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Guruvayoor Temple Entrance Satyagraha 1931

      The struggle for the social and economic and untouchability eradication of the Dalit and Backward Classes continued even after 1924. It was a part of Gandhi’s ‘constructive programmes’. Once this struggle gained momentum in Kerala.

Guruvayoor Temple Entrance Satyagraha 1931
 Guruvayoor Temple Entrance Satyagraha 1931 photo credit

      Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee raised the issue of temple entry in 1931 at the instigation of K. Kollappan. At this time the non-cooperation movement had been suspended. Malabar public meetings were held. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee decided to launch a temple entry satyagraha at Guruvayoor on 1 November 1931.

Guruvayoor Temple Entry Movement 1931

A group of 16 volunteers led by Peet Subramaniam Thirumabu marched on foot from Kannamoor to Guruvayoor on 21 October. This batch included people from the most backward caste, Harijans, to the highest caste, the Namboodiri. This march incited anti-caste sentiment across the country. On 1st November, All Kerala Temple Entry Day was celebrated, prayers were held, processions took place, meetings were held and donations were collected. Similar programs were organized in Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Colombo (Sri Lanka). It got tremendous popularity. All the national level leaders reached Malabar. There was no shortage of volunteers or money. The most excited was the youth. Thousands of youths were at the forefront of the struggle and were becoming increasingly involved in it. The anti-untouchability movement gained a lot of momentum and got tremendous support. All the devotees instead of giving their offerings to the priest gave it to the Satyagrahis. They felt that the Satyagrahis gave it. They felt that the camp of Satyagrahis was perhaps more sacred than the temple.

The priests of the temple and the Mahants had made arrangements to keep the Satyagrahis away from the temple. The temple was surrounded by barbed wire and a large number of guards were deployed so that the satyagrahi could not enter. Satyagrahis were also threatened with beatings.

On November 1st itself, 16 satyagrahis wearing auspicious khadi marched towards the eastern entrance of the temple. But the police stopped them, the superintendent of police was also present there. Temple staff and local reactionaries attacked these satyagrahis. The police stood watching the spectacle. P. Krishna Pillai and A. Of. Gopalan (both these men later emerged as very prominent leaders of the communist movement in Kerala) was severely beaten up.

     On 21 September 1932, Satyagraha took a militant stand. Of. Kelappan sat on a fast unto death. He announced that he would continue to fast till the doors of the temple were not opened for the Dalits. Once again there was an anti-untouchability wave in the whole country. Meetings were again organized in Kerala and other parts of the country. Hindus in Kerala and other parts of the country appealed to the temple custodians, the Zamorin of Calicut, to allow Harijans and Dalits to enter the temples, but this appeal did not materialize.

Gandhi requested Kelappan several times to break his fast and assured him that he himself would fight for Dalits and Harijans to enter the temple. Kelappan broke his fast on 2 October. Satyagraha was also postponed, but the movement to enter the temple continued. It was further accelerated.

     A group led by Gopalan marched across Kerala. Public opinion was drawn in favor of the entry of Avarnas (Harijans and Shudras) into the temple, many meetings were organized, the group banned the government, but by then it had traveled a thousand miles and addressed 500 meetings had gone.

Although the Guruvayoor temple did not open at that time, this Satyagraha got many successes in the wider context. a. Of. Gopalan has written in his autobiography-   

                    “Though the doors of the Guruvayoor temple were still closed to the Avarnas, this movement proved to be an inspiration for social change. This led to the process of social change everywhere.”

   The abolition of untouchability and the temple entry movement continued in the later years as well.

           “In November 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore issued an order to open all government controlled temples to all castes of Hindus”.

             “The cabinet in Madras in 1938 led by C Rajagopalachari did the same. It was followed in other Congress-ruled provinces as well.”

The temple movement adopted all the strategies that were or were being adopted during the national movement. The organizers of this movement prepared a strong base of national unity, prepared a strong public opinion against untouchability. But in India, the roots of caste discrimination, caste inequality and other evils associated with them were so deep in the society that they were not going to end with the success of the temple entry movement. But the Satyagraha movements for temple entry in Kerala contributed significantly in this direction. E. M. S. Namboodiripad later wrote, “The Guruvayoor Temple Satyagraha was an event that inspired thousands of youths like me and inspired a large section of the public to fight for their rightful rights and dignity. later led the movement and gave rise to such unions of workers and peasants, which were far from religious or communal ideologies.”  Conclusion

      The biggest drawback of the temple entry movement and the national movement against untouchability was that it agitated the masses for the abolition of untouchability, but did not launch a movement against the caste system. Although the constitution of independent India had the effect of a national movement and denied caste inequality, untouchability was declared a crime and promised equal opportunities to all citizens. But the weaknesses of this movement were clearly visible in independent India. Casteism had its roots and the atrocities on backward and downtrodden classes and discrimination towards them are prevalent even today.

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