Until 1917, the National Congress avoided to take up social reform problems for fear of upsetting the Indian people's increasing political unity. At this point, Lokamanya Tilak also condemned untouchability and demanded that it be abolished. However, they took no meaningful actions in that approach. Gandhi was the national leader who prioritised the abolition of untouchability, declaring that it was just as important as the political war for independence. The Congress determined in 1923 to take active measures to eliminate untouchability. Its main objective was to educate and rally caste Hindus on the issue.
The temple entry movement:
Two legendary struggles in Kerala came to embody the nationalist challenge in this regard.
In Kerala, the depressed classes, or avarnas (Harijans), were subjected to demeaning and dehumanising social impairments. For example, the Ezhavas and Pulayas could not approach the higher castes closer than 16 feet and 72 feet, respectively, due to untouchability or distance pollution.
• Several reformers and intellectuals, like Sri Narayan Guru, N. Kumaran Asan, and T.K. Madhavan, have been fighting these impediments since the end of the nineteenth century.
• The Kerala Provincial Congress Committee (KPCC) immediately took up the issue of untouchability elimination as an urgent issue following the Kakinada session.
• It was resolved to launch an immediate movement to open Hindu temples and all public roadways to the avarnas or Harijans while carrying out a large propaganda campaign against untouchability and for the educational and social upliftment of the Harijans.
• This, it was thought, would deal a fatal blow to the concept of untouchability, because it was fundamentally religious in nature, and the avarnas' absence from temples was emblematic of their degradation and oppression.
Vaikom Satyagraha (Second struggle):
In Vaikom, a Travancore village, a start was made. There was a big temple there with four walls surrounded by temple roads that avarnas like Ezhavas and Pulayas couldn't use.
• On March 30, 1924, the KPCC resolved to use the newly acquired weapon of Satyagraha to combat untouchability, starting at Vaikom by defying the unapproachability order by conducting a procession of savarnas (caste Hindus) and avarnas on the temple roads.
• The announcement of the Satyagraha sparked immediate enthusiasm among political and social workers, resulting in a massive push to awaken savarnas' conscience and rally their active support.
• The Satyagraha was backed by many savarna organisations, including the Nair Service Society, Nair Samajam, and Kerala Hindu Sabha.
• The Yogakshema Sabha, the premier organisation of the Namboodiris (the highest caste of Brahmins), voted a resolution in favour of avarnas entering temples.
• The temple administrators and the Travancore government erected barricades on the temple's access roads, and the District Magistrate issued prohibited orders against the Satyagraha's leaders.
• The Satyagrahis marched from the Satyagraha camp to the temple on March 30th, led by K.P. Kesava Menon. They were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment, as were the subsequent batches of Satyagrahis, who included both savarnas and avarnas.
• The Vaikom Satyagraha sparked widespread interest, and volunteers began to arrive from all around India. From Punjab, an Akali jatha arrived. After leading a jatha from Madurai, E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar) was imprisoned.
• The conventional and reactionary caste Hindus, on the other hand, assembled at Vaikom and vowed to boycott all pro-Satyagraha Congressmen, refusing to hire or vote for them as teachers or attorneys.
• The Maharani, as Regent, released all the Satyagrahis after the Maharaja died in August 1924. As a result of the positive response to this gesture, it was decided to form a jatha (a group of volunteers) of caste Hindus to present the Maharani with a memorial requesting that the temple roads be opened to all.
• Hundreds of thousands of caste Hindus from all over Kerala descended on Vaikom. On the 31st of October, a jatha of almost a hundred caste Hindus began their march to Trivandrum on foot. Nearly 200 villages and towns along the way welcomed it with open arms.
• It had grown to nearly 1,000 people by the time it arrived in Trivandrum. The Maharani, on the other hand, refused to accept their demand, resulting in the continuation of the Satyagraha.
• Gandhi began his journey of Kerala in early March 1925, when he met the Maharani and other officials. A compromise was reached.
• The roads surrounding the temple were opened to avarnas, while those within the temple's Sankethan remained closed. Gandhi did not visit a single temple on his Kerala journey since avarnas were not permitted.
• After 1924, as part of Gandhi's constructive vision, the campaign against untouchability and for the social and economic improvement of the poor continued all over India. Kerala was once again embroiled in a bitter fight. The KPCC, prodded by K Kelappan, took up the issue of temple admission in 1931, when the Civil Disobedience Movement
Satyagraha in Guruvayur.
• On October 21, a jatha of sixteen volunteers led by poet Subramanian Tirumambu, dubbed the "Singing Sword of Kerala," began marching from Cannanore in the north to Guruvayur.
• From the lowest caste Harijans to the highest caste Namboodiris, the volunteers came from all walks of life. The march sparked outrage across the country and inflamed anti-caste feelings. With a programme of prayers, processions, meetings, receptions, and money collections, the 1st of November was warmly marked as All-Kerala Temple Entry Day.
• Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, and Colombo were among the cities where it was observed (Sri Lanka). The public's reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
• Malabar was visited by many leaders from around India. Money and volunteers rushed in from all corners of the globe. The youth were particularly drawn to the battle and were at the vanguard of it. Anti-untouchability sentiment grew in popularity.
• Many religious enthusiasts shifted their offerings to the Satyagraha camp instead of the temple, believing the camp to be even more sacred than the temple.
• The temple authorities made preparations as well. To keep the Satyagrahis out and threaten them with beatings, they erected barbed wire around the shrine and organised gangs of watchmen.
• On November 1, sixteen white khadi-clad volunteers marched to the temple's eastern gate, where they were met by a posse of officers led by the Superintendent of Police, who blocked their way. While the police stood by, temple servants and local reactionaries began to use physical force against the peaceful and nonviolent Satyagrahis.
• P Krishna Pillai and A.K. Gopalan, for example, who would later become prominent leaders of the Communist movement in Kerala, were thrashed viciously. Even after the Civil Disobedience Movement
was resumed in January 1932, all Congress Committees were deemed unlawful, and most of the Congressmen organising the Satyagraha were imprisoned, the Satyagraha continued.
• The Satyagraha took a fresh turn on September 21, 1932, when K. Kelappan went on a death-defying fast in front of the temple until it was opened to the poor. The entire country was once again jolted to its core.
• Kerala and many other sections of the country were once again enveloped by meetings and processions. Caste Hindus from Kerala and the rest of India petitioned the Zamorin of Calicut, the temple's custodian, to open the temples to all Hindus, but to no avail.
• Gandhiji pleaded with Kelappan to break his fast, at least temporarily, and promised that if necessary, he would personally take up the responsibility of reopening the temple. On October 2, 1932, Kelappan finally broke his fast. The Satyagraha movement was also put on hold.
• The temple admission drive, on the other hand, was intensified. A jatha led by A.K. Gopalan walked the length and breadth of Kerala, spreading propaganda and speaking at large gatherings. The jatha had travelled almost 1,000 kilometres and addressed over 500 meetings before being disbanded.
Success of temple entry movement:
• Despite the fact that the Guruvayur temple did not open right away, the Satyagraha was a huge success in the long run. ‘Even though the Guruvayur temple was still closed to Harijans, I noticed that the movement had produced an impetus for social change throughout the country,' writes A.K. Gopalan in his autobiography.
• All of the strategies developed by the Indian people during the nationalist fight were utilised in the temple admission campaign. Its organisers were successful in achieving the broadest possible unity, providing mass education, and organising the public on the issue of untouchability on a large scale.
• Of course, the issue of caste inequity, oppression, and degradation was deeply rooted and intricate, and temple access alone would not be enough to solve it. However, Satyagrahas like as those in Vaikom and Guruvayur, as well as the movements that surrounded them, made a significant contribution in this regard.
• ‘Guruvayur Temple Satyagraha was an event that enthralled thousands of young men like me and offered motivation to a great majority of the people to struggle for their lawful rights with self-respect,' wrote E.M.S. Namboodiripad years later. It was the same youngsters who took this daring step forward who went on to create worker-peasant associations free of religious or communal animosity.”
Flaws in movement: The primary flaw in the temple entry campaign and the Gandhian or nationalist approach to battling caste oppression was that they lacked a strategy for abolishing the caste structure itself, even while amusing the people against untouchability.
• In this regard, the national movement found expression in the independent India Constitution, which eradicated caste inequality, prohibited untouchability, and guaranteed social equality to all people, regardless of caste. Its flaws have been manifested in the rise of casteism and the continued practise of oppression and discrimination towards the lower castes in post-independence India.