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Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu - Self-Respect Movement (Suyamariyathai Iyakkam) | 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 10 : Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu

Chapter: 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 10 : Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu

Self-Respect Movement (Suyamariyathai Iyakkam)

The Self-Respect movement advocated a casteless society devoid of rituals and differences based on birth.

Self-Respect Movement (Suyamariyathai Iyakkam)

The Self-Respect movement advocated a casteless society devoid of rituals and differences based on birth. The movement declared rationality and self-respect as the birthright of all human beings and held these as more important than self-rule. The movement declared illiteracy as a source for women’s subordination and promoted compulsory elementary education for all.

The movement demanded women’s emancipation, deplored superstitions, and emphasised rationality. The movement also advocated self-respect marriage.

The Self-Respect Movement championed not only the cause of the non-Brahmin Hindus, but also that of the Muslims. The Self -Respect Movement extolled the lofty principles of Islam such as equality and brotherhood.


Periyar E.V.R.

Periyar E.V. Ramasamy (1879–1973) was the founder of the Self-Respect Movement.

He was the son of a wealthy businessman in Erode, Venkatappa and Chinna Thayammal. Though possessing little formal education, he engaged in critical discussions with scholars, who used to be patronised by his devout father. As a young man, he once ran away from home and spent many months in Varanasi and other religious centres. The firsthand experience of orthodox Hindu religion led to his disillusionment with religion. On his return, he took care of his family business for some years. His selfless public service and forthrightness made him a popular personality. He held different official positions of Erode that included the Chairmanship of Municipal Council (1918– 1919).

As president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Periyar proposed a resolution regarding the rights of “Untouchables” to temple entry. In the name of “caste dharma” the “lower caste” people were denied access to the temples and the streets surrounding the temple. In Vaikom (a town in the then Princely State of Travancore and in present day Kerala), people protested against this practice. In the initial stages George Joseph of Madurai played big role. After the local leaders were arrested Periyar led the movement and was imprisoned. People hailed him as Vaikom Virar (Hero of Vaikom). In the meantime, he was disturbed by the caste-based discrimination in the dining hall at the Cheranmadevi Gurukulam (school), which was run by V.V.Subramaniam (a Congress leader) with the financial support of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Periyar was disappointed when, despite his objections and protests against this discrimination, the Congress continued to support the iniquitous practice in the Gurukulam.

Periyar started the Self-Respect movement in 1925. Periyar understood the relevance of mass communication in spreading rationalist thought. He started a number of newspapers and journals such as Kudi Arasu (Democracy) (1925), Revolt (), Puratchi (Revolution) (1933), Paguththarivu (Rationalism) (1934), and Viduthalai (Liberation) (1935). Kudi Arasu was the official newspaper of the Self-Respect Movement. Usually, Periyar wrote a column and expressed his opinion on social issues in each of its issues. He frequently wrote columns under the pseudonym of Chitraputtiran.

Periyar had a close relationship with Singaravelar who is considered the first communist of south India and a pioneer of Buddhism. In 1936, Periyar got Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste translated into Tamil immediately after it was written. He also supported Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates for scheduled castes.

In 1937, in opposition to the Rajaji’s government’s move to introduce compulsory Hindi in schools, he launched a popular movement to oppose it. The anti-Hindi agitation (1937–39) had a big impact on Tamilnadu’s politics. Periyar was imprisoned for his role in the movement. When he was still in jail, Periyar was elected the president of the Justice Party. Thereafter the Justice Party merged with the Self-Respect Movement. It was rechristened as Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in 1944.

Rajaji, the Chief Minister of Madras State (1952–54), introduced a vocational education programme that encouraged imparting school children with training in tune with their father’s occupation. Periyar criticised it as Kula Kalvi Thittam (caste-based education scheme) and opposed it tooth and nail. His campaigns against it led to the resignation of Rajaji. K. Kamaraj became Chief Minister of the Madras State. Periyar died at the age of ninety four (1973). His mortal remains were buried at Periyar Thidal, Madras.


Periyar, a Feminist

Periyar was critical of patriarchy. He condemned child-marriage and the devadasi system (institution of temple girls). Right from 1929, when the Self-respect Conferences began to voice its concern over the plight of women, Periyar had been emphasising women’s right to divorce and property. Periyar objected to terms like “giving in marriage”. This, he said, treats woman as a thing. He wants it substituted by “valkaithunai,”(companion) a word for marriage taken from the Tirukkural. Peiyar’s most important work on this subject is Why the Woman is Enslaved?

Periyar believed that property rights for women would provide them a social status and protection.

In 1989, Government of Tamil Nadu fulfilled the dream of radical reformers by the introduction of the Hindu Succession Tamil Nadu Amendment Act of 1989, which ensured the equal rights to ancestral property for women in inheritance. This Act became a trendsetter and led to similar legislation at the national level.


Rettaimalai Srinivasan

Rettaimalai Srinivasan (1859–1945), was born in 1859 at Kanchipuram. He fought for social justice, equality and civil rights of the marginalised in the caste order. He was honoured with such titles as Rao Sahib (1926), Rao Bahadur (1930) and Divan Bahadur (1936) for his selfless social services. His autobiography, Jeeviya Saritha Surukkam (A Brief Autobiography), published in 1939, is one of the earliest autobiographies.

Rettaimalai Srinivasan who had experienced the horrors of untouchability worked for the progress of the deprived castes. He founded the Adi Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1893. He served as president of the Scheduled Castes’ Federation and the Madras Provincial Depressed Classes’ Federation.

A close associate of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, he participated in the first and second Round Table Conferences held in London (1930 and 1931) and voiced the opinions of the marginalised sections of the society. He was a signatory to the Poona Pact of 1932.

M.C. Rajah

Mylai Chinnathambi Raja (1883–1943), popularly known as M.C. Rajah, was one of the prominent leaders from the “depressed class”. Rajah started his career as a teacher and wrote different textbooks for schools and colleges. He was one of the founding members of the South Indian Liberal Federation (Justice Party). He became the first elected Legislative Council Member (1920–26) from the depressed classes in Madras province. He functioned as the Deputy Leader of Justice Party in the Madras Legislative Council.

In 1928, he founded the All India Depressed Classes Association and was its long time leader.

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