Have you ever noticed a red monument on the right side of the road when you are travelling from Alappuzha to Ambalappuzha? It is known as the Punnapra-Vayalar Memorial. Today, we’re diving into the rich history of Alappuzha and unravelling the intriguing tale of the Punnapra-Vayalar Uprising.
In October 1946, the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising unfolded as a militant communist movement in the Princely State of Travancore, British India. The rebellion was against the leadership of Prime Minister C.P. Ramaswami Iyer and the state’s declaration of ‘Independent Travancore’. Led by communists, this historical struggle aimed to challenge the establishments that moved towards Independence and to address the grievances of the people against the authoritarian rule.
Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer’s proposal for constitutional reforms in Travancore, envisioning an Independent country rather than integration with the Indian Union, marked a pivotal moment in history. He proposed an ‘American Model’ for Travancore, which faced opposition from the local communists. They started rallying with slogans ‘(Throw the) American Model in the Arabian Sea’ (American Model Arabikadalil). The roots of the struggle against the Travancore Kingdom started back in 1939 when the socialist parties merged, giving rise to a radical communist party.
The brutal famine conditions during the Second World War pushed the peasants towards the communists. Over 21,000 people lost their lives in Cherthala Taluk alone. In March 1946, Alappuzha witnessed tensions as Travancore Police attacked the members of the All Travancore Trade Union Congress (ATTUC), who used non-violent protests against Diwan for not helping the poor during the famine.
In response, over 2,000 communists launched attacks on police stations throughout Alappuzha, establishing an Independent government free from the monarchy. The new government spanned a 40km stretch from Cherthala to Ambalapuzha in Alappuzha.
On Maharajah’s birthday, October 25, 1946, the proposed implementation of the new Travancore constitution, envisioning the state as an independent country following the US Model, sparked fierce opposition from over 1000 communists in Vayalar. They revolted and killed Travancore police officials and government officials in the region. In response to this violence, Diwan declared martial law in Alappuzha on the very same day. Over 470 communists were killed, and the rest surrendered within minutes. The situation came out of control at the hands of the Diwan. Local accounts and press reports said that the actual number of deaths is higher. This period marked a loud chapter in the struggle for political autonomy, leaving scars on the memory of the community.
Punnapra, once part of the Travancore, witnessed a significant chapter in its history during the 1940s. Communist party had influence among coir industry workers, leading to a strike for improved wages. Diwan (Prime Minister) Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer intervened to address the labour concerns, but workers began advocating against Iyer’s rule. The situation reached a point when a landlord in Punnapra, Applon Aroj, received police protection. Subsequently, a large number of strikers attacked the police camp, resulting in the death of 4 policemen and 35 strikers.
Martial law was declared, and in the ensuing army action, over 300 people died. This tragic incident is known as the Punnapra-Vayalar Uprising. A memorial, the Punnapra-Vayalar Uprising martyrs’ column, stands as a testament to this historical struggle, and each year, a procession from Valaya Chudukad in Alappuzha to the memorial commemorates the event.
A memorial that stands tall amidst the palm-fringed beauty, reminding us of the sacrifices made and the battles fought. The Punnapra Vayalar Uprising has been filmed in several movies and documents. The Memorial is located in Kalarcode, near Mullathuvalappu, Alappuzha. The place is open to the public every day without any entry fees.
The memorial is not merely a marker of events but a bridge that connects us to the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of a community. So, don’t visit this revolutionary spot when you’re in Alappuzha.