Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Malaysian Mukkulathor Story

Janaki Thevar was a freedom fighter who was among the first women to join the INA.
The Tamils have several social groups which we call as caste. Each caste is made of clans with common origin. These clans are known as Jati in Sanskrit and Kulam in Tamil. 

Unlike many people would want to believe, the Tamil ethnic is not a single clan or single tribe ethnic. It is actually a collection of social groups which shares a common mother tongue, Tamil. 

Each of these social group or caste has its own culture and tradition. The Tamil castes also originated from different region of ancient Tamilakam. In the olden days, the castes were seen as separate ethnics and they do not intermarry with each other.

Tun.V.T.Sambanthan Thevar. One of the prominent leaders who played a crucial role in gaining citizenship for the Malaysian Indians. Tun Sambanthan and his wife Toh Puan Uma Sundari used to travel to various estates to ensure that the Indians are registered as both citizens and voters.
Today I will introduce you to my social group or caste. This is not a detailed historical explanation about us. It is just a simple write up about my people who migrated from India to Malaysia. It is about us, the Mukkulathor people of Malaysia.

The Mukkulathor is a caste of three clans or kulams. They are Kallar, Maravar and Agamudayar. The word Mukkulathor simply means "people of the three clans". These three clans share a common origin and culture. 

Mukkulathors are among the first tribes to live in ancient Tamilakam. On other words, they are native Tamils. This is  confirmed through literature and also genetic research.

The Kallars, Maravars and Agamudayars were people of the Paalai region. Those who were involved in agriculture also lived in the Marutham region. The Kallars were also known as Kalvars. Agamudayars are also known as Agampadaiyar or Agambadiyar.

The history of Mukkulathor people is well documented and you can find references to these clans in literature and stone inscriptions.

According to the National Geographic Genome project, the Piranmalai Kallars were among the first tribe to settle down in ancient Tamil land. This was confirmed through studies by Dr.Spencer Wells. 

One of the Mukkulathor caste member, Mr.Virumandi Andithevar of Jothimanickam village near Madurai, is a direct descendant of the first people who settled down 70,000 years ago in South India.

The Mukkulathors also believe that they are all of the same branch which later split to three different clans. 

I was a guest speaker for a forum organized by Penang Mukkulathor Sangam in 2011.
The Mukkulathors of Malaysia settled down in various settlements during the British era. That's roughly about 200 years of history.

They came here in groups consisting of caste members. The caste members were related to each other and most of them came from the same village.

Unlike most Tamils who worked as plantation laborers, the Mukkulathor forefathers of Malaysia worked mainly in the mining areas including coal mines, construction, railways and ports. 

Many also came here as political exiles and prisoners of war due to their anti-British involvement. Because they were anti-British, the Mukkulathors mainly those from southern Tamil Nadu were branded as hereditary criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act in India. 

They were banned from practicing martial arts and finger printed. The British tried their best to subdue the Mukkulathors. Some left India to avoid this.

The Mukkulathors of then Malaya hated the British too. Many Mukkulathors like Madam Janaki Thevar joined Netaji Subash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA) to fight against the British. Mukkulathors particularly many from Batu Arang became trade unionist and communist.

One example of such person is the late S.A Ganapathy Thevar who was hanged by the British on 4 May 1949. He belonged to the Agamudayar clan and I had the chance to meet his grand nephew and grand niece when I went to deliver a speech in Penang. This was back in 2011.

Contrary to popular belief that Mukkulathors are staunch MIC supporters, many Mukkulathors are actually socialist. The influence of the Forward Bloc (India) and trade union comradeship can still be seen among the present day Mukkulathors.

In fact, some of the Mukkulathor people in Malaysia address each other as comrades!

But I don't deny the fact that many of my people are still in MIC.

In the olden days, areas like Penang, Klang, Tanjung Malim, KL, Batu Arang, Kuala Selangor were Mukkulathor hotspots. The Mukkulathors of Klang were also involved in many trade union strikes and riots which happened in 1940s.

Ramasamy Saluvar s/o Vengadasalam Saluvar was born in 1920 in Batu Arang. His family is from Thanjavur, India. He was the Vice President of Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Union in 1948. A close ally of another trade unionist, S.A Ganapathy Thevar. He made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the British Manager of Malayan Collieries in 1949. Due to his involvement in anti-British activities, Ramasamy Saalvar was shot dead by the British on 22 September 1956 (Saturday). He died a martyr fighting the British in Malaya.
Like the other castes, Mukkulathor people also formed their own sangam (association) for the benefit of the Mukkulathor people. 

The purpose of the Mukkulathor Sangam is the same as the Chinese clan associations. It was founded with the intention to help the caste members so that they can lead a better life in this country.

The first Mukkulathor Sangam was formed in Penang on 31 July 1973. The history of Penang Mukkulathors can be traced to my ancestral district of Sivagangai. 

After Sivagangai was captured by the British in 1801, many Mukkulathors were exiled to Penang. This is the origin of Penang Mukkulathors but of course, we also have people who came in later just like how most Tamils did.

Today, there are Mukkulathor sangams in almost every state with one national body known as Malaysia Mukkulathor Council (MMC). The present president of MMC is Mr.Sivakumaran Kalapadiyar. 
The official logo of the Malaysian Mukkulathor community. This logo is used by the legitimate Mukkulathor Sangams in Malaysia. It was designed by the former secretary of Penang Mukkulathor Sangam, the late V.Arunasalam Thevar.
Here in Malaysia, Mukkulathor people mix freely with Tamils of other castes.The situation is very different in rural India.

The Malaysian Mukkulathors accept friendship with anyone from any caste but will not tolerate if someone pretends to be a Mukkulathor. For the Mukkulathor people, blood ties and family identity is always a very sensitive issue.

Don't ask me why. It has been like that for thousands of years. 

Even in Facebook, I see many using our surnames such as Thevar or Servai despite not being a real Mukkulathor. 

What these people fail to realize is this behavior will only make us hostile towards them. No one is going to respect you for using a surname which does not belongs to you. So why bother calling yourself a Thevar or Servai if you are not one?

Some of you may think that I'm being straightforward about this matter. I prefer to be honest when I write :)

A person is considered a Mukkulathor only if the father is a Mukkulathor. This is because every Mukkulathor individual inherits the surname from the father. There is no Mukkulathor without a surname. 

In total, there are 1,135 surnames in the Mukkulathor community. So far, I have identified about 40 of those surnames in Malaysia. Thevar is one of the many surnames we have.

Usually Mukkulathor people will ask for surnames and name of ancestral village when they encounter another Mukkulathor. Purpose? Well we want to know how we are related to one another.

The 12th congress of Malaysian Mukkulathor Council was attended by His Highness Raja N. Kumaran Sethupathi, the present king of Ramanathapuram.

I hope that someday I can do a database for my people in this country. I formed a group known as FB Malaysian Mukkulathors in 2009. There are currently 400 people in my group.

Many people discovered their long lost relatives through my group. Despite criticism from certain non-Mukkulathor people, it is still going strong in its 4th year. 

The Mukkulathors are not caste fanatics. We are just a group of relatives who wish to maintain our identity in this country.

This is our short story in Malaysia.

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