What was the condition of the untouchables in South India at the time of Britishers?


The exclusion of low caste-men as such from the Sirkar service is another substantial disability. Here as in the other phases of the question, the idea of ‘thindal’ is at the root of the injustice, and besides, over and above the more purely religious question there is a strong popular feeling that if a low caste man was admitted to a position of authority, high caste-men would on occasion have to stand before him-a situation very repugnant to high caste feeling.

In native states of South India, condition of the untouchables continued to be deplor­able even though the British intervention had forced their government to ameliorate their sufferings considerably. Thus some reforms like abolition of slavery, admission to schools, courts and other public offices, permission to use public roads etc., were granted to make their life better than it used to be.

Before the introduction of the British rule these outcastes were treated as a race apart without the common rights of man. James Forbes wrote in his Oriental Memoirs (1834), “If a Nair accidentally meets a Pooleah on the high way, he cuts him down with as little ceremony as we should destroy a noxious animal”.


After the introduction of the British paramountcy, the Nairs’ sword cut gave place to his blows. Koragas of south Canara were not even allowed to spit on the roads where dogs sit, but had to spit into suspended from their necks. As Thurston remarked by their name of Ande or Pot, Koragas commemorate their ancient shame. Lower castes were forbidden from wearing shoes, or golden ornaments or upper garments or carrying umbrellas in Travancore and Cochin. The objection to their wearing coats lingered in many parts of South India even under British rule and merciless beating of these men by caste Hindus was a common occurrence.

The Madras (now Chennai) Government was not in favour of doing away with the Brahmin predominance in society altogether; they desired only a slow, evolution­ary change. In the dispute over the right of entry of Ezhavas in the agraharam streets of Kalpathy in Palghat the Government ordered the local officers not to regard themselves as necessarily bound to take action in support of the entry into an agraharam when the entry was dictated merely by “the desire to assert an abstract right and not for business or practical convenience.”

This non-committal attitude was the general disposition of the British in questions related to social disabilities of the exterior castes in Madras Presidency. Grant of free access to public roads, wells, schools and public offices for the untouchables came very late in native states of Travancore and Cochin and even in the areas directly administered by the British. The right to way was the common cause of communal or caste riots in several parts of South India.

A large-scale civil disobedience movement called Vaikkam Satyagraha had to be started in 1924-25 under the auspices of the Indian National Congress to secure this right for the untouchables on the roads round the Vaikkam temple in Travancore.

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