Ayyankali was a popular leader of Dalits of Kerala who carried forward many reform movements for dalits (low caste people). In 1937 he was praised by Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Venganoor, Ayyankali's home town. His statue was unveiled by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi on November 1980, Kowdiar Square Thiruvananthapuram. He was the first labor leader from India who fought for equal rights of Dalit workers in Kerala. He was an illiterate person. Yet he led in front a movement for democratizing public places and asserting the rights of workers even before the formation of any workers organization in Kerala.
Ayyankali was born in Venganoor, 25 kms away from the main city, Thiruvananthapuram in the year 1863. He belonged to Pulaya community who were regarded as dalits. Till middle twentieth century, Kerala was a place filled with strange customs and discrimination based on caste and creed. Dalits were not allowed to pass through public places nor could their women cover their breasts in front of high caste people. Ayyankali himself was an illiterate person similar to other dalits. He decided to fight against such social customs and injustice similar to Manu script and fought against these discriminations. He was inspired a lot by Ayyavu’s teachings.
He passed through the public roads of Venganoor on a bullock cart which was not allowed for the Dalits. He led the movement in front, asked his followers to boycott work in fields of high caste and even demanded education for dalit students. He started a school to teach Dalit children at Venganoor. Other demands were rest time for workers and payment of cash as wage. Such a movement for labour was for the first time in Kerala.
Ayyankali was later nominated to the assembly of Travancore (Sri Moolam Legislative Assembly), in 1910 by the then rulers in recognition of his leadership ability. He got great support from Narayana Guru and great reform leaders that time who were organizing similar movements all over Kerala against the principles of denial of rights and untouchability. He got supported from Pallithanam Luca Matthai, an orthodox Christian from Kuttanad. With his effort, public roads were opened for dalits and dalit women were allowed to wear blouse. By 1914, Dalit children were allowed to join schools too. In 1905 Ayyankali founded the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham which aimed at giving six-day week for agricultural laborers.
Ayyankali died on June 18, 1941. His statue was unveiled at Vellayambalam Junction, meeting point of roads from the Kowdiar Palace and Padmanabha Swamy Temple. So, till now, members of royal family need to pass in front of this statue to reach the temple for daily prayers.
Updated: October 17, 2013