Why protests in Kerala over credit given to a Dalit icon

V Dinakaran says “those who had briefed the PM with distorted history” should apologise for their mistake.

Written by Shaju Philip | Updated: September 15, 2014 12:26:38 am
KPMS had organised an event in Kochi to mark the centenary of the Kayal Sammelan —and PM Narendra Modi had attended that too. KPMS had organised an event in Kochi to mark the centenary of the Kayal Sammelan —and PM Narendra Modi had attended that too.

AT a function in Delhi last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi credited Kerala’s Dalit reformer Ayyankali with the historic Kayal Sammelan of 1913. The sammelan was, in fact, organised by another Dalit leader, Pandit K P Karuppan. Dalit organisations and historians have protested against the “mistake”.

What was the Kayal Sammelan?
It translates as “lake meeting” and was a watershed event in the fight for Dalit rights. It was held in the backwaters of Kochi on February 14, 1913, by Kochi Pulaya Maha Sabha; Pulaya is an SC community.  “The then rulers of the Kochi kingdom did not allow the Pulaya community to organise a meeting on land. Karuppan suggested the idea of holding it on a plank on a flotilla in the lake. The meeting was attended by 600-odd Pulaya community members,” says Dalit scholar K K Kochi.

Who organised it?
It was Pandit K P Karuppan (1885-1938), a playwright, poet, Sanskrit teacher and one of the pioneers of the fight for Dalit rights in Kochi kingdom. Karuppan belonged to the Dheevara community of fishermen, but was instrumental in forming Kochi Pulaya Maha Sabha in 1910 with Pulaya leaders such as K P Vallon.

What was Ayankali’s role?
Ayyankali (1863-1941) was a social reformer who led a similar fight in the erstwhile Travancore kingdom. In 1907, Ayyankali formed Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham. He was also a labour leader; his Pulaya community was mostly agricultural workers.

What did Modi say?
He said the conference organised by Ayyankali in 1913 for uplift of Dalits was as much a turning point as Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March.

Who has protested?
Akhila Kerala Dheevara Sabha, an organisation of the fishermen community, has passed a resolution about it. Dheevara Sabha general secretary V Dinakaran says “those who had briefed the PM with distorted history” should apologise for their mistake.

Where did Modi make the speech?
At a function in Delhi to mark Ayyankali’s birth anniversary, organised by Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha. In February, the same KPMS had organised an event in Kochi to mark the centenary of the Kayal Sammelan —and Modi had attended that too.

What is KPMS?
It was formed in 1970 with the merger of the Pulaya maha sabhas of Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram. Several CPI leaders have headed KPMS over the years. Once seen as being associated with the Left movement, it split in the 1990s, with one group headed by Punnala Sreekumar joining hands with Congress, and the other faction headed by T V Babu leaning towards the BJP. It was the Babu-led faction that organised the event in Delhi.

How does it explain the “mistake”?
T V Babu, the KPMS general secretary, agrees it was Karuppan who organised the sammelan, but adds Ayyankali had a role in it. He says Pulaya leaders in Kochi kingdom Krishnadai Asan and P C Chanchan had met Ayyankali and discussed plans to organise the Pulaya community. Babu says Ayyankali advised them to organise themselves and the leadership fell on Karuppan of the Dheevara community. About Modi’s speech, Babu says there seemed to be “some missing links” that led to the controversy, which he adds stemmed from a feeling that Karuppan’s role in the sammelan was not properly acknowledged.

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