CHENNAI: Move over Che Guevara tees and merchandise. The “Che chic” trend gave way in 2018 to the resurgent popularity of a local revolutionary – rationalist and reformer Periyar EV Ramasamy. The demise of Dravidian ideologue M Karunanidhi and increasing popularity of right-wing politics in southern states, perhaps, pushed many youngsters towards the man who laid the foundation for Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu. This was evident from trends of social media debates in the State.
MIDS professor S Anandhi explains Periyar’s relevance among contemporary youth. “Since the 1980s, students have been articulating issues, like the rights of Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka, by connecting them trans-nationally with Tamil identity politics. For this, Periyar is a vital symbol,” she says.
“Although Periyar was critical of any form of nationalism, it has been crucial to mobilize the symbol of Periyar.” Anandhi says this trend has continued till date.
“Even in the case of Jallikattu protests, anti-NEET agitations or the issues of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT-Madras, politics of the youngsters seem to border around the Tamil identity.”
While this politics may not take into account all that Periyar has been critical of, it anchors on questions of rationalism, secularism and the atheistic themes of conducting oneself. The reason, Dravidar Kazhagam president K Veeramani says, is because Periyar is not identified as an individual.
“If Periyar was a mere individual, he would have been forgotten 35 years ago. Even those who do not agree with certain principles of Periyar agree that he was and is a phenomenon,” says Veeramani. “The reason for this is that he did not have political ambitions. He never lost focus of his original cause. Periyar, at one stroke, resigned 29 public posts that he had held when Gandhi led the Indian National Congress.”
Periyar had said, Veeramani recalls, that, “if at all a man must be judged, it should be by his ability to reason.” Youngsters, Veeramani says, must keep this in mind.
Express spoke to a few youngsters and their reasons for being interested in Periyar seemed varied. Journalism student Jenny Bharathi K recalls Periyar’s activism on gender equality. “He had said Karandi piditha kaigal ini puthagam pidikatum (the hands that held ladles shall now hold books). It was his views on women liberation that attracted me.”
Thousands of youngsters turned up for the Karunj Sattai March, held in Tiruchy on December 23 by followers of Periyar and other progressive leaders. “This is not surprising as the political apathy of governments towards the public has created a cloud of apathy,” claims Suryamurthy, a final-year engineering student in Kumbakonam. “This, in turn, pushes them to find answers. Eventually, they end up reading about crusaders of humanity, like Periyar.”
Most of these youngsters say that they got to know about Periyar and what he stood for through social media. “I belong to a generation that had Instagram accounts while in middle school. Then, how else will we become aware of politics but through social media,” says Nithin PR, a student from Coimbatore. “People like Periyar, Ambedkar, Anna and others fill the political void in our minds, helping us compile a perspective, regardless of it being left or right,” says R Yogeswaran, a recent BE graduate in Tiruchy.
MIDS professor S Anandhi explains Periyar’s relevance among contemporary youth. “Since the 80s, students have been articulating issues, like the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka, by connecting them trans-nationally with Tamil identity politics. For this, Periyar is a vital symbol
(With inputs from Nirupama Viswanathan)