Ayyankali was a social reformer and a leader of the untouchables, who are known as Dalit in India. He initiated many breakthrough reforms in the society and in the life of poor Dalit. Due to these social improvements, children of the Dalit family were able to attend the school, member of the poor family were allowed to use the common places for the transport, started earning money through decent jobs and they got the permission to worship of God. Mahatma Gandhi acclaimed him for his enhancements in the society rules in 1937, when Gandhi came to Venganoor, which was the hometown of Ayyankali.
Ayyankali was the member of Pulayar community of the Dalit in Travancore, Kerala. In that time, rural slavery was the only earning source of the Pulayar communities. However, his family was rich in compared to the other families of Pulayar community. His family members were attached with the agriculture. On those days, that area was severely affected with the social discriminations.
The Pulayars were observed as the lowest caste in the society in that time. They were poorly dominated by the upper caste of Nair. Swami Vivekananda once mentioned that place as mad house of castes. Ayyankali and his companions were first started their protest locally. They gathered at the end of their work and sang folk songs to show their objection against the situation. Few joined him to form a protesting group. But, members of the upper class often threatened them and physically attacked them. Though he was uneducated but he was resolute to change the existing situation. He got the popularity through this local movement and named Urpittai and Moothapullai.
Ayyankali started his protest in his own ways. He started his protest and challenged the entire society by dressing like the Nairs and riding bullock cart on the road. These acts were like challenges to the upper castes. He also went to the market of Nedumangad for continuing his disobedience. He also formed a group of young rebellion with Pulayar youngsters. He often threatened by the upper class members for his acts. These acts inspired other members of the dominant castes to strengthen their protest and leading to continue the protest acts elsewhere. Soon after few days the protest became a movement for civil rights and reachedinKazhakkoottam and the entire southern Kerala. The protest marches sometimes curved violent and became popular as Chaliyar riots. Finally, in 1900, the untouchables had won the right to use the most of the roads apart from those which had Hindu temples.
That was the beginning. Soon after sometime, Ayyankali realised that lack of education is one of the key reason why they were in the dark. Ayyankali opened a school in Venganoor for Dalit children. The upper castes people were against that school so they destroyed the school in fire. He wanted to send every child to the school. He strongly believed that every child has the right to get educated. Thus, he wanted to open the gates of the public schools for the Dalit children. Then Ayyankali started another movement for the right to education of Dalit children. Trivancore Government issued an order to mandating the admission of Dalit children in the public schools in 1907. Few officials of the government were also tried hard to stop that order. Ayyankali also fought hard to pass that order. That struggle was ended after three years when finally that order released for general people in 1910. Ayyankali’s movement became successful.
After school, Ayyankali established a movement to ensure the right of the poor worker. That time there was no workers organizations in Kerala. Thus he became the leader of the untouchables of Kerala. He wanted to have few resting time for these poor unhealthy people. He also wanted the wages of the labours should be in cash. He also allied with the other social reformers to change the existing discrimination in the society and restructure the Hindu upper class dominated society. In 1910, Ayyankali was nominated for the Trivancore state assembly for his leadership qualities. At assembly every member was surprised to hear his fluent and to the point speech. He was not educated but he was knowledgeable enough.
After he got the immense support, he formed a group named Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham. The objective of that group was to help the members of the Dalit in education, finance and legal area. This group is became very popular in Kerala and became the second strongest group after Sree Narayan Guru’s group. Ayyankali set a slogan like, ‘Progress through education and organization’. After a short while, they started to establish many branches in Kerala. In that movement, few members of the upper class were came forward to donate their land for the branch offices.
When these changes were happening, several missionaries in Kerala were trying to take the chance to convert Dalit in Christian in order to change their life and end the darkness of discrimination. Ayyankali was strongly opposing this act and felt that conversion of the religion can’t help his people. He and Sree Narayana Guru jointly asked the Hindu society to change their views. He gave his support to the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha to eliminate the caste discrimination.
Ayyankali passed away on 18 June, 1941. Ayyankali was the first person in the country who started the movement for the human rights of the Dalit people. He not only tried to reform the society of Kerala, but he tried to take important measures for the advancement of these people. Many of his suggestions took place in the international human rights documents much before of their adaptation. The historian P Sanal Mohan has called Ayyankali as “the most important Dalit leader of modern Kerala”. KK Balakrishnan, PK Chathan Master, KP Madhavaan were established Ayyankali Trust. Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India inaugurated the bronze statue of Ayyankali at Kowdiar squre in Thiruvananthapuram in 1980 which was created by Ezra David.