First Self-Respect Conference, Chengalpattu – 1929

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A few years after the Self Respect movement was founded, it had probably attracted the attention of everyone. Consequently, the first Self Respect conference was held in Chengalpattu.

Aims of the Self-Respect Movement

            When Periyar quit Congress in 1925, he founded the Self-Respect Movement. Its aim was to abolish those practices which led to discrimination between human beings, class differences in society, hierarchy based on birth, and a system which treats humans worse than animals, denies entry to temple, and treats women as slaves.

Periyar’s Call to Action

  • Each comrade should participate along with their folks and family.
  • Youth, women and people from oppressed communities should make sure to attend.
  • Independent women, and those who consider themselves as widows, prostitutes should definitely attend.
  • Government employees and authorities should attend.

Aim of the Conference

            The aim of the conference is to instill feelings of morality, compassion, love, austerity, equal opportunity and rights; To let go of blind beliefs and habits, discrimination, enslavement of women; To stop the strong from exploiting the weak, the educated from fooling the uneducated, the rich from oppressing the poor, and to develop rationality among the people.


  • On the day of the conference, a 36 mile procession took place starting from Chennai to Chengalpattu. With the leaders of the conference parading in cars, the people welcomed them in a celebratory mood.
  • The leaders were welcomed with music. Invitations were read out and snacks were distributed. Many leaders such as Chief Minister Dr. Subburayan, Minister Sethuratthinamayyar, Mutthaiya Mudhaliar, taluk board presidents, assembly members, and Periyar E.V. Ramasamy were involved in the parade.
  • 20,000 people were gathered inside the Pandal of the conference. The facade was designed to be a huge structure. Exhibitions of household goods and business, small businesses, western type restaurants, exhibitions concerning farming and machines, reading spaces, statues of leaders in-between these, gardens, 2000 decoratory lamps, a bright lamp etching of the words “சுயமரியாதையே பிறப்புரிமை” (Self-respect is our birth right). The conference glittered with beauty. 4 or 5 loud speakers were set up in the place.
  • Assembly member M. Krishna Nair unveiled the photo of Raja of Panagal during the morning festivities. Everyone were provided lunch. The first day was filled with the speeches of leaders and representatives.
  • On the second day, the youth conference began. The president of the conference Surendranath Arya talked about taking the Self-respect propaganda to each and every village in Tamilnadu and Periyar announced that this effort would be named after the Raja of Panagal. The youth who welcomed this with great excitement, registered their names for the propaganda.
  • A Hundial was placed for the conference expenses. Rs. 3000 was the final amount collected (In 1929, a poun of gold was Rs. 7).
  • On the second day, Periyar mentioned women first while he thanked the people towards the end of the conference. He mentioned Zamindar Appasamy, Vallalar Vedacchalam, Rau Bahadur Krishnasami, Kannappar who provided their full support to the conference. He also thanked his wife Nagammaiyar for supporting him in all possible ways.
  • After dinner, a public meeting was organised to take place after 10 pm. More women participated in this meeting than those in the conference. The meeting was presided over by Periyar Ramasamy, S. Murugappa, Ayyasami, Dhandapani, Ponnambalanar, Lingam, Azhagarsamy. The resolutions of the conference were explained and each of them delivered their speeches. The meeting started at 10 in the night and went on till 5 in the morning.
  • There were plenty of people from other provinces who took part in the conference. The magazine ‘Kudiarasu’ notes that people from all sections of the society took part in it: those who were arrested for taking part in the civil disobedience movement in their khadis, liberal and extremist sections of the Congress party, supporters of Annie Besant, members of the Justice Party, Brahmins, Muslims, Christians, people from oppressed communities, people from Shaiva Samaj, Vainava Samaj, Brahmagnana sabha, whites, white priests, pandits, exponents of Puranas, Sanyasis, priests, Temple trustees, clergy, government authorities, people who were magistrates, judges, collectors, immigrants, and coolies, married women, widows, prostitutes.


  • Simon Commision
  • Since the rights of various communities and their opinions differ from one another, and with an Indian minister mentioning in the Parliament that it is not possible to appoint representatives from each of these communities, and with our country in a situation where it could not elect someone who could win the trust of every section of people, and even though no representative from India has been elected, these are not reasons enough to boycott this commission.
  • With the detailed report of the commissioner yet to be sent to Parliament, we from this conference expect that the commission would look for ways to soon fulfill the aims and policies of the self-respect movement.
  • Nehru Committee Plan Since the Nehru report is against the fundamental policies of our movement, along with condemning it we request that community based representation be considered in future Indian constitutional systems.
  • Caste Discrimination
  • This conference completely denies the idea that people are born higher or lower in status. The people shouldn’t follow religions, Vedas, Sastras and Puranas which support this idea.
  • The cruel Varnshrama system and the intolerable social orders such as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishiyas, Sudras and Panjamas should not be accepted.

  • Discrimination which is an impediment to national growth and human civilization should be abolished, and all public establishments such as roads, ponds, wells, schools, choultries, water pandals, temples should be open to all sections of people without any restrictions.
  • Since it is considered that a law is required, this conference resolves that the government enact a law for this purpose and the assembly members take necessary action to support the efforts of the public.
  • Caste names, religious identities
  • People should let go of their caste and class identities related to their names.
  • No one should wear things which is indicative of religious or caste identities.

A resolution passed at the Chengalpattu Conference, and reported in the Kudiarasu dated February 24, 1929, reads: “The necessity of the resolution to drop caste titles is strengthened because of the practice of discriminating persons on the basis of their names without knowing anything about their character, ability or intelligence. [3]

  • Rituals such as marriages
  • The marriagable age for women should be 16 years and that when husband and wife are not happy with their marriage they should have the right to cancel their marriage contract.
  • Widows should be provided support for remarriage.
  • Men and women should be given complete freedom to choose their marriage partners, irrespective of caste and religion. Marriage rituals should be amended accordingly.
  • Rituals such as marriages should be conducted with minimal expenses.
  • Education
  • Mother tongue should be used in educational institutions and government. Learning of other languages shouldn’t be funded using public coffers.
  • Compulsory primary education for school going children alone should be funded using public coffers.

  • Higher education shouldn’t be funded using public money and if there is a need to do so students should be selected based on proportions of communities.
  • Until they get equally educated, the children of the so-called untouchables should be provided with free books, food, clothes in schools.
  • Temples, Mutts and other such places
  • This conference considers that not even a single paise should be spent in the name of God in temples and other places, and that sanskrit shouldn’t be used by people who serve as middlemen between those who worship, and those considered Gods.
  • This conference asks the people to not build any more temples and those properties used for existing temples, choultries, Veda teaching schools, Mutts and so on should be diverted to education related to Handicrafts, Business, and Research.

  • We also ask that festivals that are being conducted in temples be stopped and instead exhibitons about knowledge, health, and economic development be held so that people become more knowledgeable and prosperous.
  • Difficulties of Non-Brahmin Youth
  • This conference requests that tender lands should be provided to the so-called oppressed and those who don’t own any land, and also that those who are identified now as untouchables should be provided financial support for tilling and planting crops,
  • That those identified as untouchables should be given first preference for government job vacancies,

  • And that the children of these untouchables should be provided books, clothes and food in their schools.
  • Irrational Practices
  • This conference requests that no books which propagate irrational beliefs should be kept in schools,
  • And it should be ruled that schools training teachers shouldn’t also use books which propagate irrational beliefs,

  • And that the text should be such that it benefits rationality, self reliance, and research,
  • And the Textbook Committee should also recommend books that develop knowledge and self reliance.
  • Women’s equality
  • This conference rules that women should be given equal rights in inheritance of property and heirs.
  • And suitable rules shoud be framed so that women are appointed as teachers in greater numbers.
  • And that only women should be appointed as primary school teachers.
  • Theater and Cinema
  • This conference determines that writers, dramatists, actors, theatre owners, cinema people etc… shouldn’t be involved in creating, acting or supporting books, stories, dramas which are against justice, truth and rationality, that which belittles self-belief and self-respect, and that which propagates religious beliefs which are against rational thought.
  • Caste discrimnation in small establishments
  • Along with condemning the discrimination practiced in hotels, and coffee clubs, this conference demands that authorities cancel the licenses of such establishments.
  • We demand that those hotels, small establishments, which come under the ambit of railway authorities, don’t discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, class, color, etc… and that actions be taken immediately to curb them.
  • Workers’ plight
  • This conference determines that since uplifment of workers is important too, they be given wages, according to the nature of their work, suitable for them to live contently and that the profit in each and evrey businesses should be shared among their workers.

Periyar’s appeal

            We need youth followers to fulfill our resolutions. They would have to incessantly travel to each and every place. The devotees of Buddha, the Buddha Sanyasis, travelled across the country to demolish the religious deceptions and caste restraints, and achieved fame and honor through their actions. We need such energetic youngsters who would reach out to the common folks to bring down the religious conspiracies, deceptions, and restraints which are atrocious and selfish. We shouldn’t forget that reaching out with good propaganda means walking the talk and not just speaking empty words.

‘Kudi Arasu’ reports that a bigger conference hadn’t happened in all of South India. In such a historically significant event, Periyar and other special guests pledged to not use the caste identities in their names. This made Tamilnadu the only state in India where caste names were not used by people. It is also worth mentioning that resolutions of the conference such as property rights for women, and appointing only women as primary school teachers were later made into laws when Kalaignar Karunanidhi came to power.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *