Periyar EV Ramasamy

Periyar EV Ramasamy

Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, revered as Periyar or Thanthai Periyar, was an Indian social activist and politician who started the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam. He is known as the 'Father of the Dravidian movement'. He rebelled against Brahminical dominance and gender and caste inequality in Tamil Nadu.

The earliest recall of E. V Ramasamy as the Periyar is in Pudumaippithan’s short story, ‘Puthiya Nandan’. The story appeared in a literary journal that gave space for new narratives. Ramasamy earned the trust throughout Tamil Nadu as the social reform activist who opposed Brahminism and reinstalled the Tamilian pride.

Born in the then Madras presidency to a Kannada businessman, he joined the Congress party early he also didn’t wait for long before exiting. He believed the Congress party was dominated by Brahmins and he had dedicated his life in promoting the acceptance and pride of lower castes. He built his own party called the Dravidar Kazhagam party, which is called to be the inspiration behind most political parties crusading the Tamilian pride movement.

The Periyar used a strong voice to criticize the Hinduism structure, saying it favours the Brahmins. He believed the conversion of Dalits to Islam and Christianity was the only way to escape the institutionalized and religious casteism of Brahminical oppression. Ramasamy's thoughts also did not align with Mahatma Gandhi. He criticised Gandhi for not actively cracking down on the Brahminical structure and privileges.
Periyar EV Ramasamy

His work and his legacy

For the average Tamil, Periyar today is an ideology. He stands for a politics that foregrounded social equality, self-respect, and linguistic pride. As a social reformer, he focused on social, cultural and gender inequalities, and his reform agenda questioned matters of faith, gender and tradition. He asked people to be rational in their life choices. He argued that women needed to be independent, not mere child-bearers, and insisted that they be allowed a equal share in employment. The Self Respect Movement he led promoted weddings without rituals, and sanctioned property as well as divorce rights for women. He appealed to people to give up the caste suffix in their names, and to not mention caste. He instituted inter-dining with food cooked by Dalits in public conferences in the 1930s.

Over the years, Periyar has transcended the political divide as well as the faultlines of religion and caste, and come to be revered as Thanthai Periyar, the father figure of modern Tamil Nadu.