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Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924-25 Vykom Satyagraha and Mechanisms of Change

3 March, 2015

Mary King’s latest book, Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924-25 Vykom Satyagraha and Mechanisms of Change, is now available.

A note from the author:

A 1920s nonviolent struggle in the Indian village of Vykom (now in Kerala) sought to open the public roads surrounding the Brahmin temple there. For centuries, any Christian, Jew, Muslim, dog, or pig could walk these roads, with the exception of so-called untouchable Hindus, who would “pollute” the high castes should their shadow fall upon them. In what was modern India’s first important social struggle, ordinary people in the princely state of Travancore took action to oppose the extreme practices of untouchability in the Hindu caste system. From April 1924 to November 1925, what Mohandas K. Gandhi called a satyagraha was waged to gain access for excluded groups to the forbidden routes encircling the temple compound. (From Sanskrit satya, truth, and agraha, insistence, satyagraha has come to mean a campaign of nonviolent civil resistance.)
I spent hundreds of hours in archives with both palace and British original documents, and newspaper morgues, in assessing the role of Gandhi, the dilemmas that he faced, and the mistakes that he made. I also interviewed specialist Keralan historians. I have reconstructed a verifiable chronology for what actually happened at Vykom (and its controversial settlement) and in this corrected context, trace the dynamics of civil resistance during this movement. For the first time, scholars and practitioners are able to evaluate this famous and misperceived struggle, which influenced the building of theory on the mechanisms of change in nonviolent civil resistance. Broadening my scope, I give fresh analysis of satyagraha and analyze the impact of the Vykom struggle on the concept and workings of civil resistance on the global level to the present day. Starting in 1919, for four decades, African-American leaders traveled to India searching for strategies on how to change what they thought comparable to a caste system, while Indians lecturing in the United States shared lessons from their nonviolent campaigns, thereby shaping the contours of the coming U.S. civil rights movement.
Reviews:
A note about availability:
My latest book was released by Oxford University press in India on January 27, 2015, and is available for order from OUP India and Flipkart now (which can send it anywhere). It was released in the United Kingdom on March 1, and is available for purchase on Amazon UK. It is available on Amazon (US) now, for delivery from March 25, 2015.

Freedom Summer and the unfinished work of the civil rights movement (al Jazeera)

25 June, 2014

by Alice Driver

A 1965 photograph of a couple in the Mississippi Delta arriving to register to vote [Copyright: Mary Elizabeth King]

You can’t think that the civil rights movement was only Martin Luther King. It was a wide variety of people, black and white, young and old,” explained US civil rights leader Julian Bond.

Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. For several years, he worked alongside activist Mary King, handling communications, which sometimes played a life-or-death role for the movement.

“Public understanding was crucial to our strategy,” King notes. 

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Guest Post about Mary King by Alice L. Driver, School of Authentic Journalism

15 May, 2013

This article by Alice L. Driver, School of Authentic Journalism, Class of 2013, was originally published as“US Civil Rights-Era Leader Mary King Says Successful Social Movements Expand Space for Other Struggles” on Narconews.com

Mary King has earned international acclaim for her writing and work focused on social justice movements around the globe. But the important role she played in helping to advance the struggle for women’s rights is a lesser known story of how the success of one social movement, the US civil rights struggle, helped to expand the space for another movement.


Mary King at the inaugural dinner of the 2013 School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico. DR 2013 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

King’s consciousness of women’s rights was shaped years ago by her organizing and media work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organizing group at the heart of the U.S. civil rights movement that played out in the 1960s.

From a tiny spark, the kind produced by pure belief in something and by the wild and willful certainty of youth, Mary King, while with the SNCC, is credited with helping to plant a seed for the modern women’s rights movement.

King spoke recently about that history while attending the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism — an intensive workshop focused on journalism and social movements held in Mexico from April 17-27 (you can find a slideshow with more photos of the workshop by Alice L. Driver here).
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