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Posts tagged ‘edgar thurston’


The following passages are excerpted from the NCERT book prescribed for the IX class students for the subject of History. This passage has recently been seen by some of the Nadars as a mischievous statement aimed at tarnishing their image. Let us read the following passages before seeing it in the right perspective.

Caste Conflict and Dress Change
Though there were no formal sumptuary laws as in Europe, India
had its own strict social codes of food and dress. The caste system
clearly defined what subordinate and dominant caste Hindus should
wear, eat, etc., and these codes had the force of law. Changes in
clothing styles that threatened these norms therefore often created
violent social reactions.
In May 1822, women of the Shanar caste were attacked by uppercaste
Nairs in public places in the southern princely state of
Travancore, for wearing a cloth across their upper bodies. Over
subsequent decades, a violent conflict over dress codes ensued.
The Shanars (also called Nadars) were a community of toddy tappers
who migrated to southern Travancore to work under Nair landlords.
As they were considered a ‘subordinate caste’, they were prohibited
from using umbrellas and wearing shoes or golden ornaments. Men
and women were also expected to follow the local custom of never
covering their upper bodies before the upper castes.
Under the influence of Christian missions, Shanar women converts
began in the 1820s to wear tailored blouses and cloths to cover
themselves like the upper castes. Soon Nairs, one of the upper castes
of the region, attacked these women in public places and tore off
their upper cloths. Complaints were also filed in court against this
dress change, especially since Shanars were also refusing to render
free labour for the upper castes.
At first, the Government of Travancore issued a proclamation in
1829 ordering Shanar women ‘to abstain in future from covering the
upper parts of the body.’ But this did not prevent Shanar Christian
women, and even Shanar Hindus, from adopting the blouse and
upper cloth.
The abolition of slavery in Travancore in 1855 led to even more
frustration among the upper castes who felt they were losing control.
In October 1859, riots broke out as Shanar women were attacked in
the marketplace and stripped of their upper cloths. Houses were looted
and chapels burned. Finally, the government issued another
proclamation permitting Shanar women, whether Christian or Hindu,
to wear a jacket, or cover their upper bodies ‘in any manner whatever,
but not like the women of high caste’. (written by JANAKI NAIR for NCERT)

The only part appearing which has the appearance of FACTS but PROJECTS the community of NADARS through the eyes of a Keralite is not as much demeaning as MISLEADING. I believe that none needs to be offended about one’s past if that part of the past was beyond the control of that person. However, when we write HISTORY, fidelity to facts is the soul of all history writing. Otherwise, HISTORY deteriorates to either paeans  or treading down a person or community or country! The following lines which appear in the text book is a verisimilitude devoid of the soul of the truth:-

The Shanars (also called Nadars) were a community of toddy tappers
who migrated to southern Travancore to work under Nair landlords.

There are three points made which are likely to lead the tender minds to make the following inferences:-

That Shanars/ Nadars were Toddy tappers by profession

That ALL Shanars/Nadars migrated to Travancore; and

That Shanars/Nadars all went to Travancore to work under Nair landlords!

First of all i like to state that the term SHANARS were considered to be derogatory and a Government Order was issued signifying that all Shanars are to be called as Nadars (Law (General) Department G.O. No. 785, 7th July 1921 issued by the order of the Governor-in-Council and signed by R. Ramachandra Rao, Secretary to the Govt. of Madras). Honestly, just as Mae West rightly said A MAN IS WHAT A MAN DOES, a community’s strength comes out of what it DOES and not because of the name!

This happened sometime in 1921, therefore the use of Shanars in the main and Nadars in brackets CANNOT HAVE THE SANCTION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA or THE GOVERNMENT OF TAMIL NADU. So to use this word SHANARS instead of NADARS is highly mischievous and has been influenced by a prime ignoramus who is not familiar with the sanctity of Government orders! To allow this to permeate into curriculum at the school level is nothing but mischief!

Regarding the fact that Nadars were a community of toddy tappers, it is a well known fact that Nadars lived of the plamyra produce, which included nungu, karupatti, padhaneer, panagkizhangu, panampazham, thatching of roofs with the palm leaves and making handicraft items with the palm leaves. So to limit it to toddy tapping, which the community discontinued consciously because of the social evils associated therewith is VERISIMILITUDE.

Nadars did not migrate to Travancore, only a miniscule percentage of Nadars from the Southern districts of the present day Theni, Ramnad, Thoothukudi, Madurai, Virudhunagar & Tirunelvelli migrated to the Travancore state to escape the drought and famine in these dry districts. Like in any migration, the Nadars who migrated to Travancore, over a period of time forgot their trade (there were no palmyra trees in Travancore, only coconut trees were aplenty and the Ezhavas were already tending to it) and deteriorated to the serving class, just like Joseph’s brethren and their children deteriorated into slaves in the land of Egypt! After all Egyptians made the rules and the Jews were made to follow the rules under a theory of superiority that the Egyptians were superior to the pastoral Jews!

In any case the demographics of Tamil Nadu proves that Nadars form 12% of the population of 6.5 crores, which translates to 78 lakh Nadars to the 1% Nadars of the present day Kerala, which would be a mere 3 lakhs! To base a history book on the migrant population of a particular community is not only false but mischievous! A crocodile should be seen in the ecosystem in which it has thrived. The croc may need the sand for hatching its eggs, but its LIFE is in the marshes and the water. Merely because a cheetah plays around with a croc on land, by no means is the croc weak. It is the terrain which matters, the same croc in a marsh or water would shred the cheetah and swirl it in shreds!

The last line shows as if the Nadars were very keen on working only for the Nair landlords. It so happened that the predominant land holding community in the erstwhile Travancore state , besides the royal family, were the Namboothiris, as a community. These Namboothiris handed over the lands to the Nairs (for what reason pl read Thurston) for cultivation and they in turn got the land cultivated on behalf of the Namboothiris. So, i am pretty sure that Nadars did not choose Nairs as their landlords, but they went as ryots to the tenants, who were Nairs also. If one were to disbelieve my story, then all one has to do is read up the community called NAYARS in volume IV of THE CASTES AND TRIBES OF SOUTHERN INDIA by Edgar Thurston. Upon reading, one will be able to realize that some of the polyandry practices practised by certain communities of Travancore were not only deplorable, but shamefully unutterable! The women considered the Portuguese sailors who stepped on to the shores of Travancore, to sow their wild oats, to be of a HIGH CASTE! So much for the caste systems which were prevalent in the then Travancore state.

Nadars had always followed the patrilineal system as against the Travancore people (except Namboothiris-who protected their women so zealously that they never wanted to be left with a cuckoo in their nest) who followed the matrilineal system. So essentially, the Nadars were a misfit in that system with their rigid mores, which was more suited to the Tamil terrain!

To conclude that Nadars are to be judged by the Travancore Nadars is nothing but the feverish fulminations of the communities which are unable to stomach the sustained growth and progressive ways adopted by the Nadars of Tamil Nadu. To make the Nadars of Travancore the bench mark for Nadars appears to be the work of an ignoramus, who has exposure only to the Travancore history with no understanding of a community which has shown growth by its OWN EFFORTS and not by stealing the LABOUR AND WEALTH in the name of DIVINE RIGHT or BEING AN ILLEGITIMATE OFFSPRING OF A KING!

The most important part of History is WHEN DO WE PEG OUR HISTORY? In any community’s Life there are bound to be ups and downs and if the nadir is made the point of that community’s history, then it smacks of BIAS. Do we judge the Jews by what they were when they were slaves in Egypt? Do we judge the history of India when we were under the British? NAY. We judge the people BY WHAT THEY DID WHEN THEY HAD THEIR OWN LAND AND THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE. If we look for denigrating history, I am sure there would not be a single community which could boast of an uninterrupted history of only sovereignty, progress and prosperity!

One should read the book called INDIA’S NEW CAPITALISTS by a Malayali HARISH DAMODARAN (grandson of EMS Namboodripad!) to see the steep growth of a community through hard work.

It is nice to believe in MYTHS and feel superior, but when the CANNONS are out, the myth believers would be stunned like the Ibrahim Lodi’s army in front of Babur! Let us get REAL and teach our children the FACTS, if we cannot stomach the present day truths!


In  THE HINDU dated 19-01-2009 Mr. S.Gurumurthy has written an article titled Is caste an economic development vehicle?, wherein he has concluded that the caste system’s perceived nuisance in politics can be mitigated by promoting the economic potential of caste.

In the said article, he has brought out the bright side of the caste system as was prevalent in India. Inter-alia he has made the following statements which have been excerpted for affording greater clarity.

“The Nadar caste runs over three-fourths of the retail trade, match works, and fireworks in Tamil Nadu.

An empirical study was conducted in some 25 caste-based industrial clusters in different places in India by a team of academics and professionals trained in modern business under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu Swadeshi Academic Council. It showed that whether it is the Jatavs of Agra and Kanpur, or the Nadars, Naidus, or Goundars of Tamil Nadu, or the Patels of Gujarat, or the artisan Ramgadiyas of Punjab, they have risen as competent entrepreneurs – many at the global level – mostly by leveraging on their kinship-based social capital.

It is the community that has acted as the knowledge provider thorough kinship and social network.”

Before making a sweeping statement that the NADARS of Tamil Nadu had leveraged their caste connections to propel themselves to their position of predominance in Retail, match works & cracker industry, he shud have done a background check for the reasons leading to such predominance, than to use the success of the NADAR caste for his half-baked hypothesis of leveraging the caste connections.

The reasons are manifold.

In my opinion, the NADARS were built for hard labour and completing the tasks ahead of them in a manner that is instructed them. The reason being that NADARS were from the community of palmyra climbers and were able bodied. The men folks’ greatest investment was in their body and subsequently in their skills. They had to climb the tall palmyra trees and cannot afford to lose their grip on the tree even in the event of being stung by a scorpion or a bee (it is very common to experience these threats at the top of the tree). This trait of sticking to their tasks even in the event of pain, had inculcated in them a strong ability to hold on to the basic reality of sticking to the task.

Besides the fact that the NADARS had to have capable bodies, they had built a capacity to endure pain and finish the objectives set before them.

Further, all the nectar gathered cannot be sold therefore they had to decide based on the local saleability, as to how much had to be brought down as nectar (in Tamil padhaneer, in Malayalam akkaani) and as to how much to be brought down as toddy. The unsold portion of the nectar was brewed into a type of country sugar called in Tamil a Karuppatti. To top it all, all the sprouting shoots on the tree top cannot be chosen and sliced for draining nectar. As some had to be left for the formation of the tender kernel called nongu (in Tamil) and some left for maturing into full grown fruits for the purposes of the seeds and subsequently for the harvest of the tubers that come out of those buried seeds.

The point that i am trying to bring out is that, the NADARS had to apportion the basic resource in such a way that it would fetch them the maximum returns. It is in these activities that the NADARS had learnt the basics of apportioning the resources, assessing the market conditions and saving for a rainy day. IF THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO WAS PLAYED IN THE PLAYGROUNDS OF ETON, it was surely in these circumstances that the NADARS had learnt the skills and built their character.

There were many instances where the palmyra climbers had slipped from the trees and fallen to death & sometimes crippled with disabling injuries. Constant rains deprived them of their livelihood for days on end- when climbing trees besides being hazardous ,would dilute the nectar and make the nectar useless for consumption or sale.

It is from such insecurities that the concepts of SAVING and HEALTHCARE emanated. It is a fact that there were a lot of ASANs, who were NADARS, who learnt the medicinal properties of herbs and used them in treating bone injuries. The NADAR community developed these Asans for treating their own people, who suffered grave injuries and bore the livelihood of these asans, out of their earnings and produce, as an obligation of labour towards the community and generously paid those asans .

Since the physical labour was demanding and hazardous, the life of a palmyra climber was uncertain and his work of climbing the tree did not, in any case, last beyond his middle age- as his reflexes and strength subsided with age.

The women folk had to sell the country sugar (karuppatti) in the local markets and assist their menfolk in the earnings of their household. In their spare time they had to weave baskets out of the palmyra leves, make hand fans and other fancy items out of the palmyra.

So on the whole, the NADAR community is not like what Gurumurthy says that they garnered the retail and match works business thru social networking. It is too simplistic, as probably he comes from a background where his forebears lived off selling concepts of SIN, GUILT, PROPITIATION, READING KUNDALIs and NATAL CHARTS PRESUMING TO PREDICT FUTURE, using temple lands for tenancy and produce skimming!!

The insecurity of NADARS led them, by God’s grace, to toil in areas where they could give businesses to their succeeding generations. Earlier, the father NADAR had nothing but a house and the right to tap the palmyra as a lease holder, to bequeath to his son;but the realization that each generation had to start from the scratch made them move over gradually to more steady incomes and giving their children education. If Gurumurthy is to understand this, he has to understand that it was not because of CONNING THE PUBLIC THRU RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS THAT THE NADARS CAME OUT OF SUCH PLIGHT, BUT  THAT THEIR LABOUR AND HARDWORK COULD NOT KEEP THEM DOWN ANY LONGER! It was the inter-generational continuity and inter-generational sacrifice that has taken the NADARS to where they are.

Alas! Gurumurthy cannot understand that, as he probably comes from a stock that claimed pre-eminence in the society thru peddling small minded spiritualism which is NOT AN EFFORT THAT IS BASED ON HARD LABOUR, BUT SUSTAINING THE FRAUD OF HIS FOREBEARS! For his community, it is important to network and sustain the collective fraud of the consciousness promoted thru the ages.


The homogeneity of the NADAR community is zealously guarded not through myths of superiority, but because of the realization by each generation that the previous generation had suffered enough, to bring the candle of progress from afar, beguiling the MYTH CREATORS who tried in vain to snuff out the flame that the NADARS protected so carefully.


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