The Second Non Brahmin Youth Conference Presidential Address
The following is an extract of the presidential address delivered by Mr. N. Sivaraj, B.A.,B.L., M.L.C., at the (Madura-Ramnad) 2nd Non-Brahmin Youth Conference held at Madura on the 25th and 26th August:-
By electing me President of this Conference you have indeed conferred upon me an honour of which I m justly proud. As to my being worthy of it, I will content myself with stating in the words of Goethe, “It is a great mistake to fancy oneself greater than one is, to value oneself at less than one is worth.”
I am not here either to talk of vague ideals and indefinite promise which the politician often indulges in to gain your support, nor am I here to detail to you a catalogue of “dos” and “don’ts” which aged counselors invariably think it their duty to do. But I will submit just a few observations touching the Youth movement for your earnest consideration.
The Non-Brahmin movement as I understand it, stands for the equal treatment of all human beings: for the abolition of caste and caste monopoly; for natural rights as opposed to custom; for man against a system. It is opposed to the mode of social conduct known as Brahminism which fixed for every man a station in life by the accident of his birth. Have the people understood all these principles or having understood do they act up to them? Are we anywhere near the goal? The answers to these questions will enable us to judge the progress of the movement. I confess that the answers are far from satisfactory. I believe I am right when I say that the ideals have not reached the masses, and that a large section of the population is still under the baneful system of caste and cling to it with a pathetic adherence, not to mention of those who, no more believing in it than does a foreigner maintain it and use it for the material advantages to be derived from society. Many believe that the Non-Brahmin movement is against only the predominant caste – the Brahmins and be content with attacking the supremacy of the Brahmin without in their turn giving up the system which I call Brahmanism and of which they are more particular than the Brahmins themselves. I am inclined to call every one who sincerely or otherwise believes in the system a Brahmin. Considered thus the majority are Brahmins; only they fall into two categories the threaded and the thread-less. The Non-Brahmins, they, that have as their ideals the abolition of caste and of monopoly by birth, the equality of men and the dignity of labour are still in a minority. Those who act up to these ideals are fewer still. Hence it is that you must constantly strive to keep them in view in every action of yours, to deserve to call yourselves the Non-Brahmin youth. If you forget these ideals your efforts will be of no avail, and your movement will do more harm than good by spreading class hatred, and by perpetuating the very evils, which the Non-Brahmin movement was indented to remove.
Talking of youth, you will permit me to says what I understand by the term “YOUTH.” To me it does not signify merely a section of the population who by reason of some arbitrary age limit come to be called so, nor does it refer solely to the student population. It includes the labourer in the fields, the worker in the factory, the petty trader and the rich Zamindar. It knows no barriers of caste, creed or colour. It is rather with reference to the spirit and outlook upon life that youth has be to be distinguished from other categories into which humanity falls. Hope and enthusiasm, freedom from prejudices, love of liberty, boundless energy and liveliness – these are the distinctive characteristics of youth. The youth of a country on account of these form its most important asset. It is needless for me to tell you the part that youth has played in the history of the world. The pageant of youth through the ages is the most inspiring theme. Youth has very many achievements to its credit. It has undertaken many a mission and carried it out successfully but it has always been at the bidding of the elders. Now, however, it has acquired a self consciousness. Youth has organized itself all the world over, and stands on its own feet. It is seeking to solve all, by itself, not merely national problems but international problems. Its methods are different from those of the elders. Diplomacy, intrigue, formalities and ceremonies – these it abhors. Youth thus has come to play new role in the world. The League of Youth may succeed where the League of Nations fails.
In our country more than in any other, the youth have a new role to play. They have to stand up against the Rule of Custom. Custom is a huge octopus gripping India in its tentacles. The country must be freed from its grip before it can advance and march along with the other countries of the world. The task is one which requires boundless energy, enthusiasm and a real love of liberty. To search for these qualities in any quarter but that of youth is to search in vain. The spirit of friendly rivalry so peculiar to the young folk is another factor which renders them fit to undertake and accomplish this difficult task.
With these observations I appeal to you to take up the work of social reconstruction. Calling yourselves the Non-Brahmin youth, you cannot do better than to act up to the ideals which form the basis of the Non-Brahmin movement as I understand the term. You must inculcate these ideals in your fellow human beings, even in the remotest village. The lines on which you should work, you know best. I will not indicate them to you but you will permit me to touch upon some subjects in which I am interested.
There is for instance the curse of untouchability. I need not waste your time by recounting to you the evils resulting there from. Enough has been said about the necessity and desirability of removing that curse but I merely wish to point out that in order to realize the ideal of the dignity of man, untouchability must go. Further it is necessary, that it should be blotted out, if you want to give equal opportunities to all. I wish you know what a great drawback it is to be an untouchable. The legitimate doors of free and fair competition are shut against the untouchables in practice. The so called untouchable does not derive the full benefits from society to which he is entitled.Why, he is altogether outside the pale of society. It is up to you to address this grievance. I know it is a difficult and delicate task, to be accomplished only by our enthusiasm and energy. If you do not succeed nobody else will. The problem is one which must be tackled by the young and is capable of solution only at their hands.
Then you have to educate the people on the dignity of labour. No man ought to be condemned as low by reason of the work he is engaged in. In our country, it is very essential that people ought to understand this ideal. Work of any kind should not be despised. Work is not a curse, it is the prerogative of intelligence, the only means to manhood and the measure of civilization. Savages do not work. The growth of a sentiment that despises work is an appeal from civilization to barbarism. It is because people have not felt what is dignity of labour, that in this country work is regulated by caste, the higher caste taking to better kinds of work, the lower being doomed to the meaner ones. Why should it be? Every man should be given the freedom of choice of profession. Capacity, not caste should decide what work a man is fit for. It is for you to spread this idea to the ignorant masses of India.
Friends! When you done these you will have achieved a glorious success. You will have ennobled man. Every Indian then will have the opportunity to full manhood unhampered by any system. If I have laid emphasis on these two ideals (in fact one and the same) it is because, without a realization of these, India will never be a free country. Freedom implies self-respect and self-respect is impossible of attainment without these ideals. Lack of self respect rather an inability to appreciate self-respect is responsible for the subjections of our women, the treatments of the “untouchables” and the helpless condition of the masses. There are a number of other fields to which you can turn your activities and be useful to your fellow human beings. But your ultimate success lies in making every Indian realise the value of self-respect.
As to what methods you are to adopt, how you are to plan your campaign, I will not make any suggestion in particular. You must choose your own weapons. Avoid the company of the orthodox. “Religion in danger” is their cry. They merely cling to ritual and call it religion. In my opinion there can be no greater religion than devotion to social service.
Then the so called educated man is another obstacle probably. The educated men are fast forming themselves into another caste in India. They often feel that they have no lot or part with the rest of their unfortunate countrymen. They assume a certain superiority which is even more detestable than onr based on caste. The true value of education consists not merely in acquiring knowledge but in imparting that knowledge to your less fortunate fellow beings. Those of you who call themselves educated ought to be careful not to cerate an impression that you are different from and superior to the ordinary man in the street.
The family is another factor you should take note of. Very often it happens that you are helpless against it. You must educate the family in that case and bring into your point of view and not break away from it. These are some of the obstacles in your way. You should not despair. If you hold fast to your principles and do not lose your courage and independence, you are bound to overcome them in the long run. You have as youth, a definite contribution to make to the whole fabric of culture of the nation. This is a source of encouragement to you. One other suggestion. You must be practical. It is all very well to talk of ideals. But no ideal is ever capable of realization if it is divorced from practical considerations.
– Revolt, 15 September 1929