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Mannathu Padmanabhan Pillai

(1878 – 1970) – (Kerala)

Mannathu Padmanabhan (Aged 92), an Indian social reformer and freedom fighter from the southwestern state of Kerala, was born on 2 January 1878. He is recognised as the founder of the Nair Service Society (NSS), which represents the Nair community that constitutes 15.5% of the population of the state. Padmanabhan is considered a visionary reformer who organised the Nair community under the NSS.

He began his career as a teacher in 1893 in a Government primary school. After a few years, he changed his profession and started practicing law in the Magistrates Courts from 1905. On 31 October 1914, with the help of a few others, he established the Nair Service Society. His main ambition was to uplift the status of the Nair community. From 1915 onwards, he gave up law practice and became a full-time secretary of the Nair Service Society.

In 1924-25, the NSS persuaded the Travancore Government to enact the Nair Regulation, which broke up the matriarchal joint family, providing for paternal and maternal property to be divided among all the children. Padmanabhan was involved with the Nair Service Society as its secretary for 31 years and as its president for three years. He was honored with the title Bharata Kesari by the President of India and received the Padma Bhushan in 1966.

He fought for social equality, with the first phase being the Vaikom Satyagraha, demanding the public roads near the temple at Vaikom be opened to low-caste Hindus. He took part in the Vaikom (1924) and Guruvayoor (1931) temple-entry Satyagrahas, and the anti-untouchability agitations. He opened his family temple for everyone, irrespective of caste distinction.

He became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1946 and took part in the agitation against Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer’s administration in Travancore. He was arrested for the Indian Freedom Movement on 14 June 1947. He passed away on 25 February 1970.