Monday, May 5, 2014

George Joseph, the man who took up the villagers' cause

On Sunday, when the villagers of Keelakuyilkudi garlanded the statue of U Muthuramalinga Thevar who led a series of protests against Criminal Tribes Act (CTA), the next destination for them was Yanaikkal where they garlanded the bronze bust of a bespectacled man. It was George Joseph, an advocate from Kerala who took up the cause of villagers of Keelakuyilkudi and Perungamanallur. "There was no one to take up the case of Keelakuyilkudi villagers affected by CTA. The villagers were also not aware of legal recourse. It was in this backdrop that George Joseph voluntarily visited the village and took up their case," says Pon Harichandran, a native of Keelakuyilkudi. Born at Chengannur in Kerala in 1887, Joseph went to Madras Christian College and later studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh before studying Law at Middle Temple in London. He returned to Madras in 1909 and visited Madurai in 1918 where he started practicing law at a time when resistance towards CTA was taking violent turn in Keelakuyilkudi and Perungamanallur. Initially, people of Keelakuyilkudi snubbed Joseph, suspecting he has come there as a religious missionary. But his compassion and empathy won the hearts of the people. In 1920, when 16 people of Perungamanallur were shot dead by British to suppress anti-CTA protests, there were attempts by a section of British officers to hush up the massacre. "But Joseph took up the case and dragged the officers to the court," Harichandran said. Besides the bust, a street and a park has been named after him in the city. But Joseph died in 1938 unable to live long to see the CTA repealed.

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