King, Mary Elizabeth (2015) Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The Vykom Satyagraha and the Mechanisms of Change. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 312 pp.

ISBN 978–0–19–945266–8, hb £32.99

April Carter

London, UK

Gandhi's interpretation of nonviolent resistance had as its ideal aim conversion of the opponent, rather than success based on coercive, though unarmed, resistance. The Vykom Satyagraha, waged from 30 March 1924 to 23 November 1925 in the princely state of Travancore (now part of Kerala), was guided by Gandhi, although initiated locally. The aim was to end the ban on dalits (untouchables) using roads that passed by the Vykom temple, and more broadly to challenge discrimination against untouchables in Travancore and throughout India. Vykom has been cited in the classic literature on satyagraha as an example of conversion. Mary King tests the accepted account. She concludes that the patient suffering of the campaigners, who for many months – even through a period of severe floods – protested at the boundaries of the prohibited roads, failed to influence the Brahmins in charge of the temple. Indeed, Gandhi tried to negotiate with them in vain. Instead the campaign ended in a compromise, with Gandhi negotiating a de-escalation on both sides with the British police commissioner, and the Travancore authorities building a special access road to the temple for the Brahmins, and allowing untouchables to use the other roads. Therefore Vykom, although it did stimulate immediate and later moves to reduce discrimination, has been misunderstood. King explains the complexities of untouchability, especially in Travancore, notes the problems for the Congress party in responding to this injustice within Indian society, and raises questions about Gandhi's theory of satyagraha. This is a deeply researched and thoughtful book, relevant to anyone interested in the theory and practice of nonviolent resistance.