SELF RESPECT MOVEMENT -UPSC NOTES

During the second quarter of the 20th century, the Self Respect movement (cuyamariyatai iyakkam) introduced a programme of non-Brahmin uplift in Tamil south India that consisted of a radical critique of social, political and economic relations. By following the coverage of family and marriage in the Self Respect popular press (the weekly newspaper Kudi Arasu in particular), and through interviews with Self Respecters who lived through the period 1926–49, this article attempts to sketch out how and why the family was interpolated both as an object of criticism and as a site of struggle.

  • That is to say, Self Respect was not only a set of arguments, but also a set of practical strategies for transforming everyday and ritual life into revolutionary propaganda through choice of dress, names, home décor and domestic ritual, as well as through attending public meetings and reading newspapers. In particular, ‘modern, Self Respecting Tamil couples’ were projected as a resolution to what the Self Respect movement high-lighted as the social, political and economic problems perpetuated by the traditional joint family.
  • Yet, over the course of the 20th century in the Tamil south, marriage and family proved to be unstable vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of socio-political domains.During the second quarter of the 20th century, the Self Respect movement (cuyamariyatai iyakkam) introduced a programme of non-Brahmin uplift in Tamil south India that consisted of a radical critique of social, political and economic relations. By following the coverage of family and marriage in the Self Respect popular press (the weekly newspaper Kudi Arasu in particular), and through interviews with Self Respecters who lived through the period 1926–49, this article attempts to sketch out how and why the family was interpolated both as an object of criticism and as a site of struggle.
  • That is to say, Self Respect was not only a set of arguments, but also a set of practical strategies for transforming everyday and ritual life into revolutionary propaganda through choice of dress, names, home décor and domestic ritual, as well as through attending public meetings and reading newspapers. In particular, ‘modern, Self Respecting Tamil couples’ were projected as a resolution to what the Self Respect movement high-lighted as the social, political and economic problems perpetuated by the traditional joint family. Yet, over the course of the 20th century in the Tamil south, marriage and family proved to be unstable vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of socio-political domains.
  • elf Respect Movement represented the Dravidian reaction against the Aryan domination in the Southern Society. It also armed at liberating the society from the evils of religious, customs and caste system. They tried to give equal status to the downtrodden and give the social dignity, Self Respect Movement was directed by the Dravidian communities against the Brahmanas. The movement wanted a new cultural society more based on reason rather than tradition. It aimed at giving respect to the instead of to a Brahmin. By the 19th Century Tamil renaissance gained strength because of the new interest in the study of the classical culture. The European scholars like Caldwell Beschi and Pope took a leading part in promoting this trend. C.V. Meenakshi Sundaram and Swaminatha Iyer through their wirtings and discourse contributed to the ancient glory of the Tamil. The resourceful poem of Bharathidasan, a disciple of Subramania Bharati noted for their style, beauty and force.
  • C.N. Annadurai popularized a prose style noted for its symphony. These scholars did much revolutionise the thinking of the people and liberate Tamil language from brahminical influence. Thus they tried resist alien influence especially Aryan Sanskrit and to create a new order. The chief grievance of the Dravidian communities was their failure to obtain a fair share in the administration. Among then only the caste Hindus received education in the schools and colleges, founded by the British and the Christian missionaries many became servants of the Government, of these many were Brahmins. As a result other educated people in different communities entertained bitter feelings against the Brahmins that they were standing in the way of their progress.

 The Anti-brahmin movement was led by E.V.Ramasami Naicker (1879-

 1973) belonged to Erode, hailing from the Naicker community of Kannada descent. He turned his attention towards the untouchable. He was eager to find an explanation for their miserable condition. Hence he bagan to study all religious text. He was dissatisfied with the works because of their inconsistencies. Even sages and saints failed to satisfy his eagerness. Later he decided to work on his own for the freedom and welfare of the society and eradication of untouchability.

 He joined the Congress Party and worked among the common people and led the Non-cooperation Movement in 1920. In 1922 was elected president of the Tamil Nadu Congress committee. He found the party not suited to his way of thinking and ideals. The leadership of the party was not much linked with the common society. Further his identification with the struggle for social justice was viewed with suspicion.

 In Kerala the Ezhavas and other untouchable were forbidden for

 worshipping in the temples and entering the public streets. These people were determined to assert their rights and the consequence was the 1924 Satyagraha at Vaikom. When Naicker heard about the harassment of these people, he hurried to their place and courted arrest. His wife Nagammai also joined the movement. The struggle continued till the government of Travancore (a state then) yielded and opened the temple road to all unrespective of caste or creed.

 E.V. Ramasamy equally attacked V.V.S. Iyer and Sermadevi Gurukulam Ashram which was supported by Congress Party with funds. There was communal discrimination. He also disagreed with Mahatma Gandhi who also stood for the untouchable and temple entry. He brought a resolution in the party for providing equal opportunity for education and employment for the depressed communities but it got defeated, by the pro Brahmin grouped healed by T.V.Kalyanasundara Mudaliar, protesting against this defeat Naicker left the Congress Party.

 Concept of the Self-Respect Movement and its growth:

 From the beginning of its inception, the Self-respect Movement involved itself in creating totally a new society without making any efforts to reform the existing old ceremonial and traditional society. It considered that in their idea of creating a new social order, there is no place for any minor reforms. That is why Periyar compared the old social order with the well giving water through its fountains. Moreover, Periyar explained about the difference between reforms and total abolition and claimed that he is an abolitionist and not a reformist.

 Mixing medicines in the water of the well or pumping out the entire water of the well is a work of reformation. But closing the well and digging a new well is a work of abolition. Periyar said that he claimed himself as an abolitionist only in this manner. Felting the need to remove the drawbacks in the society in the name of social reformation, the Self-Respect Movementundertook the task of removing or demolishing such drawbacks and obstacles prevailing in the society on the basis of god, religion, puranas and Ithihasas.

 Meaning of Self Respect

 The movement became very popular just within the days after starting, but it was not a pre-planned, it was truly accidental.

 According to E.V. Ramasamy, the self-respect movement is not about disowning a community; instead, it is about destroying the myths that create biases in society, so that everyone can live with respect.

 Reasons behind the starting of the movement

  • There was the various reason for the starting of this movement; the foremost one is obviously to end the Brahmanical supremacy.
  • Second the Periyar’s contempt of the caste system in India.
  • And third, his bitter experience in congress was also the primary reason for the starting of the Self Respect Movement.

 Objectives of the Self Respect Movement

 The ultimate aim of the movement is to provide a sense of pride to the Non-Brahmins community of the South Indian people.

 To provide equal opportunity for development to all class of people regardless of their community and religion.

 To generate a feeling of love and friendship for the fellow citizens to create an ideal society.

 To discourage people from building new places for worshipping such as temples and mutts, instead, the funds should be used to construct educational institutions. Periyar also appealed to the people to drop their surname from their name as it shows their caste.

 The other objectives of the movement were as follows

  • Upliftment of lower class
  • To end the caste-based occupation
  • Equality both in terms of caste and religion
  • Social reform by the abolition of the caste system
  • Supported widow marriage
  • Advocated inter-caste and inter-religion marriage
  • Promotion of Tamil languages over Hindi
  • This movement brought significant changes in the status of women as it had deep-rooted ideology for them.
  • It was this movement only which later got associated politically resulting in the formation of two major political parties of Tamil Nadu, The DMK and AIDMK.

 Changes after the Self-respect Movement in South India

 Social and Religious changes: It is because of this movement, Tamil people legalised the Hindu marriage without the presence of Hindu Priest. The first state in the country to do so. This movement also rejected the Devdasi system; caste-based discrimination and promoted widow marriage.

 Political changes: It led to initiate the feelings of nationalism among the masses of Tamil Nadu. E.V. Ramaswamy entitled that the true liberation of intellect can attain absolute freedom.

 Establishment of Self Respect League: The self-respect league was established all over the Tamil Nadu during the movement. Many eminent personalities joined the league after to spread the ideology of Periyar. The first National Conference of the league happened on 27 November 1927. Thirty-two resolutions were passed on that league under the presidentship of E.V. Ramaswamy.

 Opposition to Hinduism: According to Periyar, the root of all the social evils in the religion, and without destroying the religious superstition society cannot be changed. And since the whole caste system is the result of the Hindu religion, so he started opposing Hinduism.

 The Brahmins were regarded as the custodian of the Hindu religion that’s why he also started opposing the supremacy of Brahmins.

 Philosophy of the Self-Respect Movement

 Self- respect is nothing but respecting one’s own knowledge and wisdom.

 Refusing to accept the ideas unsuitable for the common sense of the people is Self-respect. Accepting something merely for the reason that all those things find place in Vedas, Puranas, Ithihasas, told by rishis, followed by our ancestors and came generation after generation heriditarily, can not be considered as giving respect to ones’ own self thinking. Independent thinking and taking of decision is considered self-thinking and self-respect.

 It is not because that all the decisions taken after self-thinking will always be correct. Though the ideas and decisions emanating from self-thinking may not be correct, if a man has got the power and boldness to think independently, he is considered as a person having Self-Respect.

 One’s feeling of self giving respect to the self knowledge, ability to think and take decisions independantly is the power of Self-respect. Though the decisions taken and the principles followed are flawed, if the power of independant thinking and boldness is involved in those decisions and principles, they points out the talents and boldness inherent in the principle of self-respect.

 Atheism is a part and parcel of the Self-respect philosophy.

 “The man who created god is a fool,

 The man who propagates the concept of god is a scoundrel

 The man who worships god is a barbarian.”

 Periyar inscribed strongly the concept of atheism in the philosophy of self-respect itself. As the concept of atheism has naturally taken place along with the self-respect movement, the concept of religion, sasthras, puranas, ithihasas and the practice of rites, rituals, celebrations, festivals were totally neglected by the followers of the self-respect movement.

 Self-Respect Movement and rationalist ideals :

 Periyar, who have become one of the great leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress Party and who have served wholeheartedly for its development, got dejected when he found that party was only under the domination of certain forward communities like Brahmins, he left the Congress party in 1925, founded a social reform organisation in the name of the Self-respect Movement and undertook an extensive tour in all areas of the Madras Presidency with the help of his many friends. Abolition of the bigotry beliefs, demolition of the caste differences, abolishing the slavery of women and giving them property and all other rights including the right to get divorce, giving up the old and traditional rites and rituals unsuitable for the present age were some of the principles with which the Self-respect Movement started functioning.

 Criticism of the Self Respect Movement

 Deep faith is rationalism and critical attitude: This movement restricted itself to Tamil Nadu itself and didn’t gain support from all over India. It is because of its critical approach and deep faith in rationalism. It criticised every act of Hinduism, the Philosophy of god’s, Ramayana, Mahabharata and everything. Due to which it didn’t get any appreciation from the Hindu community all over India.

 Shifting of Movements Ideology:  The movement started with a motive of social reforms. And even though E.V. Ramasamy never wanted the campaign to become political, but gradually it ended up as a political movement. And due to which it failed to achieve its objectives.

 Other reasons for the failure of the Self Respect Movement were:

  • Rising Popularity of Congress Party
  • Improper representation of Dalits in the movement
  • Image of Justice party as organisations of rich landlords
  • Abuse of power and corruption

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