Name of my father’s mother was ‘Kochadima’ (Little Slave). I was ashamed to say my grandmother’s name. I used to think who will give a name like ‘Little Slave’ to a person. Yesterday, when activist Mrudula Devi told me about the ‘Illam’ (family names of dalits) stories I went through a pang. When there was slave trade of dalits, the upper castes will sell a whole family in all directions. The children too will be go in all corners of Kerala. Sometimes they may meet. They may never meet each other again too. Before they are sold the parents will tell the children the name of the ‘Illam’ they are borne in. Only Pulaya, Sambava and Kurava castes had Illams. The logic behind telling them the illam names is that they may not marry their own brothers or sisters. That’s why the saying ‘even if you marry from relatives never marry from the same Illam.’
I have studied about the slave trading in Africa. However, I never read a recorded history of this slave trading in my own community. I’m really shocked. My grandmother lived in a system where slave trade was rampant. The names of slave children were given by the upper castes. Now, I know why my grandmother got that name. I don’t think that this name should be hidden from history, rather it should be said aloud. There is no more clear evidence that this society used to see our forefathers as slaves. I spit upon the glorified history of Kerala.
Note: Slave trade was abolished in Travancore in 1812. However, Dhanya Madhav’s account proves that it prevailed until two generations ago.
Dr Dhanya Madhav is an Ayurvedic doctor