Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Blood Stains Behind the 'Manchester of South'

The burial scene of the four trade unionists, who were hanged to death on January 8, 1946 

V.O. chidamparam Pillai 

World knows that freedom fighter ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan’ V.O.Chidampam Pillai was put behind bars in Coimbatore and made to pull the oil press as punishment. But, in the modern history of Coimbatore, many are hardly aware that it was V.O.C, who launched the first trade union for the welfare of workers here. Fraser Square, which is a busy spot opposite the C.S&W Mill or ‘Stanes Mill’ today, had once been called ‘Puliyanthoppu’ (Tamarind grove). It was here the leader addressed the gathering and launched the city’s first trade union named ‘Kovai Thozhilalar Sangam’ with N.S.Ramasamy Iyengar as its president and K.P.Subbayya Kounder as honorary secretary on April 4, 1920. 

“V.O.C, who was also a lawyer, served his sentence in Coimbatore prison. However, even after his release in 1912, the British government cancelled his Sannath (The license for practicing as lawyer those days). He reeled under poverty after losing all his assets by launching the first indigenous shipping service in Tutuicorin, his native town. Following this, he ran even a provision store and also sold kerosene to eke out a living, but all in vain” informs a chapter in the book Kovai Mavatta Communist Iyakkaththin Perumaimiku Varalaru, written by N. Ramakrishnan.  

“CS& W Mills, ( Coimbatore Spinning and Weaving Mills), the first mill in Coimbatore was founded by Sir Robert Stanes, an Englishman, in 1888. Thereafter, came up in the city the Kaleeswarar Mill and Somasundara Mill. They were all adjacent to the Railway Station and goods shed. The Brooke Bond Company too was about the railway track. As a labourer in Brooke Bond between 1969 and 1970, I have even seen a railway track running through it. This facilitated the British-owned companies to unload the raw materials and load their productions in close proximity” said K.Purushothaman, a trade unionist, who worked in Brooke Bond company.

K. Purushothaman addressing on ' Trade Union Activities in Kongunadu
Addressing on the topic ‘Trade Union Activities in Kongunadu’ in the monthly lecture series organized by The Vanavarayar Foundation, Purushothaman pointed out:

“The British founded the railway in Coimbatore, primarily not to facilitate  travels of people, but  transport cotton and other raw materials to the port towns including Madras and Bombay, from where they were sent by sea for production in England”     

Purushothaman said that before electricity came to Coimbatore from the Pykara Project in the early 1930s, the mills were functioning with machines being operated by the power obtained from burning coal.

“The advent of electricity contributed to the establishment of a number of textile mills further in Coimbatore. This led to the extent of calling the city as the Manchester of South India.  Between 1932 and 1938, the city, which earlier had just four mills, witnessed as many as twenty four” said Purushothaman,

He recalled the selfless crusade of trade unionists N.G.Ramasamy, P.Jeevananthan, P.Ramamurthy and many others for establishing the rights of the working class.  

Purushothaman informed that the country had no strict labour laws then  and workers  were mercilessly exploited by  the mill owners and supervisors, who ruled them with an iron hand.  
“Since atrocities by mill supervisors were frequent, workers were treated no less than slaves and women workers were subjected even to sexual abuse. In one such incident, Ponnaan, the supervisor of Sri Ranga Vilas Mill and his aides outraged the modesty of a woman worker ' Poolaimedu' Rajee. With the incident sending shock waves among the mill workers, a team led by  four trade unionists encountered Ponnaan and his aides. The incident, which turned into a conflict, led to the death of Ponnaan.
In order to put down trade unionism with an iron hand, the proprietor of the mill, with the support of police, allegedly forged a 'dying declaration' of Ponnan and sent the four trade unionists Venkatachalam, Ramayya, Chinnayyan and Rangannan to prison. The case, which went up to London Privy Council, was finally closed with the judgment that all the four accused shall be hanged to death.
In the early morning of  January 8, 1946, the four were executed as per the judgment and their bodies were brought to Chinniampalayam in a mammoth mill workers rally.
Fulfilling their last wish, the mill workers buried all the four together in one grave at Chinniampalayam.

Link to the article in The New Indian Express :

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