A day before Periyar E. V. Ramasamy death on 23 December 1973, aged and frail Periyar gave a public speech in which he said:
When we started the Self Respect Movement, we had five basic goals: to destroy god, to destroy religion, to destroy Gandhi, to destroy Congress, and to destroy Brahminism.
He further added:
That in Dravidian states, the God is lampooned, the religion is almost dead, Gandhi died in 1947, Congress was uprooted from the Tamil Nadu and Dravidian parties dominated the landscape of Tamil Nadu, and Brahminism will be killed once the bill regarding any member from any caste can become the priest of any temple.
The radical agenda of the Self Respect Movement were:
1. Casteless and classless society
2. Equal rights for women
3. Widow remarriage
4. Intercaste and interreligious marriage
5. Against Child Marriage
6. Against Devdasi
7. Ending Untouchability
If we compare this agenda of Self Respect movement, the agenda of Jotiba and Babasaheb is the same. All the 7 points of Self Respect Movement were the goals of Jotiba and Babasaheb.
If we evaluate the legacy of Periyar today, we can say that Tamil Nadu is the only state that is resisting the political Hindutva project.
It is now well established fact that the non Brahmin movement started by Jotiba influenced the Justice party’s agenda. The Justice Party was the non Brahmin party who for the first time got 44 percent seats reserved for non Brahmins in educational institutes and government jobs in 1927. This is well before the Government of India Act 1935. This is significant as then the Madras Presidency included a vast geographical area in the South India.
So, the agenda of Jotiba and Shahu was implemented in the British Province, which was directly administered by the British, unlike the Princely States. Kolhapur was a priestly state where the father of social democracy, Shahu, implemented the reservation as early as 1904 for the non Brahmins. We can see the pattern of social mobilization as a strategy for nation making in the movements of Jotiba, Babasaheb, and Periyar.
While Jotiba and Babasaheb could never meet, the colleagues of Jotiba were alive when Babasaheb Ambedkar was rising. The great Dada Keluskar was the remarkable non Brahmin leader who nurtured the intellectual curiosity and interest of Babasaheb and also effectively brought him in contacts with two great non Brahmin Maharajas: Shahu and Sayaji. Babasaheb went in record saying that he was continuing the movement of Jotiba and recognized Jotiba as one of his Gurus. There is strong connection between Jotiba and Babasaheb.
We do not know of Periyar’s thinking on Jotiba, but it is established now that the Justice Party was influenced by the non Brahmin movement initiated by Jotiba. In a way, we can say that Periyar was continuing the movement of Jotiba.
Babasaheb and Periyar met a few times and both of them admired each other and went on to address public meeting in Matunga where many people from Tamil Nadu lived in Mumbai. Periyar loved Babasaheb Ambedkar and supported him wholeheartedly.
These three remarkable men showed that it is possible to arouse the masses on social issues, when the Brahmin-Bania machinery was riding on the narrative of “nationalism” with its vast resources and money power.
They found Brahminical Hinduism as the slaver of the vast humanity that all the three rejected Hinduism. Jotiba was even reluctant to use the words Hindu and Hinduism as he know that it was artificial and cunning construct of the Brahmins of that time. It never existed as the people’s religion in its monotonous avatar that the Brahmins projected. Periyar went on destroying the Brahminical gods and goddesses publicity. One of the caustic battle against Brahminical idols was launched by Periyar on 23 May 1953 when the idols of Ganesh were smashed in public and the slogans like “long live the Buddha” were raised. Jotiba went on to found a new religion where the pursuit of the truth was the religious duty and he raised the pursuit of the truth to the universal level, and thus named the religion he founded as Universal True Religion (सार्वजनिक सत्य धर्म) where he welcomed diversity.
Babasaheb embraced Buddhism. Periyar from Dravidian states and non Brahmin leaders all over were sympathetic to Buddhism.
And three of them have unique and common approach to the growth of human beings and human societies:
1. Achieve the growth through economic and developmental programs
2. Denounce the supremacy of the Brahmins and expose the lie of religion perpetuated by them
3. Found the religion that is universal and humanitarian
4. Mobilise the masses on social issues and covert it into political and power movement.
5. Challenging pseudo nationalist propaganda of the Brahmins and Banias.
How vital is this approach and so pertinent it is even today!
Disclaimer : Mangesh Dahiwale , Bahujan Scholar , is author of Article.