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When Gandhiji Collected Rs 28 Lakhs for Kerala: Remembering the ‘Great Flood of 99’

“It seemed as if the skies had been ripped apart as the waters burst out endlessly, transforming the bountiful scene into one of catastrophe.”

Most reports about the recent Kerala floods described them as “the worst floods that the state faced in a century.” Thousands of people were displaced, hundreds of lives were lost, and estimates of property destruction might run up to millions. But what about the floods that ravaged Kerala about a hundred years ago? Why did they become the yardstick to measure floods even after such a long time?

The Periyar river in Kerala had flooded beyond ordinary measures back in 1924. The July of 1924, according to the Malayalam Calendar, was the year of 1099 ME. This scripted the name of the devastating Kerala floods as the Great Flood of 99. For many Keralites who grew up listening to the chronicles of the floods, the current floods are a reminder of the Great Floods of 99.

Kerala’s misery began when the rainfall and wind speed took speed in the last week of July in 1924. For the next three weeks, the intensity of the rains did not decrease, causing water levels in the cities of Trichur (now Thrissur), Ernakulam, Alappuzha (or Alleppey), Idukki and Kottayam to rise well above normal levels.

Kerala was getting submerged, quickly and dangerously.

Source.

In his book ‘The Ivory Throne,’ Historian Manu Pillai writes, “It seemed as if the skies had been ripped apart as the waters burst out endlessly, transforming the bountiful scene into one of catastrophe.”


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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The entire monsoon season that year accounted for 3368 mm of rainfall from July to September 1924, 64% higher than average. Maybe this high a rainfall could have caused less damage than it did, but a breach of the Mullaperiyar Dam escalated the situation further.

The dam has been under the control of the Madras Presidency on a 999-year lease contract. You can read fascinating information about the dam in the TBI article here. Submerging the low lying areas of Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thrissur, but also the high-altitude town of Munnar, standing tall at 1532 metres from the sea level, the Great Flood was on its way to be a nightmare for Kerala.

Perhaps the most fascinating but tragic aftermath of the Great Flood was that Karinthiri Malai, a hill, was entirely washed out by the waters! This alone measures the magnitude of the floods, but there’s more.

The Ernakulam-Munnar road was damaged by the waters to the extent that a new road had to be constructed to connect the two cities. The current roadway between Ernakulam and Munnar is a direct result of the floods that washed away the original path.

Kundala Valley Railway, the first monorail system in India, which was later converted to a narrow gauge railway, was also destroyed by these floods.

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The monorail used to operate in the Kundala valley near Munnar, but after the floods, only a few estranged damaged parts of the railway remained.

Such widespread destruction in Kerala, needless to say, cost many lives in the state, leaving thousands homeless and starving.

“By early August, thousands of refugees and displaced families were being fed at different relief centres: 4000 at Ambalapuzha, 3000 at Alleppey, 5000 in Kottayam, 3000 in Changanassery, 8000 in Parur and so on,” notes K Thanu Pillai, an executive engineer. On 19 July 1924, he reported, “The current set up by the river overflowing its banks was so powerful that many boats engaged in rescue are reported to have capsized.”


You may also like: The Road Ahead: What This Daman IAS Officer Did is What Kerala Needs Right Now


It also prompted Mahatma Gandhi to direct some of his efforts to the cause of this “unimaginable” misery of people. He was made aware of the situation in Kerala by some Congress workers in the state, and without any delay, he asked them about relief measures that the rest of the country could channel their way.

Gandhi wrote several articles in his newspapers, Young India and Navjivan, appealing to readers to contribute to relief funds for Malabar (Kerala).

“I would only urge that pay, they must,” he had once said.

Source.

It goes without saying that his followers were ready to follow his orders to the T. According to some reports, many people even gave up one meal per day or milk from their diet so they could donate the saved money. In an article he published in Navjivan, Mahatma Gandhi wrote about a young girl who stole three paise so she could contribute towards the cause.

Women sold off their jewellery and families gave up their savings so the people in Kerala could eat well and be safe in those challenging times. “One person has given two toe-rings. An Antyaja girl has offered voluntarily the ornaments worn on her feet. A young man has handed over his gold cufflinks. Rs 6994, 13 anna-3 paise have been collected in cash till date,” Gandhi had said. One Pound was worth 13 rupees in 1924, so the total amount collected was approximately 540 pounds in 1924 or GBP 31,200 in today’s currency.

This is worth about INR 27.75 lakh in today’s Indian currency. No data exists for rupee inflation from 1924. The RBI’s records only go back to 1959.

Source: Twitter/ India That Was.

The Mahatma was overwhelmed after seeing his followers make a united effort to help their brothers in need. “It has been proven not once but many times that, by God’s grace, compassion does exist in the hearts of the people,” he noted.

Today, a similar situation has arisen in Kerala where thousands are still struggling to return to their normal lives even after the floodwaters have receded. For a week, Kerala was submerged in the waters, giving the Malayalis an unfortunate flashback to the floods that tested them 94 years ago.

It is now understandable that the 2018 floods were compared to the great tragedy of 1924. An unfortunate comparison, without a doubt, but one that still highlighted the perseverance of Kerala and the brotherhood of an entire nation.


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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