Public Art Water Chennai
Location – Periyar Bridge on Cooum River
In todays age of right wing vigilantism and time of severe identity politics where the people are being asked to choose, divide themselves further into castes and sub-castes, contestations between class and between caste increasing ,reaching almost a boiling point; it becomes important to somewhere rethink and point towards figures who had had movements of considerable influence in the fight to eradicate inequality.
Periyaar ( Erode Venkata Ramasamy-17 September 1879 – 24 December 1973), is such a person commonly known as Periyar also referred as E. V. R. or Thanthai Periyar , was an Indian social activist, freedom fighter and politician who started the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam.
E.V. Ramasamy propagated the principles of rationalism, self-respect, women’s rights and eradication of caste. He opposed the exploitation and marginalisation of the non-Brahmin Dravidian people of South India and the imposition of what he considered Indo-Aryan India. His work has greatly revolutionized the Tamil society and has significantly helped in the movement to remove caste-based discrimination. He is also responsible for bringing new changes to the Tamil alphabet. The citation awarded by the UNESCO described E.V. Ramasamy as "the prophet of the new age, the Socrates of South East Asia, father of social reform movement and arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.
A number of institutions, roads national parks have been named after him or the river Periyar.
Periyar may also refer to the river Periyar (big river) that is the longest river and the river with the largest discharge potential in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the few perennial rivers in the region.
Periyar also means elder one or respected one in Tamil.
What could be more important today than to point again to what he proposed, wished for and look at if we are any different today than we were 3 or 4 decades ago?
But maybe we are not heeding his raised finger, his warning , from where he sits today in Chennai .
So why was Erode Venkata Ramasamy named after the river?
Someone/something who gives indiscriminately? Shows us the way? How rivers give life and sustain?
But he is today placed in the city of Chennai next to the river Cooum from which he may turn away!
Walking upstream from the Cooum river estuary from the Napier’s Bridge (still named after Lord Francis Napier, built in 1869 , the then Governor of Madras from 1866 to 1872) one really wants to turn away from the river that was once a clean transportation and fishing haven.
And then arriving at the crossing of Anna Salai and Swami Sivanada Salai we discover that ironically Periyar has actually turned away!
Maybe he cannot stand the stinking river and does not like where he is perched !
But he still attempts to get the attention of the people and the city with his raised finger but no one listens!
He is all black now! With the air pollution and as black as the river Cooum is today!
Does he and the river Cooum alone, ironically barricaded, represent the decay! Moral and Environmental! That the river and him are only for those few days in a year when we garland them and pray to them and then ironically never enter the barricades again, to see, listen, smell or rethink, our cities, environment, society and the way we live.
We keep them away from us , unless they may , or we may have to answer to what they mean !
I propose as a public performative intervention to paint the Periyar Bridge black, single handedly over a period of two weeks till the start of Pongal
(The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttarayanam). This also corresponds to the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn. Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for providing the energy for agriculture. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun - the Surya Maangalyam) Pongal is translated as "boiling over" or "overflow.")
For the duration of the festival and to give out bumper stickers in English and Tamil (working texts-TBC )saying-
These set of questions to be given out as small bumpers stickers all along the road walking from the Napiers bridge to the crossing where I propose to paint the bridge black and have LED signs on the 9 arches of the bridge
Vaikom Satyagraha (1924–1925)
Main article: Vaikom Satyagraha
In Vaikom, a small town in Kerala state, then Travancore, there were strict laws of untouchability in and around the temple area. Dalits, also known as Harijans were not allowed into the close streets around and leading to the temple, let alone inside it. Anti-caste feelings were growing and in 1924 Vaikom was chosen as a suitable place for an organised Satyagraha. Under his guidance a movement had already begun with the aim of giving all castes the right to enter the temples. Thus, agitations and demonstrations took place. On the fourteenth of April, Periyar and his wife Nagamma arrived in Vaikom. They were immediately arrested and imprisoned for participation. In spite of Gandhi's objection to non-Keralites and non-Hindus taking part, Periyar and his followers continued to give support to the movement until it was withdrawn. He received the title Vaikom Veeran, given by his followers who participated in the Satyagraha.
The way in which the Vaikom Satyagraha events have been recorded provides a clue to the image of the respective organisers. In an article entitle Gandhi and Ambedkar, A Study in Leadership, Eleanor Zelliot relates the 'Vaikom Satyagraha', including Gandhi's negotiations with the temple authorities in relation to the event. Furthermore, the editor of E.V. Ramasamy's Thoughts states that Brahmins purposely suppressed news about E.V. Ramasamy's participation. A leading Congress magazine, Young India, in its extensive reports on Vaikom never mentions E.V. Ramasamy.
Periyar and his followers campaigned constantly to influence and pressure the government to take measures to remove social inequality, even while other nationalist forerunners focused on the struggle for political independence. The Self-Respect Movement was described from the beginning as "dedicated to the goal of giving non-Brahmins a sense of pride based on their Dravidian past".
In 1952, the Periyar Self-Respect Movement Institution was registered with a list of objectives of the institution from which may be quoted as
“for the diffusion of useful knowledge of political education; to allow people to live a life of freedom from slavery to anything against reason and self respect; to do away with needless customs, meaningless ceremonies, and blind superstitious beliefs in society; to put an end to the present social system in which caste, religion, community and traditional occupations based on the accident of birth, have chained the mass of the people and created "superior" and "inferior" classes... and to give people equal rights; to completely eradicate untouchability and to establish a united society based on brother/sisterhood; to give equal rights to women; to prevent child marriages and marriages based on law favourable to one sect, to conduct and encourage love marriages, widow marriages, inter caste and inter-religious marriages and to have the marriages registered under the Civil Law; and to establish and maintain homes for orphans and widows and to run educational institutions.”