Retaliation proceeded from the Nadars. The missionary, Charles Mead reported the matter to the British Resident in Travancore. The Resident directed the Padbanabapuram Court to study the matter and report. The judgement came in favour of the ChristiansC.M. Agur, op.cit., App. XVIII (2). Decree of the Court of Palpanabapuram relating to the upper cloth dress worn by Christian women, Vakeel No.177 dated 7th Vykasi 998 (1823).
Jubilant over the judgement the Christian ladies gained confidence and boldly began to use upper garments and freely moved to market places and to the church. The Nairs were determined to assault those who violated their wishes. In the year 1828, struggle burst out at Attoor, Kannanoor, Thirparappu, Arumanai, Udayarvilai and Pulippanam in Kalkulam TalukD. Peter (Ed), op.cit., pp.38-44. Under the leadership of Eswara Pillai, the Revenue Inspector of those places in collusion with Pidagaicars plotted against the Christians. Christian churches were burnt, Christians were caught, tied together, thrashed and put in jail. To hunt the Christians, they used bow and arrow, sticks, swords and guns. They came round and round with all these weapons to spread fear over the Christian areas. The Christians were branded as terrorists and traitors and their movements were watchedD. Peter (Ed) op.cit., pp.58-62. Summary of Complaints lodged at the Padbanabhapuram Cutchery in January 1829.
As Kalkulam taluk had a sizable number of Nairs, the Christians of that taluk had to suffer a lot. Kaisapillai, Neelakandapillai and Madhavan Pillai of the Attoor locality terrorized the Christians and placed their lives and properties under insecurityD. Peter (Ed), op.cit., pp.172-174. Letter of Autoor Adigaram Christians to the Acting Resident of Travancore. Raman Pillai said, “What business have the gentlemen in this country? What can these Kaluvaris(Naughty) fellows do? If we burn down all the chapels so that no one should remain, these Kaluvaris will return to their country”D. Peter (Ed), op.cit., pp.38-44.
Attoor Church and the houses of Christians were burnt down. Their paddy, jaggary,clothing, ornaments, etc. were destroyed. Attoor school master and some Christians were tied together and elephants were employed to drag them to Thuckalay jailIdem. A dead man’s body was lying on the road side. Responsibility for his death was thrust on some Christians and they were arrested and brought under custody. The ears of a woman aged 90 were cut and the ornaments were stolen. One Vedamonikam of Pampadikonam was murdered by the Nairs. They threatened to destroy the bungalow of Resident Colonel MecaulayIdem.
Even though the Christians were exempted from Ooliam services on Sundays, they were caught and compelled to do Ooliam services on Sundays in order to prevent them from going to the ChurchIbid., p.33, Letter of Revd. Mault and Revd. Mead. A Christian from Kannanoor refused to do Ooliam service on a Sunday. He was caught by the furious Nairs on a Sunday 21 December 1826 and was forced to carry coconut leaves to Padbanabapuram to feed the elephants in the Fort. On hearing this a Nadar named Esakimadan who embraced Christianity with the co-operation of certain others relieved that Christian who was loaded with coconut leaves. The same leaves were loaded on a Nair and transported back to Kannanoor Church. This incident shook the Nair society very badlyIbid., p.158, An Arzee from the Tassildar of Kalkulam District, Dated 18th Kartigay 1004.
With a view to punish the Nadar Christians who were responsible for such an incident, some Nairs of Attoor Adigaram, after two days assembled one mile away from Kannanoor Church with sticks, swords, guns and other weapons. Hearing this the Christian Nadars of Kannanoor Church left their houses and ran away. Those who remained in the houses were beaten and the houses were plundered and the Church was burntC.M. Agur, op.cit., p.834.
After this incident, during nights, the Nair terrorists used to go round with deadly weapons and torches, shouting slogans against the missionaries. Wherever they went, the churches and schools of the mission were burnt down and the Christians were severely beaten. On 22 December, the servant of Charles Mead went to Trivandrum to get bread for Mead. On his way he was stopped and enquired. He said that he was from the Army Camp. The Nairs who stopped him said that he would have been killed if he was associated with MeadIbid., pp.840 & 841.
In the Vilavancode taluk region, the Nairs prevented the Christians from going to the Church and giving sermons in the ChurchD. Peter (Ed), op.cit., pp.58-62. Packianathan of Kanjiracode Church was prevented from preaching the gospel. He was threatened by saying that his house and the Church would be burnt if he violated their wish. Savarial Gnanappu and Annal of this village were teased and their jackets were torn to pieces while going to the market. Mallam Pillai of the same village, under the instigation of Nattalam Pakuthi Provartikar and the head of the same village did all these thingsIbid., pp.9-12: Petition from the Chanoo and Cauvathy inhabitants of Eraniel, Kulicoolum, Coolitorah Talooks of Travancore Sircar to the Resident. When this matter was complained to the Provartikar by the Reader of the Church, he was warned that he would also be beaten if these women wore jackets any moreIbid., pp.58-62.
Gunamudayal and Neetiyudayal of Kunnathoor went to the market at Kallankuzhi. They were beaten and their jackets were torn to pieces. Likewise Yesudial who went to the Kuzhivilai market was also beaten and her jacket was torn to pieces by Poothamadan Chetty and Mallan Pillai. Women of Vetha Madan’s and Arumugam’s house went to the market wearing the jacket Ibid., pp.9-12. Sankara Pillai threatened them saying that they were violating the usual custom. Those ladies went to the house and returned with broom stick in their hand and their men followed them with stick and other weapons. Seeing this, Sankara Pillai ran awayIbid., pp.162&163 An Arzee by the Padagaicars of Madalam Adigaram in Yaraniel District Dated 14th Margaly 1004. This was complained to the Midalam Pidagaikar.
The climax in this struggle was that an attempt to the life of the missionary, Charles Mead was made. On 3 January 1829, the Nairs planned to attack his residence at Mondaicaud. Knowing this, Mead secretly informed the matter to Captain Sibald who was stationed at Oodayagiri Fort. Captain Sibald came in time and rescued the life and properties of MeadC.M. Agur, op.cit., p.838.
Nanjil Nadu Struggle
Vellalas who enjoyed social status on par with the Nairs lived in Thovalai and Agasteeswaram taluks in Travancore. They also oppressed the Christians. Vellalas of Bhoothapandi, Maravas and certain others joined together and attacked the Christians of Thittuvilai area. One school teacher and thirteen other Christians who were in their houses were dragged out and put into the Bhoothapandi Satram Jail. Some of them confessed that they were not ChristiansIbid., pp.98-100, A letter to Col. Morrison, Resident, dated January 27th, 1829 by Revd. C. Mault. Those who recanted were released and others were tortured. Watching this tragedy, the Muslims and the Catholic Christians of the area rejoiced. The reason was that the growth of the Protestant Christians was considered as a menace to themIbid., p.32.
In 1828, rioting started and extended for six months. Hence the missionaries, Mead and Mault requested the British Resident Colonel Morrison to give protection to the ChristiansIbid., p.36. The Resident requested Dewan Venketa Rao to enquire the matter. Accordingly Dewan came to Padmanabapuram Fort on 11 January 1829 and made an enquiry.
Dewan Venkata Rao conducted an enquiry, accordingly an order was released in February 1829 Ibid., p.110-112, Proclamation by Her Highness the Ranee dated the 23rd Tye 1004 corresponding with the 3rd February 1829, putting numerous restrictions on the dress of Christian women. Those woman converts to Christianity were allowed to wearKuppayam, (a loose jacket) only and were prohibited from wearing dresses like those of the Nair women. Next, those who embraced Christianity were exempted from Ooliam duties only on Sundays and they had to do Ooliamduties on other days. But they were not bound to do Ooliam service to the Hindu temples and Devasams. Thirdly, it was declared that low castes of all categories were prohibited to follow or imitate the high caste customs and manners. Construction of worship places without the permission of the Government was barred. Again the order insisted that the complaints, if any, should be lodged only to the government officials and not to any non-governmental officer or personIdem. The officials were Nairs and they supported always the Nairs. So the low caste people lost confidence in them. The order was intended only to prohibit the Christians from complaining to the missionaries.
1829 order was painful to the Protestant Christians and to the missionary, Charles Mead in particular who fought for the liberation of low castes from the clutches of high caste Nairs. Mead considered that this order was an attempt to suppress the growth of Christianity. By this order the Christians did not get any relief. Those who languished in jail due to false case lodged by the high caste Nairs were suffering from diseases also. Their families were in starvation. Considering the sufferings of his converts, Mead had to fight with the Government for longIbid., pp.113-115. Letter of Revd. C. Mead to the Resident of Travancore, February 13, 1829.
By the 1829 order, the Government could neither stop the growth of Christianity nor find solution to the problems of Christians. Christians were occasionally and here and there attacked by the Nairs and it was a continuing story. Under such circumstances, in the year 1855 the order relating to the abolition of slavery was proclaimed. The Nairs who were benefitted much by the slaves were severely affected by the proclamation for which the Christian Missionaries were instrumental. The slaves attained the ownership of the land which they cultivated. The control the Nairs had over the slaves vanished. This order put the Nairs in shame and they began to crush the Christians and the Missionaries who were responsible for their pitiable plightSamuel Zachariah (Reprint Tamil), Then Thiruvithankottu Thiruchabai Charithira Churukkam, Part-II, p.14.
The Proclamation of Queen Victoria of England in the year 1858 confused both Nairs and the Nadars. The Nairs considered that the Proclamation was in their favour. With the help of the Nair officials, the Nairs took the law into their hands and started oppressing the Nadars. The Nadar community thought that they were given the right to disobey the existing social customs and traditionsV. Nagan Aiya (Reprint), The Travancore State Manuel, Vol.I, New Delhi, 1989, p.526. The Hindu Nadar women also began to dress like the Christian Nadar women covering the upper part of their body. For this, the Christian Nadars helped the Hindu Nadars. The Nairs began to attack brutally the Christian Nadars with the assistance of other low caste communities R.N. Yesudhas, A Peoples Revolt in Travancore (1975) pp.190 & 191. Letter from Rev. John Cox to the Resident on 21 Jan. 1859 about the disturbances in Neyyatinkara. As a result in Neyyatinkarai, Kalkulam, Vilavancode. Thovalai and Agasteeswaram rioting burst out severely in December 1858V. Nagam Aiya, op.cit., p.526.
Rioting vigorously cropped up in Neyyoor region on 25 December 1858F. Baylis, Report of the Neyyoor Mission District for the year 1859, UTC Archives, Bangalore, (Referred by J.W. Gladston, Protestant Christianity and People’s Movements in Kerala, Trivandrum, 1984, p.88). The Nairs entered into the Neyyoor village and manhandled all those Christians whom they came across. The women who wore jackets were attacked and jackets were torn to pieces. Fearing the Nair attack the Christian Nadars of that village ran away. Children and women found shelter in the Mission Bungalow. This struggle reflected in almost all the Neyyoor Mission villages. Under the pretext of service to the government, the Nairs captured four people from the Kallankuzhi village, tied them together, beat them severely, put them under lock-up and released them after many daysJohn A. Jacob (Tamil) Then Thiruvithancore London Missionary Sankra Charitran – 1806-1956, Nagercoil, 1956, pp.68 & 69. After two days, the Kallankuzhi Church was burnt down. On 27 December the Meicode Church was also burnt downC.M. Agur, op.cit., p.932.
The taluks of Agasteeswaram and Thovalai were also affected severely. Houses of three Nadars were burnt down in the James Town village on 29 December 1858Samuel Mateer, op.cit., p.302. On 4 January 1859 rioting started at Kottar near Nagercoil. Nairs and Vellalas joined together and attacked the Nadar Christians and their properties.R.N. Yesudhad, Ibid. The Christian women were beaten up and their upper garments were torn to pieces. Under the leadership of Vaidiyalingam Pillai and Neelam Pillai nearly 200 Vellalas and Nairs assembled and marched towards Thazhakudy village with sticks and cutting knives. The party attacked the Christians, beat and tore the jackets of the women. They planned to burn the church and the school and to kill the catechist and the school teacher. Hence the Church and the school were closed for many weeks. Christians of Thazhakudi evacuated the villageIbid., pp.196-198, Letter from Rev. James Russel to the Resident of Travancore regarding the disturbances in Nanjil Nad. Three days prior to the Thazhakudi incident, nearly 500 Vellalas along with the government officers marched to Kumarapuram, Iraviputhur and Marungoor villages, entered into the houses of the Christians and plundered. Men ran away and women were dragged out of their houses, molested and the upper garments were torn to piecesIdem. Such type of rioting happened at Aralvaimozhi, Chemponvilai and Kattuputhoor villages.
On 10 January 1859, the Church at Vadakkankarai and the Resident’s Bungalow at Nagercoil were burnt down. On the same day about 50 Vellalas met catechist of Chellamthuruthi and ordered him not to open the church and preach. If he obeyed their order, they promised him to offer half a kottah, a local measure of paddy per monthIdem. Between 11 and 16 January, two churches and schools were burnt down. In Thittuvilai a Nadar Christian and his wife were assaulted severely and his house and the adjoining 27 houses were set on fireV. Nagam Aiya, op.cit., p.529. In many places, Christians were dragged to render Ooliam services to the Hindu Temples on Sundays. They were compelled to give up Christianity and to mark Hindu symbols on their foreheadIdem. As there prevailed insecurity to the Christian missionaries and to their family members, special guards were arranged to watch their living places.Samuel Mateer, op.cit., p.303. In Agasteeswaram, the Nadar Christians gathered people and raised funds to give a counter attack to the brutal deeds of the Vellalas and Nairs. They sought the support of the Tirunelveli Nadars alsoV. Nagam Aiya, loc.cit.
In Neyyatinkarai, two women went to Aralumoodu market. They were beaten up by a last grade government servant and brought before the Neyyatinkarai jail officer. The jacket of one woman was torn into pieces, pulled off and hung on the tree near the jail. A group of nearly 400 people consisting of Muslims, Chetties and others were roaming about Aramanoor, Puthenkarai and Thirupuram markets on 15 and 19 January 1859 with a view to attack ChristiansIdem.
Interference of Missionaries
When rioting was at its peak, the Missionaries, John Cox, Russel, Whitehouse, Lewis and Baylis jointly complained to the British Resident in TravancoreCover File No. 2115, F. Baylis to Cullen, Neyyoor, January 1859, English Records, Kerala State Archives, Trivandrum. They wrote and met the king directly and explained to him the sufferings of the ChristiansPetition of the LMS Missionaries, dated February 7th, 1859, Madras Political Proceedings 27th August to 2nd September 1859 Referred by J.W. Gladston, op.cit., p.90. As the missionaries could not get any solution from the King of Travancore, they sought the help of the British Governor at Madras, Charles Trevelyan. On 6 May 1859, Trevelyan wrote a letter to the British Resident in Travancore, General Cullen expressing his dissatisfaction over the unlawful customs and traditions followed in Travancore. He asked General Cullen to impress upon the Maharaja regarding the painful dress regulations adopted against the traditions of Christians and othersCopies of Official Papers sent from India Touching the Recent Disturbances in Travancore, p.39-47, Minutes of the Hon. President, 7th May, 1859, Tamil Nadu Archives, Madras.
On the compulsion of the government of Madras, the Dewan and Maharaja had half a mind to agree to the demand of the Nadars. Accordingly on 26 July 1859, the Travancore Government permitted all the Nadar women to wear Kuppayam like the Christian Nadar women, irrespective of religion. The Nadar women of any religion were permitted to cover the upper part of the body by any means excepting the style of the Nair womenProclamations from 1858 to 1874 A.D., Proclamation of 1859 A.D., Kerala State Archives, Trivandrum. Even though this order was not satisfactory to the Nadars, this privilege was not granted to the other low castes.
Missionaries were not satisfied with the 1859 order of the Government. As the other low caste women were not permitted to cover the breast, the missionaries expected clash in the future. Hence regarding the dress, they again wrote a letter to the Governor of Madras condemning the attitude of the Travancore Government. The Governor summoned the Resident to his office and had a talk on the subject. The Governor advised the Resident, Maltby to use all his influence on the Maharaja to remove all dress restrictions imposed on all castes. Maltby reported the wish of the British Government to the MaharajaPolitical Proceedings 28th August 1860, Despatch from the Rt. Hon. Sir. C. Wood, Secretary of State for India, to His Excellency the Hon. Governor in Council. Fort St. George, 24th July 1860, No.17, Tamil Nadu Archives, Madras. Maharaja felt that if he did not oblige, there would arise strained relationship between Travancore and the British. Hence in 1865 an order was released permitting all low castes to dress like the Nadar women. Even then the low caste women were not permitted to dress like the Nair womenNeetu, Vol.71, pp.210 & 211, Proclamation of Mithunam 1040 ME (1865 A.D.) Kerala State Archives, Trivandrum.
|As time passed by, all the restrictions imposed on the low castes vanished one by one. However the enmity that arose between the Nairs and the Nadars remained submerged and unresolved. It re-emerged after one century and the Nadars had to fight again during the middle of the twentieth century to reclaim their liberation. This liberation is neither the gift of the Travancore Kings nor the generosity of the Nairs and Vellalas but was the preragative attained||Travancore Kings by the sustained efforts of the oppressed community, the Nadars, unrelenting support of Protestant Christian Missionaries and the unrestricted co-operation of the British Residents in Travancore.
Pedagogi Strategy: An interactive question
(Dr. D. Peter)
Kanyakumari Institute of Development Studies (KIDS),
266, Water Tank Road, Nagercoil-629001
Phone : +91 4652 279745
Mobile : +91 9043952430