This refers to the report “Baggage that weighs heavily on the mind” (Op-Ed, Aug.23).

The slave trade was also practised in the 19th century in Travancore and Cochin, with the patronage of the rulers. The slaves were from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, who were 13 per cent of the total population of Travancore. They had to keep a distance of 50-100 feet away from the forward castes to avoid theendal. They were not allowed decent clothes and lived in subhuman conditions. Disease was rife. They were not fed properly and had to work the whole day without any break. The old and sick among them led a very pathetic life.

A report says that in 1847, these slaves were mainly used as agricultural labour, for which they were given food served on leaves placed in small pits in the ground. The Travancore government kept 15,000 slaves who were given to landlords on rental basis, who had the power even to kill slaves if they disobeyed orders. They also sold slaves to others. Young children were often taken to the markets, mainly by their parents, to be sold. Some European missionaries were reluctant to convert them to Christianity, as they feared that it may adversely affect their conversion plan of the upper castes and the image of their mission. It may be noted that up to 1854, no baptism of these castes was done by the CMS church.

On March 19, 1847, the missionaries of CMS and LMS took the initiative to stop slavery by making a representation to Maharajah Uthram Thirunal of Travancore, but it was not heeded.

They submitted another representation in March 1848, in which it was pointed out to Resident Mr. Kellen and to the Travancore and Cochin rulers that the legal right to slavery was withdrawn in British India as per Act No.5 of 1843, and that it may be done there too.

By a royal declaration, Cochin first acted on it in April 1855, stopping slavery. In Travancore, the declaration was made only on June 24, 1855.

M. Radhakrishnan Alummoottil,

Thiruvananthapuram

More In: Letters | Opinion