1867-1938 Kerala's Leading Social Reformer
C. Krishnan worked in the Malabar region for spreading the activities of ‘Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam’ (S.N.D.P. Yogam), the association that was formed for fighting for the progressive ideals that the Guru formulated for the social uplift of the downtrodden. He participated in many conventions that the ‘Yogam’ organized, and chaired its 9th anniversary that was held at Sivagiri along with the consecration ceremony of ‘Sharada’ temple there. In his speech he observed that though prima face the ‘Yogam’ looked like the venture of a particular caste, its activities are applicable to the whole nation as its basis was compassion. Since its leadership stood for the love and justice of all people, all other societies could work on its ideals. C. Krishnan was appointed as the Dharmakartha (dispenser of justice) of all ashram properties including its temples and mutts. He was not only an excellent organiser but also an able fund raiser for the Yogam. Albeit very involved in the Yogam's activities, he was critical at times and in 1917 he pointed out in the Mitavadi that they were satisfied with holding the annual conference at Kollam and simply submitting memoranda. He wanted them to take up revolutionary programmes to address the many issues that heaped oppression and injustice on the downtrodden.
C. Krishnan was an ardent devotee of Gandhiji's ideals in the early stage in Gandhiji's political career, later he became a bitter detractor of Gandhi. This was a result of his fierce committment to the upliftment of the backward classes and his apprehension that the upper caste leadership of the Indian National Congress would never do justice to the socially hapless. Around 1918, C. Krishnan had invited Gandhiji to Calicut and convened a meeting at Paran Square which was presided over by Gandhiji. After the meeting, there was a private tete-a-tete with Gandhi and C. Krishnan drew Gandhi's attention to casteism, savarna domination, untouchability, poverty and the denial of civil and human rights to the non-savarnas. He wanted Gandhiji to give prime importance to the elimination of casteism and wanted it to be included as the first programme in the political agenda of the Congress. Krishnan believed that political freedom would be hollow and meaningless without social freedom. Gandhiji listened to Krishnan's views and he meditated on Krishnan's caveate. After Gandhiji's meeting with Krishnan, he gave importance to the fight against injustice and inequalities of all kinds caused by casteism.
C. Krishnan supported the British rule because he believed that freedom for rule without freedom from serfdom was meaningless. As a consequence of his witnessing the bloodshed and inhuman violence of the Mapilla revolt in Malabar in 1921, which was partly due to Congress's inefficiency in containing violence, C. Krishnan became a critic of Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement as he blamed Gandhiji for his failure to prevent the Malabar rebellion. He was suspicious of the national freedom that would be won without putting an end to the social inequalities. He was conscious of the fact that the downtrodden and suffering millions of India had imbibed the ideals of freedom and progress just from the education and the systems that the British stood for. Mr. K. Kelappan, a great follower of Gandhiji, observed that C. Krishnan could not be found fault with for his support for the British. He did not believe in the attitude of the Congress Party that social evils could be got rid of after getting freedom for the country.
In his speech at the Youth Convention held at Cherthala, Kerala, in 1924 that C. Krishnan chaired, he gave vent to his anger at the Congress Party for not fighting for the eradication of the social practices that degraded socially the backward classes. In 1936 he wrote that in a country with communities having diverse interests, there would be no nationalist feeling. India remained disunited just because Hindus and Moslems and Christians very rarely united and worked together with mutual trust. His observation that it was more difficult to unite various castes in Hinduism than different religions remains true even decades after India’s independence. In 1937 he wrote that freedom won without gaining equality for all would lead to the domination of the minorities by the majority communities. He wanted the nationalists to find a solution for eliminating the impediments to social equality as political freedom would be meaningful only if various social groups tried for friendship between them.
In 1917, C. Krishnan's challenged the order by the Estate Collector to prohibit lower castes from walking the public roads leading to the Tali temple. His defiance of the order was a frontrunner to all struggles demanding the right to worship and to use public roads. He observed that there was no govt. or society anywhere else in the world that prohibited the use of public roads by a section of the society, and also prohibited them from going near places of worship. At the same time he lauded the Congress for participating in the struggle of the backward classes in Travancore for the right to have access to temple roads at the famous temple at Vaikom in 1924-1925. Gandhiji was also involved in the Vaikom Satyagraha and it had an important influence on the Congress party's national programme. C. Krishnan was in the forefront of people who supported the Vaikom struggle by providing material support. He wrote many editorials in his newspaper supporting this cause. In one editorial he wrote thus: “For a hundred years the Govt. of Travancore prohibited the people from entering schools. Now, they are blocking the roads also… They have worsened the situation than that in Russia.” He warned the govt. that the real owners of the land were the people and not the king and his govt. servants. When the rulers of Russia were overthrown from power at the conclusion of the Revolution, he warned again the Govt. of Travancore, and reminded the rulers of the imprisoning of the Russian rulers by the people there.
C. Krishnan believed that means to livelihood and education were essential for self-respect. He urged the downtrodden not to think of class differences. In an editorial that he wrote in 1916 he observed that though freedom for govt. employment was the right of the backward classes, it was not the only means for their upliftment. Though the Jews were persecuted in Europe by the Christian kings and people, they never went down in their social status. Likewise, others might try to prevent the untouchables from getting education, and the use of public roads. But, they could not prevent them from being honest, and also from rejecting the drinking of liquor.
C. Krishnan exhorted that use of liquor was the major cause for human misery. If there were a group of untouchables in the world, they were the ones who drank. There were politicians and public men of the lower order who, pretending to be well-wishers of the working class, justify the liquor consumption of the labourers as a method of getting solace to the latter. Krishnan knew that drunkards were ruining themselves, besides spoiling their families, society and ultimately the state itself. Consumption of liquor, Krishnan thought, would take away the brighter side of human life, and the drunkard would be the best friend of darkness. He was a strong advocate of temperance.
C. Krishnan believed that education can ensure progress, and its calculated denial can invite demotion at all levels. At a time when education was a privilege and right of select sections, establishment of 'Balaprabodhini Sanskrit Patasala' by C. Krishnan was a frontal attack on the absolute right of the upper caste to have Sanskrit education. This later became a centre of learning. For the educational, cultural and social development of the depressed classes, he formed a club in Calicut called S.N.D.P. Club in 1912.
Progressive social reforms always caught the attention of C. Krishnan. Untouchability, superstitions, child marriage, polygamy and polyandry, womens's freedom etc., naturally fell under the spheres of activity of Krishnan. Through his columns in Mitavadi, he championed women's rights, condemning the oppression of and violence to women. He argued for equal pay and equal opportunities for women, stressing that a civil society could exist only if all its members enjoyed equal rights. Discrimination against women was a violation of human rights. Whenever he came to know about crimes against women, he came forward to defend the cause of women.
Since tenancy reforms could ensure the economic progress of the tenants, he strongly pleaded for radical changes in this front. Most of the tenants were from the socially backward sections and as such their social elevation had to be supplemented by economic salvation. C. Krishnan played a prominent part in the tenancy reform agitation in Malabar which resulted in the passing of the Malabar Tenancy Act of 1930. He criticised the Madras government for their slow efforts in dealing with tenancy reforms.
For the economic upliftment of the depressed classes C. Krishnan started Calicut Bank in 1909. However, his friends and relatives were responsible for the liquidation of the bank. Subsequently, on the advise of C. Krishnan, Ramavilasom Bank was started in Travancore by a staff of Calicut bank for the depressed classes. Though C. Krishnan's banking enterprise did not succeed, it taught the depressed classes the great lesson of economic self-reliance.
The life of C. Krishnan stands as an example of dedicated workers who surrounded Sri Narayana Guru who championed human equality for the upliftment of the degraded millions. Albeit influenced and initiated by the Guru, C. Krishnan had his own views particularly with regard to his propagating of Buddhism. He was his own man.
C. Krishnan's social work and his championing of the rights of the depressed people led to important responsibilities. He was the first non-official president of the Calicut Taluk Board and he occupied that position for ten years. He served as the member of the Malabar District Board and Calicut Municipal Council. He was a nominated member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1930 to 1936.
Though C. Krishnan could have entered the govt. service and risen to higher positions by virtue of his education and affluence, he sacrificed all those opportunities for leading the backward classes out of the social dungeons to enjoy sunshine and freedom like the members of the so called forward communities in India. C. Krishnan, assuming the stength of a typhoon, tried to dismantle the castles of crass obscurantism, where superstitions had been ingeneously housed by the orthodox Hindus.
C. Krishnan tried his best to practise what he preached. A man of sterling character, he was free from extravaganza and pomposity. He was humane and generous. He was a charismatic leader. As a spokesman for the rights of the tenants, a lawyer, a crusader for civil and human rights, a fearless editor, a great orator, a free thinker, a social reformer and a banker, he had left an indelible impression on Malayalees. C. Krishnan's name is inevitably connected with the social revolution in Kerala and the contribution he made to the creation of modern Kerala society, with its democratic secular culture and human values, will always be remembered and appreciated. The history of Kerala's development is incomplete without due recognition of C. Krishnan's life and career.
‘The Mathrubhumi’ (newspaper) wrote thus while paying tributes to him on his death (1938, November 29): ‘It is a difficult task for an individual to work in public for such vast and diverse causes for such a long time.’ This observation really referred to the idealism and dedication that he practiced throughout his life for the genuine cause that he championed.
The Government of Kerala salutes C. Krishnan's contribution towards social reform: 'The Mitavadi was in the forefront of the movement for social reforms and the uplift of the weaker sections of society. In the treatment of news the magazine showed a keen awareness of the relevant and the indispensable.'