Historically, geology and geography have shaped Kerala, but, in the last two centuries, politics, culture and technology have lent their powerful hands in sculpting this unusual land. Ideas and practices from overseas found fertility in the land of pepper and coconut. Powerful winds from the mainland effected profound changes. Vaikom satyagraha (1924-25) is the story of how such gusts combined to reshape enduring local edifices. The central issue was caste and the scene Vaikom, a temple town in the north of Travancore, a princely state that was nominally independent but controlled largely by the British.
Based on old and unempirical ideas about souls, birth, incarnations and related ideas about entitlements, privilege and exclusion, caste worked as an elaborate and self-perpetuating set of institutionalised injustices. It determined everything about a person’s life. Its dictates were accepted as natural law.