President of Dravidar Kazhagam,
Periyar International USA (PI) a Chicago based humanist organization partnered with Center for Inquiry (CFI – Canada chapter) and organized its 3rd International Humanism Conference on Social Justice on September 24 and 25, 2022 in Toronto (Canada) at the Centennial College Event Center. Humanist Canada and the Humanist Association of Toronto coordinated.
On the first day of the conference, Asiriyar Dr.K. Veeramani delivered his inaugural address, as follows hereunder:
“A very good morning to all the organizers, coordinators, dignitaries and the participants of this conference. It is indeed one of the great events – a confluence of the humanists of the world. This International Humanism Conference convened by Periyar International USA, Center for Inquiry – Canada, Humanist Canada and Humanist Association of Toronto is certainly a historic event in the history of humanism. I am glad to see all our friends and fraternity who have been fighting for the rights for humanism.
It is my privilege and pleasure to welcome you all to this glorious event. I deeply regret, I am not able to be present in person, owing to certain unavoidable circumstances. My hearty congratulations to everyone associated with this conference. It is a timely arranged event to remind everyone all the problems pertaining to the solid establishment of humanism.
Debasement based on birth is the worst aspect of caste system, which is called Varnashrama Dharma in India. There is no place for humanism in the caste system. It dehumanizes the people of lower castes. Only the upper caste people are respected, recognized and revered as human beings – sometimes also as “superhuman beings”. The people of other castes have no rights at all, though they are also sons and daughters of this soil.
I have been asked to speak on the topic “Practical Ways to Eliminate Caste.” Before analysing the practical ways to eliminate caste, let me explain to this august audience what caste really means. What is caste?
Except in India, this menace is not known to the other parts of the world. We have been the only sufferers for thousands of years. When we visit a foreign land, we find it difficult to explain the discrimination by birth that has been torturing our people. Comparatively, economic discrimination and deprivation are not by birth. A rich man today may become poor tomorrow. Today’s capitalists may become paupers tomorrow. But today’s higher caste people will always remain on the top as upper caste people, always enjoying privileges. The lower caste man can never think of redemption, till he reaches the graveyard. This is the abhorrence of the caste system. This kind of suffering is nowhere practised other than in India. We are the worst sufferers here. The topic given to me is therefore quite apt.
I belong to the movement started by Thanthai Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, who was a great crusader of caste-annihilation, throughout his life, for more than half a century. The caste system is not only inhuman but also anti-human. Let me explain how it is anti-human.
It is anti-human because it never recognizes equality; never allows fraternity; never grants true liberty. Debasement based on birth is the worst aspect of caste system, which is called Varnashrama Dharma in India. There is no place for humanism in the caste system. It dehumanizes the people of lower castes. Only the upper caste people are respected, recognized and revered as human beings – sometimes also as “superhuman beings”. The people of other castes have no rights at all, though they are also sons and daughters of this soil.
They are not allowed free-thinking. They are denied education and decent jobs. They are condemned to illiteracy and deprived of their own rights.
In the caste system there are two kinds of discrimination. One is ‘superhuman’ and the other is ‘sub-human’ or dehumanized human beings. Have you heard of this kind of atrocity in any part of the world, at any stage?
The root cause of the evil is Varnashrama Dharma, which has imposed graded inequality layers. The revolutionaries Periyar and Ambedkar strongly condemned colour-bias and inequality by five grades. This stratification belittles women. even if they hail from upper castes. In other parts of the world, there may be various rubrics practising inequality, but the evil of graded inequality is peculiar to India. Five social rungs are there on that invisible ladder. No one can climb upwards or descend.
I wish to quote from the verdict of a nine-judge bench in the Supreme Court of India in the famous Mandal Commission issue. It is known as the Indra Sawhney case. The esteemed audience should note how the evil caste system was explained in a segment of their verdict They said,
“The Hindu religion of the overwhelming majority, as it was being practised, was not known for its egalitarian ethos. It has divided its adherence into four water-tight compartments. Those outside this 4 tier Chaturvarna system were the outcastes or the Panchamas; the lowest of the low. They did not even belong to the caste system, since their stature was so ugly. The fourth in the graded inequality layers were the Shudras, who were only slightly better than the Panchamas, the fifth in the layers, but certainly belittled by the stigma – “Shudras”, by virtue of their birth.”
There was no deliverance for them from the social stigma until perhaps their death. All the menial, filthy occupations were assigned to them. In rural life they had no alternative to following their occupations, generation after generation and for centuries after centuries. They were told that it was their ‘karma’ and a penalty for their sins they had allegedly committed in their previous birth. They were conditioned to believe it. Their minds were thus conditioned. This mind-fold had to be removed first.
This phenomenon is peculiar to our country. It is the observation of the Supreme Court of India. This horrible situation has been haunting our people. Millions of people have been suffering under its yoke for thousands of years. My dear friends, kindly do not be under the assumption that this social stigma, this bane of the society is confined only to India. Most of you have come from various parts of the world. Wherever you have come from, you know very well that like a deadly germ it can spread all over the world.
We recall the recent COVID-19 epidemic which still haunts us. We were the worst sufferers in various forms. Like Swine Flu, such social evils may emanate from one soil and spread all around. Hence, all the countries should be alert. We ourselves do not know how long our people are still to suffer. Since it is not an exclusively Indian problem, let us not remain complacent.
The caste system has exposed its ugly head in America too. Non-resident employees in the I.T field there have been victimized by this evil. When our people seek employment and migrate to South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Sri Lanka, whether they take all the things that are necessary or not, very carefully they take the caste system along with them, without revealing it openly.
In fact caste system is not a commodity which can be sold and get ridden of. Nor is it like a building that we can demolish. As Dr. Ambedkar had once rightly pointed out, it is a “notion in the mind. It is a mental sickness. So the battle against it must be fought not on the streets but in the minds of the people.”
With this objective, since 1924, Periyar had been vigorously fighting in Tamil Nadu and all the southern parts of the country. As a great rationalist and a social revolutionary, he stood always for the eradication and annihilation of caste. Throughout his life in the 20th century, he had waged a relentless war to eliminate caste.
Once in Kerala, in a town called Vaikom, the low caste people had no right even to walk freely on all the streets. For their power and rights Periyar launched a non-co-operation movement called ‘Satyagraha’ against the then Princely State of Travancore in British India.
He was able to galvanize public opinion. He courted arrest and suffered much in incarceration without bothering about it. He proved that when we want to achieve a particular aim as per our mission, we must translate our ideological plans into action.
Whatever may be the kind of discrimination, we must not only just condemn it, but also strive to eradicate and annihilate it. This is my humble suggestion to all of you at the conference.
Annihilating caste system is today a great problem haunting us. It is faced by all humans, of course. I believe, it can be solved only through social justice. The very word ‘social justice’ demands self-respect as their basis. The strength of self-respect is essential for social justice. With this vision, our founding father Periyar started the social movement; a rationalist movement, which is in other words self-respect movement.
How are we, humans superior to animals? Only because of our sixth sense called the “ability to reason”. If we have rational thinking, we just cannot tolerate the indignity caused by caste system. We cannot allow other forces humiliating us. We must identify the forces haunting us. Who are they? This is the question before us all.
We started long ago practising what we preach. We started a mass movement and educated the public. Hundred years ago our low caste people were denied opportunities and privileges of education. This automatically made them suffer without any employment. It is hence our bounden duty to see that the downtrodden people get education and employment. Here comes the role of social justice and its demand in society. Economic injustice can be eradicated easily. Social injustice needs deep probing and fight, since it is caused by discrimination by birth.
To annihilate discriminations and deprivation based on birth, social justice is the only panacea – the only medicine for cure; the only way if we wish to fight this kind of menace. Touching the fringe of the problem is of no use. We must go deeply up to the bottom of the mess and find out the origin of its roots. The roots are to be clipped away.
If the roots are supported by religion, cast away religion. If it is justified by god, let us not bother about god. If it is sanctioned by Shastras or rituals, let us throw them away.
This kind of approach alone will make us real human beings. Humanism is not for a talk on platform. Nor is it for research. It is meant for peace. It is very difficult to humanize human beings, because caste system has already dehumanized them. So, our fight, our main ideology and aim is to humanize the dehumanized. We have already grappled this problem but as per recent news reports it has cropped up in the U.S. Those who are in top positions working in the I.T companies in Silicon Valley, California, are being discriminated, even after getting sufficiently educated and swimming against the current. They moved the court of law and sought justice. The fight is still going on.
The message implied is that caste system is like a germ, a deadly virus. It does not know international borders. It spreads irrespective of the borders of countries in the world. This germ does not care for humanism, equality and dignity.
One of our learned judges in India, Mr. P.Venugopal expressed his views on this burning problem. He is a great rationalist who has fought the five-pronged battle started by Periyar to build an egalitarian society of social justice. Mr. Venugopal is a man of acumen and sagacity. He commented on the war against caste going on in our country and said “This virus of caste takes new form in a new country. To prevent and counter it we have to chalk out a new methodology. The modus operandi of this germ keeps changing its colour like a chameleon.” Hence we have to be very careful because what appears in India may not be the same in the U.S. or Canada.
What are we to do to kill this germ and annihilate the obnoxious caste system is the moot point. Communal organizations are masquerading as transmitters and revivers of old traditional and religious values. In your country also it may take this kind of a shape. To be alert is more relevant on this occasion. In their practice these masqueraders are attempting to inject a large dose of religious intolerance into the minds of the people. Religious revivalism is the cry of the reactionary and status quo of vested interests. It is negative, looking backward at the dead past for inspiration. The dead end of the past is guiding them.
Religious revivalism is the product of an unhealthy state of mind. Only a rationalist force, a humanist force and a group of self-respective can prevent it. Only they can fight and counter fight fundamentalism. We are from the land of Periyar and our experience has led us to a clear understanding.
Look at Periyar International U.S.A. The name itself reveals why they have adopted Periyar. We are continuing a fight following his footprints. One of Periyar’s lieutenants, and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the late lamented Anna, had rightly pointed out that our strife is like “putting centuries into a capsule.” Hence, it may take a varied form in the process of metamorphosis.
My dear friends of Canada and other countries, my humble appeal to you is this: Whatever may be the form of the virus germ of caste, identify it at first. If you have already identified it, then the right diagnosis would be an added force. The remedy is always available. We can accomplish it. I am one of your friends who works treating it as a life-mission to eradicate and eliminate caste. As the disciple of Periyar I urge you all to keep eternal vigilance. This is very important. Let us collectively fight and create a new society where there would be no discrimination, deprivation of opportunity, inequality, social injustice and dehumanization. A renowned Sangam Period Tamil poet said, “All are kith and kin. All are our places.” Everything for everyone is the basic principle of social justice. It is the guiding star to dispel the darkness which has enveloped us. Social justice is the dire need of the hour for the entire world.
I thank all the sponsors, organizers, coordinators, delegates and participants of this historic Humanism Conference on Social Justice.