Words of Freedom Ideas of a Nation

Item Code: IHL269
Author: Periyar E.V. Ramasami
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9780143068969
Pages: 97
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.0 Inch X 4.3 Inch
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Book Description
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We maintain ‘self-respect is a man’s birthright'. We must realize that Swaraj [freedom] is possible only where there is already a measure of self-respect

Though he had once been a Congressman himself, Periyar E.V. Ramasami, a stalwart of the Dravidian Movement and founder of the Self—respect movement in Madras, was a bitter critic of, Gandhi and the Congress's ideology of nationalism. He believed that in a caste—ridden society like India's, poorna swaraj, or true freedom, could only be achieved if the dominations of religion and accompanying superstitious beliefs, Brahminism, untouchability, restrictions on women and capitalism were done away with. These are issues we are still grappling with seven decades after gaining independence.

This selection of Periyar’s writings, most of them translated specially for this volume, includes his critique of Gandhi’s Satyagraha and of Gandhi’s views on the removal of untouchability, his defence of Bhagat Singh, besides his justification of the movement for Dravidastan. Together they reflect Periyar's exceptional vision for a free India.

Erode Venkata Ramasami or EVR (1879-1973), popularly called Periyar, or the ‘great man’ or ‘respected one’ in Tamil, was founder of the Dravidar Kazhagam and was one of the greatest leaders and ideologues of the South.


Erode Venkata Ramasami or EVR (1879; 1973), one of the tallest leaders of the Dravidian Movement, was the founder of the Self-respect Movement and the Dravidar Kazhagam, Popularly called Periyar, or the ‘great man’ or “respected one’ in Tamil, he was born into a wealthy Naicker family, a non—Brahmin caste, in Erode, now in Tamil-Nadu. A rebellious child and youth, who dropped out of school, and had observed they discrimination existing in social and religious life, he entered public life in 1914 and played an active role in the Congress Party from 1919.

Quitting his family business and public posts of honorary magistrate and the chairmanship of Erode, municipality, he, ardently pursued Gandhi’s constructive programme: propagation of khadi, picketing of toddy shops, boycotting foreign cloth, and eradiction of untouchability. During the Non—cooperation Movement in 1920 and the Temperance Movement, he and wife Nagammai courted arrest. In 1922, he was elected president of the Madras Presidency Congress Committee in the Tirupur session. In the 1924—25 Vaikom Satyagraha, in Kerala, for the depressed classes’ right to use the roads around the Hindu temple, he was again in the forefront and was arrested and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, a fact deliberately suppressed by Gandhi, though Periyar came to be popularly called the ‘hero of Vaikom’.

Disillusioned with the rank Brahminism Fin the Congress and its unwillingness to accept (communal representation’ for the socially and educationally backward sections of society, Periyar founded the Self—respect Movement in 1925. He channeled his efforts for reform, organizing Self-respect conferences from 1929. EVR would eventually become a strident critic of the nationalism of Gandhi and Congress, to the point of issuing a call for observing- 15 August 1947 as a ‘day of mourning’. Three years before then, he formed the Dravidar ‘Kazhagam, or Dravidian Association, transforming the justice Party the leadership of which he assumed in 1938.’

EVR believed that with Independence British domination had been merely replaced by that of the Brahmin and Bania or upper castes. The Congress’s ideology and Gandhi’s civil disobedience, besides his acceptance of the varnashrama dharma, were responsible for this. Swaraj or true freedom would only be achieved with the "emancipation of the non-Brahmins, especially the shudras and panchamas or untouchables. Periyar would later extend support for Ambedkar’s proposal for separate electorates for depressed classes. He would oppose and mobilize other parties against the imposition of Hindi in schools by C. Rajagopalachari’s Congress ministry in 1938, step to strengthen Brahmin forces and the North’s domination of the South.

An atheist and radical, Periyar’s ideology of Self-respect was ‘dedicated to the goal of giving shudras and panchamas a sense of self, worth and self respect’. It taught equality between men and women including marriage by choice and love, advocated Self—respect marriages, removal of untouchability, annihilation of caste, abjuring Brahmins and, their sacred wisdom, as well as socialist economics. To these was added the issue of Tamil identity and nationalism in 1940, which would culminate in the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu. Rationality, mutuality and a common ethic marked his vision.

These selections, typically ironic, rational and irreverent, have a resonance even seven decades later as civil society and the State still seek to fully achieve the goals he had sought.

Back of the Book

To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Indian Republic, the Words of Freedom series showcases the landmark speeches and writings of fourth visionary leaders whose thought animated the Indian struggle for independence and whose revolutionary ideas and actions forged and Republic of India as we know it today.


1 The Meaning of Swaraj 1
2 Nationalism 11
3 The Freedom Struggle 27
4 Gandhi 41
5 Dravidian Identity 53
6 Organizing for self-respect 77
Notes 95
Acknowledgements 97
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