Veteran Gandhian Thayatt Balan, now aged 92, had his first encounter with history at the age of six. He travelled on the shoulders of his father who walked from their home in Panoor to the Thalassery beach, where Mahatma Gandhi addressed a huge gathering in 1934. The image of Gandhiji, sitting cross-legged atop a raised platform, still remains etched in his mind. Gandhiji was on his fourth visit to the land of the Malayalis, his first visit being in 1920 during the Khilafat-Non Cooperation movement.
Gandhiji’s first visit was political, and on the occasion he was accompanied by Maulana Shoukat Ali, one of the top leaders of the movement demanding restoration of the Turkey Sultanate, as the sultan was venerated as the global leader of Islam those days. In Malabar, the Khilafat Movement ended up in a huge conflagration of violence in the taluks of Ernad and Valluvanad in which thousands of Mappilas died fighting the British forces in battles that raged for six months. The Hindu-Muslim unity that was the greatest slogan of the movement had been shattered in the wake of the Mappila rebellion and the two communities had drifted far apart from each other in the next decades.
So when Gandhi visited again, politics was not on his agenda. In 1924 and 1927, Gandhi’s visits to the region were focused on social reforms within the Hindu community. In 1924, he joined the agitators at Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, where the Congress volunteers courted arrest demanding equal rights to the untouchables on public roads around the temple. On his next visit in 1927, Gandhiji rejoiced over Travancore Maharajah’s declaration which opened the public roads to all his subjects.