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August 01, 2017 Tuesday 12:22:49 PM IST

Labour Pains of Independence:Annals from Travancore

Cover Story

As my recollection unwinds, a few of the incidents and individuals having strong links with the Indian Independence appear on the screen of my mind. Let me present them before you.

In August 1938, the Travancore State Congress was formed with Pattom Thanu Pillai as the president and they arranged public meetings in the evenings at Sankumugham beach, some five kilometres from Trivandrum city, with large masses of people attending the meetings to listen to their leaders. Political meetings connected with freedom struggle were a regular feature in this area thanks to its vastness and accessibility.


On August 31, 1938, there was a big uproar at Neyyattinkara (a town south east of Thiruvananthapuram en route to Kanyakumari) which ultimately resulted in clashes between the public and the police. It culminated in a public firing which killed six people in bright day light.


One Joseph, a faithful belonging to the Catholic parish of Kamukincode was hit on his chest. He is still known as Veeran (valiant) Vijayaraghavan for the courage. The five others who were killed in the police firing were taken away by the police and their bodies were given over to the relatives the very next day. Every year on August 31, the memory of this incident is celebrated by the people of Neyyattinkara as a mark of dedication to the departed soldiers in the battle.


As said earlier, trouble emanated because of the public meetings at Shankumugham. Severe lathicharges (police caning) had occurred there. People in a thrill and frenzy had burnt the police vehicle. Armed policemen and cavaliers retaliated with heavy arms and ammunitions.


On the 27th of September 1938, police took a rigid stand and resorted to firing which killed three people of the sunny Arabian coast. Of these three, Mathai was staying close to my house, just seven houses away, in a hut made of Kadjan leaves (coconut palm) and bamboo. He was married to Gracy. I was in the primary school and knew Gracy and Mathai very closely since both of them used to serve us in our domestic functions. Alas! It was this Mathai who was killed by the police. His wife knew it only late at night and there was an uproar there.


At the same time in the night there was deafening uproar and agonising cries at Valiathura, a Catholic belt nearly one kilometre south of Sankumugham over the loss of the heavy and hefty Luka Rose in police firing. He was a fighter earth earthy and had been attending the public meetings every time it was held. Luka’s younger brother Benjamin, known later as tiger. Benjamin was my class mate and therefore I had the occasion to see the relatives of Luka. What a grim night it was!


It was a Belgian priest who was the vicar of the catholic parish of Valiathura. He buried the body of Luka most ceremoniously. During the 31 days from 26th August till 27th September 1938 it was hell that came down to Sankumugham and Neyyattinkara only for us to watch the best of Independence.



It was C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer who was the Dewan of Travancore during the period which I surveyed in the earlier paragraph. He was a very intelligent autocrat who turned enemy of Travancore! The periods were full of turns and tumults. The labourers were full of anger and anguish towards the ruling class. It was during that era the death knell of class consciousness rang. The Ambalapuzha – Cherthala taluks (in Alappuzha district, some 150 kms from Trivandrum) were in stark starvation. The Second World War of 1939-44 had added fuel to fire of their misery.


Ambalapuzha which lies close to the coast and the present day National Highway is a nearby place of Cherthala. The narrow strip of sandy soil on the western side of this road was comparatively motorable. There were several small and deep canals which normally blocked the small journey by motor cars. It was here that Travancore Labour Union (TLU) took shape with T.V. Thomas as the leader.


TLU did not have the support of the Congress party. The two had totally different views and strategies. While the Congress was very humble and attractive with Gandhian non-violence, the Labour Union was very active and rebellious.


In 1946 October, there was an armed rebellion against the powerful government. They had nothing else except the varikuntham (a crude spear made from areca wood) to attack the police. The Army was called out and they took out a march against these revolting mob. The attack lasted for four or five days following which, according to Miss Annie Mascrene, former M.P., about 7000 rebels might have been killed. Such a monstrous attack had not taken place ever in the history of Travancore.


Dewan C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer , an autocrat he was, had no remorse about this massive attack. I had just started my high school those days and I remember very well the songs my class mates used to sing about the Ambalapuzha (Punnapra-Vayalar) episode.



Within another nine months started the agitation in a different style. Dewan Ramaswamy was attending a function at the Music Academy at Trivandrum. In a moment the power went off and there was no light and a commotion resulted. In the chaos a young man named Moni Iyer who belonged to the RSP chopped off the nose of Sir C.P. The function came to an abrupt stop. Moni escaped unscathed and the news spread like wildfire.


From the next day, there was big bullying by students all over the small state of Travancore and virtually all classes were disrupted. The strike by students continued, the school had to be closed and everywhere the slogans “C. P. go back,” “Bharat Matha ki jai,” “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai”, etc., etc. were heard. All the known names like T. M. Varghese, C. Kesavan, Annie Mascrene, Kumbalath Sanku Pillai, etc. were reverberating in the streets of Travancore. This chime went on till 15th August 1947 when the day dawned for Independence of India. I cannot forget all these incidents even as I turned an octogenarian.