Sunday 28th August marked Ayyankali Jayanti, a public holiday in Kerala where we get our scrummy cashews from. Here’s a bit of history on this important day in Indian tradition.
Ayyankali was born in 1863 in Venganoor under the rule the Travancore state. He was one of seven children belonging to the Pulaya family (Pulayas were considered untouchables/Dalits). In those days, untouchables were not allowed to walk through public roads, their women were not allowed to cover their breasts in public places and their children were not allowed access to education. But the situation was going to change for the better due to the activities of savants like Ayyankali and Narayana Guru.
Although Ayyankali was uneducated, he was determined to rebel against the existing forms of discrimination in society. He started his rebellion by daring to ride his bullock cart into the market through the public roads of Venganoor. Enraged by his audacity, the upper-castes physically attacked him. But that did not dissuade Ayyankali from reaching his goal. Ayyankali went on to lead a group of pulaya youngsters to the village market. Inspired by him, other Dalits throughout southern Kerala launched a movement for civil rights. This movement tasted success in 1900 when the Dalits of Travancore won the right to walk along the public roads.
But that was just the beginning. Knowing how lack of education had kept them in darkness, Ayyankali opened a school to teach the children belonging to Dalit families at Venganoor. Unfortunately his school was set ablaze by a group of upper-caste people. Rather than losing hope, Ayyankali launched another mass movement to ensure the right to education for all Dalits. Like his previous movement, this one was also successful when in 1907 the Travancore government passed an order mandating that all Dalit children be admitted into public schools.
Mahatma Ayyankali also pioneered a movement for democratizing public places and asserting the rights of workers in Kerala – becoming a voice for the untouchables.
With the support he received from his well-wishers, Ayyankali established Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham to help the Dalits by providing education, finance and legal support.
On 18 June, 1941 this daring son of Kerala passed away leaving behind a legacy of social reform, progress and a lasting legacy. We’ll certainly be saluting you Ayyankali on the 28th – a true liberator!