Dr. P. Palpu was born on November 2nd 1863 at Trivandrum, in Kerala State. He remains ever an example of the persecution that the backward communities suffered in Kerala in those days. Though he came fourth in the examination conducted in 1884 by the Govt. for selecting ten students for the study of medicine, Palpu was denied the opportunity just because of his caste. But, he had no difficulty in getting admission to the Madras Medical College for the L.M.S. course. After getting the medical degree, he was again rebuffed by the Travancore Government when he applied for job in his native state. He was forced out to the neighboring state of Mysore for his employment just as he was sent out of the State for his higher education. He started his meritorious service under Mysore Govt. at the starting salary of Rs.100 when the Govt. of his own State would not give employment to any one from the backward classes even at the lowest level at the meager salary of five rupees.
The determination of Dr. Palpu to gain equality for the members of his caste found expression in the formation of S.N.D.P. in 1903. It was the advice given by Swami Vivekananda to associate with some spiritual person in his effort to fight for the rights of the Ezhavas that drew him to Sri Narayana Guru. The Swami asked Dr. Palpu to “Spiritualize and Industrialize the Masses”. Swami told him that the garb of spirituality was essential for any organization to be successful in India. S.N.D.P. later became thus beacon for many social movements in Kerala
His concern for the depressed was not limited to the people of the caste to which he belonged. The sight of many poor people in Mysore who spent nights in public places without any shelter to protect themselves from the severe cold moved his heart to spend some money out of his first salary for getting blankets for these helpless people. While in Mysore, Dr. Palpu helped the Valigar community there to form an association to fight for their birthrights.
Dr. Palpu was a relentless fighter for the cause of the Ezhavas in Kerala. He wrote many articles in English newspapers published from India highlighting the degrading customs in Kerala that made the condition of the Ezhavas miserable. He published at his own cost the book, ‘Treatment of Thiyas in Travancore’, a compilation of the memorandums that were submitted to the Travancore Govt., and the articles that he wrote in newspapers. This book, and its translation that he published in Malayalam, became records for the future generations to know about the horrible social situation that existed at that time.
Ezhava Memorial’ and ‘Malayali Memorial’ were two landmarks in the struggle of the backward classes for gaining their legitimate rights from the Govt. that was representative of the mad social customs that prevailed in the state at that time. ‘Malayali Memorial’ which was submitted to the Maharaja of Travancore in 1891 marked the beginning of the united social effort in the state to press the demands of the backward classes. This mass petition in which Dr. Palpu was the third signatory complained about the ‘Divans’ (govt. officers) who came from outside the state, and appropriated a greater part of the jobs for their own people. The memorandum spoke about the pitiable condition of Ezhavas of the State who were denied even the lowest govt. jobs though their counterparts could occupy even higher jobs in the Malabar State due to the absence of any discrimination there. The Govt. in its reply dated 1891 April 21st stated that since the Ezhavas were generally uneducated, it was better for them to pursue their present occupations like cultivation, coir making, and toddy tapping than trying to get education.
As Dr. Palpu was irritated by this humiliating reply from the authorities, he frequently visited the state to organize the backward people to protest against the callousness of the rulers. He realized that organized protest was the only way to put an end to the inhuman discretion that the Govt. practiced against the majority of its own people. He soon formed the ‘Greater Ezhava Association’, and more than 300 hundred people attended its first meeting held at Thiruvananthapuram. The meeting decided to submit a mass petition to the govt. signed by ten thousand Ezhavas demanding the abolition of the discrimination against them. Dr. Palpu himself took the initiative to get the signatures, and on 1896 Sept. 3rd the petition, the historically famous ‘Ezhava Memorial’, signed by 13176 people was submitted to the Govt. In the memorandum Dr. Palpu enumerated as an example the humiliations that the members of his own family had to suffer from Govt.
His next move was to bring to the attention of the British Parliament the injustices done by the Travancore Govt. to the Ezhavas, and the difficulties that they experienced in the social life in the state. Dr. Palpu sent Barrister G.P.Pillai with a letter secured from Sister Niveditha, the disciple of Swami Vivekananda, to England to get some Member of the British Parliament to represent the case of the Ezhavas. Dr. Palpu shared the major part of the expenditure. In addition to this, when he went to England for higher studies, he got Deadbeat Navroji who was a member of the British Parliament to raise a question regarding the condition of Ezhavas in the Parliament. With his help a memorandum was submitted to the State Secretary for India. All these measures taken by the doctor began to have results at home when the British Govt. began to enquire about the condition of the Ezhavas in the State.
Dr. Palpu maintained close contacts with several national leaders like Swami Vivekananda and Sarojini Naidu. Sarojini Naidu praised Dr. Palpu as a great revolutionary when someone tried to brand him as a communalist. When Swami Vivekananda visited Mysore, the doctor had the rare opportunity of pulling him in a rickshaw through the streets of the city. It was during this contact that the Swami advised him to “Spiritualize and Industrialize the Masses.” The Mysore Govt. sent him to Europe to get training in lymph production when he was the in charge of the Vaccine Institute. Dr. Palpu showed the rare courage of treating patients when plague struck Bangalore killing about 15 thousand people. Another example of his humanism was in his disobedience as the Jail Superintendent to execute two prisoners whom he considered innocent when he went through their case. During his tenure as the Jail Superintendent, he made many innovations for the production of useful things out of discarded and useless things.
After his retirement from Mysore service he started ‘Malabar Economic Union’ for the industrialization of the region, and the profits from the venture were spent for the welfare of the public. The country lost a great revolutionary leader when he breathed his last on 1950, January 25th, the day before India became a republic. He was the revolutionaries’ revolutionary in the sense that he changed people like Kumaran Asan, T.K.Madhavan, and Sahodharan Ayyappan into great social leaders who also fought for the betterment of the backward classes in the State. It must be remembered here that Dr. Nataraja Guru, who founded Sri. Narayana Gurukulam for the propagation of the ideals of Sri Narayana Guru was the son of Dr. Palpu.
This biography is reproduced here by courtsey of Ezhavas.com