Little Bits of History

September 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 26, 2017

1910: Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai is arrested. He was born in Travancore, a Kingdom at what is today the southern tip of India. In the early 19th century, Travancore became a princely state of the British Empire and was the second most prosperous princely state in British India. They were noted for achievements in education, political administration, public works, and social reforms before India was released from British rule in 1947. Travancore remained a separate Kingdom until 1949 when it joined India proper.

Pillai was the youngest son of his family with his father being a temple-priest. The patriarch of the Pillai family had once saved the life of Prince Marthanda Varma. When Marthanda became Maharaja of Travancore, he gifted the family a 50 acre tract of land and a 12-room mansion as well as other privileges. SR Pillai was born more than 100 years later, but the family fortunes were still intact. Pillai was educated in both English and Royal schools. He was a rather shy student and used his time reading. He passed his matriculation exam at the age of 14. All his reading led to an interest in journalism and newspapers.

While studying, he became friends with and received guidance from many of the newspapermen of the region. He was encouraged to submit his own writing to the papers. His obsession with writing angered his family and even though he would have preferred to further his education in journalism, his family insisted he give it up. Pillai continued to write, and his friends believed he should edit an already established paper. Although he tried to both hold down this job as well as attend school, he was forced to abandon family support to follow his dream. Without family money, he had to take a job, but managed to finish his education.

Pillai was able to write for some of the more progressive papers in the kingdom and wrote against the age-old customs he felt were maladaptive in an emerging social system. Travancore was steeped in the caste system and he raged against all it entailed. He took over the editorship of a journal called Swadeshabhimani. The paper was noted for progressive thoughts and he published an article accusing the Dewan of immorality and corruption. He went on to criticize the Maharaja. On this day, the paper’s offices were sealed and their printing press was secured. Pillai was arrested. He was exiled and eventually his family moved with him to Madras. As a side note, the printing press was returned to the newspaper owner’s family in 1957. Pillai continued to write from exile and was the author of more than twenty books.

The monarchs believe and force others to believe that they are God’s representatives or incarnations. This is absurd. Did God create a special kind of dog to be the king of dogs, or a special kind of elephant to rule over all elephants? – Ramakrishna Pillai

The rightful claim to dissent is an existential right of the individual. – Friedrich Durrenmatt

May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the end it is worse to suppress dissent than to run the risk of heresy. – Learned Hand


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