Veeresalingam is a force of nature whose work continues to influence us.
Every woman manning a household or an institution, owes a deep debt of gratitude to Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, little girls were forced to marry effectively an urn of ashes and left to face the torment of raging hormones, furtive glances and shaven heads in claustrophobic dungeons.
Emancipation of women
Veeresalingam’s goal was the progress of the country. Without the emancipation of women, he believed, there would be no real freedom. Literature was always a handmaiden and he started a magazine Vivekavardhini (first printed in Madras and distributed from Dhavaleswaram, later on printing shifted to Rajahmundry). He wrote extensively about women’s misery and upliftment, education, lampooned about silly caste practices, exposed nefarious officials, and mocked superstitious beliefs. Through his Satihitabodhini, especially for women, he educated women about their rights.
He had many firsts to his credit: novelist (Rajasekhara Charitra inspired by Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of the Wakefiled), critic, autobiographer, biographer, essayist, poet, writer of plays and playlets, satirist, investigative journalist (One judge dispensing judgments and dismissing justice committed suicide after the expose), scientific writing. He translated many books from Sanskrit and English into Telugu. He also contributed to children’s literature by basing his children’s book on Aesop’s Fables. He was all for vernacular Telugu, which became the precursor of the language now.
He wrote about hundred books. In Andhra, there was no such thing as a town hall. It was he who started these town hall meetings wherein local communities could be engaged.
Through Rajahmundry Social Reform Association, he fought against hiring nautch girls and spearheaded a campaign for widow remarriage. On December 11, 1881, he organised first widow remarriage in the country. He continued his activism on this front.
He also constructed Brahmo Mandir, Widows’ Home, Social Reform Association in Madras, Hitakarini Samajam, Girls’ School. He donated his property for these institutions. He inspired an army of youth with his zeal. They would collect donations for running schools meant for poor labourers.
His genius lay in tracing the roots of awakening to the roots of ancient culture, which even our later freedom movement couldn’t do.
For example, by showing the women of ancient times were seers and knowledgeable women even on statecraft, he demolished arguments against girls’ education.
With his heightened understanding of the past, keen sense of the zeitgeist and pre-vision of the future, he marshalled such forces as would make women attain their excellence. Had he been somehow with us now, (his 90th death anniversary is on May 27), he would have said to the girl on the Facebook, “Wow. That’s great.”