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NCERT & NADARS!


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!

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