Who is Periyar?

A Wise Man with a black shirt and white beard. He gave solutions to many problems in the society.  Within his lifetime he eradicated a lot of poisonous practices from our society by getting to the grassroot of every issue that advocated Human slavery of various forms. He kept Self-respect as basic human need and wanted everybody in the society to live with Respect and Pride.  He detested all practices that made the men and women guilty and enslaved them for lifetime.

E.V. Ramasamy was born in a Kannada, Balija Naidu family in the year 1879. At that time females were married very young as early as just born babies. The tragedy is, this baby, who is not even one year old will be declared as widow, if the boy baby who is destined as husband dies within few days of marriage. Like this so many females were declared as widows and deprived from enjoying the basic human rights of Childhood, Womanhood and Motherhood. The girls had to sacrifice all sensual pleasure of wearing flowers or coloured clothes and they were treated as unlucky in the family.

When E.V.Ramasamy’s sister dies early leaving behind her son and daughter, he takes responsibility for them as uncle. He marries his sister’s daughter when she is 10 years old to a boy who is 13 years old in a very grand wedding ceremony. But the boy dies due to food poison in next 60 days. This young girl named Ammaye cries in his feet asking “Uncle, did I ask you for marriage. Why did you marry me?”. This incident creates a deep impact in E.V.Ramasamy. He remarries Ammaye to his friend’s relative after she is grown up, against a lot of opposition from his community people. He takes the bride and groom to another city against all odds to get them married so that his relatives can’t stop the marriage. Ammaye lives happily with her husband and gives birth to a son. At this time, he sees so many girls in his environment under 13 years of age, who are labeled widow.  Their parents treat them as unlucky and untouchables. Not able to tolerate this atrocity he decides to raise voice against the practices that enslaved the women for lifetime.

Below is statistics of Widows with age in left side between 1 to 30 years. Right side is the count of widows in the year 1921 as mentioned in Periyar’s book.

He got into the grassroot of every problem. He questioned why Chastity is glorified so much? He asks why falling in Love many times is treated as Sin? Why shouldn’t widows remarry. Why should a woman suffer from a bad marriage all her lifetime? Why women should have children and why they don’t have rights for birth control? He took every step to abolish child marriage and worked to bring laws to give property rights for women so that they can live with self-respect. All the questions he puts to society is in lieu of just two things he wanted, i. e, Freedom and Self-respect for women. He wanted women to be educated, empowered and financially independent. He believed that, in a society when half the population is women, we need to empower women for the freedom of the nation. He believed suppressing women will lead to the entire clan digging their own grave. As at that time lakhs of females were doomed as widows even below the age of 13, the society deprived those many numbers of progeny for the clan. The most beautiful question he asks is “By not having children, is a woman going to be affected in any way? It’s the men who want progeny. Then why should a woman be bothered when she is not respected”.

The most important message he told to our people was “Don’t believe in anything just because you read about it or somebody told you or I told you. Unless you feel it right with your intelligence or common knowledge you need not accept anything to be right”.

 If we dig deep, we can see his child like heart that was beating for the welfare of the society. He respected humanity and wanted Justice for all.

Those days a woman could not inherit property according to law. Periyar wanted a woman to be his successor and inherit his property and lead his ideologies. Maniammai who was 32 years old and already an activist on women’s rights was Periyar’s choice. Periyar was 72 years old. He had to decide who will inherit his properties. He lived by example by giving his property to Maniammai through provision of marriage which was only way. It is to be noted that Maniammai was 32 years old and very mature to take decision about her life. Also, Periyar was 72 years old and he had to decide his successor. He could have married Maniammai to another man and given property to that man. But he took a bold decision!

Periyar’s wife, a very powerful woman, Nagammai’s participation in freedom struggle radicalized the Tamil women to extensively participate in freedom struggle.  Her notable participation in the Temperance movement and Vaikom Satyagraha says it all. Periyar’s sister Kannamal was also a very powerful activist. Every man must bring change in himself and his family before preaching to the society. Periyar did it!   

Even in current year 2021, brothers don’t voluntarily give property to sisters. Many sisters go to court to inherit property. And fathers don’t give their property to daughter when they have a Son to inherit property. Most in-laws don’t financially support their widowed daughter-in-law. People fail to accept that women can manage property. Also, people fail to see women need financial independence to live a respectable life.  When a daughter or sister is forced to marry at early age without completing her studies or dreams the father or brother should take financial responsibility for the woman of their family. Educate women and make them independent was Periyar’s vision. He wanted women to live with freedom and self-respect. He wanted woman to raise to highest designations in career and prove best in skill and compete with men.  

This blog is just a drop in ocean about Periyar. Periyar’s ideologies change people drastically because this Wise old man speaks for our Mother, Sister and daughter with unconditional love.

Reference: “Pen yen adimaiyanal?” (Meaning Why woman became slave?) – Tamil book written by Periyar in 1942.

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