Nellore Social Conference - Welcome Address

At Nellore, the Non-brahmin Social Conference was held under the presidency of Mr. A. Ramasami Mudaliar, President, Corporation of Madras. Khan Bahadur Janab Yah Ali, B.A.,B.L., Chairman or the Reception Committee then read his address of welcome from which we extract the following:-

The question of social reform has, to my mind, a special importance in this country, because of its enormous diversity and complexity. On the one hand there is the Hindu society broad based on a system of caste, which, however justifiable its origin might be has ultimately resulted in splitting up the society into numerous isolated castes and sub-castes with no centralizing force or element to maintain its compactness or solidarity; on the other hand, there exists the Mussalman community maintaining its integral existence organized on a principle of social equality intense but presenting social problems of its own somewhat peculiar and equally complex. Besides these two, there are other minor communities constituting the body politic maintaining however their own integral life with their peculiar problems of no mean importance. It is impossible to gainsay the fact that in this museum of cultures there has been no blending of these groups into one solid compact society, even though for centuries past these respective elements have lived together side by side. The vital problem before the social reformers of this country – a problem the like of which has not been faced by any nation as yet in the world’s history is how to bring about a harmonious organisation or these heterogeneous elements into one homogenous society functioning as one organic unit bereft of all those time-honoured, though time-outlived, institutions which have been the bane of the society so long.

Whether as a result of natural conservation or in consequence of being enslaved by custom and superstition or due to any other causes of an ultra social origin, the Indian has by nature been averse to any cataclysmic social reform and each step in that direction has invariably drawn out a volume of resistance which has steadily retarded the pace of social progress. The first inroad into the superiority and inferiority complex was made by the indigenous movement of Buddhism which for a time revolutionized and perhaps liberalized the Hindu society. The advent of Islam with its virile principle of social equality and brotherhood of mankind and its dynamic force was the first factor which occasioned a ripple on the sea of Hindu orthodoxy but that culture also domiciled in the soil exercising no considerable or lasting influence in altering the aspect of that social life. The last but not the least inroad into the Hindu society by the western science and western culture brought in the wake of the British rule, has contributed to a considerable extent to unsettle the philosophic repose of the spiritualistic Hindu and rudely awakened him to his materialistic environment. The Indian who always used to behave like the camel of the Arab hiding the head under the sands whenever a typhoon passed and soon after it spent itself, raised its head and went on measuring its steps in the sands oblivious of the storm and its effects, cannot, however, afford any longer to ignore the storms that are too often raging in all directions against the archaic citadel in which he has been living. It seems to me, therefore, that when once the social problem has been realized and it has been observed that the tide has risen and whether we will like it or not, the tide will carry us aloft, it is essential that we should take stock of the situation and determine carefully and in a circumspect manner the course that we will have to take in order that we may safely and successfully reach the destination.

At the threshold of any discussions of the specific problem facing us today lies the vexed question, which has latterly assumed considerable prominence, to wit, the extent to which social reform can be achieved by legislation. While just now the Child Marriage Restraint Bill has passed through both the Houses of the Imperial Legislature and is awaiting the assent of the Governor-General, while the report of the Age of Consent Committee is under the consideration of the Government and the public is eagerly awaiting its publication, while in our own province, we have the legislation with regard to the Devadasis, the enquiry relating to the Brothels, the amendments made from time to time in the local enactments to remove the bar of untouchability, we have, on the other hand, a storm of protest raised against some of those pieces of legislation founded upon an apprehension that religions and religious principles are in danger. On other hand, radical reformer cries that the Legislation is not making such vast progress and such deeper inroads as he desires, on the other hand, the orthodox element is vehemently raising the banner of revolt and is organizing its religious forces to discountenance such onslaughts on religion by means of legislation. Before introducing very drastic revolutions in family life, it seems essential that the most anxious attention should be paid to improve and augment educational facilities for the other sex. Literacy and education should be the bedrock of all social progress and without these steadying elements, the social changes can only lead to disruption rather than to really substantive and stable progress. With the advance of education it goes without saying, that the vast majority of the evils obtaining within the household which have handicapped the progress of the country will disappear and the reform thereafter will be easier, more rapid and more welcome. One has only to peruse the works written by the foreign observers like Miss Mayo and others to realize the disgust which the worst aspect of our family and social lives have caused on foreign minds and if only as an incentive to self realization, self knowledge and self rectification, I would welcome that publication, however much the jaundiced eyes of its writer may have tarnished the fair name of India. The lesson that Miss Mayo has taught to India, to my mind, seems to be not to dislike the administration which has rendered the publication of such an account possible but to turn the telescope within and by a process of introspection to study our real lives with a view to set our home in order.

I have already adverted to the intercaste relationship obtaining in the Hindu society and of the unmistakable indications in the horizon of the disappearance of the old order. It is a matter of happy augury that the campaign of (sic) untouchability and the endeavours to redeem and elevate the depressed classes have been bearing very commendable fruits and the higher classes cannot afford to ignore the portentious signs of the times and to alienate the feelings of such a large slice of humanity who are now struggling for their rights clamouring for a suitable place in the society which they have a right to belong. Intermingled with this question of intercaste relationship is the still larger question of communal amity. The fusion of the Hindu and Mussalmaan communities is a problem pertaining not only to the political field but also to the social. Indeed, it appears to me to be of the utmost social importance. It is for the future social reformer to consider whether he would revel in his own Maha Sabha, in his own Shuddi and Sankatan movements (the reference is to the Hindu Mahasabha and the Arya Samaj respectively – editors) and keep himself isolated feeding upon envy, hatred and revenge or whether he will take a broader outlook of the best and the noblest aspirations of the country and enlarge his social vision shorn of all pettiness and narrow mindedness….

It is now-a-days more fashionable to indulge in tall talk about politics and to ignore other fields of activity to the great detriment of the country, but I need hardly reiterate that emancipation from social evils is the surest sign of emancipation from political bondage and no society can really be happy in its political liberty without being well-organised and free from social disruption. The cancer which corrodes into society and undermines its well being also affects its political existence in a more potent measure. It is therefore of supreme importance that greater attention should be paid by the leaders of the country to this aspect of the country’s existence if it is desired that the real progress of the nation should be achieved in a lasting and abiding manner.

- Revolt, 13 October 1929

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