Radical Freedom: Periyar and Gender

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.”

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 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 speech talent 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, and that too a thorough rationalism, means only atheism. 

Everyone manipulates people’s reason. Even then, 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 pure rationalists. The majority are believers.

It is because life in this world is constructed in such a way that it is entirely contradictory to nature. If we analyze them, most of the beliefs will be unfit for today’s life. Trying to rectify this might need the world’s structure to be changed in entirety. Hence, rationalism is a tougher choice for those who believe in such structures blindly or for those who are being benefited by these structures beyond their due. So, such beneficiaries must 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 experiences, in thoughts, binding a larger population. 

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

In countries where people suffer inequalities, feel incomplete, are competing with others for selfish reasons, it is evident that such people do not live a rational life, while in places where it is evident that 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 not anxious, and are having 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 let people live an equal and peaceful life, 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 for sure. 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.