‘Satyagraha’ struggles of South Travancore(IN 1830) took place about 75 years before the Satyagraha movement of Gandhiji in South Africa


After Ravi Varma Kulashekhara (AD 1295-1333) matrilineal system came into Travancore’s political succession. Trouble started when Rama Varma (AD 1271 – 29) handed over power to Marthanda Varma (as per the matrilineal system). His sons Pappu Thampi and Raman Thampi resented this and their consequential refusal to the proposal of Marthanda Varma to marry their sister Kochi Madamma led to a cold war in which the Nadars took the side of the Thampis. The complexity of the palace-politics was such that an incident of attempt on the life of the king led to the branding of the men in his security squad as the conspirators. Since these men were from the Nadar community the caste itself had to suffer.
Some Nadar families who accepted the matrilineal system or were involved in saving the life of the king were rewarded with land-grants and were permitted to lead a normal life with the title of Nadans.

Shanars fall foul of the King and become outcastes and untouchables:-

The poorer / politically depressed segments of Nadars were called Shanars. They were Kshatriya’s and served as accountants and administrators in Chera and Pandya kingdoms. They were found in South Travancore as well as in the Thirunelveli-Madurai belt. The Nadars of Thirunelveli-Madurai fought against the Vijaya Nagara and Naicker armies in Madurai under Kumaravira Marthanda Nadar and were pushed to the sandy deserts of Thirunelveli when the Naicker Armies overran them. Similarly, the Nadars of Travancore became victims of the political twists created by the matriarchal system

The scriptures of the land gave the Brahmins a license to impose themselves as a power from ‘above’. The
following statements of Manu illustrate the point: Manu says. “whatever exists in the universe is all the property of the Brahmin, for, the Brahmin is entitled to it all by his superiority and eminence of birth.
No Brahmin could be sentenced to death, however, heinous his crime was”. That they enjoyed complete freedom in sexual life is clear from the orders of Venmani rulers: “The women who do not yield to the wish of the man of the same or superior castes are immoral and should be put to death immediately”

Of the numerous (- the number goes to 110) taxes levied on the Shanars, perhaps the most onerous one was the head / poll tax. They were to pay a poll tax not only for the living members of the caste but also for those who were dead. To escape this they often migrated to the neighboring Thirunelveli district which lay outside the jurisdiction of Travancore kings. The Nadars paid tax for their palmyra trees, palm leaf, jaggery, the dry leaves used as fuel, and for the hut they lived in.
Some people were forced to pay taxes for the hair they grew and for the breasts of women (called breast tax). “There were taxes on oil mills, bows, iron and forges, exchanges, palanquins, boats and nets, hunting and keeping civet cat etc. at the festival of Onam, Dipavali, harvest, the end of year and various anniversaries”. There was also an important tax called ‘purushantaram’, a tax of twenty five percent normally levied on all hereditary property.
the Nadars and Ezhavas should remain atleast 12 feet away from the Nairs. “A Nair who immediately
kills an Ezhava for going within 36 feet of a Brahmin would attain heaven.It was required of women that ‘the women of the humbler castes should expose, at the approach of the Brahmins  their bosoms
Touchability: Against the prevailing order of untouchability (where, for example the priest will put ‘tilak’ on the foreheads of the upper caste people but will throw it in a secluded place for the lower caste people to collect), Ayya instructed the priests to touch the devotee’s forehead and mark the ‘tilak’.Most Shanars were indeed given to various forms of ‘demon’ worship attended with animal sacrifices, costly offerings and

Col. Macaulay was forced to remark: “if the poor wretch who tills the soil and reaps the grain should happen accidentally and ignorantly to cross any Nair in his path, the monster draws his sword and kills him on the spot with impunity
Robert L. Hardgrave describes the situation as follows: “Nadars must remain 36 paces from a Nambudiri-Brahmin and must come no closer than 12 feet to a Nair. As members of a degraded caste, Nadars were prohibited from carrying an umbrella and from wearing shoes or golden ornaments. Their house cannot be higher than one-storey. They were not allowed to milk cows. Nadar women were not permitted to carry pots of water on their hips as was the custom among the higher castes; nor were they permitted to cover the upper part of their bodies. They were subjected to heavy taxation and while they were not enslaved, as were the Pulayas, the Nadars were forced to peform covree labor in service to the State.”

It was in fact through the endeavors of the L.M.S that the poll-tax, Sunday Ulium(free) service, slavery and some other grievances were redressed and the aspiration of the converts to go up in education,social status and personal worth were partly realized The governmental orders, for example, permitting women to use upper cloth, were applicable only for the Shanars who had become Christians. This led to a cultural alienation of the new converts from the community and at the same time brought them into a class- confrontation with the upper classes – for example with Nairs who always wanted the denial of the upper cloth as a process of easy identification of the lower caste people.

The converted community also had to face the horrors of anti-Christian anti-British rebellions, for example the one led by Veluthampi in 1809. “The rebellion left, according to a European Christian estimate, nine Christian priests and over 3000 Christians maimed, tortured and thrown into backwaters” The congregation of Christians at Mylaudi hid themselves in the nearby mountains to escape the wrath of the participants of the rebellion who were eventually crushed by the British troops

The epoch making movements in South Travancore were:-
[1]The advent of Vaikunta Swami Cult (‘Ayyavazhi’) during the 1809--1851period
[2]Narayana Guru and Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam AD 1856-1928
[3]Sadu Jana Paripalana Sangham due to Sri Ayyankali (AD 1863-1914)

All the three were to liberate the untouchable /(unseeable !) social groups viz. Shanars, Ezhavas and Pulayas
respectively- all belonging to the South Travancore region. · All the three ended up creating cults / ways of life that conformed to the slogan “One caste, one religion, one God”. · All the three adopted ‘Satyagraha’ techniques. The earliest struggle in 1830 was nearly 75 years ahead of the South African struggle due to Gandhi, but were against much more oppressive forces and hence had to be much more subtle.
· All the three adopted innovations in the direction of self-reliance and self-respect and created workable structures for societal transformations via constructive programmes. · All the three could be considered as remarkably successful and thus present a model for social liberation struggles