A series of seven works by a participating artist in ‘Lokame Tharavadu’, a large scale contemporary art exhibition organised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, revealed the role played by women in the historic Punnapra-Vayalar revolt, a movement predominantly of coir workers.
The art works are on display at Port Museum, Alappuzha, one of the venues of the art show curated by Bose Krishnamachari.
“When the martyred men were celebrated as immortal, the role of women who were widowed and had an equal stake in the process of the struggle was never properly acknowledged,” said Bara Bhaskaran, an artist who loves to explore subaltern histories.
Coir exports began from Travancore in the latter half of the 19th century. They surged after the first decade of the 20th century and as per a census of 1941, the coir industry had 1,33,000 cottage workers, apart from 32,000 ‘coir workers’.
A bulk of these workers were women, who worked on low wages, as the world looked for cheaper floor coverings, said Bhaskaran.
Bullet-ridden trunks of coconut trees in Punnapra and Vayalar stand as both victims and silent witnesses to the tumultuous events of October 1946.
In the works of Bhaskaran, bright flowers sprout from bullet holes of uprooted coconut trees.
The Punnapra-Vayalar revolt, shaped by multiple factors including literacy and a labour movement in the region was a struggle met with force.
Pitched battles were fought in many places but the areca nut staves and choppers of workers were no match for the guns of the military and many lost their lives.
Though the agitation was primarily against the Dewan of Travancore and the ruler of the princely state, who did not want to join the Indian Union, workers had a prominent role in it.
“The series is an attempt to document a historical event and pay tribute to the spirit of workers,” Bhaskaran said.
Bhaskaran has participated in several national and international exhibitions including the Kochi Muziris Biennale.