Dreams of Annai Maniammaiyar, Crusader of Periyar Movement Come True! – A Fitting Tribute

A progressive news appeared recently in Press Media.
Widows, divorcees break taboo  in Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI: A quiet revolution is sweeping across socially conservative Tamil Nadu. The state is witnessing an increase in remarriages of widowed and divorced women. Society also appears to have become more tolerant of what was once considered taboo.

People in the matrimonial industry said urbanization, financial independence of women and changing cultural values have been the primary drivers of the change. The trend started around 10 years ago and has been growing over the past decade, people said.

Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO of Consim Info, the company behind bharatmatrimony, said there has been a change in the mindset of parents of widows and family members. “Parents themselves are hunting for suitable bridegrooms for daughters who have been widowed early in marriage,” he said.

Remarriage of widows has been promoted in Tamil Nadu for a long time, with the state government extending financial assistance of Rs 20,000 through the Dr Dharmambal Ammaiyar Ninaivu Widow Remarriage Assistance Scheme. The scheme was launched in 1975 to rehabilitate widows and encourage them to remarry. But most remarried women do not apply for assistance under the scheme, social welfare department officials point out. “Only 167 women received assistance from the government under the scheme in 2008-2009 and 181 women in 2009-2010,” a senior official said.

Young widows have welcomed the development. “My first husband died in an accident when I was 27 years old. After a couple of years I agreed to remarry. Life is good now. I married a man who was happy to accept me with my five-yearold daughter. We are leading a meaningful family life now. I hope this change is here to stay,” said K Rohini, corporate company employee.

Janakiraman said the number of profiles registered on bharatmatrimony’s site for remarriage launched three years ago has been increasing by 20 per cent to 30 per cent annually. “Many of the women who have registered on the site are divorcees but there are also around 10,000 widows,” he said. “Chennai has the third highest number of remarriages after Mumbai and Bangalore, and Coimbatore is also among the top 10.” The average age of those who marry again is 36 for men and 32 for women.

S Priya, who operates a matrimonial centre especially for remarriage, said only few hundred women registered when she started the centre. “Now we have more than 1 lakh profiles,” she said.

B Radha, gender and media researcher and professor at Tirunelveli-based Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, pointed out that rural Tamil Nadu has not changed much.
(Courtesy: The Times of India, 14th March 2012)

It is indeed a happy coincidence that the news of such women’s emancipation has come at a time when we are celebrating the Birth Day and commemorating the  Memory Day of Annai Maniammaiyar, Crusader of Periyar Movement. The fact that Tamil Nadu has registered a hallmark of such liberation for women. The opinions of two eminent champions of the women’s cause bring out the fruits of Annai’s lifelong struggles for the same as the response to the following questions.

1.     Are the above changes  an indication of the liberation of women from Indian Male Prerogative?

2.     Do you think the pace of progress is enough?

3.     What do you think the reason for such progress chiefly in Tamil Nadu?

4. Your suggestions to make such progress move faster and also to the rural areas?

Mrs.Arulmozhi, Propaganda Secretary,

Dravidar Kazhagam

l Yes.  certainly.  It is not easy to oppose the male oriented, discriminatory code of conduct imposed on women in Indian Society.  The re-marriage of a woman has been opposed by many of the parents who either subscribe to or afraid of this discriminatory social rule.  The social code of conduct, attaching a divinity or sanctity to chastity has usherped the rights of the women over her body.  The remarriage of a widow or divorcee is a visible move towards social empowerment.

l No.  It is definitely insufficient.  The decisive role of women on their marital life is a rare phenomena in our family system.  The decision for prolonging a marriage which deserves to be dissolved are most often taken by the male members of the woman side whose marital life is in question.  If the father feels “No” for a divorce then the daughters are indulged in vexatious fights just for keeping the ‘bond’ alive.  It indirectly prevents or protects the woman from thinking of remarriage.  If the case is dragged for few years in the courts; thanks to our legal system the woman will turn grey and cross (!) the age even to think of remarriage. Now the family is happy as they have saved her ‘Karpu’  (divine chastity). The progress of course is there but not enough and proportionate to the growth, development and exposure in other fields.

l No doubt it is Periyar, the one and only philosopher who dealt all the aspects of social, religious, economical and political subjugation of women.  Periyar’s resolutions in 1920s demanded equal rights in employment for women with 50% reservation. He claimed priority for women in appointment of Teachers in elementary schools. His social struggles to abolish the Devadasi, and the resolution passed and insisted in 1940s for the rights of women to divorce and remarry were contemptuously received by our society.  Yet, Periyar succeeded during his life time and his movement carries the torch ahead.  Periyar’s followers are living widespread cutting across the organisational barriers and national frontiers.  Hence his philosophy leads Tamil Nadu which has resulted in ascendance of seven women to the apex position in Judiciary as Judges of the Madras High Court which is not possible in any other state in India.  

l 1. The women should be released from the clutches of religious tyranny and economic slavery.

2. The rural women will easily assemble for causes rather than the women in the city.  So special attention should be given to the Gender bias of rural women.  Organising them to fight for their specific rights will develop a common space of women to think and act rationally and to assert their rights in all spheres of the social system.

3. The youth specifically the male members should be trained to address the Gender bias in public fora and to practise the same at home which will give hope to women in general to follow Periyar Feminism.  A deed indeed is more powerful than innumerable words.
Mrs. Tamilselvi, Vice-President,

The Rationalists’ Forum

l Rather than taking the above changes as the indications of liberation of women against Male Prerogative attitude, we can very well find these changes that the strongholds of Hinduism and its traditions are being weakened slowly.

l No, as per the social revolutionary, Thanthai Periyar’s Ideals, women should also be given the right for denying marriage, as well as the widow re-marriage rights and divorcee re-marriage rights . Let us recollect the sayings by Thanthai Periyar that marriage should be made as a criminal  offence.

l For any question on cause for any society based revolutionary changes, the one and only answer is PERIYAR; Like wise the main cause for these progressive changes in Tamil Nadu and other states, is the tireless struggle led by PERIYAR for women’s liberation. Another reason may be the transformation of our conventional joint families into nuclear families nowadays. The match and ward duties that have to be performed by family members over their widowed / divorced female’s conduct are very cumbersome for nuclear family members. This is also one of the reasons for the above progressive changes.

l In my view, widow remarriages, divorcee remarriages are more popular in rural areas than in urban sectors. Since these remarriages in rural areas are not empirically evidenced, there would have been an apparent notion that these revolutionary marriages taking place in urban areas are more than in rural areas. Among some of the underprivileged castes of most backward communities like Vanniar, Devars, and Scheduled Caste community remarriages are socially recognized. Unless or otherwise a genuine, data based survey is conducted in this regard, suggestions in this regard are pointless.

The myth of the Aryan invasion of India – Prof.S.M.Khodke

He who has no hands, must perforce use his tongue.
Foxes are so cunning, because they are not strong.

The history of ancient India abounds in myths, and myths within myths. Take, for instance, the myth of the Aryan Invasion of India. Within this myth there lies another – the myth of the ‘Aryan race’. Let us take up the latter first for analysis.

The Aryan race theory

This theory was first propounded by Mr.Max Mueller, a German philosopher, who introduced the Sanskrit word ‘Arya’ into the English language as referring to a particular race or language. According to him the word ‘Arya’ means a cultivator or a ‘farmer’. Perhaps he wanted to suggest that the Indo-Aryans, when they entered India, knew agriculture, which is not true. The word ‘Arya’ is, however, nowhere used in Vedic literature to denote a race or a language. Mr.V.S.Apte, an Indian lexicographer, in his Sanskrit-English dictionary, has given various meanings of the word ‘Arya’ such as ‘master,’ ‘lord,’ ‘worthy,’ ‘honourable,’ ‘respectable,’  ‘excellent,’ ‘best,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘friend,’  or anything and everything except a ‘race’ or a ‘language.’

Mr.Max Mueller not only advanced his Aryan race theory but also maintained that they had their early home somewhere in eastern Persia wherefrom they spread to almost all over Europe. He further said that another wave of the Aryan race invaded India from the north-west about 1500 B.C. He called them Indo-Aryans in order to distinguish them from the continental Aryans. But eminent scholars and historians opposed Max Mueller’s Aryan race theory so strongly that he had to refute his own theory later.1

The Indian Brahmins, however, taking their cue from Max Mueller’s Aryan race theory, were quick to accept and appropriate it, as it gave their race a name and a new identity.

 The vain-glorious Brahmins took great pride in their being ‘Aryans’ – a superior and militant race which, according to Max Mueller, had given the world great emperors like Darius of Persia, Alexander of Macedon and Julius Caesar of Rome. Gail Omvedt rightly says that “the Brahmins accepted the ‘Aryan theory of race’ which had the implications of identifying them (the Brahmins) ethnically with their British conquerors rather than the majority of their fellow country-men.2

Taking advantage of the Aryan race theory and the Aryan Invasion Theory, the Brahmin writers started glorifying their so-called Aryan race and wrote mythical stories about their imaginary invasion of India and the imaginary battles they fought against the original inhabitants of India. All this is embodied in their mythical stories of ‘Dashavatara’ or the ten incornations of their Lord Vishnu. Though Max Mueller himself later refuted his own theory of Aryan race and the theory of Aryan invasion, the Brahmins have been deliberately ignoring his later refutation and have been fooling the non-Brahmins, the non-Aryans, and the aborgins of India as well as the world community with their false, mythological stories referred above. The myth of the ten incarnations is nothing but the willful indulgence of the Brahmins in self-glorifications. Now we will examine the Aryan Invasion Theory in some detail.

The myth of the Aryan Invasion of India

Indologists, both occidental and oriental, believe that the Indo-Aryans coming from Persia invaded India through the north-west in about 1500 B.C. So we Indians have accepted this fact of Aryan invasion as a historical truth and have been teaching it in our schools, Colleges and Universites. But we should not ignore the fact that there have also been scholars who have opposed this theory. Let us, therefore, examine the claims of the proponents as well as of the opponents of this theory.

One Swami B.V.Giri, an Indian Brahmin writer and one of the opponents of the invasion theory, in his essay, ‘The Aryan Invasion of India’, explains how a misconception about the Aryan invasion was born. He writes:

“Interest in the field of Indology during the

19th century was of mixed motivations. Many scholars such as Max Mueller, August Wilhelm von Schlegal, Hern Wilhelm von Humbolt and Arthur Schopenhauer praised the Vedas for their profound wisdom. Still some others were not so much impressed. It was later discovered that the Indian Brahmins had supplied false versions of the Rig Veda to European scholars! To accept that there was an advanced civilization outside the boundaries of Europe . . . was impossible to conceive of for most European scholars, who harboured a strong Christian tendency. Most scholars of this period were neither archaeologists nor historians in the strict sense of the word. Rather, they were missionaries paid by their governments to establish western cultural and racial superiority over the subjugated Indian citizens, through their study of the indegenous religious texts. Consequently, for racial, political and religious reasons, early European Indologists created the myth of the Aryan invasion of India which survives to this day.3

Motives of the British Indologists

Mr. Wole Soyinka, the African Nobel Laureate, while delivering the 20th Nehru Memorial lecture in New Delhi on Nov. 13, 1988, made an important observation about the motives of the British scholars.

He said: “The mind of the British scholars was shaped by their position as rulers of a fast-expanding empire and by its need to consolidate itself ideologically and politically. As rulers, they felt a new cultural and racial superiority and, reinforced by their religion, developed a strong conviction of their civilizing mission. Many of them also felt a greater urge to bring the blessings of Christian morals and a Christian god to a benighted paganhood, as long as the attempt didn’t endanger the Empire.

“The British had an interest in telling the Indian people that the latter had never been a nation but a conglomerate miscellaneous people drawn from diverse sources and informed by no principle of unity; that their history had been an history of invaders and conquerors, and that they had never known indegenous rule, and that, indeed, they were indifferent to self-rule, and that so long as their village-life was intact, they didn’t bother who ruled at the centre. All these lessons were tirelessly taught and dutifully learnt, so much so, that, even after the British had left, these assumptions and categories  still shape our larger political thinking and our historical perspective. That India is multi-racial, multi-national, multi-linguistic, multi-cultural, painfully trying to acquire a principle of unity, is also the assumption of our own elite.4

Now we can concude from the above discussion that almost all the European scholars – Max Mueller, V.A.Smith and others – believed in the Aryan invasion of India from the north-west. But there were also scholars and historians who challenged  the invasion theory. For example, M.S.Elphinstone, the first governor of the Bombay Presidency, Prof. G.F.Dales, former HoD, Department of South-Asian Archaeology and Anthropology, Berkley University, U.S.A. and Swami B.V.Giri, an Indian writer, opposed the invasion theory on different grounds and for different reasons. Let us consider on what grounds and for what reaons each one of them opposed the Aryan Invasion theory.

M.S.Elphinstone:

In 1841 Mr.M.S.Elphinstone wrote in his book ‘History of India’.

“It is opposed to their (Hindu’s) foreign origin, that neither in the Code of Manu nor, I believe, in the Vedas, nor in any book that is certainly older than the Code, is there any allusion to a prior residence or to a knowledge of more than the name of any country out of India. Even mythology goes no further than the Himlayan chain, in which is fixed the habitation of the gods. . . To say that it (the human race) spread from a central point is an unwarranted assumption. . . for emigation and civilization have not spread over India, Greece and Italy and yet leave Chaldea, Syria and Arabia untouched? There is no reason whatever for thinking that the Hindus ever inhabited any country but their present one, and as little for denying that they may have done so before the earliest trace of their records or traditions.5” (Hindus here is a misleading term. ‘Indo-Aryans’ would be the right word.
Prof. G.F.Dales:

In his book ‘The Mythical Massacre at Mohenjo-daro’ states the following about the evidence
(i.e., the human skeleton remains found at Mohenjo-daro).

“What of these skeletal remains that have taken on such an undeserved importance? Nine years of extensive excavations at Mohenjo-daro (1922-31), a city three miles in circuit, yielded a total of 37 skeletons, or parts thereof, that can be attributed with some certainty to the period of the Indus civilization. Some of these were found to contorted positions and groupings that suggest anythying but orderly burials. Many are either disarticulated or incomplete. They are all found in the area of the lower town- probably the residential districts. Not a single body was found within the area of the fortified citadel where one could reasonably expect the final defence of this thriving capital city to have been made. . . where are the burned fortresses, the arrow-heads, weapons, the pieces of armour, the  smashed chariots and bodies of the invaders and the defenders? Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there is not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as an unconditional proof of an armed conquest and the destruction on the supposed scale of the Aryan invasion.6

Most scholars agree that the Indus Valley civilization (I.V.C.) flourished from 3300 B.C. to 1750 B.C. and that it flowered from 2600 B.C. The Indo-Aryans immigrated into India about a thousand years after the disappearance of the I.V.C. So they (the Indo-Aryans) cannot be said to have invaded India and to have destroyed the I.V.C. The scholars also believe that the I.V.C. suddenly disappeared in 1750 B.C., not due to an Aryan invasion but due to an unexpected catastrophe. It might be due to the mighty floods of the river Indus, a changing climate leading to the encroachment of the desert over cultivated areas or an outbreak of an epidemic.

- (To be continued in the next issue)

References:

1.    Max Mueller, ‘Biographies of words and the Home of the Aryans.’ 1888, p.120

2.    Omvedt Gail, ‘Jotirao Phule and the Ideology of Social Revolution in India’ pp3-4

3.    Giri, Swami B.V., His essay ‘The Aryan Invasion’.

4.     Ram Swarup, “Historians versus History’, his article in ‘The Indian Express’ dated Nov.20, 1988.

5.     Elphinston, M.S.,. ‘ History of India’, 1841

6.     Dales, Prof.G.F., ‘The Mythical Massacre at Mohenjo-daro’
 

In Kerala temples non-brahmin priests are appointed in 50% of vacancies

(The then DMK government of Tamil Nadu under the chief minister Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi enacted a legislation for appointment of non-brahmins as Archagas in Hindu Agama Temples and two training schools were started to train non-brahmins. But the act could not be implemented as the Brahmins approached the Supreme Court and the case is pending. In the meanwhile the news that the Kerala state has appointed non-brahmins as priests in Hindu Temples is heartening)
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala temples are chanting a new mantra of inclusiveness, thanks to a silent revolution inside the sanctum sanctorum of hundreds of temples in the state.

This move, powerful enough to break the last bastion of casteism, has already ushered in many non-brahmins to preside over pujas and kriyas hitherto handled only by priests who were brahmins by birth.

In the last two months, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) filled up 50 out of the 100 posts for pujaris (priests) with non-brahmins, who will soon start performing rituals in shrines assigned to them among the 2,000 temples under TDB.

TDB had conducted a recruitment drive six months ago and interviewed hundreds of applicants belonging to all castes and they selected 199 pujaris, out of which 40% were non- brahmins. “Even our ancient scriptures say a person becomes a brahmin through his deeds and life-style than by birth,’’ said additional chief secretary K Jayakumar.

Though caste is no bar for becoming a shanti (priest), TDB, in its latest notification has stated that the applicant must have an elementary knowledge of tantra-shastra, Sanskrit and a certificate from a Board-approved tantri (senior priest). “He also should be a Malayali Hindu who is aware of the braminical tradition.’’ said Krishnan Nambudiri, general secretary of Tantra Vidya Peetam, Aluva, a member of the interview board who selected the pujaris.

“Many non-brahmin candidates did equally well in terms of recitation of mantras and knowledge of tantras. They all attached tremendous aspirational value to these posts,’’ he said. But some community members are upset at the entry of non-brahmin priests, especially when many poverty stricken brahmin families have no option but to subsist on dakshina. “For brahmins, this is not just a job. In spite of all odds, the pujaris are still doing it out of sheer faith in God. The wisdom is passed on from father to son in an oral tradition. The belief should be inculcated from childhood and the sanctity begins from home and family first,’’ said Subramanian Potti, officer bearer of Vaidika Samrakshana Samiti.

Poet Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri said it is not varnam (caste) but vasana (inclination) that matters. “According to vedas , any person can conduct a puja, but it is important that he becomes a brahmin first, not just externally but internally. The devasom board should rehabilitate impoverished brahmins by providing them clerical positions before opening up this sector,’’ he said.

- (Courtesy: The Times of India,  12th March 2012)

Religious bigots making mockery of The legacy of India’s ancient secularism and agnostic philosophical traditions

- Madanjeet Singh

The communal bandwagon rolls on  -Religious bigots are making a mockery of India's secular Constitution and agnostic philosophical traditions; they must be challenged.

A French journalist who read the manuscript of my book, ‘Cultures & Vultures’, wondered how my atheist beliefs and Sikh religion could coexist with “spiritual India.”

My atheism is not unrelated to the Sikh religion, which was originally based on Hindu philosophy. I referred to the weekly Gita lectures by S. Radhakrishnan as Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University. Students gasped upon learning from the philosopher that most classical systems of Hindu philosophy, with the exception of Uttara Mimansa, also called Vedanta, do not acknowledge the existence of god. He stated that Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and the earlier beliefs, Brihaspati's Charvaka, Mahavira's Jainism, and Theravada Buddhism were all agnostic. Gautama Siddhartha the Buddha (c. 563-483 BC) touched the Earth as the witness of his Enlightenment.

Romila Thapar reiterated this at a meeting held to revise UNESCO's History of Mankind. The eminent historian said the Charvakas were the earliest exponents of atheist materialism in “spiritual India.” They rejected as absurd all super-sensible things as “destiny,” “soul,” or “after-life.” Ajita Keshakambalin, a contemporary of the Buddha, proclaimed that humans go from dust to dust, ashes to ashes, earth to earth, and “there is no other world than this one.” He termed the authors of the Vedas “buffoons, knaves, and demons.”

It is amazing how Keshakambalin's notions transcended 25 centuries, and in our own time was invoked by E.V. Ramasamy, an atheist and a bitter critic of the Vedas. He led thousands of men and women in street processions to parody Hindu gods and goddesses. UNESCO awarded him with an unprecedented citation:

“The prophet of the new age, the Socrates of South East Asia,

Father of social reform movement and arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.”

Until his death in 1973, people in India were freely able to speak their mind. Dalits could publicly condemn the Manusmriti without being branded “anti-national.” People would laugh at Aubrey Menen's Ramayana, in which he speculated that Sita was not abducted but eloped with Ravana, the handsome Lankan king. The former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, an atheist, pooh-poohed the theory that monkeys built the Rama Sethu bridge across the Gulf of Mannar. He asked: “What Ram? Who is this Ram? From which engineering college did Ram graduate?”

Vote banks

The Hindutva political agenda rejected the traditional agnostic philosophical systems of Hinduism, beginning with atheism. Targeting vote banks, they accused my friend M.F. Husain of painting “obscene” images of Hindu goddesses — traditionally depicted naked in temples and shrines. The Hindu Personal Law Board offered Rs.51 crore as reward to anyone who would behead the great artist. Activists of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad vandalised his Mumbai home and offered money, even gold bricks, to anyone who would blind Husain and cut off his hands — as in some Koranic verses that call on Muslims “to kill infidels and chop off their heads and fingers.”

The Islamic “fling stones” (from those who stone ‘infidels' during the Haj pilgrimage) jumped on to the communal bandwagon of the Sangh Parivar “fundoos” (as nicknamed by the writer Githa Hariharan). The All India Ulema Council protested against the screening of Husain's Meenaxi, in which a song lauds a woman's beauty using words that occur in an Islamic hymn that defines the persona of Prophet Mohammad. Thus threatened, the film was withdrawn from cinemas.

It was against this backdrop that I picked up cudgels against Taqi Raza Khan, head of the All-India Ibtehad Council, which wanted Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen deported from India for criticising Shariah laws that violate women's rights. He offered Rs.5 lakh to anyone who would behead (qatal) her. She had been granted a residence permit in 2005 to live and work in Kolkata, a city that she loves for its cultural environment. Taslima had won the 2004 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence.

Taqi Raza Khan found unexpected allies during the 2007 West Bengal local body elections when some Congress workers looking for Muslim votes provoked a demonstration against her along with the CPI(M). On November 22, the police escorted her out of Kolkata. She was flown to Jaipur and on the same day taken to Delhi and kept in ‘solitary confinement.' Outraged by the human rights violation, I contacted a number of government officials, and for weeks engaged in correspondence with political leaders including Jyoti Basu. When all those efforts, including a threat to go on a hunger strike, failed, I wrote to Manmohan Singh pleading that Taslima's expulsion from Kolkata was contrary to India's cultural tradition. I drew his attention to the 5th century Ajanta painting of the king of the Sibis, who saved a dove by giving an equal weight of his own flesh to the hawk that wanted to kill it.

The Prime Minister invariably acknowledges my communications, but the transparent sincerity and poignancy of his two-page letter dated April 4, 2008 was unprecedented. The concluding paragraph reaffirmed India's secular ideals and respect for human rights and dignity. He wrote: “India's glorious traditions of welcoming people irrespective of caste and creed, community and religion will continue, whatever be the odds. The atmosphere of hate being perpetrated by a small segment within the country will not prevent us from persisting with this tradition. We recognise Taslima Nasreen's right to remain in a country of her choice, viz., India in this case. She should also have the option to choose whichever city or state she chooses.” Taslima was delighted as it would enable her to stay on as my guest in New Delhi for as long as she wishes.

A farce

My optimism that the letter had finally snuffed out the political farce of hurt religious feeling was belied when Taslima's book Nirbasan (Exile) was barred from the Kolkata Book Fair. Before that, Deoband members prevented Salman Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival. The bigots replayed the ludicrous drama, and took the initiative to file cases against four delegates for their “intention” to read out from The Satanic Verses, pushing Indian jurisprudence into the quagmire of endless interpretation of the freedom of expression under Article 19(2).

The courts cannot break the stranglehold of religious bigotry so long as the fundoos and fling stones define the communal terms of reference and ignore India's agnostic civilisation, the source of our secular Constitution. I inherited my secular ideals from my mother Sumitra Kaur, who died on March 18, 1987. On top of the packet containing the Sikh Adi Granth was a photograph of Swami Vivekananda addressing university students in the United States; a hand-drawn sketch of the ‘Mother' of the Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry; and a miniature painting of the Sufi sage Mian Mir who laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Sikh holy book contains verses of both Hindu and Muslim saints — Kabir, Namdev, Sheikh Farid and other devotees of a God whom they were unwilling and unable to delimit by means of a sectarian description.

Guru Nanak's Sikhism was inspired by India's multicultural civilisation that reflected the norms of India's traditional agnostic philosophy. He decried the caste system, empty religious ritual, pilgrimages and miracles. With his two life-long disciples, Bala, a Hindu, and Mardana, a Muslim rabab player, he built the religious edifice, as it were with “Hindu bricks and Muslim mortar of Sufi Islam,” as Khushwant Singh wrote in The History of the Sikhs.

My secular and atheist sentiments are deeply offended. I am consulting advocates on the possibility of moving against the bigots for making a mockery of India's secular Constitution and agnostic philosophy.

(Courtesy: ‘The Hindu’ 16-3-2012)

A letter to Periyar E.V.Ramasamy

a kid who had no chance to
write while he is alive

Dear Affectionate Periyar Grandpa,
Thank you for your sacrifices, time and dedication.

It is astonishing how you have done so many revolutions not only for the previous generation and my generation, but also for every future generation to come. You did not go to college . . . yet because of you many colleges were built. Many have graduated and have a brighter future for themselves and their families. Those who have gone to college to study and teach can learn a lot from your managerial, financial and logical skills.

Thank you for abolishing child marriages. Otherwise I could not declare my education and my independent thought as my right, instead of something that was given to me. It is because of you I have a Tamil name. It is because of your efforts I am proud to be a Tamil girl. It is your hard work that has enabled me to say I do not believe in caste. I have the right to go into any temple, if I want (regardless of the caste I was thrust into.) I can choose to be an atheist, agnostic, etc.

It is amazing how you have done so much with very little formal education and even more limited communication – no email, no internet, no cell phones, minimal phone access, and with limited availability to prints (books, magazines etc.)

Your accomplishments are beyond comprehension. How have you (with health problems) been able to eat, sleep, read, learn, write, speak, see the perspective that others don’t , think of so many solutions to the problems faced by the Dravidian people, travel overseas, travel on  land, go to jail, and have a sense of humor till the end!

Many of your ideas are yet to be implemented, they are too modern even for today. You wanted women to have rights and we have started exercising our rights but unfortunately it is our counterparts (men) who cannot handle our success. The boys of today will grow up to be confident self-respecting men of tomorrow. The future generation men will realize that a woman’s success is not a threat to their success.

My generation of women thank you.
        Ponmalar K.Velayutham