(Last Updated on : 05/11/2014)
Role of missionaries in Nadar struggle is considered very important in the history of Nadar caste. Travancore society was completely caste based and it had imposed many restrictions on the lower castes. A revolution took place in the nineteenth century which was mainly motivated by the Protestant Christian Missionaries and to some extent by the British also. Macaulay and Munro who were the then British residents in Travancore were responsible for the entry and expansion of Protestant Christian Mission in South Travancore.
Emergence of Missionaries
The Missionaries joined hands with the Nadars of this area and expanded their organization. Their aim was to relieve the low castes from the miseries thereby leading to mental awakening of the Nadar caste by choosing a path of progress. London Missionary Society had sent William Tobias Ringeltaube to India. His attention was directed the Shanars of South Travancore. He hence studied Tamil, and advanced to Travancore through Aralvaimozhi Pass and settled in Mylaudy in Agasteeswarem Taluk in South Travancore. Macaulay had helped in his work and settlement. He worked there for duration of ten years and managed to convert the Nadars particularly to Christians. He understood their sufferings and with the help of many residents brought much relief to the poor people. Ringeltaube was subsequently followed by Charles Mead, the second person to be sent by the London Missionary Society. He visited Mylaudy in the year 1818 and served for the betterment of the down trodden for more than half a century. Under him mission centers expanded from Quilon to Cape Comorin. He brought many more missionaries from hi motherland and spread humanitarianism through educational, technical and medical services. He had also built churches and Christian schools.
Social Progress of Nadar Caste
The Nadars experiencing the benefits of Christianity started embracing it and became followers of this foreign faith. In a village if the head of a Nadar community joined Christianity, other villagers followed him soon. In Agasteeswarem Taluk, the entire village practiced Christianity. With the help of Protestant Christian Missionaries Nadars began to discard the restrictions they had undergone in the name of caste. The lower caste was subjected to several taxes of the government. They wanted to evade these unnecessary taxes. Ringeltaube came to know about his cruelty of the Government. He relieved those taxes as he was very influential among the British residents. They stopped paying thereafter the poll and professional tariffs. The Ooliam service was another burden imposed on them. This was a service offered to the temples, landlords and the government. Those who had converted to Christianity did not like the idea of serving in the Hindu temples. They wanted relief from it on Sundays, too, as they had to attend the church services. They ultimately did get respite from it. The other limitation was that the women were not allowed to use upper garment. Those women who converted to Christianity wanted to dress decently. Hence, Munro released an order allowing the Christian converts to use upper garments.
Educational Progress of Nadar Caste
Educational progress of the Nadars was the most fortunate thing to happen. The Christian Missionaries provided useful knowledge to all. Ringeltaube had opened schools wherever he established a church. He taught the students Tamil, English, Mathematics and Scripture. He is credited to have first introduced the English education in Travancore.
Charles Mead is also credited to have introduced systematic English Education in Travancore. In 1819 his wife and others started girls' school as well as boarding schools for the slave girls in Nagercoil. They had also started schools for the Muslims and Hindus too. An institution started by Charles Mead grew into a Second Grade College in Travancore in 1893. Missionaries established a network of schools catering to the need of all citizens of Travancore without religious discrimination. They had simultaneously started industrial schools to provide employment. Charles mead was one of the enthusiastic workers and from the date of his arrival till his death in 1873, he was completely devoted to education. His main aim was "the communication of religious and useful knowledge". The languages taught were English, Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit. He had established several schools besides the Nagercoil Seminary. He was also instrumental in bringing female education to the State. Slavery was also abolished during his period.
Economic Progress of Nadar Caste
The education introduced by the Christian missionaries brought about an economic progress. This had enlightened the oppressed Nadar caste. Munro eliminated the discrimination policy of the government. He and the subsequent non-Nair Dewans were interested in employing qualified people irrespective of caste in the government. As the converts were able to master the English Language under the missionary care, they had more chances in securing government jobs. Their aptitude in English helped them to get employed in European production firms and estates. Those who gained industrial training from the industrial schools of the missionaries were able to start their own business or industrial unit. The women were engaged in lace making thereby ensuring extra income to the family. In the tea estates of Sri Lanka, the Nadar Christians were employed. Devasahayam served in Sri Lankan tea estates owned by the Europeans. He came to India and started coffee plantations with the permission of Maharaja of Travancore. All these efforts provided employment to many which led them to live a decent life.
The overall services provided by the Protestant Christian Missionaries, opened the eyes of the Nadar community towards liberation. All the other faiths had protested against the Protestant Christians in particular Nadars. This led to Kalkulam struggle and Vilavancode struggle
where the Nadars were physically tortured. Many were killed and forced to flee to safer regions. Many Christian schools and churches were also damaged.
In the year 1829 an order was released. The low caste women would be allowed to wear loose jackets but prohibited from wearing dresses like those of the Nair women. The Christian converts were exempted from Ooliam duties only on Sundays and had to do it on other days. Low castes of all categories were not allowed to follow the high caste customs and etiquette. Construction of churches without Government's consent was banned. Any complaint can be lodged only to government officials. The order was intended only to prohibit the Christians from complaining to the Missionaries. Charles Mead fought for the liberation of low castes. The Christians never got any relief by this order.
Christians were occasionally attacked by the Nairs and it was a continuous struggle. Hence it is clear that Christian missionaries played a very important role in overall upbringing of the low castes especially the Nadars. The Nadars had progressed economically, socially and educationally immensely under their influence. Christianity had brought about a sea change in the education system. Concept of vocational education was first introduced by them thus leading to good employment opportunities.