The issues should never be allowed to die. For they give lead towards further exploration of underlying themes, and their significance. It refers to the derecognizing a certain body called “Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle” (APSC) at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. The custodians of free speech were ablaze because this de-recognition was seen to have come, since the group of students were critical of the Modi government. Sitting in New Delhi, Mr Rahul Gandhi waged a war of words through his tweets, and HRD Minister Ms Smriti Irani came to retort. Along with all this heated political drama, one missed what the IIT, Madras administration said about the issue. The study circle was allowed to function as an ‘independent student body’ which under IIT rules was not allowed to appropriate institution’s name, which they allegedly did. The case seems closed, isn’t it? People against the government will keep pulling the plug out for everything which happens for whatsoever reasons around the globe. The custodians of the ‘free speech’ will rise as soon as any breach happens, regardless of the content and functionality. However, the aim of the article is something different. It inquires why a certain group sitting in a premiere technology institution studies Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy? If someone is acquainting themselves to Dr. B R Ambedkar’s writing, which cover various segments of thoughts from democracy to modernity, it seems fine. One knows Ambedkar’s stature is of a national leader across classes and communities. But, there is something fetish in studying Periyar. One smells some agenda about it. This compels one to have a reminder again that what Periyar really preached which a group of technology students must study. This piece interrogates the necessity of studying Periyar and the agenda underlying it.
Who was Periyar E V Ramaswamy (1879-1954)? He was a social activist, politician and businessman, who started the ‘self respect movements’ in colonial India for the depressed classes. This later developed as a political force under Dravidar Kazhgham party. Prima facie, this brief bio introduction seems as of the great leaders of India. A social activist who seemed to have constructed a political party, out of the movements he led for his people. However, on a serious introspection of historical facts and political thought of Periyar, the table will turn. His ‘self respect’ or Dravidian movement seems to have mobilized against certain communities who were hated as bitter enemies. His ideas on caste, science, language or rationality will seem to have been greatly prejudiced, and was always in a heated antagonism against others. His connotations of nationalism will be seen to have narrower limits and defines. So, let us knock the doors of history to unveil the politics of Periyar, and see how his propaganda of yesterday is on the agenda of today also.
Born on 28th September, 1879, E V Ramaswamy Naicker was the second son to wealthy Balijsa Naidu parents at Erode, in erstwhile Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. The merchant father was always a host to religious scholars and pundits, whose discourses never appealed young.Ramaswamy, and he always questioned them. The contradictions in the rubric of Hindu philosophy disenchanted him, and he started being alienated from it. However, the radical turn came when twenty five years old Ramaswamy visited holy pilgrimage of Benaras in 1904. He saw many ills there, and he himself was insulted at temples, and was not provided any food. This radicalized him to any degree against the ills of Hinduism. In the turn of events, he gave up his caste surname, Naicker, at the first provincial self respect conference at Chenggalpattu. The making of a radical activist was almost complete, and very soon his followers started calling him ‘Periyar’, meaning ‘respected one’ in Tamil.
Periyar also became part of Indian National Congress in 1920. The rising tides of non-cooperation movement availed him to utilize the mass participation for contesting for the rights of the depressed classes. He was a part of the famous Vaikom Satyagraha, a temple entry movement, which Gandhiji has engineered as a cultural and religious approach to the emancipation of the downtrodden. He was among the first to have voiced for reservation to depressed classes in government services. However, he broke away from Congress after 1925, an organization he claimed was dominantly Brahmanical, and won’t help the non-Brahmins. This inference was escalated through ‘Gurukul controversy’ (1925) in which a Congress funded Gurukul at Shermadevi, in Tirunelvelly, Brahmin and non-Brahmin boys were served food separately. This was complimented with a rift over Gandhiji’s views on Varnashrama dharma. Gandhiji was firm about his belief that Varnasharam dharma was the bedrock of Hindu way of life. He appealed the non-Brahmin radicals that in their ire against Brahmins they should not attempt to dismantle it. But unfortunately for Periyar and others, Varnasharam dharma was not the social bedrock, but a reason for justifying the superiority of Brahmins over others. The rift was complete, radicalization concretized and an activist left his rationality to become a racist and anti-nationalist.
One studies Periyar today, because there are certain groups who still wreck havoc with the Dalit and Dravidian fault lines. The self respect movement, which his followers associate most with is in no where a case of racism less than that of Adolf Hitler. Periyar was well aware of many of the hypotheses based of Aryan’s origin and invasion. But he for the fact mentioned that Aryans were not the inhabitants of the land, and Dravidians were. The self respect movement signalled the assessment of a glorified Dravidian past and posting a stiff battle to a pre-supposed domination of Aryan (north Indian) community. For this he propagated a lot of propaganda material which was a harsh attack on the Hindu beliefs. He saw Lord Ram as a wicked and unjust Aryan and in his life burnt the effigies so many times. He propagated Ravana, the demon as their hero of the Dravidians. Someone who keeps an eye on the events in contemporary India may soon cite a certain example. Some of the student groups in Jawaharlal Nehru University; Delhi started celebrating Dushherra as ‘Mahishasur Shahadat Diwan’ (demon’s martyrdom). One of the publications in Delhi appeared with a whole cover story claiming that goddess Durga seduced Mahishasur in his red chamber to finally murder him. This sorry affair of spreading hatred and constructing a false myth over other mythological claims was never rational at least. The rationality which Periyar’s followers may learn from him, is actually sham, for it claims that Ravana was a hero and worships him. The attack on one’s fallacy should be supported by progressive element, and not a reactionary one. Periyar’s vehement opposition to Hindi is well known. The whole anti-Hindi and anti-Hindu campaign which he engineered was an attempt to destruct the social harmony time and again.
Some of the scholars (such as Late M S S Pandian) have also attempted to claim the presence of strong nationalist fervour in Periyar. But it is quite clear that if Mohammad Ali Jinnah is hated for demanding a separate homeland for Muslims, the same logic should apply to others also. Periyar, as it is well known, argued and demanded for a separate homeland for the Tamilians, Dravida Nadu, time and again. It is well known that even after independence, he was arrested many times for attempts to burn the national flag and copies of Indian constitution. In his speech, Suthantara Tamil Nadu En? (Why an independent Tamil Nadu?), delivered in 1957, he was utterly critical about the central government and instigated people to burn the copies of Indian Constitution.
After explaining a great deal about Periyar and his actions, one now seek answers from everyone who studies him and follow as a saint. Why one fails to see, that he did become a voice for certain sections, but it was at the cost of cultivating utmost hatred for other sections? He bred poison against Brahmins, and continuously preached their elimination. He preached secessionism on the racial lines. His love of Tamil people and language was complimentary to his hatred towards the people of north India, whom he clubbed as Aryans. What to say about a rational approach, when he assumed that a hypothesis of Aryans’ foreign lineage was true and build his whole discourse around it. What to say about someone who burnt the effigies of Ram, who many in India see as a cultural icon across the length and breadth of the mainland. What to say about someone who preached atheism, but banked on the myth to construct his political actions. What to say about someone, who instigated people to burn the copies of Indian Constitution, which Babasaheb Ambedkar and others toiled hard to draft. And those who study and follow Periyar today will have to answer that what lessons they are learning from Periyar? Do they want to put the society back on the same track of disharmony and hatred? These groups one fears are being funded by some foreign sources, and nurtured by radical Left to disturb the progressive democratic experiment in India. One feels sorry that this de-recognition of the study group provided them a limelight, which should not have happened. Anyone and everyone, who works with the dalit and Dravidian fault lines to reform it should function within the constitutional lines shown by Ambedkar and not going to extremism as being done by Periyar. These groups should remember that liberty comes with the condition of responsible moral action. I appeal that selfish sick propaganda should be checked for the overall interest of the nation.
By Shaan Kashyap