The First Self-Respect Volunteers’ Conference, Pattukottai
The following is the full text of the presidential address, delivered by Mr. S. Guruswami, sub-editor. The “Revolt” at the First Self-respect volunteers’ Conference, held at Pattukkottai on the 25h and 26th instants:
Sisters and Brothers,
I thank you heartily for conferring upon me the privilege of presiding over the deliberations of this Volunteers’ Conference, especially at this critical period of our country’s history. The progress of a country lies entirely in the hands of youths, in their fervour, and capacity for sacrifice. Instances of the achievements of youths, where elders have failed are not wanting in our country’s history. Youth is a burning passion for progress born out of the sense of a strong disaffection for the existing order of things. It cares not for public opinion but creates one and shapes it to its own advantage. The duty of us the Self-respect youths is therefore clear. We must be ready for action, to do and die.
Youths of other countries
Political, social and economic revolutions brought about in other countries are due to the untiring efforts of youths of those countries. We will have to hang our heads in shame before the achievements of youths in the countries of Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Persia, Turkey, China etc. The Russia that was groaning under the tyranny of the Czars, with an appalling ignorance and illiteracy of the masses is now basking under the sunshine of education and progress. While there were only 20 percent of educated people before, there are today, 80 percent of the population literate, and the credit of it all goes to the youths and students organized by the Soviet Government. The China of today liberated from a foreign domination and superstitious customs is the creation of youths, returned with education from countries like America and Japan. Under the able leadership of Sun Yat Sen, the Chinese youths of the South organized themselves and wrought the emancipation of their country. The case of Germany is also one such. The youths of Germany revolted against the tyrannical rule of the Kaiser and the slavish traditions and religious superstitions imposed upon them by society by organizing themselves under a young professor by name Karl Fischer, into an organization called the Free German youth. The achievements of “Young Turkey” is also well known. The once despicable “Sickman of Europe” is today at the pinnacle of glory, because of the Young Turk Movement of Mustapha Kemal Pasha. The Fascist movement of Italy, Sin Fein in Ireland and other movements in Egypt and Afghanistan are the standing monuments of the efforts of youths.
Social revolution must precede Political reforms
We have gathered together at a critical movement of our struggle for freedom. Our country is at its depths of degradation in all aspects – political, economic and social. Our political and economic ailments are symptoms of a disease that are of a recent origin of about 2 centuries. But our social disease is a chronic one which is eating into the vitals of our society and threatening us with perdition. The social disabilities therefore demand our immediate and foremost attention lest we should succumb to it by neglect. A perusal of the history of other countries shows that political and economic regeneration have followed social reformation. I believe therefore the social reform is the most important factor of which I shall say a few words.
The first Self-respect conference took place only three months back at Chingleput. This Volunteers’ Conference, following as it does, upon the heels of that momentous session, is very important. No one can deny that the Chingleput conference is a landmark in the annals of South Indian history. The effects of the conference are too well known to demand enumeration. In short it has blown a new life into the Tamil Nad. It has implanted in us the desire for social liberation, and has awakened in us the knowledge that only through social progress can we attain to perfect freedom.
We cannot but remember with gratitude the yeoman service rendered to us by our revered leader, Mr. E.V. Ramasami with his experience of old age and the enthusiasm of youth. He has sowed in our bosom, the seed of Self respect, the strong longing for social reformation before everything else. The youth world is grateful to him for all his services. If only we could command the enthusiasm, the fervour and faith that animate our leader, if only we had an undaunted courage and adamantine faith in ourselves, we are sure to bring down the whole world under our feet. The spirit of Joan of Arc, the French girl in male attire, who fought against odds of well equipped English army should animate every youth of our country. In such a case, we need not despair of our future.
Freedom and rights are not in the gift of anybody. There is not even a solitary instance of any nation having obtained them as bounties from others. Rights are secured after a strong fight with the usurpers. It is a life and death struggle, a fight to the finish and the struggle for wresting rights from the oppressors is no smooth sailing.
The greatest of the impediments to the progress of the world is religion. It checkmates our advancement at every stride. Only those that have the courage to throw religion overboard, command progress. To think that progress goes hand in hand with religion is wrong. It is only when stalwarts like Martin Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Wycliffe, John Huss etc., had the audacity to repudiate Christian superstitions in the West that Europe saw the dawn of freedom. It is only since the last 500 years, ever since the time they had the fortitude to oppose religion, that the countries enjoy real freedom.
The test of our courage lies in our capacity to raise a standard of revolt against religion. It has enslaved the people and immersed them in the quagmire of misery. So long as there are people who refuse to believe that religion is a human institution intended for the benefit of man, and as such, it can and should be shaped to suit modern conditions, and as long as they persist in furnishing fresh copies for Miss Mayo, we shall have to end such religion. While we lack the courage to destroy religious superstitions which are revolting to our commonsense and experience and tyrannical social customs which like a canker is eating into the vitals of our society, to talk of opposing an organized government fortified with machine guns and other ammunitions, is but an empty threat. That a country which is a afraid of the sway of the kusha grass, 6 inches long, a country which is a slave to a religion which is ridiculously fabulous, meaningless and without foundation, that it is preparing for a war in favour of Independence is really amusing! The duty of the volunteers of the Self-respect movement that has given us the strength necessary for declaring war against religion must be clear to us. May I draw your attention to what Mr. Nariman said while presiding over the Youth Congress: “Our elders may while away their time in deliberating, debating and passing resolutions and leave them as monuments of their work for the coming generation. The responsibility of bringing them into force lies entirely with us, the youth of the country.”
I am not unaware of the many difficulties that shall dog our way when we begin to fight religion in right earnest. The opposition shall be from a near quarter, from our parents, from our own kith and kin. By our courage and unflinching devotion to the cause we must win them over instead of wasting time in futile arguments. Secondly the opposition is to be expected from the Government itself which have an interest in perpetuating present evils and in proving a stumbling block to social progress. The government are not unaware of the fact that with the dawn of social enlightenment a potent desire for political freedom is sure to follow suit and their recent enactment in the Assembly aimed against religious opposition is a pawn on the dice. That the Brahmins who form a microscopic minority of 3 percent in the population and the English men who are fewer still, should suddenly fall in love with Hinduism and evince an interest in safeguarding it, is indeed a problem to conjure with! We should realize therefore that the wrath of the government is sure to be upon us as soon as the fight for our social rights begins, if not now.
The constabulary of God is even greater than that of religion. I for one believe that to discuss whether god exists or not is the height of indolence. Lord Buddha says:
How can it be that Brahma
Would make a world and keep it miserable
Since if all powerful, he leaves it so
He is not good, and if not powerful, He is not God!.
In the name of God are committed acts that one would shrink from otherwise. God serves as a refuge for the unimaginable vagaries and atrocities of hypocrites.
“God and Destiny” are the two words that kill the initiative and strength for action in youths. The sooner we banish the belief of them, the stronger shall we be for it. Granting that there is a God, why worry him with prayers, petitions, and sycophancy? While the youths in other countries such as Russia and France leave no stone unturned in scientific research in bringing the dead back to life, in rejuvenation, that we should be gloating over fables and singing hymns of the improbable miracle of bones becoming a girl imputed to religion is simply ridiculous. With bated breath, with weeping eyes, and with quivering lips you may sing the praises of God and you are as much entitled to liberation or Mukti as a gramophone that is capable of all these!
In this connection I wish to sound a note of warning to my dear sisters and brothers. The Brahmins with all their hue and cry of “Religion in danger” are shrewd enough to provide their children with sound English education. But our elders are quite in the dark and still persist in sending their children to Tevara Patasalas (centres for learning the Saivite holy hymns – editors) While the youths of other countries shall be playing airships in about 20 years, shall our youths be wasting time in making researches for determining as to which “bead” is holy and what hymn shall give us Mukti? It is really amusing to find our youths discussing incessantly about the Lost Lamoria (Tamil enthusiasts held that the mythical lost land of Lamoria was part of a Greater Tamil land– editors) and determining the extent and limits of Tamilagam, while other nations are discovering lands in the Antarctic. I plead therefore in right earnest for liberal and rational education of our youths to equip them with the strength to fight the battles of life boldly and save themselves from servile beggary.
Superstitious beliefs and customs
Now it is the paramount duty of us, the youths to break through the many superstitious beliefs, meaningless ceremonials and irrational traditions that parade our society. It is a matter for gratification that even our elders are losing faith in them, but quickening the process of its destruction is necessary for the well being of our society. In this enlightened district, I am sorry to note that there are still 90 percent of youths who are victims to chance matrimony arranged after consulting oracles and fortune tellers. Ill-matched couples are the results of consulting Puranas and pujaris while rational criterion are completely ignored. Yet we persist in this deed of shame. It is for the youths to break these foolish traditions to pieces. It we don’t progress with the times, we will be nowhere in the struggle for existence.
Inequities of caste
The caste distinctions are not so very acute amongst us, the youths. Yet, we will have to admit that we young men lack the boldness and initiation in the matter of inter marriages. It is of course true that the illiteracy of our sisters is also responsible for this state of affairs. The remedy therefore rests entirely in educating them. You must bear in mind what Dr. Moonje said in one of his speeches. “It is only through inter-marriage that you can destroy caste.” The problem of untouchability is a serious one which cannot be ignored. We need be forewarned of the disastrous consequences that are likely to follow if justice is not meted out to the so called untouchables and if we persist in treating millions of our population, in a cruel manner. In this connection, I wish to emphasise that the temples that are responsible in promoting caste iniquities and the sin of untouchability should either be closed or destroyed. No calamity is to be apprehended on account of closing them as in the case of Erode, where the temple is closed for the past two months. In this direction it is the duty of the youths to do all that we can to destroy the invidious distinctions that are manufactured in the temples.
The liberation of women
The position of women, in our country is highly deplorable. Our religion and puranas are alone responsible for their present plight.
The much advertised Hindu religion with all its symbolism of women for Wealth and Learning, heartily embraces in its fold nearly 18 millions of widows in teens. A religion which is responsible for the woes of so many, for their degradation and servility, and the God that tolerates such a religion and the idols of such a god, all these deserve to be pulverised. Widowhood is more heartrending than even “Suttee“; but the Government’s connivance at it explains clearly that they are opposed to our social progress. The policy of non interference in religion and the excuse of opposition are no satisfactory explanations for a Government’s apathy that could stop Suttee inspite of tremendous protests. So the duty of affording relief to widows’ agonies devolves upon the youth world which alone can supply a lasting solution.
The slavery of women in the name of chastity is one that demands our immediate attention. The chastity that imposes ignorance or servility upon a woman should go. A rational interpretation of chastity should be partnership on equal terms. All the legal disabilities on women should be removed and they must have equal opportunities with their brethren.
The custom of dedication of girls to the temples should be prohibited at once. We should make such efforts that the advocates of this immoral cause take a lesson.
We know poverty is chronic among the masses who form the bulk of the Non Brahmin population and the only immediate relief is Birth control. The need for birth control is an accepted factor and what is wanted now is a vigorous propaganda among the people regarding the different methods of Birth control through the press and the platform.
Now the work before us is that we organise ourselves for disciplined action. We should put up an incessant fight against such beliefs as god, religion, and tradition that do not stand the test of reason and that impede our progress.
Social customs that are like barriers to the brotherhood of man should be put an end to.
Public institutions that are responsible for perpetuating untouchability and other caste iniquities should be destroyed.
A system of education that shall provide us with industrial and rational training should be devised to suit modern conditions. Efforts should be made to enact laws regarding the enjoyment of rights and privileges so that they may apply to men and women alike. We should educate the masses as to the colossal waste of public money in connection with festivals and should make a sincere attempt at stopping the drain. We should demonstrate our disaffection and antipathy for all those who are traitors to our cause for their statues, pictures. Puranas and literature by any suitable method. For all these constructive work we should rely entirely upon our own resources. To keep alive the Self-respect movement, to make it a vital force in the country, all of us the youths should organize ourselves into a Volunteers organisation prepared to stand by the cause dear to us unto the last.
Before concluding my address, I cannot but refer to my master, Socrates the great philosopher who lived in Greece 2396 years ago. He was charged with having denied the Gods, attempted at reforming the prevalent religion and organised the youths to spread his new mission and was sentenced to death by a fanatical Government. In the advanced age of 69, the hero sacrificed his life at the altar of truth to vindicate his convictions. The blood of that hero who lived for his principles and ended his days for them, should run in our veins so that we might with equal zeal, propagate and stand by our own cause.
– Revolt, 29 May and 5 June 1929