Duties of a Revolutionary (1)

(Periyar E.V. Ramasami)

It would have been more appropriate if you could have chosen as your president one who is a firm believer in social reform. I am fast losing my faith in social reform as an agency for the regeneration of our country. The advancement of the country can only be through social revolution born of invincible courage and undaunted boldness. I have arrived at this conclusion after long and patient deliberations. I beg to tell you that I am endeavouring to serve the country by destroying the useless and harmful undergrowth that is threatening its very life. Society in my humble opinion, has degenerated to an extent which it is impossible to remedy by social reform. The much talked of social reform of the present day is one of the crafty weapons of the educated and the wealthy classes who are competing with one another in an attempt to gain popularity and influence over the people. Such methods of social reform are not intended to confer any benefit on those whose welfare they are apparently intended. These methods are adopted to serve the selfish interest of those so-called reformers themselves. But those whose lot requires to be bettered always believe in the genuineness of these reformers. And the result of it all is that day by day, their condition is growing worse, they are degenerating into a state from which they cannot be reformed and uplifted easily. The chief reason for this is the fact that those set of people whose attitude of mind towards society brought about the degeneration of certain classes which need reformation at present, those class of people to whose selfish activities much of the unsettled condition of our society is due – it is these men who are now working and benefiting by their work in the department of social amelioration.

The most important of the evils that stare us in our face is that which is responsible for the division of the people into superiors and inferiors in society on the basis of birth. These evils have come to exist in our country on account of the fact that they have been established in the name of religion, God and heaven. The anxiety to reform society and purge it of its evils was in the minds of men long ago. It might be said that Buddha, Ramanuja and Thiruvalluvar were the foremost in their age to attempt something in this direction. But it cannot be said that in these directions there has been the least progress which redounded to the benefit of society from the efforts made from that time onwards till now. It is impossible for our people to effect anything by social reform, because the sentiments of religion and the veneration of God have been so inextricably connected with these superstitious ideas and beliefs. But this state of things is advantageous to some sets of people, and that is the reason, I think, for the failure of the efforts to improve the condition of the people.

It is not an easy task to enunciate more wise theories or do more strenuous work than was done by Buddha, Kapilar, Thiruvalluvar, Ramanuja and others. That is the reason why the opponents of social reform have strong belief in their obstructive propaganda. The feelings towards religion and the attitude towards God have been built on the foundations of ignorant belief and blind faith. Worshipping God out of blind belief, man has come to accept and live according to many of the purblind conceptions of religion.

To say that ignorant belief and blind faith should be destroyed is national service destined for the benefit of humanity. People have for a very long time been carrying on this propaganda with caution, patience, love, sympathy, good words and persuasive arguments. What has been the result of their attempts? How long we are going to be experimenting like this? We find that such propaganda is done by people who are anxious to ingratiate themselves into the good books of the opponents of social reform and gain popularity and prestige as reformers. It is also due to a lack of courage to push onward on the part of the reformers. Some people might quote the opinions of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and others to disprove my contentions. I frankly accept that my opinions are opposed to theirs. Some people say, “Do not destroy the old symbolisms, the ancient pictures and the hoary traditions and culture”. Such things which these people want to foster are responsible for the degeneration of our country and demoralization of our people, and this we must impress on the mind of every reasonable man by our propaganda work. Otherwise, a state of things will come into existence from which it will be well nigh impossible to obtain liberation and salvation.

For instance, Ramanuja with a view to reform society and at the same time preserve the old symbols, caught hold of many of those who were called “Pariahs” and put the “namam” on their foreheads and invested them with the sacred thread so as to bring about equality in society. The old symbols were no doubt preserved, but did the people get equality! Were the followers imbued with the feelings of fraternity?

Let us take the temples of the land. Instead of being a symbolical abode of the supreme being, they have degenerated into dens of all kinds of iniquity and hotbeds of vice. Even in the case of ancient culture, the art and the paintings, it will be clear that they also stand in the way of social reform. What benefit have the Vedas and the Puranas conferred on mankind? What have the people gained by reading the Bharatham, the Ramayanam, Siva Puranam, Vishnu Puranam, Thiruvidayal Puranam et hoc genus omne? Consider whether you do not find in these books doctrines which go against the principles of human conduct and human character, and do you think that some of the worst books and worst set of people could be guilty of graver wrongs and more serious crimes than some of those mentioned in these books? Also seriously consider the fact whether these old books do not stand in the way of social reform. Do not the social reactionaries quote from these texts and these scriptures and cite authorities to support their position? It is said that there are some passages in these books which support the standpoint of the reformers. In my opinion, this is empty talk to deceive gullible people. I feel that so long as the people want to hang to these scriptures, so long will be they be unable to achieve success in their efforts to reform society. I have not come here to speak about God, I think the less we speak about Him, the better it will be for us.

So far as religion is concerned, there is no paucity of propaganda and publicity. Every man believes that it is only through his religion that salvation could be reached. Why should there be so much competition between religions? When we deeply consider all this, it would be clear that religion is an absurdity. But if it is considered that religion is an institution brought into existence so as to define certain rules and draft certain regulations for the better functioning of society, then it may be entitled to some consideration. But then religion should change according to the needs and requirements of the times, but if the word of God or preachings of the son of God or the doctrines of the messenger of the Almighty are as sacred and sacrosanct as God himself then the paramount duty of social reformers is to abolish and destroy those religions. The principle of social reform is the principle of adoption to the changing conditions of the times. And so the social reformer should not flinch in destroying at once the things which would not change according as the changed conditions of the world require.

The next thing that the social reformers should devote their attention to is that of the relationship between man and woman. In our society women are being treated worse than untouchables. Women are considered to be slaves of men. If such a system has been made by God, the first thing that we should do is to destroy that God. It is a great pity that so many things should be foisted upon the devoted head of poor God. Especially in our country, the position of our womenfolk is the worst that could be thought of. Chastity is considered to be the foremost duty of women. The gods that men worship have been symbolized as having their wives on their hands, tongue or shoulders.

But the people have not learnt chivalry from their Gods and do not treat their women with decency. As a result of the slavery of women, children are bred up as slaves and the whole country is enslaved. If we are to be free, we must free our women who must be allowed the same liberty and the same privileges as our men. Women must depend upon themselves for their emancipation from their slavery and should boldly come forward and break their bonds. Turkey, Afghanistan and China are standing examples of women achieving their freedom.

I would next draw your attention to the most inhuman institution of widowhood by which our sisters are subjected to untold hardships. We fail to understand why the ancients created this institution. It could not be because, there was surplus womanhood in our country in those days. For our Gods had not less than two wives each, and our kings married a thousand, a ten thousand, and a sixty thousand wives at a time! Probably our forefathers intended the institution of widowhood in order to make provision for the need of the Sanyasis and the guests to whom hospitality had to be extended as a religious duty. Whatever be the reason, this institution has done incalculable harm to the womanhood of the country, and deserve to be abolished without a moment’s delay. In this connection, I would appeal to the widows themselves to take courage in both their hands and workout their own salvation. They should not be deterred by the shame and obloquy that society may heap upon them, and should come forward to choose husbands and publish their choice before the world. An exhibition of courage in this matter, even by a few widows, would serve as an object lesson for the others, and would pave the way for the coming generations. I would also appeal to those women who are not widows to lend a helping hand to their suffering sisters who are unfortunate enough to be widowed. The wives should help the widows to secure husbands for the latter and lend a hand at the purification of society and creation of a healthy moral atmosphere for their husbands and their children.

Distinctions of caste were created in our society at a time when the strong man oppressed the weak. The continuance of these distinctions, is evidence of the fact that we have not advanced from the stage of barbarism. No reasons have so far been urged to prove the superiority of one man to another by the right of his birth alone. Morality and intellect are not the outcome of one’s birth. The division of caste by birth has been condemned by almost all the reformers and the concomitant evils of caste system have been contemned for many years. All has been in vain. I strongly believe that this monstrosity cannot be wiped off by means of preachings to the masses. The only way to get rid of the scourge is by legislation and communal representation in the services. This may seem paradoxical to you. I shall explain my position. If communal representation is granted, there will be no chance for the privileged classes to ride rough shod over the oppressed. Politicians object to the idea of communal representation in services urging that it would disunite the people. When we express our wish to gather the conflicting elements of society into a harmonious whole there is the rub. The religionists raise their hue and cry. If we attempt to remove the obstacles of religion from our path by means of legislation, the so called religious teachers and Achariyas raise their vehement protestations. If we heed to the voice of religion and desist from amalgamating the communities but keep them separate there is enough justification for communal representation.

Now to the curse of untouchability. Our country has the monopoly for see-me-not-isms and touch-me-not-isms. A country where there is a class of people who are not entitled to walk in public streets, who are not allowed to worship God in their own temples, who are prevented from using the common wells and tanks such a country may as well be destroyed by an earthquake, burnt out by a volcano, or submerged by the ocean. If God is all merciful, He should have obliterated our country long a ago. Is it not shameful on the part of such a country to aspire for Swaraj, Dominion Status or complete Independence? Politicians may say, that untouchability will go if we get Swaraj. To them I say not merely Swaraj but Dharma Raj, Rama Raj, Harichandra Raj and the Raj of the very Gods – these were responsible for originating and organising this blot on humanity. It these governments come to life once again, I fear the position of this class would become unredeemable. I appeal to the reformers both social and political to carry on the mission of removing the sin of untouchability and clean our society of the dirt that has accumulated for centuries.

Another important thing that needs mention is education. True education is that which imparts knowledge on human nature. Tiruvalluvar says, “however educated one may be, if one does not adjust himself to the world current, he is worse than an illiterate”. The education that is now obtained in schools and colleges is useful to produce slaves, who are helping the foreign domination. It is sheer nonsense that devotion to God, devotion to religion and devotion to king should be taught in schools. If they deserve any devotion at all let them earn it by displaying their intrinsic merit. My ardent wish is that no education be imparted to the communities from which the intelligentia of the land have sprung up. I like to see the existing schools and colleges closed at least for a period of fifteen years and the ladies and the illiterate communities imparted the true education referred above. This is the first duty of any good Government and all sincere reformers.

- Revolt, 5 and 12 December 1928

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"பார்ப்பான், சூத்திரன், பறையன் என்கிற ஜாதி அமைப்பு இருக்கிற வரையில் இந்த நாட்டில் ஒரு இஞ்ச் அளவுகூட முன்னேற்றம் காண முடியாது என்று உறுதியாகக் கூறுவேன்" - பெரியார்


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