Born on 17.9.1879 to the wealthy
merchant family of Venkata Naicker and Chinnathayee Ammal at Erode,
Tamil Nadu, India
His formal schooling ended at the age of
ten. As he jokingly remarked to his early biographer Sami Sidambaranar,
he was more interested in harassing teachers than attending the
Married 13 year old Nagammal.
Entered into the family business of
Went on a pilgrimage to north Indian
cities of Calcutta (Kolkotta) and Benares (Varanasi) to experiment with
the life of an ascetic. Disillusioned with the philosophy and practice
of the sanyasins ,returned to his hometown
Took to social service works and
gravitated towards Indian National Congress
Took an active role in organizing
Elected Chairman of Erode Municipality
and held responsible position in Erode Taluk Temple Committee and many
other honorary posts for several years. During his tenure as the
Municipal Chairman, drinking water scheme was implemented. Joined Madras
Presidency Association (MPA) floated by the non-Brahmin Congress leaders
to counter the Justice Party. Elected Vice-President of MPA and served
as the Reception Committee Chairman for its second provincial conference
held at Erode in October 1919
C.Rajagopalachari and P.Varadarajulu Naidu,leading Congressmen of the
day Periyar resigned from the Chairmanship of Erode Municipality and
from many other honorary posts to plunge himself into active nationalist
politics. His brief tie-up with Annie Besant's Home Rule movement ended
up in disillusionment. In his short autobiographical notes Periyar
mentions that he visited Amrister after the Jalianwallabagh massacre and
that what he saw and heard there made him an ardent Nationalist. He was
soon to be elected President of Tamil Nadu Congress Comiitee. From 1920
onwards he was consistently urging the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee to
demand for proportional representation of non Brahmins and depressed
castes in government services.
Actively involved in Gandhi's non
co-operation movement and Constructive Programme together with his wife
Nagammal and sister S.R.Kannammal.
Sentenced for involvement in Temperance
movement and cut down 500 coconut trees in his garden.
At the session of the Tamil Nadu Congress
Committee held at Tiruppur in Coimbatore district he declared that
Manusmriti, Ramayana and such other texts that legitimise the Varna
-Caste system be burnt to ashes.
Led the Satyagraha at Vaikom in the
erstwhile princely state of Travancore for the right of the untouchable
castes to use the roads around the Hindu temple .Arrested in May,
sentenced to jail term for one month and held at Arvukuththi jail and
after release resumed the struggle to be sentenced to imprisonement for
six months. His wife Nagammal and sister S.R.Kannammal also participated
in satyagraha. Dhananjay Keer, the biographer of Dr B.R.Ambedkar writes
of Vaikom struggle: "The outstanding event of the year concerning the
struggle of the Depressed Classes was the Satyagraha or the passive
resistance sponsored by Ramaswami Naicker, a Non-Brahmin leader at
Vaikom in the Travancore State for vindicating the rights of the
Untouchables to use a certain road to which they were forbidden entry.
Its moral pressure and the spirit of righteous assertion had a
tremendous effect, and the orthodox Hindus, for a while, regained their
civic sense and sanity, and the road was thrown open to the
untouchables.Ambedkar . referred to the Vaikom struggle, a few months
latter, very touchingly in one of his editorials, on the eve of the
Mahad Satyagraha." Always already critical of the reactionary
Brahmins of the Swarajist wing of the Congress Party, Periyar began
taking on the' radical' elements on matters concerning social reforms.
He vehemently criticised the practice of serving food separately for the
Brahmin and non-Brahmin students in Gurukula Ashram run by V.V.S.Iyer, a
Congressman ( once convicted of 'terrorist activities') out of Congress
funds. The Gurukula incident exposed the growing schism between the
Brahmin and non-Brahmin public figures in Tamil country.
Periyar lent his support to the Hindu
Religious Endowment Bill moved in the Madras legislature by the Justice
Party ministry with a view to put an end to the monopoly of Brahmins in
running the affairs of the temples and to utilize the temple funds for
He also presided over the 30th session of
the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee at Thiruvannamalai and declared that
the annihilation of castes was the only means to abolish untouchability.
Still being a Congressman and with a
strong faith in the efficacy of Gandhi's constructive programme in the
upliftment of the poor and untouchables , Periyar launched his
celebrated Tamil weekly 'Kudi Arasu' (Republic) on 2.5.1925 for serving
the cause of "Tamils such as Untouchables". With this weekly came into
being his Self-Respect movement, the core philosophy was to do away with
oppression and exploitation based on caste, class and gender. He parted
company with the Congressmen (though not officially making a break with
the Party) after the resolution moved by him in the Tamil Nadu Congress
Conference in Kanchevaram to provide for proportional representation
for non-Brahmin and Untouchable castes in legislature, government jobs
etc., was disallowed. While moving closer to the Justice party, he
persuaded the latter to adopt Gandhi's constructive programme. At the
same time he called for a militant non Brahminism which would not be
content with the bread and crumbs offered by the rulers but would
radically challenge the caste system.
Final break with Gandhi came when Periyar
and other Self-Respecters failed to persuade Gandhi to give up his
belief in Varnashrama Dharma. Periyar welcomed the Simon Commission as
he believed that its recommendations would pave the way for the rightful
representation of non Brahmin and Untouchable castes in running the
affairs of the government. While his Self-Respect ideas were making a
powerful appeal to the downtrodden masses crystallizing in horizontal
solidarity of the backward and depressed castes throwing a powerful
challenge to the status quo, he began actively supporting the
Independent Ministry headed by P.Subbaroyan (after the Justice Party
failed to get a majority in the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1927
elections) for its daring implementation of the Government Orders passed
by the Justice ministry to give proportional representation in the
Government jobs for non Brahmins and depressed castes and for its
radical measures to uplift women and depressed castes. For the first
time in the history of Tamil Nadu two members of 'untouchable' community
were appointed as members of Devoswam (Temple Affairs) Committee.
Periyar supported the bill moved in the
Legislative Assembly by social reformer and the Congress member
Muthulakshmi Reddy to do doing away with the Devadasi system in the
Temples. Copies of Manu Smriti were burnt in many Self respect meetings.
Periyar removed from his name once and for all the caste appellation 'Naicker'.
In the month of May Periyar was arrested
at Erode for his participation in the strike of the employees and
workers of South Indian Railway. He was earlier arrested at
Tiruchirapalli at the beginning of the year for his alleged provocative
remarks against the upper caste Christians.
Periyar launched his
English weekly 'Revolt' on 7th November 1928. In the first
anniversary number he wrote:"
It was on the 7th day November 1928 that memorable day in the
history of the nations, the day of the anniversary of the immortal
Revolution in Russia, the day which is looked upon as the violent
explosion of human liberty, the day which is memorialised by millions in
Russia for the mighty mixing up of monarchs and the massed, - it was on
that day that the revolt saw the light of day at Erode. Even as we
pointed out at the outset, we 'unfurled the flag of revolt to destroy
tyrannies and to befriend men and women'. Our aim, as we declared, was
to put before our people, and humanity in general, how 'social injustice
is at the root of our economic bondage and political subjugation".
'Revolt' gave extensive coverage to the
anti-caste and social reform movements taking place in various parts of
British India as well as in princely states. These included reports on
Adi Dravida Conference in Karaikudi, Non Brahmin Youth Conference held
at Madurai, All Travancore Social Conference in Nagercoil, Anti-Caste
Conference organized by Dr.B.R.Ambedkar in Nasik, Lohore conference of
Jat Pat Todak Mandal. It gave great importance to the struggle waged by
Samaj Samata Sangh led by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar for the rights of the
Untouchables to enter the Temple in Ganesh temple in Dadar, Bombay.
Periyar and his movement put their focus
on the rights and emancipation of untouchable castes and endeared
themselves to the depressed caste organizations of the day. In the
Karaikudi Conference of Adi Dravida Association led by M.C.Raja, a
resolution was passed urging its members to buy and read Justice Party
daily 'Dravidan' and Self respect weekly 'Kudi Arasu'
Periyar welcomed into the fold of
Self-Respect Movement M.Singaravelu, an outstanding intellectual (born
in a poor fisherfolk family) and a radical Congressman with Buddhist
scholarship turned Communist (' the first Communist of South
India').Singaravelu began enriching the movement through his essays
on socialism, religion, superstition and rationalism. K.V.Alagarisamy, a
Self-Respect veteran was instrumental in bringing this great man of
letters to the movement after both of them jointly addressed a meeting
in Napier Park in Madras to condemn the death sentence awarded to Sacco
and Vanzetti , the American anarchist labour leaders after a fake trial.
Published detailed reports eulogizing
Organised the first Madras Provincial
Self-Respect Conference at Chingleput near Chennai on 18th
February 1929 sending shivers up the spines of the casteist forces
across the country.
Visited Malaya and Singapore with his
wife Nagammal and addressed a number of meetings organized by the
expatriate Tamils with Self-Respect leanings.
Periyar published his celebrated book
"Garba Aaatchi' (Right of reproduction), which anticipated many of the
arguments of the radical feminists of the future. He also wrote a number
of articles dealing with the questions of patriarchy and gender justice
thus contributing some original and thought provoking ideas to the
feminist movement in India.
Organised the second provincial
self-respect conference at Erode under the presidentship of the
Congress-Hindu Sabhaite M.R.Jeyakar and for the first time in the
history of political gatherings in Tamil Nadu the food to the delegates
was served by the Adi Dravida members of the Self- respect movement.
Criticised Gandhi's Civil Disobedience
Movement and his Salt Satyagraha as these did not address the questions
of caste oppression, exploitation of the poor by rich and the gender
injustice and called Gandhi-Irvin pact as a total surrender of the
Congress to the British raj. The press controlled by the Brahmins came
up for severe criticism of Periyar as they glorified the participation
of the Brahmin leaders who offered the least harmful Satyagraha in the
civil disobedience movement while deliberately belittling the severe
police repression suffered by the non Brahmin Congressmen.
Moblised public support for the Bill
tabled by the Congress legislator and social reformer Muthulakshmi Reddi
for the abolition of Devadasi system and criticized the Justice Party
leadership for its nationalist pretences and its lukewarm attitude
towards the Devadasi abolition bill.
Organised along with the Coimbatore
District Self Respect Conference, a separate conference non-Brahmin
musicians whose talents and merits were systematically belittled and
unrecognized by the Brahmins whose hegemony extended to all realms of
public and private lives and called upon the non Brahmin artistes to
assert their self-respect and fight for getting their rightful place in
Concert Halls and other musical events.
Organised public meeting and published
articles criticizing the All India Conference of the Indian National
Congress held at Karachi. In Periyar's view the resolutions on
fundamental rights passed in the Congress , especially its advocacy of
'neutrality in religious matters' held dangerous portends for the
shudras and untouchable castes as they adumbrated the essential features
of the Rama Rajya of Gandhi and the Congress where the caste order and
religious obscurantism would be preserved (The Karachi resolutions
were as follows:
The articles in the Constitution
relating to Fundamental Rights shall include a guarantee to the
communities concerned of protection of their culture, languages,
scripts, education, profession, practice religion and religious
2.Personal Laws shall be protected by
specific provisions to be embodied in the Constitution.)
Periyar and other self-respecters wrote
and spoke in support of Bhagat Singh who in their view was betrayed by
Gandhi and his Congress.Periyar offered a trenchant theoretical and
philosophical critique of Gandhi's philosophy of 'ahimsa' and his claims
of listening to the dictates of 'conscience'.
29.3.1931 issue of 'Kudi Arasu'
published an important speech of Prof Lakshminarasu, co-founder of
South Indian Buddhist Association on "Untouchability and Samadharma"
Organised the third provincial
Self-Respect conference at Virudhunagar in response to the Karachi
Congress. With S.Ramanathan, a leading Self-Respecter, translated from
English and published 'The Communist Manifesto' in Kudi Arasu. The Tamil
version with Periyar's lengthy introduction was published in 'Kudi Arasu'
weekly from 4.10.1931 to 25.10.1931.
In compliance with a resolution passed in
third provincial self-respect conference,
Periyar accompanied by S.Ramanathan began his long foreign trip to learn
from the experiences of various countries in solving social problems. He
made brief visits to South Africa, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, England,
Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy. But his primary interest was Soviet
Union where he stayed from 13.2.1932 to 19.5.1932 visiting factories,
Communist Party functionaries, Atheist Groups etc. In Germany he met
Communist and anarchist leaders and the Nudists. He briefly joined the
Nudist Club to experiment with the idea of shedding the gendered notions
of shame, honour, decency and 'naturally endowed sexual differences.
In London he had several meetings with
Sarbuji Sakhlatwala, the Communist leader and the first Indian ever to
be elected to the British several times and accompanied him to several
public meetings of workers and communists and shared the platform with
him in a few meetings.
On his way back home he spent three weeks
in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to propagate Self Respect and Socialist ideas. His
audience comprised mostly of depressed caste migrant workers. He
returned to his hometown Erode on 11.11.1932
In December, along with M.Singaravelu,
P.Jeevanandam and other leading socialist inclined Self respecters,
drafted and published the 'Samadharma (Socialist) Programme', popularly
known as 'Erode Plan'.
During Periyar's absence, in tune with
his principles and commitments leading Self-Respecters like S.Gurusamy,
Ponnamblanar, M.Singaravelu ,G.Appaduraiyar organized several meetings
independently and also jointly with many Adi Dravida Associations to
support Ambedkar's struggle for separate electorate for untouchables and
condemned Gandhi's 'fast unto death' that resulted in the infamous Poona
pact. In March, 1932 Self-respect , Buddhist and Adi Dravida
Conferences were organized at Kolar Gold Fields. Justice Party was the
only political party in South India that supported the separate
Periyar carried out intensive propaganda
of socialist thoughts across the Tamil Country. Wrote and spoke against
the activities of Harijan Sewak Sangh of Gandhi and Congress.
With the help of S.Ramanathan, translated
from English and published Frederic Engels's 'Principles of Communism'
and Lenin's article 'Tolstoy the mirror of Russian Revolution' and a few
of his letters to Maxim Gorky on religion. Periyar kept drawing an
analogy between Tolstoyism and Gandhism and argued how the latter
functioned as an ideological mystification blurring one's view of social
Periyar organized anti-Zamindar
Conference and spoke against the reactionary princely states.
Nagammal, Periyar's wife and
comrade-in-arms passed away on 11.5.1933. The obituary Periyar wrote
remains till date one of the moving account of their dedication to each
other, the sharing of ideals and a self-introspection on the part of
Periyar about the extent to which he lived up to his own advocacy of
Very next day Periyar left for
Tiruchirapalli to conduct self-respect, inter-caste and inter-religious
marriage defying the prohibitory order under Section 144 of IPC imposed
to prevent Periyar from attending the function.
For the editorial 'Why the present
form of Government should go?' published in 29.10.1933 issue of'
Kudi Arasu' weekly he and his sister and the publisher of the journal
S.R.Kannammal were arrested under Section 124 -A (sedition charges),
his house was searched and 46 'seditious' letters were confiscated.
Both of them were incarcerated in Coimbatore Central Prison. The carping
criticism made by Periyar and his followers of the practice of
untouchability and casteism amongst the Catholics and their
publication of anti-clerical articles of Bertrand Russell, Ingersol,
Jean Meslier and Voltaire invited the wrath of the Catholic clergy
who appealed to the Pope to urge the British Government to ban the
As Periyar had already planned to bring
out another Self-Respect journal in the event of 'Kudi Arasu' being
banned or prosecuted, he had another weekly 'Puratchi' (Revolution)
launched in 1933. It , together with another self respect journal
'Samadhramam' edited and published by Parthasarathi in Jalarpet, North
Arcot district kept publishing articles
on socialism, Soviet Union, women's rights, fascism, critiques of
Gandhism and also articles supporting the Justice Party candidates for
the Central Assembly bye-elections. The editor and Periyar's elder
brother E.V.Krishnasamy,himself a leading self-respecter had to face
charges of sedition.
Schism that began to develop between
Periyar and like minded persons on one hand and M.Singaravelu and his
'communist' colleagues on the other over the question of supporting
the Justice Party and implementing the 'Erode Socialist Programme'
began to surface.
The weekly 'Puratchi' had to be fold up
because of Government repression and also in view of the virulent
opposition from religious fundamentalists and Periyar,using his tactical
genius, had another weekly launched this time.
'Pakutharivu' (Rationalism) weekly was
launched with E.V.Krishnasamy as the editor. A daily and a monthly with
the same name were also brought out. The daily had to fold up shortly
due to financial constraints.
P.Jeevanandam who translated into Tamil ,
Bhagat Singh's ' Why I am an Atheist?' and E.V.Krishnasamy, Periyar's
elder brother who published it on behalf of the self-respect press were
arrested under Section 124 A of IPC (sedition). Periyar asked them to
give an undertaking to the Government that they would not indulge in
such seditious and anti-government activities and secure their release.
In response to the criticism from the young and more militant self
-respecters that Periyar's act was a regretful compromise and a sign of
cowardice, he owned up the responsibility for asking his colleagues to
give such an undertaking but argued that he was not interested in
'martyrdom' either for himself or for other self-respecters but was only
exploring avenues to carry forward the self-respect works in a charged
political climate where, according to his reading, the Congress-British
alliance was being forged after 1932 Gandhi-Irvin Pact and Gandhi's
influence was increasing in civil society while the Government were
contemplating a ban on Self-Respect movement following the ban imposed
on the Communist party. Periyar argued for a pragmatic way forward
steering clear of the obstacles being erected from various directions.
There was a meeting of Periyar and
C.Rajagopalachari in Coimbatore Central Prison where the latter was held
on account of his participation in individual satyagraha movement and it
was widely believed that Periyar was contemplating reaccommodation
within the Congress Party. A modified and much watered down version of
Erode programme was sent by Periyar to both the Congress and Justice
Party on the condition that whichever party accepted it would get his
support in the elections. While the Congress Party ridiculed it as a
pale imitation of Karachi resolutions, Periyar pointed out that the
Karachi resolutions did not contain anything relating to the upliftment
of women and the untouchable castes. On the other hand, the 'leftist'
elements led by M.Singaravelu parted company with Periyar and joined the
Congress Socialist Party to strengthen the Congress Party which in their
view was a 'mighty anti-imperialist force' and criticised the Justice
party as the party of British toadies, job-seekers and landlords . It is
noteworthy that Periyar allowed democratic dissent within his movement
allowing those like M.Singaravelu who opposed his positions to air their
views through editorials and articles in his journals.
Periyar and his supporters campaigned
for the victory of the Justice Party candidates in 1934 bye-elections.
But with the Congress Party's growing influence in realms of both the
political and civil societies and in view of the failure of the Justice
leadership to develop mass organizations, the Justice Party candidates
Lent his support to 'Tamizh Isai
Movement' , a movement for securing a place for Tamil songs in the
repertoire of the Carnatic Musicians performing in the Concert Halls.
Periyar enthusiastically welcomed
Ambedkar's decision to leave the Hindu fold and convert to another
religion of his choice. He continued with publishing articles on
communism and Soviet experiments. Some publications of Self respect
movement such as the Tamil version of Bhagat Singh's 'Why I am an
Atheist' were confiscated by the police and he was asked to pay
security deposits to the government.
He called upon the Self-Respecters to
celebrate the May Day through out the Tamil Country. Till then the May
Day celebration was observed only in the city of Madras.
Consequent to the efforts made by the
Justice Party backed by Periyar's Self -Respect movement, the Viceroy's
Government passed the G.O.No.14634 dated 15.3.1935 for reservation of
jobs for non Brahmins and scheduled castes in the Central Government
Services in Madras Presidency. The G.O. implemented in 1936 was
withdrawn one and a half months after the Independence (ie from
30.9.1947) by the Congress Government.
While the Congress Party was registering
bigger and bigger victories in civic polls of 1936, the fortunes of the
faction ridden Justice Party started sliding down. Periyar's programme
was accepted by the Party only by the end of 1936 and in response to the
Congress critics who claimed that it was only a pale imitation of their
Karachi resolutions, Periyar challenged them to show whether there was
anything in the Congress programme similar to the ones he had included
in his own for the removal of discrimination based on castes, upliftment
of women and for proportional representation. Unruffled by the series of
defeats faced by the Justice Party he and his self- respect colleagues
went ahead with concentrating their energies on social issues.
Periyar serialised the Tamil translation
of B.R.Ambedkar ' Annihilation of Castes' in 'Kudi Arasu' from its issue
dated 24.7.1936 and each installment was accompanied by a photograph of
Ambedkar. It was published in a book form in 1937.
The 'communist' self-respecters who made
a final break with Periyar launched a short-lived 'Suyamariyadhai
Samadharma Party' only to merge it with the Congress Socialist Party
with the intention of serving the 'mighty anti-imperialist force' that
Took over the responsibility of bringing
out the Justice Party's Tamil daily 'Viduthalai' (
Liberation). He infused the columns of the daily with anti-caste,
self-respect ideas. In the first general elections held for the Madras
Legislative Council under the Government of India Act, the Congress won
an impressive majority trouncing the Justice Party. When the Congress
wavered for some time on the question of forming a ministry in 1937, a
non-Brahmin ministry was formed with the help of the Justice Party
members and the Adi Dravida leader M.C.Raja. But Periyar was keen to see
the formation of a Congress ministry as he was convinced that all its
weaknesses, its will to power at any cost and its class-caste character
would unfold themselves through its acts of commissions and omissions.
Successfully pressurized the Railway
authorities to abolish the arrangements to serve food for Brahmins and
non Brahmins in separate partitions in Railway station restaurants.
The Congress ministry headed by C.Rajagopalachari, in the name of
slashing the government expenditure in view of the fall in the
government revenue resulting from the partial prohibition implemented
in the state closed down hundreds of primary school depriving the
children of backward and untouchable castes of basic education. The
ministry also tried to implement Gandhi's Wardha Scheme in the
educational institutions, thus clandestinely introducing the varna
system. It put down with iron hand the struggles of the workers and
arrested the leading members of the Congress Socialist Party. To cap its
reactionary measures, the ministry introduced the scheme of compulsory
learning of Hindi in selected schools to be extended to all other
schools in future. C.Rajagoplachari argued that by learning Hindi one
can read Thulasidas's Ramayana in original. Sensing that the scheme of
compulsory learning of Hindi was a clever ploy to build
Sanskritic-Brahminical ideological hegemony, Periyar and the
self-respecters and Justice Party members decided to wage a relentless
battle against the scheme. Almost every segment of the Tamil populace
including a section of the Congressmen joined the anti-Hindi agitation
launched by Periyar. Several hundreds of agitators were arrested under
various sections of the IPC including 124A. Two of them, one a Dalit and
another from a most backward community died on account of ill treatment
in the prisons. In the Tamil Nadu Women's Conference held at Chennai on
12,13.11.1938, it was unanimously resolved that E.V.Ramasamy would
hereafter be addressed only with the honorific 'Periyar'(Great Man) and
not by his name. For the anti-Hindi speeches he made in this women's
conference and in Pethunaickenpet, Chennai on 13th and 14th
November 1938 respectively, Periyar was arrested under section 117 of
IPC and Criminal Law Amendment Act Section I and sentenced to two year
rigorous imprisonment. It was later commuted to one year simple
imprisonment. First lodged in the Central Prison in Chennai, he was
later shifted to the jail in Bellary (now part of Karnataka)
The active members of the rudderless,
leaderless Justice Party, seeing the immense popularity of Periyar,
elected him their Party President on 29.12.1938 in its Provincial
Conference held at Madras. As Periyar was in prison, his presidential
address was read out by A.T.Panneerselvam, a leading Justicite and a
The anti-Hindi agitation joined and
supported by various streams and strands of Tamil enthusiasts and
anti-Brahmin militants crystallized into a veritable Tamil Nationalist
movement with a demand , first for separation of Tamil speaking areas
from the erstwhile composite Presidency of Madras and subsequently for a
separate country. Periyar endorsed the demand for a separate Tamil Nadu
which he later made it a demand for Dravida Nadu roughly approximating
the geographical boundaries of the composite Madras Presidency of his
time. He wanted it to enjoy the status of a separate dominion state
under the British Crown with a view to protect it from the exploitative
machinations of what he called the Brahmin- North Indian (Bania)
When the Second world War broke out,
Periyar had to hand over 'Viduthalai' for propaganda for mobilizing
support and funds for war efforts. He argued that though it was the
Brahmins who reaped unprecedented benefits under the British Raj, it
was necessary that the allied nations in which the Britain was a part
win the war, lest the axis powers would reverse the course of history
and the non Brahmins and untouchables would have to start their struggle
from the very beginning. He was systematically exposing the
'doublespeak' of the Congress vis-à-vis the war and argued that all its
'anti-war' talks were only camouflages for its underhand dealings with
Met Ambedkar and Mohamed Ali Jinnah at
Bombay on 8.1.1940 and signed a joint statement calling upon all the
secular anti-Congress forces to unite to defeat the claims of the
Congress as the sole representative of the entire population of India.
Periyar also sought the support of Ambedkar and Jinnah for his Dravida
Periyar denounced the demand of the
Congress to form a National Government and its claim to be the sole
representative of the Indian people. 'Kudi Arasu' criticized Gandhi's
letters to Hitler and his appeals to the people of Czechoslovakia and
England threatened by the Nazi forces not to offer any resistance and
allow the invaders to take over their land and other material belongings
excepting their minds and spirits.
Periyar suspected that the individual
satyagraha offered by the Congressmen to express their 'disapproval' of
involving India in war efforts was actually a drama pre-arranged with
the consent of the British rulers to hoodwink the people. Periyar also
pointed out that the 'war committees' set up by the government were
dominated by Brahmins.
Periyar and the self-respecters were
keenly watching the developments within the Congress and placed on
records the manouvres of Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders to marginalize
Subhas Chandra Bose. They also exposed the betrayal of the people of
princely states by Gandhi and other Congress leaders like Nehru and
Patel.Periyar intensified his campaign for separate Dravida Nadu by
organizing meetings and publishing articles. Number of articles
supporting Soviet Union's war against Fascism was published.
When the members of British Cabinet
mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps appointed by the British Government
visited India to find solutions for political demands, Periyar led the
Justice Party delegation and argued for a separate electorate for the
non Brahmins on a scale that would automatically make their
representatives majority in the Province since under the prevailing
conditions they would not get the majority in the legislature either
through the vote or through a plebiscite as they would be outmanoeuvred
by the powerful elements comprised of more wealthy and powerful Brahmin
population. This demand was turned down by Cripps. Responding to
C.Rajagoplachari's satirical remarks that those who claim to represent a
majority seeking protection from the manipulations of a minority was
something unheard of, Periyar remarked that out of 10000 people who
gather in a market place, 9990 people had to protect their wallets from
Periyar was keenly watching the political
developments in the country and kept commenting on the material support
the Congress and its wealthy patrons were rendering to the British war
effort and the rich dividends they were receiving in return. Periyar
criticized 'Quit India Movement' announced by Gandhi in September 1942
as an invitation to the Japanese Fascists to land in Indian soil.
Periyar resumed publication of 'Kudi
Arasu' which was not allowed to be published during the first three
years of war. Welcomed the rout of the Nazi army by the heroic
resistance of the Soviet people and the Red army and wrote that the
"Quit India Movement' was a gamble played by Gandhi and Congress
anticipating the defeat of the allied nations and the victory of axis
He announced the scientific possibility
of having 'test tube' babies and argued that this would reduce the
reproductive burden on women.
At the provincial Conference of Justice
Party held at Salem , he had the name of the Justice Party (South Indian
Liberal Federation) changed as 'Dravidar Kazhagam'. One of the
resolutions passed in the Conference called upon all the non Brahmins
to throw away the titles and honours conferred on them by the British.
Periyar also revived the demand for separate electorate for scheduled
Another resolution demanding a separate,
sovereign Dravida Nadu completely independent of the British Rule was
Dr B.R.Ambedkar called on Periyar at
Chennai and discussed with him the political developments in India.
According to the report on the meeting published in 'Kudi Arasu'
Ambedkar was understood to have agreed with the contents of the
resolutions of the Salem Conference of the Justice Party and supported
the Dravida Nadu demand.'Kudi Arasu' also reported that Ambedkar wanted
even the Maharashtra part of the country be included in Dravida Nadu. On
the same evening Ambedkar met the leaders of a section of the old
Justicites who disagreed with Periyar's idea of clubbing social issues
with political ones and functioned under the old name. Ambedkar frankly
expressed his unhappiness about the elitist nature of the (old) Justice
Party which failed to develop any grass root social base and was
interested only in hunting for government jobs and positions.
Dr.B.S.Moonje , the leader of Hindu Maha
Sabha during his visit to Chennai called on Periyar and discussed with
him the political changes that were taking place. According to the
reports published in 'Kudi Arasu', Periyar insisted on removing the
hegemony of the Brahmins in the social and political life of the country
and that Separate Dravida Nadu was the only solution for the non
Periyar visited Calcutta and addressed
M.N.Roy's Radical Democratic Party' Conference on December 27, 1944. He
also visited Kanpur and addressed Non-Brahmin backward classes
Self-Respect journals like 'Kudi Arasu'
and 'Dravida Nadu' expressed their support to the Indian National Army
men taken prisoners by the British and also those participated in the
RIN 'mutiny'. Periyar and his journals launched trenchant criticisms of
Communists who instead of targeting the 'Brahmin-Bania' Congress were
attacking the Justicites and self-respecters. 'Kudi Arasu' described the
Hindu Maha Sabha and the Communists as the right and left wing
respectively of the Congress.
Periyar launched the short lived English
weekly ' Justicite'
Periyar felt that that Brahmin-Bania-British
Pact was taking concrete shape. The Congress registered massive victory
in the elections to the Central and State legislatures conducted in
1945-46 and Periyar was helplessly watching the situation. Tamil Nadu
Communists who campaigned for the most reactionary Brahmin candidates
came up for severe condemnation.
He organized the Dravidar Kazhagam
conference in Trichy on September 29 and 30,1945 and floated a volunteer
corps under the name of 'Black Shirt Volunteer Force'. For him the
'black' denoted the unfreedom and degradation of Dravidians.
Periyar launched campaigns against the
Congress Ministry in Madras Presidency headed by Prakasam for its
pro-Brahmin and anti-labour policies. Despite serious difference of
opinions with the Communists, the Dravidar Kazhagam of Periyar supported
the struggles of the labour unions under their control. They played an
important role in mobilizing the support for the struggle of the Railway
workers in Ponmalai near Tiruchirapalli which was ruthlessly suppressed
by the Congress ministry.
On 11.5.1946, the State level Conference
of the Dravidar Kazhagam was held in Madurai. The venue of the
Conference was attacked by the hooligans reported to have been
instigated by the Congress Brahmins. They also set fire to it and
disrobed a woman activist. The orgy of violence and mayhem was such that
Periyar and some of the important leaders could not reach the venue for
several hours. The official flag of the Dravidar Kazhagam - black
background with red circle in the middle - symbolizing the degradation
to which the Dravidians were subjected and the liberation that would
dawn on them respectively was created. Periyar condemned the
undemocratic and unrepresentative manner in which the Constituent
Assembly was created.
When the Cabinet Mission deputed by the
British Government recommended the grouping of British Indian provinces
in A,B.C categories and permitting the princely states to decide on
their own future, Periyar, despite his unhappiness about the proposal,
made last ditch efforts to mobilize the non-Brahmin opinion and
support cutting across the party lines to see that Madras Presidency was
not tied to A Group (which included Bombay Presidency) but remained
autonomous within a broad Confederation. Periyar expressed his anger
against the way a Constituent Assembly to draft the future constitution
of India was constituted.
In a mass meeting of Adi Dravidas
Periyar expressed his unhappiness about Ambedkar joining the Constituent
Assembly. He opined that in view of the absence of a strong political
and social base for Ambedkar , the 'Aryans' were able to 'appropriate'
him making him no longer able to thunder against the reactionary
Brahmins and call such 'sacred' texts as Bhagavat Gita as a blabber of a
fool as he did in the Viceroy's Executive Council.
When the British Government announced its
decision to partition India and grant dominion status to India and
Pakistan, Periyar was shocked by the blatant arbitrariness displayed by
the Brahmin-Bania-British alliance in deciding on the future of the
Indian people. He sent a telegraphic message to the British Primier
Atlee requesting him to reconsider the decision and do justice to all
sections of the Indian people.
Periyar called upon his followers and the
general public to observe August 15, 1947 as a day of mourning. The
General Secretary of Dravidar Kazhagam, C.N.Annadurai , however wrote
that it was a day of rejoicing, thus paving the way for the irreversible
split in Periyar's movement.
Periyar and the leading Dravidar
Kazhagam intellectual S.Gurusamy engaged the Communists in polemics on
the nature of Indian Independence.
Periyar called upon the people of Tamil
Nadu to observe July 1 as the 'Dravida Nadu separation day'. On
14.9.1947 he organized a mammoth Dravida Nadu separation conference at
Cuddalore. It was addressed amongst others Thiru Vi.Kalyanasundara
Mudaliyar, a celebrated Congress nationalist, trade unionist and a Tamil
man of letters.
To protest against the imposition of
Hindi Periyar convened the meeting of all- party leaders in Chennai. He
violated the ban order imposed under Section 144 IPC at Kumbakonam to
assert the right of freedom expression against the imposition of Hindi.
Arrested again along with several hundreds of Dravidar Kazhagam
volunteers when they staged a protest against the visit of
C.Rajagoplachari, the Governor General of India. Organised a massive
Dravidar Kazhagam Conference at on May 8 and 9. He also organized a
conference on 'Thirukural', the classical Tamil work on Ethics in order
to popularize it amongst Tamil masses.
From 1948 to 1952 he and his leading
cadres supported the demand for the civil and political rights of the
Communists whose party was banned in 1949. The campaigns led by him and
his party men resulted in the commutation of death sentences given to 11
communist workers who participated in Telengana struggle. Leading
Communists of the day S.A.Dange, A.K.Goplan and M.Kalyanasundaram placed
on records their appreciation of the support rendered by Periyar.
When Gandhi was assassinated by a Brahmin
Hindu fanatic, Periyar was deeply distressed and disturbed. He gave a
moving talk in the All India Radio helping to restore peace and order
and wrote that since the Independent India owed its being to Gandhi it
should be named 'Gandhi Nadu' (Gandhi desh)
Married Maniammai, a long standing
Dravidar Kazhagam worker. This marriage was used as pretext for
C.N.Annadurai and his followers to break away from Periyar to form
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Periyar condemned the manner in which the
Constitution of India was passed at the end of 1949. He violated the ban
order imposed under Section 144 of IPC at Udumalpet and courted arrest.
He called upon the Dravidar Kazahgam
workers and the public to observe the Republic Day (January 26) as the
'day of mourning' . He and his cadres picketed the commercial venues of
north Indians to oppose the north Indian domination and also to protect
the interests of the Tamil handloom weavers.
He raged against the judgments of the
Madras High Court and the Supreme Court of India against the reservation
for backward castes in educational institutions in Madras Province. The
Courts said that this was violative of Artilce 29(2) of the Constitution
of India. Periyar convened the leaders of the non Brahmin community and
organized a conference at Trichy in December on Communal Representation.
Also organized several hundreds of meetings all over Tamil Nadu
criticizing the Constitution. Organised black flag demonstrations
against the Central ministers visiting Tamil Nadu.
His brother and a leading self-respecter
E.V.Krishnasamy passed away.
The agitations launched by him to restore
Communal Representation bore fruit. On 2nd June 1951, the
first amendment to the Constitution was made. A new sub-clause 4 was
included in Article 15 of the Constitution of India for guaranteeing
constitutional validity for reservation in educational institutions for
the backward classes>this amendment facilitated for reservation for
scheduled castes and tribes in educational insittutuions. Dr
B.R.Ambedkar played a crucial role in persuading Jawaharlal Nehru, the
first Premier of Independent India to bring in this amendment.
Periyar and Dravidar Kazhagam differed
with Ambedkar on certain aspects of India's foreign policy and also on
Kashmir question. As against Ambedkar's proposal that Jammu and Kashmir
be divided into three parts on religious lines and that Hindu and
Buddhist majority parts be merged with India, Dravidar Kazhagam
maintained that the question of self-determination of Kashmir must be
decided by the Kashmir people themselves and that the armies of both
India and Pakistan be pulled out. Dravidar Kazhagam disapproved of
Ambedkar's opposition to bring into UN, the People's Republic of China
and also his proposal that India should have a military alliance with US
in order to reduce military expenses.In Dravidar Kazhagam's view such a
thought itself would be detrimental to the interests of the very working
people for whose leader Ambedkar was. It however welcomed Ambedkar's
decision to quit Nehru's cabinet.
Periyar played a crucial role in seeing
that the Congress did not get a majority in the erstwhile presidency of
Madras in the first general elections conducted on the basis of
universal suffrage. He offered support to the Communist candidates in
selected constituencies while working for the victory of others whom he
believed would fight for the implementation of Social Justice creed of
his movement. His colleague and editor of 'Viduthalai'. S.Gurusuamy
entered into polemics with the Communists on the question of the
exploitative role played by Brahmins, temples and the question of
self-determination of Dravida Nadu.
Once C.Rajagoplachari captured the power
through 'back entry' ( by getting nominated a member of the upper house
of the Legislature by the then Governor of Madras) Periyar launched a
series of agitations. His papers and publications were confiscated
several times and was asked to remit security deposits to run his daily
'Viduthalai'. He launched the struggle to erase the Hindi words in the
name boards in Railway Stations. In the local body elections, he used
his energy to defeat the Communist candidates. Convinced of the need to
have separate workers and peasant organizations for Dravidians, he
floated Southern Railwaymen Associan and Dravida Vivasay Thozhilalar
Sangham (Dravidian Agricultural Labourers's Association)
Paid rich tributes to Joseph Stalin, the
leader of the Soviet Union. Periyar called him the last of the Great Men
of the century.
Celebrated Buddha Jeyanthi all over
Tamil Nadu and organised state wide breaking of the idols of Vinayaka
with a view to oppose idolatry. In Chennai city alone hundreds of
Vinayaka idols were broken in a stretch of Mount Road where the offices
of the dailies 'The Hindu' and 'Swadesamitran' considered by Periyar as
the leading mouthpieces of Brahminical orthodoxy were located. Buddha
Jeyanti was celebrated in a number of towns by the Dravidar Kazhagam
He toured the entire Tamil country to
mobiles public opinion against the varnadharmic education system
C.Rajagopalachari ministry tried to introduce in the primary schools.
According to this 'hereditary vocation scheme' the students were
expected to attend the classes for a half a day and then in the
afternoon , practice the traditional vocations of their families. He
organized a Conference at Erode against C.Rajagopalachari's education
policy under the chairmanship of S.B.Adityan, Editor of the Tamil Daily
'Thina Thanthi'. Following day a Buddhist Conference was conducted
with Rajbhoj, M.P. and the General Secretary of All India Depressed
Classes Association and Dr.Mallalasekara, leading Buddhist scholar from
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) as Chief Guests.
With a view to unseat C.Rajagoplachari
from power and bring in K.Kamaraj, a non Brahmin leader Periyar relaxed
the intensity of the anti-Congress crusade he began in 1925. By getting
K.Kamaraj elected in a bye-election, Periyar put an end to the
C.Rajagopalachari's reactionary education scheme. On August 1, he and
his followers erased the Hindi words from the sign boards in Railway
Went to Burma accompanied by Maniammai
and participated in the World Buddhist Conference held on December 3
along with Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and Dr Mallalasekara. When persuaded by Dr
Ambedkar to embrace Buddhism, Periyar told him that tactically and
strategically he preferred to remain in 'Hindu' fold to challenge it
from within since converting to other religions would deprive him of the
right to speak against Hindu religion.
Protesting against the imposition of
Hindi he announced that that the National Flag would be burnt across the
Tamil Country. On getting the assurance from the State and Central
governments that Hindi would not be a compulsory lesson for
examinations, he temporarily withdrew the agitation.
Had the pictures of Rama set to fire in
hundreds of places across the Tamil country. He resolutely opposed the
scheme of creating a 'Dakshin Pradesh' comprised of Kerala, Tamil Nadu
and Karnataka in place of forming separate states on linguistic basis.
He considered this scheme as a conspiracy to make the Tamils a minority
in the new formation and establish the hegemony of Brahmins and other
upper castes. He declared that the Tamil speaking areas alone would be
the geographical boundaries of his Dravida Nadu.
Wrote a moving and tearful portrait of
Dr.B.R.Ambedkar on the eve of his death. Periyar described him as a
scholar par excellence and suspected a foul play in his death.
To Vinoba Bhave, the Sarvodya leader who
met Periyar in Trichy, the latter frankly explained to him his views on
Ramayana and why he wanted it to be burnt. When strictures were passed
by the Brahmin judges against a very upright non Brahmin Collector of
Tiruchirapalli district, Periyar toured the entire Tamil country
vehementy criticising the judgment thus inviting Defamation of Court
proceedings. Periyar filed a historic affidavit in the High Court of
Madras justifying his criticism of the Brahmin judges. He organized
agitations to erase the words 'Brahmin' in the sign boards of hotels and
restaurants as it signified the casteist superiority of the Brahmins.
The struggle continued for nearly an year against an unrelenting Hotel
owner in Madras who finally agreed to remove the word from his hotel
sign boards. Periyar always used such peaceful agitations as pedagogic
exercises to teach and disseminate his self-respect ideas.
When unprecedented caste clashes took
place in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu between upper castes led
by the former Congressman and Forward Block Member of parliament
Muthuramalinga Thevar, Periyar resolutely stood by the side of the Adi
Dravidas and touring the country, urged the state government to
unwaveringly suppress the upper caste elements who unleashed an orgy of
violence and murder against the helpless Adi Dravidas. It is noteworthy
that all the parliamentary parties including the Communists were
agitated over the arrest of Muthuramalinga Thevar but not about the Adi
At a special function at Thanjavur on
3.11.1957, he called upon the members and supporters of Dravidar
Kazhagam to burn copies of the Indian Constitution which in his view,
through Article 372 and connected Sections, protect the caste system.
In response to his call nearly 10000 persons all over Tamil Nadu burnt
the copies of the relevant parts of the Constitution on 26.11.1957 (the
Constitution day). The State repression was so severe that they were
convicted and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from a period of six
months to three years. Two of them died in prisons. Periyar was charged
with acts of criminal instigation of his followers to assault the
Brahmins with deadly weapons. He was sentenced to one and a half year
imprisonment. The Tamil population rose in revolt against this harsh
Released from the prison and was accorded
an enthusiastic reception at Chennai on May 13.
Undertook a tour of north India and
addressed the meetings organized by the Republican Party of India in
Kanpur, Lucknow, Delhi and Bombay. He also addressed a several meetings
of College students there. With the funds collected from the people of
Tamil Nadu, he bought the dilapidated and abandoned Tram Shed at Egmore
, Chennai where he established his headquarters.
To gain support for his separate Tamil
Nadu demand, he asked his followers to burn the map of India excluding
the part that showed Tamil Nadu. He was arrested under Section 151 of
Preventive Detention Act.
Toured all over Tamil Nadu to mobilize
support for the state government led by K.Kamraj as this ministry was
implementing a number of schemes beneficial to backward classes and
Campaigned vigorously for the victory of
Kamaraj led Congress in the general elections. He gave tentative support
to Nehru as well on the ground that the latter was implementing
When the border war between India and
China broke out, he went around and mobilized support for the Indian
Government calling the Chinese 'aggressors'
When Kamaraj mooted a plan by which all
the leading Congress leaders would give up offices and concentrate their
energies to strengthen the party organization and set a precedence,
Periyar unsuccessfully dissuaded him.
The Judgment of the Supreme Court
invalidating the Tamil Nadu Land Ceiling Act passed by Kamaraj
Government, was condemned by Periyar who began mobilizing public
opinion against the judgment.