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 abolish 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.