Tribute

V. Anaimuthu (1925-2021): Crusader for social justice

Print edition : May 07, 2021

V. Anaimuthu (1925-2021) Photo: R. Ragu

V. Anaimuthu (1925-2021), who strove to combine Periyarism with Marxism, will be remembered for his marathon labour of editing E.V. Ramasamy Periyar’s works and for his untiring efforts to implement the Mandal Commission report.

V. Anaimuthu, the founder of the Marxist Periyarist Communist Party who passed away on April 6, established E.V. Ramasamy Periyar as the contemporary representative of the culture of Tamil society through his consistent documentation, research and ground-level activism.

The concept of ‘self-respect’ was the axis of Periyar’s work. He saw caste, religion and superstition as the facades that cover up the denial of justice, equality and dignity to all people. Periyar promulgated Vaguppurimai (proportional communal reservation) as a crucial aspect of social justice. Anaimuthu began working with Periyar on this issue. The credit for keeping the struggle for Vaguppurimai alive after Periyar’s time goes to Anaimuthu.

Anaimuthu first met Periyar in 1944. All of 19 then, he completed his intermediate course at Annamalai University, Chidambaram in 1946-1948. In 1948, Periyar held a conference to project the Thirukkural as a mark of Tamil consciousness. It was this move that accounts for the popularity of the Thirukkural in the Tamil public realm. Periyar focussed on Thirukkural campaigns during 1948-1954. Many supporters of the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.) published many journals on the Thirukkural around this time, such as Thiruvalluvar, Kural Malar, Poyyamozhi, Muppal, Kural Murasu and so on.

Thani Thamizh movement

Tamil language and literature became a significant part of the Dravidian movement. The Thani Thamizh (pure Tamil) movement evolved as a separate political strand. The Thirukkural was received as a text devoid of superstitions. From 1947 to 1954, Anaimuthu, too, attempted to write in chaste Tamil. He worked as a cadre of the D.K. with these interests. While many Tamil scholars of that period evinced no interest in Dravidian ideology, Anaimuthu propagated Dravidian thought in a unique way because of his keen interest in Tamil language and literature.

Kural Malar (1950) and Kural Murasu (1957), the two journals Anaimuthu published based on the Thirukkural, combined Dravidian thought and Tamil traditions. The high point of this trend was his publication of Cultural Revolution of Tamil Nadu in 1980. By then, he had established his own printing press named after Pavendar (the poet Bharathidasan) in 1973. His journal Sindhanaiyalan was published from 1974 and continues to be the voice of Anaimuthu’s organisation. Right from his early days, he linked Periyarist thought with the Thirukkural as a Tamil legacy, and presented this combination as the Tamil cultural revolution. He interpreted the Tolkappiam and the Thirukkural through a Periyarist lens.

Thirukkural & Manusmriti

The culmination of his work was a comparative study of the Thirukkural and the Manusmriti. He elaborated on how the Manusmriti was a religious and casteist text while the Thirukkural was diametrically opposite to the same. Furthermore, he connected the values found in the Thirukkural to Periyar’s ideas, thus establishing Periyar as the contemporary icon of the Tamil cultural revolution.

Anaimuthu’s methodology of reading ancient Tamil texts with a contemporary perspective fleshed out a Tamil tradition that was anti-caste and anti-superstition. He traced the entry of the laws of Manu in the formation of the state in Tamil Nadu in detail. Most kings and rulers in the Tamil region accepted the laws of Manu. Therefore, the state in Tamil Nadu was essentially Brahmanical. He pitched the Thirukkural as a counter to that Brahmanical state. This reading is essential to understand Periyar’s Thirukkural campaign.

B. R. Ambedkar and Periyar rightfully argued how caste is the primary unit of Indian social structure, and how religion justifies this caste system. Texts such as the Manusmriti, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata form the bedrock of this system. Annihilation of caste is the pre-condition for social liberation; in order to achieve this, religion has to be eradicated; and the struggle for social justice is the means to achieve it. Both Ambedkar and Periyar spent their whole lives attempting to achieve this.

Campaign for reservation

Periyar raised the issue of proportional communal reservation as early as 1919, when he was still a member of the Indian National Congress. He quit the Congress over this issue and joined the Self-Respect Movement in 1926. Periyar emphasised the slogan “Proportional communal reservation is our birthright” from 1926. Struggles against Kula kalvi (hereditary education) (1954) and burning the Indian Constitution (1957) were part of this struggle. Anaimuthu was part of these struggles. He was imprisoned for 18 months for burning the Constitution. From the 1960s onwards, he worked with Periyar to campaign for reservation, and conducted classes for the cadres of the D.K.

When Periyar passed away in 1973, Anaimuthu parted ways with the D.K and formed the Periyar Sama Urimai Kazhagam (Periyar Equal Rights Kazhagam) along with his friends. They took up reservation as their main agenda. Between 1976 and 1982, Anaimuthu conducted his campaign for reservation in education and employment in the Central government. In Bihar, their volunteers filled the prison as part of this demand. He took the struggle to New Delhi. The Mandal Commission was formed because of these pressures.

Anaimuthu made sure the Mandal Report was released in Parliament in 1980, thanks to which 50 per cent reservation for the Backward Classes was passed. But it was not implemented as promised, hence he began to meet Members of Parliament from 1981 onwards. In 1989, when V.P. Singh became the Prime Minister, the Mandal Commission report was implemented. Anaimuthu’s untiring effort to implement the Mandal Commission report in this decade is a milestone in Indian history.

Marxist influence

In India, Marxist struggles foregrounding the class struggle get enmeshed in caste struggles too. Since the inception of the Self-Respect Movement in 1926, Periyar contributed richly to Marxist thought in Tamil Nadu.

The Soviet Revolution in 1917 created waves all over the world. Tamil Nadu was no exception. M. Singaravelar (1860-1946) led the Marxist movement in the Tamil-speaking region. Between 1920 and 1925, Singaravelar worked on building workers’ and farmers’ unions, published journals, organised May Day celebrations and presided over the first Indian Communist Conference. From 1926 , he worked closely with Periyar. His writings were published regularly in Periyar’s Kudi Arasu. His booklets were also published by the Kudi Arasu press. In 1931, Periyar translated and published parts of the Communist Manifesto.

When Singaravelar received an invitation to visit the Soviet Union, he requested Periyar to make the trip since he knew he would not be permitted to travel to the Soviet Union by the British government. Upon Periyar’s return, a two-day conference was held at his house in Erode, in which about 200 persons participated from all over Tamil Nadu. Thus, the Suyamariyathai Samadharma Katchi (Self-Respect Equality Party) was formed. Singaravelar drafted the work plan; P. Jeevanandham (1907-1963) took charge of the campaign. The first Left organisation in the Tamil context was born. The British Empire was harsh on communists and unleashed oppressive measures. The organisation could not function for long.

Anaimuthu, a Periyarist cadre, was also attracted to Marxism. He named it Self-Respect–Equality. He was instrumental in many leaders of the Communist Party participating in D.K. conferences in the early 1960s. He obtained Periyar’s permission to bring them to the conferences. He coined the term “Marxist Periyarism” to explain his concept. He formed the Periyar Equality Party in 1976 and changed the name to Marxist Periyarist Communist Party in 1978. Anaimuthu’s political organisation combined Marxism and Periyar’s ideology of self-respect. He considered this brand of Marxism suitable to the Indian soil. He focussed on the liberation of the oppressed and the question of nationality. Anaimuthu began to publish the journal Sindhanaiyalan from 1974, and the English journal Periyar Era from 1994, as part of this movement. He believed that one had to do more than merely quote Periyar’s thoughts in order to oppose religious domination. He truly believed that a secular state had to be formed in Tamil Nadu and India to implement Periyar’s ideals.

Documenting Periyar

Periyar published many journals as part of the Congress, the Justice Party and the Self-Respect Movement, and wrote continuously in them. He also published hundreds of small booklets. Not all of these were documented in one place. Anaimuthu undertook this marathon labour of documenting Periyar’s thoughts through the Trichy Sindhanaiyalar Kazhagam (Trichy Thinkers Society). It is important to remember that Anaimuthu did not have any of the technological support that publishers have today. He records his work in this regard as follows:

“… I felt that it (documentation) is possible only if a single person can study all the sources, assimilate and analyse them. I started my work. I read all the materials available in print, as far as possible, and made my notes. The sections marked thus were separately written down by a few friends from 6.2.1972. By May that year, a major part of this work was completed. I studied the 2,000-page, double cap size, hand-written manuscript all over again. I compared the manuscript with the original and corrected the grammatical errors. In June 1972, this work was completed. A fair draft of the corrected manuscript was created by a team of friends by August 1972.

“Meanwhile, in August 1972, we felt it was necessary to compile another 1,000-page, double cap size, hand-written manuscript of Periyar’s lectures and writings. I had marked so many sections. Therefore, we continued the work from September 1972 and completed by February 1973.

“Compilation work and preparation of manuscript were thus completed in two stages. 2,000-pages in the first stage and 1,222-pages in the second, adding to a total of 3,222-pages long, double side, hand-written manuscript was ready.

“When the first set of the 2,000-page manuscript was ready on 7.9.1972, we shared it with Periyar whenever time permitted, for him to read on his own or read out to him and got his approval. Thus, members of our Kazhagam got his signatures in many pages of the 3,222-page manuscript and his copyright to publish the same in the last page of the manuscript.” (E.V.R. Periyar Sindhanaigal [Thoughts of E.V.R Periyar], Volume 1, Trichy: Sindhanaiyalar Kazhagam, 1974, Editorial pp iv-v)

The three volumes of E.V.R. Periyar Sindhanaigal were published in 2,400 pages on July 1, 1974 after the passing away of Periyar. This was the first ever documentation of Periyar’s thoughts. The classification of Periyar’s thoughts into heads such as society, movements, politics, language, philosophy, arts, reservation, god, religion and economics in these volumes paved the way for understanding Periyar. It documented 50 years of Periyar’s work. Anaimuthu went on to publish 20 volumes of the Revised Enlarged Edition with additional documents in 2009. He sharpened the section heads in these volumes. His documentation of Periyar took close to three-and-a-half decades, from 1972 to 2009.

Anaimuthu has also published all his writings under 16 volumes titled Trichy V. Anaimuthu Karutthu Karuvoolam (Treasures of Trichy V. Anaimuthu’s Thoughts). He has compiled all his writings from 1947 to 2012 under different subject heads in these volumes. They are a treasure to read and understand Anaimuthu completely. Anaimuthu also edited a book on Swami Sivananda Saraswathi’s discourses on religion in 2012. Another feather in his cap is the publication of Periyar E.V.R Payana Kala Kannadi (1912-1973) (Periyar E.V.R: A detailed chronology) in 2012. It is modelled on C.B. Dalal’s Gandhi (1915-1948): A detailed chronology, published in 1971. Of all the documents Anaimuthu edited, this is truly precious. He also published Periyarin Ayalnattu Payanangal (Periyar’s Notes on Travels Abroad) in 1987, in which we find Periyar’s notes in his own handwriting on one side and the printed text on the other.

Anaimuthu published two works of Athippakkam Venkatachala Nayakar, who belonged to the 19th century reformist tradition, in 2014. In 2013, I had the opportunity to edit the complete works of Athippakkam Venkatachalanar. In his editorial, Anaimuthu criticised my dropping of Venkatachalanar’s caste surname.

There was an organisation named Madras Secular Society that functioned in Tamil Nadu in the latter part of the 19th century (1878-1888). It proclaimed that it was a branch of the London Secular Society, and published the journals Thathuva Vivesini and The Thinker from 1882 to 1888. These volumes are documents of an unknown history of Tamil Nadu. Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters in Chennai, has a library containing rare books; it is named after the late DMK leader Anbazhagan. I accessed copies of these journals through a librarian at Arivalayam in 2000 and began editing it piecemeal from then onwards. In 2003, two of my research scholars worked on issues of these journals for their research. I edited the two journals in six volumes, a total of 7,500 pages, which was published by New Century Book House in 2012. Within a week of its publication, Anaimuthu released his two volumes of Thathuva Vivesini and one volume of The Thinker. He did not dwell on the organisation that published these journals.

The editorial criteria of both these works are completely different from one another. Towards the fag end of my editorial work, I had the opportunity to look at the microfilm copies of these journals donated by Anaimuthu to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi and the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai. I also had an opportunity to compare the original issues from Anaimuthu himself. He has recorded these interactions in his own way in the editorial to his volumes. We had many common interests and could share our views with each other, however difficult they were. I value the intellectual exchanges I had with Anaimuthu.

The compiling and editing of Periyar’s works has expanded to a great extent today. Several more might follow. Anaimuthu remains the meeting ground for Marxian, Periyarist and Tamil nationalist ideologies for social justice.

Dr. V. Arasu is former Head, Department of Tamil Literature and Culture, University of Madras. This tribute, written originally in Tamil, was translated by  A. Mangai.

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