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Atheism in South India
Submitted by admin on 1 April, 1996 - 07:32
Vigorous atheism in South India
Following the conferences reported elsewhere many participants moved to Madras and South India for the events organised by the Self-Respect movement or the Dravidian Association. Finngeir Hiorth, a Norwegian, is well-known for his writings on atheism and humanism.
THAT ATHEISM remains very much alive in India was clear from the visit that I paid to that country in December 1995 and January 1996. My visit finally brought me to Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu in South India. In this state, with a population of about 58 million, most of whom are Tamils, there is a vigorous atheistic movement which is called the Self-Respect movement or Dravidian Association (Dravidar Kazhagam). The Self-Respect movement was formally established in 1929 by the legendary Tamil leader and atheist, Periyar (1879-1973}. Periyar had great talents as a leader and organiser, and he was also a capable businessman, who in the course of his long life considerably increased the wealth of his family.
Periyar was no democratic leader and those who joined his movement had to accept his leadership or stay out of the movement. Periyar vehemently attacked the brahmins, traditionally the highest Indian caste which provided most of India's numerous Hindu priests. Periyar delivered frontal attacks on the Hindu caste system and brahmin domination, Hindu myths, rituals and superstitions, including the very concept of a god.
On a statue erected at the centre of the Self-Respect movement, the Periyar Thidal, are written the words 'There is no god, there is no god, there is no god at all. He who invented god is a fool. He who propagates god is a scoundrel. He who worships god is a barbarian'. There are reportedly 500-600 similar statues in the whole of Tamil Nadu.
Since 1977, the Self-Respect movement has been led by K. Veeramani, a capable and widely respected man. In 1995 the movement sponsored about 30 institutions in three cities, Madras, Tiruchirappalli, and Thanjavur: children's homes, schools and training institutes of various kinds, a self-respect marriage bureau, a vision centre, a free legal aid centre, a centre for cancer detection, etc.
The Self-Respect movement claims to be a mass movement with 100,000 or more members. About 1,000 of these members on 10 January 1996 staged an impressive demonstration and procession in the streets of Madras carrying out various stunts and shouting 'no god, no god' and similar slogans. The process ended with a demonstration of 'fire walking'. In the evening there was a meeting with about 2,000 present listening to inflammatory and witty speeches by leading members of the movement. At the meeting a self-respect marriage was concluded and the evening was capped by a cultural programme and a dinner. About 30 foreign delegates from about 8 countries, the largest delegation being from the U.S.A., witnessed these events.