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periyar 849I started a movement and named it as the ‘Self-Respect Movement’ in 1925. It is known to all. I am bound to state why it was started. Many may like to know the objectives of the movement. At the outset, I must say a few words about myself. Then only it will be possible to conclude whether what I did was right or wrong.

I had no feelings about caste or religion from my childhood days. In other words, I did not follow them. But when circumstances forced me, I pretended to observe them. Similarly, I had no faith in God. In all matters I did, I never thought whether God would punish me! I did not do anything, thinking that it would please God. In my early years, I had no remembrance I have ever believed in God or religion or caste! I have to reminiscence about these many times in the past also. I do not know as to when I really lost faith in all these.

Caste-Fanaticism Even in Drinking Water

When I was just six years old, I was sent to a pial school. It was just a short distance from my home in Erode. Around the school, there were few houses inhabited by Chettiars, trading in oil. Oil mills were always working. A few people residing on platforms were manufacturing mats and baskets out of bamboo. Some Muslims too, were living in that area. It was clear that Chettiars, bamboo article makers, and Muslims were dwelling in that area.

In those days, other caste people would not take any food in their houses. So before sending me to school, I was advised not to move with these people. I was strictly warned not to eat or drink in their houses. If at all, I felt thirsty, I was asked to take water from the teacher’s home. The teacher was a strict vegetarian. He belonged to a caste called ‘Odhuvar’. In his house, a small girl used to place a brass tumbler on the ground and pour water into it. I was instructed to lift the vessel and drink without sipping. After drinking, I was asked to keep the vessel upside down. After that, she would pour water on the vessel, lift it, and then take it into the house. That was the usual practice adopted in those days by high-caste Hindus to `purify’ the vessel touched by a person belonging to a low-caste.

Because I was not allowed to sip water from the vessel, a part of it would fall on my body. Only a little water would go into the mouth. Sometimes the water would enter my nose and cause trouble. I had to spit out water instantly. Sometimes the girl would get angry at seeing this. So I decided not to take water from the house of the teacher.

The boys of Vania Chettiar community never went to the teacher’s house for drinking water. They will stand in the class, show their thumbs, and the teacher would let them go out and return soon. They would take water from the Chettiars’ houses nearby.

One day I thought that I could join them and take water in a Chettiar’s house. When a Chettiar boy showed his thumb, I also stood up and showed my thumb. The teacher permitted both of us to leave the class. The teacher asked me where I was running to. “For drinking water” I replied. “Are you going with him?” asked my Master. So I went to the teacher’s house. When I returned, my body was wet. My dhotis too, were partly drenched in water.

The next day I decided to accompany a Chettiar boy for drinking water. I made the necessary arrangement previously. I stood up in the class first and showed my pointing finger as though I am going out to pass urine. The teacher nodded his head. I went out and stood behind the house of the teacher. The Chettiar boy took permission from the teacher to quench his thirst. He came out. We both joined together and ran up to his house. He brought me a glass of water.

Punishment for Moving with Low Castes

I drank that water by sipping, as I would do at my house. Seeing this, the lady of the house asked me whether I would not be punished for drinking water in her house. I said no one in my house would take me to the task. She asked my friend Palaniappan to wash the glass I used. Then I ran back to the school.

On another occasion, I drank the water in the house of a person who made bamboo articles. Gradually I began to taste the dishes prepared in their homes. Somehow this matter reached my house. At that time, my family was wealthy. Our people were observing the rituals like orthodox Brahmins. Always there was talk of divinity in my house. But my father was not much worried. He simply chided me saying, ‘Don’t behave like that again.’ But my mother was very much perturbed. She would feel as though she had lost something precious. But nothing stood in my way. I even ate whatever the Muslim boys offered me. My parents came to know about this also. By this time, my school career was stopped. I was then only ten years old.

I was very closely associated with those with whom I should not. I was not expected to move freely. My close movement with communities, which were considered low and despicable, was the main impediment to my education. I was found to be a ruffian because of my actions and behaviour. My feet were chained to logs of wood. Yet I used to move about with my usual company. This continued for fifteen days! I used to carry the logs on my shoulder and go about on my usual rounds. At last, I was taken away from that school and sent to a government school. Even there, I was stopped in two years. I was only 12 years at that time.

Rational Questions to Religious Preachers

I was sent to our own business shop. My work was to mark the bags and auction the goods. During my leisure time, I took a keen interest in discussing the Puranas (mythologies). In those days, Sanyasis (Saints), Bhagavathars, religious mendicants had significant sway over our family. I disliked them. I used to heckle them and make fun of what they said. I used to pester them with questions and make them feel embarrassed. Gradually this practice led to my take an interest in chatting. This also helped me to spend my leisure time usefully. In fact, this practice gave me a lively interest.

Moreover, the religious pundits (scholars) of Vaishnavism and Saivism were performing ‘Kalatshepams’ (Story Discourse with songs) in our house. This was done to gain status and name in the society, as my family was rolling in money. My mother used to hear the religious discourses with devotion. My father was simply pleased with all these. So far as I was concerned, I naturally, learnt all about the Hindu religion and its Puranas. I used to put a volley of questions to the pundits. For some, they struggled to

answer. Different pundits gave different clarifications. This made me more enthusiastic and incisive. Neighbours were struck with my intelligence. Though sometimes my father felt annoyed, in his heart of hearts, he appreciated my brilliance.

Out of all these, I began to lose faith in castes, religions, God, and Sastras (Hindu Doctrines).

Not A Victim to Liquors

It is said that one’s association and surroundings, give scope to the individual to determine one’s life, mission, and ideals. By experience, it may be true. But in no field of activity, I was influenced by association or surroundings. On the contrary, I was never a victim of my surroundings and association. Let me explain this further. When I was in my youth, I was surrounded by friends who were mostly accustomed to drinking. This was during the period when I was 20 to 30 years of age. Further, the government officers, Zamindars, and Mirasdars, who were very affectionate, also had the habit of consuming liquor. 

Many nights I used to enjoy their Company and take leave of them in the morning. Every night I used to spend Rs.40, 50,60 on liquor like brandy. I would myself mix the liquor with soda in glasses and offer them as a mark of respect. When they got intoxicated, some of them used to spit the liquor on me. On one occasion, a deputy collector and a salt commissioner pushed me to the ground and forcibly tried to pour liquor into my mouth. I say this to prove that association or surroundings had no power to influence me; I never had the interest to taste any alcohol. Yet my wife used to suspect me because of my association and surroundings. She would ask me to open my mouth and try to smell whether I had consumed any liquor. Then only she would be satisfied.

Despite being associated with this sort of society, I was very successful in my business. My father reposed high confidence in me. He removed the name board of the shop bearing his name and replaced it with my name. Even in public matters, he deputed me to represent him. The works of temples and devasthanams were conducted as if they were purely personal affairs. In this aspect, also my father made me prominent. By doing this, he expected a change in my life. He might have thought that I would become religious and have faith in God. I acted as the secretary and president of the devasthana Committee.

Eradicating Evils of Caste and Religion

While the matters were such, whatever responsibility I accepted, I did the duties as they should be done. Even on the issues which I disbelieved, I was very honest, sincere, and more careful.

My real interest and resolve slowly grew towards eradicating the evils of caste and religion. Even in that lofty ideal, I did not deem that I would be the only fit person to do it. Somehow, we were leading a happy life. Without depending on anyone for anything, our family flourished. What else is needed for a happy life? In other words, a man needs a healthy body and determination to work hard for his ideals. He should not be lazy or dependent on others for anything.

One should not change or give up his ideals for selfish gains or favor others. A man must have such a freedom to pursue his ideals till his death.

I think I had that freedom and unique status. It is this freedom I enjoy and values most that enables me to pursue my ideas. I am in no way blindly resolute.

If my senses are sensitive at the time of my death, I would feel happy about my life and die peacefully. I will be delighted. I will not have any grouse or complaint. I will not think that I have left anything unfinished.

Because I am alive, my life must have some work. There is no life without work. I decided on my mission. I resolved to eradicate the evils of casteism. I decided to crusade against God and superstitions. I aimed to work with an interest in the welfare of society. I do what I can to better society. When this feeling gradually developed, I took it as my full-time lifework to reform society.

Why Self-Respect Movement Was Started?

I started the Self – Respect Movement with the same motive. If my ambition is fulfilled, the class hatred in society will cease. Individuals will have no grievances. All these may exist in society merely for recreation! Even as people play or gamble on holidays, meet with dejection, worries, dissatisfaction, by nature’s action, the society may be unnecessarily annoyed. It is common not only to human beings but to all living people. So, any man will have to face the good and the bad in life. 

With awareness of this, I have launched the movement. This is otherwise interpreted as ‘Nish Kamiya Karma’, that is discharging duties without expecting a good reward. Why should anyone do so? When a man does something expecting some good, he will have to meet with worries. But, in reality, a living being has to choose some work or other. I have undertaken the Self-Respect movement as the work for me in life. But in this work, I did not get myself dejected. It always gives me interest.

The philosophy of the Self-Respect Movement is known to the world. The wise world accepts the cause and effect theory. The human being seeks the reasons for everything. He has begun to research nature. A life with ignorance is considered as a slave’s life. This is the doctrine of Self – Respect Movement. Before doing anything, one should think about whether it is right or wrong, see the causes, analyse things, do research, and respect the truths. This is what the Self-Respect means. Freedom and Self-Respect are closely related.

Those who are for freedom today are neglecting the self-respect and human dignity of man. This is nothing but absurd. Without self-respect, there will be no good of liberty.

It is the self-respect ideal that commands feelings of freedom. The freedom of the self-respect prevails strikingly. But the freedom of the real freedom lovers will not be apparent even to himself. Even if he understands, it may be only in the case of a particular thing.

Wrong Conceptions of Gandhi

For example, take the concept of political freedom. Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jawaharlal are the two luminaries in politics.

Gandhi says, revitalising Hinduism and the old method of Varnasharma Dharma (Code of Casteism) is freedom. Deliverance from British rule is considered as freedom. Prevalent sorrows in human society cannot be wiped out because that freedom will create more problems than solve some. It is said that British subjects enjoy the most considerable freedom. But you know the king himself had to abdicate the crown to marry the lady he loved and that too it was precipitated by the so-called elected representatives. If so, do you believe that there will be any self-respect in Gandhi or Nehru's freedom? Do you think the British king would have forfeited the right to marry if there was self-respect with liberty? There is nothing so precious to a man in life as self-respect and fundamental human right.

Though the Self-Respect Movement made a very humble beginning, it had to face many obstacles and repression. At many stages, there were critical dangers. Why? The Self-Respect Movement has created a stir in Tamil Nadu, Malayala Nadu, Andhra Nadu in the social sphere. It has made Gandhi also do somersaults. Men are now demanding rights. High and low caste significations are fast fading away. Bible and Quran are now given new interpretations. If the only Congress had not counteracted, the Self-Respect

Movement would have spread even throughout the length and breadth of India. Brahminism would have been completely routed and effaced out of existence.

We are going to propagate the ideals all over India. Now our youths are eager to undertake the task. 

Youths, get ready for the task!

Self–Respect and God and Religion

Religion is the sum of the rules related to cooperative living and the code of conduct needed for society. Self-Respect Movement is not against such a harmonious society. Even if it is said that religion is required to reach God, we will not interfere. It is, after all, an individual’s personal affair.

But, if religion destroys the wisdom in the society, if it endangers the self-respect, if humanity is differentiated as high and low if it brings disunity and demolishes freedom, our Self-Respect Movement will not leave it. Take, for example, numerous religions. Let us not worry about the religions of foreigners. Let us consider Hinduism, which is said to be our religion of India.

Is there any other reason for Indians to be so disunited? Is not Hinduism responsible for the creation of so many divisions and differences? Is not Hinduism responsible for creating so many castes, that too some as high and some as low? The Vedas and Sastras (Hindu Doctrines) prove these. If we are to get rid of castes and untouchability without converting to other religions like Islam, think over whether anyone else except Brahmin is enjoying so much facility and freedom in social and economic fields. What else is needed to prove that the Hindu religion should be destroyed? No one thinks about what religion has done to humanity.

The evils caused by the intoxicating drinks are lesser when compared to the harms caused by religious fanaticism. Liquor spoils only when consumed. Religion spoils you the moment you think of it.

Religion creates not only high and low discrimination in our social life but also establishes high and low discrimination in our economy. Think over! Has not religion created a separate class of people who are hard-working and a different class of people who enjoy without any hard work?

The wealth of the world is denied to the toiling masses. Lazy fellows who do not exert or work can enjoy the wealth of the world. Is it not because of religion? The common man is in poverty. He is made a slave, low caste, and heinous human being. Those who have got an exemption to work by religion are free from worries and can amass wealth and subordinate all others on account of this religion.

No Casteism Among Birds or Animals

Birds, animals, worms, which are considered to be devoid of rationalism, do not create castes, differences as high and low, in their own species. But a man believed to be a rational being is suffering from all these because of religion.

Amongst dogs, you don’t have a brahmin dog and pariah (untouchable) dog. Among donkeys and monkeys, we do not find it. But amongst men you have. Why? Is it not because of our religion? How many years old is Hinduism? What good has it done to Society so far.? The low caste existed even in the days of Rama, who was considered as an incarnation of God. In the days of King Harichander, there lived a Pariah (Untouchable) in the burial ground. Selling away one’s wife too was prevalent. To this day, these evils are seen in our society. How are we to say that the Hindu religion helped the people to progress?

See, what foolish notions are taught to the people by religion. The dead bodies are burnt to ashes, and the ashes are immersed in water. But they are believed to be alive. The descendants of the dead hand over rice, dhal, vegetables, footwear, etc., to a Brahmin to be safely and surely passed over to the deceased.

How are we to believe that a man has an iota of sense or rationalism in doing all these. Why should you give things only to Brahmins? Why should you fall at his feet? Why should you wash his feet and drink that water? If this is Hindu doctrine and philosophy, such a religion must go. Take the other rituals. Christening, house warming, marriage, puberty, or anything, all are for Brahmin’s gain. Do people of different religions and countries behave like this? We do not respect our knowledge, nor are we ashamed of our actions. Are we merely a mass of flesh and bones? Why should anybody get angry when I say all these to make you think over. Who is responsible for our degradation? Is it religion or government?

One God of Christians – Muslims

In the scientifically advanced world, we are talking of gods and their great deeds. This is nothing but brutal. Because our enemies find no reasonable charges against us, they call us atheists, with a wrong motive, and to create mischief.

So far as God is concerned, we find the Christians and Muslims, somewhat reformed from the olden days of barbarians. They say that there can be only one God. They say that it is beyond human comprehension. They say that God does good to those who are kind and punishes those who are bad. They say that God has no name or shape. They talk of good qualities. We need not worry about their God. Wise people accept their gods because they feel that their God would serve the purpose of creating a better society. 

What about Hindus and their thousands of gods created by Brahmins? Why should Hindus worship so many gods? How did they come? See what all are made as gods! From cow, horse, bullock, monkey, bandicoot, stone, birds, metals, and paper, all are deemed gods. When I was in Kasi (Varanasi in North India - a holy town for Hindus), I saw two dogs being worshipped.

Moreover, gods have wives, concubines, and prostitutes. These gods are believed to eat, sleep, and reproduce. They also have marriages and funerals.

Let them attribute anything to these gods. Kidnapping girls, gods enjoying with prostitutes are celebrated as festivals. Crores of rupees are wasted for these. The precious time of the people is wasted. Think over, whether all these are things to be done in the 20th Century.

Idiotic Marriages - Expenses - Offerings

Should we not feel ashamed of all these? Is it just or right to call us atheists? If there are gods, should they be like this? Will any intelligent man accept this? Does God require all these things we do, as pooja (prayer), offerings, marriages, etc.? Does any god approve all these? Seeing the gods as mere toys, we perform marriage thrice a year to them, why that? If gods really need wives, should we not find out what happened to the wives married last year? Were they divorced? Were they segregated? Have they deserted their husbands and ran away, or have all died? Should we not think of all these? Why celebrate marriages every year for gods? Why Music, show, pomp, and expenses? Do you know who eats the feast at weddings?

How many festivals every year and in various places? What have we gained by all these? So far as our education is concerned, 95% of people are illiterate. In the world, our India is an impoverished country. Should we not think why we should squander money in the name of God? How many times do we perform poojas (prayers) and place offerings to God a day? How many measures of rice, dhal, and other articles are placed before God? People have no education, no work, no meal. Please consider how many crores of rupees are wasted year after year for celebrating Ekadasi, Arudra, Thai Poosam, Karthigai, and visiting temples at Tirupathi, Thiruchendur, and Rameswaram.

If we consider what pains are taken for these expenses, none could assert that gods have done well to our people in any manner. If the vast amount spent this way is diverted to other fields, we can run the government without taxes. If we create new industries and educational institutions, we can solve the problems of illiteracy and unemployment. There will be no exploitation by foreign countries. Just to make a particular section of people (Brahmins) remain lazy and yet lead their lives well, why all others should bestow their hard-earned money foolishly for all these?

How senselessly are we behaving in the name of God and devotion? How ugly do we seem when we carry the Kavadi (a bent pole with metal vessels at both ends) on our shoulders! Wearing saffron colour cloth people roll in the streets! People shave their head, smear mud, and ashes on the body! People prick themselves with small arrows into their tongue and other parts of the body. People bathe in dirty water. All these in the name of God and devotion!

Moreover, milk, ghee, curd, honey, fruit, juices are being poured on the stone idols. They flow into gutters. All eatables are wasted. Are we to see this as mere fun? Do all these gods need gold jewels worth crores? Are costly silk garments needed? Why tall towers and big compound walls? Why gold and silver ‘Vimanas’? Are they not public property? Does religious duty mean that we should waste money on idols and thus help the lazy Brahmins to loot our money, enabling their people to become Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S) Officers, Judges, State Diwans, etc.? If all these are for God’s blessings, should there be such gods? Think over.

Do the Muslims follow this sort of worship of God? Do the Christians do? Will the rationalist Indians accept all these?           

Monopoly of Brahmins

When are we to get into the right path of devotion to God? When I ask this, the Brahmins dub us as atheists. Believing these Brahmins and their hirelings, the ignorant people raise the cry against us that God is in danger, religion is in danger! Is behaving in this brutal way, theism or atheism? Whatever it be, we will not be cowed down by their hindering activities. Whatever we feel right, we will boldly say. We say the Hindu religion and gods are dreadful diseases. Unless they are effaced out of existence, our people cannot, and the country would not prosper. We say what we feel.

It is for you to think and act. We don’t compel you to believe what all we say as the Brahmins do. They say that if anyone believes God, he will go to heaven. If anyone does not believe he will go to hell.

When I left the Congress party in 1925, I realized that our politics was under Brahmins' monopoly. In the name of India's struggle for freedom, it is the Brahmins who played a significant role. Their battle was not for establishing a good government for the people. There was no common cause behind the struggle. I was for crushing the Brahmin monopoly. I realized that God, religion, and castes make them keen to exploit others and lead a happy life. I started the Self-Respect Movement myself and enlisted the cooperation of others. Congress pursued a policy of concentrating only on political reform. It neglected the social field. In the name of implementing a constructive programme, Congress wanted to grab power and establish political domination. While my main aim was social reform and as I was doing my best to eradicate the evils in God's name, religion, caste, dharma, and sastras (Hindu Doctrines), I had to take steps to prevent Brahmin domination in politics.

My public life was multi-faced. My responsibilities increased. I had to swim against the current. My work was, in fact, a very tough one. If I counter the Brahmins politically, they made a march in the social field. If I countered them in the social field, they cleverly made a march in the political field. I had to arouse the feelings of the innocent Dravidian people in both the fields. I had to face a lot of difficulties in this task. 

With all that, there was yet another trouble for me from my men. Those who have become my followers attained maturity in many matters and gained publicity among the public. They became pawns in the hands of the enemies. Many opposed me and my work. I could only say that they did so as Prahaladan or Vibishanan did. After serving the public for 40 years, I don’t find any other reason for their acts. It is for wise people to assess the value of my service in the past 40 years.

Why Dravidians Demand Equal Status?

We find Brahmin-Sudra differentiation in temples, shrines, schools, public roads, hotels, etc. Were the high and low discriminations, created by Brahmins or by us? If anyone should think over all these, no one will dare to call us communalists.

The Brahmins do not, for a moment, realise that it is wrong to lower us to disgraceful state and, at the same time raising themselves as the highest and respectable. What all we demand is an equal status with self-respect. But this is considered a great sin or blunder.

They call it a godly movement or theist movement by safeguarding Aryan doctrines and Varnasharama Dharma (Colour based casteism code) while making others as Sudras and Untouchables. But our Movement, which stands for the destruction of Sudra's name and untouchability, is dubbed as atheists. They say that to talk with us (Dravidians) or to see us is sinful. But they say it is not sinful to fall at their feet. They say it is not sinful to call them ‘Samy’.

They say it is not sinful to see or touch the things to be offered to Brahmins. Nothing should be distributed to us first, they say. They insist that we should take them only after they have touched and tasted. They say we go to heaven by prostrating before them and drinking the water after washing their feet. They tuck the sacred thread they wear in the ear as they pass urine or motion. They say that they escape pollution by this. They will wear the thread only after a bath, or when they deem, they are pure and clean.

Similarly, they tuck the thread in the ear when they talk to the Sudras. Is it all non-communalism? We are asked to close our mouth with the hand or anything when we talk to them. They object to the sound waves touching them. 

We can cite thousands of such examples. Yet they, who stand in the way of our progressive life, call us communalists and atheists. Many of us forfeit our human rights. Many are afraid of Brahmins. We should deem it a duty to make our people aware of their rights.

Look at what is happening in our politics. The Congress movement started to get posts for them, was named as a national movement. They (Brahmins) are heaping evils on us as partners. They help the govt. and occupy high posts fetching 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 rupees as salary. They live by supporting the government, enjoying its favour, to grab top positions in the courts and educational institutions.

When we aspire for any of these, the Brahmins say that we are not fit. When we want to get ourselves made fit, they say we are unpatriotic and communalistic.

So, it is desirable to have a separate Movement for us. Only then we will be able to solve our problems. We need a Movement to face our difficulties. We need a Movement to find a solution to our problems. We should gain freedom with self-respect. We should all come together and work hard in the Movement. Everyone should play his part in the Movement.

- Periyar E.V.R.

(From 'Collected Works of PERIYAR E.V.R.', compiled by Dr. K. Veeramani, published by 'The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution')

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