The aim of the Self-Respect Movement of Periyar is to achieve a society where the backward castes would have human rights equal to the upper class and also encourage the backward castes to have self-respect in the caste-based society that considered them to be at the lower end in the caste hierarchy.

The Self-Respect movement is a popular South Asian movement. The movement was founded in 1921 by S.Ramanathan. In 1925, S. Ramanathan had invited E V Ramaswamy, (who was fondly called Periyar by his devoted followers) to head the campaign.

E.V. Ramaswamy is regarded as the ‘Father of Modern Tamil Nadu.’ He headed the movement in Tamilnadu against Brahminism. The movement was greatly influential not only in Tamil Nadu, but also overseas in countries where there are large Tamil populations, such as Singapore and Malaysia.

E.V. Ramaswamy was a politician, social activist, and thinker who was way ahead of his time. The Self-Respect Movement is also called the Dravidian Movement. He believed that the freedom movement that leaders like Gandhi and Nehru advocated did not allow for any individual freedom. He said that true freedom lies in self-freedom. 

The Self-Respect Movement strongly addressed the socially low and economically poor sections such as the Agamudaiyar, the Nadar, the Sengunthar, and the Isai Vellalar. The movement was also directed to a large group of scheduled castes like the Pallan and the Paraiyan.

One of the famous quotes of Periyar on Self-Respect was, “we are fit to think of self-respect only when the notion of ‘superior’ & ‘inferior’ caste is banished from our land.”

According to Periyar the basic ideas of Hinduism, were deep-rooted in the system of Varnashrama Dharma, which was unknown to the people of Tamilnadu because their classical literary tradition is significantly silent about it.

At one of the Self Respecters meetings which were held at Lalgudi in Trichinopoly district in June 1928, T.S. Kannappar, the editor of the Dravidian, had made a public bonfire of copies of the Manusmriti.

Periyar was the pillar of the Dravidian philosophy that went on to shape the politics of Tamil Nadu. Although Periyar never wanted this movement to become political, it gradually became so.

The movement aims to replace arranged marriages with love marriages that are not constrained by caste and it also encouraged inter-caste marriages. He believed that the then conventional marriages were mere financial arrangements and it often caused great debt to the bride’s family through a dowry. The movement has touched the lives of people who belong to all the strata of the community.

THE PRINCIPLE OF SELF-RESPECT:

The term tan-Maanam or suyamariyathai which means ‘self-respect’ is traceable in ancient Tamil literature that considered virtue of high valor in Tamil society.

Other important principles:

1) No kind of inequality among people;

2) No difference such as rich and poor in economic life;

3) Men and women to be treated as equals in every respect without differences;

4) No economic parity in the society;

5) No inequality between men and women;

6) The assurance of general unity and friendship among the citizens of India;

7) Attachments to caste, religion, varna, and country to be eradicated from society with a prevalent friendship and unity around the world;

8) The breakdown of the Brahminic hegemony

9) Every human being must strive to act according to reason, understanding, desire, and perspective, and shall not be subject to slavery of any kind or manner. Equality with an emphasis on social and economic equality formed the central theme of the Self Respect Movement.

10) Revitalization of the Dravidian languages which included Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.

CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF ITS PRINCIPLES:

In order to liberate society from some of the harmful social practices carried out in the name of dharma and karma, Periyar had developed the idea of establishing self-respect movement as an instrument for achieving his objective.

The Self Respect Movement has become an important anti-caste struggle, which had challenged the hierarchies in Indian society. The movement recognized the importance of inter-caste marriages and also in securing bodily autonomy for women.

The movement had a deep-rooted sense of feminist values and it advocated for a society where a woman would have the freedom over their sexual, reproductive, and physical choice. The movement was a landmark for feminism in India. It emphasized enabling women to gain access to permanent birth control as well as contraception.

One of the important sociological changes that were introduced by the self-respect movement was the Self-Respect Marriage System. In the self-respect marriage system, the marriages were conducted without being officiated by a Brahmin Priest. Even Shri Shahu allowed the Arya Samajist to perform the religious rites and ceremonies rather than the purohits. Ex: Tamil Nadu had become one of the first states in India to legalize Hindu marriages without the presence of a Brahmin priest. This move had led to an increase in the number of inter-caste marriages.

It is the spirit of the Self Respect Movement that is valuable for intersectional feminism today. The feminist ideology of the Self Respect Movement had propelled the woman to have an equal right to choose partners, the choice to remarry, and to divorce. Today, men and women have equal rights and all the advocated philosophies of the movement have come into reality.

The Self-Respect Movement aimed to bring about a radical transformation in heterosexual relationships by abolishing gender roles and gender hierarchy. It stressed the importance of sharing child-rearing activities and domestic work between men and women. Now in the urban life where both the wife and husband are working, it became mandatory that household activities and responsibility of child care are being shared by both of them.

Thus modern-day society which is still haunted by casteist politics, gender discrimination, income and wealth inequalities, social cleavages, moral entropy, and dogmatic adherence to obscurantist religious rituals, principles of self-respect moment would serve as a beacon of light in guiding society towards a virtuous path.

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