FIRST MADRAS PROVINCIAL SELF RESPECT CONFERENCE 1929

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    Dr. P. Subbarayan, Chief Minister and Zamindar of Kumaramangalam, while  declaring the Conference open said:-

    I would like to first thank the organizers of the First Provincial Self-respect Conference for asking me to open this Conference.  I feel they have done me a great honour.  It is indeed a pleasure to me to come here and meet so many of my country men who are interested in the movement of social regeneration.  The problem of national regeneration is a wide one and I am glad to note that the Self-respect League is concerned primarily with the social and not the political aspect of the problem as concentration of effort is essential for success.  I am also glad to see that this movement, started by friend Mr. E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, is taking firm root and is getting an increasing number of adherents.  I have every hope that this movement will rapidly gain in strength and influence.

    Before I proceed further, I wish to say a few words about our departed country men who were interested in what this movement stands for.  This Conference brings back to my mind all the work that the great social worker, Swami Ishwarananda did in the field of social regeneration.  His work was the same that the Self-respect movement now advocates.   It is just a year to-day since the soul passed away from amidst us.  I therefore feel I must on this occasion refer to his revered memory.  Personally too, I have had much inspiration from his life and work and character.  I desire also to pay my tribute to the memory of Lala Lajpat Rai, S.R. Das and Rajah of Panagal, men who in their different spheres tried to do all that lay in their power to better the lot of the humble and the lowly.  It is for us to cherish their memory and continue their labours.

    The growing feeling of Self-respect is among other factors largely responsible for the new political and social aspiration; but it is curious to note that there is among us a greater consciousness of the claims of Self-respect in the political than in the social sphere.  I know that there is widely prevalent a feeling that we, as a Self-respecting people, should no longer accept political servitude, autocratic control and government bureaucracy.  As you are aware, there is among all educated people a demand for freedom and for a complete overhauling of our traditional and ancient political machinery.  All our political organizations are agreed in urging this demand and our history is being examined to see whether we cannot discover in the past the seeds of free institutions.  There is therefore a certain amount of unanimity among our people in the political sphere.

    The picture, however, is a very different one when we turn to the social sphere.  There is, at the most, only a theoretical acceptance of the necessity for removing all the numerous limitations, that ignorance, priestcraft, religious traditions and social customs have imposed on individuals and groups.  For every thousand and more persons who passionately declaim against political autocracy we can hardly count one, who is prepared to work actively for social regeneration.  I therefore feel, this movement has not come a day too early.  It is time we realized that we cannot be a self-respecting people politically unless we are self-respecting socially.  The truth must be admitted that customs and beliefs which restrict freedom of people in social sphere cannot prop up a free nation.  As long as such customs and beliefs continue, it is not possible to erect a free and democratic state in a society hopelessly given over to all that is antiquated, superstitious and unprogressive. A people who are dominated by priests in their social life cannot escape subjection to a bureaucracy and it is not surprising that the priest is the person who most easily transforms himself into the bureaucrat.  All he has to do is to employ, in the political sphere, the talents he has perfected and the knowledge of our weaknesses that he has acquired in the social sphere, and his success is assured.  A community given over to superstition in the sphere of religion is bound to be at the mercy of every rumour of false agitation in the political sphere.  Those who are incapable of affirming right social judgements, will in the end be equally incapable of affirming right political judgments.  A social system that tolerates innumerable castes can never produce a unified people required for the working of the Democracy.  A society that denies to its members social justice will not produce leaders capable of fighting for economic and political equality.  Let me say once again that political self-respect and social self-respect go together and the one cannot in any real sense thrive or survive without the other.  If you attain social self-respect, political self-respect is bound to follow.  Is it any wonder that so many outside observers regard us as hypocritical when we ask for freedom and democracy in the political sphere and yet make only the most feeble attempts to shake off the shackles of an entirely unsatisfactory social system.  It has nowadays become usual for a college to go on strike because young men feel that their sense of political self-respect is wounded.  One would like to enquire whether any of these young men is perturbed because day by day he is forced by society to accept social customs and conventions that strike at the root of all freedom, morality and decency.  In our province to-day, a lad going through the college course joins his caste and sectional mess, believes that he loses his virtue if he dines with his neighbours, accepts a marriage that is arranged for him probably with a girl under twelve, worships in temples from which millions of his co-religionists are excluded, considers himself polluted at the touch of a fellow creature, and yet feels that his self-respect is wounded only by the political subordination which he imagines to be the one tyranny under which he groans.  Believe me, this is not an isolated or exaggerated picture.  We are to-day rearing thousands of such young men, and women too, in our colleges and expect them to lead this nation to real freedom.  It is time this hypocrisy is ended and we realized that as a people we can only remain debased and backward as long as we retain the thousand and one religious beliefs and social institutions that have for many ages been responsible for human degradation and misery, political conquest and slave mentality.  Even when political freedom comes we shall never be able to look the other peoples in their faces and claim equality with the nations of the world as long as we remain a priest ridden, caste-divided, superstitious people, practising early marriages, consigning widows to a life of misery and worshipping gods who are believed to get polluted by the contact of the poor and the down-trodden.  This Conference, I think, aims at making us see the problem before us in its entirety and not in compartments as we generally seem to do.

    Religion as popularly understood among us Hindus, is liable to make us selfish as we are always urged by an ignorant priesthood to think of our individual soul and its salvation and not of our fellow beings.  We do not for a moment stop to consider that it ought to be the aim of every real religion to make the world a better one to live in.  This we can do not by considering only our ownselves, but also the well being of our fellow creatures.  But this is precisely what a civilization based on caste cannot do.  It is this idea of making society better, which is the central aim of the Self-Respect League.

    I am glad that the League is to be properly organized and is to have a constitution and regular meetings.  But as I have said elsewhere, it is not these conferences or annual meetings which are going to achieve what we are all aiming at.  What is really wanted is a band of young men who are prepared to go throughout the length and breadth of the Province to preach to the masses this new cult much in the same way as the Buddhist missionaries have in the one truly glorious period of history, preached and for a time brought about the renewal of the barriers that divided this nation.  Buddhism failed and we have ever since groped in darkness.

    In this connection I am reminded of the fact that no reform in the social sphere can take place without the hearty co-operation of our women.  In every sphere of work, success is assured, if men and women work together; more so, is it the case when the reorganization of society is concerned.  Women play a far more important part in the social world than men. If we therefore honestly wish this movement every success, we have to first educate and convince our women-folk the importance of this movement.  Women’s progress is essential for the progress of the Self-respect League.  Let it be our first aim to see that our women cultivate the right kind of self-respect and imbibe the principles of social regeneration.  There need then be no anxiety of our future generation being hampered by the evils of our antiquated beliefs, superstitions and customs.  It will be a happy day for India, when her people meet without feeling that one is a Brahmin, another is a non-brahmin and another an Adi Dravida and so on.  If this can be achieved, if every man believes that he is as good as another in the eye of god and man, then the political freedom which we are bound to win will rest on solid foundation and our country’s progress will be assured.

    Source :   ‘Revolt’ 20th February 1929

     

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