It has now become common in Tamil Nadu for Hindu activists to react to crude comments about their Gods from Dravidian activists by denigrating Periyar and his statues.
Some elements are resorting to new levels of vulgarity against Hindu beliefs, perhaps because they see such behaviour as the only source of relevance for their ideology today.
Hindu activists are more emboldened than before probably by the apparently weakening influence of Periyar’s ideology over administrative institutions.
Both actions usually attract criminal legal action. Whether they should, in light of our Supreme Court’s liberal approach to freedom of expression in recent times, is a separate question.
But what certainly differentiates both conducts is the disproportionate indignation the Hindu reaction normally receives in the mainstream Tamil media and political circles.
A major news channel, for instance, used strong words to describe vandalism of Periyar’s statue while calling the trigger event — the “Karuppar Koottam” videos — a mere ‘controversy’.
The outrage caused by anti-Hindu comments is given little attention.
Leaders from all Dravidian parties waste no time in condemning the Hindu activist’s reaction, even if many of Periyar’s principles mean little to them in both their private and public lives.
Part of the problem is probably the influence ideologically-committed journalists wield in many major media houses.
This could in turn be because of the peculiar growth trajectory of Tamil TV-news industry; having begun with politically-controlled channels.
What needs greater focus however is the moral difference between the mainstream reaction to attacks on Periyar’s statues and a devotee’s reaction to vulgarity against his faith.
Why should Periyar’s supporters see so much significance in his statue?
Pointing out the worthlessness of things made from stone, Periyar said “the country has lost its decency and status just because we are in the habit of praising the stone gods or idols.”
Periyar also ridiculed Hindu belief in the ‘soul’ — a belief essential to the practice of venerating symbols of the dead.
He said, “What do we see of a man? He is born. He grows… He dies… This is what we actually see in the life of a man.”
Should a believer in such philosophy be so concerned about what happens to a statue long after the person is dead?
It is true that an attack on a person’s image is also an attack on his legacy.
But what was Periyar’s legacy of criticism?
Were the methods of Periyar and his ‘self-respecters’, in responding to opponents, non-violent?
In the 1940s, it was “more or less a regular affair” for ‘self-respecters’ to disrupt and gate-crash meetings of Shaivite organisations — the only challengers to Periyar’s ideology from within the Dravidian fold.
There is enough scientific research today to show that violence and psychological harm can also happen through words.
Periyar chose offensive language quite often. His criticism included vulgarity and “blood-curdling threats”.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the men behind “Karuppar Koottam” should defend themselves by citing Periyar’s precedent.
Periyar’s thoughts lacked intellectual rigour. His focus on sexual conduct while critiquing Hindu scriptures bordered on obsession.
According to a Periyar sympathasier who is also a former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University the “crudeness of some of his techniques”, which included breaking idols and burning books, should be seen in the background of “language that was understood by the illiterate millions, and through methods that were appropriate to them”.
The question is why should supporters of such ‘crude techniques’ be so agitated by a critic’s expression of protest against Periyar through similar methods?
Hindus have always protested Periyar’s views.
Mahamahopadhyaya Panditamani Kathiresan Chettiar led the condemnation of the self-respect movement’s 1943 campaign to publicly burn Kamba Ramayanam and Periyapuranam.
The Democratic Front’s political campaign in response to the infamous 1971 Salem “Superstition Eradication Conference” forced DMK leaders to repeat in “public meeting after public meeting” that “they were a party of believers.”
On 27 May 1953, Periyar smashed an idol of Lord Ganesha in public at the Town Hall maidan in Tiruchirapalli.
One Veerabhadran Chettiar took him to court on criminal charges under the Indian Penal Code.
The matter went unto the Supreme Court. The Trial Court, Sessions Court and High Court found no merit in the charges against Periyar.
The High Court held that there was no offence against anything ‘held sacred’ because a Ganesha idol that is not duly installed in a temple is as good as a ‘doll in a shop’.
What is of relevance is the questionable moral-standing of ideologues of such idol-breaking to condemn vandalism against Periyar’s statues.
A vandal of Periyar’s statues may have to answer the law. He certainly has no reason to answer Periyarists.
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