Payyanur Salt Satyagraha

It was on April 21, 1930, that the volunteers under the leadership of K. Kelappan, the ‘Kerala Gandhi’, collected salty sand with coconut shells in gunny bags and distilled it and sold small packets in the evening. Ninety-five year-old Madhavan recollects that packets with a pinch of salt were sold then at the incredible price of Rs. 25 per piece and the demand could not be fully met. That was the fervour with which people of the area heralded mass participation in the Satyagraha movement.

Though Uliyath Kadavu at Payyanur was the locale of the most unforgettable action of the freedom struggle, it remained totally neglected till a few years ago. It was only in 2006 that a memorial was launched by K. Madhavan, under the auspices of the Salt Satyagraha Memorial Trust; they purchased 10 cents of land and a mandapam and a bust of Kelappan have been installed.

The fiery speeches of Kerala’s freedom fighters of the 1930s like K.Kelappan, T. R. Krishna Swami Iyer, and Moyarath Sankaran at Kanhangad inspired the 15- year-old student from an aristocratic family, to participate in the freedom movement and Salt Satyagraha. Along with five elders he volunteered to go to Calicut, from where the Satyagrahis would start their march, on April 14, the Malayalam New Year’s day. They were given heroes’ farewell by the people of Kanhangad. At Calicut, Madhavan joined Kelappan and there were several hundreds who had already assembled.

Young Madhavan was apprehensive that he may be excluded from the 32-strong batch required in the group and Kelappan who was very fond of him tried his best to dissuade him, citing alarming consequences. But Madhavan was resolute and gifted his gold ring to the Salt Satyagraha fund!

There were three batches of volunteers and they started their march from Kozhikode on April 14, 1930 under the leadership of K. Kelappan to Payyanur.

All the way the entire group received a rousing reception from the people of different villages and towns. At Thalassery, Madhavan recalls an incident: Moyarath Sankaran, a Satyagrahi himself, and his wife washed the dirty clothes of all the volunteers ( telling them there was a dhobi) in the night without their knowledge and when they protested, the couple expressed their pride in washing the soiled clothes of freedom fighters! At the venue on April 21,1930, people had assembled in thousands. Police had also made elaborate preparations to prevent the Satyagrahis from making salt. But the will of the freedom fighters and the supporting crowds prevailed and policemen became mere onlookers, unable to control the large and swelling gathering. The British laws were broken and salt made. This continued for some days.

When the Satyagraha was shifted from Payyanur to Calicut, young Madhavan was one of the volunteers who picketed the liquor shop. He was arrested and subjected to police brutalities and jailed. To escape the long and hard life in the Borstal School, he was advised by Hassan Koya, a senior freedom fighter to mention his age as 19!

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