Gandhi-Periyar Dialogue

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

(Periyar along with his close friend S. Ramanathan visited Mahatma Gandhi in Bangalore in 1927. Their conversation was first published in Kudiarasu in 1927 and republished in Unmai in 1970. We have translated their conversation as it appears in the Periyar Kalanjiyam.)

Periyar: Hinduism should go.

Mahatma Gandhi: Why?

Periyar: There is no Hindu religion.

Gandhi: There is.

Periyar: The Brahmins have propagated this and have duped people.

Gandhi: Aren’t all religions like that?

Periyar: Not so. Other religions have proof for their history and their religious figures, and their ideas are generally accepted by their followers.

Gandhi: But aren’t there such things in Hinduism?

Periyar: What is there? One is a Brahmin. One a Sudra. Another a Panchama. Apart from these divisions, is there a common idea, or a common source? And apart from the social belief that the Brahmin is high, while the Sudra and Panchama are low, what else is there?

Gandhi: Well, at least there appears to be this idea!

Periyar: But what is the use of this? According to it, the Brahmins are higher while you and I are lower.

Gandhi: You are in error. In varnashrama dharma, there are no high and low castes.

Periyar: You say this. But it does not work that way.

Gandhi: It can be made to work that way.

Periyar: As long as there is Hinduism, that is not possible.

Gandhi: It can be done only through Hinduism.

Periyar: Then what do we do with the religious texts that are proof for the divisions of Brahmin and Sudra?

Gandhi: But you yourself claimed that there is no proof for a Hindu religion?

Periyar: I say that there is no Hindu religion, and that there is no specific proof for the same. But then, shouldn’t those who accept the existence of this religion also accept the proofs that come along?

Gandhi: We can accept a religion and develop our own arguments.

Periyar: That is not possible. If we accept a religion as valid, we cannot change anything.

Gandhi: What you say is applicable for other religions. Not for Hinduism. Once you accept the religion, you can make changes in its name. No one can question you.

Periyar: How can you say this? Who will agree? Wouldn’t you need to provide a basis for this?

Gandhi: What you say sounds right. That is, there is no religion called Hindu religion. Fair enough. I agree. I also agree that it does not have a well-defined set of ideas. But that is exactly why we, as Hindus, have the liberty to make our own ideals. Today, in this country – why – in the world itself, the Hindu religion can be used to bring people to the right path. Other religions cannot. Because other religions have historical proofs and concrete ideas. Those who interfere with these (proofs) will be opposed. What Christ said, or what the Bible says that he said, that is the only way for Christians to behave. Likewise, what the Prophet Muhammad said and what the Koran says, that is the only way for the Muslims to behave. Differing interpretations will be seen as blasphemy. Those who have different opinions can state them only from the outside. If they try to do so from the inside, that will not be permitted. This is the nature of the ‘true’ religions.

But since Hinduism is not such a religion, anyone can become a saint here and say anything. And that is how many great men and saints of Hinduism were able to say the things that they said. Thus, we too can stay within Hinduism and bring about several reforms.  

Periyar: I am sorry. But this cannot be done.

Gandhi: Why?

Periyar: A selfish group in Hinduism will not allow this.

Gandhi: Why do you say this? Do not the Hindus agree when we say that there is no untouchability in Hinduism?

Periyar: Agreeing is one thing. Practicing it is another. It does not happen in practice.

Gandhi: I practice it! Would you not agree that there has been a significant change in the last 4-5 years?

Periyar: I understand what you are saying.  But there is no change at a fundamental level. Due to your public influence and because they seek to make use of you, these people act as if they agree with you. And you also believe them.

Gandhi: (Laughing) Who are these actors?

Periyar: Why, the Brahmins!

Gandhi: All the Brahmins?

Periyar: Yes! Why? All the Brahmins who are with you!

Gandhi: But don’t you believe a single Brahmin?

Periyar: I find it difficult.

Gandhi: Don’t you even believe Rajagopalachariyar?

Periyar: He is a good man. An honest man. Ready to sacrifice. Selfless. But he is honest in pursuing the interests of his class. Will sacrifice for the same. Is selfless in that pursuit. But I am unable to hand over the interests of my class to him without suspicion.

Gandhi: That is surprising!  Is it your opinion that there is no honest Brahmin in the world?

Periyar: Who knows? I have not come across any!

Gandhi: Please don’t say that. I have seen a Brahmin. Without doubt, I consider him a good Brahmin. Do you know who that is? Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Periyar:  Ah! When a Mahatma like you could find only one good Brahmin in this wide world, how can an ordinary sinner like me find any?

Gandhi: (Laughing) The world is controlled by the intelligentsia.  Brahmins are the learned class. They will thus always command power. There is no point in criticizing them. Rather, others should reach their level.

Periyar: Other religions are not like that. It is only in Hinduism that an exclusive group like the Brahmins form the intelligentsia. Among the rest, 90/100 are illiterate and innocent. In a society, when only one section of people can belong to the intelligentsia, isn’t that religion detrimental for all other castes except that privileged caste? Thus, I say that such a religion is false, harmful to others, and must go.

Gandhi: Can I assume that your position is that both Hinduism and the Brahmins should go?

Periyar: If Hinduism, this false religion, goes away, there will be no more Brahmins. Because there is Hinduism, there are also Brahmins. You and I, we are sudras. All power is in the hands of the Brahmins, I would say.

Gandhi: That is not so. Do they not listen to me? By being within the Hindu religion and acting in its name, we can still remove the negative aspects that you have pointed out.

Periyar: It is my humble opinion that you will not be able to do this. Even if you can, after your time, some other great person like you might emerge and undo all your work.

Gandhi: How?

Periyar: As you said earlier, in Hinduism’s name, anything can be said to convince the people.  Similarly, a great man in the future may do anything in the name of Hinduism.

Gandhi: I don’t think such a change might be easily possible in the future.

Periyar: Forgive me for saying this. Within the Hindu religion, it is not possible for even someone like you to bring about a permanent change. The Brahmins will not allow you to go to that extent. If they feel that your stand affects their interests, they will start opposing you. So far, no great man has been able to bring a substantial change here; if anyone does try, the Brahmins will not spare them.

Gandhi: You have a wrong opinion about the Brahmins. Your position is clear to me. I think we have not arrived at any conclusive agreement in our conversation. However, we should meet again 2-3 times. Later, we can decide on what we can do together.

Kudiarasu 1927, Unmai 14-9-1970

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2011. Periyar Kalanjiyam 7: Jaathi-Theendaamai, Paagam (1). [Periyar Repository 7: Caste-Untouchability Part (1)]. Second Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam, pp. 48-53.

A Life of Slavery

-Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

The ancient community of the Dravidians were enslaved by Aryans, a foreign people that settled here, and were degraded by being called sudras and panchamas by the latter and were thus unable to make any progress in their lives. The naïve Dravidians, who were illiterates and who were living as small groups without any communication between them due to lack of transportation, were easily cheated and enslaved by Aryans. 

The Aryans tactfully made the Dravidians accept their religion, which is devised exclusively for the former’s betterment, and through the same they disparaged the Dravidians.

In god, in religion, in education – in all institutions important for life – they forced their culture, through which they claimed themselves to be superior and they enslaved us. They deceived us into accepting that we are inferiors in the name of god and religion. It is therefore crucial for the Dravidian Kazhagam to free people from such deception.

This is why we relentlessly preach to the Dravidians that, “You should destroy the god that you are not allowed to touch; You should reject the religion that has turned you into sudras and panchamas; You should dispose the texts of shastras or puranas that treat you as lesser beings.”

We are not saying that the god who is non-discriminatory and teaches people good virtues, the religion that leads people in the righteous path, the shastras and the puranas that insist people to be just and honest, should be denounced. We only say that the religion and the god and its shastras that humiliate the innocent Dravidians who are made to starve, who are not rewarded for their hard work and are thus exploited, should be criticized. As long as the Dravidians remain oppressed they would never be given opportunities nor benefits. The Justice Party in its inception understood this, and later the Self-Respect Movement was started to remove this shameful situation. 

Only after the formation of the Self-Respect Movement did the Dravidians start to gain respect. They started to think about the caste degradation that has been forced on them. Even though there were many Alwars and Nayanmars in the past, none of them seem to have bothered about caste oppression. They did not care about how Aryan culture has kept us oppressed. Instead, they have glorified it in their songs. In the records of the Aryans, we have proof that some Dravidian Kings were against Aryan culture. There are stories where kings like Iraniyan, Ravanan were demonized and were shown as criminals, and immoral tyrants, and how they were tactfully killed by the Aryan kings. The stories of their slayings are celebrated in epics, religious texts and as religious festivals, so that no would breathe a word of opposition against the Aryans ever. Later, the Buddhists and the Jains tried to fight against Aryans but they were destroyed too.

Many Dravidian Tamil scholars have opposed this. But they were also turned into saints and Siddhars and their arguments were sidelined. Valluvar who wrote the Thirukkural had opposed this to a very great extent. But his works were translated wrongly. Today, we are the ones to take over this struggle. When we say we demand for annihilation of caste supremacy, it doesn’t mean calling for annihilation of Brahmins themselves. 

Brahminism which is an Aryan culture has to be annihilated because it is the reason for caste discrimination. We are only against Brahminism and not the Brahmins.

All of this is suppressed in today’s regime. The outsiders from the North are made into leaders. The reason that the wealth of this country is owned by the outsiders and those who are hand-in-glove with the rulers is because these Northerners have the liberty to exploit our wealth as they wish. Since religious beliefs are protected, it has given way for some to claim themselves as superior, even superior by birth. 

There are claims that untouchability has been abolished. But the truth is that the ‘abolition of untouchability’ is in the same state today as it was under the Justice Party 27 years back. 

The Justice Party made rules for everyone to have the right to use roads before 1923 itself. It was only the Brahmins and the Congressmen who prevented this then. But today, they claim our measures to be theirs. But ‘untouchability’ with respect to religion, the right to conduct rituals, to give food to idols, and loot money given for prayers, is still in the control of the Brahmins alone. In the name of God, they continue to claim rights to loot and enjoy free food without doing any work.

Also, it is claimed that ‘untouchability has been abolished’. But the very basis of the untouchability, which is caste discrimination, is still allowed. The religion which is the reason for caste discrimination is untouched and so are the rights for this religion. All the superstitions like temple-chariot processions, weddings of the gods etc. in which money, knowledge and materials are being wasted, are being validated. There is still support for cheating and fraud in ‘His’ name.

Periyar’s speech at a general meeting in Karur on 01-01-1950. Published on Viduthalai on 04.02.1950.

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, pp. 174-177.

A Dialogue about the Kural Conference

-Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani

First Person: Is this conference on the Kural being held with such grandeur only to confront the Brahmins?

Second Person: Why do you think so? We had conferences on Ramayana, Periya Puranam etc in the past. Were they held just to oppose someone?

FP: Those conferences were about the merits of those works.

SP: So you don’t think Kural is a work of literature?

FP: It is. But why do Brahmins in trams and buses say that an anti-Brahmin conference is being held in Broadway?

SP: Brahmins do not approve of the Kural. The Kural is opposed to Brahminism. Thus they hate the Kural very much. Since we are organizing the conference, the Brahmins suspect that we will malign Brahminism.

FP: Is that all? They were talking as if they were struck by thunder. From what they spoke, I anticipate that we might have a ban on the conference.

SP: Never. But even if it did, let it happen.

FP: What would you do if they ban it?

SP: We will stop the conference. We are not the Dravidar Kazhagam to fight against Section 144.

FP: So, if you stop the conference and if they run their conference at the same place what would you do?

SP: What else can we do? We will inform the government that we are not conducting the conference but they are.

FP: Won’t the government hold you responsible?

SP: Let them. What else can they do to us? We will also become the Dravidian Kazhagam. 

FP: Then you might be put in jail?

SP: There is no place there.

FP: They will beat you up like how they did at Kumbakonam.

SP: Only if they can get hold of us. We will claim that we did not do the conference. How can they attack us after that? We will go into hiding.

FP: What will then happen at the conference?

SP: What else would happen at a conference convened by Kalyana Sundaranar, Meenatchi Sundaranar, Somasundara Bharatiyar, Chakravarthy Nayinar, Kandasamy Mudaliar etc? Tell me.

FP: Why on earth do they want to conduct this conference? Please tell me. I’m asking you sincerely. There is no secret between us, isn’t it?

SP: Now we are talking. Our intentions are; First: We want to dismiss the ideas that there are no moral texts for Dravidians and that only the Mahabharata and Ramayana are the moral texts for Dravidians. We want to prove with facts that the moral codes for Aryans and Dravidians are different. To eradicate the differences among Dravidians that were created by Aryans, we want to dismiss the idea of many gods and we want to make everyone realize the right approach to god. To eliminate all superstitious beliefs and barbaric behavior among Dravidians in the name of morality, religion etc. We want harmony and solidarity among people. Second: The selfish slaves and the irrational idiots spread vicious and foolish propaganda that ‘Dravidians and rationalists will destroy Tamil culture and Tamil literature and that they do not have any knowledge about our literature or culture.’ We want to prove them wrong and expose who these idiots, scoundrels and Aryan slaves really are in our conference.

Today, for the Dravidians, including those illiterate, the Kural is the only moral text. But this is forgotten by the high court judges, the prime minister, the commissioner, political leaders, god men. Even many Dravidians want to please the Brahmins and propagate the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Thiruvilaiyadal, and Periya Purana. We want to change this and want the public to denounce these texts. 

FP: So how did the Dravidar Kazhagam take part in this?

SP: Is there any particular group called the Dravidar Kazhagam? Excluding the ones that are mentioned above, that is, those who have greed for power, who are selfish, crooks, criminals who hide behind the puranas, the rest are all Dravidians.

FP: Is it so? After hearing the Brahmins in the tram, I thought this conference was about bashing the Brahmins. Only now do I understand it better. 

SP: Whenever a measure for the Dravidian people’s respect, welfare and progress is taken, the Brahmins cry foul saying that religion, god, literature, culture etc are all being ruined and that hatred is being sown against Brahmins. They pick the traitors and idiots from among us and make them join their drama. This is nothing new, this has been happening from the times of Skanda Purana or Ramayana. 

FP: Is it so? WIll anything change over just one conference?

SP: Let it change or not. What do we lose? Thousands of years of humiliation and ignorance will continue for some more time. In the future that our children will inherit, all these things, including the traitors among us, will vanish. In about ten years, if things do not change, the Dravidian land will turn into a communist land. Not the ‘underground’ kind, but a real communist country. So, if things do not change right away there is no loss.

FP: Well, let me take leave.

SP: Please do. 

Periyar’s satirical dialogue in the fictional name ‘Chithiraputhiran’. Published on Viduthalai on 12.01.1949.

Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2015. Periyar Kalanjiyam 37: Thirukkural-Valluvar. [Periyar Repository 37: Thirukkural-Valluvar]. First Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam, 87-91.