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.
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.