Sisters and Brothers!

periyar 21            No good or benefit will come to you by associating with any caste. The Hon’ble Minister, who is seated nearby, though the Premier of this Presidency, though has the merit to be a Minister in the Central government, though belongs to a great velalar community, he is categorised only as a low caste person. Above him there are three castes. His caste is referred to as ‘sudra caste’. So long as this caste tag is attached, the feelings of high and low will never go away. In order to destroy this difference, caste names and feelings must be abolished or destroyed.

            Brothers, already much time is lost. Many important resolutions have to be passed. The conference is also to be concluded quickly. Therefore, as said in this morning, some introductory remarks are necessary.

            We see conferences of this type taking throughout the country. This country consists of many castes and many communities. The day we began to have caste system and a hierarchy of high, low birth people; from that time onwards the necessity for conducting separate conferences for separate castes had arisen. I hear complaints from many people if separate conferences of separate castes are held, when will we ever be united? I have also heard some people calling these conferences as ‘communal’ and refusing to attend the same. Saying like this, you cannot blame people who convene caste or community meetings. It is essential that conferences of this type are conducted. So long as people belonging to a particular community do not realise that they have been subjected to low status and degradation, they will remain without making any efforts to improve their position. If they realise that they too are humans, they are also equal to others, to be dubbed as low caste people and the intolerable atrocity is committed by a selfish crowd, then they would make efforts to attain equality. Though called a high sounding ‘Devendra Kula Velalar’ as they are oppressed and treated as untouchables, when they have feelings of self-respect, they will make efforts to gain equality. As all the present difficulties are due to the tag of low caste and treatment as such by others, it is imperative that efforts be made to come out of this rut.

What is it that we learn from such conferences? Instead of admiring the dazzle of the conference and feeling pride about its appearance, we must pay attention to what decisions they have taken, what resolutions have been passed and conduct ourselves to our best according to such conclusions.

            We are not fit to participate in world competitions. If everybody is placed on an even level, we can definitely show our prowess. But the race is held by placing different categories behind one after the other; and Devendra Kula Velars are last in this line. When compelled to compete, however hard one placed last tries, he will only finish last in the race. Our educational and economic positions are also very limited. Some could say that we do not have much efforts, intelligence and concern for getting education. There could be none who would not spare efforts or intelligence and concern to get education. We have been tied up, shackled so that we do not get education and get better financial conditions because of that. If those bonds are untied, shackles removed, we can also fare very well in this competition.

            Even though some people consider that Devendra Kula Velars are untouchables, they are also considered by some as ‘sudras’ –son of a prostitute- and kept away. A brahmin who consider all others as sudra is considered socially inferior and treated as such in South Africa by the whites. He cannot live in particular streets. Nor can he walk in some streets. So all over the world there are people who are treated in a lowly manner.

            If anybody calls you pallar, pariar and treat you in a degraded manner, I say they are worse than you. Your caste names are in no way inferior to the caste names of those who call you as such. If anybody asks me what is superior, to be called pallar, pariar or sudra, I would reply never call a person sudra, to be called pallar or pariar is superior. Because the word sudra has degraded connotations than the other caste names. Pallars and pariars are born to their own parents. But sudras are considered as children of brahmin’s ‘kept women’. You may say that in the present government’s position such is not the consideration. But if the old Ramarajya were to come back, position would only be like that. Today also, in Travancore where Ramarajyam takes place, the position is only like that. There if you call a pucca Nair and ask him, “Whose son are you?”, “What is the name of your father?”, he would reply, “I am the son of so-and-so Nambudri.” “I was born to that Nambudri” . He will feel a sense of shame to call himself as the son of a nair. The reason for his saying like that is, Ramarajyam is prevalent there. In a true Hindu state, there is provision to change one’s father and a mother according to the wishes of a person could be wives to many. Similar is the meaning of the word ‘sudra’ here.

            You desire to be called as velalars. Vanniars desire to be called as kshatriyas. Chettiars prefer to call themselves as vaisyas. If asked, “Why all these? These are equal to your degrading yourself”, you reply, “What Sir, we are just correcting our parents. You are pushing us down!”. Some Nadar gentlemen, just to follow the Aryans, had put on poonul (thread). When they were told to remove them, they said, “It has taken such a long time, after so much struggle, to put this on. Even before it could gather dirt or dust, you are asking us to remove it!” So it is clear that to be called a kshatriya, vaisya, velar or to put on sacred thread reveals that there is a feeling that there is a higher caste than one’s own and that they accept that they are inferior to that caste. The one who calls himself as belonging to the highest caste, distinguishes kshatriya as superior to vaisya and vaisya to be superior to sudra but treats both of them as inferiors and alike. For him there is no difference among the rest of the three castes. Have you not seen this and realised when you go to railway tiffin centres and hotels? There you have two separate places: in one place the brahmin sits and eats. In the other place, kshatriya, vaisya and sudra sit and take food. So, what difference do you find? Does this not show that brahmin is superior and the other three are equal among themselves? Then, why do you say you are kshatriya, vaisya or velala and talk of higher or lower status? Don’t you understand that these are all cunning measures to keep you disunited? Therefore only one section gets great benefit from this caste divisions. For the rest only disunity results.

            Therefore, we must come to the conclusion whether this atrocity of caste difference should be put to an end or not. Secondly we must also come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as higher or lower caste for a man. After that whatever is the authority or basis for caste difference, it must be totally destroyed. If you don’t do that and think high or low differences could be abolished, it is equivalent to the act of a foolish person sitting at the top of the branch and cutting off the lower section of the branch. Caste, code of conduct are (like creepers around) surrounding the tree of religion. Caste must be separated from the religion. If it cannot be done and if caste and religion are intertwined and bound together, both of them must be felled, destroyed. The high caste cunning people, who were there earlier, had so cunningly bound caste and religion together that it would be impossible to separate them. Therefore, when you attempt to destroy caste, you should not feel fear that religion too is to destroyed: it is imperative, that the caste tree and the religion tree must be together burnt to ashes. There is however one problem in this. The religion is bound firmly with Veda, purana, etc. Therefore, it must be freed, separated from Veda and purana. If the bond is very tight and separation is not possible, here too both of them must burnt down. This Veda is inextricably bound with God; therefore God also must be tackled. If you deal firmly with the Veda, there would be shock wave for God also. Here one may get great feeling of dilemma. But one should not be afraid to shake God as well. Caste, religion, veda, God all must be destroyed. They are so bound together, intertwined, that each of them would not separately come off. (separately cannot be destroyed). So when we burn all of them which are bound together, and if there is any true substance in them, that will not be destroyed. So when we want to destroy caste system, if religion is also destroyed, so be it. We do not want a religion which has the crutches of caste system. Let it be destroyed, here and now. When you burn religion if Veda also gets burnt, so be it, let the Veda be also burnt. When you drive out the Veda, if God also runs away, let him do so. We do not want such a God.

            Due to the atrocities of caste, man has been degraded worse than excreta. This is truth. Not just as rhetoric. One who goes to ease himself, cleans that part alone with a vessel full of water. If one by chance had touched excreta with his foot or feet, he washes the legs alone and feels clean. But if a man is touched by the other, if it is felt that he is polluted from head to foot, they say this pollution will not leave the body unless he pours water from head to food. So look at how man is considered worse than excreta. What harm could come if one man is touched by the other? What pollution? What crime? Nothing. Then why is it called a dosha (shortcoming)? This is just to live by cheating others. There is no other secret in this.

            Some people say that people belonging to this caste should take bath and cleanse their bodies: should not drink toddy; should not eat meat. People who say these things call themselves as reformists. I do not say that these people should not be clean: nor do I say that they must drink toddy or arrack; or they must eat meat. But just to degrade them one should not say things about them. I just want to ask those who say that these people must be like this, whether they do not touch people who do not take bath or drink toddy or eat meat? Do all the people who they daily touch and indulge in conversation, take bath daily? Do they not eat meat? Are they abstained from drinking toddy or arrack? I take bath only twice a week. As I am constantly on travel, I am not able to take bath more than twice a week. There are countless people like me. Don’t they touch such people? In the world 99% of the people are meat-eaters. Drinking is also prevalent among all castes. Do these people not touch such people?

            Do all the toddy manufactured in our land and meat got out of killing are consumed only by these who are called untouchables? Some say that these people eat beef. People who rule over us now are totally beef eaters. People who have accepted beef eaters as our rulers, and remain as their subject people, if a brother of ours eat cow’s flesh, what untoward thing would take place? Are these talks senseless, shameless ones or spoken out of spite, ill-will and a sense of superiority? Muslims are also beef eaters; why are not these people fighting against them for that?

            Some others say that they eat the flesh of dead cow or bull. What pollution, in what form would come to them on that account? Should the cow in full cry, shivering in fear be slaughtered, and then eat its flesh—is that a sin? Or to eat something that is dead and is about to buried eaten because of no other alternative due to poverty, is that a sin? Poultry which eats worms, excreta eating pigs –can you say that cow and bull which eat grass and oil-cake, to eat them is degrading?

            When a person has no facility to take bath, how can he bath? You just lock up the so-called saints and heads of mutts, don’t give them water for bathing or even washing teeth for a month, wont their mouths stink? Won’t their bodies stink? Would not their clothes become dirty? Why should it be so? Is it due to not giving them water? Or due to birth? When the so-called untouchables are not given water for drinking, or pour water over their bodies, what a foolish thing to say that they do not take bath. When he is so poorly paid and profits accruing from his hard labour is appropriated by the rich and when is reduced to a position where he cannot afford to buy meat what else could he do except to eat flesh from dead cow and goat? He is forced to traverse all over hard places to eke out an existence, whether it is hot sunshine or cold or pouring rain, sweating out heavily while working and facing such hardships, if he takes toddy to forget bodily tiresomeness, does he become degraded on that account?

            I do not know the position in these places. In our side, this caste is not allowed to take bath in ponds and tanks where even cattle are bathed: nor allowed to take bath in the small canals through which water from wells flows into fields. Who is responsible for these deeds? Does all these come with birth? Or are they acts done by people who have caste pride?

            We have done everything fairly, obeying the discipline of religion, sastra (scripture), devotion to God, etc. with great patience, for making progress in living conditions. We have done everything in a peaceful manner, all the required efforts paying respects to religion and God. There is a limit to patience and peace. Now that limit has been crossed. Hereafter nothing would come by obeying religion, veda or God.

            They say do not find fault with puranas which have made Nandan a nayanar and Panan an Alwar. True, we now keep quiet. If it is true that Nanda got heaven or liberation why are you not permitting his son to go into temple? If it is true that Panan was made an Alwar, why are you preventing his grandson going to temple? You install a stone for Nandan, a stone for Panan, and in their name want people to offer Pongal and try to earn money out of. What else are you doing in their name? If Nandan could, why should we not go? If we ask questions like that, they say “That Nandan entered fire first before coming to the temple. You also come like that.” If we want to go first we must enter the fire, get burnt to ashes, then alone can enter.

            So caste differences must be destroyed. All sacrifices must be made to abolish caste discrimination. We must implement the resolutions passed in this conference into action, everyone should come forward to abide by them. No sense in wasting time over whether to be called ‘pallar’ or ‘velalar’. That won’t do. In western countries they do research on a number of things. We are quarrelling as to what names we should have. Even if you call yourself Devendra Kula Brahmins: I know the plight of people who have added the title of brahmins to their caste names. Viswa brahmins, Devanga Brahmins, Sourashtra Brahmins—By having such new names, I know what their position is. An adi dravida, whatever abuses he hears from any house, will eat from what is given from that house. Wherever he is made to stand, will take whatever is given. But will not touch even water offered by houses of Vishwa Brahmins. If you ask them the reason you are told that Viswa Brahmins are Idakkaiyars, left-handers, we are all valangai, right handed ones. This is the position of people who added the title Brahmins to their castes.

I consider even the name Devendra Kula as degrading. I do not know why you are having such a name. But the word ‘devendran’ is a big obscenity to me. Because all the stories about devendra depict him so filthily. He is considered worse than a prostitute’s son. A caste should not be subdivided into many with different names. There are many variations of naickers. Among the chettys too like that; differences among the Pillais as well. In Madras city even a pariah calls himself Pillai. Pallan also calls himself pillai. Because pallan and pariah change their names into pillais in Madras, youngsters living here also change with speed of airplanes, their names into mudaliars. This type of tendency should be avoided. We must demolish the idea of caste differences from our thoughts. We need consider the caste we are born into as inferior and degraded one to some other caste and surrender to it. Nothing is more degrading than that. You should never follow such ideas.

I conclude my introductory remarks with these. I express my gratitude for the welcome and hospitality accorded by the Reception Committee, In my concluding talk I will refer to other things.

Translated by Prof.T.Marx

(Lecture at Trichy – 29.9.1929 ‘Dravidan’ Daily – 5.10.1929)

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