19th century kerala :- castes and manners ;from 'land of charity' book 1850's



Could we depict in true and vivid colours the miseries and woes of the

Pulayars

and other slave population of Travancore, the hearts of our readers would melt with pity and compassion for their temporal sufferings and spiritual danger.


Mention can only be made of some of the bare facts as to how the inhuman system of caste affects the poor Pulayan in his person, his house and family, his business, his religious worship, and, in short, throughout the whole of his wretched life.


The very name expresses the idea of impurity ; it is derived from the word '' pida,''' funeral pollution.









With regard to his personal comfort and deportment, the only dress of the degraded Pulayan is a piece of coarse cloth fastened round the loins, and a small piece tied around the head as a head-dress.

To women, as well as to men, it was forbidden, until 1865 (when, through the benevolent inter- position of the British Government, the restriction was removed) to wear any clothing whatever above the waist.

Their ornaments must be no more valuable than brass or beads, umbrellas must not be used to shelter the body from the scorching heat of the sun, nor shoes to protect the feet from the thorns and sharp stones of the jungle paths.


The Pulayan has no education, for who would be found willing to teach, or even to approach, the impure one


1 The language which he is compelled to use is in the highest degree abject and degrading. He dare not say " I," but " rtc?/y/ere,"[aen//adiyan] "your slave;" he dare not call his rice ^^ dwru"[choru];but '■'■ Uarilmdi"[ ] — dirty gruel. He asks leave, not to take food, but " to drink A vater[ ]." His house is called " mddam" a hut, and his children he speaks of as " monkeys " or " calves ;[kidavu?] " and when speaking he must place the hand over the mouth, lest the breath should go forth and pollute the person whom he is addressing.


The Pulayan's home is a little shed, which barely affords shelter from the rain and space to lie down at night, destitute alike of comfort and furniture. It must be built in a situation far from the houses of all respectable persons.

Let him dare to attempt the erection of a better house, and it will immediately be torn down by the infuriated Sudras.

Very rarely has the Pulayan land of his own. It belongs to the Sudra master, and the poor slave is liable to be expelled from the land wlich he occupies, and from his means of living, if he claims the freedom to which he is now entitled by law.

I have known Sudras even take forcible possession of waste land which had been cleared and cultivated by Pulayars. In the transaction of the ordinary business of life, the disabilities of the low caste man are such that it is hard to imagine how human beings could ever have been held in a condition of subservience to them. But we must remember the effect of thousands of years of oppression and tyranny

. The Pulayan is not allowed to use the public road
when a Brahman or Sudra walks on it. The poor slave must utter a warning cry, and hasten off the roadway into the mud on one hand or the briers on the other, lest the high caste man should be polluted by his near approach or by his shadow.

The law is (and I was informed by a legal authority that it is still binding-NOT NOW) that a Pulayan must never approach a Brahman nearer than ninety-six paces, and he must remain at about half this distance from a Sudra.

I have often seen the Sudra master shouting from the prescribed distance to his slaves toiling in the fields.

The Pulayan cannot enter a court of justice, — he must shout from the appointed distance, and take his chance of being heard and receiving attention. A policeman is sometimes stationed halfway between the Pulayan witness or prisoner and the high caste magistrate, to transmit the questions and answers, the distance being too great for convenient hearing.



As he cannot enter a town or village, no employment is open to him except that of working in rice-fields, and such kind of labour.

orders have been issued by the Government to allow the admission of the low castes to the public courts and a few of the English schools.

No one, however, who understands the force of caste prejudice in Travancore can imagine that this concession will largely affect the condition of the low caste population for a long time to come.

Nothing is yet being attempted for the education of these slave castes.

from 'land of charity' book 1850's