Thanthi Periyar's Inscription
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Periyar Movement

As a congress leader 1919-1925

 

The basic philosophy of Periyar E.V.Ramasamy (17.9.1879 - 24.12.1973) was all men and women should live with dignity and have equal opportunities to develop their physical, mental and moral faculties. To achieve this, he wanted to put an end to all kinds of unjust discriminations and to promote Social Justice and rational outlook.

To put his principle into practice, Periyar associated himself with the Madras Presidency Association (MPA) in 1917. He was one of its vice-presidents. The Association advocated communal representation and demanded reservation for the Non-Brahmins and minority communities, as a 'sine qua non' of removing the injustices.

When Mahatma Gandhi (M.K.Gandhi: 1869 -1948) took the lead in the Indian National Congress, Periyar joined the organisation in 1919. He resigned 29 public posts he held at that time, including the municipal chairmanship of Erode town. He gave up his very lucrative wholesale dealership in grocery and agricultural products, and closed his newly begun spinning mill. Periyar wholeheartedly undertook the constructive programme - spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting the shops selling foreign cloth and eradication of untouchability. He courted imprisonment for picketing toddy shops in Erode in 1921. When his wife as well as his sister joined the agitation, it gained momentum, and the administration was forced to come to a compromise.

In 1922, Periyar moved a resolution in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee when it met at Tiruppur. The resolution required people of all castes to be allowed to enter and worship in all the temples, as a measure to end birth-based discrimination. Citing the authority of Vedas and other Hindu scriptures, the Brahmin members of the Committee opposed the resolution and stalled its passage. This reactionary stand of the members of upper Varna provoked Periyar to declare that he would burn Manu dharma Sastra, Ramayana etc. to show his disapproval to accept such scriptures to govern the social, religious and cultural aspects of the people.

Periyar's determination to bring about socio-cultural revolution impelled him to support even his opponents when they implemented his progressive scheme. Though a Congress leader, he supported in 1923, the Justice Party's measure to form Hindu Religious Endowment Board with a view to put an end to the age-old monopoly and exploitation of the upper castes in the managements of Hindu temples and religious endowments.

Periyar's vigorous and spirited role in the Vaikom Satyagraha (1924-25) contributed in no mean measure for the triumph of that first historic social struggle in the history of modern India. This paved the way for the "untouchables" to use public roads without any inhibition and for other prospective egalitarian social measures.

At Cheranmaadhevi near Tirunelveli in Southern Tamil Nadu, they started a National training school as an alternative to those run under the control of the British Government. That school, known as Gurukulam, was funded by the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee and by other non-Brahmin philanthropists. It was managed by V.V.S.lyer, a Brahmin. Under his management, they showed discrimination between the Brahmin and Non-Brahmin students. Brahmin boys were treated in a better way than the others with regard to food, shelter and the cirriculum. Along with his companions Periyar stoutly opposed the discriminatory practice and put an end to it.

It was Periyar's firm conviction that universal enjoyment of human rights will become a reality only when the Varna-Jaathi (caste) system was eradicated. Until the social reconstruction took place, he wanted communal representation as a measure of affirmative action to, uphold social justice. So he tried, every year from 1919, to make the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee to accept the policy of reservation to different social groups and communities. But his efforts bore no fruit in this regard. Finally he left Congress in November 1925 at the Kancheepuram Conference. He had to part company with Mahatma Gandhil because the later was not prepared to put an end to the Brahmin domination and to fight against caste system.

Self - respect Movement 1925- 39

Periyar's philosophy is that different sections of a society should have equal rights to enjoy the fruits of the resources and the development of the country; they should all be represented, in proportion to their numerical strength, in the governance and the administration of the state. This principle had been enunicated earlier by those who stood for social justice, particularly by the South Indian Liberal Federation, popularly known as Justice Party. Periyar's unique contribution was his insistence on rational outlook to bring about intellectual emancipation and a healthy world-view. He also stressed the need to abolish the hierarchal, graded, birth-based caste structure as a prelude to build a new egalitarian social order. In other words, he wanted to lay a sound socio-cultural base, before raising a strong structure of free polity and prosperous economy.

It was in this context, the Self-Respect Movement, founded in 1925, carried on' a vigorous and ceaseless propaganda, against ridiculous and harmful superstitions, traditions, customs and habits. He wanted to dispel the ignorance of the people and make them enlightened. He exhorted them to take steps to change the institutions and values that led to meaningless divisions and unjust discrimination. He advised them to change according to the requirements of the changing times and keep pace with the modern conditions.

Self-respecters performed marriages without Brahmin priests (prohits) and without religious rites. They insisted on equality between men and women in all walks of life. They encouraged inter-caste and widow marriages. Periyar propagated the need for birth control even from late 1920s. He gathered support for lawful abolition of Devadasi (temple prostitute) system and the practice of child marriage. It was mainly due to his consistent and energetic propaganda, the policy of reservations in job opportunities in government administration was put into practice in the then Madras Province (which included Tamilnadu) in 1928.

Conferences

Though the Self-Respect movement was started in 1925, the first provincial conference was organised by Periyar at Chengalpet (near Chennai and Kanchipuram) only in February 1929. It was presided over by W.P. Soundarapandian. M.R Jeyakar was the president of the second conference conducted at Erode in 1930. Sir RK. Shanmugam occupied the chair in the third provincial conference that met at Viruthunagar. Apart from enthusing the people, these conferences passed resolutions meant to promote Caste eradication, Social integration and equal rights to women.

Since the British rulers in India had no vested interest in perpetuating the inequitable Varna-Jaathi social structure based on Vedic Sanathana Dharma, Periyar and his followers found that they could influence or pressurise the alien government to take measures to remove social inequality. So they adopted a moderate policy in the struggle for political independence.

From the beginning of 1930s, Periyar added the programme of fighting for economic equality to his original programme of working for social equality and Cultural Revolution. Along with the veteran communist leader Com. M.Singaravel, he organised industrial and agricultural labourers to stand against the exploitation of big capitalists and landlords. In mid -1930's, the central and provincial governments took steps to ban the Communist Party and the organisations purported to have similar programmes. They started to stop the activities of the Self-Respect Movement. Periyar had to take a crucial decision. He had known by experience that there were supporters for the work to carry on the freedom struggle and to organise the labourers. But only a few came forth to expose the religion based traditional evils, and struggle against the exploitation of the powerful Brahminical upper castes. Under this circumstance, he toned down his socialist activities in order to be free to carry on the task of the socio-cultural emancipation of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden sections.

In 1934, there was an unsuccessful move through C.Rajagopalachari, known as Rajaji, to bring Periyar back into the fold of the Congress Party. Periyar prepared a programme of action consisting of measures to promote Social Justice, through reservations, to implement socialisation of vital and large-scale commercial and industrial activities, and to remove the hardships of the debt-ridden peasants. He sent the programme to the ruling Justisce Party and the Congress Party that was growing popular. The Congress Party did not accept it, as the policy of reservation was not agreeable to it. As Justice Party agreed to most of the measures including communal representation to uphold Social Justice, Periyar continued to support it.

In 1937, Justice Party that was in power in the then Madras Province from 1921, except for a brief period, lost the elections to the Congress Party. Rajagopalachari who introduced compulsory study of Hindi language in the high schools headed the Congress Government. Those who opposed this effort to make non-Hindi speaking people second-class citizens organised a vigorous agitation under the dynamic leadership of Periyar. More than 1200 persons including women with children were imprisoned in 1938, of which two, Thalamuthu and Natarasan, lost their lives due to the rigours in prison. When the agitation gained momentum Periyar was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for two years, though released in six months (Periyar was in gaol five times in 1920s and four times in 1930s).

In November 1938, a women's conference in Madras (now Chennai) passed a resolution to refer to E.V.Ramasamy always as Periyar (the great man.).
While undergoing imprisonment, the Justice Party elected him as its President on 29th December 1938.

Periyar who opposed compulsory study of Hindi in the then Madras Province was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for two years. But he was released after about six months of confinement from 26th November 1938 to 22nd May 1939. After his release, he announced that he would continue his agitation against the imposition of Hindi.

Justice Party

We have seen that Periyar was elected while he was in prison, as the leader of the South Indian Liberal Federation, popularly known as Justice Party, in its Provincial Conference held in Madras (Chennai) on 29, 30 December 1938. He was basically a fighter for human rights for all from the beginning to the end of his public life. Now he added a new dimension to his movement, viz., and demand for an independent Dravida Naadu. He was driven to make this demand in 1938-39, because he found the Brahminical upper castes, whom he opposed for their social oppression, were in league with the North Indian Bania community (comprador capitalists) in imposing Hindi and in exploiting economically the people of South India.

Periyar's concept of Dravidians was not based on the purity of blood related to a race, but on values and ways of life. The Brahminical upper castes who followed the discriminatory socio-cultural principles, practices and traditions of Varna-Jaathi (caste system) originally enunicated in the Sanskrit scriptures like Vedas, Ithihaasas, Puraanas, Dharma Sastras etc. are Aryans. Those who subscribe to the egalitarian Tamil tradition and values of humanism are Dravidians. It may be recalled here that while addressing the conference of Backward Classes and Scheduled.Castes in Kanpoor in Uttar Pradesh in December 1944, he appealed to the Non-Brahmins of North- India to give up the religious appellation of Hindu and call themselves as Dravidians.

The Second World War broke out in September 1939. As a protest against the British rulers involving India in the war without consulting the High Command of their party, the Congress ministries in Madras and seven other Provinces resigned on 29th October of the same year. As Periyar was the leader of the opposition Justice Party, he was asked by the Governor and Governor general twice in 1940 and 1942 to form the ministry. Though a Congress leader, his friend C.Rajagopalachari personally requested Periyar to accept the offer, assuring his outside support to the Justice Party ministry. He explained that he wanted to put an end to the rule of the Governor and his advisers. But Periyar refused to head the Provincial Government on both the occasions. His refusal was on two grounds: First, he felt it improper to form the ministry without a popular mandate. Secondly, he firmly believed that his main task of annihilating caste system and spreading rational humanist principles would receive a set back, if he assumed power.

Periyar left for Mumbai (Bombay) on 5th January 1940. Dr. B.R.Ambedkar gave dinner- parties twice in his honour. They' met the Muslim League leader M.A.Jinnah at his residence in Mumbai on 8th January 1940. Periyar explained then his decision to work for an independent State known as Dravida Naadu.

On 21st January 1940, the Madras provincial Government ruled by the Governor and his advisers abolished the compulsory study of Hindi in schools. M.A.Jinnah sent a telegram to Periyar congratulating him on the success of his endeavour to ward off the imposition of Hindi.

When the Justice Party was defeated in the 1937 general elections after being in power for a very long spell from 1921, most of its leaders were disheartened and became inactive. It was at this moment of crisis, Periyar accepted the leadership of the party because he always felt the need for the existence of a vigorous political party essentially oriented to work for the upliftment of the socially deprived sections of the people. At this critical movement, two of the old guards staunchly stood by him. They were Sir R.K.Shanmugam and Sir A.T. Panneerselvam. At the time, the former was the Dewan of the Princely State of Kochi (now a part of Kerala) and then became Independent India's first finance minister in 1947. The latter was a member of the Governor's council and then a minister in Madras province in 1930s. On 1st March 1940, he lost his life in a plane crash while flying over Oman Sea on his way to London where he was to assume office as an adviser to the Secretary of State for India in the British Government. Periyar lamented that the sudden and tragic demise of Panneerselvam was an irreparable loss to the people of Tamil Nadu.

The 15th State Conference of the Justice Party was held in Tiruvarur in August 1940. It was on this occasion, Chinnakancheepuram Natarajan Annadurai (C.N.A.), respectfully mentioned later as Arignar Anna, became the Joint Secretary of the Party. He fascinated the youth by his unique style of writing and oratory. He played a great role in popularising the principles, policies and programmes of Periyar through his essays, short stories, novels and plays.

In February 1941, the founder-leader of Radical Democratic Party, M.N.Roy, came to Chennai and stayed as Periyar's guest. He sought Periyar's cooperation to form a grand All India alliance against the Congress Party. Both of them supported the war efforts of Great Britain as they considered British Imperialism a lesser evil than the Fascism of Mussolini, Nazism of Hitler and the Militarism of Tojo.
As a result of Periyar's persistent demand, the degrading practice of serving separately the Brahmins and the 'others' in the restaurants in railway stations was abolished in March 1941.

The conservative section in the Justice Party disliked Periyar's radical social reform programme, his critical view of religious literature and the propagation of rationalist ideas. Unmindful of their opposition, he continued his onward march and gathered around him the youth and the common people. It was during this period in 1942-43 that Maniammai joined the movement and came to attend to the personal needs of Periyar. She was devoted to the leader and served him sincerely. They married later in 1949.

Dravidar Kazhagam - 1944 - 1973

The Justice Party's provincial conference held in Salem on 27th August 1944 marked a turning point in Periyar's movement. The name of the Party was changed as Dravidar Kazhagam. The members were asked to give up the posts, positions and titles conferred by the British rulers. They were also required to drop the caste suffix of their names. It was also decided that the members of the movement should not contest the elections. In other words, the Justice Party, which was political, was transformed into Dravidar Kazhagam and became a non-political socio-cultural movement. It remains so even today.

It was in the historic Salem conference, Periyar allowed Mr. K.Veeramani, the present President of Dravidar Kazhagam, who had not yet completed 11 years then, to stand on the table and address the gathering. Arignar Anna introduced him to the audience as the Thiru Gnanasambandar of the Self-respect movement. (Gnanasambandar was a precocious devotee and composer of hymns in Tamil in the Saivite lore).

In the last week of December 1944 and in the first week of January 1945, Periyar undertook a tour of North India. On 27th December 1944, he spoke in a conference of the Radical Democratic Party in Calcutta (Kolkotta). M.N.Roy introduced him to those assembled as his atheist preceptor. In 1945, a volunteer corps of black shirts was organised.

The Dravidar Kazhagam flag, in the ratio of 3: 2, a red circle in the middle in the black background, was adopted in 1946. The black represented the deprivations and the indignities to which the Dravidians are subjected to under the Hindu religious milieu. The red stands for the determined efforts to dispel the ignorance and blind faith among the people and to liberate them materially and mentally from all kinds of exploitation, particularly those of social and cultural. A two-day conference of black-shirt volunteer corps was organised in Madurai in May 1946. On the second day the pandal was burnt down at the instigation of Brahminical Hindu Sanathanis. In the same year on 9th December, Periyar raised his sure voice against the manner in which the Constituent Assembly was constituted.

Periyar declared that 15 August 1947, when India became politically free, was a day of mourning because the event marked, in his opinion, only a transfer of power to the Brahmin - Bania Combine, whose socio-cultural domination, in addition to economic exploitation, would be worse than the British rule. He also viewed the adoption of the Republican Constitution of India in 1950 in a similar vein.

Though he had basic differences with Mahatma Gandhi, Periyar was terribly grieved when he fell a victim to the bullets of a religious fundamentalist of the Hindutva variety on 30th January 1948. He even suggested on the occasion that India should be renamed as Gandhi Naadu.

The Congress government of Madras Province banned the black-shirt volunteer corps in March 1948. But that only made Dravidar Kazhagam more popular. As a result more than a lakh of people, most of them in black shirts, assembled in the D.K.Conference held at Tutucorin on 8,9 May 1948.

Periyar revived the agitation against Hindi when it was again introduced in the schools in June 1948. Though the authorities were stubborn in the initial stages and took stern steps against the agitations, they had to yield in course of time to the popular will, and withdrew the scheme of compulsory study of Hindi.

The firmly entrenched and deeply rooted social evils in India centre around the existence and perpetuation of the caste system known as Varna-Jaathi which forms a basic and inseparable part of the theory and practice of Hindu religion that sanctifies the stratified hierarchy or graded inequality. The beneficiaries of this social structure are the Brahminical upper castes.

Upper caste people who have enormous material resources and mental capabilities obtained through unjust privileges and exclusive traditional advantages. Those who work for the complete transformation of the social order have to wage an unequal war. By his experience and serious thought, Periyar was convinced that the individuals and movements that undertake the task of eradicating the social evils in India have to pursue the goal with devotion and dedication without deviating from the path and with uncompromising zeal. If they contest elections aiming to assume political power, they would lose vigour and sense of purpose. But many among his followers had a different view. They wanted to enter into politics and have a share in running the government. They were looking for an opportunity to part with Periyar. When he married Maniammai on 9th July 1948, they quit Dravidar Kazhagam stating that Periyar had set a bad example by marrying a young woman in his old age - he was 70 and she 30. Those who parted company with Periyar formed Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam - DMK, under the leadership of C.N.Annadurai (Arignar Anna).

Least perturbed by sentimental and motivated protests, Periyar marched on with redoubled vigour to found an enlightened egalitarian society.

After the adoption of the Republican Constitution on 26th January 1950, Brahmins went to the Madras High Court and then to the Supreme Court in the same year asking for the discontinuance of the provision of reservation in educational institutions to the historically disadvantaged communities, on the plea that the provision violated the fundamental right to non-discrimination. The courts upheld the plea and declared reservations meant to promote Social Justice unconstitutional. Periyar organised meetings and conferences against the judgment, and also initiated agitations that gained momentum as days passed by. As a result, the Constitution {First Amendment Act} was passed in 1951 adding the Clause 40 the Article 15: "Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and_ Scheduled Tribes."

The Periyar Self-respect Propaganda Institution was registered on 23rd September 1952. In 1953, as instructed by Periyar, the Buddha's Day was celebrated through out the state urging the need to follow a rationalist way of life, and the idols of the elephant god Vinayaga (Ganesha) were broken to demonstrate symbolically the inefficacy of the innumerable deities worshipped by the educated and uneducated people.

In the meanwhile C.Rajagopalachari who had become the Chief Minister of Madras State for the second time between 1952 and 1954, had introduced the scheme of conducting classes in the schools in the forenoon and asking the students to learn the traditional jobs of their parents in the afternoon. At the first stage it was implement in the rural areas of the state. The Dravidian leaders rightly assessed that the scheme was a clever device to keep the Shudra and Panchama castes as illiterates or semi-literates. Their children had just begun to attend school after centuries of denial of educational opportunities. They dubbed C. Rajagopalachari's scheme as Castiest Education Plan (Kula Kalvi Thittam) and began to agitate under Periyar's leadership demanding its withdrawal. As a consequence, the Chief Minister had to resign in March 1954, and Kamaraj assumed office on 14th April.

Kamaraj abolished the half-day-teaching scheme, and assured Periyar that his Government would extent educational facilities to people in every nook and corner of the state. He also assured that he would sincerely implement the policy of communal representation opening up opportunities to the underprivileged in education and administration. As Kamaraj adhered truly to his assurances, Periyar gave him his unstinted backing. Though Periyar supported Congress nearly 30 years after he quit the same in 1925, his support was more to the person than to the party.

In November and December 1954 and in the first week of January 1955, Periyar and his wife Maniammai went on a propaganda tour to Burma and Malaysia. In Burma (now Myanmar), he attended the Buddhist Conference, and had a discussion with Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. Perhaps this was the last meeting between the two great men, before the latter passed away on 6th December 1956. They had similar views on almost all the points related to socio-religious issues in India.

Periyar went to the burial ground in Thanjavur on 28 March 1955 to pay homage to Pattukkottai Azhagirisamy (Azhagiri, the dare-devil), an ardent follower of Dravidar Kazhagam principles and a fiery speaker, who passed away on the same day in 1949. He found a board indicating a separate place for burial for Shudras! Periyar wrote a letter to the district collector expressing his objection to the display of the board and to the practice of following "Varna dharma" even while burrying or cremating. As a consequence, the board was removed and the practice discontinued.

On 1st August 1956, the Dravidar Kazhagam undertook an agitation of burning the portrait of Lord Rama as he symbolised the preservation of Varna dharma. Periyar was placed under preventive arrest on this occasion.

The States in India were reorganised on linguistic basis on 1st November 1956, and Periyar welcomed this measure.

In those days, the board "Brahmins Hotel" was displayed, following the lead given by the Brahmins, to indicate that only vegetarian food was served there. Dravidar Kazhagam objected to the Varna dharma connotation and started an agitation symbolically in front of a hotel in Madras (Chennai) on 5th May 1957. Batches of volunteers agitated daily and 1010 of them courted arrest till 22nd March 1958 when it culminated in success.

The provisions of the Constitution that helped to safeguard Varna-Jaathi (Caste system) was burnt by about 10,000 volunteers of Dravidar Kazhagam on 26th November 1957. In this historic agitation, about 3000 of them were sentenced to undergo various terms of rigorous imprisonment, from two months to three years.

On December 14, 1957, Periyar was sentenced to undergo six months imprisonment in a case based on fabricated police diaries where in he was accused of asking his followers to use force against Brahmins, an accusation that Periyar naturally denied.

Two of the volunteers, Ramasamy and Vellaichamy, imprisoned for burning the provisions of the Constitution supporting casteism, died in jail. Their bodies were obtained with great effort by Maniammai from the unwilling and obstructing prison authorities and burried with due honours, after being taken in an emotionally charged procession through the main streets of Tiruchirappalli. Due to the rigours they underwent in prison, about 15 people died soon after they were released.

In January 1959, Periyar went to Bangalore to participate in the All India Official Language Conference. Along with General Kariappa and Medappa, he stressed the need to retain English as the Union Official Language. In February he undertook a tour of North India and propagated his principles of rationalism, social justice and self-respect way of life.

In June 1960, Periyar asked people to burn the map of India as a protest against the Central Government using the Union of India for upholding and safeguarding caste system. About 4000 people were arrested for taking part in this agitation.

In 1962, Periyar wrote a special article in the Tamil Rationalist daily, Viduthalai", welcoming the present President of Dravidar Kazhagam, Thiru K.Veeramani who had offered to become a full time volunteer of the movement giving up his lucrative profession of a lawyer.

The Congress leader K.Kamaraj expressed his wish to resign Chief Ministership and work whole time to strengthen the Party. Periyar sent a telegram to Kamaraj stating that it would be suicidal to the people of Tamil Nadu and to him, if he quit the office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But Kamaraj did not change his decision, and consequently M.Baktavatsalam became the Chief Minister on 3rd October 1963.

As recommended by the National Integration Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Parliament enacted a law in 1963, prohibiting the propagation of ideas demanding separation from the Indian Union. Periyar vehemently opposed the law.

In April 1964, Dravidar Kazhagam conducted meetings throughout the State, condemning the Supreme Court's verdict against the State's Act fixing a ceiling to land holding.

Periyar criticized the spontaneous and fierce agitation that raged through out Tamil Nadu between January 25 and February 15, 1965 against the imposition of Hindi resulting in several deaths, because it was rudderless and unorganized.

In the name of protecting cows, an unruly mob, motivated by the Hindutva ideology attempted to burn the Delhi residence of K.Kamaraj and kill him on 7th November 1966. He escaped by sheer chance. Periyar strongly condemned this barbaric attack and called upon people to be vigilant to protect Kamaraj by all means.

Dravidar Kazhagam supported congress party in 1957, 1962 and 1967 general elections, and opposed DMK, which formed the government in the State in 1967. Soon after, Arignar Anna (C.N.Annadurai) went to Tiruchirappalli along with all his ministers and paid his homage to his mentor. Periyar was happy when the DMK regime renamed Madras State as Tamil Nadu and made Self-respect marriages legal. It was a non-religious mode of performing marriages introduced by Periyar in late 1920s. Though law till 1967 did not recognize such marriages, thousands of them were conducted due to the influence of the principles of Self-respect.

In October 1967, Periyar undertook a North Indian tour and asked people to work for the eradication of caste system. On 12th and 13th of October, he addressed a Conference of BCs, SCs, STs and minorities in Lucknow.

Periyar was deeply saddened when Arignar Anna, one of his chief disciples and an unquestioned leader of millions of Tamil Youth, passed away in his 60th year on 3rd February, 1969.

Dravidar Kazhagam decided in its Central Committee meeting in November to undertake an agitation demanding to put an end to the practice of appointing only Brahmins as Archakas in Agamic temples, as a way of removing one of the root causes of Varna-Jaathi.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gave an Award to Periyar, and the Union Education Minister, Triguna Sen in Madras (Chennai) on 27th June 1970, presented it to him. The citation hailed Periyar as "the Prophet of the New Age, the Socrates of South East Asia, Father of Social Reform Movement, and Arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners."

"Unmai", a Tamil monthly (now a fortnightly) and Modern Rationalist, an English monthly, were started by Periyar in 1970 and 1971 respectively to propagate the ideals of rational humanism more extensively. The Allahabad High Court lifted proscription of the Hindi version of Periyar's book on Ramayana in 1971. In the same year the proscription of "Ravana Kavyam" proscribed by the Congress Government of the Madras State was removed. On 12th January 1971, the DMK Government enacted a law giving equal opportunities to qualified persons to become the Archakas(priests) of Hindu Agamic temples irrespective of their birth in any Varna or Jaathi. On 23rd January a huge "procession of the eradication of superstitions" took place in Salem. The processionists carried large pictures and portraits truly depicting the events and gods described in epics and puranas. When a few intolerant orthodox onlookers threw footwears at the procession, the marchers used the same materials to beat the portrait of Rama beheading the Shudra Sambuka in deep meditation. This action of the Periyarists was blown out of proportion by the media through out India. They also published the pictures of gods and goddesses carried by the marchers. This event was used against DMK-Congress alliance in the general elections held in March 1971. But both the parties secured massive majority, the DMK in Tamil Nadu Assembly and the Congress in the Lokh Sabha.

On March 14, 1972 the Supreme Court gave a seemingly ambiguous judgment in the case against the Tamil Nadu Government's 1971 enactment that threw the job of Archakas open to all the qualified persons irrespective of their caste. As the bureaucracy interpreted this judgement, in favour of the conservatives who defended the status quoe , Periyar announced an agitation, exhorting people to work for equal human rights in all spheres including social, religious and cultural. This agitation had become necessary to remove the indignity to the people belonging to the Dravidian race because they were dubbed as Shudras and Panchamas according to Vedic and Brahminical Sanathana Dharma known as Hindu religion.

Periyar organised a conference in Chennai on 8th and 9th December 1973. It was known as "Eradication of the social indignity of the Tamils Conference". The conference decided to fight for equal rights and opportunities for persons of all castes to enter into Garba Graha (Sanctum Sanctorum), known as "Karuvarai Nuzhaivu Porattam" in Tamil. He undertook extensive tours to explain the need to bring to an end the Brahmin domination or privileges in priesthood and in other religious rites and ceremonies as an essential measure to reorganise the social order on the basis of equality.

In the meanwhile the court set aside on October 11, a case against inscribing on the pedestal of Periyar's statues, his famous pronouncements (made in 1967) denying god, and denouncing the worship and propagation of the same.

In his last meeting at Thiagaraya Nagar. Chennai on 19th December 1973, Periyar gave an inspiring clarion call for action to gain social equality and dignified way of life. He fell ill on the next day and breathed his last on 24th December 1973.

Periyar's life marked a turning in history and the beginning of a new era.

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