Endangered Archives

EAP292: Creation of a digital archive of social reform movements among the Dalit and lower caste groups in Kerala, South West India

Dr Sanal Mohan Padikaparampil, Mahatma Gandhi University
2009 award - Pilot project
£5,940 for 12 months

Archival partner: Mahatma Gandhi University

Project Overview

This project will carry out a survey of documents related to Dalit and lower caste social reform movements in the twentieth century Kerala, South West India for collecting and preserving them in a digital archive. These reform movements were decisive in negotiating modernity from the perspectives of the underprivileged in the Kerala society. Most of this documentary material is at risk of being neglected, damaged or thrown away due to a lack of awareness about the importance of the material and poor state of storage and handling.

A previous survey has resulted in locating rich sources available for digitisation in scattered personal collections and in the official holdings of various institutions involved in reform movements. Some institutions and key individuals have already consented to part with these sources provided a digital repository of these sources is made freely available. The pilot project will provide information on the feasibility of developing a future project on developing archives of conventional and alternative sources such as photographs, visual materials and audio resources which can be made available in a search and retrieval system online.

The collections are important as they constitute the primary source materials that would enable any social scientific study of various social movements. They include campaign materials, writings and transcriptions of speeches, memorandums, and photographs that are kept in the personal collections without due care and permanent loss of the materials is imminent. There are individuals who have collected such materials in Cochin, Kottayam and Trivandrum who cannot afford to preserve them as they do not have access to costly modern preservation technology.

The first half of the twentieth century had witnessed a flourishing of the social movements of Dalits and other lower caste communities in Kerala. The Dalit communities that had evolved powerful social movements in the early twentieth century Kerala include Pulayas and Parayas. These communities were at the bottom layer of traditional social hierarchy in Kerala and suffered several forms of caste inequalities. In this category lower castes such as Ezhavas, Viswakarmas, and other similar social groups would be included although their conditions were better than that of Dalits. These were the communities that developed social movements that were oppositional to the upper caste domination and have generated rich written materials as part of their movements.

These social movements are significant to scholars studying modern Kerala society, irrespective of their academic disciplines. However, as in the case of most other social movements organised by the deprived caste groups, materials relating to such movements are scattered among the private collections and collections of the various social institutions emerged as part of these movements such as the Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS, 1909 to the present), Sadhu Jana Pariplana Sangham (Society for the Protection of the Poor,1907-1945). Similarly there were other organizations such as Brahma Prathyaksha Raksha Dharma Paripalana Parayar Mahajana Sangham of Kantan Kumaran (1915- 1940) that worked for the development of the Parayar community. Other popular Dalit leaders such as Paradi Abraham Issac and Vellikkara Chothi also led movements that were relatively small in the same period. Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP, 1902- to the present) under the leadership of Sree Narayana Guru was very decisive in the history of modern social movements as it generated different currents of thoughts and practices that signified modernity. There are other movements such as Pulayar Maha Sabha, Sambavar Sangham, Sidhanar Service Society, Cheramar Sangham (1970's to the present) which are relatively new. They are followed by contemporary movements such as Gothra Maha Sabha, a front organisation of many Adivasi communities. Similarly we have Dalit Christian organisations that are engaged in the struggle for equal rights with other Dalits in India.

All these organisations have generated a great deal of documentary material that is important for analysing the social transformation of Kerala Society which will be great value to historians, sociologists, anthropologists, South Asianists, and policy makers.

Project Outcome

The project was able to access and survey documents of various religious and social movements, including documents of the Mala Arya Christian community, the first tribal Christian community in Kerala that Anglican missionaries of the Church Missionary Society had established through their missionary work. These documents are important in studying the social conditions of the tribal community in the mid-nineteenth century. Documents were accessed in the village churches dating from the 1860s to 1950. These include baptism registers and burial registers.

Documents from the following movements were accessed and classified:

  • Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS);
  • Sadhu Janan Paripalana Sangham of Ayyankali;
  • AKCHMS;
  • Dravida Class United Front (DCUF); South India Gospel Association;
  • CMS Anglican Church;
  • Kerala Harijan Federation.

All the materials surveyed during this project remain with the custodians of the documents, although the team will be able to access them for a future major digitisation project.

The project has helped in the establishment of a team of researchers who have been introduced to the archival materials on Dalit and lower caste social movements available in various parts of Kerala. Whilst surveying the material they have interacted with experts in the archival field, such as from the Archives of CSSS Calcutta.

Survey results PDF document 932KB