Tamil Nadu has been a forerunner in sensitising masses to the principles of atheism, thanks to the hard efforts by the late Periyar EVR, said K. Veeramani, president of Dravidar Kazhagam.

Presiding over the inaugural of the three-day world atheist conference organised by the Dravidar Kazhagam Atheist Centre and the Rationalists' Forum here on Friday, Mr. Veeramani said the late Periyar's grit and determination resulted in the Tamils regaining their dignity. He explained the ordeals, sufferings and humiliations the late leader experienced, with a firm goal for liberating the Tamils from the clutches of theism.

Mr. Veeramani said that Periyar's campaign for atheism became a mass movement in course of time to such an extent that the Dravidian party could capture power in the state.

M. Naganathan, vice chairman, Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, who inaugurated a science exhibition, spoke on the link between Tiruchi and Periyar in the late Periyar's long march in self-respect movement.

Peeca Elo, Free Thinkers Association, Finland, released a souvenir and the first copy was received by Levi Fragell, former president of International Humanist and Ethical Union, Norway.

The Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, in a message, said many of the socially progressive legislations enacted in Tamil Nadu by the Dravidar Munnetra Kazhagam government originated from resolutions passed by the self-respect movement, Dravidar Kazhagam and DMK.

Several delegates from different parts of India and foreign countries are participating in the conference. A special plenary session will be held at Periyar Maniammai University in Vallam in Thanjavur district on Saturday, according to Mr. Veeramani.