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Dravidar Kazhagam

The Birth of a Revolution

The Periyar Self-respect Propaganda Institution was registered on 23rd September 1952. In 1953, as instructed by Periyar, the Buddha's Day was celebrated throughout 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 KalviThittam) 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 daredevil), 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 burying 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 wherein 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 buried 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.

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