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Politics & War

Politics & War

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy




  • Erode Venkata Ramasamy was born on 17 September 1879 to a Kannada Balija merchant family in Erode, then a part of the Coimbatore district of the Madras Presidency.
  • V. Ramasamy’s father is a,Venkatappa Nayakar (or Venkata), and his mother was Chinnathyee, Muthammal.
  • V. Ramasamy married when he was 19.His first wife, Nagammai, died in 1933. E.V. Ramasamy married for a second time in July 1948.
  • Periyar attended school for five years after which he joined his father’s trade at the age of 12.


  • He used to listen to Tamil Vaishnavite gurus who gave discourses in his house enjoying his father’s hospitality. As Periyar grew, he felt that people used religion only as a mask to deceive innocent people and therefore took it as one of his duties in life to warn people against superstitions and priests.
  • In 1904, E.V. Ramasamy went on a pilgrimage to Kasi to visit the revered Shiva temple of Kashi Vishwanath. Though regarded as one of the holiest sites of Hinduism, he witnessed immoral activities such as begging, and floating dead bodies.


  • However, one particular incident in Kasi had a profound impact on E.V. Ramasamy’s ideology and future work. At the worship site there were free meals offered to guests.
  • Around this time, he realised that the eatery which had refused him entry was built by a wealthy non-Brahmin from South India.
  • This discriminatory attitude dealt a blow to Periyar’s regard for Hinduism, for the events he had witnessed at Kasi were completely different from the picture of Kasi he had in mind, as a holy place which welcomed all. Ramasamy was a theist until his visit to Kasi, after which his views changed and he became an atheist.


  • V. Ramasamy joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 after quitting his business and resigning from public posts.
  • He held the chairmanship of Erode Municipality and wholeheartedly undertook constructive programs spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting shops selling foreign cloth, and eradicating untouchability.
  • He was arrested during the Non-Cooperation movement.In 1922, Periyar was elected the President of the Madras Presidency Congress Committee where he advocated strongly for reservation in government jobs and education.
  • His attempts were defeated in the Congress party due to discrimination and indifference, which led to his leaving the party in 1925.


  • According to the prevalent caste system in Kerala and the rest of India, low-caste Hindus were denied entry into temples. In Kerala, they were denied permission to walk on the roads that led to the temples also.
  • In the Kakinada meet of the Congress Party in 1923, T K Madhavan presented a report citing the discrimination faced by the depressed castes in Kerala. That session decided to promote movements against untouchability.
  • The movement started on 30 March 1924. There was a board outside the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple which prohibited entry of avarnas (lower castes). The Satyagrahis moved to enter the temple in batches of three.


  • They were resisted and arrested by the police. Gandhiji, Chatampi Swamikal and Sree Narayana Guru lend their support to the movement.
  • On advice from Gandhiji, the movement was withdrawn temporarily in April 1924. After the talks with caste-Hindus failed, the leaders resumed the movement.
  • Starting with about 500 people at Vaikom, the number increased to about 5000 when the procession reached Thiruvananthapuram in November 1924.
  • In February 1924, they decided to launch a ‘Keralaparyatanam’ to gain temple entry and also the right to use public roads for every Hindu
  • On 14 April, Periyar and his wife Nagamma arrived in Vaikom. They were immediately arrested and imprisoned for participation. He received the title Vaikom Veeran, given


  • Periyar and his followers campaigned constantly to influence and pressure the government to take measures to remove social inequality,(abolish untouchability, manual scavenging system etc).
  • In 1937, when Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari became the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency, he introduced Hindi as a compulsory language of study in schools, thereby igniting a series of anti-Hindi agitations.
  • Justice Party under organised anti-Hindi protests in 1938 which ended with numerous arrests by the Rajaji government.


  • During the same year, the slogan “Tamil Nadu for Tamilians”was first used by E.V. Ramasamy in protest against the introduction of Hindi in schools.
  • Cutting across party lines, South Indian politicians rallied together in their opposition to Hindi. There were recurrent anti-Hindi agitations in 1948, 1952 and 1965.
  • A political party known as the South Indian Libertarian Federation (commonly referred to as Justice Party) was founded in 1916, principally to oppose the economic and political power of the Brahmin groups.


  • V. Ramasamy took over the leadership of the party after being jailed for opposing Hindi in 1939.Under his tutelage the party prospered, but the party’s conservative members, most of whom were rich and educated, withdrew from active participation.
  • At a rally in 1944, Periyar, in his capacity as the leader of the Justice Party, declared that the party would henceforth be known as the Dravidar Kazhagam, or “Dravidian Association”.
  • The Dravidar Kazhagam came to be well known among the urban communities and students. Villages were influenced by its message.



  • The Dravidar Kazhagam vehemently fought for the abolition of untouchability amongst the Dalits. It also focused its attention on the liberation of women, women’s education, willing marriage, widow marriage, orphanages and mercy homes.
  • In 1949, E.V. Ramasamy’s chief lieutenant, Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai, established a separate association called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), or Dravidian Progressive Federation.
  • This was due to differences between the two, while Periyar advocated a separate independent Dravidian or Tamil state, Annadurai compromised with the Delhi government, at the same time claiming increased state independence.


  • In 1956, despite warnings from P. Kakkan, the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Periyar organised a procession to the Marina to burn pictures of the Hindu God Rama. Periyar was subsequently arrested and confined to prison.
  • The activities of Periyar continued when he went to Bangalore in 1958 to participate in the All India Official Language Conference. There he stressed the need to retain English as the Union Official Language instead of Hindi.
  • Five years later, Periyar travelled to North India to advocate the eradication of the caste system. On 24 December 1973, Periyar died at the age of 94.