Asiriyar Dr. K. Veeramani addressing at the inaugural conference of the Birth Centenary of E.V.R Maniammaiar at Vellore (her birthplace) on 10th March 2019.
Prof. Dr. N.K. Mangalamurugesan
Maniammaiar was born on 10th March 1920. Her parents with great involvement in the Dravidian principles not only spread the self respect ideals in their area but also followed them in their own life.
Maniammaiar writes about her family: “Though not very rich, we had enough of money of a middle class not knowing the hardships of poverty and not looking for anyone’s help. It is only because of my upbringing in the firm conviction of Periyar’s principles that I chose the ways of Periyar as my lifetime vocation. There was nothing else.”
Maniammaiar was born in Engineer Subbraya Mudali Street in Vellore, presently a district headquarter in Tamil Nadu. She studied first in the neighbouring elementary school at Arasamara Street and later in the Government Middle School.
She completed her S.S.L.C. but could not pass owing to illness during exams. She was proficient both in English and Tamil. She knew by heart the poems of Bharathiar her favourite one being, “Vazhia Senthamizh Vazhga Natramilar.” Next time when she attempted S.S.L.C. exams, her father took ill.
Maniammai’s father V.S. Kanagasabai was a staunch supporter of Periyar’s principles. She had two younger brothers-Shanmugam and Theagarajan. Her mother was Padmavathi. Her only sister was Kamala.
The original name of Maniammaiar was Gandhimathi. Her father’s friend Annal Thango was the one who changed her original name into K.Arasial Mani which later got shortened into K.A.Mani. She first wrote only in this name in ‘Kudi Arasu’. Later she was called Maniammaiar. After her marriage to Periyar in 1949, she became E.V.R.Maniammai. She had also written in the name of Vellore A.Mani.
The Mentor of the Mentor
If there was one person around to control Periyar from eating what was not good for him, with the concern of a strict but affectionate mother, it was the one and only Annai Maniammaiar. Periyar alone was very sure about the fact that it was Maniammai who could save his life with the determination of a mother. The faith and affection of Maniammaiar stood the test of the sharp observation of Periyar as no one could hoodwink him. Unless he himself permitted to be cheated, no one could cheat him feigning pain or pretending.
Moreover, she belonged to a strong Self Respect family. She had an intense knowledge of the principles of Self Respect having been intimately associated with the Giant of Self Respect for over 30 years. What she had cautiously safeguarded was not the material wealth of Periyar, but the greatest treasure of the wealth of his policies and principles of ‘self respect’.
Maniammaiar was an example of leadership for the Movement. After the demise of Periyar, she spoke in many a public meeting, braving her failing health, deeply setting the principles of Periyar in the hearts of the Tamil fraternity. In preserving the discipline of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), founded by Periyar, she was very much like Periyar forgiving those cadres who erred at times but was unforgiving actvities that would disintegrate the Party.
She demolished the dreams of those who wanted the Dravidar Kazhagam to be split into pieces after the demise of Periyar. The three significant decisions taken after the demise of Periyar under the Presidentship of E.V.R. Maniammaiar in Periyar Maligai, Tiruchy were
- To follow completely what Periyar had planned for the development of the Tamil Community.
- Whatever happens, not even an iota of the policies and principles to be given up or compromised.
- The Dravidar Kazhagam to continue at all costs retaining its originality.
These three decisions are those that demonstrated to the world what Maniammaiar was made of.
The Lovable Mother of all
At his ripe old age Periyar used to call her, “Mother“. He added, “If I am alive today it is only because of her maternal care in feeding me and even changing my dress.” If she is mother to Periyar, no doubt, she is mother to all of us. Annai (Mother) Maniammaiar lived to the end of her life being the lovable mother for all the cadres of the DK. She accompanied Periyar to all the places he travelled, and moved very closely with all the members of the family of Periyar. She never entertained any thought of superiority towards anyone.
Annai indulged in the committed service to the orphans in Tiruchy children’s home. She used to instruct others not to refer to them as orphans. She had made it sure that she was their mother in all respects. When the girl children attained puberty and completed their studies, she arranged marriage for them and settled them in life. Those who were thus brought up later led exemplary lives. She was known to have given life and status to even persons who had been very ill.
Was she a mother only to the orphaned children? She was declared mother also to Asiriyar K.Veeramai, who was groomed by Periyar and Maniammaiar, on his own admission, as he had lost his mother at a very young age. She conducted herself as an affectionate mother to many others who yearned for maternal love.
The late lamented Anna, (endearing form of C.N Annadurai) the chief disciple of Periyar and who became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu later acclaimed, “The credit of looking after Periyar for the past 30 years protecting him from illness and sufferings goes only to Maniammaiar. Periyar suffered from many more than I suffer today’.
Strong but Simple
How did she look? She did not wear any jewels on her, or any costly dress. She was always clad in simple black saree and white blouse. She was an embodiment of simplicity, completely avoiding haughty words and never dominating others. She earned deep love and respect from all the workers of the Party, with her total commitment to the responsibilities of DK.
First, she was a sincere worker. Next, she was the personal care taker of Periyar and after that, the President of the DK. This is the life pattern of Maniammiar.
She wrote of herself, “I was totally committed to the service of Periyar, and taking care of his personal health playing the role his mother and treating him like my own child shielding him from all harms.”
This is the information provided by Sivagangai Ramalakshmi Shanmuganathan a committed stalwart of Self Respect Movement. “Regarding Maniammaiar what I learnt was she was truly simple even at 25, wearing no jewels but only a simple black saree and a white blouse, much before she became E.V.R. Maniammai.”
The Senior Stalwarts of Periyar Movement, felicitated
Asiriyar K.Veeramani’s observation about Maniammaiar is, “E.V.R. Maniammaiar is a revolutionary Mother never before found in history, moving not an inch away from the path laid down by Periyar, having taken care of Periyar enabling him to live up to the age of 95 and leading the Party very honestly and efficiently for five years after his demise, giving no room for any sort of distractions, but in such a way the great thinkers and leaders praising her with the same compliments.”
Maniammaiar who became the wife of the multi millionaire Periyar served the cause of underprivileged humans used to be selling the propaganda books of Periyar for two or three hours. Without fail she used to settle the accounts accurately to Periyar after every meeting.
Just imagine the wife (the marriage of Periyar and Maniammaiar took place legally in 1949 at Registrar’s Office, Chennai) of a millionaire and the head of a great Movement squatting on the torn gunny sheet selling the books of the Movement for hours together! You could understand the dimension of her sacrifice and commitment.
Massive Agitation on ‘Caste Eradication’
In 1957 Periyar announced a massive agitation ‘set fire to Indian Constitution’ as a symbol of protest for removing the word ‘caste’ instead of ‘untouchability’ in the Article 17. Meanwhile Periyar was falsely implicated in the case of instigating his cadres in violence against Brahmins and he was sentenced to 6 month imprisonment. It was a monumental record of committed service by Maniammaiar during this period to safeguard the organisation and its activities. On souring agitation nearly 3000 cadres Blackshirt cadres of Dravidar Kazhagam were arrested and imprisoned for a period ranging from 3 months to 3 years. Blackshirt cadres-Pattukottai Ramasamy and Manalmedu Vellaichamy died while in prison and were buried in the prison campus. She met the then Chief Minister Kamaraj and spoke to the then Home Minister Mr.Bakthavatchalam. She managed to excavate their bodies back and got them out for a well attended public procession and a proper decent burial. She defied the stipulated route by the Police for the funeral procession and with an iron heart got the bodies buried on the banks of River Cauvery.
Entering the Sanctum Sanctorum
N.K. Mangala murugesan, K. Amithavalli, Thangaathaal, Vittobai, M.A.Sneha – honoured
Maniammaiar next announced the ‘Agitation for the Temple Entry’ into the sanctum sanctorum which was on the plan list of Periyar. She published a long statement offering the reasons for it. She accomplished the agitation, called August 15th Agitation.
The Jail Bird
- On 6th November 1956, the Government filed a case against the Editorial that appeared in ‘Viduthalai’ (rationalist daily and the official organ of the DK) with the title ‘This is not to disrespect the Court‘. Periyar was fined Rs 100, and as Maniammaiar was the printer, she was let off with a warning.
- One of the agitations, Periyar took over to eradicate the Shudra status was to agitate against the name boards of ‘the Brahmins Hotels’ and erasing them in 1957. Maniammaiar was shut in jail for her agitation in front of Mylapore Murali’s Cafe. She was sentenced for three weeks and was shut in a remote women’s cell.
- She was fined Rs 100 for printing an article written by someone else but for printing it in Viduthalai. Refusing to pay the fine, she chose the alternative of one month in jail. Besides jailing her, the Court also confiscated her car No MSC 5880 worth Rs 4000. When there were 15 days more of the sentence, they released her in advance without offering any reason.
In the first meeting after the death of Periyar held in Tiruchy on 6th January 1974 she was unanimously elected the President of the Dravidar Kazhagam.
Celebrating ‘Ravana Leela’:
Maniammaiar planned to conduct ‘Ravana Leela’ by burning of the effigy of Rama, an Aryan who burnt Ravana, a Dravidian. This a symbol of protest against glorification of ‘Ram Leela’ burning the effigies of Ravana, the mythical king of Dravidian.
On 25th December 1974, E.V.R. Maniammaiar came to the central spot of Periyar Thidal, Chennai along with the persons who were costumed like Ravanan, Kumbakarnan and Meganathan. There arose the loud chorus of, “Long Live Periyar” and the burning lighters in those letters. At this exciting moment Maniammaiar set fire to the effigies of Rama and Sita amidst shouts of victories from the gathering. This Ravana Leela was the task Periyar wanted to accomplish, and Maniammaiar completed it.
In 1944, M.N.Roy conducted the Conference of Progressive Democratic Party in Kolkata. Maniammai went to participate in this Conference, which was her first visit to the North. She was also present along with Periyar in the Conference for the Backward Classes conducted in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
While Periyar was making his long speeches, she used to prepare the synopsis and send it to the daily ‘Viduthalai’. As the Publisher of Party’s ‘Viduthalai’, Maniammaiar was also a very efficient administrator.
Tributes paid to Maniammaiar on her Death
Kalaignar M. Kaunanidhi, Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu: She lived as a supreme example of a liberated woman, a light of a bright knowledge and a firm iron hearted woman. She not only lived her entire life in the service of Periyar, safeguarding the movement of Self-Respect and Dravidar Kazhagam, but also strived for ever to preserve all the policies of Periyar alive after his demise. It cannot be an exaggeration if I say that it is her non-stop strain for the sake of her duties that caused her untimely death.
Prof K. Anbazhagan, Former Minister of Tamil Nadu and senior Veteran of Dravidian Movement: I feel very sad, she could have lived for some more years for having been the trustworthy assistant of Periyar, a courageous woman protecting the principles of the Party, showing genuine interests in the functioning and developments of the D.M.K., and she continued to be a person extending solid support.
M.G.Ramachandran, Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu: Without caring for her own welfare and comfort even neglecting her youth, she extended the life span of Periyar.
The Pongal Special of the Tamil magazine ‘Ponni’ in 1948 gave the following portrait of Manniammaiar.
“She is not only a kind hearted person, but was a great scholar too. She was a powerful orator in Tamil. One cannot make her speak easily in meetings but if one can make her speak, it will be a very pleasant experience to hear her sweet speech. It was in pure Tamil. She used to refuse invitation to speak only because she feared it would adversely affect her service to Periyar. She was as good and sweet in her writing too. She was adept at taking down notes from the speeches of Periyar.”
The history of the Dravidian Movement was not only the history of Periyar, but also that of Maniammaiar as she did not have any life of her own. Her life was only that of her life linked with the Movement. Her life was not a one that worked for personal benefits entertained no motive of heaven or such mythical post death benefits!
Could we find Elsewhere?
A flaring red Kurunji flower –
blossoms once in twelve years
as we could get a glimpse.
A glowing cheerful Super blue red moon
engulfs our hearts
Once in fifteen decades
that we may rejoice.
A reformist Buddha,
who transgress epochs,
Through his noblest ideals
might take birth –
Once in a millennium
as we were bestowed with Periyar.
Even we could trace
personality traits of
historical legends –
through our readings.
But, could we find elsewhere
in anyone, the characteristics of Annaiar?
The person who effaces youthfulness
and finds solace on caring Periyar
Not as his consort but as his volunteer.
The individual who doesn’t bother
About her own interests, – but
of Periyar’s visionaries.
The being who enjoys
In being a mother of many children.
The women who never adorns herself
Other than her policy matters
The lady who relieved her ladyness
On burning the effigy of Rama in Ravanlila
The leader who wields the Presidentship
In spearheading the movement further.
– A.S. Kirubakara Raj