Mr. E. V. Ramasami Naicker in the course of his presidential address at the South Indian Social Reformers’ Conference, held on the 26th of November 1928 at Madras, said:-
It would have been more appropriate if you could have chosen as your president one who is a firm believer in social reform. I am fast losing my faith in social reform as an agency for the regeneration of our country. The advancement of the country can only be through social revolution born of invincible courage and undaunted boldness. I have arrived at this conclusion after long and patient deliberations. I beg to tell you that I am endeavouring to serve the country by destroying the useless and harmful overgrowth that is threatening its very life. Society, in my humble opinion, has degenerated to an extent which it is impossible to remedy by social reform. The much talked of social reform of the present day is one of the crafty weapons of the educated and the wealthy classes who are competing with one another in an attempt to gain popularity and influence over the people. Such methods of social reform are not intended to confer any benefit on those for whose welfare they are apparently intended. These methods are adopted to serve the selfish interest of the so-called social reformers themselves. But those whose lot requires to be bettered always believe in the genuineness of these reforms. And the result of it all is that day by day, their condition is growing worse, they are degenerating into a state from which they cannot be reformed and uplifted easily. The chief reason for this is the fact that those set of people whose attitude of mind towards society brought about the degeneration of certain classes which need reformation at present, those class of people to whose selfish activities much of the unsettled condition of our society is due-it is these men who are now working and benefitting by their work in the department of social amelioration.
The most important of the evils that stare us in our face is that which is responsible for the division of the people into superiors and inferiors in society on the basis of birth. These evils have come to exist in our country on account of the fact that they have been established in the name of religion, god and heaven. The anxiety to reform society and purge it of its evils was in the minds of men of long ago. It might be said that Buddha, Ramanuja and Tiruvalluvar were the foremost in their age to attempt something in this direction. But it cannot be said that in these directions there has been the least progress which redounded to the benefit of society from the efforts made from that time onwards till now. It is impossible for our people to effect anything by social reform, because the sentiments of religion and the veneration of God have been so inextricably connected with these superstitious ideas and beliefs. But this state of things is advantageous to some sets of people, and that is the reason, I think, for the failure of the efforts to improve the condition of the people.
It is not an easy task to enunciate more wise theories or do more strenuous work than was done by Buddha, Kapilar, Tiruvalluvar, Ramanuja and others. That is the reason why the opponents of social reform have strong belief in their obstructive propaganda. The feelings towards religion and the attitude towards God have been built on the foundations of ignorant belief and blind faith. Worshipping God out of blind belief, man has come to accept and live according to many of the purblind conceptions of religion. To say that ignorant belief and blind faith should be destroyed is national service destined for the benefit of humanity. People have for a very long time been carrying on this propaganda with caution, patience, love, sympathy, good words and persuasive arguments. What has been the result of their attempts? How long are we going to be experimenting like this? We find that such propaganda is done by people who are anxious to ingratiate themselves into the good books of the opponents of social reform and gain popularity and prestige as reformers. It is also due to a lack of courage to push onward on the part of such reformers. Some people might quote the opinions of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and others to disprove my contentions. I frankly accept that my opinions are opposed to theirs. Some people say, “Do not destroy the old symbolisms, the ancient pictures and the hoary traditions and culture.” Such things which these people want to foster are responsible for the degeneration of our country and demoralization of our people, and this we must impress on the mind of every reasonable man by our propaganda work. Otherwise, a state of things will come into existence from which it will be well nigh impossible to obtain liberation and salvation.
For instance, Ramanuja with a view to reform society and at the same time preserve the old symbols, caught hold of many of those who were called “Pariahs” and put the “namam” on their foreheads and invested them with the sacred thread so as to bring about equality in society. The old symbols were no doubt preserved, but did the people get equality? Were the followers imbued with the feelings of fraternity?
Let us take the temples of the land. Instead of being a symbolical abode of the supreme being, they have degenerated into dens of all kinds of iniquity and hotbeds of vice. Even in the case of the ancient culture, the art and the paintings, it will be clear that they also stand in the way of social reform, What benefit have the Vedas and the Puranas conferred on mankind? What have the people gained by reading the Bharatham, the Ramayana, Siva Puranam, Vishnu Puranam, Thiruvilayadal Purana, et hoc genus omnes? Consider whether you do not find in these books doctrines which go against the principles of human conduct and human character, and do you think that some of the worst books and worst set of people could be guilty of graver wrongs and more serious crimes than some of those mentioned in these books? Also seriously consider the fact whether these old books do not stand in the way of social reform. Do not the social reactionaries quote from these texts and these scriptures and cite authorities to support their position? It is said that there are some passages in those books which support the standpoint of the reformers. In my opinion, this is empty talk to deceive gullible people. I feel that so long as the people want to hug to these scriptures, so long will they be unable to achieve success in their efforts to reform society. I have not come here to speak about God, I think the less we speak about him, the better it will be for us. So far as religion is concerned, there is no paucity of propaganda and publicity. Every man believes that it is only through his religion that salvation could be reached. Why should there be so much competition between religions? When we deeply consider all this, it would be clear that religion is an absurdity. But if it is conceded that religion is an institution brought into existence so as to define certain rules and draft certain regulations for the better functioning of society, then it may be entitled to some consideration. But then religion should change according to the needs and requirements of the times, but if the word of God or the preachings of the Son of God or the doctrine of the messenger of the Almighty are as sacred and sacrosanct as God himself then the paramount duty of social reformers is to abolish and destroy those religions. The principle of social reform is the principle of adoption to the changing conditions of the times. And so the social reformer should not flinch in destroying at once the things which would not change according as the changed conditions of the world require.
The next thing that the social reformers should devote their attention to is that of the relationship between man and woman. In our society women are being treated worse than untouchables. Women are considered to be slaves of men. If such a system has been made by God, the first thing that we should do is to destroy that God. It is a great pity that so many things should be foisted upon the devoted head of poor God. Especially in our country, the position of our women folk is the worst that could be thought of. Chastity is considered to be the foremost duty of women.
Ramanuja with a view to reform society and at the same time preserve the old symbols, caught hold of many of those who were called “Pariahs” and put the “namam” on their foreheads and invested them with the sacred thread so as to bring about equality in society. The old symbols were no doubt preserved, but did the people get equality?