December 12, 2006

Periyar’s Brahmin connection

The Hindu zealots who vandalized a statue of Periyar at Srirangam, Tamilnadu, the other day wouldn’t have known or cared to know that E V Ramasami Naicker (1879-1973), had once been a trustee of a Ganesha temple at his native Erode. I heard this from a journalist friend, N Nageswaran, whose family were friends and neighours of EVR’s at Court Street, Erode. Dubbed anti-God the Dravidian cult figure sustained the reputation by breaking idols of Hindu daities.

The social reform movement he launched had a pronounced anti-Brahmin edge. But, in his personal life, he had Brahmin friends, of whom the most notable was C Rajagopalachari. Mr Nageswaran refuted the commonly held belief that Periyar was a Brahmin-hater. Far from it, he held his Brahmin friends in high regard. When EVR , in his 70s, chose to marry, for the second time, a much younger woman, much to the resentment of his followers, including the current Tamilnadu CM Karunanidhi, he turned for advice and guidance to Rajaji. That EVR was given to abusing in public his Brahmin friend and then chief minister, Rajaji, was quite another matter, says Mr Nageswaran, who used to cover Periyar’s speeches as a reporter for Indian Express. He subsequently moved to the Economic Times, and retired as its Resident Editor in Bangalore.

Of EVR’s Brahmin connection Mr Nageswaran could claim personal knowledge. His school-teacher grandfather Kavandapadi Ananthanarayana Iyer was a close friend of EVR’s father E Venkata Naicker, And Mr Nageswaran had gone to school with a son of EVR’s brother. When his father was worried about young EVR’s waywardness it was Mr Nageswaran’s grandfather and some friends who helped set up a turmeric wholesale business for E Ramasami Naicker. He prospered in business so much that EVR became socially respectable enough to be a trustee of a Pilliar Temple at Erode. Irony was that Mr Nageswaran, who had known of his temple trustee background, was to witness EVR breaking Ganesh idols, as Indian Express reporter in Madras. The media, he said, used to make fun of him, but EVR couldn’t care less so long as the newspapers helped him stay in the limelight.

Recalling his earlier Erode days my media friend said EVR used to address public meetings at Erode’s Karaivaikkal maidan. Power connection for loudspeakers came from an electricity line drawn from an Iyer lawyer’s place close to the maidan. At one such meeting the Dravidian Kazhagam supremo, in an anti-Brahmin rant, called on his followers to go for Brahmins with scissors and have their sacred-thread snapped. As lawyer Dhandapani Iyer heard EVR holding forth on cutting off Brahmins’ sacred thread he cut off power to the public maidan, leaving the mike system dead .

Realising his tactical mistake EVR swiftly made amends by raising his voice, loudly enough for him to be heard by the advocate Iyer, that his followers must ensure sure that nice Brahmins such as Dhandapani Iyer were spared. Power connection got restored and EVR carried on his speech, avoiding references that could hurt the man who powered his public address system.

Long before he founded the black-shirt brigade, Dravida Kazhagam, Periyar had been a staunch Congressman and, as Mr Nageswaran put it, ardent Gandhian – ‘I have seen EVR hawking Khadi clothes, carried on his head, on the streets of Erode’. Gandhi had once stayed at EVR’s place at Erode. Mr Nageswaran reckoned that, if only EVR had stayed on in the Congress, and had he given his due place in the party hierarchy, the Congress might still be in power in Tamilnadu. EVR had left the Congress because he felt its Brahmin-dominant leadership – Salem Vijayaraghavachariyar and Satyamurthy – ignored the aspirations of non-brahmins. EVR believed he was ignored by party leadership in Tamilnadu for the only reason that he was non-Brahmin. And this one man’s belief gave rise to the Dravidian movement that has held the Congress party back from power in Tamilnadu, for decades now.


krstiger said...

hi ,
this piece was indeed an insightful one with regard to the different strings attached to Periyar..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info. It is important that Brahmin friends understand that Periyar or his movement was never against Bhramins; he was only against Bhraminism. Unfortunately some Bhramins get offended when people attack the backward thinking that put so many millions of dalits, OBCs and women in backward state for centuries that is unprecedented in the human history. For emancipating those underprivileged class there is no option but to attack the Bhraminism.

It is time that Bhramins come forward to understand the philosophy of Periyar and participate; in fact should take leadership in creating a new India without Bhraminism.

Anonymous said...

Congress had to face widespread condemnation and agitations against its "hindi imposition" idea in 1937/38 and the second time it did the same in 1965, it got wiped out TN for good in the next elections.

Even with Periyar, Congress would NOT have survived in TN.

Anonymous said...

Peiyar followers say that they are only against brahminism but not brahmin. But what is brahminism? No one knows. Brahmins were targetted even during EVR's time. They are still being targetted today.

If U read EVR's conversation with Gandhi, U will clearly know the truth.