When Gandhi visited Fort Kochi

Captain Lakshmi Sahgal (middle garlanded) was among those who visited freedom fighters’ homes like the one of K.J. Burleigh (right) in Fort Kochi in 1975.  

Few people know that Mahatma Gandhi chose to visit Fort Kochi (what was then British Cochin) in 1925 following the success of the women-led agitation that led to closure of a dozen toddy shops in the locale.

The agitation was such a romping success that there were no toddy shops till the early 1960s in the locale which saw footprints of the Portuguese, Dutch and the English, said former Mayor K.J. Sohan, who is the convener of the Kerala chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). “Even post-Independence, people from Fort Kochi used to visit nearby Mattancherry to have toddy for drinking or use in appams,” he said.

Thomas Burleigh

Thomas Burleigh  


His father, K.T. Joslin, was a volunteer captain of the anti-toddy satyagraha. Mr. Sohan spoke of how a Congress volunteer from Fort Kochi was the first to be arrested in connection with the Vaikom Satyagraha.

Having arrived at the Old Railway Station (which was abandoned after Ernakulam Junction and Town railway stations were built), Mahatma Gandhi reached Fort Kochi by boat. He was accompanied by a team led by freedom fighter K.J. Burleigh, whose wife Anne was a leader of Mahila Samajam which spearheaded the satyagraha in front of the toddy shops, said 88-year-old Thomas Burleigh, one among the four sons of K.J. Burleigh.

“My father used to fondly recollect how Gandhiji chose to visit Fort Kochi, hearing of the what perhaps was the first women-led satyagraha that resulted in closure of liquor shops. The Mahatma was convinced that men spending on and getting addicted to liquor was the main reason for impoverished families. The around 5,000 British soldiers who were then stationed in army barracks (at what is now INS Dronacharya - Indian Navy’s gunnery school) were deployed in Fort Kochi when he arrived to address people at the beach,” said Mr. Burleigh, who is a pioneer in Kerala’s seafood export sector.

Having made his mark as actor, director, producer, music director, poet, painter and writer, his latest book Inverted Man is awaiting release.

‘Epitome of adventure’

It was during his 1925 visit to Fort Kochi that Mahatma Gandhi described the coastal town as the “epitome of adventure”.

Among the iconic freedom fighters who visited the ancestral house of K.J. Burleigh include Captain Lakshmi Sahgal of INA fame and A.K. Gopalan, in 1945. The then Pope had decorated K.J. Burleigh with the Chevalier title.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 4:20:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/when-gandhi-visited-fort-kochi/article36767204.ece

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