Social Movements are long lasting and more effective way to bring changes in society : K Veeramani

Mr K. Veeramani, is perhaps the senior most of the leaders of revolutionary Periyar E.V.Ramasamy’s Dravidian movement. He was groomed by Periyar since childhood. Born on December 2nd, 1933, he was inducted in the Dravidian movement under the leadership of EVR Periyar since childhood and began addressing public meetings at the age of 10. He stood with Periyar throughout his life and dedicated himself completely for the cause of the oppressed and the marginalized. As a person dedicated to Periyar’s ideology, Dr Veeramani resisted the very idea of joining politics or getting political patronage and that is why the Dravidian movement has succeeded in Tamilnadu as it is his organizations like Dravida Kazgham which compelled political parties to follow the ideals of Periyar and bring them in law. He is the leader of Dravidar Kazhagam, the movement started by Periyar and succeeded Annai E.V.R. Maniammaiar (1920-1978), who had succeeded Periyar in 1973. Dr. K. Veeramani is a multifaceted personality, a vociferous public speaker and author of many books on Dravidian ideology, history and political movements. He never hesitated to revolt against the social injustice, for the ensuring of it he was imprisoned more than 50 times. He is a professional journalist and assumed the editorship of Tamil daily ‘Viduthalai’ (Liberation) since 1962. Besides, he has been editing Tamil fortnightly ‘Unmai’ (Truth), ‘Periyar Pinju’ – monthly magazine for Children in Tamil and the English monthly ‘The Modern Rationalist’. The organisation Dravidar Kazhagam, founded by Periyar in 1944 is led by him at present. DK will not contest any election but has been making people aware during the electioneering on who has to rule the land. As a champion of social justice Dr. K. Veeramani as well as Dravidar Kazhagam have contributed enormously including the pioneering works on drafting the 69% reservation bill for Tamilnadu, the highest in the country through the Constitutional amendment and part of IXth schedule. Dr. K. Veeramani is the Chancellor of Periyar Maniammai Institute of Science and Technology (Deemed University); besides the public trusts led by him run many educational institutions especially for women empowerment.

In a wide-ranging conversation with me, Dr K Veeramani gave extensive details of back ground of formation of Self Respect Movement. He says, basically Dravidian movement started as South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF) which was then popularly called as Justice Party. Justice was the paper they started as an English daily. They used to Justice as nick name for SILF, they would call it Justice Party. . Whereas Periyar after he quit the congress started a self-respect movement. Difference between party and movement is obvious. Movement continues for ever; party serve particular purpose. Periyar said: Parties may come and go but it is the social movement which alone will bring revolution.

DMK was born out of DK after C K Annadurrai and others decided to plunge into politics and formed it on September 17th, 1949. Later it was M Karunanidhi who led DMK from the front and delivered many social welfare schemes in Tamilnadu. AIDMK became a new party under the leadership of M G Ramachandran. after parting from DMK on October 17th, 1972. I ask about the policies of many of the parties claiming to be Dravidian parties and not following the ideology and principles of Periyar. My point was about the violence against Dalits in Tamilnadu and parties like PMK only spewing venom against Dalits to which Dr Veermani says that there are so many Dravida parties but. those who have nothing to do with Dravidian convictions, they use Dravida just for political purposes. Psyche of people of Tamilnadu is that every party want to ‘claim’ Periyar whether they follow or believe in him or not. They want to have the picture of Periyar, because they are political parties and need votes. Dr Veeramani blamed the media for distorting facts by blaming the opportunism of the political parties as that of Dravidian movement or Periyar’s movement. It is an attempt to discredit DK, he says. Periyar did not start Justice Party but when he became its President, he started Dravid Movement and formed Dravida Kazhgam to work specifically for the non brahmin communities. He was certain that he movement would remain distinct and different and will never contest election or join power politics.

He says that those with political ambition used the issue of Periyar’s marriage with Maniammai as a pretext to start their own political party. They wanted to enter the politics while Periyar never wanted them to enter politics. It was Periyar’s big movement that forced government to for First Amendment of the Indian constitution that allowed states to formulate its own reservation policies for SC-ST-OBCs. Today, Tamilnadu is a model state in this regard and credit goes to Periyar and his movement. Dr Veermani says, “ If public opinion marches forward, law comes limping behind”. Periyar knew that political parties compromise for power and forget the promises they make to people hence it is important to strengthen the movement and force the power to follow people’s cause.

He quote Periyar as saying, “ I am not a social reformer but a revolutionary”. He adds that Periyar is more relevant now than anybody else. How they can’t digest Periyar. The Hindu embraced Dr Ambedkar. They don’t believe in it. They are diametrically opposed to Ambedkar’s ideology but they don’t dare to put that Periyar.

Meeting point of Ambedkar Periyar

Periyar and Ambedkar are both sides of same coin almost on all tings. Periyar said, social revolution must precede political empowerment. He put a solid foundation of social movement and was able to influence the government without being a part of power structure. After his death on December 24th, 1973, many people thought that the movement will die but we have proved them wrong. Political battle is fought in the street while social battle is fought in the minds.

Periyar too participated in the World Buddhist Conference in December 1954 in Burma’s capital Rangoon and met Dr Ambedkar. That shows his love for Buddhism. Says, Mr Veeramani, “ Periyar also preached Buddhism. He said Buddha was ancient the pioneer of rationalism. Periyar as 20th century Buddha. Periyar said, one who uses the Buddhi is a Buddhist. Buddhi means reason. Buddhi is not a Tamil word it may be a Pali words. All the rationalists are Buddha.”

Pitching Ambedkar against Periyar

Many ‘intellectuals’ were targeting Periyar using Ambedkar. Unfortunately, some of the Ambedkarites too got trapped. Mr Veeramani, says that this is a Brahmanical infiltration in the moment. “ Periyar and Ambedkar wanted to unite all the non-brahmins including Dalit and minorities. Read, Dr Ambedkar’s work “What Gandhi and Congress has done to the Untouchables. He also pointed out that South Indian Liberal Federation worked servile classes both shudra, Panchama all this group must unite under one banner.

He says categorically all those who violate Dalit Rights or inflict atrocities on them can not be Periyarists. “They are not Periyarist only pseudo Periyarists. If you are Periyarists then your priority should be to protect Dalits. If you want to liberate any one then first liberate yourself.

He was very clear. Caste identity should be limited in using for reservation purposes. So many people who want to exploit the caste sentiments use the name of Periyar and Ambedkar but they fail in Tamilandu. They have neither read Periyar or Ambedkar. They want to make Ambedkar and Periyar a God. Vaikom was not for forward community. The first thing that Justice Party did was that they started school for scheduled castes.

Importance of ideology and Propaganda

Viruthalai was the only paper which a social revolutionary movement run was started by Periyar in 1935, says Veeramani. “I spent 53 years as editor of this paper because Periyar wanted it. I got involved in the movement since childhood. One leader, one movement, one flag and one shirt. This is 46th year. Periyar also launched Rationalist Forum in 1970 to include intellectuals, government servants too in the movement. DK enters into direct action but Rationalist Forum does not engage in the same as being the government servants they won’t be allowed to get involved in picketing and sitting.”

Tamilnadu’s historical reservation Policy

During Periyar when he was alive. Reservation here was only 25% BC and 16% for SC including ST because there was no ST here. Their population is less than 1%. So their quota of 1% was included with Scheduled Castes. When Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister, Periyar advised him to increase the reservation 49%. Mr Karunanidhi adhering to Periyar’s advise increased backward classes reservation from 25 to 31% BC and for Scheduled Castes from 16% to 18% including 2% for STs.

Subsequently when M.G.Ramchandran led AIDMK government took over in Tamilnadu in 1978, ‘some body put some poison in his mind’ and he created a ‘ceiling’ of Rs 9000/- per month to get reservation under the backward classes quota. This was the beginning of the ‘theory’ of ‘creamy layer’ among the backward classes. The government brought this through a GO in 1979 against which there was a lot of resentment in Tamilnadu. Clearly, an attempt to divide them and make the reservation redundant. DK launched a virulent movement against MGR’s decision. Though he was a very popular figure yet DK had launched the campaign against creamy layer theory. Mr Veeramani said, “You have not understood social justice. They are Socially and educationally backward class people and constitutionally, it is not economically backward classes. Economic backwardness is different. Backward class should to known through socially and educationally. All the brahmins supported economic criteria. Even, Mohan Bhagwat want same as they want to impose economic criteria, he says.

1978 was the centenary year Periyar and Mr Veeramani told MGR, “You want to bury Periyar’s principles”. DK burnt the GO copy. All the political parties, DMK CPI and IML and some of the Congress men opposed the rupees nine thousand, creamy layer GO. Later on, agitation had a great impact on the ruling party. In the 1980 general elections, AIDMK was faced humiliating defeat. Out of 39 Lok Sabha seat, AIDMK could win only 2 seats. Everybody blamed the communal GO. He was advised to all party meeting. DMK boycotted the all-party meeting but Mr Veramani went to participate in it. He says, “I went and explain to the CM who had called number of political leaders, activists, intellectuals. There was a big gathering. He was arguing about ‘poor’ backward student’s inability to get seats. I put up a question and answer to MGR’s speech. Don’t confuse economic criteria. MGR was listening. Immediately there was a change of mind. He returned and waited for one week and then scrapped the ‘Rupees Nine Thousand GO. It was First big success of the movement, after Periyar’s death. MGR wanted to regain popularity. He increased reservation for BC to 50% and then 18% for SCs and 1 % for ST but the brahmin lobby filed a case against this in the Supreme Court, which ordered a commission to inquire about the states of backward classes in the state. When DMK was with BJP/NDA we ( DK) supported AIDMK under Jayalalitha. We ( DK) can’t support BJP. In 1990, after the Mandal Commission report, the We ( DK) were instrumental for Mandal. Due to Mandal they said above 50% no reservation. We wrote a draft invoking 31C in constitution. A unanimous resolution was passed for 69% reservation in the Tamilnadu assembly in 1993. The Narsimha Rao government at the Center accepted the demand to keep the Tamilnadu reservation in Schedule IX of the constitution which could not be challenged in any court of law. It was 76th amendment of the constitution in 1994.

This conversation has a lot of interesting anecdotes and historical issues raised by Mr K Veeramani who can be termed as living encyclopaedia of Periyarist movement in India. In 1968 Periyar made a historical visit to Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow against which a number of Jan Sangh organisations protested. Veeramani was with Periyar in that trip and share his interesting story. He also went to Kanpur on the invite of Shri Lalai Singh Yadav, who later translated Sachchi Ramayana in Hindi.

Thiru Veeramani has word of advise for the backward class people. Understand the history of Periyar’s movement for social justice. There is very little understanding about it in the North India. You can listen the entire conversation with Thiru K Veeramani on YouTube link.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity


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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this wonderful interview. Two observations –

    — Grateful for the info about Periyar’s trip to Lucknow. If I am not mistaken, some bahujan leaders in UP adopted ‘Periyar’ as a last name (?).

    — I did not understand the need to bring in “Periyar also preaching Buddhism” here. Sure, he might have seen the Buddha as a rationalist, but saying he preached Buddhism defeats the idea of Periyar’s non-theistic, areligous approach. I more like him saying that anyone with Buddhi is a Buddhist

    Best regards and kudos for the interview.