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Ram, Ramasamy and Rajini: What happened in Salem in 1971?

Activists of Dravidian outfit Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam stage a demonstration against actor Rajinikanth in Chennai on January 21, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Tamil film actor Rajinikanth has courted controversy with his remark that at a rally in Salem district in 1971, attended by Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) founder Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, “naked” images of Lord Rama and his consort Sita were paraded with a garland of slippers. He said “no other publication... reported this” except Thuglak magazine, founded by Cho S. Ramasamy, which also critically commented on it.

Leaders of the DK and its splinter groups accused Mr. Rajinikanth of spreading falsehood. They denied that “naked” images of the two deities were taken in a procession. A recounting of what happened at the procession in 1971 and the reactions to it, as published in The Hindu, would throw light on the incidents of that year.

Controversial tableaux

In an article titled Demonstration against obscene tableaux in The Hindu on January 25, 1971, the Salem correspondent reporting on the ‘Superstition Eradication Conference’ organised the previous day by the DK, wrote: “The tableaux included obscene pictures of the birth of Lord Muruga, penance of sages and Mohini Avatara, a 10-foot long image of Lord Rama was carried on a vehicle and dozens of people kept beating it with chappals”. The report added that Periyar “seated on a tractor, was at the rear of the procession”. An image of Lord Rama cut out in wood was set on fire at the end of the procession.

The conference passed a few resolutions including one requesting the government “to take suitable steps to see that coveting another man’s wife is not made an offence under the Indian Penal Code”. T.V. Chokkappa, chairman of the reception committee of the Conference, in a letter to The Hindu, took exception to the report. He said that the resolution spoke of “a married woman trying to be intimate with a person other than her husband… The difference in the texts… is not one of tweedledum and tweedledee but vital”.


Responding to this, the Salem Correspondent asserted that the report was accurate and went on to state that Periyar had said “one should not seduce a minor girl; it was kidnapping and also an offence. But there was nothing wrong in an individual loving intensely another man’s wife who is well grown up and also is a major. If the wife of the man also reciprocates the love they should be allowed to marry one another and the husband should not prevent or obstruct their marriage.”

The original report also cited another resolution urging “the government to allow free criticism of religious practices of people of various faiths including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.”

A report published in The Hindu on January 31, 1971 said Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, commenting on the procession and the tableaux, told journalists in Madurai that Periyar had the right to think on revolutionary lines, but no government would be prepared to implement all his revolutionary ideas. The report added: “The Chief Minister said he was sorry to learn from newspaper reports about the obscene tableaux in the DK-sponsored procession and the police permitting the procession. The feelings of some people would have been hurt and he could quite understand it.”

Criminal complaint

Chokkappa filed a complaint against The Hindu, The Indian Express and Dinamani saying that he and the party to which he belonged had been defamed by news reports in these publications. He objected to The Hindu’s version of the resolution on the demand to decriminalise “coveting another man’s wife”. On an appeal by the three publications challenging the suit, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, on September 4, 1972, quashed the criminal proceedings initiated by a Madras Magistrate against the dailies on charges of defamation.

sureshkumar.d@thehindu.co.in and srinivasan.vr@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 10:29:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/lord-ram-ev-ramasamy-periyar-and-rajinikanth-what-happened-in-salem-in-1971/article30618177.ece

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