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Pampady John Joseph was a Dalit activist and a founder of a social-religious movement that swept the state during his lifetime. The social-religious movement established by him is called Cheramar Mahajan Sabha. During his time, the practice of untouchability was prevalent in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore. In order to help his fellow men of lower caste from the clutches of this heinous religious practice, he converted their religion to Christianity. Not only did he stood strongly for the new converts but also fought with the authorities to get the due facilities for them.
Early Life and Education
John Joseph was born in the year 1887 at Pampady village in Kottayam district of the present-day Kerala state. His father's name was John who was a Christian convert. John Joseph was educated up to sixth standard at the Thrukkakara Mission School. Later he moved to Kottayam first and then to Thiruvananthapuram in 1918. For some time, he served as a teacher in a local school. During this period, he was working closely with various Christian Missionaries in the state. This working association with Christian Missionaries generated a feeling in his mind that the newly converted Christians were not getting due from the community. On this account, newly converted Christians were getting dissatisfied with the Catholic Church. In between, he got married to Saara.
Evolution of a Social-religious Movement
The growing discontentment amongst the newly converted Christians forced him to launch a social-religious movement against their unequal treatment by Catholic Church authorities. Thus in 1921, John Joseph organized a grand meeting of Christian converts to launch a social-religious movement by the name Cheramar Mahajan Sabha on January 14, 1921. The movement not only fought against the attitudes of authorities of the Catholic Church and the traditional attitudes and customs of the caste Hindus caste Hindu converts. In Cheraman Mahajan Sabha, the caste Christians and untouchable Hindus were allowed to take membership.
In connection with the establishment of social movement, he got his caste name changed to Cheramar. According to John Joseph, the members of Pulayar caste were the original people of Kerala. Hence, he got his caste name changed from Pulayar to Cheramar. The literary meaning of the word Cheramar is the people of Kerala. The basic motive behind the establishment of the Cheramar Mahajan Sabha was to struggle against the basic mentality of upper caste Hindus and to obtain members' lost rights from them to help the Dalit members to lead a normal life in the society.
In order to substantiate his views on the caste system that was prevalent in his lifetime, he drew the excerpts from the medieval and modern Indian history books that tell that the Cheramar, Pulayar, Parayar and Kuravar belong to the Adhi Dravida race of the country. He wanted to popularize his views on the existing caste equations amongst the people of his caste. In order to do this, he started a Magazine by the name Sadhujan Dootan. This magazine was very active till 1924, propagating his revolutionary and inspiring articles on different caste systems of the country. Through his book Cheruma Boy, he questioned the members of the Christian Catholic Church for their apathetic and discriminatory attitude towards the untouchable Christian converts.
Stint at Shri Moolam Legislative Assembly
Through his social-religious movement, Pambady Joseph generated the awareness about the lost rights in the minds of converted Christians and untouchable Hindus. They decided to unify for the common cause under the banner of the Cheramar Mahajan Sabha. This change made Pampady John Joseph an undisputed leader amongst them. With the help of his fellow comrades, he managed to get enough votes to become an honorable member of the Shri Moolam Legislative Assembly in the erstwhile Princely state of Travancore in the year 1931. In 1935, he submitted a memorandum to the British Parliament requesting the lawmakers to grant all the civil rights to the untouchables of the country to help them to lead a dignified life.
Despite of the tremendous pressure he mounted on the authorities of the state, not much happened in the social-religious space of the society. Hence, John Joseph exhorted his community members to build their own religious places at their own places. For this purpose, he teamed up with other like-minded leaders to generate land bank for the benefit of members of the Cheramar Mahajan Sabha. The lands from this land bank were then distributed to the landless members of the Mahajan Sabha. The lands so acquired were also used to build religious places for the community members for the worship purposes. John Joseph also took steps to establish a financial banking system to help the community members to become financially independent.
Pampady John Joseph is regarded as one of the greatest social reformers in modern society. He devoted most of his time for the liberation of the untouchable members of society from the unethical practices of untouchability. John Joseph exhorted his followers to change their religious affiliations from Hinduism to Christianity to lead a dignified and quality life. Later on, while working in a missionary school, he learned about the political and religious isolation the Christian converts were facing. This forced him to unify such people under one political banner. As a result of this, a new social-religious movement came into being. It was christened as the Cheramar Mahajan Sabha. Under the aegis of this movement, he could bring both the Christian converts and untouchable Hindus together for a common cause. Through his movement, he fought strenuously against the basic mentality of the upper caste Hindus and Catholic Christians. When he was a member of the Shri Moolam Legislative Assembly, John Joseph brought to the notice of British lawmakers the socio-religious practice prevalent in the country. In a memorandum, he requested the British Parliament to enact a law to grant all the civil rights to the untouchable people of the country.