-Prof.Dr. Palany Arangasamy
Director, Center of Periyar Thoughts, Periyar Maniammai University
Horrible to think of a young woman forced to lie along with the deal husband in the funeral pyre. This is a glaring example to say how far the idiotic orthodoxy was playing havoc in the society. Women who lost their husbands were drugged and forced to fall on the burning bodies of their husbands. Even though this practice was prevalent in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madya Pradesh in the north of India only in Bengal it was seriously and dogmatically followed.
In single – handedly opposing this heinous and barbaric custom, Ram Mohan Roy stood boldly against the onslaughts of orthodoxy. In supporting his noble cause and in enacting legislation and enforcing it with equal vehemence, Governor General Lord William Bentinck came forward. His predecessors were mindful of administration only and did not like to interfere with the local customs however beastly and barbaric they were, but not Lord William Bentinck.
In recalling this past, the present generations of Indians are bound to be thankful to Ram Mohan Roy and to Lord William Bentinck also.
Whether the society supports or not, what he thinks right, Ram Mohan steadfastly followed it. In this individual boldness, Periyar keeps enough to say that he will plough a lonely furrow, once he decides to do a thing that he feels right and justifiable. Never he hesitated when people did not support him. Nor did he feel jubilant when people overwhelmingly supported him. This was his practice when he undertook social reformative steps in Tamil Nadu.
Harsh and cruel practice such as burning widows alive was not glaringly found in Tamil regions. But such a practice was not totally absent also. There were sporadic incidents of wives volunteered to die along with their husbands. In Cankam anthology, Purananooru, there is a reference of one Perungop pendu died with her husband, Poothap Pandian. Inscriptional evidences of wives dying along with husbands were few and far between. Widows, on the death of their husbands start gradually starving themselves to death was also in practice in Tamil Nadu.
During the Naicker rule in Madurai, there were occasions of widows dying with husbands. Those were the days of polygamy. The Madurai Naicker had their harems. References abound that all the widows of certain Naicker rulers were made to or volunteered to jump into the funeral pyre. Truly speaking such horrendous practices did not continue thereafter. Had there been, though conjectural, Periyar would have stood and sacrificed his whole life for the abolition of such pernicious practice.
Among the social reformers of India, many persons such as Vadalur Ramalingar became saintly and started preaching the public. They were either prevented or not bold enough to carry their messages to the society and individuals at large. Very few alone single – handedly fought for their noble causes and steadfastly saw to it that their guidance was accepted by the society.
Theirs was not merely a preaching but a propagation of their policies to the core, despite heavy odds and setbacks. They jumped into the field and swam against the cross currents of society. To this exceptional category comes Raja Ram Mohan Roy from Bengal and Thanthai Periyar from Tamil Nadu. They have left their foot prints solidly and substantially in the sands of time.