Ayyankali: Who crushed the pride of Brahmins and Nairs with her bullock cart
Remembering Ayyankali, the first Dalit rebel of Kerala, Malayalam poet P.G. Binoy writes-
You lit the first lamp of knowledge
ride on a bullock cart
passing on restricted roads
by the power of your body
turned the wheel of time
By Dalit Dastak News
The modern age is also the age of Dalit rebellion against Brahminism. In this era, wave after wave of Dalit rebellions kept rising in different corners of the country and even today its process is going on in some form or the other, because the dream of social equality with which these rebellions started has not yet been fully realized. Not achieved. This rebellion has been more widespread and effective in South India and North-West India.
In Tamil Nadu it was led by Ayothi Thass (20 May 1845–1914), while in Maharashtra it was led by Dr. Ambedkar (14 April 1891–6 December 1956), who later became the leader of Dalit insurgency across the country. Ayyankali (28 August 1863 – 18 June 1941) led the rebellion in Kerala and created turmoil there. He brought a radical change in the social relations there to a great extent and trampled the pride of caste superiority of the upper castes with his bullock cart. August 28 is the birth anniversary of this great revolutionary.
Srinarayana Guru (August 20, 1856 – September 20, 1928) was the first person to lay the foundation of modernity in Kerala, but the Dalit rebel Ayyankali has a decisive role among those who built the huge edifice on this foundation. Who extended the modern consciousness of equality and justice to the lowest level in Kerala. It may be difficult for many to imagine that a person who could neither write nor read could lead a movement for the right to read, perhaps unparalleled in the world, by someone who could somehow sign. Learned, he should stand in the front row among the builders of modern Kerala. In this case, comparisons with Ayyankali recall Kabir and Raidas, who despite being deprived of formal education, led the Indian medieval Bahujan renaissance.
Namboodiri Brahmins and Nairs had imposed such restrictions on the Dalits in Kerala, which is difficult for any civilized society and human being to imagine. Dalits could not walk on the main roads, they could not enter the markets, the doors of the schools were closed to them, they were not allowed to enter the temples, they were not allowed to set foot inside the court, their cases were heard outside the court. Used to go Women and men could not wear clothes above the waist and below the knee. If women tried to cover their breasts, they had to pay tax.
His shadow could defile the Namboodiri Brahmins from a distance of several feet. Seeing this situation, Swami Vivekananda called it caste madness. The first attempt to break this situation was made by Srinarayan Guru in Kerala, but his efforts benefited more from the middle castes above the Dalits, especially the Ejava caste. Yes, he definitely gave birth and expanded that consciousness, due to which a rebellious personality like Ayyankali was born among the Dalits.
Ayyankali was born on 28 August 1863 in a Pulaya caste (Dalit) in Venganoor village, 13 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram, in Travancore district. There is hardly any person in India, who was born in a Dalit caste and has not faced caste insults, even if he is Dr. Ambedkar, who has studied from world famous universities of the world. Ayyankali experienced caste humiliation as a child, when his soccer ball landed in the yard of a Nair family. The humiliated child may be like Dr. Ambedkar, but before him he resolved to get rid of this caste insult.
Though Ayyankali, like Jyotiba Phule (11 April 1827–28 November 1890), was told by her father that this was the norm, that it would have to be accepted, that is, one would have to learn to accept and tolerate caste humiliation, but Ayyankali decided otherwise. Was. Unlike Dalit rebels like Ayothi Thass, Swami Achutananda (6 May 1879–20 July 1933) and Dr. Ambedkar, Ayyankali did not go to school and was not able to read and write. This was because neither his father was in the British army, nor was there any Christian missionary school in that part of Travancore State, as military cantonments and missionary schools were the places where the first generation of Dalits were educated or educated. In places like Maharashtra, Jyotiba Phule opened schools for Dalits.
Ayyankali did not get any such school. Unlike his contemporaries and later Dalit heroes, he chose a path of direct rebellion against Brahminism, and this led him and his comrades to face violent attacks from the Nairs, which Ayyankali and his comrades retaliated in kind. Perhaps one of the reasons for this outright rebellion was that the Travancore state was not directly under British rule, it was a Hindu state and its king ruled according to the Brahminical system. Ayothi Thass in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Ambedkar in Maharashtra and Swami Achhunanand in Uttar Pradesh got the little breathing room due to British reforms, that too Ayyankali did not get in Travankonar.
At the age of 27, Ayyankali took such a step, which became a record not only in the history of Kerala but also in the history of the world. Dalits were not allowed to walk on the main roads in Kerala, Ayyankali decided in 1891 to run bullock carts on roads barred for Dalits. He prepared a bullock cart and made it run on those paths, on which his forefathers could not even think of walking. The Nairs, who considered themselves the best after the Namboodiri Brahmins and Brahmins, felt as if this bullock cart was trampling their chest instead of trampling the roads and they broke down on them with sticks and rods.
But Ayyankali also came out prepared, he took out the dagger (khukri) already kept with him and jumped into the field to deal with the attackers. The cowardly attackers ran away. In this way, Ayyankali mixed the pride of caste superiority of the upper castes into the soil. He challenged almost every system of Brahminism, which denied Dalits the status of being human and humiliated them.
Illiterate, but lashed with the consciousness and sensitivity of modernity, Ayyankali, like Jyotiba Phule, the father of Bahujan renaissance, considered education as the door to liberation. He laid the foundation of the first school for Dalits in 1904, but the upper castes could not tolerate this, they burnt his school twice, but they were not made of clay to give up, finally they opened the first school for Dalits in Travancore Gave.
Perhaps there is no other such incident in the history of the world, when the workers went on strike for the implementation of the right to education. Under the leadership of Ayyankali, Dalits stopped working in the fields of the upper castes to implement the right to education. The Nairs made every effort to break the strike, but due to the able leadership of Ayyankali, the strike was successful and Dalits got the right to enter schools. This strike lasted for about a year (1907-1908).
The Nairs were Shudras according to the varna-system according to the Shastras, but were in the economic-social status of the upper castes (Rajputs) of North India. Used to stand in front. To put the right to education into practice, Ayyankali reached the Ooruttambalam Government Girls School with Pujari Ayyapan’s 8-year-old daughter Panjami. He had special orders from Director of Public Instruction Mitchell. The Principal expressed his inability to admit the girl child. He agrees to make Panjami sit inside the classroom after Ayyankali shows a special order. But as soon as that girl sat in the class, the Nair students boycotted the class. Ayyankali was not one to give up, she took it upon herself to achieve the right to education for Dalit children in practice.
After walking the forbidden streets and gaining the right to education, Ayyankali started fighting for the dignity and self-respect of Dalit women. As mentioned above Dalit women did not have the right to cover their breasts as per the system of Namboodiri Brahmins and if they tried to cover it, they had to pay tax. This tax is decided on the basis of their breast size. Ayyankali blew the bugle of struggle against this anti-human dignity system.
In 1915, she called upon Dalit and tribal women to cover their breasts and wear blouses, challenging this abominable system. Thousands of Dalit-Tribal women did so on his call. When women did this, there was a disturbance among the so-called upper castes. Upper castes attacked the houses of Dalits. The breasts of many Dalit women were cut off by upper caste people. His family members were set on fire. Still the women did not back down, nor did Ayyankali back down.
Ayyankali’s life was spent in a continuous struggle for Dalits, one struggle never ends, another starts, because he wanted to give Dalits all the rights that they were denied. Dalits did not even have the right to enter the main markets. He entered those markets with his partners. This time also the upper castes attacked the Dalits with sticks and other weapons. Dalits also gave a befitting reply this time. Violent clashes took place at various places. The self-respect of the Dalit society had awakened under the leadership of Ayyankali. To live with self-respect and dignity, the Dalits were ready for any kind of struggle under the leadership of Ayyankali, in which both men and women were involved.
Ayyankali was well aware of the need for organization to get education and equal rights. He established the ‘Sadhu Jan Paripalan Sangh’ (Poor Defense Association) in 1904. People of all Dalit castes could subscribe to it. The aim of the organization was to free the Dalits from superstition, slavery, illiteracy and poverty and to get the right to equality in all spheres of life. Earlier the meetings of this organization were held in secret due to the fear of attacks from the upper castes, but later meetings were held in the open as well.
No one can deny the fact that Kerala is one of the states in India which has modernized to a great extent and has created a modern civil society. At the same time, it is also true that many remnants of the varna-caste system and patriarchal power are still present in Kerala like the rest of India. Despite this, Kerala is the most modernized state in India and is at par with top modern countries in many respects. India ranks first among all states in Human Development Index and at par with top countries in the world. The Kerala model is also being discussed worldwide in the matter of dealing with Kovid-19.
Such a Kerala was not made in a day, nor was it made by the efforts of a single person. It is well known that when there is a deep upheaval in the society of a country or region and it is free from its medieval root ideas and adopts modern intellectual, logical and rational ideas, only then it becomes a modern country or region. Is.
In order for a country-region to be transformed into a modern, advanced and prosperous country-region, it is necessary to bring about a fundamental change in the minds and hearts of the people there and their way of thinking and seeing should be humane and scientific. That is, their world-view should be changed. Along with this there should be a change in the socio-economic relations there, according to which the politics there often takes its shape. All these together constitute a civil society, which can be called a modern society. Kerala is one such state in India. All available facts in this regard bear witness to this.
Sree Narayana Guru laid the foundation for making Kerala a modern and model state, which was expanded and taken to new heights by Ayyankali, the first Dalit rebel of Kerala. On June 18, 1941, Ayyankali took his last leave.
- M. Nisar, Meena Kandasamy—Ayyankali: A Dalit Leader of Organic Protest,
- M. Velakumar, Transformation from Untouchable to Touchable: A Study of Ayyankali’s Contribution to the Renaissance of Travancore Dalits, 2018
3-Kannukuzhi Mani, Mahatma Ayyankali, D.C.Books, Kottayam, 2008,
4- Ayyankali: Symbol of social revolution superhero – Omprakash Kashyap (article)
(Courtesy published from Janchowk)
Dalit Dastak News is a monthly magazine, YouTube channel, website, news app and publication (Das Publication). Since 2012, Dalit Dastak has been continuously raising the voice of marginalized people through various mediums of communication. Its editor and publisher is Ashok Das (Editor & Publisher Ashok Das), who has joined Harvard University of America as a speaker.
Courtesy : Dalit Dastak
Note: This news piece was originally published in dalitdastak.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights