Those who believe in caste and religion should not inaugurate the statue of Anna!

-Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

In this country, birthdays are celebrated not just for those who were born or those who have departed but also for those who were never born, never died or never lived too. Such celebrations are used for propagating the ideas of those concerned. Our people view Raman, Krishnan, Kandhan, Ganapathy as gods and celebrate their birthdays. But we know that they were never born. God is a being that has no birth nor death. There is an insidious agenda to celebrate the birthdays of gods and those of the Nayanmaars, Aazhvaars, and other saints, which is to propagate their ideas.

This is why we celebrate the birthdays of those who served the country and its people, in order to take their ideas to the masses and encourage them to follow it. Likewise, we are inaugurating Anna’s image here because there is no other great man like him in the entire country. Anna was the only leader in the whole of India who dismissed god and also rejected religious literature like epics and puranas that were degrading. He did all this in a society that is as backward as ours, made the people realize their roots, won their votes through his ideas, and established a government.

From the times of Cheras, Cholas, Pandiyas to the recent rule of the Congress, none formed government by rejecting God, religion, and caste. From Gandhi to Kamaraj, everyone in the Congress party only tried to save religion, god and caste. The other political outfits, be it the Tamizharasu Katchi, the Democrats, RSS, Swatantra Party, or even those who claim to be most revolutionary, namely the Communist Party, each and everyone of them want to protect religion, god and caste. Anna is the only one who denounced these and declared that they are not necessary.

When Anna came into power, the Self-Respect marriage that was pronounced invalid by the courts was immediately made valid. Any Self-Respect marriage in the past, present or future that rejects religion and rituals has been made legal and valid by Anna in the assembly.

A law will soon be passed to allow anyone, including the oppressed castes, to perform rituals in the sanctum sanctorum of the temples. Tomorrow the bill will be passed for it in the assembly.

Anna has broken the gods. He has exposed vulgarity in the puranas and the epics in his writings. He has set ablaze the Kamba Ramayana. He highlighted the offensive portions of the epic and wrote Kambarasam in response. Only those who do not believe in religion or caste are worthy to inaugurate the image or statue of such a tall personality like Anna.   

If someone is not so, then it clearly means that such a person is greedy and is behind power. Anna is our greatest asset. We do not have such a government in the whole of India. There is no other party that has such manifestos. Only this government can eradicate the worst caste oppression. No other rule can do that.

Think about the condition of our people before the Self-Respect Movement and the Dravidian Movement. Out of hundred, only five were educated. They were given humiliating jobs. Because of our movement, today at least half of them are educated. Not only are Tamils placed at respectable jobs, there are also around 5-6 district collectors from our comrades in the Adi Dravidar community. Brahmins are not calling anyone as Shudras anymore.

The ideas of rationalism are our ideas. And they are “There is no god, there is no god, there is no god at all; He who invented god is a fool; He who propagates god is a scoundrel; He who worships god is a barbarian.” Soul’s salvation, hell, rebirth, the world above, all these ideas are propagated by scoundrels. And those who believe it are idiots. And those who benefit from such beliefs are the worst of scoundrels.

The idea of god was invented by man and introduced to man. It is not natural to man. Because of invention of god, the Brahmin claims himself to be superior. If we go by facts, Tamils did not have gods or religion. The gods that our people are worshipping have North Indian names. If Tamils had a god of our own, we should have had a Tamil name for it, isn’t it? Because there is none, we know that Tamils do not have gods.

Likewise, Tamils do not have religion too. The ‘Hindu religion’ is an Aryan religion. And Hinduism is not a religion. It is evident from this that Tamils do not have gods or religion.

While out of 100 people, 97 who do hard labor are called Shudras and live as the most oppressed by doing humiliating work like manual scavenging, without proper food or clothing, 3 out of the 100 eat sumptuous food and get fat, wear fancy clothes, and claim themselves to be upper caste. This is because of our people’s gullibility and their belief in god, religious superstitions.

How are we different from the Brahmin? How is he greater than us? Our people have to question why this difference exists. We plough the land. Our womenfolk sow the seeds. We do tough jobs like breaking stones. We weave clothes. We construct houses. Whatever are the basic needs of human society, we fulfill them through our hard labor. Despite doing everything for the society, we have been called Shudras, as unclean communities, and the least in the caste hierarchy. Without doing any of this work, but exploiting our naivety, the Brahmins who came to this land for survival, who are only 3% of the population, remain upper caste.

If we question the Brahmin on what basis he is the superior and we are all inferior Shudras, he responds that this has been laid down by god, rituals and religion. Only because god and religion exist, we live as Shudras, as oppressed, as lower castes. If we can abolish this, we can also get an opportunity to live an equal life, and that is why we encourage people to renounce god, religion, rituals, temples, myths, caste that keep us oppressed.

If only man had this wisdom and self-respect, he would have destroyed these things himself. Because we don’t have either, we remain oppressed. The Dravidar Kazhagam, the Self-Respect Movement, the DMK, the Rationalist movement are working towards inculcating such respect and wisdom in our people.


Periyar’s Speech at Karaikudi on 08-11-1970. First published in Viduthalai on 01-12-1970.

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2010. Periyar Kalanjiyam 20: Jaathi-Theendaamai, Paagam (14). [Periyar Repository 20: Caste-Untouchability Part (14)]. Second Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam, 66-70.

Communism cannot grow as long as Brahminism exists

– Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

The laborers are in such a state today for no other reason that that they were born as Shudras. Are there any Brahmins who plough the soil? Do the Brahmins work with ploughs? No? How did they become a non-working class? Because as Brahmins, they are born into a caste that doesn’t need to work but can sit and eat. We are born as workers. Our work makes someone else flourish. We are lower-caste or Shudras. According to this system, we are workers because we were marked as such by birth. Without confronting this, what is the point in just talking about the working class again and again? I’m asking this question to our communist heroes. Isn’t it their responsibility to question the fundamentals of this discrimination? Instead they brand the people who talk about this discrimination or the reasons of this discrimination as regressive and classist. Is it fair? 

If the communists claim that they are simply doing what has been followed in other countries, it is wrong. There is a huge difference between this country and others. There are no Brahmins or Paraiyars in other countries. There are no Gods, no religion, no culture, no practices that served as the foundation for such a caste discrimination. The division of humans on this land as Brahmins and Paraiyars, where the Brahmins are the upper caste and the Paraiyars are a lower caste, is not known in other countries. Communists of other countries make their plans depending on the state of affairs and the nature of society in those countries. How is it fair to imitate the plan for another country in our very different situation, thinking that it would fit? 

Someone told me this recently. People from other countries do not know about the structure of this society nor what happens here. If people of today are unaware of the problems and issues here, how is it possible that Marx or Engels from a previous time could have known this?

Not only do they not know of this, they wouldn’t have imagined that there would be a country with such an arrangement where people born into one caste would get all benefits and people born into a different caste would be put through misery all their lives. When this is the case, just think how fraudulent it would be to say that their words should be exactly put into practice here. 

Ask (Josef) Stalin to say the words ‘Paarpaan’ (Brahmin) or ‘Paraiyan’. I don’t think he can even pronounce them right. Because there is no such differentiation in his country.

Comrades! Let me tell you another thing; Stalin has said recently “India needs to first have social reform and achieve social progress for communism to be born.” 

When I said the same thing, my dear communist friends blamed me for not knowing communism. Now Stalin has said the same thing. I’m eager to know what the communists have to say about it.

I’m not against communism or socialism. I have more commitment and interest in communism and socialism than others. But we must have a communism and socialism that is adapted to this country’s social needs. Unless and until the superiority of the Brahmins and Brahminism, which are most powerful and are fundamentally opposed to socialism or communism, are abolished in this country, communism or socialism cannot form here. Instead only Brahminism will get strengthened. 

Who heads the communist or the socialist party of this country? Only the Brahmins talk of communism or socialism. Who are they to teach communism to us? How can we believe that the communism they preach will change the discrimination in our lives? 

Despite knowing this, if you think that speaking out against caste differences is regressive  and classist, what is it but deception?

I challenge the communists to say “It is not right that the brahmins are upper caste”. Likewise it is wrong that the others are lower caste. Let them also say that they will burn in the fire everything that is foundational for such discrimination. I will welcome that. But without doing that, if they say that we should not talk about these issues at all, what can we achieve then? How can we bring communism here?


Periyar’s speech at a public meeting at Perambur on 2-1-1953. First published in Viduthalai on 04-01-1953.

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2011. Periyar Kalanjiyam 9: Jaathi-Theendaamai, Paagam (3). [Periyar Repository 9: Caste-Untouchability Part (3)]. Second Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam. 253-256.

Online Meeting on ‘Rethinking Social Justice’

The Dravidian Professionals Forum organized a meeting on 17 March 2021 to discuss the volume Rethinking Social Justice (Orient BlackSwan 2020). According to the publisher’s website Rethinking Social Justice, co-edited by S. Anandhi, Karthick Ram Manoharan, M. Vijayabaskar and A. Kalaiyarasan, offers a more transdisciplinary approach to envisioning a just society that encompasses the intersecting issues of caste, capital, nationalism, gender, region, urban planning and visual representation.

Anandhi, Vijayabaskar and Karthick spoke at the event which largely involved a politically informed activist audience. Anandhi spoke about the key ideas behind and the current significance of the volume. She highlighted the academic interventions of M.S.S. Pandian to whom the book was a homage and whose works were critically engaged and built upon by the contributors to the volume. Speaking about her own chapter and ongoing work, she stressed the need to have more critical attention to the politics of gender in the Dravidian movement.

Vijayabaskar spoke about the political economy under the successive Dravidian parties, highlighting the inclusive model of growth and responding to certain general criticisms of the Dravidian rule. He noted how patterns of growth, industrialization, land reforms, public distribution system, and welfare schemes contributed to the gradual empowerment of marginalized sections of the population. The Dravidian Model, a book authored by Kalaiyarasan and Vijayabaskar, that deals with these topics in greater detail will be published by Cambridge University Press this year.

Based on his ongoing research, Karthick spoke about contributions of the Dravidian Movement and Periyar to the democratic culture and the pluralist ethos of Tamil Nadu’s politics. He noted how at a time of ethnic and religious fundamentalism, the Periyarist legacy eschewed all forms of chauvinism and imagined an idea of ‘Dravidian’ based on shared solidarity than ethnic, religious or caste markers. He used the Laclauian concept of ‘floating signifier’ to explain how ‘Dravidian’ was conceived as an inclusive identity. 

The presentations were bilingual (Tamil and English) and in a manner that was easily accessible to a non-specialist audience. An interactive session followed the presentations. There was an engaged discussion on how marginalized groups like the Dalits can lay claim to the Dravidian movement, the challenge of Tamil nationalism in a time of neo-liberalism, and other issues related to contemporary Tamil politics.

The recording of the event is available on Facebook and has been seen by over 1000 viewers as on 19 March 2021.

Confronting Caste: Panel Discussion at KCL

Panelists and Titles:

Karthick Ram Manoharan (University of Wolverhampton): The Black Shirt Challenge: Periyar contra Aryanism.

Meena Dhanda (University of Wolverhampton): The Concurrence of Anti-racism and Anti-casteism.

Hugo Gorringe (University of Edinburgh): Changing Caste Cultures.

The panel was moderated by Srilata Sircar and Vignesh Rajahmani.

Safai Karamcharis as Covid Warriors in a Casteised Society

-Lotika Singha [i]

Covid warrior is the term chosen by the Indian government for a raft of essential service-providers when the most draconian lockdown – just four hours’ notice for a country of over a billion – came into force on 25 March 2020. These Covid warriors include not only baton-wielding police personnel but also health workers, the media and safai karamcharis as illustrated in posters created by members of the public to showcase the country’s positive, community-orientated  (‘I’ to ‘We’) response on the MyGov Self4Society website specially dedicated to the pandemic.

Safai karamchari is the Hindi term for manual scavengers, but is also used for sanitation workers more widely as often the same people also do other sanitation work. Most safai karamcharis are Dalits (Safai Karamchari Andolan, n.d.), which is a political collective term for certain caste groups historically considered  ‘untouchable’, but let us be mindful that we are living history at all time.

Caste as Babasaheb Ambedkar (1916/1979/2004) said ‘is enclosed class’. How different is that from class per se? When you are born into a class, you can possibly leave it. You can possibly consider an occupation different from your parents. But when you are born into a caste, you cannot leave it. Contrary to the placement of Covid warriors in a horizontal row in a cheerfully bright poster on the Self4Society website, castes exist in a vertical order. If you think of this order as a building, the most caste-oppressed groups, including safai karamcharis are in the basement, below ground zero, outside the caste society. The three hegemonic caste groups, the savarnas, who form about a fifth of the population (Desai et al, 2010; Piketty, 2020) but include most mainstream media personnel, many doctors and senior police officers, will be found in the top floors and penthouses. In Perumal Murugan’s (2021) words, ‘The space that each caste can inhabit and traverse is clearly demarcated’.

For cleaning the shared spaces in the top floors, or reception areas, or streets, shopping malls, parks and our public sewer systems, and so on, the barriers are lifted – for not everyone may clean. But when we lift the barriers to let the sanitation workforce in to clean, we do it with a sense of anxiety, which we deal with by un-seeing it. Image 8/18 of the Vadapalani Bus Stand Depot, Chennai in the photostory ‘Out of Breath’ (Palani Kumar and Utkarsh, 2020) foregrounds a safai karamchari emerging from a (man)hole covered in sewage, He is very visible to the viewer of the image. But the public crossing this point are largely oblivious of him or purposefully turning away from the sight and smells.

The question then arises, can using the Covid warrior label for a range of service providers make for only positive stories as desired (or instructed?) by Self4Society in a deeply hierarchal society? Did it in the lockdown? Does it now as the pandemic continues? Will it in the post-pandemic ‘normal? Because pre the pandemic, the ‘warriors’ were a select caste group: the Kshatriyas, who form about 5 per cent of the Indian population (Piketty, 2020). And alongside the positive stories posted on the government’s Self4Society website shown above, the wider internet is swamped with reports that tell other stories, starting from the titles:

From these stories, we gather that Covid warriors have lives beyond the workplace. But as we announced the lockdown, we did not ensure that essential items would be available for those warriors who cannot afford larders and or do not have store cupboards. We did not ensure that protective gear was available for everyone from day 1. Supplies rolled in slowly, some items even after the lockdown was over, some of poor quality. We refused many safai karamcharis leave as we needed more sanitation. In some areas we needed less cleaning because we were all safe in our homes. There we let them go without compunction, to walk back to a home that might have even been a few hundred miles away (Mander, 2020), as they are mostly contract workers. We did cheer those who continued to work by clapping, banging plates and showering them with flowers and garlands. Our casteised anxieties of sharing space were not affected because while the pandemic appears to be about physical distancing, mostly it just reaffirms our preference for social distancing. And of course those we are keeping our distance from know that very well too. As Sheela from Mumbai, whose safai karamchari husband Ashok was consistently denied leave and who died after contracting the virus said “Nothing happens just by chanting ‘safai karamcharis are Covid warriors’” (quoted in  Shinoli [2020]). Another worker in Chennai mused: “People of course say they are grateful now, that we are keeping the streets clean and saving them from infections. We have had television channels interview us.  But that is what we have always done.” (quoted in Palani Kumar [2020]).

The Indian government also put out an appeal to us to become citizen volunteer Covid warriors. It put out some information about what we can do to help: professional work if you have the relevant qualifications to social service of various kinds, including distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to sanitation workers. And what about sanitation work itself? The training matrix on the website does not include this work. The jobs are listed alphabetically and Rural ASHAs at number 44 are followed by State AYUSH Staff at number 45.

The role of caste in these contradictions has mostly been analysed by focusing on the caste of the worker. But the contradictions persist . Our anxiety in public spaces persists. Hence as I have argued previously taking the example of domestic cleaning (Singha, 2020), we need to shift the focus of analysis from them as caste-oppressed beings to the caste-of-the-mind (Guru 2012a; see also Khatarker, 2019) of hegemonic-caste people. The people whom I have been referring to as ‘we’. We dominate public policy-making spaces (Barik, 2004; Dhingra, 2019; Mitra, 2020; Varma, 2012; Yadav, 2016) as well as all the good jobs going around (Harad, 2020; Ilaiah Shepherd 2018; Sagar, interview with Ilaiah Shepherd, 2017). How did we become hegemonic and why the anxiety around manual labour and sharing spaces?

Historically, in terms of class, middle-class status is linked to physically distance from manual labour, which continues to be seen in India (Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010). But casteism – caste-of-the-mind – takes this to another level, social distancing, which means distancing ourselves from the material reality in which we actually live. In his seminal essay, ‘Archaeology of Untouchability’, Gopal Guru writes about the need for greater social recognition as part of the human struggle to exist in meaningful ways. To reduce the competition for this recognition, the aim of the Indian ideology of purity and pollution and the attendant caste system, underpinned by the varna theory, is to produce ‘a kind of total rejection’ of some other humans, that is, to push them ‘beyond the civilizational framework, rendering the latter completely un-seeable, unapproachable, and untouchable’, and without any feeling of compunction (2012b:211–212).  That is, the caste-of-the-mind teaches us to perceive reality as an illusion, so that nurturing that reality is no longer seen as our work but of those who are still living within the reality (Sarukkai, 2012).  In this I have even heard the rules of purity and pollution that determine casteist practices around domestic work referred to as ‘refined’ norms.

In such a society, as already noted by Periyar decades earlier, when societal organisation is rooted in ‘varnadharma’, hegemony is maintained by using the simple idea of a mental-manual dichotomy in work/labour as a discursive tool, a kind of everyday violence. There is no empirical grounding of the distinction (Singha, 2019), but repeated again and again and attached to another notion, that of karma, that is said to be ‘cosmically’ ordained, generations of us have believed and continue to believe that doing so-called manual work lowers our status, it is an affront to our dignity. So the ideology lets us easily distance ourselves from manual work even while we continue to enjoy the benefits that are produced by that work, but which are denied to the manual workers themselves (Periyar, quoted in Rajadurai and Geetha (2013).

The Safai Karamchari Andolan, an NGO started by children of manual scavengers and led by Bezwada Wilson, campaigned for years before we passed legislation prohibiting employment of manual scavengers in 1993.[ii] But many of us, including the government itself ignored it. So we amended it in 2013 (Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act) and again in 2020 (Akhilesh, 2020). What will be the outcome this time, given that we still have caste-in-the-mind, and start the policy-making process from a position of denial. For example, we claim Delhi is free of this scourge when it is not. We quibble over the numbers. We do little to ensure that the families of those who die while cleaning our septic tanks and sewage systems get the monetary relief we promised them (Penkar, interview with Bezwada Wilson, 2018; also Akhilesh, 2020; Shankar and Swaroop, 2020; Thekaekera 2020; also Coffey and Spears 2018). As I wrote this, I realised how eerily this account is similar to Periyar’s observation in 1944, almost 8 decades ago, that

‘[o]ur agriculture continues to be the same as it was 200 years ago. To some extent irrigation facilities and over-head tanks were introduced to provide water for cultivating new lands. There is no other substantial improvement. The agricultural department has merely recruited a few new hands. Even that was helpful only to the Brahmins, who know not the ABCD of agriculture. There was no improvement in the production of food grains. There was no improvement in the mode of cultivation. The tillers are not able to get substantial gains form their work. Agriculturists have not been enlightened about their profession. … They are kept as mere irrational human beings.’ (Periyar 2020)

Just like Periyar observed how the exploitative conditions of work of agricultural labourers had remained unchanged over centuries because those benefiting from it did not have to suffer those conditions themselves, we can see the same issue in sewage work today – those who have the power to implement the bills do not do so because they think they will never have to do it. So, will our very public show of appreciation of the safai karamchari Covid warriors give new meanings to cleaning work? Flatten the hierarchical triangle by August 2021, the new ‘deadline’ for elimination of manual scavenging by the introduction of mechanised means of work (Thekaekera, 2020)? Reduce our casteised anxieties, our segregated lives and occupations, our close attention to some, but perfunctory attention to other occupational conditions of work?

The mainstream Indian press which is largely run and contributed to by ‘us’ writes about these things, highlights our failures, but it has largely ignored Isabel Wilkerson’s 2019 international best-seller Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, which has put caste on the global map. That is something we actively try not to do, for example by countering Dalit efforts to include caste as a particular form of oppression in international instruments of discrimination (e.g. at the World Conference Against Racism in 2001 and the United Nations Durban Review Conference in 2009 (ISDN n.d.),[iii] ESCAP conference in 2014 on gender equality in the Asia-Pacific region (Menon, 2016) and the World Conference on Youth in 2014 (Kamble, 2015). Similar pressures are seen at country level outside of India, for example against the proposal to include caste as a factor of discrimination in the UK’s Equality Act (2010) by hegemonic caste groups in the diaspora (Dhanda 2020).

Wilkerson (2019) reiterates what the Black Lives Matter movement highlights: that the responsibility to change things lies with those who create and reproduce oppression. In India too, this point has been raised time and again by scholars and activists from caste-oppressed backgrounds (e.g. Yengde, 2019) while also pointing out how casteism absolves the hegemonic castes from feeling any guilt:

‘The casteised mind doesn’t feel guilty of oppressing others. The ideology of the caste system actually encourages people to continue to exploit … you don’t have to feel guilty about it because people are where they are based on some cosmic justifications … Therefore the policies which continue to operate today are very difficult to break through …’ (Suraj Yengde, 2019) .

But why not snatch this opportunity, this revealing of our anxieties even as we tried to become invisible to the virus by hiding inside our homes to adopt more anti-casteist approaches, for example by moving the spotlight of social injustice analysis from caste of the worker to the caste-of-the-mind within us?

References

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Ambedkar, B.R. (1916/1979/2004). Castes in India: their mechanism, genesis and development. In M. Mohanty, (Ed.). Class, Caste and Gender. New Delhi: Sage, pp. 131–153.

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Dhanda, M. (2020). Philosophical foundations of anti-casteismProceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. cxx, part 1, pp 71–96.

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Author Bio

Lotika Singha is Honorary Research Fellow, Faculty of Business, Arts and Social Sciences, University of Wolverhampton, UK.


[i] An earlier version of this paper was presented in the New (Normal) Materialist Decay: a series of conversations on the University College London Institute of Advanced Studies theme of Growth/Waste, session Key Work and the Anxiety of the Public Space, 3 February 2021 (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/institute-of-advanced-studies/events/2021/feb/virtual-event-ias-growthwaste-key-work-and-anxiety-public-space).

[ii] India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the practice of manual scavenging violates international human rights law, including protections found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). India is also a party to other international conventions that reinforce obligations to end manual scavenging.

[iii] The Durban Review Conference was organized to evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are their own. The Periyar Project cannot be held responsible for the content of their views.

Talk on ‘Radical Freedom: Periyar and Gender’, University of Wolverhampton

Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan spoke about Radical Freedom: Periyar and Gender at the CTTR public lecture hosted by Prof. Meena Dhanda on 18 February 2021. This event was hosted online by the University of Wolverhampton research group Language Power and Society. This talk looked at South Indian social reformer and anti-caste radical Periyar E.V. Ramasamy’s approach to the women’s question. Periyar was not just an advocate of social and economic equality between the sexes but espoused a radical concept of sexual freedom for women, which is central to his concept of liberty as such. While the anti-colonialists of his period defended native traditions and customs, Periyar welcomed modernity and saw it laden with possibilities for the emancipation of women. Likewise, where other social reformers addressed the women’s question within the ambit of the nation and/or the family, Periyar saw both nation and family as institutions that limited the liberties of women. The talk explored Periyar’s booklet Women Enslaved in detail and engaged with lesser known, new primary material of Periyar on the women’s question, concluding with a discussion of his perspective of the West.

The talk was attended by 63 viewers from 12 countries.

Video to the lecture below

Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan’s lecture on “Radical Freedom: Periyar and Gender.”

My Next Plan

– Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

Man did not always have this specific mode of marriage (thirumana murai). If he had, there should have been a name to it at least. But alas, we are not familiar with any such name. Engagement (vivaagam), donation of a virgin bride (kannigadhaanam), choosing an auspicious time based on the stars (thaaramuhoortham), formal marriage (kalyanam), these are not the words to denote this mode of marriage. Each one of these words has its own meaning.

As he evolved, man modified the mode of marriage based on his intelligence and convenience. We have no proof that women were enslaved by men in this so-called husband-wife arrangement in the (pre-civilizational) past. But we do have enough proof that men and women loved each other equally and lived an equal life. The sexual attraction between man and woman is natural for the purpose of reproduction. When a man and a woman have sex out of love for each other, it is natural. But it is not natural that humans consider themselves only as husband and wife and struggle to maintain this concept all their life. This husband-wife concept emerged at a time when man’s cunning grew and woman’s thinking was suppressed. Man became more arrogant. He captured women and made them his servants. He made them his slaves. Only after this, this concept of husband-wife, one man for one woman etc came into practice.

My next plan is to prohibit marriage. What I am saying might surprise many of you.

In the past, even a young child who was still breastfeeding from her mother used to get married off. A thick shackle-like gold chain used to be put on her neck. If this happens today, it is illegal. This used to happen as per the rituals (shastras). But it cannot happen today per law. Today, many such practices that happened in the name of ritual became illegal by law. Until yesterday, even god was party to such practices. A man can marry as many wives as he wants, as many as 60000 wives. But today, a man can marry only one wife. He cannot marry another woman when his wife is still alive. The practice of a man marrying another woman when his wife is still alive has been made illegal, and thus, no one dares to do that.  And just like those practices permitted by religion and rituals became illegal today, marriage also will become illegal in the future.

Likewise, if we also make a law that only two children should be allowed in a marriage, no one will give birth beyond two. The government runs from pillar to post to promote family planning. If only it could pass laws that no jobs or promotions will be given to those who have more than two children, then no one will have more than two. The government should consider creating such laws.

We aim to do many things. We were prohibited from thinking in the name of god, rituals and religion. Since man believed that thinking is a sin, for a long time he forgot that he can think. Since he forgot thinking, he also forgot his own power and the power of his knowledge. There is so much that can be achieved with the power of knowledge. He is unaware of the wonders that he can see with this power. Ours is the organization in our country that seeks to bring about this realization.

Many lazy men have made us believe that family virtue is good virtue. A man who is born with a rational mind is merely expected to to enslave a woman, give birth to a child with her, provide for the child, and in the process of providing, lose all his strength, and once he has lost everything, he is expected to be taken care of by his children and becomes a burden to them – he is not anymore a man with freedom, who is free of all troubles. Family is nothing but a burden.

Man travels to the moon today. Tomorrow he might even travel to the sun which is millions of miles away. “How can a man travel to such a hot place like the sun?”, one might wonder. If man develops the proper equipment to bear the heat, he can. We after all believe that the sun came down here without any such preparation and gave a child to Kunti. Why shouldn’t we then believe that we can travel to the same sun with proper preparations? We cannot predict the power of our knowledge in the future. We also cannot say that this will be its limit.

If we apply our rationalism, we realize that Tamils in the past did not live with such (marriage) arrangements among them. Manu Smriti says that the Tamils do not have the right to marry and live as husband-wife. All those born as shudras are only supposed to be slaves to the brahmins. All non-brahmin women are only supposed to be concubines to the brahmin men. They do not have the right to marry. Nor do they have the right to live as husband-wife.

If women want to come out of enslavement, they must study well. Without being economically dependent, they have to learn to earn on their own and lead their life themselves. Because they did not have the opportunities for this, they became slaves to men. They should be allowed to study until they are 20-22 years old. They should take up an occupation that will enable them to lead their life independently. 

People who marry should stop being superstitious and start doing things rationally. They shouldn’t follow superstitions or celebrate religious rituals. It is best if they do not have children. If they cannot avoid it, they should stop with one or two. It is only difficult to give birth to a child, avoiding it is easy. Now the government also supports this (family planning). The couple should make use of it. Human life is not about living for oneself, we must strive to work for humanity. That should be our ultimate goal. Marriage – husband – wife – family virtues, are human lives made for only these? Each one of us must think beyond these. A couple should live together as comrades, with equal rights.


Periyar’s speech at a marriage ceremony in Ambur on 21.08.1969. First published in Viduthalai on 01.09.1969.

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2007. Periyar Kalanjiyam 24: Pennurimai, Paagam (5). First Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam. 64-67.

CFP – Special Issue of CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion

Freedom from Caste: The anti-caste thought of Ambedkar, Periyar and Others

Guest Edited by Meena Dhanda and Karthick Ram Manoharan

We invite academic papers for a special issue of CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion (J-Caste)focusing on the anti-caste thought of important theorists, thinkers and movements from South Asia. In recent scholarship, new critical works have engaged extensively with the writings of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar but Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, the iconoclastic anti-caste leader from the state of Tamil Nadu and a central figure in Dravidian politics, has only of late attracted increased academic engagement. Likewise, the anti-caste thought of Phule, from the state of Maharashtra, amongst several other contributions to anti-caste thought from political leaders, social reformers, writers, novelists and poets, has made considerable impact on the discourse around caste in South Asia. We aim in this special issue to bring their thought into conversation to develop a deeper understanding of radical humanism incipient in anti-caste thinking. We seek to understand the meaning of freedom from caste in its fullest sense.

The following themes are indicative suggestions for lines of enquiry that may be extended along other related themes by potential contributors.

  • A new and critical approach to the thought of well-known anti-caste thinkers like Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar.
  • An exploration of lesser-known anti-caste thinkers especially from the ‘regions’ and marginalized communities in South Asia, e.g., Giani Ditt Singh and Sahodaran Ayyappan.
  • A discussion of anti-caste themes in cinema, literature, and poetry.
  • A study of how anti-caste thought informs social and political movements and vice-versa.
  • A discussion of how left, feminist and ecological movements have dealt with caste.
  • A critique of the impact of religion on the anti-caste discourse, its possibilities and limitations, including, but not limited to, discussions on conversions, Hindu reform movements, the neo-Buddhist movement, modern Sikhi, Islam and the Pasmanda question, and the work of Christian missionaries.
  • A critical perspective on the emergence of new debates on anti-caste theory and practice.

The special issue aims to consider these questions from a variety of perspectives. Contributors are encouraged to offer analyses of anti-caste thinkers and their thought from the perspective of cultural theory, sociology, linguistics, history, political theory, area studies, or philosophy.

We specifically welcome interdisciplinary papers. We are interested in discussion of anti-caste thinking in the full range of South Asian countries, including, Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and the regions where South Asian diaspora has travelled. 

Please send a paper title and a 450-500 word abstract of your proposed paper by 16 April 2021 to castefree@wlv.ac.uk. Contributors will be informed by 30 April 2021 if their proposals are accepted for consideration and they will be invited to submit full papers (5000-8000 words) for blind review by 1 Nov 2021. All dates are final. Following reviews, the accepted papers will be published in the April 2022 special issue of J-Caste.

This special issue of J-Caste will be jointly edited by Prof. Meena Dhanda (University of Wolverhampton) and Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan (University of Wolverhampton), linked to the project Freedom from Caste: The Political Thought of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in a Global Context which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 895514.

A Rationalist!

-Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

Leaders! Ladies! Comrades!

I’m glad for the opportunity to talk on the topic ‘North India – South India’ in the general meeting organised by the debating committee headed by the poet Sami Chidambaranar. I would like to say a few words about the debating committee before I proceed on the topic.

Debating literally means war through exchange of words. But this committee is not about that. Everyone will have space to express their opinions freely in the committee. That is the reason the secretary of the committee who welcomed us informed us that this committee is not affiliated to any particular political party, and anyone can express their opinions on anything, and thereby it aims to nurture the talent of speech among common people. 

Hence, I would proclaim that this committee nurtures and values rationalism. In general, let alone the common man, even intellectuals say that rationalism, especially a proper rationalism, means only atheism. 

Everyone manipulates people’s reason. But they restrict the use of rationalism in some issues. They even restrict themselves from being rational. Certain people who are allergic to rationalism, who engage in things against rationalism, people who blindly follow certain beliefs, who are benefited by such beliefs, say, ‘We shouldn’t use our rationalism on things like this. We should accept them as they are.’ If we question them for their superstitions, they respond, ‘You do not have the qualifications to be rational about this. While our ancestors have created certain beliefs about divinity after great contemplation, it is not fair for normal mortals like us to question such beliefs. If you question them, it only means lack of trust or atheism.’ 

But a true rationalist will look for reasons in anything and everything. There are only a very few people who are proper rationalists. The majority are believers.

This is because life in society is constructed in such a way that it is entirely contradictory to nature. Most of the beliefs, if analyzed, will be unfit for today’s life. Trying to rectify this might need the world’s structure to be changed in its entirety. Hence, rationalism is a tougher choice for those who believe in such structures blindly or for those who are excessively benefited by these structures. Such beneficiaries force superstitious beliefs on those below to keep them in a satisfied, contented state. Such superstitions are there in almost every walk of life, in professions, in social experiences, in thoughts, binding a large population. 

Since common people oppose or discriminate against rationalists who criticize superstitions, there is not much possibility of increase in numbers or influence of the rationalists. Hence, they are very few. If only each one of us can think rationally and apply reason in every walk of life, discrimination between humans, inequalities, feelings of want, anxieties, undue rivalries would have no space here. 

It is evident that people do not live a rational life in countries where people suffer inequalities, feel incomplete, and compete with others for selfish reasons, whereas in places where such lacks do not exist and people live a life of content, they are ruled by rationalism. 

For example, in countries like Russia where people do not have private competition, are without anxiety, and have an equal life with equal opportunities, it is only because rationalism rules there. And that is precisely the reason why others criticize that country for being a ‘rationalist country’ or an ‘atheist country’.

From this itself it is evident that theism and theistic countries nurture social inequalities, unequal opportunities, and jealousies and private competitions among people. 

Hence it is also evident that to get rid of such inequalities, inadequacies, and anxieties and to provide an equal and peaceful life for people, god should be destroyed and atheism should be advocated. 

People do not have to destroy god, do not have to propagate atheism. If, with full consciousness, we are able to approach our experiences and our actions with rational thinking, god and theism will vanish automatically. To encourage such practices, that is, rational and critical thinking, such debating committees are very significant. That is why I wholeheartedly appreciate Amaindakarai’s debating committee. I request, therefore, that our youngsters, the Dravidians, the oppressed people, the backward sections, should support the committee and be immensely benefited by it.

Periyar’s speech at the Aminjikarai Debating Committee meeting on 31.01.1951. First published on Viduthalai 5-2-1951.

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2013. Periyar Kalanjiyam 33: Pagutharivu, Paagam (1). First Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam. 173-175.

Vijay Asokan on Periyar in the EU, Periyarism and Ecology

Dr. Vijay Asokan, researcher in electron-microscopy, Chalmers University, Sweden is interviewed by Karthick Ram Manoharan for The Periyar Project. Excerpted and translated interview below. Full video interview in Tamil at the end.

Dr. Vijay Asokan, Chalmers University

The Periyar Project (TPP): What is the purpose of starting the European Periyar Ambedkar Comrades’ Association?

 Vijay Asokan (VA): The Tamil Nadu diaspora is growing in Europe only of late. Their settled population used to be much less when compared to other immigrant population of skilled labor. But this is the time when there are people from the age of 25 to 40 and there is a scope to create a space for politics. In social media, there is a lot of attention on Tamil Nadu and India… now there is an open space and arena. In parallel, in India the right-wing Hindutva forces are working vigorously at the level of politics, NGO, social engineering and so. That impact is there on Europe as well. They are also targeting the people in the similar age group. It is our opinion that Periyar is the right person to go to in order to counter the Hindu Right. Periyar and Ambedkar together would be the right weapons to take to the youth, to shape them politically, to build a positive politics for the India of the future.

TPP: The name of your association itself implies a form of solidarity among progressive groups. But you might be aware of other opinions. For instance, there are some who see Dr. Ambedkar as a leader of Dalits exclusively. There are others who see Periyar as a leader of the intermediate castes. How do you see this and how do you bring these two leaders together?

VA: Projecting Ambedkar as a leader of the Dalits alone is a calculated politics. It has been happening in India for a while, and in Tamil Nadu since the 1990s, especially through some writers and intellectuals, to show Ambedkar and Periyar as opposing forces. This is a need for Hindutva politics. In Tamil Nadu, there has been an opposition to this design from the Periyarists. The Periyarists refuted such writings since the 90s in newspapers and in political forums. Many Dalit activists are also of the opinion that they can let go of neither Periyar nor Ambedkar. There are some who are still rigid in placing them as opposites. But in the larger political framework, there is an understanding that Periyar and Ambedkar are inseparable. As an impact of this process in Tamil Nadu, we also feel that in Europe this solidarity must be maintained to counter divisive politics. Dr. Ambedkar is not for Dalits alone. He is an intellectual, a social architect, someone who created a model for social engineering. Periyar, who was his contemporary, has also said that Ambedkar is my leader. So those who travel the path of Periyar also accept Ambedkar as their leader. That is our outlook.

TPP: Are the youth of contemporary Tamil Nadu interested in Periyar? How do you think Periyar is relevant to contemporary Tamil Nadu?

VA: There is still an impact of Periyar. One key reason is that since there are forces strongly opposing Periyar there is also a reaction, a search for Periyar. When Periyar is seen as a fixed institution, then maybe the interest may decline, as is the case with other institutions. But only when there are opposing forces, there will be a competition, for the best to win. As the forces opposing Periyar have grown in the last ten years, so have the people reading and defending Periyar. As people read Periyar, they find out how false the accusations placed on him are. There is a new wave of interest in Periyar among the youth. For example, Vidiyal publishers released copies of Periyar: Indrum Endrum (which are selections from Periyar’s works). It is a top selling book despite it being a volume as big as an encyclopedia. Many of those who purchased it, if you look at Vidiyal’s records, were women. Another example, Periyar’s Why Were Women Enslaved book has been published as several editions and recently, it was also marketed targeting school children… His works are reaching a wider audience in this generation. This generation has a modern thinking. In a globalized world, India’s structure has changed, India’s social model has also changed. Tamil Nadu is far ahead than other states. There is a bigger population of educated, well-read people in the state. If you take the right literature to them, they will use it. Else, they will just neglect it. If we are able to take Periyar’s thoughts to this group, it is because of the growing aggression of Periyar’s opponents, and the increased need to take Periyar forward. People have started to think ‘Why do they want to attack Periyar? Why do they want to reject Periyar? Why do they take offense when Periyar is mentioned?’ That is why books on Periyar, discussions about Periyar on YouTube channels are becoming popular… The contemporary generation thinks that by reading Periyar they can compete in the contemporary political world. Many believe that Periyar is necessary to tackle politics today.

TPP: You have written a lot about ecological issues, like the protests against neutrino, methane projects in Tamil Nadu. Does a Periyarist perspective help to address this?

VA: Definitely. Periyarism influenced not only my involvement in environmental activism, but also my involvement in the Eelam issue. The fundamental concept of Periyarism is resistance to oppression. Whether it be his opposition to god, caste or religion, his core idea is resistance to oppression… When you compile his views and read systematically, he is totally a rebel against oppression. He opposed exploitation, he was a believer in equality, that power should be distributed equally. This is his totality. From here, I am inspired to support Eelam politics. One must support a struggle against oppression. Irrespective of whether the oppression is on the basis of caste, religion or nation, Periyarism holds that we must take the side of the oppressed. Likewise, in environmental issues. The methane project in Tamil Nadu is exploiting the land, disturbing the livelihoods of the people. It worsens their economic condition. In this, we can can take insights from the Periyarist opposition to North Indian economic exploitation of the South. This is also expressed in Anna who felt that when the North as a single economic-political entity will exploit the South. Kudankulam protest is not about economy. But the people there do not want the reactor on their land, they think it will be a danger to them, yet the powers want to impose it on them. When the powers are adamant, we need to stand on the side of the people. 

Disclaimer: The interview been excerpted, edited, and translated from the original Tamil interview with the interviewee’s consent. The views expressed by the interviewee are his own. The Periyar Project cannot be held responsible for the content of his views.