Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Iconic statue of EVR Periyar at the Periyar Thidal. His powerful presence in the Dravidian land ensured that the hate-mongering caste supremacists remained out of the power game in Tamil Nadu. But now, the Tamil land is being targeted by the Hindutva forces, and their agenda is to finish the Dravidian movement in the state. I asked this question to Dr K Veeramani, founder DK, whether the Dravidian politicians, who swore in the name of Thanthi Periyar, were not compromised by the Hindutva. I also felt that after the demise of two towering leaders of the movement, J. Jailalitha and Kaliangar Karnunandhi, there is a great risk of the powerful lobby of Hindutva sneaking its way in, through their money and muscle power.
Why is Periyar’s life not taught in the schools and colleges of Tamil Nadu and rest of the country?Are his achievements and sayings not important?That the symbolism of ‘Black’ is not merely beautiful but powerful too, is reflected in Periyar’s actions more than anywhere else. Where do you find black shirt and white pant/ Sarong/Lungi combination? In cinema, as in popular culture, it is always white shirt and black pant, but Periyar’s idea provided Black superiority over white and that is why his symbolism is much more powerful than anyone else’s. I donot know whether the African-Americans know about Periyar’s work. I asked this question to Dr K Veeramani and he said that people are now reading Dr Ambedkar as his writings were in English. Periyar’s work is in Tamil and need to be translated into English. However, DK is very careful about it, as a lot of ideas may be misinterpreted by the translators, but they are now in the process of doing the translations.
Periyar was a thinker, an intellectual and, perhaps, the most powerful public intellectual. Many people feel the term ‘public intellectual’ should be used only for serious ‘academics’, but I think it should not be their monopoly. Periyar was the most influential man in our public life, as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned. He had the courage to call a spade a spade. His writings on women are unmatched even today. He can also be termed as one of the greatest feminists of our time, whose work most of our elite feminists may not even know about.
Periyar spoke against all forms of social evils and attacked the root of it. At a time when people say that in India, nothing can move without religion and we should ‘respect’ people’s ‘sentiments’, we must remember Periyar and his success story. Periyar thrashed brahmanism in Tamil Nadu, made the Dravidian people aware of the exploitative nature of brahmanism and provided his own cultural alternative, like self-respect marriages. Tamil Nadu still remain a fascinating state,although Dravidian parties compromised with Hindutva. This is why Periyar always maintained that we must not be part of the power politics. Social movements must remain devoted to the cause of the people and must not become political parties, as then, they will compromise the interest of the people. Dr Veeramani says that DK remains committed to Periyar’s vision of a strong social movement and our cadres do not aspire to become MPs and MLAs, even when they work to spread the message of Periyar all over the state, which only benefits the Dravidian political parties.
Periyar must go international and his thoughts should spread worldwide to promote humanism, rational thinking and the powerful message of the ‘black’ identity. Periyar is more important because it is also essential to know that you can bend the power without being in power. Periyar’s power came from his commitment to the cause of people. That is why they were ready to listen to him and follow him, despite his strong words against religious belief. He spoke powerfully against superstition. Periyar was not merely a rationalist and an atheist, but openly propagated his beliefs. Despite not being in politics, he defined the Dravidian political principles and ideology that Tamil Nadu saw. It is because of these Dravidian principles that, despite all the faults of the political leaders and their compromises, Tamil Nadu remains one of the best governed states, better in human development indices, where children get far better mid-day meals than in any other state. They were also the first ones to start it, without being compelled by a Supreme Court order to do so.own. Tamil Nadu still has 69% reservation and is far superior to any other state in governance.
The success of Periyar’s model in Tamil Nadu suggests that if we are true to the public cause, we can speak against false religious beliefs and succeed. Today’s politicians cannot do it as they use religious superstition to promote their devotees and bhakts. Periyar wanted enlightened cadres and not brainless bhakts and that is why he succeeded. There are attempt to finish Dravidian principles and Periyar’s work but, as Dr Veeramani says, Hindutva forces will try everything but Tamil Nadu will reject them as it rejected them in the past.
The comprehensive and enlightening conversation with Thiru. Dr K Veeramani will be available in the coming days.