Periyar, the face of caste equality and Dravidian pride, turns 141 today

Periyar was not only the face of caste reforms in India, but also a symbol of Tamil pride.

Mumbai: On Tuesday, hastag 'HBDPERIYAR141' was among the top trending hashtags in India.

The hashtag was used to wish happy birthday to Periyar, the pioneer of Dravidian Nationalism.

Periyar's philosophy and action revolved around his opposition to Brahminism and gave birth to ideology of present day parties-- DMK, AIADMK, MDMK.

At his birth anniversary, a look at the legacy of an iconoclast, rationalist social reformer, crusader of anti-Brahminism and father of Dravidian movement--Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar Thanthai or Periyar.

"There is no god, there is no god, there is no god at all.
He who invented god is a fool.
He who propagates god is a scoundrel.
He who worships god is a barbarian.''
-- E V Ramasamy Periyar

Early years

In 1879, EV Ramasamy was born to Venkata Naicker and Chinnathayee in Erode in the erstwhile Madras Presidency and modern-day Tamil Nadu. His parents belonged to a merchant caste-- balija-- in Andhra Pradesh.

He belonged to an affluent trading family and at an early age he dropped out from primary school to join his father's business. He used to listen to several religious guru, who came to his house to teach Shastras. Ramasamy, however, was critical of these teachings and started to question apparent contradictions in Hindu mythological teachings.

At the age of 19 he got married to a 13-year-old girl, Nagammai.

An incident in 1904 turn Periyar heavily against the caste system in India. At the holiest city for Hindus-- Varanasi, he was turned out of an eatery becasue he was not a Brahmin. He was once again stopped to enter as he was wearing mouustache — something Brahmins back then rarely used to keep.

The pilgirimage taught him that hinduism was nothing but Brahmical domination and exploitation.

In 1919, the reformer joined the Congress under the influence of his close friend C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji). Later, he was appointed as the president of the Madras Presidency Congress Committee in 1922. Ramasamy, however, soon left as his efforts to get reservations in education and government jobs were defeated within his party during the Tirupur session.

Texts on his life note suggest he observed that Congress was working in Brahminical interests and hence decided to resign.

During his initial days in Congress he held various key positions in the Erode municipality. He rigorusly fought for issues related to khadi, liquor prohibition and abolition of untouchability. For participating in non-cooperation movement he was jailed.

His work for the upliftment of the lower-caste Keralites in 1924-25 during the Vaikom Satyagrah gave him the moniker "Vaikom Veeran".

In Vaikom, a town of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom, lower-caste people were not allowed to even go near the temple. He fiercly led the movement which left a marking impression on his ideas and political life.

In 1925, Periyar dived into radical, on-ground politics with a trade union movement in Nagapatinam. It was this occassion where he happened to meet the pioneer of communist ideology-- Singaravelan. Around this time, he started the notable, Slef-Respect Movement-- also referred to as the Dravidian movement.

He went on to join the Justice party and was elected the party president in the late 1930s. He renamed it the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in 1944.

Ramasamy was also against the Hindi imposition. When C Rajagopalachari, India's last Governor-General, made Hindi compulsory in all government schools in 1937, as the chief minister of Madras Presidency, Ramasamy launched a protest aginst the move.

He gave the popular slogan "Tamil Nadu for Tamilians". His ideas and crucial involvement in the Justice party changed his political identity forever. He later came to known as Periyar meaning 'respected one' or 'elder'.

In 1950, he declared his party's vision. He wanted to build a platform for bringing the social and religious reform through the Dravida Kazhagam.

“The final agenda of this party is to destroy all religion,” he said.

When Muslim League demanded for Pakistan, Perriyar demanded for a seperate Tamil country.

In fact, when the whole nation was celbrating freedom from the dcades of british rule, Perriyar recognised country’s first Independence Day as a day of sorrow.

His party never entered the electoral politics. His protege, CN Annadurai, however wanted to contest election. The dissent forced Annadurai to left the party and start his own Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1449.

To desseminate his ideas of social justice and self-respect, Periyar also founded a newspaper-- Kudi Arasu. This became Periyarr's full-time job untill his death at the age of 97.

A Radical Femenist
Periyar was a staunch believer of gender equality. He fought for the progress of women and questioned the gender inequality prevelant in the society. He fought against barbaric social customs which were unfair to woman, such as child marriage and widow remarriage. He encouraged women to actively take part in social movements and politics.

Periyari tirelessly worked for women education and raised the issue of 50 per cent reservation for women in all the sectors.

It was the women's conference in Chennai in 1938 that conferred him with the title of 'Periyar'.

Periyar is not only a symbol of caste reforms in India, but also of the Tamil pride. His political ideas continues to hold significance in the contemporary politics in Tamil Nadu and remains inspire DMK and AIADMK.

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