Thanthai Periyar and The Dravidian Movement – Rajarajan RJ
A Politcal science researcher from Singapore, Ms. Ashwini in her research in 2020 on the thesis titled “A Political Anomaly: The Resistance of Tamil Nadu to rising tides of Hindutva across India”. primarily addressed two questions 1) How has the state level politics of Tamil Nadu resisted the national rise of the BJP and the right-wing Hindu nationalism? 2) Are such state - level politics still relevant or useful in resisting the BJP, where the political space of Tamil Nadu has seemingly evolved to become more favourable towards the BJP, and how so?
In her 70 page-thesis paper, Ashwini mentions few factors. One of which is “ the resistance relying on the legacy of the Dravidian social movement to articulate the need to defend the Ethno-Lingual identify of the Tamils and the federal rights of the Dravidian state against an increasingly predatory central government dominated by a ‘Northern’ party like the BJP.”
This explains what is the major impediment for the growth of the right wing politics in Tamil Nadu. It is the legacy of Thanthai Periyar’s Dravidian Ideology, which is still fighting against the Right wing, Capitalistic, Caste dominated politics.
The Legacy of Thanthai Periyar is not just with the Dravidian Parties like DMK. It is with each and every party in Tamil Nadu, a fact that makes Periyar is such a great leader.
In 2019, On his election campaign for South Chennai Candidate “Tamilachi Thangapandian”, Congressmen and Former Finance minister of India, Mr. P. Chithambaram mentions in his speech that “Thanthai Periyar is not just a Dravidian party leader. He is a leader for us as well”.
Periyar’s legacy is within every party of Tamil nadu. He was a leader in congress. Later he left congress and started the Self Respect movement. He took over the Justice party after the demise of the main leaders. Periyar was a staunch supporter of communism who translated the “Communist manifesto” into Tamil. Naturally, Dalit movements across India see Periyar as one of their leaders. Periyar is in each and every party which works for the welfare of the people and especially for the marginalised.
Even the right wing parties like BJP cannot have the upper caste dominance in TamilNadu. Most of the BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu are from non-brahmin communities. BJP is also forced toe the Dravidian line in a way.
Periyar’s long life was dominated by his fight against the dominance and oppression. When the BJP sowed the seeds of Hindi - Hindu - Hindustan across the country, Tamil Nadu stood up against this mindset. Even a common citizen of Tamil Nadu will question on Hindi’s dominance if you ask why Tamils don't know Hindi. They clearly explain you that, Tamils are not against Hindi. Tamils are against Imposing Hindi. This clarity in politics is what Periyar gifted to the Tamils.
Periyar stood against the Hindi Imperialism in 1938, which is named as the First war against Hindi imperialism. He foresaw that, Hindi was being imposed not just a language but as a culture. Tamil Nadu stood against the language imposition which in turn secured Tamil as a language. The dravidian leaders like Peraringar Anna, Kalaingar Karunanithi spoke about the richness of Tamil language. Tamil scholars spoke about the uniqueness and the oldness of Tamil language. British Scholars like F.W. Ellis, Robert Caldwell gave the proof for the Dravidian Origin of Tamil language which debunked the theory of Sanskrit being the root of Tamil language. After the Dravidian proof, the root for Tamil nationalism was raised to the next level. The seeds for the rise of Tamil nationalism was sown by none other than Thanthai Periyar.
Periyar’s rationalism was far ahead of his times. After Periyar left congress fighting against the brahminical dominance within the party, He Started the “Self Respect Movement” in 1929.
These are the some of the resolutions that were passed in the First conference of the “Self Respect Movement”:
1) One should get rid of any symbols, title that shows discrimination among fellow people. After this resolution people removed their caste title from their names. Among all the states in Indian union, only Tamil Nadu people don't put caste titles with their names. This itself shows why Tamils are grateful to Thanthai Periyar.
2) The right age of marriage for a women should be 16 years.
3) Couple should have the right to divorce if there is no mutual understanding
4) Widows should re-marry
5) Inter-caste marriages should happen
6) A man and Woman should be able to choose their partner on their own
7) Marriages should happen in a simple way without spending a lot of money
8) Money spent on temples and religious practices should be less. There should not be any mediator between the man and the god
9) Money should not be spent in building new temples. Instead, money should be spent on education, research and self-employment of people. Money and time spent on temple festivals should be spent on the development of knowledge, welfare of people, economic development.
10) Women should hold the rights for the equal share of properties from their parents.
Periyar passed these resolutions a 100 years back. If Tamil Nadu has attained some progress, we can say that Periyar is the primary reason behind that. The Dravidian Parties especially the DMK tried to implement many of the Periyar’s ideologies. However, event till date Periyar’s thoughts are considered way ahead of his time.
Periyar and Language:
Periyar was quoted as an Anti Tamil by the upper castes and the anti dravidian minds. Often, he is misquoted by some of his remarks on Tamil language. A famous one is, Periyar told “Tamil is a barbaric language”. Periyar being a rationalist proclaimed himself by saying..
“I dont have any affinity towards any caste, any country, any religion, any race or any language”. All I have is the affinity towards the human. He saw through the “human lens”. What benefits the human. He don't romanticise anything. He was black and white in seeing things. He saw language as a tool of communication. He saw what was written in Tamil for the betterment of fellow human. He rejected all those written in the name of Bhakthi saying it doesn't help. Periyar accepted Thirukkural as a good litreature and celebrated it by holding conferences.
Periyar and Religion:
Periyar had worked with many religious leaders. His newspaper “Kudiyarasu” was inaugurated by “Gnaniyar Adiyal”. He was working closely with “Kundrakudi Adigalar”. In Tamil Nadu, even today, many religious leaders from all religion know and understand the importance of Periyar. Though, the right wing forces trying to malign Periyar by showcasing him as “Anti Hindu”. People of Tamil Nadu has always showed the difference of being religious and being rational at the same time. Periyar opposed Religion because he saw the caste system is safeguarded by the religion. Periyar opposed God because he saw the religious structure is safe guarded by the concept of God. Basically, Periyar wants to destroy the caste system. So he want to destroy anything that safeguards caste.
Periyar and Science:
Periyar was very much pro science. His views on modern medicine, diet, technology was extra ordinary. All his speeches and writings written many decades ago is being re circulated now in social media. One of his book titled “Ini varum ulagam” was based on his speech in a function which was taken as a notes by Peringar Anna. Later that speech got published as a book. This book explains on how visionary Periyar is. In this speech, Periyar mentions, there will be a wireless device in each of our pockets through which we can transmit messages. This was a speech in 1950s.
Periyar and Caste:
The present day Tamil casteists calls Periyar by his caste and tells that he is not a Tamil. These casteist forces try to drag tamils back to age of Hindu rashtra wherein everyone is identified by their caste. Each castes are identified with their jobs, etc., The right wing forces and these casteist forces see Periyar as a major obstacle for them. They try to divide the Tamil people and try to conquer them. This age old tactic is still helping them to some extent.
However, Periyar is standing stall. The new age millennials are reading him. He is being read, quoted, celebrated by many. Everyone knows Periyar is not just another leader. Knowing Periyar is not a fashion statement. Because, Periyar doesn't fit into any frames.
Periyar’s life time goal is to remove the “caste” from the “human”. In his last speeches in the age of 95, he spoke with the constant pain due to hernia, He was telling that I’m sad that I’m leaving you all as sudras and could not annihilate the caste.
The meaning of Periyar’s life lies in caste annihilation. In fact,A meaning life of a Tamil is also the same.
Let’s annihilate caste. Let’s live a harmonious equal life hailing universal human values!
- Rajarajan RJ