CHURCHES, DEMOGRAPHY, MODERN HISTORY, NASRANI HISTORY, THOMAS CHRISTIANS
It is obvious that there were multiple players and actors cutting across the boundaries of caste, creed and gender who actually took Kerala to the threshold of modernity and generally speaking no community, party or collectivity can claim exclusive monopoly in taking up its leadership. Kerala got evolved as a model modern state of India thanks to the concerted effort of diverse institutions, people and movements, which were often inter-related and interlinked. The diverse socio-economic , educational and health care projects and programmes that the St. Thomas Christians implemented out of the inspiration from the message of love of Jesus have ultimately contributed to the building up of a literate, healthy and socially empowered state in Kerala. But in the recent historiography and narratives of Kerala’s modernity only the voice of the hegemonic group, dominant community or party is made to be excessively heard peripheralizing and at times swallowing as well as silencing the voices of other players including the minority communities and groups. This is a clever way of manoeuvring the historical past by the “majority” and the “powerful” for the exercise of domination by subverting and silencing what the “minority “ groups had done for the shaping of modern Kerala. It is against this background that now historians are trying to identify the different layers of the historical processes that went into the shaping of modern Kerala. All these layers are as important as the so-called ‘dominant layer’ and the fabric of modern Kerala got constructed out of the collectivity of these layers, the cohesive forces emerging out of which sustain its vitality in a remarkable way. In today’s lecture I would like to concentrate only on one of these layers, i.e., the St.Thomas Catholic Christians, whose contribution added certain unique meanings and content to the type of modernity that appeared in Kerala.
Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala Courtesy: NSE NETWORKAuthored by Pius Malekandathil on Sunday, September 16, 2012 1:39 - 0 Comments
I. Agrarian Surplus, Banking and the Evolving Christian Middle Class
The St.Thomas Christians, who were often depicted in the Portuguese documents as the principal spice-producers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emerged as the dominant social group in the agrarian sector of Travancore by the second half of the nineteenth century. During the period between 1850 and 1900, there occurred a large scale migration under the leadership of St.Thomas Christians to the central upland parts of Kerala, particularly to the slopes of small hills and hillocks, which were till then uninhabited for want of sufficient labour force to clear their bushes and trees. One of the major reasons that triggered the migration process was the unprecedented increase in the Christian population thanks to the rise in the birth-rate followed by decrease in the death-rate. In Travancore their number increased from 174566 in 1836 as per the account of William Henry Horsely1 to 287409 by 18912.
However Travancore did not have enough cultivated land to accommodate and feed the extra population of one lakh St.Thomas Christians. Hence they were compelled to move towards the forest land in the hilly slopes and terrains of mid-upland parts of central Kerala for the purpose of extension of agriculture, particularly spice-cultivation. Because of the relatively thick forest , whose clearance needed labour force other than domestic labour, people did not dare to extend agriculture to these terrains till then. However, by this time there occurred a chain of developments in Travancore, which helped to create sufficient labour force needed for large scale clearance of forest land and hilly slopes of mid-upland parts of central Kerala. This labour class was constructed out of the slaves liberated by Travancorean government in 1855. In fact the slaves were liberated not because of the love towards them, but also for the purpose of ensuring labour force required for plantation sector and for commercially oriented cultivation activities of the British. By liberating the slaves, the labour force till then enjoyed only by a few aristocratic families for generations, was released and was made available in the open market. Using these liberated slaves, the emerging affluent section tried to reclaim backwaters and create paddy cultivating space in Kuttanadu area and spice cultivating terrains in midland Kerala3.
Since the liberated slaves had no expertise or knowledge to do any other type of job and moreover they found it extremely difficult to get adjusted to the new crisis situation arising out of the sudden deprival of accommodation and food, which they had been enjoying earlier as slaves, made them collaborate with the migrant agriculturists in expanding cultivation to the hill slopes of midland Kerala to overcome problem of poverty and accommodation-deficiency. The migrant agriculturists started setting up a long chain of agrarian villages with the help of the labour force supplied by the liberated slaves.
With the help of freed slaves the Christian agricultural entrepreneurs reclaimed marshy land and portions of backwaters for the purpose of extending rice cultivation in Kuttanadu area and several new Christian settlements were set up in the newly reclaimed land, which soon became major centers of wealth accumulation. On the one hand there were the new agrarian villages that came up in Kuttanadu area like Thayankary ( 1864), Mithrakary( 1869), Puthukary( 1869), Kavalam (1869), Karuvatta(1874), Punnapra( 1892)4 ; on the other hand a large number of agrarian villages of St.Thomas Christians came up in mid-upland parts of Kerala like Arpookara( 1852), Koothrappally( 1874), Ayarkunnam( 1885), Thuruthy( 1885), Payippadu( 1887), Cheruvandoor( 1889), Vettimukal( 1894)5. The movement of St.Thomas Christians to the bushy upland regions, forests and hill-slopes for spice cultivation led to the establishment of agrarian villages in places like Plasnal( 1848), Vilakkumadam( 1849), Kuruvinal( 1862)Palayam( 1864), Thidanadu( 1865) Edamattam( 1869) , Kanjirathanam( 1869), Mannarappara(1871) Kakkoor( 1881), Edappady(1884) Poovathode( 1887) , Kudakkachira( 1888) Chittar( 1890), Anthyalam( 1891), Maniyamkunnu( 1891) Poovarani( 1891), Mutholappuram( 1892), Kaveekunnu( 1893) , Kunnonni( 1893), Kurumannu( 1893) , Neeranthanam(1897), Pizhaku(1897), Mattakkara( 1898), Ullanadu(1898) and Karur( 1899)6. These places became the major production centres for a variety of spices including pepper, ginger, turmeric and lemon grass .
It is almost during the same period that the agriculturist segment of S.Thomas Christians started migrating to the upland regions near Kanjirappally including Anikadu (1869) , Thamarakunnu (1891), Ponkunnam(1891), Manimala (1892), Elangulam (1896), Kottangal (1901), Elikulam (1908) and Thambalakkadu(1912) on the one side7 and on the other side to Peringuzha(1864), Kaloor(1882), Arikuzha(1889), Vazhakulam(1895), Ayavana(1895), Kaloorkad (1898) in the east near Muvattupuzha8.
Most of these tracks of land brought newly under cultivation were not actually forest area from the beginning; but were once upon a time property of various principality chieftains , local rulers, karthas and kaimals, which were attached to the Travancore state as its property (Pandaravaka ) by Marthanda Varma during his northward conquest during the period between 1742 and 1752 after having killed the original owners. These newly attached tracks of land as state property (Pandaravaka) remained unattended to for almost a century causing bushes and trees to grow in these paces as in a forest and it was into these terrains that the St.Thomas Christians started moving from 1850s onwards for extending agricultural activities with the help of liberated slaves. The Pattom Proclamation made by the Travancore state in 1865 conceded that the holders and cultivators of Panadaravaka land (land belonging to Travancore state)could exercise full ownership right over the land they held and cultivated and could buy or sell such land as any private property9. This in fact gave an unprecedented stimulus to the St. Thomas Christians to move towards the uncultivated state land of Travancore .
The process of carving out of agrarian villages with the help of freed slaves out of the uninhabited terrains by the Christian entrepreneurial agriculturists happened in the kingdom of Cochin as well. Thus we find many new Christian agrarian settlements emerging in places like Chakkarakadavu( 1862),Melur(1865), Thuravoor( 1874), Kadukutty (1876), Nedungattu( 1880) , Chunangamvely (1880), Kuzhippilly( 1881), Mukkandoor( 1884), Kaippattoor( 1886), Kuttipuzha( 1899) , Mattoor( 1900) and Pulluvazhy(1905)10. Meanwhile the attempts to reclaim backwaters and low lying water-logged areas for cultivation by the St.Thomas Christians led to the formation of such agrarian villages like Ezhupunna(1859), Kavil( 1865), Kothavara(1870), Kulasekharamangalam(1877), Panavally( 1878), Uzhuva( 1879), Chaly( 1891), Kunnumpuram( 1892) and Kokkamangalam (1900)11. The liberated slaves who supplied considerable labour force to the St.Thomas Christians in their attempts for extending agriculture, principally spice cultivation in these places, were eventually absorbed into these evolving agrarian villages by giving them small plots of land (often ranging between 5 to 10 cents) and getting them converted into Christianity or even otherwise. This in fact served as the crude economic base of the developments that finally took the liberated slaves to mainstream societal processes of modern Kerala. By 1936 there were about 5734 Christian families with 25, 446 members, formed out of the liberated slaves in and around Pala, Changanacherry and Kanjirappally12.
The mid-upland terrains near Trichur like Mullasserry(1854), Engandiyoor( 1856), Kandannoor( 1856),Cherppu( 1855), Eranellur(1861), Chengaloor(1870), Mundoor(1871), Chittalayam (1871), Kaloor( 1874), Puthusserry( 1875) Varantharappally(1875), Ayyanthole(1876), Pavaratty( 1877), Thiroor( 1878), Arimboor( 1881), Kanjani(1882), Vayilathoor(1882), Edakkulam( 1882), Trichur( 1885), Porathoor(1886), Chowannur(1892), Erumapetty ( 1893), Peramangalam(1894), Manaloor( 1894) and Vadanappilly( 1896) also experienced the formation of agrarian settlements thanks to the entry of St.Thomas Christians for extending agriculture over there.13 . The central part of the erstwhile kingdom of Cochin located along the banks of river Chalakudy and its branches also witnessed the emergence of several Christian agrarian settlements during this period corresponding to the increasing participation of the Christians in primary production. The newly formed Christian agrarian pockets like Kallettumkara(1861), Oorakam (1867), Kaipamangalam(1871), Mathilakam(1872), Aloor(1872), Karanchira(1873), Avittathur(1878), Cheloor(1880), Irinjalakuda(1881), Poyya(1890), Chendraponni(1895) and Kundur(1897) soon became the principal centers of wealth accumulation during this period.
It is interesting here to note that most of these Christian agrarian settlements eventually became centres of immense wealth accumulation. The Church leaders of the St.Thomas Christians resorted to various economic programmes under the aegis of parish churches by which a considerable chunk of this wealth was to be kept aside and channelized for further productive ventures like chitty and kuries without letting it to be spent in these villages. The members of this community were taught the lessons of thrift and the necessity of investing in profitable ventures for the purpose of generating enough resources to sustain the community against the background of its ongoing resistance to the Lusitanization and cultural colonialism thrust upon them by the Portuguese and the European form of Church administration. Fr Thomas Paremakkel, the governor of the diocese of Cranganore, had instructed as early as 1787 that all the churches should invest their surplus wealth in productive and profit-generating ventures so that the churches might remain self-reliant without depending on foreign help14. The long and stiff resistance of this community to the cultural colonialism of the Europeans was realized only because this community did not often depend on the money and resources provided by the Europeans; but instead generated enough resources from within using the economic institutions of chitty and kuries run under the supervision of parish churches of the St.Thomas Christians. In many places banks of different character and nature evolved out of such economic institutions.
Thiruvalla and Trichur became the heartland of banking business for the St.Thomas Christians. The Kandathil family of Thiruvalla( Manorama group), belonging to Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church had about 15 banks and the among the 42 scheduled banks of India, only Central Bank of India and Bank of India exceeded the Travancore National and Quilon Bank of Kandathil family in the volume of business in 1937. The Ambalapuzha Christian Bank founded by Chandy Vaidyan of Edathua was another leading bank of the St.Thomas Christians in the south. The Lourdes Catholic church in Trichur was the pioneer to introduce the church sponsored kuri in the kingdom of Cochin. The Chaldean Christians of Trichur started the first bank called the Chaldean Syrian Bank in 1918. The Catholic St.Thomas Christians of Trichur under the Chakolas started the Catholic Syrian Bank in 1920 and later South Indian Bank (1929), which are even now the leading small-scale banks of India. Catholic Orient Bank(1922), Catholic Bank(1929) Malabar Bank(1929), Indian Insurance Banking Corporation (1933) and Kshemavialsom Bank were the other leading banks started by Chakola group and other Catholic St.Thomas Christians of Trichur. Pala Central Bank (1927), Forward Bank( 1929), Federal Bank (1931), Orient Central Bank, Cochin Bank, Travancore Midland Bank(1944) formed the other leading banks of central Kerala , which were founded or sustained by Catholic St.Thomas Christians for a long period of time. The wealth flow from the newly formed agrarian villages of the St.Thomas Christians of mid-upland Kerala and the surplus from their commercial activities kept banking sector vibrant and active. In 1953 Trichur having 19 registered offices of banks stood second in position in India, while Calcutta, which had the largest number of registered offices had only 21. Majority of these 19 banks of Trichur were started and managed by the St.Thomas Christians of different denominations15.
Meanwhile some enterprising St.Thomas Christians under the leadership of Vallikkattil, Karikulam and Murikkummoottil families moved towards coastal areas for reclaiming backwaters for extending rice-cultivation. A large space of backwaters having the depth of about 7-8 feet was encircled by bunds and piles made of coconut timber and mud, and the water inside the bund was pumped out with water wheels and then cultivation was done on a large scale under the leadership of Murikkummoottil Thomman Joseph. About 17500 acres of land was thus reclaimed by these Christian families in Kuttanadu for the sake of rice cultivation, when the entire nation was starving because of the dearth of provisions caused by first and second world wars16.
The active participation of this Christian community in the commercial and banking sector fetched for them immense wealth, which they ably invested in further productive ventures. In 1925 when the Nair Act was passed by Travancore state allowing the Nair taravad property to get fragmented, divided and sold, it was the St.Thomas Christians who purchased a major chunk of land from the Nairs when they fragmented their property and sold it17. Thus during the period between 1920 and 1930 when Nairs sold land worth Rs.8, 40, 10, 717, the St.Thomas Christians bought land worth the value of Rs. 6,06,97,54718. A good many of the St.Thomas Christians also moved towards plantation sector and eventually they turned out to be a significant moneyed middle class in the evolving capitalistic economy. In 1931 when economic census was taken along with demographic census, it was Meenachil taluk, having greatest concentration of St.Thomas Christians, that stood first in Kerala on the basis of per-capita (Rs. 3259), while Kottayam, Thodupuzha, Ambalapuzha, Thiruvalla, Changanacherry and Muvattupuzha, which are the other core areas of St.Thomas Christian settlements, occupied the other succeeding positions19.
Indigenization of the Church and Educational Endeavours
Along with the material reorientation happening among the members of the St.Thomas Christian community, we find this community undergoing radical social and institutional changes from within. It was only by the end of the 19th century that the Catholic St.Thomas Christians started getting their own dioceses as well as indigenous bishops. With the erection of two Apostolic Vicariates (Trichur and Kottayam)for the Catholic St.Thomas Christians in 1887, this community got a chance for the first time to move towards an independent Church structure under Pope. It is interesting to note that the seats of these two Apostolic Vicariates were located in Trichur and Kottayam , which happened to be the core areas where wealth from the newly formed Christian agrarian villages in Central Kerala flowed in an unprecedented way, which in turn sustained the multi-layered activities that Church took up in the succeeding period.
Bishop Adolf Medlycott and Bishop Charles Levinge , the Apostolic Vicars of Trichur and Kottayam respectively, chalked out several programmes for channelizing the wealth accruing in Christian agrarian villages for socially and educationally empowering the community. One of the important areas that they focused on was the sector of education. Till then the authorities of the Church administrative systems of Padroado and Propaganda Fide, under whose rule the members of this community were subjugated for centuries, did not allow the Catholic St.Thomas Christians to go for English education fearing that through English education protestant ideas would get disseminated among the members of this community. However the Jacobite segment of the St.Thomas Christians had established several educational institutions thanks to their connections with the Anglican (CMS) missionaries and several of them got good employment and governmental positions, which the Catholic St.Thomas Christians unfortunately missed for a long span of time. It was Chavara Kuriakose Elias, the founder of CMI order who took initiative to introduce modern English education among this community in 1863. In 1891 while CMS had 164 schools with 3879 boys as well as 1031 girls and LMS had about 438 teachers to teach in their educational institutions, the Catholics had only one college , one high school and 54 parish schools for entire Kerala20.
When Bishops Charles Levinge and Adolf Medlycott sent circulars to establish schools under parish churches , the response was highly positive. Many parish churches that could mobilize resources from agrarian and commercial sectors came forward to erect schools of different grades and levels. The most important among them were Enammavu( 1885), Elthuruthu( 1886), Kottapady( 1887), Trichur( 1889), Chevoor( 1890), Palliserry(1890) , Manaloor( 1892) and Valappadu( 1893) in Trichur area21and Changanacherry( 1891), Edathua( 1895) and Pulinkunnu( 1898) near Changanachery area22.
The indigenous bishops of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry , who started leading this community from 1896 onwards gave utmost importance to educational activities23. Consequently during the period between 1900 and 1935 about 192 schools were established under the diocese of Changanacherry, besides the TTI of Vazhappally(1911) and St. Berchman’s College of Changanacherry(1922)24 . During this period Kottayam diocese had established 36 schools25, while its number in Pala region was 9326. In the present-day diocese of Kothamangalam about 52 schools were started during this period out of which the schools of Nedungapra (1925), Mudappannnoor (1926),Thazhavumkunnu (1929), Madakkathanam (1929), Chilavu(1929) and Ramalloor (1934) were started even much before the establishment of parish churches in these places27. During the period between 1900 and 1935 about 106 schools were started in the diocese of Ernakulam28, while the number of schools started in the diocese of Trichur during this time was equally significant.St. Thomas College of Trichur(1919) was the first higher educational institution set up by the Catholic St.Thomas Christians29
Soon the leadership of this community passed from the European missionaries to Indian bishops, who issued circulars that there should be at least one school under every parish church. The wealth generated from the agrarian expansion and stimulated trade was collected at the level of parish churches and primary schools were erected in every smaller agrarian villages and upper primary schools in semi urban areas and finally high schools in centres of intense Catholic concentration. It was in these schools that the children of the freed slaves had their education, as in other schools caste discrimination still continued. Most of the dalit leaders of Kerala of these days had done their education in such schools. In some places schools were erected much more before the establishment of parish churches, which is suggestive of the priority that this community gave to education at this point of time.
With the establishment of Syro-Malabar Hierarchy in 1923 this community got a concrete institutional and ecclesiological format30. Most of the bishops who led this Church from 1896 happened to be from an agrarian background, as a result of which they could address effectively the agrarian segment of this community and get the agrarian surplus of their major centres easily channelized for erecting educational institutions with the purpose of empowering this community. Interestingly the religious women congregations that were founded during this time, like Congregation of the Mother of Carmel(1866) , Franciscan Clarist Congregation( 1888), Sisters of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament(1908), Sacred Heart sisters(1914) had developed teaching as one of their major charisms and activities. Most of these congregations either started their own schools or got their members trained for teaching apostolate, which in turn is indicative of the importance that the Church leaders had then given to the mission of educating the poor and the peripheralized31. The elements of enlightenment and the radiance of knowledge that got disseminated from these schools played not an insignificant role in the shaping of modern Kerala.
Hospitals and Health Care
Health care sector form an important area where the St.Thomas Christians made sizeable contribution. The establishment of dispensaries in medium size settlements and relatively bigger hospitals with treatment facilities of English medicine in larger centres became regular feature after 1920s. By 1920s there began increasing availability and use of English medicine, experimented, tested and found effective in the First world war(1914-18) and the Catholic Church of Kerala ably carried these medicines and medical knowledge to the interior parts , particularly to the newly formed agrarian villages. The English medicines were used as effective remedies in most of the newly formed agrarian villages not only to prevent but also to fight against many of the fatal diseases. Soon health care and medical service became the second most important activity of the Church in Kerala. Even the newly started women Religious Congregations like Sisters of the Destitute(1927), Sisters of St .Joseph( 1928), Medical Sisters of St.Joseph(Dharmagiri-1944), Sisters of Charity( 1944), Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate(1949) have medical care and nursing of the sick and the destitute as their principal activities. Many hospitals like Lisie (Ernakulam), Jubilee(Trichur), Pushpagiri(Tiruvalla), Dharmagiri(Kothamangalam), Little Flower(Angamaly) etc .,were started in Kerala during this period either by the members of these congregations or by diocesan authorities with the help of religious sisters who got trained in health care and nursing. Out of them Jubilee and Pushpagiri have now become medical colleges with Post graduate study centres. Many of the dispensaries and hospitals thus started in central Kerala by the Church, as centres of English medicine, helped a lot to save the lives of thousands of poor and marginalized people, particularly those of the agricultural migrants at a time when malaria and other tropical diseases were rampant in the region32. In fact it was these medical institutions that have sustained the health of Malayalees in central Kerala, causing them to evolve and operate as the foundational base of the famous Kerala model of Development.
Social Assertion Movements and Freedom Struggle.
The St.Thomas Christians formed an important social segment that often took lead or active part in social assertion movements and freedom struggle in Kerala. The leaders of this community played a vital role in the preparation of Malayalee Memorial of 189133. The St.Thomas Christian leaders like Nidhirikkal Mani Kathanar and Nidhirikkal Cyriac took lead role along with K.P.Padmanabha Menon and G.P.Pillai34. Malayalee Memorial was a petition signed and submitted to the ruler of Travancore by the members of Nair, Christian and Ezhava communities against the over-preference being given to Tamil Brahmins in the appointment for Governmental jobs and the discrimination being meted out against the members of other communities. The Tamil Brahmins who formed less than 2% of the total population, occupied the principal jobs of Travancore since the northward expansion of Travancore in 1740s and 1750s. In 1891 the non-Malayali Brahmins held 1035 Governmental jobs in Travancore having the salary between Rs 10 and 50 and 101 jobs above Rs.50 . While the Christians of various denominations in Travancore, in spite of their demographic strength of having more than 20% of the population got only 95 jobs with the salary between Rs.10 and 50 and 21 jobs with salary above Rs.5035. It was Nidhirikkal Manikathanar and Cyriac Nidhirikkal who mobilized the St. Thomas Christians with the demand for equal share in the governmental jobs, the struggles for realizing which are often equated to be the beginning phase of freedom struggle in Kerala. For the purpose of mobilizing support for these struggles, Nidhirikkal Manikathanar started two dailies Nazrani Deepika(1887) and Malayala Manorama (1888); however later Malayala Manorama passed into the control of a trust related to Kandathil family36.
Meanwhile the St.Thomas Christians also joined the Muslims and Ezhavas for fighting for equal job opportunities and representation in democratic bodies. Following the establishment of large number of Christian schools in different parts of Travancore, the number of Christians having better education and knowing English language got increased. In 1911 among the Christians who formed 31.51% of total population of Travancore, about 10129 were literate with knowledge in English language37. Meanwhile the Nayars who formed 17.13% of the population had only 5446 English literates. In 1921 the number of the English literates among the Christians rose to 24059, which further went up to 27196 in 1931. Meanwhile the number of English literates among the Nairs was only 24059 in 1921, which rose to 18606 in 1931. Even though the Christians were numerically large and educationally far advanced they got only 3537 Government jobs(17.36% of the total appointments) by 1932, while the Nairs had 10585 government jobs (51.94% of the total jobs). The Ezhavas who formed 17.13% of the population had only 3.86 % of the Government jobs(787), while the Muslims who formed 6.94% of population had only 2.14% of jobs(436)38. This was the background against which the St. Thomas Christians started clamouring for equal civic rights and equal job opportunities, for which they also sought the help of the Ezhavas and the Muslims.
The leaders of the St.Thomas Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims formed a League in 1918 for Equal Civil Rights to struggle for opening up all branches of Government service to all castes and communities. As Land Revenue Department, that provided the maximum jobs in Travancore, had also the responsibility to look into the matters of Devaswam, only Hindus could get jobs in this department. Hence the St.Thomas Christian leaders demanded the separation of Devaswam from the Land Revenue Department, so that non-Hindus might get selected for jobs in revenue department, as well. The separation of Devaswam from Revenue finally took place in 1922, following which Christians, Muslims and untouchables started getting jobs in Revenue department. It was against this background that for the first time a Christian , that too a Catholic – Morris Watt by name- was appointed as the Dewan of Travancore(1925)39.
It was during the period between 1920 and 1936 that the St.Thomas Christians began to enter on a large number into Kerala ‘s politics. One among them was Barrister George Joseph, who as the convenor of Anti-Untouchable Committee of Indian National Congress, initiated Vaikkom Satyagraha in 1924. Under his leadership the satyagrahis demanded that the temple of Vaikkom should be kept open for lower castes. However later he was compelled to keep a low profile in the movement because of the intervention from Gandhi, who told him that Christian participation in issues related temple entry might be misinterpreted40. The leadership of Vaikom Satyagraha taken away from Barrister George Joseph was later given to T.K.Madhavan and K.P.Kesava Menon, for which T.K. Ravindran later criticizes the attitude of Gandhiji41. Despite this development, it must be specially noted that many Christians continued to participate in the Vaikom Satygraha along with Muslims.42
It was principally through their participation in Abstention Movement often known as Nivarthana Prasthana that the St. Thomas Christians entered the domain of political leadership of Kerala. It was the feeling that the members of this community, who were intellectually enlightened through advanced education and economically empowered by way of their participation in the sectors of agriculture , plantation, banking and business were not given due representation in the Legislative Council of Travancore and due share of governmental jobs in Travancore that took them to active politics and freedom struggle. By 1935-6 there were about 514 graduate and post-graduate Catholic candidates in the St.Thomas Christian pockets of Changanacherry, Pala and Kanjirappally43. The number of graduate and post-graduate Catholics in and around Ernakulam, Kothamangalam, Thodupuzha and Muvattupuzha was 249 for this period44. The fact that these highly qualified Catholics did not get the jobs they deserved nor due representation in the democratic bodies of the state which they were eligible for made the St.Thomas Christians resort to the chain of strikes and to fight politically against the Travancorean state, which in fact formed the matrix of freedom struggle in Kerala .
The All Kerala Catholic Congress(AKCC), which had evolved by this time as the voice of the community , took up the leadership of this chain of struggles in the major settlements of the St.Thomas Christians. The roots of AKCC can be traced back to Nazrani Jathi Aikya Sangham which was started in 1866 at Mannanam; but later it began to operate using the platform of the print media Nazrani Deepika and around its readers45. In 1905 Nidhirikkal Manikathanar founded Katholica Mahajanasabha out of Nazrani Jathi Aikya Sangham and gave shape to an organization out of which the present-day AKCC later got evolved. From 1907 onwards it came to be called Samooha Sammelanam and in 1918 it was renamed at Changanacherry as Keraliya Katholica Mahajanasabha46. In the session held at Chertalai in 1930 its name was again changed into All Kerala Catholic Congress(AKCC). The AKCC, which mobilized people for the struggles against Travancore state during the time of Nivarthana Prasthana, served as a platform for many St.Thomas Christians to get into the Indian national movement. Since 1918 , when Equal Civil Rights movement was launched , both the Catholic and the Jacobite segments of the St.Thomas Christians used to make their political struggles and ventures jointly. The working committee president of Civil Rights League was John Chandy. Adv.E.J John came to the forefront of politics and freedom struggle of Travancore as a member of this political body47.
One of the topmost leaders from the St.Thomas Catholic community mobilizing its members for the freedom movement of Travancore during this period was M.M. Varkey. From 1924 onwards the St.Thomas Christians , particularly the Catholic segments under the inspiration of M.M. Varkey visited frequently both the king Sree Moolam and later the regent Queen demanding that Catholics should get equal job opportunities as the Nairs were then having and that they should get due share of representation in the democratic bodies. The four page news bulletin by name Kerala Dasan was the main literary weapon that Varkey resorted to for reaching out to the larger Catholic population preparing them for the chain of political struggles against the Travancorean government. . In 1924 , when the first issue of Kerala Dasan was published there was no Catholic employee in any of the highest key governmental positions48. With the increasing demand from the Kerala Dasan for governmental jobs for Catholics, the Travancorean government forbade the publication of this news-letter. However with the ban on Kerala Dasan , Varkey did not sit quite; in its stead he started two publications by name Dasan and Yuvabharati reiterating the same demands. He exhorted the Catholics, Ezhavas and the Muslims to join hands together and to fight against the Brahminical and Nair domination in the governmental jobs of Travancore. The political and social leaders like T.K. Madhavan and N. Kumaran extended liberal support to the demands of Varkey. In 1926 Varkey was arrested and put behind the bars by the Travancorean government for having written and circulated the article titled “Live and let live”. Later Varkey wrote in his autobiography Ormakaliloode that it was the Nairs, who got upset on his arguments for equal governmental position for the Catholics, that maneuvered behind the curtains for his arrest and imprisonment49.
The moment M.M. Varkey came to know of vacancies in the public service of Travancore, he demanded that the share of the Catholic community should be immediately given. During this period the pamphlet titled “ The Public Service of Travancore and the Catholic Claims” and authored by Varkey was distributed all over the kingdom and the Dewan Morris Watt was surprised to see the amount of discussion this pamphlet had then generated in Travancore. He says” wherever I go I see only the book ‘Catholic Claims” and whoever I meet they talk about the ‘Catholic Claims’. Who is the author of this ‘Catholic Claims?”50 One of the major results emerging out of the chain of struggles initiated by Varkey and the like minded people was the appointment of a St.Thomas Christian (Catholic) – Barrister Joseph Thaliyath- as the Judge of Travancore High Court51; thanks to these developments many other Catholics were also eventually absorbed into the governmental services of this kingdom.
It was in continuation of this chain of struggles, which ultimately merged into freedom struggle that one has to look into the Nivarthana Prasthana (Abstention Movement) started in 1932. ‘The Legislative Council’ that Travancore introduced in 1888 was the first democratic legislative institution in India set up with the backing of a law. Later in 1904 Sree Moolam Popular Assembly was also established . The events leading to the Nivarthana Prasthana commenced in 1931 , when the new ruler BalaramaVarma introduced new voting criteria for both the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly and Legislative Council, consequent to which the Christians and the Ezhavas did not get adequate share of representation in the Legislative Council52. The Travancore State Catholic Congress submitted a memorial to the ruler of Travancore in 1932 requesting him to reserve seats to the Legislative Council on the basis of demographic strength53.
Though the Christians formed 27% of the people who then paid an amount of more than Rs.100 as tax, they were given only 4 seats in the Legislative Council of 1931, while the Nairs were given 15 seats54. The Christians, who had by this time amassed sizeable wealth and evolved as a significant middle class by way of their participation in agricultural activities, banking business, chitties and kuries, felt that it was a discrimination against them and denial of political and civil rights that they deserved. The Travancore Latin Christian Mahajana Sabha and the Travancore State Catholic Congress submitted separate “memorials” to the king to redress their grievances. They demanded apportion of seats in the legislature on the strength of population and adult franchise55. All the Christians of Travancore joined hands together to give a shape to political scheme of actions under the banner of All Travancore Christian Political Conference and ensured the support of Ezhavas and Muslims for their chain of struggles initiated in 1932. E.J.John , who was the spokesperson of this association and N.V.Joseph who was the president of Travancore State Catholic Congress started arguing that denial of due political representation to the Christians in Legislative Council was done with a communal agenda56.
On 17th December 1932, the representatives of Christian-Muslim and Ezhava community organizations under the leadership of A.J. John gave origin to All Travancore Joint Political Conference , which was the precursor of present-day Congress party of Kerala57. The leaders of All Travancore Joint Political Conference decided to abstain from the elections and resort to non-co-operation till their grievances were redressed. This movement that started in 1932 and continued till 1936 is called Abstention Movement or Non-Co-operation movement and to indicate its distinction and difference from Gandhian non-Co-operation movement I.C.Chacko called it Nivarthana Prasthana. Abstention movement led by Christians was one of the most important political developments in Travancore that ultimately was made to become an integral part of freedom movement in Kerala58. In fact the major leaders of freedom struggle of Kerala like A.J.John, T.M. Varghese , M.M. Varkey , N.V.Joseph , A.C. Kuriakose , Ezhava leaders like C.Kesavan, P.K. Kunju evolved out of the long chain of struggles connected with Abstention Movement.
Finally in 1937 the movement found results: A Public service Commission was constituted to ensure fair representation for backward communities in the public service and 40% of the jobs in the intermediate divisions were reserved for backward communities. Moreover the number of seats in Legislative Council was increased on the basis of the demographic strength of the community59. The second result was that the franchise was widened and communal representation was introduced in the legislature. In the first election held in 1937 after the Abstention Movement the Travancore Joint Political Congress headed by the Christians obtained the absolute majority and T.M.Varghese was elected as the Deputy President, the highest office of the legislative Assembly60.
The relatively dominant Christian presence in the leadership of the evolving State Congress made C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore to accuse freedom struggle in Travancore as an effort of the communal party of Travancore Christians. His efforts to divide the people on communal grounds between the Christians and other communities intensified the heat of the last phase of freedom struggle in Travancore. The Christian leaders of State Congress like Mrs. Annie Mascarene, Akkamma Cherian, Rosamma Cherian, A.J.John, R.V.Thomas, P.J.Sebastian E.John Philipose, Elenjickal Thariathu Kunjithommen, P.T.Chacko, Elizabeth Kuruvilla , K.J. Varkey, K.M.Chandy etc.,were arrested and their entire property was confiscated by C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer for the purpose of nipping the bud of expanding nationalist movement in the state. Parallel to the mobilization done by State Congress, mammoth gatherings were organized all over Travancore by All Kerala Catholic Congress to put pressure on the autocratic state and to facilitate the introduction of democratic processes in Travancore and in one of such meetings in the ground of St.Thomas Church of Pala, about 3 lakh people participated61.
The foregoing discussion shows how the St.Thomas Christians, while defining their ecclesial character and ministries after the evolution as an independent Church under Pope, developed a set of activities and programmes that in turn helped to usher in various elements of modernity in Kerala. Though these Christians have got a historical past going back to the first century AD, their crystallization as an independent Church happened with the formation of different dioceses on the basis of ritual traditions to cater to their spiritual needs in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the consequent ecclesiastical formatting that happened in the twentieth century. The indigenous bishops heading these dioceses ably channelized the surplus getting accrued in the Christian agrarian villages to a variety of educational programmes and health-care projects, whose chief beneficiaries often were the peripheral and marginal segments of the society, besides the members of own community. The new Church leadership besides catering to the spiritual needs of the community took up educational activities and medical care endeavours as central mission of the Church and the schools, colleges , hospitals and dispensaries set up by the Church revolutionized the sectors of knowledge dissemination and health care in Kerala. The educational and medical advancements made through these institutions provided base for the famous Kerala model of development, which took new meanings and dimensions after independence. Meanwhile because of the long conflicts that this community had with the ecclesiastical institutions, devices and personalities thrust upon them from Europe, this community developed a very strong anti-European attitude and sentiment since 1520s, which in turn augmented the scale and intensity of national consciousness and pride among its members. These anti-European sentiments were intensely stimulated later and were eventually made to get merged into the mainstream National movements through their active participation in the social assertion movements and freedom struggle of Travancore. Any discourse on modernity in Kerala becomes unintelligible if the strand of educational, medical, economic and political activities of the St.Thomas Christians within the larger context is ignored and their role in the freedom struggle and the political making of Kerala is kept outside the range of study.
About the Author
Dr.Pius Malekandathil, Professor at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi hails from Muvattupuzha parish of Kothamangalam eparchy, Syro Malabar Church, Kerala. He has earlier worked as Lecturer in History, St. Thomas College, Pala, Reader in History at Goa University and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. He has authored Ten books and more than hundred articles in various international journals, seminars and publications. His areas of specialization include Indo-Portuguese History, Transmarine Trade, Maritime History of India, European Expansion and Urbanization in Asia, Socio-Economic History of Medieval India, Culture and State of South India, Studies in Indian Ocean Societies and Religion and Society in South Asia.
Some of Dr Pius Malekandathil’s publications are: The Germans, the Portuguese and India (1999); Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India: 1500-1663 (2001); Jornada of D. Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar (2003); The Portuguese, The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India: 1500-1800 jointly edited with K.S. Mathew and Teotonio R. de Souza (2001); The Kerala Economy and European Trade jointly edited with K.S. Mathew (2003); Goa in the Twentieth Century: History and Culture jointly edited with Remy Dias (2008).