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Periyar Erode Venkata Ramaswamy Naicker

Periyar Erode Venkata Ramaswamy
Born: 17-Sep-1879       Mahaparinirvan: 24-Dec-1973

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy (September 17, 1879 – December 24, 1973), also known as Ramaswami,Socrates of South East Asia, EVR, Thanthai Periyar, or Periyar, was an Indian social reformer and politician, who founded the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam.

Periyar was born as Erode Venkata Naicker Ramasami in Erode in Madras Presidency. He was born into a family of Balija Naidu caste,a Telugu Jathi of traders and cultivators in Erode.He is sometimes called Periyar E. V. Ramaswami Naicker. "Periyar" means 'respected one' or an 'elder' in Tamil. "Ramaswami" was his given name. A University was named after him by the Tamil Nadu Government. He could speak three Dravidian languages: Kannada, Tamil and Telugu.

EVR was an atheist, noted for his antitheistic statement, "He who created god was a fool, he who spreads his name is a scoundrel, and he who worships him is a barbarian." He said "The bane of tamilans is that, brahmins, muslims and christians consider themselves to be tamilians.

Early Life

Ramasamy was the son of a merchant Venkata, who was a devout Hindu of the Vaishnavite school of thought. His mother was Chinna Thayammal alais Muthammal; he had one elder brother named Krishnaswamy and two sisters named Kannamma and Ponnuthoy. He attended school for 5 years after which he dropped education and joined his father's trade at the age of 12. He used to listen to Tamil Vaishnavite gurus who gave discourses in his house enjoying his father's hospitality. He was married to Nagammal a girl of just 13 in 1898. He became the father of a female child which soon died and had no more children. After being reprimanded by his father, Ramasamy left his house for Kasi.

Pilgrimage to Kasi

He went on a pilgrimage to Varanasi (Kasi) to worship in the famous Siva temple Kashi Vishwanath in 1904. He wanted to enter a free-lunch place but finding that it was meant only for Brahmins he disguised himself as a one. But it was discovered that he was not a Brahmin and he was removed from the place.Later he learnt that the free-lunch place was built with the donation of a Dravidian merchant. He saw the discrimination against non-brahmins. He had pictured Kasi as a place where all Hindus would be treated equally. This humiliation was the turning point in Periyar's life and it inflamed intense hatred towards the caste system. Ramasami was a theist till his visit to Kasi, after which his views changed and he became an aethist.

Periyar Ramasami as a Freedom Fighter and Congress Party member 1919 - 1925

Periyar Ramaswamy joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 after quiting his business and resigning public posts including the chairmanship of Erode Municipality he held and wholeheartedly undertook the constructive programme - spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting the shops selling foreign cloth and eradication of untouchability. He courted imprisonment for picketing toddy shops in Erode in 1921. When his wife as well as his sister joined the agitation, it gained momentum, and the administration was forced to come to a compromise.He was arrested during the Non-Cooperation movement and the Temperance Movement and was jailed .He was elected the President of the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu) Congress Committee in the 1922 Tirupur session and after his attempts for supporting reservation in government jobs and education was defeated in the Congress party, he quit the Congress party in 1925.

Vaikom struggle - 1924-1925

Periyar Ramaswamy was involved in securing rights to entry into temples and access to temple roads for people of all castes in Vaikom in Kerala, which was part of the princely state of Travancore during 1924. Periyar was the President of the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) Congress Committee at that time led the agitation after many other leaders had been arrested. Periyar agreed and came to Vaikom in April 1924 and he was arrested but he was unrelenting and refused to leave to Vaikom and the satyagraha gained strength and Mahatma Gandhi, on an invitation from Rajaji, went to Vaikom and began talks with the Queen of Travancore where it was agreed that the police pickets would be removed and that the State police would do nothing to prevent the lower castes using the roads. Periyar refused to participate in the negotiations but he had to agree, reluctantly, to Gandhi's idea that the demand for all Hindus entering the temple be put off at least for the time being He played a role along with other great statesmen and national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Madras Presidency(Tamil Nadu) Congress passed a resolution umanimously praising Periyar's significant contribution to the Vaikom Satyagarha and hailing him as Vaikom Veerar(Vaikom Hero) in 1925 in the Kanchipuram Session.

Self-Respect Movement: 1925-39

Periyar and his followers campaigned constantly to influence and pressurise the government to take measures to remove social inequality even while other nationalist leaders focussed on the struggle for political independence.

Anti-Hindi Movement from 1937

The anti-Hindi movement in Tamil Nadu started in 1937 when the Congress Government of the Madras Presidency under Rajaji introduced Hindi in the school curriculum. Tamils opposed Hindi immediately and the Justice Party under Sir A. D. Panneerselvam and Periyar organized anti-Hindi protests in 1938 and were arrested and jailed by the Rajaji government. More than 1200 people, including women and children, were imprisoned in 1938, of which two, Thalamuthu and Natarasan, lost their lives. In 1939 the Rajaji government quit due to the decision of the Indian National Congress to protest India's participation in World War II. The teaching of Hindi was withdrawn in 1940 by the British governor.

Justice Party: 1939-1944 & Dravidar Kazhagam

Before World War II, the Justice Party ruled Madras Province for a long period from 1920 to 1937 with many leaders List of Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. Periyar was elected President when he was in jail for opposing Hindi in 1939

Ramaswami changed the name of the Justice Party to Dravidar Kazhagam (Party of the Dravidians) from a political party to a social movement. He avoided parliamentary democracy and started his campaigns on his own. His followers who wanted politics split with him after his controversial marriage to a very young woman and started the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, popularly known as the DMK. The DMK was first led by C.N. Annadurai and after him by M. Karunanidhi. EVR and his dramatic anti-Brahman protests put new life into the party.The Dravidian Federation, and launched a Tamil "cultural offensive," including theatrical productions of a "reinterpreted" Ramayana-a version transposing hero and villain, in which the Sri Lankan demon king Ravana becomes a heroic "Dravidian of 'excellent character,' " and the Aryan prince Rama a conniving, "despicable character" . This and later political uses of drama capitalized on the strong literary focus among Tamils. Despite such attempts at mass propaganda, however, the party's membership continued to be drawn from the elite.

In 1920 when the Justice Party came to power Brahmins occupied about 70% of the high level posts in government and after reservation was introduced by the Justice Party reversed this trend and allowed non-brahmins to raise in the government in Madras Presidency.Periyar through in the Congress then supported the Justice Party and later joined opposed the domination of Brahmins who constituted only 3% of the Population over Government jobs,judicary and the Madras University. Now Hindu profession had evolved around caste system, particular castes did only particular professions and it was Varna based where the Brahmin was the highest in the order and learned the Vedas, the Kshatriya ruled the country, Vaishya trading, the Shudra did farming and artisan work, and the Dalit or Dalit did manual labor and was the lowest in the order . Ramasami's self-respect movement espoused rationalism and atheism, and although Ramasami had Brahmin colleagues, the movement had currents of anti-Brahminism.