Official Website of CSI Parish Kattakada, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Official Website of CSI Parish Kattakada, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
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Abolition of Slavery

    John Munroe, the most progressive and liberal Dewan of Travancore, was an enlightened man who drew his inspirations from the activities of the Christian missionaries. Under his influence, the Regent Rani Gauri Parvathi Bhai abolished slave trade in Travancore in 1812. However, the system of slavery continued to exist, as the machinery of the State did not exude interest in implementing this order.


     When John Munroe was the Dewan, the development of Neendakara fishery port was undertaken on a large scale. Dredging of the port was undertaken, and the soil thus obtained was deposited in the Ashtamudi Lake. Thus, a new island was formed. It is known as Munroe Island (Munroe Thuruth), in north-east of Kollam. The land was presented to the Church Mission Society (CMS) missionaries by Rani Gauri Parvathi Bhai. The CMS missionaries handed over a portion of the island to the Malankara (Orthodox) Chruch for establishing a seminary. They also rehabilitated landless poor in this island. A majority of the people who were accommodated in this land were Dalits converted to Christianity. Most of them were slaves before they became Christians. The missionaries declared in 1818 that there will not be any slavery in the land under their control in the island.


     Often, the Dalits became slaves due to their inability to pay back debts. Sometimes, their parents or other family members sold them as slaves, in order to redeem the debts. It was considered to be the “Dharma”, if a lower caste man unable to repay the debt is forcefully captured as a slave. A child born to a slave was also destined to become a slave. Records show that prisoners and ex-convicts released from jails were also sold as slaves.


    The anti-slavery declaration of the mission opened the eyes of the Dalits. It provided an opportunity to them to know the humane face of Christianity. They were attracted to Christianity due to this reason. Their cause was also taken up with the authorities by the missionaries. As a result, the Regent Rani Gauri Lakshmi Bhai, who took over the reign from Swathi Thirunal, issued an order in 1836, prohibiting slave trade. However, the practice of slavery continued for decades to come. It ended only by the gradual social awakening. Following this, Christian missionaries like Bailey, Bekar and Meedh Mart submitted a memorandum to the Travancore government to impose a complete ban on slavery by law. As a result, the then Travancore king Uthradam Tirunal banned all forms of slavery and slave trade in 1853. Following the trails of Travancore, the neighbouring princely state Kochi also banned the practice in 1872.

 

     The missionaries provided education to the people irrespective of caste or creed. However, the lower caste people who had no opportunities to enter into traditional schools (kudi pallikoodams), utilised this opportunity to get knowledge. As a result,  a large number of Nadars, Dalits and Ezhavas were attracted to Christianity. They disregarded the authority of the landlords and sent their children to the schools established by the missionaries. These children, when grown up, could reach to high levels of government service. This prompted many other non-Christians also to start schools providing western education. It was the beginning of social awakening in Kerala, which produced leaders like Sri Narayana Guru (1856-1924), Chattambi Swamikal (1853-1924), Mannathu Padmanabhan (1878-1970), V.T. Bhattathiripad (1896-1982) and Ayyankali (1863-1941). It is to be noted that all these leaders exhorted their community members to get education, besides striving to abolish the superstitions and rotten social customs of their own communities. Thus, we can rightly say that the modern Kerala society was shaped by the Christian missionaries. The leaders of this soil preserved this spirit and carried it forward.