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(A Dalit work, apart from sharing their excruciating pain, should have social liberation as its objective. This is possible only if the work is by a Dalit or someone who feels one among Dalit. Similar to his writings on women’s liberation, by virtue of consummate empathy with the feelings of Dalits, Periyar’s writings were similar to any Dalit writer. The allegations against Periyar, mentioning he wrote “we” “People below our echelon” etc., are thick and fast even till date. It is mindful to consider that this article was published 5 years before Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of caste’ was published, and this is the connecting point of the two great intellectuals of their time.

‘Dalit Murasu’ takes pride in publishing this article on the eve of its 13th anniversary. Periyar wrote this article in the pen name ‘It doesn’t matter who writes this’, and it was published in Kudiyarasu on 25.10.1931

- Dalit Murasu Editorial Team)

Periyar 370Brothers! The number of people considered as Untouchables in our society is about 7 crores. They say, if we walk in the streets, if we are visible to others, even if our shadow falls on them it is considered that they are deconsecrated. They either have to take a bath immediately or do some ablutionary rituals to consecrate themselves.

 Apart from this, if we need drinking water, there is no public pond, lake, tank or well available. If we happen to touch any of them, it immediately needs to be consecrated by offering ablutions with water and cow’s urine. We can only live in huts built in settlements that are one or two miles away from the town. Even there, we are not supposed to live in tiled or terraced houses. If we do that, it will ruin the entire town, according to them. Name of our settlements is ‘Cheri’ (Ghetto). It is the place near to a location where the dwellers of the town dump their garbage and use as an open toilet. This arrangement is to ensure they are protected.

For ages, we are destined to do the scavenging job for the town dwellers. Apart from that, cleaning the streets of the town; incinerating the dead bodies; removing the dead animals; working in the paddy fields; cultivating the grains; delivering it to the landlord’s place; protecting the crops; beating the drums during the procession of a dead body; lamenting threnody during mourning; taking a piece of the cloth spread over the dead body and wearing it; sharing the information between the towns in 10 to 50 miles radius by running between them; are our birthrights.

Upper caste people have commanded us not to educate our children. Our religion pronounces it as a commandment. If we want to educate the children despite all these odds, there is no school to teach them, if some schools are ready to admit our children we don’t have means to pay the fees, buy books, uniform, provide food to the children. Rural people like us can’t even think about it. We don’t have barbers, watermen; if we want to wash our own clothes, we don’t have a place in the pond or river to wash.

In a village, if there are 500 families and 20 Dalit families, these 20 families are destined to work for the 500 families of the village like bonded labourers. There is no question of working hours or time of the day or night. We can’t demand any payment for our labour. We will only get beating and thrashing in response. During cultivation, we have to take alms in the field. For food, we have to take a utensil to their houses and cry “please feed me some alms”. We are not supposed to carry unbroken mud utensil to fetch alms. There is a superstition that if a Dalit carries unbroken utensil, that village or town will get ruined. So even if we have a mud utensil in good shape, we need to break the edges of it while taking it to fetch alms. The higher most caste people believe if they feed us some food, all the food in their house will get begrimed. So they would not even let us near them to get alms and hence they will never feed us. There is also another superstitious belief among them that if they give the leftover remains in their plate to Dalits, it will result in desecration for their families, so they dig pits and bury the leftover food. Even others who feed us will have the stale, rotten leftover food saved and throw them when we go for alms.

The state of affairs is the same in costumes. We don’t have the money to buy new clothes. Even if we buy, they will envy us. We are supposed to wear only the torn and thrown away clothes of the upper caste people. There are few rules to wear even those clothes. Men should not wear Dhoti below the elbow; should not wear any dress above Dhoti; Women should wear clothes only below the torso. Apart from that Dalits should not wear any ornaments; should not carry an umbrella; should not wear footwear; should never use copper, bronze utensils etc.,

In spite of all this, in few Jillas, while selling off the land, the landowner will sell the Dalits working in the fields along with it. The working people will become slaves of the new landlord. The stories from a few Jillas are heart-breaking; you would not have the strength to even listen to their state of affairs. In few Malayali Jillas, there is a class of people called ‘Naayaadis’. They are not supposed to walk in any streets. They should remain 50 to 100 yards away from the streets. They can’t do any work anywhere. They have to spread a cloth on the street and hide themselves somewhere and shout ‘Thambirane, Thambirane’ If some people walking on the road throw food or money, they should take it by the evening and run away before anyone glances them. They can collect spilled over grains in the fields, hunt the reptiles and birds with a stone, grill and eat them. They can’t do anything beyond that.

There is another group of people in Malayali Jilla. They consider they are upper class among Dalits. They will raise a sound “Haa Haa” while walking on the streets all along the path, like a motor car raising its horn. The only difference is the motor car will raise the horn only at the corners, but these people will do that all along their path. They are doing this to state that, ‘I am a lower caste fellow, upper-class people, please beware am coming, and please move away’.

In our current status, we have no way of changing our position in the society; we can’t earn money and become rich; we can’t learn; we can’t run our own business; we can’t upgrade ourselves to high earning jobs. Even in our Swarajya, we would not be qualified to any position beyond Peon or Police constable. In Local municipalities, we may be qualified to clean toilets, scavenging supervisors, that too is possible only if the ‘National leader’ of the department magnanimously allows us to do. We have no means to qualify for clerical or higher jobs. Christians, whose numbers are near 50 lakhs, despite being non-Hindus, enjoy equal status with Brahmins in terms of job opportunities. Muslims are almost equal in our numbers, eight crores, despite being non-Hindus, they are enjoying proportionate job opportunities at all levels. Moreover, many of them are rich and function as bankers. Other class Hindus have also improved many folds compared to us.

Our population is 7 crores (we are the sons of the soil), and we are called untouchables or Panchamas. How many of us are educated; officers; bankers; businessmen; landlords; rich people; think about it. Do we have at least 1:1000 ratio among educated; 1:10000 among rich; 1:100000 among office-bearers? What is the reason? There are evidences to prove we are the native sons of the soil. We are titled ‘native Dravidians’ ‘native Andraites’ ‘native Kannadigas’ ‘native Marattas’ etc., this ‘Native’ title is given only to oppress us and not to laud us. The title in no way works in our favour, but aids oppression.

A country may be democratic, free and self-ruled. But if it classifies one-third of its population as untouchables and oppresses them; do not allow them to walk in the streets; do not allow to fetch water from a common pond or well; do not allow them to live in the village or town; do not allow them to have a square meal; do not allow them to wear clothes above the waist; would one label the country as a treacherous nation or call it a Democratic country?

Brothers ‘I have to site our own stupid, shameless nature as the responsible factor for our pathetic condition, isn’t it? You should not feel bad about me for stating that. Instead please think it over. If you think it is true, please pay attention to it and act accordingly. In any other nation, a Christian or a Muslim is treated as untouchable? Chinese and Japanese Buddhists who visit our country are treating us as untouchables? It is people from our own nation who live with us and utilize our labour for their welfare are treating us as untouchables. Are they treating so because we belong to the same nation? No, they do so because we belong to the same religion.

Any other religion other than Hinduism will never accept the concept of untouchability. We live with it just because in our heads the concept of Hinduism and its evil practices are ingrained well. If someone tries to practice untouchability in any other religion, those people who pay utmost importance to self-respect will teach a strong lesson to the person who tries. Now, do you realise it is the religion that’s imbibed in our heads that is responsible for this treacherous practice? Hence I can emphatically say a Hindu never feels ashamed about considering a brother from the same religion as untouchable.

From the period of our forefathers, Hinduism have been practising untouchability. We have agreed and adjusted ourselves to this evil practice. By calling ourselves as Hindu, we have acknowledged the factor that we belong to the lowest tier of the religion, and we deserve to be treated as untouchable. In this scenario, would it make any sense if we act as if we suddenly gained self-respect and we shouldn’t be treated as untouchable anymore? Would anyone get rattled if we say so? If a man applies feces all over his body and comes near someone and says ‘no one should feel repulsive, should not ask me to move away’, would they listen to him? If the government implements a penal code section and penalises few people for asking that man to move away, the aversion could be avoided? Just think about it.

Similarly, in the society, a part of Hindus say ‘if someone calls you a Dalit, hit them back hard’ they also place placards with these slogans in few places. I would call it foolishness. Because in Hinduism everyone (except Brahmin) is a Sudra, and everyone has the right to call them as Sudras. Every Hindu should accept this fact. There are innumerable classes within Hinduism, and all those classes acknowledge that there are Sudras, Panchamas (Dalit) and Brahmins in the system.

This system is advocated by all the scripts of Saivism, Vaishnavism, Vedas and Smritis. Hence it is foolishness to consider this title of ‘Dalit’ is forced on us by someone else. It is we, who self-declare ourselves as untouchables by acknowledging we are Hindus. As long as Hinduism is alive in this country, Sudras and Panchamas would never vanish. Similarly, as long as the Hindu scriptures are there, we can’t abolish the titles Sudra and Panchama.

Mr Gandhi even after attaining enlightenment as Mahatma, Vedachalam even after becoming ‘Swami’, Sagajaananda even after becoming ‘Swami’ if they consider themselves as Saivite or Hindu, they acknowledge the fact that they are Sudras and there is a third class called Panchamas. They can’t stop the world from treating those people as Panchama. It can even be proved in Preview council too. As long as they preach Hinduism or Saivism, they are trying to establish and ascertain that a class of people among them are Panchamas and untouchables.

A Saivite who acknowledges Sambandan as a saint, a Brahmin, and his work Devaram also intrinsically acknowledges that he is a Sudra. He doesn’t have fundamental premises to demand he is not a Sudra. In a similar vein, a Dalit who acknowledges Nandan and agrees he is a Dalit as well could never declare he is not an untouchable. For argument sake, one can make ridiculous statements like ‘there was no caste in ancient days’ and make smart debates with Brahmins. But as long as one acknowledges self as Hindu, he squarely acknowledges the fact that he is a Sudra or Panchama.

I absolutely have no doubt that the Swarajya that Mr Gandhi advocates would be built under the principles of Hindutva. It will strive its best to save Hindutva. It will ensure the members of the religion practice their ancestral chores for living. In Gandhi’s Swarajya Hindus will again fall under the three classes of Brahmins, Sudras and Panchamas. They never will be able to win over any new rights that are deprived today. Because then those who talk about caste or religion will be booked under criminal, dissent sections 124A and 153A of the constitution. Even going out of the Hindu religion might be made a criminal offence and could be made as a prohibitive law. That is why Mr Gandhi said ‘When Swarajya formed I will drive away from the Christian Priests who develop so many churches and schools, out of India’. Please don’t take this statement of Gandhi lightly. Moving out of caste or religions is considered a Taboo in Hinduism.

Mr Gandhi didn’t dare to make such an outrageous statement against Muslims simply because of their intimidating nature and not because he thought it is fine to allow Muslims to convert Hindus to Islam. Hence beware that Gandhi’s Swarajya is a very dangerous place for Sudras and Panchamas of Hinduism. It is apt to remember the concept of equality, according to Gandhi ‘equality is for the soul and not for the body’. Moreover, in 1929, he said ‘I will not demand Swarajya unless untouchability is eradicated’. He also said “I will not demand Swarajya unless Hindu-Muslim unity is attained’. He declared ‘Swarajya attained without these two, would not remain stable and would result in a chaotic, violent conflict’. The same person now asks Britishers to handover the nation to him, stay away and leave the rest to him. He says we can attend to untouchability and Hindu-Muslim unity later. Just think about it for a moment. What else could be the idea behind it, other than to form an army of Brahmin-Baniya combine and enslave rest of the nation?

Hence my dear Brothers; untouchable Brothers; unprivileged to walk on the street; drink water from common water bodies; if you want to be treated as a human being, please get out of Hinduism. Please get converted to Islam. We can provide self-respect to people of the world only through these two acts of reformation, else there is no salvation for us ever, never.


Written by Periyar E.V.R.

Translated by Ramu. Palaniappan

(This article was published first in 'Kudiyarasu' on 25.10.1931 and republished in 'Dalit Murasu' on Feb, 2009)

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