Skip to main content

Periyar ignored? Dravidian anti-Brahminical polity 'failed to uphold' women's rights

By Rajiv Shah* 

Can “annihilation of caste” also break the oppressive shackles of women? A recent lecture by V Geetha, eminent feminist writer and social historian, has suggested there is no such one-to-one relationship between the two. Belonging to Chennai, Geetha was in Ahmedabad to deliver a lecture “Dravidan and Different? What Women Writers Have to Say”, where she suggested that the powerful Dravidian anti-Brahminical movement in Tamil Nadu hasn’t led to simultaneous liberation of women.
In Ahmedabad for the Umashankar Joshi memorial lecture, organised by the Gangotri Trust, Geetha told the audience that the farthest the Dravidian polity went, even as engaging with caste and Brahminism, was under the AIADMK’s chief ministership of J Jayalalitha, who confined herself to “productive welfarism of women.”
Answering a query from Counterview, she said, the present DMK government is pursuing the same polity – of “protecting” women and offering welfare measures for them, instead of standing up for their rights. She hastened to add, however, the current DMK leadership is “under pressure” to take a more radical view, as after a long lull of several decades, feminists are visible on the scene asserting gender issues which seemed to have been pushed under the carpet.
Author of several books, including “Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar” and the Question of Socialism in India”, “Undoing Impunity: Speech after Sexual Violence”, and (with S V Rajadurai) “Towards a Non Brahmin Millennium: from Iyothee Thass to Periyar”, Geetha, during her presentation at the lecture, indicated that the Dravidian view never went beyond the need to protect women, pointing out how CN Annadurai, founder of DMK, criticised “seductive women”.
The presentation quotes Annadurai, who sharply attacked “Brahminism’s snare”, but in an apparent reference to Ramayana, points towards how Sita was sought to be portrayed by a poet. “This king (Ravan) saw an Aryan woman, got impassioned, lost his head, and fell from grace...” By doing this, Annadurai says, “this poet has sought to soil the pride of the Dravidian race”, wondering, “Would we, Dravidians, thus be tempted and lose ourselves to an Aryan woman?”
Stating how moral-ethical view of women took shape with the formation of DMK, Geetha quotes from a popular short story of the 1950s, which describes how a woman saw her “husband trapped in poverty, walked her mincing walk, found a rich man, lured him, just so she could live with him, and earned herself a waist band, a mango-shaped necklace, diamond earrings, a ring, ten acres of fertile land and a bungalow.”
Calling the woman “seductress”, the story goes on to say, “Even the chap who drives her car to make his meagre living would not grant her a quarter. Instead he would lament his fate and rue the fact that he has to work for such a one, flawed sinner that she is. Let those fallen women play host to the foreigner. We will work to cut free the chains that bind our motherland.”
Annadurai’s and DMK’s political views on women do not reflect that of EV Ramasamy Periyar (1879-1973), social reformer, anti-caste crusader, atheist and champion of women’s rights, and founding father of the Dravidian movement. In fact, Periyar has been assessed as having vehemently opposed patriarchy, actively fighting for women’s right to education, property, sexual freedom and contraception, insisting on complete destruction of masculinity.
In the presentation, Geetha extensively quotes from social and political activists, especially women, had to say in several publications founded by Periyar. Thus, wrote S Ramanathan in Kudi Arasu (Republic) weekly: “To control their women Aryans-Brahmins … devised a system which would characterise their enemies as untouchable and which ensured that [their women] do not get anywhere near these other men …Because our ancestors held women as property they had to create the phenomenon of untouchability to safeguard this property...”
Annadurai, Periyar
Exhorting “sisters”, Minakshi wrote in Kudi Arasu, they should “reflect for a moment on the horrors they endure in their day-today life ... You borrow money -- because you wish to observe a custom, practise a ritual, you borrow for a funeral, a pilgrimage... Consequently, poverty, humiliation, debt, police warrant, mortgage, the misery that visits your children, unbearable sadness and the rebuke of others: one follows the other.”
She asks sisters to “boycott the homes of those who oppose any and every move to a reform of women's lives; whether these have to do with the abolition of the devadasi system or the rights to education and mobility of adi dravida (Dalit) women.”
Then, Indrani Balasubramanium is quoted as criticising “comrades” in Kudi Arasu: “Our comrades are happy to speak of Brahmanism, self-respect, socialism, and if, after speaking all of this, they have some time, they condescend to speak of women’s rights. But many are careful to leave such rights talk behind when they go home – just as you leave your slippers outside the front door, our comrades are careful to drop all reference to women’s equality before they enter their homes.”
Neelavathi, who wrote in “Puratchi” (Revolution), is quoted stating that working women in “offices, courts, universities, hotels, factories, at tailoring, weaving, construction, in the fields and at home” are “the first proletariat”, regretting, they are “denied the dignity of their work, and worse, work is considered a mark of masculinity…”
And, Miss Gnanam wrote in “Revolt” that marriage “is not a thing of arrangement” or a “question of haggling and bargaining”, nor is it “a business transaction to be settled by others who are no parties to it”; it is “a contract ... culmination of the bond of love existing between two parties”, is “purely personal, and never complementary. It is solely and wholly left to the liberty of the individual, and wherever that liberty is tampered with, the result is an unhappy union.”
Analysing five Tamil women fiction writers (1950s and 2000s), Geetha says, Krithika wrote of the elite world of the Indian civil service in the context of nation building without engaging with the caste question; Rajam Krishnan wrote of “women’s intimate lives and in the context of ‘modern development’ beset with social unease and restlessness”; Hepsibah Jesudasan wrote of the travails of women in the times of modernizing Nadars; P Sivakami wrote of “the pretensions of the Dalit patriarchs”; and Su Tamizhselvi wrote of women in “subaltern caste world.”
*Editor, Counterview


Santhi NS said…
Good one as it reflects the context and history of political situation in Tamilnadu, which is a familiar ground to me.
Though I agree the speaker's many views as she has been a prolific writer for past three decades on Dravidian politics and well known Periarist.
I still have a point to disagree with her.
It is the DMK government who brought equal property rights for women in 2005.
Also DMK has introduced a seperate ministry for transgenders.
Broad and very progressive measures were introduced during DMK regime and in literacy and education, there has been tremendous improvement among women and particularly this is very obvious in implementing women's reservation in Panchayat rule.
TN is doing better compared to other states. Of course if one compares with Kerala, it still lagging behind in very many aspects.
Longitudinal development definitely had happened but it was not upto the expectations raised during Periyar period.
Electoral politics has its own disadvantages..
But I get disappointed when I see TN figures for Death of sanitation workers and the ever increasing 'honour killings' and the issues of untouchability and so on.
Strong movements demanding Justice for equality and dignity there, still the road seems to be long.
However, atleast the activism prevails and space there for them to express their opinion which is never there in many states.
Everybody talks of women's rights but in practice only women's duties are stressed.


Insider plot to kill Deendayal Upadhyay? What RSS pracharak Balraj Madhok said

By Shamsul Islam*  Balraj Madhok's died on May 2, 2016 ending an era of old guards of Hindutva politics. A senior RSS pracharak till his death was paid handsome tributes by the RSS leaders including PM Modi, himself a senior pracharak, for being a "stalwart leader of Jan Sangh. Balraj Madhok ji's ideological commitment was strong and clarity of thought immense. He was selflessly devoted to the nation and society. I had the good fortune of interacting with Balraj Madhok ji on many occasions". The RSS also issued a formal condolence message signed by the Supremo Mohan Bhagwat on behalf of all swayamsevaks, referring to his contribution of commitment to nation and society. He was a leading RSS pracharak on whom his organization relied for initiating prominent Hindutva projects. But today nobody in the RSS-BJP top hierarchy remembers/talks about Madhok as he was an insider chronicler of the immense degeneration which was spreading as an epidemic in the high echelons of th

Astonishing? Violating its own policy, Barclays 'refinanced' Adani Group's $8 billion bonds

By Rajiv Shah  A new report released by two global NGOs, BankTrack and the Toxic Bonds Network, has claimed to have come up with “a disquieting truth”: that Barclays, a financial heavyweight with a “controversial” track record, is deeply entrenched in a “disturbing” alliance with “the Indian conglomerate and coal miner Adani Group.”

Junk food push causing severe public health crisis of obesity, diabetes in India: Report

By Rajiv Shah  A new report , “The Junk Push: Rising Consumption of Ultra-processed foods in India- Policy, Politics and Reality”, public health experts, consumers groups, lawyers, youth and patient groups, has called upon the Government of India to check the soaring consumption of High Fat Sugar or Salt (HFSS) foods or ultra-processed foods (UPF), popularly called junk food.

Modi govt intimidating US citizens critical of abuses in India: NY Christian group to Biden

Counterview Desk  the New York Council of Churches for its release of an open letter calling on the Biden administration to “speak out forcefully” against rising Hindu extremist violence targeting Christians and other minorities in India. In the letter addressed to President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and other major elected officials, the NY Council of Churches expressed "grave concern regarding escalating anti-Christian violence" throughout India, particularly in Manipur, where predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo tribals have faced hundreds of violent attacks on their villages, churches, and homes at the hands of predominantly Hindu Meitei mobs.

Link India's 'deteriorating' religious conditions with trade relations: US policymakers told

By Our Representative  Commissioners on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) raised concerns about the “sophisticated, systematic persecution” of religious minorities by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a hearing on India in Washington DC.

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

MS Swaminathan Counterview Desk In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers. Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’. Pointing ou

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Jharkhand: Attempt to create red scare for 'brutal crackdown', increase loot of resources

Counterview Desk  The civil rights group Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization in a statement on plans to crackdown on “64 democratic progressive organisations” in Jharkhand under the pretext of the need to investigate their Maoist link, has alleged that this an attempt to suppress dissent against corporate loot and create an authoritarian state.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual.