TAMIL NADU

Crusader against caste oppression and untouchability

PHOTO: M. GOVARTHAN  

Personalityoftheweek Laxmanan abolished manual scavenging in Gobichettipalayam Municipality

Erode: Behind G. S. Laxmanan's thick-rimmed spectacles and khadi attire is a freedom fighter's struggle, which also includes fight against caste oppression and untouchability. Popularly referred to as Laxmana Iyer, this nonagenarian in his battle against Dalit oppression set up educational institutions and hostels in his native, Gobichettipalayam. He donated 36 acres of land for the purpose.

During the freedom struggle he undergo imprisonment twice, during the Quit India Movement and Sathyagraha. He spent four years and nine months in various jails. During his stint as chairman of Gobichettipalayam Municipality in the mid 1950s, he allowed Dalits to draw water from wells by declaring them public. Further, he also abolished manual scavenging. He talks to Karthik Madhavan about the present state of affairs. According to Mr. Laxmanan, caste inequality has not been completely eradicated. "We may claim as though we have become an equal and just society but it is not true. In many places caste oppression continues in one form or the other," he says adding an attitudinal change among public has to be brought about.

On the question of reservation for the socially oppressed, the freedom fighter thinks that it should continue till such time that caste differences are removed. "Let there be reservation for the underprivileged, but it can cease to exist once everybody gets equal opportunity. If not, merit will suffer." How about the relevance of Sathyagraha as a means of protest in today's globalised world?

Mr. Laxmanan answers, "The protest, as advocated by Gandhiji, is based on `dharma', and discipline, and shall continue to have a bearing as long as the two are respected in the world. And, if a Sathyagraha is rooted in the two, people will listen." Aside from his perceptions, the freedom fighter says if there is something that worries him it is lack of a `proper attitude' in society, which he attributes to the absence of good leaders. The Indian community by and large is selfish because its leaders are so.

"Today we have mostly self-serving politicians, who accord priority only to them, their families, and caste, at the cost of the society's and nation's interests," he says and asks, "Show me some venerated leaders and politicians now?" In the same breath, comparing the present `leaders' to the leading men and women of the Freedom Movement, he quips that while the latter were `nation-serving politicians', many today are only `self-serving'.

Further, he feels that the country badly needs good leaders who can be followed, who will guide the public to work towards the welfare of the society at large with a national spirit. Mr. Laxmanan wants the society to get rid off is the notion that shortcut will lead to success and fame.