Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kedah Riot 1947: Malayan Indian Female Labour Unionist - Ananthayn and Manidammal

The Kedah Riot which was considered to be another uprise of Indian labourers in Malaya - after the infamous Klang Strike 1941, did not only see men standing up against oppressive regime and capitalists, but also recorded involvement of Indian women as labour leaders in organizing labour strikes. 

Not many articles described these women's specific roles and responsibilities and their organisation structure, but their activities were related to the "Youth-Corps" also known as the "Thondar Padai". The Thondar Padai was an informal organisation formed by ex-INA members after WWII. They were easily to be identified by their "khaki" military outfits and would be caring long staffs. Even though, the Thondar-Padai movement existed in many states in Malaya, but their prominent involvements were recorded and associated with The Kedah Riot in 1947. 

Charles Gamba in his work - The Origins of Trade Unionism in Malaya: A Study in Colonial Labour Unrest mentioned the roles played by the Thondar Padai in social reforms among estate workers in Kedah. It has been noted that Thondar Padai not only played roles in volunteering in "Thaipusam" festival in Sungai Petani but also demolishing toddy shops in estates, punishing those patronizing toddy shops and organizing labour strikes demanding better salary and living conditions. Their leaders would also meted out judgement for small family disputes including punishing abusing and alcoholic husbands. One of the known punishments would be tying up to poles or trees (refer to records in Gamba's work on punishment meted out to drunk workers by AM Samy of Harvard Estate Sungai Petani)  

In the Kedah Riot which saw labourers of Bukit Sembilan Estate stood up demanding clean water, the police force was deployed to suppress the strike. Clashed between labourers and police erupted which resulted to one death. 66 labourers were detained and two of them were women leaders. The Thondar Padai was outlawed after this incident. A series of allegations and criminal proceedings were brought against these 66 labourers. One of the cases was against a group of five workers including two women from Bukit Sembilan Estate. I assumed that these women mentioned in the news (reported in The Straits Times dated 21st April 1947) could be the same women leaders. The report mentioned five workers - Govindarajoo, Kuppusamy, Suppiah and two women labourers named Ananthayn and Manidammal.      
If these were the same women leaders, then it is assured that women could have been recruited to form part of Thondar Padai's movement. As the Rani of Jhansi Women Regiment under INA saw many dedicated participation of estate women, I presume that these radicalized women would have continued their struggle against British Raj in Thondar Padai movement and participated in labour strikes. 

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