Churches, Demography, Modern History, Nasrani History, Thomas Christians - Sunday, September 16, 2012 1:39 - 0 Comments
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.
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 Continue…
- 1.W.H. Horsley, Memoir of Travancore, Historical and Statistical , compiled from Various Authentic Records and Personal Observations, Trivandrum ,1838 reproduced by Achuth Sankar S.Nair(ed.), “William Henry Horsley’s Memoir of Travancore(1838): Earliest English Treatise on the History of Travancore” , in Journal of Kerala studies, vol.XXXI, 2004, p.63. That there were 1,74,566 Syrian Christians in Travancore is derived by adding 56, 184 Catholic Syrians and 1,18,382 Syrians who were said to be then living in the kingdom of Travancore. [↩]
- 2.This is the figure given in Travancore Memorial. See George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, New Delhi, 1989,p.52 [↩]
- 3. Selected Proclamations, pp.296-7; It is being generally held that the aggrestic slaves were liberated through the royal proclamation of slavery abolition so as to get sufficient work-force for plantations. S. Ramachandran Nair, Solcial Consequences of Agrarian Change, Jaipur, 1991, pp.23-4; Pius Malekandathil, “Sabha Adhunika Keralathinte Roopikaranathil”, p.27 [↩]
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