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  1. The King of Travancore and the Brahmins

  2. The kings of Travancore regarded it their sacred duty to please the Brahmins and to rule the country in accordance with the advice of the Brahmin scholars.10 Their wants in life were specially met both by the society and the state,11 because the kings spent large sums of money for the support and comfort of the Brahmins. There were state run, free inns for feeding Brahmins called as oottupurahs, or big halls to provide free food to the Brahmins.12 Thus the Brahmins community enjoyed all powers and privileges in the society. As a privileged class they were less affected by economic changes than any other caste.

    Next in social ladder came the “Nair Caste, which stood next to that of Brahmins in nobility. To this caste belonged almost all the prominent people, the king himself and the royal family”.13 Francis Buchannan gives a succinct explanation about their main occupation: “The whole of these Nairs formed the militia of the Malayala, directed by Nambudiris ands governed by Rajahs. Their chief delight is in arms…”14 In times of peace they devoted themselves to agriculture. As a dominant caste they assumed the position of the land owning class. Generally educated, 60 per cent of them held important posts in the Government of Travancore.15 They lived outside the town separate from other people in their estates which were fenced in.16 They adopted marumakkakthayam 17 and the Nambudiris makkathayam18 systems of inheritance of properties.

    Vellalars who were said to be immigrants from Tirunelveli and Madurai19 and the Mopillays, Who were mostly Syrian Christians were also considered high Caste, though not included among what was said to be “nobility”. Only the Brahmins and the Nairs were considered being of the “nobility”.20 All others included among these, namely, Nadars, Ezhavas, Mukkuvas, Paravas, Kammalans, Pulayas, Allyans, Vaniyans, Vannars, Kanis and Pariahs were the low caste people. All the high caste people considered these low castes as polluting and servile. This paved the way for deep seated caste discriminations in Travancore.

  3. Caste Discriminations
  4. With this major caste division into high and low castes, there was a rampant practice of discrimination based on this caste division in terms of untouchability, unseeability and political ostracism.
    1. Untouchability
    2. Untouchability was one of the serious and complex problems of the social system in India and it was practiced throughout Travancore as well.21 The practice was based on caste prejudices of purity and impurity. Those of the superior castes, especially Brahmins and Nairs considered themselves as polluted, if they came into contact with the people of the low castes. For example, if a Brahmin touched a Sudra he could enter his house only after taking bath. If he touched a Pulayan, he had to take bath at once and even change the Brahminical thread. So, too, was a Nair rendered impure by physical contact with those of lower caste and he had to take bath to purify himself.22 This caste practice was even among the people of the oppressed classes. For example, if an Ezhava was touched by a Dalit, the former had to take bath.23 Thus, the scourge of caste suppression spread in such a way that the oppressed themselves, in some way, became oppressors in some way.

      The low caste people were required to keep themselves away from the high caste people. For example, Mateer reports that in Travancore, a Shanan (Nadar) should keep 36 paces (feet) from a Brahmin and 12 feet from a Nair. A Pulayan was to keep 96 feet from a Brahmin and 66 feet from a Nair. “Other untouchables” referred to by Mateer would mean fisher-people, Vannans, etc.24 While observing unseeability and unapproachability, there was discrimination practiced even among the higher castes. For example, “a Nayar must keep 16 feet from a Namboothiri an Ezhava 16 feet from a Nayar and 32 feet from a Namboothiri.25
    3. Unseeability
    4. It was not only the physical touch that was pollutant, but even the very sight itself could pollute. Thus, the high castes believed that the high castes should not see the persons of the low castes when they were expected to be especially pure. The Vannan caste people were considered unseeable. They had to work between midnight and day break and were forbidden to come out during the day time26. When Nambuthiri Brahmins or Nair nobles came out in the public roads an attendant went ahead of them shouting “Po, Po”, which meant ‘go away’, so that the low caste people may not come near the high castes.27

      The low castes were prevented from conducting marriage processions and living in tiled houses and the high castes took away the fruits and vegetables cultivated by the low castes. The low castes were compelled to supply wood to the roofing of the government buildings. Distance pollution or theettu existed in all public roads, public wells, chatroms and schools.28

      Free inns meant for pilgrims called as chatroms, at Thovalai, Bhuthapandi, Eraniel, Padmanabhapuram, Nedumangad, Thirupathisaram, Suchindram, Cape Comorin, Thiruvattar in South Travancore which were under the Maramath Department were not thrown open to people of all classes and creeds.29 Besides, the non-caste Hindus were not allowed inside schools or to go near temples.30 They would stand outside the temple and send their offerings through Brahmins.31 Men were allowed to wear their dhotis only up to their knees. Women were not allowed to wear upper garments. Low castes were prohibited to use umbrellas and chappals in the common streets.32

      Even after the Temple Entry Proclamation, Ezhava converts were not allowed to enter prohibited roads. They were not allowed to enter chatroms (public inns) also.33 In practice roads, wells, schools and chatroms even if opened to the people of other religions were not opened to Hindu depressed classes.34

    5. Taxation on Low Castes
    6. The Travancore government imposed poll tax on the low caste people. There was tax levied on every person, the capitation tax35. The King levied that tax even on people who had died.36 In addition the Government levied tax by name Sirkar pattom Tax on the palmyra trees that the Nadars used to tap toddy. The Nadars had to pay tax for the huts or kuppakalchen37 that they had constructed in the lands of the high caste people. Added to these they had to pay tax for the government to conduct wedding ceremonies in their houses.38 Besides they were made to perform uliyavela39 to the caste Hindus.40

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FOOT NOTE