Vaikom Satyagraha: MK Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan remember yeoman services of Dravida icon Periyar EV Ramasamy

The memorial volume launched on the occasion include a "South First" article on Thanthai Periyar’s role in the revolution.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 29, 2023 | 8:00 AMUpdatedDec 29, 2023 | 11:12 PM

Stalin Vijayan

Yeoman services rendered by Dravidian icon Periyar EV Ramaswamy to the historic Vaikom Satyagraha were remembered at a commemoration meeting held in Chennai on Thursday, 28 December.

Present at the occasion were Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan.

Vijayan Stalin

The book launch in Chennai

Stalin released a book titled Periyar and the 1924 Vaikom Struggle by handing over a copy to Vijayan at a function held at Periyar Thidal in the Vepery area of Chennai.

On the occasion, Stalin recalled that the Vaikom chapter of Periyar’s life was a shining example of cross-cultural ties while espousing the causes of equality and social justice.

Both chief ministers delved deep into the history of the Vaikom Satyagraha — an agitation to allow the entry of all people in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore — in its centenary year and emphasised that such renaissance movements were needed to establish an egalitarian society free from repression.

While Kerala was launching the centenary of the Vaikom Satyagraha in April this year, Stalin was the chief guest.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister promised in his speech that a memorial meeting would be conducted in Chennai as well, and that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan would be invited to take part in it.

Renovation of the Thanthai Periyar memorial in Vaikom was also fast progressing under the initiative of the Tamil Nadu government, which sanctioned ₹8.14 crore for the purpose, he said.

Also read: Tussle over a statue of Thanthai Periyar in Srirangam

Periyar’s contributions

In the morning, both chief ministers visited the Periyar Thidal and paid floral tributes to the rationalist leader who led a crucial phase of the Vaikom Satyagraha, ignoring backlashes from the then-princely state of Travancore and earning the title “Vaikom Veerar”.

A mammoth meeting planned at the Chennai Trade Centre in Nandambakkam to recall Periyar’s contributions to the satyagraha on the occasion of its centenary was dropped, and the book release turned into a low-key affair due to the sudden demise of actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder Vijayakanth earlier in the day.

Periyar and Vaikom Satyagraha

Thanthai Periyar Statue in Vaikkom. Photo: Shafeeq Thamarassery.

Apart from the book on Periyar, which contains scholarly articles and reports in English, Tamil, and Malayalam, a centenary souvenir was also released on the occasion.

The articles carried by the book include “Vaikom Satyagraha: Thanthai Periyar’s role and his many differences with Gandhi“, a ground report carried by South First on 3 April.

It examined his participation in the struggle from a sociological point of view, transcending language and cultural barriers.

Pazha Athiyaman, K Veeramani, V Anaimuthu, Valasa Vallavan, A K Perumal, Perumal Murugan, K Raghupathi, Nirmalya, P Thirumavelan, K Ganapathiraj, and Aiswarya were the scholars who wrote about the satyagraha and the role of Periyar in Tamil in the book.

Malayalam scholars who contributed to the book include critics TT Sreekumar, Ravi Varma, Suresh Madhav, KK Kochu, OK Santhosh, and S Shaji.

The authors in the English section of the book include Robin Jeffrey, V Balambal, TK Ravindran, Mary Elizabeth King, Sunny M Kapikkad, and Pazha Athiyaman.

The South First article remains the sole journalistic work that found an entry in the historic compilation.

Also read: The untold story of the ‘anti-Satyagraha’ movement at Vaikom

Message of unity

“Periyar was arrested twice during the agitation and endured enormous hardships. The Vaikom protest lasted for a total of 603 days. Periyar participated in the agitation for 141 days, and he was in jail for 74 days,” pointed out Stalin while going deep into the struggle that paved the way for equal temple entry across the country.

On the occasion, he called for a crusade against untouchability, caste inequality, and high and low thinking.

He said male-female discrimination should be eradicated, adding that efforts would be made to strive for and establish an egalitarian society on the path shown by the revolutionary social reformist leader.

Describing the Vaikom Satyagraha as a people’s movement unparalleled in Indian history, Pinarayi Vijayan said both Kerala and Tamil Nadu took pride in the struggle.

Periyar Vaikom Satyagraha

Periyar EV Ramasamy.

“When we commemorate a movement that brought different strands — social and political — together for the common good, it is imperative that we too strive to bring such different strands together to achieve the common good relevant to our times,” the Kerala chief minister said.

He also cautioned people against regressive thoughts and practices that are now resurfacing in Indian society.

He claimed that there were attempts to divide people along religious lines and at regional levels as well.

Vijayan regretted that gubernatorial positions were being “misused for subverting the authorities of the elected governments of states”, and that some Governors were encroaching upon the fields legitimately assigned to the judiciary by the Constitution.

Dravidar Kazhagam president K Veeramani, Tamil Nadu ministers Duraimurugan, KN Nehru, AV Velu, MRK Panneerselvam, Thangam Thannarasu, MP Saminathan, Ma Subramanian, P KShekharbabu, and Anbil Mahesh Poiyamozhi, as well as Chennai Corporation Mayor R Priya were among the other dignitaries who graced the occasion.

Also read: Key vote kept Vaikom agitation on track

The history

Periyar was engaged in Congress activities near Madurai early in April 1924 when he received repeated telegrams from leaders of the Vaikom Satyagraha urging him to reach the central Kerala town and take over the agitation.

Vaikom's Periyar memorial library

Vaikom’s Periyar memorial library. Photo: Shafeeq Thamarassery.

The first telegram was from freedom fighter Kurur Neelakandan Namboodiripad, and it reached him on 4 April.

Two days later, he received another telegram, this time from Barrister George Thomas, a friend hailing from Kerala who was active in the Madurai region as an eminent lawyer and emerging Congress leader.

Namboodiripad sent a second telegram informing Periyar that all the leaders of the satyagraha, including KP Kesava Menon, George Thomas, K Kelappan, TK Madhavan, and K Ayyappan, had been arrested.

He said there was a vacuum in the leadership of the agitation, and requested that Periyar reach Vaikom at the earliest.

Periyar returned to Erode and told his wife Nagammal to accompany him. Together, they reached Vaikom by boat from Kochi on 13 April, 1924, and the rest is history.