Born On: September 17, 1879
Born In: Erode, Coimbatore district, India
Died On: December 24, 1973
Career: Politician, Businessman, Social Activist
E V Ramasamy, or Periyar as he is better known of, was one of the most inspiring politicians and activists that India had ever seen. Having experienced vices such as discrimination and exploitation at a very young age, Periyar had committed his life to social work. He is best known for leading the movement for the creation of the state of South India or Dravidasthan. E V Ramasamy fought for the establishment of principles such as equality of castes and sexes, realization of fundamental rights for women and an end to the exploitation of the non Brahmin Dravidians of South India. Periyar was always against the Brahmins in the Tamil society, often making controversial statements about them. He was also responsible for introducing several changes in the Tamil alphabet and the language in general.
Erode Venkata Ramasamy was born on September 17, 1879 in the small town of Erode in Coimbatore district of Madras Presidency. Periyar, as he later came to be referred as, had one elder brother and two younger sisters. It was for his high thinking that E V Ramasamy came to be known as Periyar, which translates to 'respected one' in the Tamil language. Periyar's father was a well known businessman and he was thus raised in very wealthy surroundings. Periyar attended school for only five years and joined his father's business when he was a child of only 12 years.
He was very small when E V Ramasamy understood that there was no truth in mythological stories and religion. His visit to Kasi in the year 1904 left E V Ramasamy disillusioned towards Hinduism. It was in Kasi where he saw that Brahmins were exploiting the other sects of society in the name of religion, an anger which persisted till the days he was to begin the Dravidian Movement. He remained an atheist for the rest of his life, always preaching the futility of religion and warning people about priests and superstitions.
Early Years In Politics
Periyar joined the Indian National Congress in the year 1919, only to quit his post six years later in 1925 when he felt that the INC was not a democratic organization, supporting only the Brahmins of the society. Before joining the INC, Periyar had quit his father's business and all other service positions that he was holding. As part of the Congress Party, E V Ramasamy became the chairman of the Erode Municipality and fought extensively for the use of khadi and the boycott of foreign cloth. He also spoke out vehemently against untouchability. The British administration got him arrested in order to curb his efforts. But not to be stopped by anything, Periyar took an active part in the Non Cooperation Movement and the Temperance Movement in 1921-1922.
After being elected as the president of the Madras Presidency Congress Committee, Periyar vehemently advocated for the reservation of the lower classes in education and jobs, quitting his post three years later when his interests were not served. E V Ramasamy was a strong believer in the policies of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore, he adopted the principle of Satyagraha in the town of Vaikom in Kerala, where Dalits were so much discriminated against that they were not even allowed to visit the streets close to temple areas. On April 14, 1924, Periyar and his wife Nagammai came to Vaikom to organize the Satyagraha movement and although Gandhi himself did not want the participation of non Keralites and non Hindus in his struggle, Periyar nevertheless did not relent and continued fighting for peoples' basic rights until Gandhi called off the movement.
Later Political Life
In the year 1925 Periyar launched the Self Respect Movement. This movement was started to allow the lower classes of the society gain the rights that the privileged enjoyed. While most activists fought for independence from the British, Periyar was more concerned about the establishment of equality in society. Periyar said that even the non Brahmins have much to rejoice about because of their Dravidian history. The Self Respect Movement also stood for doing away with exploitation in the name of religion. Periyar was an atheist, and though he did not have any problem with people practicing the religion of their choice, he protested against meaningless customs and ceremonies associated with religion. Periyar also advocated for widow remarriage, inter caste marriage and the end of child marriage through the Self Respect Movement. A school that taught its students the methods and usefulness of the Self Respect Movement was opened in Erode, the birthplace of Periyar.
E V Ramasamy remained actively associated with the Self Respect Movement till 1929 after which he traveled extensively around several countries across continents from 1929 to 1932 to educate himself in several aspects of life and work. Periyar visited Russia, different countries of Europe and Malaysia and studied the respective countries' histories and their system of governance. Communism was rampant in different parts of the world during this time and Periyar was sure that communism was the answer to the establishment of a better government and society in India. Periyar returned to India in November 1932 with a completely different political ideology. In an effort to fight the concept of discrimination through the division of castes, Periyar announced in the year 1929 that he would no longer use Naicker behind his name, his title from birth.
Anti Hindi Protest
In the year 1937, Hindi was introduced as a compulsory language in the state of Madras by newly elected Chief Minister Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari. Several anti Hindi movements were launched in the state after this announcement, with Periyar taking the lead in protests that started in the year 1938. Periyar coined the term 'Tamil Nadu for Tamilians' and was totally against the concept of introducing the Hindi language in schools. He was of the opinion that learning Hindi would destroy the Tamil culture, a reasoning that was supported by several politicians in Tamil Nadu who followed Periyar's policy of 'Tamil Nadu for Tamilians'. The anti Hindi protests launched after the language was made compulsory in schools continued for a fairly long time and became a primary issue in Tamil Nadu politics. When the government authorities did not relent to mass demands, Periyar took the help of the Justice Party or the South Indian Liberation Federation which had originally been formed in the year 1916 to fight for equal rights for non Brahmins. With Periyar at the head of a party, the Justice Party gradually acquired a lot of supporters, many of them students who considered Hindi learning as a form of bondage. Periyar was also jailed in 1939 for launching anti Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu. Periyar remained with the Justice Party until 1944, but several conservative members of the party, especially the rich and intellectual quit from their posts during his term.
The Dravidar Kazhagam
During the last part of 1944, E V Ramasamy announced that the Justice Party will henceforth be known as the Dravidar Kazhagam or the Dravidian Association. With Periyar at its helm the Dravidar Kazhagam soon became a popular political party, their chief aim being social reform work in the form of elimination of Hindi and Brahmin culture from Tamil. Periyar thwarted all religious farce and spoke out against the Brahmin priests. Periyar never forgot his chief aim was to do away with untouchability of the Dalits or Harijans and propagate the cause of women in society.
Rift between Periyar and Annadurai
Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai, who was the chief support of E V Ramasamy and also his staunch supporter until the year 1948, parted ways with the leader in the year 1949 forming a separate party called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the Dravidian Advancement Association. The chief reason for the split was the fact that while Periyar wanted a separate state of Tamil Nadu, Annadurai had joined hands with the government in Delhi who had promised more independence for Tamil Nadu. Periyar's methods of running his party did not earn him or the other members of the party any political power or money and this was the reason why several supporters gradually began to leave him to join Annadurai. Moreover, Periyar's second marriage to Maniammai, a woman forty years his junior was enough reason to drive away the remaining supporters of Dravidar Kazhagam. However, it is important to mention here that though Annadurai had split from his mentor Periyar, his newly formed DMK continued to preach the supremacy of the Tamil language when compared to Hindi and Sanskrit.
Periyar's journey in Tamil politics was full of controversies and arrests. While his non cooperation and satyagraha movements landed Periyar in prison a number of times, the fact that he burnt the effigy of Lord Rama in order to show his hatred for the Hindi language also got him arrested. Periyar tried his best to undermine the Brahmins and Hindus by attacking their beliefs and customs in public. His speeches and teachings were always dedicated to the downtrodden in the society and it was for them that he continued to fight till the end of his life. However his policies fell under a bad light and invited the wrath of many a critic and intellectual when Periyar famously commented that the Christians and Muslims residing in Tamil Nadu should not even be counted as Tamils!
E V Ramasamy married Nagammai in the year 1898, when he was only 19 years old. The couple was blessed with a daughter, who unfortunately could not live longer and died just five months after her birth. In the year 1933, Periyar met with another setback in his personal life as his wife, Nagammai also left for the heavenly abody. Later, in 1948, Periyar married for the second time in the month of July.
Periyar breathed his last on December 24, 1973. Periyar's legacy was carried forward by his second wife Maniyammai, who was appointed the leader of the Dravidar Kazhagam after his death and continued his policy of protests against all things Hindu and standing by the social minority. A film made on the life of E V Ramasamy by Gnana Rajasekaran was released both in national and international film festivals in May 2007.
1879: E V Ramasamy is born on September 17.
1898: Married Nagammai.
1904: Periyar visited Kasi and turned an atheist.
1919: Periyar joined the Indian National Congress.
1922 - Periyar became President of Madras Presidency Congress Committee.
1925: Had quit from his post in the INC.
1924: Periyar organized the Vaikom Satyagraha.
1925: The Self Respect Movement was launched.
1929: He traveled to several international countries, including Europe, Russia and Malaysia.
1929: Relinquished his title Naicker.
1933: Nagammai died an unfortunate death.
1938: Periyar declared the slogan 'Tamil Nadu for Tamilians'.g
1939: Periyar became the head of the Justice Party.
1944: The name of the Justice Party is changed to Dravidar Kazhagam.
1948: E V Ramasamy married for the second time in the month of July.
1949: There is a split between Periyar and Annadurai, leading to a division in the Dravidar Kazhagam.
1973: Periyar died on December 24.