Latest Social Developments
(Mr. A. Ramasami Mudaliar’s Lecture)
We extract the following from the presidential address of Mr. A. Ramasami Mudaliar at the first anniversary of the Dr. T. M. Nair Literary Association, which was celebrated on the 15th April at the Gokhale Hall:
The Subject, Mr. Mudaliar began, on which he had intended to speak was, “The Latest Social Developments”. The present age, he said, was one when vast social developments were quite the order of the day. All over the world the existing social systems were being rebuilt. In Turkey old social systems were being ruthlessly set aside, and the country and its people were adjusting themselves to the new conditions brought about by the genius of that great Dictator, Mustapha Kamal Pasha. What had happened in Turkey was happening, and was bound to happen in India also, despite all that could be said by obscurantists who took their stand on the immutable customs and traditions of the past. During the past 20 years, incessant change, active and uninterrupted, had been the feature of the social life of this country. That man ought to be made happier than he is, that great democratic ideal, which was so incessantly preached in the political world should also be translated into the social world, that equality of men and women should be recognized and the fairness of dealing towards each other ought to be the attribute of the social system – these were the ideals with which these social changes had been worked out.
An obsolete system
Time was 35 or 40 years ago when mysteries and mysteriousness were the order of the day, when the Hindu often got himself converted into other religions, when even the educated, had with great difficulty to be brought to a sense of the greatness of his own religion and the purity of his own soul. But that time had passed. People were now firm in their belief in the greatness of their religion, and the strength and future of their society, provided it was welded and organized into a whole. Men who had swept away from their lives every tenet of Varanashrama Dharma, who did not know their own religion, who had not studied their own social customs, who had some vague idea that somewhere in the Code of Manu some talk there was that this caste was superior and that caste was inferior, men who made a religious fetish of every little thing – these were not the men who were going to strengthen the Hindu religion and their social system.
That a system which had done immense injury should be replaced by a system more human, more touching, having a better faith in each other, and in those who composed society, would be the desire of everyone who wanted to see progress. Those orthodox gentlemen who were trying to prevent the logical development of Hindu society by threats to electioneering prospects, by cajolery and by all sorts of tricks
– the sooner they realized the fact that every reasoned and reasoning individual whatever his caste might be, was up in arms against a state of society which permitted degradation of individuals merely because of birth, the better it would be for them.
The lecturer next referred to the position of women in Hindu society which was not all that was desirable. And he was doubtful whether women got that treatment which they were entitled to. Nowadays people enthused over the feminine characteristics of Hindu mythology. But the present day treatment of women was at so much variance with its ideals and the conception expounded in the puranas. Socially they had no place and from a financial point of view, they were nowhere. The boy was entitled to a share in the father’s property; but the daughter, even if she was the sole surviving heir and her father a millionaire, got nothing but a small share of that property. The result was that every social principle and dogma being based on religion, religion suffered.
Therefore, social reformers could not be blamed if they attacked religion in their over-anxiety to reform society. If people could not realize the great evil they were creating in the country by intermixing religion in social matters, if they had not got the grim determination like Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Turkey to separate the spiritual from the secular matters, then they could not be said to be true representatives of the Hindu religion which they professed to be.
Turning back to the subject of the treatment of women in Hindu society, the speaker drew attention to the narrow groove of moral and ethical principles in which women were made to move.
Child marriages were encouraged, resulting in child windows who were compelled to live the rest of their life in austere devotion to a husband whom, perhaps, they had never seen. Whereas in the case of the death of his wife, he ought to speak of the possibility of a second wife – otherwise, it was considered inauspicious. Taking the case of a widow, it did not matter how near and dear she was, but once she became a widow, she was an inauspicious being for ever. A society which tolerated such ideas required thorough reform. Society could never improve unless these ideas were blotted out of men’s minds altogether.
Regarding the question of temple entry, Mr. Mudaliar declared that it was going to become the very biggest problem for the Hindu Society in the very near future. The movement for the addition of all classes in the great temples of the land was bound to succeed sooner than later. Prohibition of entry into certain temples to classes of people was an illogical state of society which could not be tolerated. Then again a great deal had been said about Atheism and those who were tending to be atheistic in society. But it had to be realized that atheism was a well recognized thing in Hinduism. How dare people say that one man was a true Hindu and the other was an Atheist, while Hinduism itself was the most tolerant of all religions and held in its bosom the Atheists, the Agnostics, the Dwaitins, the Adwaitins, etc. For his own part the speaker was firm in his belief that every Hindu did at heart believe in a supreme God. When the Self respect propagandists condemned the existing temples their main idea was to put an end to the corruption existing in those temples. Mahatma Gandhi himself had once said: “The temples in this country are the den of prostitutes”. The fact was that those who made such criticisms of the temples were despondent of any sort of purification and reform being possible with reference to those temples, that they had come out with such extreme statements.
– Revolt, 24 April 1929