Late in 19th century, a group of English educated Indians in Madras wrote of reforming society by delinking it from religion. The radical atheistic authors chose to remain anonymous but their writings are stimulating.
“These journalists questioned the existence of all religions, when even Raja Ram Mohan Roy was advocating widow remarriage in the name of religion,” says V. Arasu, Head, Tamil Department, University of Madras, who has taken up research on the Society.
An article in 7.12.1884 issue of The Thinker on ‘Diseases peculiar to women’ describes at length nervous disorders. The author, mentioned as ‘Friend of India’, argues that “the labouring classes, whose nervous system is kept in good order by the physical exercise, which their daily avocations compel them to undergo” is rarely affected. The article says “richer classes of women who deteriorate their health by sedentary habits” are prone to diseases.
Dr. Arasu chanced upon the writings in 2000 and encouraged two of his students to pursue an M.Phil and diploma on the works of these mostly unknown writers.
“The weekly journals have been preserved perhaps because the British wanted to maintain a record. Though most of the issues are preserved as microfilms by libraries run by individuals or non-government organisations, I haven’t been able to find even one issue of the journal published by the London Secular Society, which the group considered as its parent organisation and reproduced many articles. We don’t know how many members there were or what the membership process to the Madras branch was. It is unfortunate that after seven years the Madras journal disappeared for want of patronage,” explains Dr. Arasu, who has edited and published a six-volume compilation.
The journal was published as Tattuvavivesini in Tamil and The Thinker in English between 1882 and 1888. Dr. Arasu, who has segregated the articles on the basis of issues, says the work will help to rewrite the social history of Tamil Nadu. The radical thinkers of Madras Secular Society of which Annie Besant was also a member at a later date, were inspired by ideologies of European philosophers such as Bradlaugh, Spinoza, Voltaire and Ingersoll.