Experiments with Truth: Analysis

Vykom: Nonviolent action against untouchability

Why does nonviolent action work? And how good was Mohandas K. Gandhi as a nonviolent strategist? If you want high quality evidence in your search for answers to these two questions then I encourage you to read Professor Mary E. King’s latest book on the struggle against untouchability, unapproachability and unseeability in the south Indian village of Vykom during the 1920s. See ‘Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924–25 Vykom Satyagraha and the Mechanisms of Change.

History is not always considered instructive and yet the major achievements, and failures, of nonviolent activists throughout the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries can be better understood if we understand what happened at Vykom.

King’s book describes the nonviolent struggle that took place to open the roads surrounding the local Brahmin temple to everyone. For centuries, any person or animal could walk on those roads except those Hindus without caste – the ‘untouchables’ – whose proximity was considered ‘polluting’ to higher castes. From April 1924 to November 1925, upper caste Hindus and others conducted a satyagraha (loosely, a nonviolent campaign) to put an end to this blatant discrimination but relied heavily on strategic guidance from Gandhi.

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