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Last Updated Saturday January 21 2017 04:15 PM IST

An ode to Kerala's freedom struggle

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An ode to Kerala's freedom struggle The places and heroes of Kerala's freedom struggle. Photo: Onmanorama

India's struggle for freedom arose in many ways and in many places. Like streams cascading to form a mighty flood that ultimately swept away the British empire. Let us look at a few streamlets that arose in Kerala.

Wayanad and Pazhassi Raja

Long long ago, in fact even before the uprising of 1857 Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja was up against the British East India company. This revolt which is among the first against the East India Company by a princely state lasted from 1793 to 1797. The East India Company, who had sided with the Raja to oust the rulers of Mysore, did not abide by their agreement. Pazhassi Raja lost his kingdom and he withdrew to the densely forested land of Wayanad and started a guerrilla warfare against the English.

An ode to Kerala's freedom struggle A collage of the tomb of Pazhassi Raja and a portrait of Pazhassi Raja. Photo: Onmanorama

Even though there was peace for a couple of years, Pazhassi Raja was up against the British again after the Anglo-Mysore war, when it was agreed to hand over Wayanad to the Company. Pazhassi Raja decided to make it really tough for the English at Wayanad. Pazhassi Raja had, by then, a strong army which consisted of the Kurichiya and Kurumba tribes of the area and some Nairs. The guerrilla warfare raged on for over four years with the Raja gaining the upper hand at many times. However, the British finally managed to kill the Raja at Pulpally in Wayanad 1805.

The battle in the area, however was far from over. The British started levying taxes on the Kurichiya tribe who had supported Pazhassi Raja. They were supposed to pay the tax as cash and not produce which they were accustomed to. Defaulters were punished; brutally. This went on for a couple of years and the Kurichiyas broke out in rebellion in March of 1812. It was such a planned operation that within days they managed to take possession of all important passes leading to Wayanad; cutting out supplies and reinforcements to the British troops who were locked in at Wayanad. A couple of other tribes and local leaders joined the Kurichiyas. However the uprising was short lived, not because the Kurichiyas lacked the heroism, but because the British, by then had established control all over South India. They brought in troops from Mysore(Karnataka) and from Madras (Nilgiris).

Travancore - Kochi and the Diwans

While Pazhassi Raja and his troops kept the British on tenterhooks in Malabar area, there were a lot of discontent brewing in Travancore and Kochi too. Velu Thampi, the Dalawa of Travancore got into an alliance with the Paliath Achan of Kochi and attacked Lord Macaulay's bastion in Kochi. Macaulay, however managed to escape and Paliath Achan put an end to his alliance with the Dalawa.

An ode to Kerala's freedom struggle A portrait of Velu Thampi Dalawa and the monument that marks the Kundra Proclamation. Photo: Onmanorama

In 1809, the skirmishes between the Dalawa and the British reached new heights. And it was then that Veluthampi gathered a bunch of people in Kundra and made the famous proclamation. In a strongly worded proclamation he asked everyone to rise in revolt against the British if they valued their independence. The people, inspired by the speech massacred the British forces. There were battles against the British in Kochi and Travancore, however, the superior military forced the uprisings die a premature death and the king of Travancore entered into a treaty with the British.

Malabar Rebellion

Skirmishes with the British continued. There are records of over 20 odd cases between 1836 to 1854, where the agricultural labourers rose in revolt against the ruling class in this area. But by 1921, the Khilafat Agitation took the country by storm and the 'mappilas', the Muslim's, in Malabar followed it up. It was an armed revolt against the British authority. Over time the British put down it with an iron fist. The martial law was imposed. However the one tragic incident that turned in favour of the rebels was what came to be known as the Wagon Tragedy. Almost 90 of the rebels were transported from Tanur to the prison at Podanur. The Podanur Jail was full and it was decided to send these prisoners back. They were bundled into a wagon and more than 60 of the prisoners suffocated to death in it. This helped turn the sentiments of the locals.

National movements - across the state

An ode to Kerala's freedom struggle A file photo of K. Kelappan during the freedom struggle. Photo: Onmanorama

By the 1920's ripples of the national freedom struggle had reached Kerala too. The Non Co-operation Movement spread across the state. The prominent leaders like Kurur Nilakandan Namboodiripad, A. K Gopalan and N P Damodaran held meetings across the state. Many leaders were arrested, repeatedly in Kannur, Kozhikode, Guruvayoor and Thrissur.

Freedom fighters under the leadership of K. Kelapan gathered on the beach at Payyanur and made salt in 1930.

During those days, entry to temples were restricted to the upper class people. Following the fifth All Kerala Political Conference held under the presidency of J.M. Sengupta, the demand for temple entry gained pace. Guruvayoor Satyagraha and the Vaikom Satyagraha were the most prominent ones. While the Zamorin of Kozhikode remained adamant that he would not give in to the demands, the King of Kochi agreed to open the doors to all.

By the time Gandhiji announced the Quit India movement, in 1942, the whole of the state was up in arms. Many leaders courted arrests. But the Indian National Congress directed that the agitation in the 'Princely States' should be at a low level. Yet the flames of revolt rose high in Malabar, and oddly, at Punnapra and Vayalar in Travancore.

Thus history shows that the people of Kerala never reconciled themselves to foreign rule, though a small tributary, it was always a turbulent cascade.

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