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Mobilization and Articulation

S. Anandhi

Edited by K. Srilata
Kali for Women, 2003, pp. 198, Rs. 300.00


The Self-Respect Movement initiated by Periyar E.V.Ramasamy in 1926 constituted, no doubt, the most radical phase of the Dravidian Movement. The vast literature on the history of the movement clearly locates its radicalism in its conscious effort to give primacy to issues of gender and particularly so in the women’s voices critiquing the brahminic patriarchy. Unlike the national movement, the Self-Respect Movement not only mobilized women to participate in various social reform activities, but also provided a space for women to articulate their own critique of patriarchal and other oppressive practices and ideologies, including the non-brahmin patriarchal practices. Women activists like Neelavathi Ramasubramaniam, M. Maragadavalli, Sivagami Chidambaranar, Kunchidam Gurusami and Moovalur Ramamirtam Ammal, to name a few of them, constantly wrote in almost all the Self-Respect publications against brahminic rituals that subordinate women and also against caste oppression. While Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammal wrote a 360-page novel attacking the devadasi system, Maragadavalli edited a well-known journal for women known as Madhar Marumanam (Remarriage of Women).   The book under review is a translation of some of these important writings of the women Self-Respecters. Through these translations the author claims to set right the history of the Self-Respect Movement, which according to her, had hitherto focused only on Periyar and his agency. The first section of this book contains translations of short stories and essays by women Self-Respecters, which had mainly appeared in a volume of a self-respect journal Kumaran published from Karaikudi by a leading activist Cho. Murugappa. The second section of the book contains translations of excerpts from Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammal’s novel, Dasigal Mosavalai. Along with these, the author has also provided translations of selected writings of Periyar on devadasi legislation and Self-Respect marriages.   Significant among the selection of women’s writings in the first section of the book is Mu. Maragadavalli’s writing on Adi-Dravidas in which she vividly describes the sufferings of and oppression faced by the dalits in the hands of the upper caste non-brahmins, extols the virtues of dalit labour and demands political power as a way to abolish untouchability. In her sharp critique of the non-brahmin practice of untouchability, she observes that upper caste non-brahmin women blindly follow brahminic customs to humiliate and ill-treat the Adi-Dravida women. In another piece of hers on the ‘progress of women’, included in this selection, she emphasizes the importance of dalit leadership in the following way: “I ...

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