Petition from the Cheramar Sthree Samajam to Elizabeth Kuruvila, Member, Travancore Sree Mulam Praja Sabha

[The following is the translation of a petition submitted by the dalit women’s collective, the Cheramar Sthree Samajam advancing the needs and rights of dalit women in Travancore, to Elizabeth Kuruvila, member representing Women, newly-appointed to the Praja Sabha. It appeared in the dalit publication, the Cheramar Doothan (1103 ME, Karkatakam 30, 1928, p.4). This petition was recently discussed by the young scholar of dalit modernity, Vinil Paul. For a discussion of the historical context and significance of this petition, see, Vinil Paul, ‘Chermar Sthree Samajam’: Tiruvitamkoorile Dalit Sthree Pravarthanangal’, Madhyamam Weekly 26 July, 2021. The Chermar refers to a dalit Christian community (of the Pulaya people) formed by Pambady John Joseph in 1921. In preference to the already-prevalent caste-name Pulaya, he proposed the new name ‘Cheramar’. Both Dalits who chose the Christian faith and those who did not could be part of this new community. The Cheramar Maha Jana Sangham was formed under his leadership; the above-mentioned publication was also assumed this name the same year. Vinil Paul notes that the Cheramar Sthree Samajam was the women’s wing of this organisation and run entirely by women.

This petition was signed by C Mariamma Cherammal. Her biographical details are yet to be traced. ]

Respected Lady, a Gem among Women!

We believe that you are aware of the fact that humble folk like us are unable to celebrate the great joy of your elevation to Membership in the Praja Sabha, an unprecedented event, with a public reception or some such gathering and that we have to be content with celebrating it in our hearts. We do not know much about the various activities that you plan to undertake in the name of and for the sake of women of Keralam, particularly, the women of Travancore. However, we know that you, along with your esteemed husband, deserve to play very significant roles in social service. The women of the Cheramar community are a large group that struggles with poverty, troubles, and sorrow within a larger community that leads an extremely difficult life in Travancore. It is difficult to express in writing the terrible unfreedoms and incapacities that we suffer in both towns and the countryside. We suffer from having to labour for trifling wages, the lack of clean and healthful surroundings, poor education, and very weak economic capacity. To this day, our life is as pitiful as that of beasts. For instance, in this town of Kottayam, we mostly sell grass as our main livelihood. In villages, we mostly work as labourers. Even though we toil from dawn to dusk without a moment to remember God, even, the most we receive as remuneration is a mere 4 chuckrams, or the least, nearly one and a quarter measures of rice. The average of this, which is what we receive daily, is barely enough to keep our soul and body together. No one has created for us a proper livelihood and no one has bothered to think of it yet.

Because of this terrible want, we labour from the month of Meenam (Mar-Apr) onwards in the punja paddy fields and the rest of the time in the plantations of the eastern hills. The women of the Cheramar community yearn to spend at least a day in some rest at home and in their own villages. Our community life, too, is utterly sorrowful. We believe that if you have had the chance to meet even a single one of us, you have probably understood that our situation is more than a thousand-fold worse than that of the Antharjanams [Malayalam brahmin women, who were forced to live in extreme seclusion]. We often chuckle, noting that the only superiority we possess is that unlike them we are mobile, migrating in search of our livelihood. Also, we too are one of the fundamental reasons for the general weaknesses of our community. And therefore we wait, like the yolks in eggs, waiting to be born into human life, to be freed from this beastly existence, through advancement or prosperity. We pray that you become aware of our lack of education, our economic weaknesses, the decline of our traditional occupations, the scant remuneration that we receive, and the manner in which we are denied all freedoms and civilisation.

We do not demand that we may be allowed to leave the labour that we do or the essence of our caste and be raised to an elite community. We pray that the left hand of the Christian community that has, in many places been our support in making us more successful in the work that we do, which has retrieved us often from the troubles that surrounded us, and which offered salvation from our sorrows, be relieved further. We pray that our Mighty Lord grant you the mental strength and bodily health to work tirelessly, without wasting even a moment to make use of this great opportunity granted to you, for the general welfare of the numerous communities of women in Travancore.

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