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Periyar – Is he relevant today? January 18, 2010

Posted by Gomathi Reddy in Desi Indian, Politics.
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11th January, 2009

It has been so long. I am going to make up for all the time I missed sharing my thoughts on the blog.

This actually happened on the 29th of December, but my rant was on my desk top until now, and also set me thinking for quite a while.

It was just-another-call from a friend.   On a casual note he said that he would spend the 1st of January, 2010 visiting a Hindu temple, near his home, the mosque at Nagore – the second largest Dargah in India, and  Velankanni – popularly known as  ‘Lourdes of the East’ as was the normal practice for him and his family. He hails from a family, where rationale precedes religion. The DMK is the DNA of the family and party affiliation binds the mind and the soul. I was quite impressed with the way he saw the universality of religions and the need for peace among religions, as the only path for progress. My next question was probably the booby trap I walked into unknowingly.

“Hey, that’s so nice of you. But I thought you fashioned your ideas and ideals on Periyar.”

“I believe in the Oneness of God, which is also what Anna said. But I also like Periyarism in many ways. For instance he said, why would people chop and give away their hair in the name of God, and not their fingers or toes? Because this grows and they don’t?”

The eternal clarifier that I am, I said, that it was a wrong notion of Hinduism. “Hair signifies the ego or the Ahamkara – the sense of “I” and the notion of beauty. When someone tonsures their head, as an offering, it only means that they are willing to submit their sense of “I” to the supreme, and in a way it means that they are submitting themselves to be guided by the supreme. You destroy the “I” – that’s what it is meant to be. Hinduism is actually not a religion that defines “what is” but allows you to explore “what can be.” Even this conversation is acceptable and will be appreciated as a way of enquiry to get to the truth.

“Yes, you may have a point. But, there are many things to these practices that seem like a way of exploitation, of the innocent people. For instance, why do people show the deeparadhana (lighting a lamp) to the idol. Is there any point to it too?”

“There is. Lighting of a lamp signifies dispelling the darkness of the mind. Whenever one light’s a lamp, it is a silent prayer to the Universal energy to help in dispelling the darkness of the mind and usher in light in the form of knowledge. But like in every facet of life, even religion has its blacks, whites and shades of grey – to every action and inaction, and to every supposed perpetrator of truth.

“I have another call coming in. I’ll call you back.”

And it never came for the day. He is actually quite a busy person, though I ended up feeling, that I can learn more by being a silent listener, than providing my noisy-nosey clarity. But he got me wondering a lot about Periyar and his thoughts, and found that Periyar is now the subject of a 6 month course, titled “Periyarism.”

Is Periyar or Periyarism relevant in these days of Dravidian culture that has taken on a new meaning, post reservations and the doling out culture, prevalent in Tamil Nadu? Immaterial of which Dravidian party comes to power, the subsidy culture and the need to pamper people in the “reserved” category is so high, that there is a growing tendency to perpetuate these sections of the people, both by the “giver” and the “taker”. – So much so, that the very purpose of welfare and the notion of reservations, towards creating an even social fabric is now becoming a burden on the economic structure of the state. It is clearly a one-way ticket for any party in power. You have to dole out more, if you want to come back to power.

While Periyar ushered in an era of rationale, wanting to create a society that will not bow down to traditional and cultural power centers, will stand up for itself immaterial of caste and community, will question any form of authority that decries it in the name of religion and spirituality, will believe in the self-esteem of the individual as the only supreme power – what have we done in all these years to the majority of Tamils living in Tamil Nadu?

We have doled out so much, that we have reached a point where even the so-called “forwards” wage political wars to get enlisted as “backward” communities. We have created a society that believes that extending the begging bowl is a privilege and will do anything to get there! Is this self-respect? Is this what Periyar wanted to achieve after all those years of social reform? What was his ultimate goal – Creating a society that was anti-Brahminical or one that was Pro-Egalitarian? I believe it is creating a Pro-Egalitarian society.

If you look at any successful social reform campaign, it must have a shock value built into it. His anti-brahminical statements were meant only to provide the shock value. He succeeded there. But his ultimate objective was to create a pro-egalitarian Tamil Nadu, where self-esteem and self-respect was the backbone, and the average mind was enriched with the capabilities to question any meaningless customs, that become hurdles to free will and progress.

But are we anywhere there? Can a nation ever call itself free of these dogmas, if the system, in the name of creating equality creates loop holes that only perpetuate the very notions that it is opposing.

If Periyar was alive today, the practical man that he is – he would not have gone on another fast, wondering how his ideals and ideas are being misinterpreted – he would have been glad that he is alive to make “course corrections” to Periyarism, literally, so that those who learn it cease to see it as “history” and understand its relevance, and importance even today.

Are all those Periyarites listening, to this lone voice?

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