The Ceylon Malayalees

Travails of the Kochiyan…

It is difficult to quantify the waves of migrations between Kerala and Ceylon – Sri Lanka over time, and the lines are quite blurred, but then again, there was a time when the relations between Malayalees and the Sinhalese in Ceylon, became intensely turbulent. Though there is a great similarity in vegetation, thought, customs, and looks, as well as a similarity in cuisines, all of which I can attest to as I have been there, the social gap between these two peoples remained vast, way more than what 100 odd miles between the two lands should account for. Let’s go across the waters and check what lurks behind the mists over the Palk Straits.

What is even more strange is the fact that even though there were thousands of Malayalees working in Ceylon during the pre-World War 2 period, none of the returnees recorded their life or times in Lanka, so much so that very little can be gleaned from history books and other records, about their social life, barring some academic essays penned by Sri Lankan scribes. Most of these laborers toiled at low-level jobs and unlike the gulf countries where living conditions were tough, the situation in Ceylon and Burma was somewhat relaxed. Food was congenial and most of the workers led a decent social life, usually profiting from their stay, much to the annoyance of the Sinhalese who bore the brunt of the depression of the 30s.

There were three types of Malayalee workers in Ceylon, the lower class laborers who arrived in the 1920-1940 period (who are the main subject of this article), the supervisory and plantation cadre (mainly from South Malabar or Palghat) who worked alongside Tamils in the plantations, and finally the Ceylon Moors, families dating back to Portuguese period – Marakkayars and Moplahs, comprising a minority plying small trades, lying low and for that reason, never an overt or a covert threat to the Sinhalese, economically.

Reports on the lives of the plantation Tamils can be unearthed, but very few on the thousands of Malayalees who worked in the lowlands and cities. A lone mention can be found in a popular short story and some afterthoughts penned by the great novelist, MT Vasudevan Nair, whose father worked in Ceylon. The story (Ninte Ormakku, and the travelog to (now being made into a movie) on Kadugannawa provide you but a brief and blurry view into the private life of a Ceylon expatriate.

So, let us go back in time to where it all started, and for the curious Malayali, which most of us are, it may prove to be quite a tale.

Intercourse between the island and the mainland date back to ancient times and mentions can be found in various epics and legends. It is only natural that folk traveled sporadically across the short stretch of water separating them, perhaps over a one-time bridge, or on sailboats, or more specifically during the period when Greek and Roman trade with Western Indian ports and Lankan ports such as Jambukola and Mahatittha (the modern Mantota) as well as many other ports intensified. Buddhism was prevalent not only in Ceylon but also in the Cheranad/Malayala part of Tamilakam (the area now occupied by Kerala) and monks would have surely moved back and forth.

During the 2nd century, we come across mentions (Sillapadhikaram) of Gajabahu coming to Vanchi to meet King Chenguttavan for the consecration ceremony at the Kannaki temple (Kogungallur Bhagavathy). Following this and his return with a Kannaki idol to Ceylon, the Pattini (Pathini) cult manifested itself in Lanka. The people of Mattakkalappu or the Batticaloa were the first Malayalam immigrants who arrived in Lanka, apparently at Gajabahu’s invitation. They practiced matrilineal customs and spoke archaic (Malayalnmai Tamizh) Tamil.

Then there is the legend of the King Magha (I will cover this in greater detail in a separate article) – Kalinga Vijayabahu who dealt the ancient civilization of Rajarata a death blow, which was a terrible 40-year reign enforced by Malala and Tamil mercenaries, from which it never recovered during the 12th century. Alakeswara or Alagakonar of Giri Vansa was an adventurer prince from Kerala. They came from 'Vanchipuram,' which was also called 'Malayalam Karuvar.' The 10th in that family was a powerful minister and with the help of this minister, Vilgammula Sangharaja Thera, was able to repair the Kelaniya temple. Later on, one Vira Alakeshwara was kidnapped and taken to China by Zheng He, the Ming admiral. This ruling group was powerful in Raigama, later at Kote, and sponsored seaborne trade, frequently fighting with the Aryachakrawarthis of Jaffna. It is worth noting that the Alakesvaras were not the only people from Malayala, at that time. From the fourteenth century onwards, migrants from Cheranad as well as from the neighboring South Indian territories, had formed settlements in the northern parts of the Island.

The Vaiya Padal (a 14th-century poem by Vaiya, the court poet of the Arya Chakravarthi) mentions Malyalathars, or the people from Malayalam, amongst others, in Jaffna. Some of the old Kandyan homes resembled Malabar Nalukettus and the Kandyan Ves and other dances dance show many similarities with Kerala dances, dancers, hair adornments, dressing (usage of white), and show other similarities. Some of the Kuruppu’s settled down at Panadura – Kuruppumulla and their descendants served not only Parikrama Bahu # 1 but also the later kingdoms around Kotte. During the Portuguese period, many of them converted to Catholicism and later, to Buddhism during the British times, but always held on to the surname Kuruppu.

It was even said that in those periods - All the Malabar ships sail between this Island and the Choromondal coast, but those making for Bengal or Pegu or Siam go round the Island on the southern side. You can also see a lot of similarities between the arts and crafts of the two locales, and in a preceding article on the Kalari of Malabar, I had gone into the subject of Kalaripayattu and its connections to Lanka’s Haramba Salva in some detail. The 16th-century Malala Kathava is an interesting legend, which narrates the tale of seven Malabar princes who came to Lanka.  Kalari explains the movement of mercenaries and the many Kuruppu trainers back and forth between the two states - Kandy and Malabar during the early medieval.

Interestingly, Chaliyars from Calicut too moved across. As the story goes, Muslim traders of Beruvela persuaded a few master weavers from Calicut to emigrate to Colombo. They did well and assimilated with the local Singhalese, but ran into trouble later and were banished to the cinnamon forests, sentenced to work without wages (Rajakarya) or as menial labor. After the Portuguese arrival, their standing changed for the better when Cinnamon became prized produce, and these Chaliayas or Salagamas (after Salawatta the harbor area where they first settled down) as they were thence known, became the bark peelers, later the Cinnamon Forest supervisors and finally their owners, converting to Christianity over time. Not surprisingly, they still celebrate Vishu!

Strange is the case that when Sri Lankans speak Tamil, Tamilians think they speak with a Malayalam accent. Even more interesting is the fact that both Sinhala and Malayalam ancient scripts share some similarities. And the fondness and relationship demonstrated by both communities with elephants are remarkable.

The Marakkayars from Malabar and the Southeast coastal ports were not only connected to the wars between the Portuguese and the Zamorin as sailors and admirals but also in the pearl fishery and regular trade across the Palk straits and with the Maldives. Many of them and their Moplah kinsmen, so also Mukkuva fishermen settlers from Malabar as well as direct descendants of Arabs, went on to create the body of the Ceylon Moor community. These folk were mostly Tamil speakers and assimilated quickly with the other Lankan communities.

KPS Menon provides an insight - A remarkable Indian who had done well in Ceylon was a Moplah from Malabar, one Umbichi. With only a few annas in his pocket, he went as a young man to Ceylon, but now he was worth lakhs of rupees. His wealth came from the import of a single commodity, fish from the Maldives Islands, which gave a delicious flavour to Ceylon curries. Though he was rolling in wealth, he kept his simple habits, never used a car and still went about in a rickshaw. PB Umbichi (Kolamb Umbichi) from Calicut arrived in Colombo in 1870 with Rs 2/-, borrowed Rs 100/- from Arunachalam Chettiar, started selling dried fish and rose to become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Even the land on which the Ratnamala airport was built, was donated by him. He passed away in 1936. He was apparently the person who encouraged Dr. VK Raman who used to work in Ceylon, to start the Ashoka hospital in Calicut!! He was not the only one, there were many others, Kunhimoosa, is another.

MD Raghavan, who spent years in Ceylon, mentions - Cochikade is the name both of a ward of the Colombo Municipality and of a town of considerable business activity in the vicinity of Negombo. Heard in and about Colombo, is the term ‘Cochiyan’ which generally signifies a man of Malabar descent or ancestry. Quite a few Christian converts from Cochin too had moved to support the Portuguese and Dutch colonizers during their heydays, but their Kerala links are difficult to trace out.

But it was the British colonial period that saw large numbers of pliant laborers arriving in Ceylon to create and man the coffee and later the tea plantations in the Ceylon highlands. Through the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, we come across mentions of laborers from Palghat, Valluvanad, and the neighboring areas in the plantations, brought there by the manipulative Kangani.

The Malayalee felt Ceylon quite like Kerala and KPS Menon, the diplomat and diarist, and a career member of the Indian Civil Service addresses this succinctly, in his memoirs…Nani Amma (his children’s Malayalee Nanny) was completely illiterate, and her notions of geography were vague. When we went to Ceylon, the place looked so much like Malabar that she asked whether it was really necessary for her to put on her blouse. Ceylon was indeed like Malabar; nowhere else in India or outside have I felt so completely at home. After three years on the Frontier (Peshawar), so bleak and bare, it cooled the eyes and gladdened the heart to see the tropical vegetation of Ceylon—the tall coconut trees, the slender areca-nut, the waving banana and the spreading mango trees; the tea, rubber and coco estates; the herbs and ferns, the crotons and orchids. If Nani Amma felt like discarding her blouse, I felt like discarding my coat, shirt and trousers, and putting on just a loincloth (dhoti), which indeed I did during my siesta in the afternoon. At night, however, I always wore western-style pyjamas. This was symbolic of the double life I had to lead in the ICS 'heaven-born’ and earth-bound, a sahib and a native, a sun-dried bureaucrat and a man of the people.

He adds - As for fatigue, the Ceylonese are—or were—content to leave the most fatiguing kinds of work to foreigners. That explained the presence of 800,000 Indians in Ceylon and my own presence to look after them. When Englishmen started opening up the Island, and especially the uplands of Ceylon, by planting coffee, rubber and tea, they needed labour which was at once cheap, docile and regular. What easier than to draw it from the less fertile districts of the Madras Presidency where the teeming millions lived on the verge of starvation? These labourers—or coolies as they were called—were recruited on terms distinctly favourable to the employers, under the notorious indenture system, which tied a labourer down to his estate for life. In the twentieth century, Indian public opinion became increasingly alive to the lot of their countrymen overseas. The Government of India abolished the indenture system, took power to regulate, control or even forbid emigration and obtained the right to appoint an Agent of the Government of India in Ceylon to look after the interests of Indian immigrants, and particularly Indian labourers. I was the third incumbent of this post.

Similar to the labor recruitment for Malaya and Burma, the British used the Kangani system – a term derived from Tamil meaning ‘headmen,’ ‘foreman’ or ‘overseer.’ The kanganies on Ceylon plantations were assigned the dual role of recruiter and overseer, belonged to an upper caste, and were from the same region as the labor, thus becoming the patriarch for the 25–30-member gang. Usually, they paid off the loans of the workers back home against a promissory note and the workers then virtually became the property of the Kangani. Not all were unscrupulous, but many were. Many cherumars and other lower classes from Malabar thus arrived at the Ceylon plantations and spent large spans of their lives toiling in the estates.

Jaiswal summarizes - Between 1914 and 1938, an average of about 173,500 Indians emigrated annually to Ceylon. Indian migrant labor formed about 85 percent of the total estate population. The non-estate migrants, also called ‘free’ migrants, consisted of upper classes, including government officials; professionals including medical practitioners, lawyers, teachers, and clerks; and merchants and traders, Mohammedan boutique keepers, the ubiquitous Palghat Brahmin restaurant keepers, the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars, and Baluchi moneylenders. The non-estate migrants also included large numbers of Tamil and Malayalee laborers, who came from the Tirunelveli, Ramnad, Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar regions of Southern India. These unassisted free migrants (sans kanganis) earned their living as domestic servants, dock laborers, rickshaw pullers, peons, porters, toddy tappers, artisans, coolies on roadways, drainage workers, and as labor in mills and factories.

These Malayalees were the Kochiyans and KPS Menon introduces them succinctly - Another unpopular group of Indians were the Malayalees, or Kochiyans, as they were called. They made excellent domestic servants and were also employed in large numbers by the Municipal Council and the harbor authorities. They, too, did not bring their women with them—indeed, even in Malabar, it was not the practice for the Malayalee woman to go and live with her husband; he had to go to her—but the Malayalees often took Sinhalese women whom they treated with the consideration natural to men belonging to a matrilineal society. This very consideration, which made them desirable in the eyes of local women, made them disliked by local men.

But there is more to that. While they did live ghetto style, they went about their ways, and cases of retaliation were reported only decades later afterlife was made miserable for them by the Sinhala. It occurred during a period of an economic downturn in Ceylon, and as the once self-sustaining island, it had little recourse to mitigation, compared to the mainland. Jaiswal adds - The Great Depression (1929) resulted in severe political and economic repercussions in Ceylon. It was characterized by a decline in demand, prices, and exports of tea and rubber, and in the wages of laborers. The Depression led to increasing returns to India, repatriation, restrictions on Indian labor migration, and riots. Ceylonese antagonism was largely directed against urban, non-estate laborers, where the Sinhalese emerged in direct competition and conflict with Indian migrant laborers during the Depression.

The Malayalees lived in chummeries (like a bachelor’s hostel – comes from the usage for the building in which unmarried British army officers were quartered during the British Raj) housing 30-40 people and it was scandalously reported that a few Lankan mistresses also lived with them. They took evening classes on various subjects and learned to speak multiple tongues, and work through different professions, thus becoming the favorite labor pool compared to the Sinhalese. 

Some of them, it is said, also knew and practiced sorcery, frightening the common man, as this was believed to be a powerful method guaranteed to seduce Sinhala womenfolk or to carry out various evil and nefarious designs! The Malayalam Gurukkam practitioners were quite popular, and many practitioners set up their shops near small temples, with Murugan pictures and Malayalam manthrams (charms) ready at hand. They doled out Anndha podi which when added to food, as the gullible Sinhalese believed, helped seduce women. The kattadiya, yakadura, or yakadessa black magic cum exorcist went a level higher, he made horoscopes, helped the needy out of financial troubles, helped them seek revenge, and whatnot (A Sri Lankan president sourced sorcerers from Kerala well into the ’70s and 80’s).

But as workers, they were pliable, toiled hard, and took on all the menial and unpopular jobs. From a population of around 1,000 Malayalees in 1911, the figure in the ’30s had gone up to 40,000 (and just 600 Malayalee women), of which close to half were Ezhavas and Thiyyas, with many working as Toddy tappers in the S West. This was made possible due to a special agreement between the governments in 1922 which offered free travel. While Jaffna eateries were run by Nairs and Palghat Iyers, the Colombo eateries were run by Kakas from Malappuram and Calicut. At the time of the depression, many Malayalees were employees in all spheres, be it ports, railways, transport services as well as retail and wholesale trade, and, thus the counter-campaign - Ceylon for Ceylonese - gathered steam.

KPS Menon, the Indian agent, meanwhile, encouraged his brethren to form an association to collectively channel and address their complaints and thus the Ceylon Malayalee Mahajana Sabha was formed (now extinct and replaced by the Kerala Sangam and the Vanita Samajam). Other associations followed and a few Malayalam newspapers and magazines as well as cultural events followed.

Let’s now take a look at how Gunasinha, who had once teamed with the same Malayalee labor to rise and become a union leader, changed course to despise them and strove to kick them out of the country. Strikes between 1923-29 championed by him were given wide coverage in the labor party newspaper Viraya. Everything points to the happenings at the Indian-owned Wellawatte Spinning and weaving mills and the many strikes at the printing units. His involvement in some of the printers' and hoteliers’ strikes which took place in the 30’s proved to be ineffective since the British brought in strikebreakers from Madras.

In 1933, workers at the Wellawatte mill struck work to protest the reduction of wages due to the depression and competition from low-priced Japanese textiles, as well as to have their working hours reduced, but this was not supported by Gunasinha as it went against a previously signed agreement between the CLU union and the management. The workers (1,400 strong, 2/3 Malayalees, and 1/3 Sinhalese) led by Malayalees Appuswamy, Kuttan, and Ramaiah among others, chose a new leader, the Britain returnee Colvin, R DeSilva who formed the Wellawatte Mill Workers Union (the youth league) and this was a huge personal affront to Gunasinha, who felt the Malayalees had ditched him. He worked with the owners to discredit the new union which he felt was run by new leaders who had picked up wrong ideas from Russia and America, and even injected CLU blacklegs to break up the strike! In another strike involving Malayali strikebreakers, he denounced them as collaborators and betrayers and went on a satyagraha till these Malayalees left the factory.

Simultaneously, sensing that there was a general reticence against the Malayalees by the Sinhalese, Gunasinha jumped on the opportunity to direct new attacks against the whole community, with inflammatory language, articles in the press and used his retinue of goondas and rowdies to incite and provoke clashes between the two communities. Gunasinha then demanded a boycott of everything Malayalee, and Sinhalese were urged to evict Malayalee tenants and were pressured not to employ them or eat at their restaurants.

The situation deteriorated so much that the government had to intervene directly. Though a settlement was reached, which was acclaimed by the CLU but disappointed the WMWU, this led to an increasingly troubled labor arena. Another union, the left-leaning LSSP was formed, which proved to be more receptive to Indian labor issues. MH Mohammed in his life sketch narrates the visit of AKG from Kerala’s Congress socialist party who visited his LSSP comrades in 1939-40. Gopalan’s meetings were disrupted by Gunasinha and did not get ruffled by the many objects thrown at him. Adding fuel to the fire, as Eric Meyer explains, the establishment of a parliamentary system based on universal franchise resulted in the assertion of a Ceylonese national identity, which exploited the anti-Indian feelings.

Violent skirmishes occurred at Welawatte and Pettah, as well as at many railway workshops. A case of murder was reported in 1931. Rumors were also spread that the immigrants brought in diseases like cholera and smallpox and that they consumed large amounts of opium, a habit that could spread to the Sinhalese! By 1936, the campaign had become virulent and Gunasinha encouraged his supporters with slogans like Kochi Marana (Kill the Cochinis). Surprising indeed, that he was so malevolent against these hardworking people, only because they stood up against his union, and because some had participated as blacklegs or worked for reduced wages. But then again it is all water under the bridge, I guess…

Summarizing, the CLU Leader A.E Gunasinha (Alexander Ekanayake Gunasinha) went on to proclaim that Malayalees, who formed a major proportion of non-estate migrants, as the reason for the country’s unemployment, starvation, and death. Popular protests followed and the anti-Malayalee rhetoric was stoked through the press, public speeches, scurrilous anti-Indian pamphlets, street songs in procession, meetings at which Indians were abused, organized picketing campaigns to drive away Indian traders, and the aggressive boycotting of Indian shopkeepers. Slogans like ‘Ceylon for Ceylonese’ were raised, and policies were devised to exclude Indians from Ceylonese civil services, the Ceylon municipality, medical examinations, port posts, and so on. Open intimidation in boutiques, tea shops, and other places of business was encouraged. There were incidences of violent confrontation in Colombo, which influenced incidences on the estates as well (Interestingly, the Sinhalese, averse to manual labor in the estates did not object as such to Indians working in the estates. 

Something that will interest the reader is the fact that Malayalee food habits had already entered the Lankan mainstream (I had the belief that it was the other way around!), Appam/Vella appam and idiyappam were brought in by the ‘Appu’ cooks, and Puttu with meat had become a perennial favorite, and thankfully Gunasinha did not implore the Sinhalese to change their food habits!

In 1938, the Ceylon government discontinued the employment of Malayalee labor recruited after 1933. The British Indian government retaliated in 1939 by banning all migration. The result was huge unrest and big difficulties in the cities and estates. Violence broke out when Kanganies and Tamils boycotted Sinhalese shops. Eventually, the tension subsided only when the Japanese came around and WWII was in full swing.  But the damage had been done, Malayalee immigration slowed to a trickle and all Malayalee non-estate workers returned. Thus ended the two-decade period when hundreds of thousands of Malayalees teemed in the Lankan labor markets. Between the 1960’s-80’s many of the remaining were compulsorily repatriated.

Of course, there is one person, a Lankan Malayalee that many would recall, none other than M Gopala Menon, who went from Palghat to Kandy and taught in a school, after an apparent excommunication (this being stated in ANM Chakiyar’s book – the last inquisition, p.p. 124). His son returned from Lanka to Madras later and shot to fame not only in filmdom and Tamil politics but eventually become the revered leader of Tamil Nadu. Avid radio listeners may remember another stalwart from Palghat, the famous DJ Sarojini Shivalingam from Radio Ceylon, who used to play Malayalam film songs at 330PM every day. And there was Madhavan from Palghat, who performed Kathakali across Lanka in the ’40s. Not to forget AT Kovoor who gave us the film Punarjanmam and continued a tireless fight against godmen and superstition.

Gunasinha went on to achieve great heights – as the first Sinhala labor leader, he was elected to the state council, became the Mayor of Ceylon, a minister, and finally, the Lankan Ambassador to Burma and Indonesia. I am not too sure that he would be happy seeing the plight of his fellow men, looking down from above.

As for MT’s short story, it involves a man who set up shop at Kadugannawa, kept a Lankan mistress, and brought along a cute little girl, apparently his daughter home to Ponnani, and she gifted her stepbrother a toy owl. Facing pressure at the ancestral home, the father went back to Kadugannawa with the little Sinhalese-speaking girl, never to return to Kerala. This is the story retold in Ninte Ormakku.

In an interview with Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan (excerpted and acknowledged with many thanks), MT explains - My father was in Ceylon for a long time. There were other people who went there with my father, as servants, etc. They started spreading rumours about Leela being my father’s own child. That became a huge issue. My parents quarrelled with each other.  My father left with Leela and went to his place. All this was in my mind. Although I travelled to many parts of the world, I always wanted to go to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). But I could never go...even though it's very close and I often visited Madras (Chennai). My father lived in a place called Kadugannawa. When I went there, I could find nothing as he had left a long time ago. The way these imagined narratives that bloom in the mind transform into reality is very moving. I went to Colombo and then travelled to different parts of the country. In my mind, Kadugannawa was my father's place. The address we had for my father was ‘T.N. Nair, Kadugannawa Road’—that’s all. What were we supposed to think? That when we go to a small place called Kadugannawa, there would be people there who knew my father, right? No one was there, no one. Years had passed. Was there a Nair doing business here? No one remembered. Leela was also supposed to have been with him, but no one knew about her either. These are all real incidents, but with the passing of years, the situation had changed. Generations had passed. Anyone who knew about a trader from Kerala named T.N. Nair had left the scene.

MT did make a trip out to see if he could dredge some information on the girl, her mother, and his father, detailing his visit in a poignant retelling of the story in the third person. This tale will arrive on the OTT screens starring Mammooty, shortly titled Kadugannava Oru Yathra Kurippu, directed by Ranjith.

As for me, I can understand these too well. I visit India every year though I left her shores in 1987 and keep my motherland close to my heart. I can assure you, only an NRI can understand another NRI and his thoughts, the plight of the community, the sadness, and in the end, the loneliness one faces after leaving one’s land as I did and like I still do.

The colorful story of the turbulent 20-40s in Lanka can take many pages to be retold in detail, and I must stop now, for fear that the tedium of reading so much, may have already put many a tired soul to sleep. Today there are just a few of our estranged brethren left there, who braved the world war, the 60s, the LTTE years, and the many economic downturns. They will manage, of that, I am sure. The Malayalees are a thick-skinned lot, forever on the move, going where the jobs are, however far or however difficult the terrain may be. But their homeland, on the other hand, is fast deteriorating into a pensioners' and tourist paradise.

Then again, life is like that…

The Keralites and the Sinhalese – Dr. KG Sankaranarayanan
The Malayalees of Sri Lanka – Jagath Senaratne
India in Ceylonese History, society, and Culture – M.D. Raghavan
Many Worlds – KPS Menon
Migration, social mobility, and anti-Indian feelings - Shyni Danial
Mediated (Im)mobility: Indian Labour Migration to Ceylon under the Kangany System (c. 1850–1940) - Ritesh Kumar Jaiswal
Origins of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka- V. Kumari Jayawardena
Rise of the Labor Movement in Ceylon - Visakha Kumari Jayawardena
Ethnic politics in Colonial Sri Lanka – Nira Wickramasinghe
Sri Lanka in the Modern Age - Nira Wickramasinghe
Society and Circulation – Ed. Claude Markovits

Historic alleys – The Kalari’s of Malabar  Link

Maddy’s ramblings – A Lankan Sojourn - Link 

MT’s interview with Sahapedia, Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan -  Writeup Link , Video Link (15:18 onwards to 17:50, in Malayalam)

Maps – courtesy Google, images - courtesy Wikimedia

Note- I learned something during this research – the real meaning of the famous Malayalam term Karingali or the English term ‘Blacklegs’, which was always used by Gunasinha during the 1930s when referring to Malayalees, mainly because the British and the railway bosses used Malayalee’s for strike breaking. Where did the usage come from? It came from America, and out there strikebreaking is also known as black-legging or blacklegging. American lexicographer Stephanie Smith suggests that the word has to do with bootblacking or shoe polish, for an early occurrence of the word was in conjunction with an 1803 American bootmaker's strike. But British industrial relations expert J.G. Riddall notes that it may have a racist connotation, as it was used in this way in 1859 in the United Kingdom: "If you dare work, we shall consider you as blacks”. David John Douglass claims that the term blackleg has its origins in coal mining, as strikebreakers would often neglect to wash their legs, which would give away that they had been working whilst others had been on strike. The term was once generally used to indicate a scoundrel, a villain, or a disreputable person.



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