Nagapattinam: A stay in the small town
of Porayar in Tamil Nadu in 1915 to see the plight of
impoverished Dalits might have influenced Mahatma Gandhi to
dedicate his life to their uplift, says a noted historian.
Coaxed by businessman friend in South Africa R B Chetty to
visit his native town to see the appalling living
conditions of Dalits, Gandhi`s May 1 trip was also influenced
by a Porayar teenaged girl`s death in prison in that nation
after she joined his satyagraha movement there against racial
Valliamma, daughter of an immigrant labourer from
Thillaiyadi village near Porayar in Nagapattinam district
passed away in jail on her 16th birthday.
The Mahatma stayed at Chetty`s house, visited the girl`s
ancestral home, as also the residence of a migrant labourer
from Thillaiyadi who lost his life at Durban. He was shocked
by the extreme poverty of Dalits and agricultural labourers in
and around the area, says Prof. Maria Lazar, historian and
former Head, Department of Commerce, T B M L College, Porayar.
He said the living conditions of Dalits left a deep impact
on Gandhi. A book on the `South Indian visits of Gandhiji`
brought out by Sarvodaya Sangam says he spent his time at
Chetty`s home reflecting on the issue.
"It was here that Gandhi decided to dedicate his life to
the uplift of Harijans," said Prof. Lazar.
The house now has a tablet bearing the inscription `Gandhi
Thankiya Illam` (house where Gandhi stayed). In 1969, then
Chief Minister M Karunanidhi had handed over a tablet to
Chetty`s grandson Rathinavelu during a visit to Thillaiyadi.
The house where Gandhi stayed at Porayar has now become a
famous tourist attraction.