To read part one first, click here.
Annie Besant, born into a middle-class family of Irish descent, was a freedom fighter, active in the causes of both Indian and Irish home rule. She, Sir C.P., and others worked together to organize the Home Rule League, in India, and the first meetings were held outside Sir. C.P.’s family home, “The Grove,” under a tree which still stands today, with a plaque beside it commemorating the meetings. They were held outdoors because Sir C.P., being a lawyer, was well aware of the law that would allow the British to confiscate any building that was used to oppose British rule, consequently, the meetings could not be held inside.
Annie Besant, though she was 32 years older than Sir. C.P., never referred to him informally as “C.P.”, which his friends did whenever he was visiting. She had been given a gold cup and saucer, which she used only to serve him tea. Being a man, he did not pay much attention to cups and saucers, and he never noticed this honor that was being paid to him, until one day his mother Rangammal pointed it out to him.
From 1936 to 1947, Sir C.P. served as Dewan, or Prime Minister, of the state of Travancore, under Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.
In those days the caste system was fully in force. If anything, British rule had reinforced the caste system, which the British sometimes found useful as a way of maintaining their hold over the various sectors of the population. And after all, class distinctions were a way of life in Britain too; it was a system they were used to.
Sir C.P. who read avidly, who wrote books on a vast range of subjects, and who could converse eloquently on any subject at all, was a complex individual. He was a reformer, yet a pragmatic realist. Far-sighted, he looked ahead, envisioning how his policies might affect the future. He was one of the individuals who played a significant role in bringing India into the modern world.
Certainly, it was inevitable that India, one way or another, would make a transition from ancient ways to a more modern way of doing things, but exactly how that would happen was what was at stake. Sir C.P. had a great deal to do with ensuring that the transition incorporated the elegance, grace, and undying respect for culture and tradition that is still so much alive in India today.
Though a Brahmin by birth, he was opposed on principle to the rigid inequalities and unfairness of the caste system. He was instrumental in the enactment of the Temple Entry Proclamation, which was issued in 1936 by Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.
Prior to this proclamation, the dalits, who historically were considered to be beneath the four castes of the caste system, were not allowed to enter Hindu temples to worship. The Temple Entry Proclamation stated that any Hindu of any background or caste could freely enter the temples.
This was a bold shot across the bow of caste-based discrimination. Issuing the Proclamation paved the way for the eventual demise of the legal framework of the caste system.
Newspapers all over India took note of the new law, and, despite shock and dismay in some quarters, for the most part, there was general rejoicing.
Sir C.P. also practiced absolute fairness to everyone in his own personal life. On one occasion, for three days in a row, on leaving his law office, he spotted a young man standing outside under a tree.
To be continued in part three.
Top photo and second photo: Sharon St Joan
Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired… You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Annie Besant in 1897
Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.”/ Annie Besant, before 1933