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E V Ramaswamy

Erode Venkata Ramasamy was born on 17 September 1879 in the town of Erode, then a part of the Coimbatore District of the Madras Presidency. He is also known as Ramaswami, EVR, Thanthai Periyar, or Periyar. At a young age, he witnessed numerous incidents of racial, caste and gender discrimination. Periyar married when he was 19, and two years after their marriage, a daughter was born to them. His daughter lived for only 5 months. His first wife, Nagammai, died in 1933. Periyar married for a second time in July 1948. His second wife, name was Maniammai.
In 1904, Periyar went on a pilgrimage to Kasi to worship in the revered Siva temple of Kashi Vishwanath. Though regarded as one of the holiest sites of Hinduism, he witnessed immoral activities, begging, and floating dead bodies. His frustrations extended to functional Hinduism in general when he experienced

what he called Brahmanic exploitation. However, one particular incident in Kasi had a profound impact on Periyar's ideology and future work.

Periyar joined the Indian National Congress in 1919, but resigned in 1925 when he felt that the party was only serving the interests of the Brahmins. (In 1922, Periyar was elected the President of the Madras Presidency Congress Committee during the Tirupur session, where he advocated strongly for reservation in government jobs and education. His attempts were defeated in the Congress party due to a strong presence of discrimination and indifference, which led to him leaving the party in 1925) After that He held the chairmanship of Erode Municipality and wholeheartedly undertook constructive programs spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting shops selling foreign cloth, and eradicating untouchability.

Periyar, after establishing the Self-Respect Movement as an independent institution, began to look for ways to strengthen it politically and socially. To accomplish this, he studied the history and politics of different countries, and personally observed these systems at work. Periyar toured Malaysia for a month, from December 1929 to January 1930, to propagate the self-respect philosophy. In 1937, when the government required that Hindi be taught in the school system, Periyar organised opposition through the Justice Party to this policy. After 1937, the Dravidian movement derived considerable support from the student community. At a rally in 1944, Periyar, in his capacity as the leader of the Justice Party, declared that the party would henceforth be known as the Dravidar Kazhagam, or "Dravidian Association".

As a rationalist and ardent social reformer, Periyar advocated forcefully throughout his life that women should be given their legitimate position in society as the equals of men and that they should be given good education and have the right to property. He was keen that women should realise their rights and be worthy citizens of their country. Periyar fought against the orthodox traditions of marriage as suppression of women in Tamil Nadu and throughout the Indian sub-continent. Dalit intellectual Ravikumar states that Periyar was not much of a supporter of the minorities. He cites Periyar's sayings from the book "Periyar E V R Sinthanaigal" by Anaimuthu in support of this claim:

We feared the Brahmin, and yielded extra space to Muslims. We are facing the consequences today. It's like that proverb: Fearing the dung, we have stepped on shit. If sahibs (meaning Muslims) get proportionate representation and the Scheduled Castes get representation in jobs and education and if the rest of the slots are monopolised by Brahmins, O Shudra, what will be your future. These comments, along with other controversial comments allegedly made by Periyar, were also perceived as anti-Dalit by a section of the intelligentsia and were the subject of a book "'E V Ramasamy Naickarin Marupakkam" or "The other side of E V Ramasamy Naicker" written by M. Venkatesan. However, Dalit leader and founder of Puthiya Tamizhagam K. Krishnasamy praises Periyar and credits him for administering justice to Dalits during the 1957 Ramnad riots. After the death of Periyar in 1973, conferences were held throughout Tamil Nadu for a week in January 1974. The same year Periyar's wife, Maniyammai, the new head of the Dravidar Kazhagam, set fire to the effigies of 'Rama', 'Sita' and 'Lakshmana' at Periyar Thidal, Madras.