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Ambedkar and Periyar

We need to consider the caution expressed by Ambedkar in his book ‘Thoughts on linguistic states’. He says,

“The North is Hindi speaking. The South is non-Hindi speaking. Most people do not know what is the size of the Hindi-speaking population. It is as much as 48 per cent of the total population of India. Fixing one's eye on this fact one cannot fail to say that the Commission's effort will result in the consolidation of the North and the balkanisation of the South. Can the South tolerate the dominance of the North?”

He sharply illustrates the antithesis between the two entities in the following passage.

“There is a vast difference between the North and the South. The North is conservative. The South is progressive. The North is superstitious, the South is rational. The South is educationally forward, the North is educationally backward. The culture of the South is modern. The culture of the North is ancient. Did not Prime Minister Nehru on the 15th of August 1947 sit at the Yajna performed by the Brahmins of Benares to celebrate the event of a Brahmin becoming the first Prime Minister of free and independent India and wear the Raja Danda given to him by these Brahmins and drink the water of the Ganges brought by them? How many women have been forced to go Sati in recent days and immolate themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. Did not the President recently go to Benares and worship the Brahmins, washed their toes and drank the water? The North still has its Satis, its Nanga Sadhus. What havoc the Nanga Sadhus made at the last Hardwar Fair! Did anyone in U.P. protest against it? How can the rule of the North be tolerated by the South? Already there signs of the South wanting to break away from the North” 

Similarly, we should consider another thought he put forth in his historic speech on 25th Nov 1949 on the occasion of introducing Indian Constitution in the Constituent assembly of India.

“For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

As rightly warned by Ambedkar, now the power hunger regressive Brahmanical philosophy have joined hands with religious hatred and pushed the nation’s development to the back burner and indulges in obscene dance of treachery. In this scenario, the Ambedkar-Periyar’s philosophies and the history of protests led by them stands as beacons that helps us identify the ‘root’ of this social oppression and stands basis for the formation of ‘Coalition of Periyarists’. In order to consolidate the masses, ‘Periyar black shirt procession’ was organised by ‘Coalition of Periyarists’ on the anniversary of Periyar (23rd Dec 2018) and as an organic evolution, now successfully marching towards ‘Blue shirt procession’ on the anniversary of Ambedkar. This is order of the day!

Periyar said, from ancient days, India’s history is all about Aryan – Dravidian conflict, and Ambedkar said it is Aryan – Buddhist conflict. Periyar fought for the rights of ‘Sudhras’ and Panchamas’ who were always oppressed by the socio-political hegemony of Brahmins. He fought within and outside Congress movement for the justice of affected people from every strata of the caste system.

Periyar’s ‘communal representation’ had same connotation of Ambedkar’s concept of ‘Social democracy’. He declared ‘without social democracy, political democracy is unachievable’. Both Periyar and Ambedkar had sharp deviance from the Swarajya demand raised by Brahmin-Baniya combo, which had a hidden agenda of establishing themselves as ruling class and deployed Congress and Gandhi as tools. While the Brahmin-Baniya combo was limiting resources of Congress within the concepts of anti-colonization and patriotism, these two leaders never bite the bait. They remained committed deviants and consistently and progressively chalked out the stage for social liberty of the oppressed masses. Albeit not meeting each other, their like-minded ideology had always remained a magnetic source of attraction between them.

The interview with Southborough commission, constituted by British rulers to consider providing citizenship to Indians in 1919 was the first intense political activity of Ambedkar. He explained the dilapidated condition of the Scheduled castes of the nation and their state of denied rights. Later ‘Kudiarasu’ of Periyar published the speech of Ambedkar delivered in the conference of Scheduled castes held near Mumbai (29.5.1929) under the title ‘Avowal of self-respect from Bombay’ (16.6.1929).

Kudiarasu published the speech delivered by Ambedkar in a place called Chitegaon of Maharashtra on the occasion of first anniversary of the organization he found, ‘Social Equal Rights association’ (The Samaj Samata Sangh) under the title ‘First self-respect conference of Maharashtra’. In the beginning of the same year (Feb 17, 18 of 1929), Periyar organized the first self-respect conference of Madras presidency. Periyar considered the conference organized by Ambedkar as similar to his own. Periyar also sent his greeting message to the conference. Revolt, the English magazine of Periyar records that it was read out in the conference (Revolt 29.9.1929).

Periyar had been keenly observing all the political activities of Ambedkar. Temple entry struggle in Pune, arguments between Ambedkar and Gandhi in London round table conference, Ambedkar’s essays that condemn Gandhi’s fasting struggles were all documented diligently by Periyar’s ‘Kudiarasu’ magazine. Though they both didn’t met each other, their principled goals bonded them together.

In 1936-37 Ambedkar was invited to chair the conference against caste system organised by ‘Jat-Pat Todak Mandal’. The organizers requested Ambedkar to remove certain parts of the speech he prepared, but Ambedkar refused to oblige. The parts they wanted him to remove were, annihilating the Hindu religion completely, questioning the holy scripts of Hinduism and declaration of his intention to get out of Hinduism. Kudiarasu translated the entire speech word by word and published it in series for over a year.

The means of communication then were not as robust as it is today. It was Periyar’s movement that introduced Ambedkar to Tamil diaspora. In 1920s, Periyar was the deputy chairman of Jat-Pat Todak Mandal. Due to the complaints of Brahmins of South India that Periyar is an atheist, man against Brahmins, anti Hindu etc., he was removed from the position. It is the same organization that cancelled the conference when Ambedkar refused to alter his speech. Later, Periyar compiled the entire speech and published it as a book titled ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and distributed it at a cost of four anas.

Gandhi criticised Ambedkar’s speech in his ‘Harijan’ daily. Instead of answering any queries raised by Ambedkar, he simply mentioned ‘one should evaluate a religion by considering good examples from it instead of picking bad ones’. Gandhi upheld the Varnasrama concept of Hinduism and also said none should feel his Varna (class of caste) is the greater one than others. Gandhi was not aware of the true intentions of Brahmins. During an argument with Gandhi in Bangalore, Periyar directly mentioned this to Gandhi and added, if you try to reform Hinduism, Brahmins would not let you live, and ultimately that’s what happened. Brahmanism killed Gandhi using Godse as tool.

The speech prepared by Ambekar for the Lahore conference is an excellent document that captured the social dynamics. Let’s glance few excerpts from it:

The Caste System does not embody the eugenics of modern scientists. It is a social system which embodies the arrogance and selfishness of a perverse section of the Hindus who were superior enough in social status to set it in fashion, and who had the authority to force it on their inferiors.

Ambedkar sets upon to find the root of the name ‘Hindus’:

“The first and foremost thing that must be recognized is that Hindu Society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was given by the Mohammedans to the natives for the purpose of distinguishing themselves [from them]. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work prior to the Mohammedan invasion.”

The father of Sangh parivar, Golwalkar states “The origin of our people is unknown to scholors of history. In a way we are anadhi; without a beginning or we existed when there was no need of any name. …. …. …. Then the rest of humanity was just bipeds and so no distinctive name was given to us.”

ambedkar periyar and maniammaiAmbedkar rejects this argument outright and states, “They did not feel the necessity of a common name, because they had no conception of their having constituted a community. Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes.

Common statement by Hindus regarding Hindus is ‘despite hundreds of differences between Hindus, common belief, rites and thought process brings Hindus together’. Ambedkar simply demolishes this viewpoint: “Similarity in habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts, is not enough to constitute men into society. Men constitute a society because they have things which they possess in common. To have similar things is totally different from possessing things in common. The Caste System prevents common activity; and by preventing common activity, it has prevented the Hindus from becoming a society with a unified life and a consciousness of its own being.”

The question Ambedkar poses against the claim ‘Christians and Muslims forcefully converted Hindus’ is pretty strong. “But really speaking, who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mohammedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation, or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make-up? I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mohammedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty.”

“Ram Raj was a Raj based on Chaturvarnya.” To elucidate the statement, Ambedkar explains the story of Shambuka in Ramayana. “As a king, Rama was bound to maintain Chaturvarnya. It was his duty therefore to kill Shambuka, the Shudra who had transgressed his class and wanted to be a Brahmin. This is the reason why Rama killed Shambuka. But this also shows that penal sanction is necessary for the maintenance of Chaturvarnya.”

For the question, ‘Isn’t there caste in Christianity or Islam?’ Ambedkar answers as follows: “Ask a Mohammedan or a Sikh who he is. He tells you that he is a Mohammedan or a Sikh, as the case may be. He does not tell you his caste, although he has one; and you are satisfied with his answer. When he tells you that he is a Muslim, you do not proceed to ask him whether he is a Shiya or a Suni; Sheikh or Saiyad; Khatik or Pinjari. When he tells you he is a Sikh, you do not ask him whether he is Jat or Roda, Mazbi or Ramdasi. But you are not satisfied, if a person tells you that he is a Hindu. You feel bound to inquire into his caste. Why? Because so essential is caste in the case of a Hindu, that without knowing it you do not feel sure what sort of a being he is.”

“Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a state of the mind.” Ambedkar goes on to explain the ways of eradicating the caste. “You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak.” He goes a step further and says, “To ask people to give up Caste is to ask them to go contrary to their fundamental religious notions”. He categorically declares eradication of Hinduism is the only way to eradicate caste system.

Periyar struggles throughout his life for the rights of priesthood for all castes. Some may ask what difference it would make, without understanding the underlying philosophy. In his speech in Lahore, Ambedkar provides answer to this question. “This will prevent it from doing mischief and from misguiding people. It will democratise it by throwing it open to everyone. It will certainly help to kill the Brahminism and will also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahminism incarnate. Brahminism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism.”

Albeit the relationship between Periyar and Ambedkar blossomed in-principle in 1929, they met each other only about 10 years later in 1940. It was the Second World War period. Congress was trying to utilise the opportunity to grab complete political ruling power from British. Periyar, Ambedkar and Jinnah met in Bombay and together published a manifesto criticising British and Congress. The translated version of the manifesto was published in Kudiarasu (29.1.1940). Ambedkar presided the meeting organised by Tamils of Daravi and Periyar delivered a speech.

In 1927, Ambedkar brought untouchables together and organized a struggle to fetch water from the common pond of Mahad. He later mentioned in an editorial in the magazine ‘Voice of voiceless’, the struggle by Periyar to take untouchables into temples of Vaikkam in 1925 remained as inspiration for him. Dhananjay Keer, the author of Ambedkar’s biography mentions this in his book. After getting elected as executive member of Viceroy’s council, Ambedkar paid a visit to Madras where he met Periyar. The editorial of Kudiarasu (30.4.1944) stated that Ambedkar requested Maharashtra should also be included in the ‘Dravidian nation’ demand raised by his movement. This very clearly elucidates Ambedkar shared the vision of Periyar that identity-less social vision is the basis of Dravidian nation demand.

In his speech on the occasion of installing the picture of Ambedkar in Vellore municipality building on 28.10.1956, Periyar shared few important instances regarding Ambedkar (Viduthalai 7.12.1956).

“While we were just speaking against Ramayana, in 1932, he set it on fire. Sivaraj presided over that conference. In 1944, when he visited Madras, he said ‘Bhagavat Gita is blabbering of a maniac’. People like CP Ramaswamy Iyer started causing ruckus by saying ‘how can Ambedkar, an executive member of Viceroy Council can make such outrageous statement, that too in Madras!!’

“In 1930 I invited Ambedkar to the ‘Conference for reform’, AK Chettiar presided over it. For some reasons, he couldn’t attend it. I met him when we went to Global Buddhism conference in Burma. They mentioned my name in the agenda as a speaker, but didn’t informed me. I went, but they asked someone to speak. In that occasion, Ambedkar told me, ‘just sign, lets become Buddhists today’”.

Periyar had deviant view points from Ambedkar on few issues like, no representation for backward class in political drafting council; his inability to resist Poona accord and accepting it; his stance on Kashmir issue. It is while Ambedkar was in the helm of affairs as the law minister of independent India, the first ever amendment to the constitution, creation and legal recognition of the backward class in the socio educational sphere.

Both Ambedkar and Nehru refused to include ‘economy’ as a norm. Since the government had no data points to define the backward class, Ambedkar created a commission under section 340 of the constitution.

That’s the foundation for creation of Mandal commission. Ambedkar paved the avenue for creation of 27% reservation for backward class. Ambedkar wanted to introduce Hindu Reform Bill and aid property rights for women and Women’s right to adopt child. But the deep rooted Brahmanical forces in Congress and Sangh parivars thwarted his attempts. It is for the same reason, he resigned the position of Law minister and walked out of council of ministers. Nehru’s procrastination in constituting commission for backward class is another reason for his resignation. This is contrary to the popular misconception that Ambedkar is the leader for Dalits alone.

Periyar asserts as follows in the conference of scheduled castes organized in Mayavaram in July 1947:

“Comrades, I firmly believe Ambedkar is the right leader for you. Only he is capable of lifting you all from the oppression imposed on you by the religious forces. Hence I canvassed for his leadership, and recognised him as my leader too”.

Yes! Periyar recognised revolutionary leader Ambedkar as his leader. When Periyar was trying to transform the political entity ‘Justice Party’ into a social movement and renamed it as Dravidar kazhagam (1944), few dissident leaders of the party called on Ambedkar to talk about it. But he condemned them and told that Periyar was the right leader for them. These two great leaders always have kept the philosophy of social justice high above their own leadership personalities.

References for the essay: ‘Kudiyarasu’, ‘Revolt’, Essay by SV Rajadurai, Ambedkar’s ‘The Annihilation of Caste’, Puratchi Periyar Muzhakkam

(This article was written to commemorate the Blue Shirt Procession organized by ‘‘Coalition of Periyarists’ of Tamil Nadu on 9-Feb-2020)

Written by ‘Viduthalai’ Rajendran

Translated by Ramu.Palaniappan


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0 #1 T.S.Mani 2020-06-09 03:16
In 1930, the Erode Self Respect Conference was presided over by Sir R.K.Shanmugam Chettiar and not by AK Chettiar
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