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Vaikom Satyagraha - UPSC Current Affairs

Vaikom Satyagraha was a peaceful protest movement against untouchability and caste discrimination in Kerala, India, led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1924. The movement was initiated by local social reformers and Congress leaders, and it resulted in the opening of the Shiva Temple at Vaikom to all castes. The movement is considered a landmark event in the history of Kerala's social reform movements.

Apr 04, 2023

5 min read

Vaikom Satyagraha was a nonviolent protest that took place from 30 March 1924 to 23 November 1925 in the Kingdom of Travancore, which was known for its rigid and oppressive caste system. Led by Congress leaders T. K. Madhavan, K. Kelappan, and K. P. Kesava Menon, the campaign demanded access to the prohibited public environs of the Vaikom Temple. Most of the great temples in the princely state of Travancore had forbidden lower castes (untouchables) not just from entering, but also from walking on the surrounding roads. The agitation was conceived by T. K. Madhavan, an Ezhava Congress leader and a follower of Sri Narayana Guru, who demanded the right of the Ezhavas and 'untouchables' to use roads around the Vaikom Temple.


The movement gained momentum when Mahatma Gandhi himself visited Vaikom in March 1925. The Travancore government eventually constructed new roads near the temple for the use of lower castes. However, the roads kept the lower castes adequately away from the near environs of the Vaikom Temple, and the temple remained closed to the lower castes. After the intervention of Mahatma Gandhi, the agitation was given up, and a compromise was reached with Regent Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. She released all those arrested and opened the north, south, and west public roads leading to Vaikom Mahadeva Temple to all castes, but she refused to open the eastern road. The compromise was criticized by E. V. Ramasamy "Periyar" and some others. Only in 1936, after the Temple Entry Proclamation, was access to the eastern road and entry into the temple allowed to the lower castes. Vaikom Satyagraha marked the introduction of the method of nonviolent public protest to Kerala.


The Vaikom Satyagraha was initiated by T. K. Madhavan, an Ezhava leader, who first advanced the question of temple entry of lower castes in an editorial in the Deshabhimani newspaper in December 1917. The issue of temple entry of lower castes was discussed, and resolutions were introduced at meetings of S N D P Yogam and the Travancore Assembly between 1917 and 1920. In November 1920, T. K. Madhavan walked beyond the regulatory notice boards on a road near the Vaikom Temple, and he later publicly announced his defiance to the district magistrate. Madhavan's later temple-entry meetings in Travancore instigated counter-agitations from caste Hindus.


T. K. Madhavan met with Mahatma Gandhi at Tirunelveli in September 1921 to inform him of the predicament of Ezhavas in Kerala. Gandhi, though initially oblivious to the position of the community in the state, offered his support for the movement ("you must enter temples and court imprisonment if law interferes"). At the 1923 Indian National Congress session at Kakinada, a resolution was passed that committed the party to work for 'the eradication of untouchability'. This resolution was introduced by T. K. Madhavan. The resolution also stated that 'temple entry was the birthright of all Hindus'. In January 1924, Congress leader K. Kelappan convened an 'Anti-untouchability Committee' within the K P C C, and Kelappan later toured southern Kerala with a contingent of Congress leaders from Malabar District. Madhavan also succeeded in getting the finances, the Congress support, and pan-India attention for the cause of untouchability and caste discrimination in Kerala.


The 'Anti-untouchability Committee' was a significant step towards the eradication of untouchability and discrimination in Kerala. The committee's main goal was to create awareness about the evils of untouchability and to mobilize public opinion against it. Congress leader K. Kelappan was instrumental in the formation of this committee and was actively involved in its activities. The committee organized various meetings and rallies across Kerala, highlighting the need for social reform and the importance of ending untouchability.


Kelappan's tours of southern Kerala with Congress leaders from Malabar District were also instrumental in bringing attention to the issue of untouchability. These tours enabled him to meet with people from different parts of the state, creating a groundswell of support for the anti-untouchability movement. The tours also helped to mobilize public opinion against caste discrimination, paving the way for future reforms.


Madhavan's efforts to get the finances, Congress support, and pan-India attention for the cause of untouchability and caste discrimination were also critical. With the backing of Congress, Madhavan was able to mobilize resources and create awareness about the issue. The national attention garnered by the movement helped to put pressure on the authorities to take action against untouchability.


The anti-untouchability movement in Kerala had a significant impact on society. The movement was successful in breaking down many of the traditional barriers that had prevented Dalits from achieving social and economic mobility. The movement also helped to create awareness about the evils of untouchability and caste discrimination, paving the way for further reforms in the future.


In conclusion, the anti-untouchability movement in Kerala was a significant step towards eradicating untouchability and discrimination in the state. The efforts of Congress leader K. Kelappan, Madhavan, and others were instrumental in creating awareness about the issue and mobilizing public opinion against it. The movement had a profound impact on society, breaking down many traditional barriers and paving the way for future reforms.

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