Complied by Dr. K. Veeramani
Publisher: Dravidar Kazhagam (Party),
84/1(50), E.V.K. Sampath Salai, Chennai-7.
Pages: 120 Price: Rs.110/-
Thanthai Periyar strode the social life of South India like a colossus, transforming every aspect of social life and also the polities of the South. The far reaching awakening brought about by him has had a longstanding impact on Tamil Nadu, which, as a result, is characterized as Periyarland and shines forth as a unique phenomenon, making every observer long to know more and more about him. They catch hold of information that reaches them, in tiny bits, through newspaper reports and references to him here and there. Even these tidbits have attracted them so much that they make efforts to incorporate his thoughts into their own political and social thinking.
This has brought home to his followers at home the need to take him outside Tamil Nadu and they have taken upon themselves the mission to take him to the entire world. One such attempt is the work under review, a compilation of chosen writings of Periyar, choice pieces, as they are, dealing with different facets of social life, compiled by Thanthai Periyar’s chief disciple, Asiriyar K.Veeramani.
The very first sentence of the work, telescoping different facts into a few words, is an excellent example of Periyar’s analytical thinking known for its thoroughness. ‘Religion is a discipline’ he starts and goes on to elaborate that it makes everyone follow its regulations without thinking, unmindful of its effects, beneficial or not. He clarifies with penetrating insight that man’s belief in all expostulates is due to religion and not because he is convinced about the reality of the objects concerned.
On occasions Periyar uses question and answer form to put across his ideas in an effective manner. In the second piece in this anthology Periyar traces the evolution of god concept, explains how it is different from one religion to another, how the attributers of god changed from time to time and shows that it is impossible to conclusively prove the existence of god and concludes with the remarkable statement that “Everyone has created his own god”.
In the thought provoking article on “Why Should We Dare to Deny God?”, Periyar holds that atheism is socialism, egalitarianism and reformation. In the view of the believers, “reforming or destroying the prevailing order amounts to violating god’s command.” Every reform, however insignificant it might be, is an act of atheism. So, Periyar concludes, “Only those who deny god can annihilate the atrocities now done in the name of god.”
In “Why Do We Criticise and Deny God”, he piles questions over questions to drive home his point. It is said that god is compassionate and he treats all on equal terms. If it is so, then why did he make Brahmins, who constitute just three per cent of our population and do not work, high caste people, and the remaining 97 per cent toiling masses, sudras, who are described in the sastras as the sons of the concubines of Brahmins? “In another article, speaking of bakthi (devotion) he points out, “Generally, devotion to god is nothing but sheer selfishness; it is of no use to others. But if a person cares for ethics and is honest, those values will make him/her a respectable one and benefit those among whom that person lives.” Yet another article poses the question, “How Does God Account for Evil?” and analytically proves that there is no need for evil to be present in the universe if there really were a benign god.
“Rationalism – Road to Progress” is the address Periyar delivered at the inauguration of a two week camp on rationalism conducted for youngsters. He makes a strong case that the rare gift of rationalism has not been put to the maximum use in examining belief in god which has curbed man’s enthusiasm.
The detailed article, ‘‘The High’ and ‘The Low’ in Hinduism,’ based on Periyar’s speech at the Self Respect Conference 22.11.1927 goes into details of various facts regarding Hinduism, analyses them threadbare and comes out with conclusions of far reaching importance. Speaking on his mission, Periyar says that he and his companions are embarked on it to enable our people to have self respect and save themselves from the atrocities perpetrated on them by the Brahmins who continue to deceive them pretending to be their brethren.
They are able to maintain ascendency over others, in the name of Hindu religion. In the name of the same religion, contends Periyar, we have been the slaves of Brahmins for thousands of years. “We are agitating to redeem ourselves from this plight,” says Periyar, “and to ensure that the same laws are applied to Brahmins and others alike. Apart from this we have no hatred of Brahmins.”
When people of our country were intelligent and highly civilized, the Westerners were in a savage state, according to their own admission. But, getting civilized, and using their reasoning faculty, they have progressed a lot. On the other hand we are in a degraded condition, and are slaves under them. As if it were not enough, we permit the Brahmins to refer to us as sons of prostitutes, sinners and untouchables. The Westerners call us coolies and savages. Periyar reveals that the Westerners could come up in life only by getting rid of the superstitions imposed on them by the wicked priestly class. When compared to other religions, only Hindus have the caste system, which causes a hierarchy among people, segregating a good number among the lower classes. Unless superstitions are shaken off and self respect is developed, there will be no ‘salvation’ for our society, avers Periyar.
Writing shortly after the 1929 Chengalpattu Self Respect Conference, he advocates the government to enact a divorce law as in many other countries. Since many marriages are conducted without getting the consent of the couple, and complications and incompatibility are to be expected, Periyar advocates a second marriage if it would assure marital happiness.
Referring to the inhuman treatment meted out to the Adi Dravidars, Periyar says in his address to the gathering of the Adi Dravidars in Coimbatore, “Those who subject you to suffering do so on the basis of the beliefs they hold… Their religion and scriptures, the decrees and doings of the gods they believe and worship, their belief in rebirth, the doctrine of karma and fate guide them to follow such a cruel course.” Where is the remedy then?
“In these pages,” assures Asiriyar Veeramani who has compiled them, “the reader will come across examples of Periyar’s concern for the oppressed, incisive thinking, flawless reasoning, genial warmth to humanity in general and free flow of thought.”
Since it covers different topics and aspects of human life, this will make an excellent introduction to the towering personality of Thanthai Periyar. In these days when the need for Periyar is keenly felt, this short work must be introduced to non-Tamil knowing people, as many of them as possible.
– Leslie Amarson