What Is The Basis To Call ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasamy A Great Leader, Asks SC Community Leader, The First To Question His Contribution

What Is The Basis To Call ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasamy A Great Leader, Asks SC Community Leader, The First To Question His Contribution Ma Venkatesan
Snapshot
  • How can a man, who actually disliked Dalits, did nothing for women’s rights, and who called the Tamil language ‘barbaric’ and the Thirukkural ‘human refuse’, be great, that too in Tamil Nadu?

    Somewhere, we have all been fooled, says author Ma Venkatesan.

“Periyar” E V Ramasamy (EVR), the icon of the over 100-year-old Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, has come under increased scrutiny of late.

In particular, Tamil film actor Rajinikanth’s mention of his 1971 “anti-Hindu rally” at Salem at the golden jubilee function of Tamil fortnightly Tughlaq has resulted in a critical look at “Periyar”.

It also brings into focus Ma Venkatesan, who was among the first to write a book “Periyarin Marupakkam” (The other side of Periyar) questioning the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) contribution to social justice, women rights, and promotion of Tamil.

Swarajya caught up with Venkatesan, who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tamil Nadu Scheduled Caste Morcha as its president since 2013, to get more of his views that have rattled DK, its cadre and various leaders of the Dravidian movement.

Brought up at the Ice House locality in the heart of Chennai, an area where the Dravidian influence runs deep, Venkatesan was exposed to Dravidian culture early in his life when he went for tuition, where discussions on Dravidianism was common.

Things changed when he was studying in the fourth standard when an RSS Shakha was set up in his residential area. “It made me realise how we had been, until then, misled about RSS and Brahmins by the Dravidian leaders and cadre,” he says, pointing out that youth in his area began to study beyond the tenth standard only after the RSS influence in his area.

“Before the Shakha was set up, our students would directly go for a job whether they completed the tenth standard, successfully or unsuccessfully,” says Venkatesan, explaining the roots of his admiration for RSS and the reason why he began to scrutinise the teachings of “Periyar”.

Initially, he thought EVR had slogged for the Tamil language, did a great service for the Dalits, voiced for the rights of women, never misled, and never been a hypocrite besides being a rationalist.

These thoughts had encouraged him to read a lot about “Periyar”, completing almost 90 books written on EVR. He also read books on his critics such as senior Congress leader M P Sivagnanam, P Jeevanandam, T P Meenakshi Sundaram, Muthuramalinga Thevar, K A P Viswanathan, and C N Annadurai.

All these along with the impression he had gained from moving with the RSS Shakha, he decided to pen “Periyarin Marupakkam”. It was in 2004 when no one dared to question the DK icon’s credentials.

The release of the book faced protests and the venue was changed, thanks to the threats made by DK cadre. “We had initially decided to release the book at a hotel in Madurai. A day before the release, DK cadre went to the hotel and threatened the owner and staff,” says Venkatesan.

The venue was then shifted to a hall at the foothills of Thiruparankundram, one of the six abodes of Lord Skanda that is 10 km away from Madurai. “An amusing development took place after the book release. The Tamil Nadu Crime Branch CID police began to enquire about me since they thought I could be some sort of Tamil terrorist,” he says.

The CB-CID police conducted enquiries at his residential area and Vivekananda College, Chennai, where he completed his Masters in philosophy. “My book was opposed by leaders such as Vaiko (founder of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and M Natarajan, husband of the late Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala,” the BJP leader says.

Warming up to explain his findings on “Periyar”, Venkatesan wonders on what basis is EVR being considered a great leader by DK, its cadre, and Dravidian movement leaders.

He starts by demolishing EVR and DK’s claim of “Periyar” being an atheist and rationalist from the beginning. “At least until the age of 46, EVR believed in God,” Venkatesan says, referring to the inaugural issue editorial of Tamil journal “Kudiyarasu” (Republic) on 2 May 1925 invoking the blessings of God for his efforts (to run the journal).

Many people in Tamil Nadu interpret that EVR had opposed Hindi for the cause of Tamil language. But the BJP youth leader says “Periyar” opposed Hindi to promote English and not to protect Tamil.

“EVR had asked the people to talk to their children, family members and even servants in English. He termed Tamil a barbaric language and wrote in the book that he had been terming it so for 40 years. He asked people what would they lose by ignoring Tamil and learning another language (English),” says Venkatesan.

“Periyar” had opposed the Tamil anthem, which is now being sung at the start of all Tamil Nadu Government functions, while he compared the Tamil classic text Thirukkural to excreta.

“When this is the truth, how do Tamil Nadu Dravidian leaders say EVR made a contribution to Tamil? What is his contribution to Tamil literature that these people are glorifying him?” wonders Venkatesan.

Pointing out to Dravidian leaders portraying EVR as “Vaikom warrior”, he says “Periyar” was just one of the 100 persons who took part in the protests at Vaikom seeking entry of Dalits. “This is being done to deny credit to others, especially T K Madhavan, who launched it on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi,” the BJP leader says.

EVR was invited only to join the protest, he says, wondering why an agitation was launched in Tamil Nadu for the entry of Dalits into temples. “Some argue that the DK had held such an agitation. Even if we accept it, why didn’t ‘Periyar’ lead such an agitation?” asks Venkatesan.

Also, “Periyar” did not take up the cases of Dalits seriously. He quotes at least two examples where EVR failed to fight for their rights.

One was the cause of farmworkers in Thanjavur. “Many DK men owned land in Thanjavur,” says Venkatesan. The atrocities committed on the farmworkers in Thanjavur was that whenever they rebelled or committed anything wrong, cow dung (gobar) mixed with water was thrust in their mouth.

“Or they were tied to a post or tree and whipped. EVR or DK never fought against this or took up the issue,” says Venkatesan. The other was the massacre of 44 Scheduled Caste people, including women and children, at Keezhvenmani in Nagapattinam district.

The victims were herded into a hut and set afire on 25 December 1968. “Their crime was that they asked for an extra measure of rice, which cost 50 paise then, from their landlord. EVR, commenting on the incident then, said Dalits should learn to live with what they get and not revolt,” laments the BJP youth leader.

“Again when freedom fighter Immanuel Sekaran was murdered by a group from the Thevar community on 11 September 1957 in Ramanathapuram, EVR did not voice concern. He only said he would not want to intervene in a fight between two hoodlums,” points out Venkatesan.

There is nothing worth writing about the contribution of the DK and Dravidian movement in the uplift of Dalits or social justice.

“Let me give you another example. Until 1927, no Dalit was allowed to enter the Pachaiyappa’s College in Chennai. Justice Party leader P T Thiagarajan and EVR were trustees of the college. Why did they not fight against this?” he wonders.

Dravidian movement leaders and DK people talk about reservation as social justice. “Now, why hasn’t even one Dalit leader been picked as DK leader? Nor has any Dalit become the chief of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or All India Anna DMK, both offshoots of DK,” argues Venkatesan.

“The Dravidian parties deride Brahmins and the Kanchipuram Sankaracharya Math for following the varna system. But what stopped them from making a Dalit the chief of their respective organisations?” he wonders.

“Even the two-tumbler system is more prevalent in the regions around Erode, the base for EVR and his DK movement,” he points out, fearing the system might never come to an end. The two-tumbler system is in inhuman practice in which Dalits are asked to pick a tumbler or mug kept outside tea shops to drink tea or coffee.

“Periyar” even criticised the reservation policy that was implemented after valiant efforts by Dr B R Ambedkar. “EVR said that Ambedkar has been convinced by Congress. He said Dalits were given reservation since Brahmins were confident that the former cannot overtake them. What does such a statement mean? Isn’t it reflecting poorly on Dalits?” wonders Venkatesan.

“Periyar” was not one who championed women rights. In fact, he never did anything to earn them the right to properties, he says.

“If you scrutinise his life and actions, it is clear that he, at the most, championed the cause of the Backward Class and not Dalit,” adds Venkatesan, who wonders why Dravidian leaders celebrate “Periyar” for nothing.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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