Periyar on ‘independence’
It is hard to introduce E.V.R.Periyar. A good sign of the fact that his thoughts are broad based and radical is the way in which they can be used in different contexts. With each context, the description of the person also changes. For the purposes of this piece one may say, ‘he was a radical thinker who sought to question many aspects of the ‘nation’ that are taken for granted such as democracy, freedom, unity, integrity and so on’. This critique took many shapes and forms throughout his career based on his position in tamilnadu and the particularities of that history. In 1972, he reflects on the nation as it is today. And disheartening for us and even to him as he wrote these words, he stands by what he said the moment india got ‘independence’ in 1947.
What he says below is said by many today and always has been. Questions are often asked of ’whose india this is? whose independence? etc.’ Periyar however refuses to accept the very formation of the ‘independent nation’. Through his writings since 1947 be repeatedly points out to the flaws in the very idea of the ‘nation’ and what it means to those who do not make profit off of it. While we wonder aloud today of ‘what has become of the nation?’ and ‘what has become of our rights as citizens’, Periyar and others remind us to not take the ‘nation’ and ‘citizenship’ for granted and as a default.
The idea is not to incite unproductive, destructive thought; the idea is to remind ourselves to not lose sight of the root of our concern while we deal with all its branches in our thought and action. We may not address this root cause at every juncture but the least we can do is to not reaffirm it by placing undue stature, hope and belief in this concept that is often violative and exclusivist.
Irreverence towards the nation and it’s symbols is a necessary act to register our protest today and in the long run, to ‘make casual’ this ‘nation’ and the need to ‘respect’ it, that is the bane of the lives of many nowadays. If outright irreverence is not desirable to all (understandably so), outright reverence expressed in any form, for any purpose also needs to be questioned. The default state of the ‘nation’ as the ‘norm that is to be revered at all times’ and not just as a ‘geographical method of organising for convenience’ may need to be questioned.
The ‘nation’ is here to stay and we need to converse, argue and fight with it as equals and not as ‘subject-citizens’.
Translation of excerpts from Periyar’s editor’s note in Viduthalai magazine, 15.8.1972
It has been decided by the state that the 15th of August this year will be celebrated as the Silver Jubilee year of ‘independence day’.
That is to say that the country was freed from foreign rule after many centuries and ‘we’ ruled our own ‘nation’. Or so they say.
According to me this is not the day when we ‘got independence’. On the contrary it’s the day when suitable conditions were created for slavery, idiosyncrasy, unethical behaviour and dishonesty to thrive. It is that day of sorrow. It is 25 years since that ‘day of sorrow’ began.
I am not saying this now. I said it the day ‘indian independence’ was announced.
The day the declaration of ‘independence’ was made public I said very clearly in the editorial in Kudiarasu that ‘this is a day of sorrow. It is a day of shame for the nation and all of mankind’.
In this country today, which party does not have all the things that a government should not have; dishonesty, unethical behaviour, immorality, fraud, deception, changing from one party to another, being a traitor to one’s party, the most disgusting selfishness, and baseless blame games among many others. Who is feeling ashamed about any of this?
Today, is there a political struggle without goondaism, violence and deceit?
A classic example of this unethical behaviour:
“Any person who asks for the complete freedom of his land in this esteemed nation maybe punishable up to seven years”.
Which country or nation has such a law?
How is it that any person who stands in the elections to be a representative of the people to serve the nation has to spend anything from Rs. 10,000 to Rs 3 Lakh to win or lose in such an election? How can this be ethical?
What kind of unethical behaviour is not part of our ‘independence’ today?
Let that be on one side.
25 years after this nation attained ‘complete independence’, how is it that among the 54 core people in this country 39 crores sign with their finger print. How is it that 70 percent of the population are those who cannot even write their name? Further, among women who are one half of our population, 82 percent cannot write their name. Is this a free nation or an enslaved nation?
Those who call this nation an independent nation can only be those nationalists and others for the sake of their daily bread and because of the greed for power and status. Can an honest individual who is part of society say such a thing today?
At this stage this country has millions of gods and goddesses, hundreds of temple festivals, marriages of the gods, elaborate worship rituals five times a day or more. All of these continue unabated. In that case is this nation ruled by people or by ghosts, non-human entities? We should think about whether this country has freedom or an unflinching domination of slave-like thinking.
Further, this nation is so proud of its independence that the ‘we the people of india’ are divided into two; 3 percent being the Brahmins (upper caste) and 97% being the shudras (lower castes).
If this state has continued 25 years after independence, is this nation an independent one or one that has established a hierarchy of slavery?
I feel saddened and pitiful to go on any further about this so-called independence and independence day.
Friends! If any of you as citizens are ashamed of this state of being I urge you to boycott all magazines run by Brahmins which are harmful to our society and meant only to forefront the lives of the elite. Please show your shame through swearing to boycott these magazines. This is what I would like to share with all of you today.
‘Down with the day of sorrow! May the real independence day emerge!
[ This piece was written a year before the passing of the 'Prevention of insults to the national honour act'. In honour of this non-coincidence, the next piece will be a translation of excerpts from his write-up on "why we will burn the constitution", written in 1952. Watch this space...]