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A Fitting Reply

We draw the attention of our readers to the enlightening lecture delivered by Mr. A. Ramasami Mudaliar, the extract of which appears elsewhere in this issue. It is an answer to the doubts raised by the learned lecturer of the day, Mr. Sami Venkatachalam Chetty (2). We know how the resolutions of the Chingleput Conference are being misrepresented before the public by self-interested people. When such learned men like Mr.Chettiar misunderstand the purport of the resolutions, and entertain wrong opinions about them, it is no wonder that others who are less conversant with the actual state of affairs are being led by the nose. Mr. Mudaliar in his long speech has showed the justifications for some of the important resolutions passed at the Conference. He has very intelligently argued out the motives of the resolutions and has answered the questions commonly raised by a many. His causes for necessity of introducing reforms in society and religion should be carefully read by those who cry hoarse for leave-not-a-rack behind retention of the tenets of society and religion.

Presidential Address

Self-respect Conference Resolutions

We extract the following from the presidential address of Mr. A. Ramasami Mudaliar, at the second anniversary of the George Town Non Brahmin Social Club.

Varnashrama Dharma

Let me take the question of Varnashrama Dharma. It is not at the Self-respect conference at Chingleput for the first time that we have protested, revolted, refused to submit ourselves to a system which, whatever may be said in theory, is the most cruel and the most unjust of all social systems. I thought the days were long gone by, when at Theosophical meetings they used to compare the distinctions of caste in this country with the division of classes in England; it is an old and worn out argument. I know something about the distinctions of classes in England. I have been there myself, and my friend Mr. Sámi Venkatachalam Chetty will accept my view if he were to go to that place and see for himself those distinctions, especially after the war, in these democratic days. He would not then have so easily believed that Varnashrama Dharma distinctions were somewhat analogous to the distinctions of classes in England. There is, no doubt, a great deal to be said in favour of democracy within castes and sub-castes which the lecturer has rightly touched upon; but that is not the subject of controversy at all. That system in society by which one community is at the apex and the other deep down in the bowels bearing the pressure of all the communities on the head whereby it is not possible for one community to raise to the stature which all other communities can get, whereby one community can have no wealth to offer, no responsibility, not even the Chief Ministership of the Government of Madras, or even the leadership of the Opposition – under that system, no one can secure for one belonging to that community that equality of treatment, that fairness of treatment, which we all deserve. That is the other side of the picture which I wish some of those who bolster up the Varnashrama Dharma system would look at.What is it that is comparable to that? No amount of influence, of wealth, of status which the mechanical world, the material world can give you that position which you have a right to occupy.

Exploiting Religion

Take the question of temple entry. It is going to be a very big question, a very serious question. Whether we like it or no, we are bound to be faced with it. Whether elections come and election prospects are to be dimmed by one attitude or by the other, I am confident that question is going to be a vital one which our society has to face. You talk of distinctions due to riches, due to position; but no distinction either by riches or by position can enable a member of one community to enter the temples of the land and worship that great God, who according to all canons of religion, by all hypotheses, knows no distinction of caste, no distinction by birth, by position and place. In the very name of that religion for which my friend has pleaded, I ask how you can justify a system which says “In the holy of holies, you can disallow a human being entering” (Shame!). There is no use crying “Shame”. It is a system that has come to us and which we have to look at. It might have done good two thousand years ago. But today two thousand years latter, how has it worked? How does it crush the very life and blood and bone of the people who are the creatures of the system!! I trust I am a religious man. No conference, no resolution can make me give up that conviction. No leaders, no election prospects can make me give it up. I am a believer in religion. I believe in the Vedanta system. I have tried in my own humble way to understand something of that religion; what does it teach?

“Man is the image of God; that in every person is that resplendent Being”. If you are born in that very Vedanta principle, how comes it, I ask, that you can reconcile your religion, your faith in God with the distinctions which Varnashrama Dharma impose? Do you mean to suggest to me that the heterodox person who walks about in the streets and villages and who feels polluted even by the shadow of the Chandala and who is aghast at the idea of a Chandala entering the temple, that he is a religions person? Do you believe that man lives in the Vedanta principle which teaches that the same Divine Being dwells in the Chandala as in yourself?

My friends, what is it that the Varnashrama Dharma is doing today? Sree Krishna on the field of battle told Arjuna, “Better is death in one’s own duty; the duty of another is full of evil” That is the maxim which you ought to follow. We are doing today somebody else’s dharma, not our own. Society has been so confused and confounded that all other distinctions are taken away. I ask my friends who are still advocates of Varnashrama Dharma, whether, after all, in their mind of minds they have not got the idea that the system has been retained only because it confers certain temporary rights and privileges on particular sections of Society? Those who support this essentially undemocratic system are the very condemnation of the entire system. My friends, it is no use supporting a system which has proved by its methods and ways to be tyrannical. It may be that the class divisions in England and other countries are working well to a certain extent. But let us remember that there is a revolt against that very class system. What is the Soviet republic, though we are not prepared to accept it? It shows that there are people there who go against even those class divisions. What is the Labour Movement in England, except a revolt against class privileges and birth privileges? What do the move for the reform of the House of Lords and other progressive movement in Europe shows except that even those divisions are opposed and there is an attempt to reduce and minimize the recurrence of that very system? By all means, I do not want that we should substitute Varnashrama Dharma by another system where riches or some other thing should prevent man and man coming together. But the difficulty of finding an alternative solution cannot make us subscribe to the present evil system which we are all only too clearly seized of.

Caste Titles

All of us in our school and college days have prided ourselves on the fact that we are not a Mudaliar or Pillai; we remove them. I know how shy the students feel to be called like that. Later it gets tacked on to our names and we refuse to leave it after that stage. But I set no store by that – either the coupling of the title or the removal of the title. These are accidental things on which serious resolutions need not be passed. What they were against was not the possession of the title, but the spirit behind it, the spirit of exclusion perpetuating the divisions and sub-castes which is the result of having these caste titles appended to their names. At any rate, they felt so. They the organizers of the movement felt that if you kept on these titles, these caste appellations, the fundamental aim of their attempt to remove all caste distinctions will be hampered. I would not be uncharitable not to understand, even if we do not agree with them that there is some point in that view that the perpetuation of the caste system depends on the perpetuation of the caste titles that are essential features of the caste system. I shall not be uncharitable to think that these are ridiculous resolutions, passed by people with ridiculous notions. I think that in their effort to put down a great evil, they thought they should go to the logical conclusion, as they understood logic, of removing all even the caste appellations.

Marriage Reform

While I believe that the sanctity of marriage tie is such in this country that you cannot even think of divorce in ordinary events here, I am bound to say that, apart from the Self-respect people, in many parts of India the movement for some sort of divorce law is gaining ground. Touring round as a member of the Age of Consent Committee, we came across witness after witness who incidentally pleaded for divorce law. It seems to me therefore, that it is not an entirely correct picture to say that no reform of our marriage institutions is either desirable or practicable. The motive that animated them is not to enable young men to have a dozen wives. He can do so now under the Hindu law. That resolution has been put forward not from the view of man, but from the view of woman. She is there tied down to the husband under all circumstances for life. I do not want to go into gruesome details. But we know that under the modern Hindu system there are cases where the woman is the sufferer through and through. May it not be that the prompters of this resolution were moved to sympathy, to tears by the position of some women or other who, tied down mercilessly and for ever to the husband who ill treats her brutally and openly lives with another to the disgust of the wife, to the discomfiture of the wife’s well-wishers and her children who are shedding tears of blood day after day? May it not be they were thinking of some methods, some means by which this inexorable bondage which stands in the name of religion could be undone under whatever circumstance? If I know anything of their minds I can assure you it is not a resolution to enable men to live in adultery and immorality but to prevent man trying to live in that sort of immorality. What is the remedy under the Hindu law? Keeping a concubine in his own house is not considered a cruel thing under the Hindu law. Ill treating the wife, or abusing her is no reason why she can separate at all. Why so? When going into great details on a question like this, is it not obvious that the ideas of morality among Hindus with reference to women are entirely different from what they are with reference to men? Dare you deny it? I can assure you that resolution was meant for the protection of women, and not for the protection of the licentious men.

Intermediary in the Temple

When my friends passed the resolution not to spend a pie on the worship of God, I ask myself again what their object was. Never mind the literature around it; such literature grows round any resolution. We have to take the resolution as it is and as the lecturer pointed out, after all, it is no doubt an extreme position to say that money should not be spent on worship in Hindu temples. But you have to consider where does the money go by thousands? To whom does it go? Whom does it profit? Is it God? We must have an historical background in these matters. You had a new name to your Association. My friend Gadde Rangiah Naidu officiated at that. No man could have sat with greater dignity, with greater ease and with more grace. The very picture brought ideas of religion to me and I ask myself and I ask you whether that resolution does not merely mean: “Do not have an intermediary between man and God, do not waste time and money over an intermediary”. Is not that how you have to interpret that resolution? They have put it an extreme form. If you once have an idea of the evils to be combated, you will find that the extenuating circumstances ought to be put in an extreme form on the other side. You cannot ever pick and choose to weigh finely in the balance to sugarcoat your resolutions. At any rate the organizers of the resolution thought so. In the tremendous upheaval that is agitating society, those who drafted the resolution in that manner had to hammer at that great evil and they have succeeded. Asthiga Sanghams are growing up. That is exactly what we want. Tinnevelly is up, every one is trying to re-organize the temples (3). The fact has been brought forward to them in such an effective manner that “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark”, that steps are to be taken to make people realize that there is a blot on the Hindu system, social and religious and that some men should go forward who will do their task and do it promptly. What does it matter to the people who have not their ideas in an extreme form to be told that they are misleading society? They have done their task; they have driven you to examine the whole position; they have made you realise that your religious system wants an examination; and while you were sleeping the need has arisen if need be even to combat the Self-respect propaganda that you should come forward with your views, with your ideals, with your facts of the religious and social system in the country. That I believe has been the result of their activities – a thing for which we have to be thankful, even though we disagree with those who are behind the resolution.

Rights, rituals, ceremonialism, intermediaries and thing like that which are not essentials of Hindu religion – to remove them and to restore the pristine purity of the great Religion are the purpose for which the conference has been organized. In any case whatever their objects may be, whatever the motives of those behind these resolutions be, let us take it that this is a great awakening for us, that it makes us more religious than we were before and to free our religion from the accidental circumstances that have surrounded it, and make it the purest and the noblest of all religions.

- Revolt, 10 April 1929

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