Ayyankali Jayanthi is celebrated as a public holiday in Kerala on 28 August every year. It is the commemoration of the birth of Ayyankali, a renowned social reformer, who was born in the year 1963.
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|Ayyankali Jayanthi||Saturday, 28 August 2021||Kerala|
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Ayyankali was born on 28 August 1963 in modern-day Thiruvananthapuram, which was the erstwhile Travancore (British India). He was born in a family that belonged to the ‘'Pulayar’' community which was considered to be untouchable. The members of the community were traditionally agriculturists who worked as rural slaves to rich landlords. Ayyankali’s family was given a gift of 5 acres of agricultural land by a landlord because of which they had a better economic standing than others in their community. However, the social discrimination that the members of other castes subjected them to caused Ayyankali to rebel.
Ayyankali, along with other like-minded friends, started creating and performing dances and songs as a means of protesting against the injustice of untouchability. Sometimes these protests also ended in physical attacks. He quickly earned popularity and was given the nickname ‘'Moothapullai’' or ‘'Urpillai’'.
In the year 1888, Ayyankali got married to a woman named Chellamma. They had 7 children together.
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Ayyankali protested for the rights to wear the same clothing as the Nair community, who were considered higher in the caste hierarchy. He was one of the main forces behind successfully campaigning for the rights of lower caste women to cover their upper torso, which happened after the success of the Channar Revolt by the Nadar community for the same reason.
He also traveled on roads that were off-limits to the lower castes. His protests inspired others, leading to similar protests in other places as well.
In the year 1904, inspired by the actions of the famous reformist Ayaavu Swamikal, Ayyankali and his friends established a branch of the Swamikal’s organisation in his birthplace of Venganoor. He was also inspired by the renowned social reformer, Narayana Guru, who was from the Ezhava caste, even though they diverged in their beliefs on how to materialize equality in society.
Access to Education
In the year 1907, Ayyankali formed the organisation called the Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) which attracted both Christians and Hindus to collaborate to set up schools operated by the Pulayar community and to increase access to education in other schools as well for the Pulayars.
When one of the schools was burnt down by the upper castes, Ayyankali organised the first strike by agricultural laborers where they stopped working in the fields. The result was that the government agreed to completely remove all restrictions on accessing education by the lower caste communities.
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Later in life, Ayyankali became a respected member of Travancore city’s assembly, called the Praja Sabha or Sree Moolam Popular Assembly (SMPA).
Ayyankali passed away on 18 June 1941 in the Madras Presidency of British India. He was 77 years old. He has been described as one of the ‘'most important Dalit leaders of modern Kerala’' by prominent historians.