Barrister G.P. Pillai’s 150 birth anniversary on Wednesday
When Gandhiji wanted someone to present the case of Indians in South Africa before British statesmen Sir Alfred Milner and Joseph Chamberlain in 1901, he had no doubt whom to turn to.
He wrote to that person: “Letters embodying the suggestion that a deputation should wait on Sir Alfred Milner and if possible on Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, and place before them the position of Indians in South Africa, are being sent to the British Committee of the Indian National Congress and the East India Association. It seems to me that while everyone is sympathetic, only you are likely to give the time and attention that would be necessary for promoting such a deputation, especially as you are thoroughly posted in the facts of the case.” The person whom Gandhiji held in such high regard and the only Malayali whom the Mahatma has mentioned in his autobiography with great fondness was Barrister G.P. Pillai, whose 150 birth anniversary falls on Wednesday.
G. Parameswaran Pillai, in whom nationalist fervour and fearless journalistic instincts converged, lived only until the age of 39, but what he did during that short lifetime was legendary. As noted journalist T.J.S. George said on the occasion of his death centenary in 2004, “G. P. Pillai personified, in an exemplary way, the symbiotic union of journalism and nationalism in India.” Pillai gave intellectual leadership to the nascent movement against the autocratic administration in Travancore through his pamphlets, for which he was expelled from college.Malayali Memorial
Leaving Travancore, Pillai made Madras (today’s Chennai) a second home and completed his graduation in law from Presidency College. Pillai continued his battle while in Madras and drafted the ‘Travancore Memorial’ (also known as ‘Malayali Memorial’), a memorandum to the then Maharaja of Travancore, seeking fair share of jobs in Travancore government for Malayali youth. He went on to inspire the ‘Ezhava Memorial’ and also played a key role in bringing the youth of that time on the path of rebellion against the autocratic administration of the then Diwan of Travancore.
While in Madras, he was a regular writer in The Hindu, The Mail and The Madras Standard, of which he became the editor in 1892. That was the time when Mahatma Gandhi visited Madras and was impressed by the young man, who went on to become one of the founders of The Temperance Movement. And, it was while in London, studying in one of Inns of Court, that he received the assignment from Mahatma Gandhi.
He returned to Travancore in 1902 and enrolled himself as a Barrister in the High Court of Travancore. He declined the offer of judgeship and came to be one of the leaders of the Bar. He died on May 21, 1904.
John Eardly Norton, one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, remembered him thus: “With him died a brave unselfish spirit, not lightly to be deterred from the sense of public duty by threats of social ostracism or the loss of official favour.”