Self Respect Movement – Causes, Significance and Impact on Indian Society

The self-respect movement was a non-Brahmin movement, started by EV Ramaswamy Naikar. He was also known as the Periyar which means a great man. He is also known as the father of modern Tamil Nadu.

In our medieval and modern Indian history, society was divided based on religion or casteism, and the social status was also based on the caste system.

The self-respect movement was not started instantly, but it was the culmination of social-economical religious exploitation of the poor strata of the society.  

Periyar was a socialist activist and a nationalist leader. He was way ahead of his time. 

The self-respect movement was started by him in 1921 which is also known as the Dravidian movement.

The ideological basis of the movement was:

1. Breaking down The brahminical dominance.

2. Empower the women in society.

3. Revitalization of the local or Dravidian languages.

4. Provide equal rights for the backward classes.

The movement focuses on equal human rights as well as generating the self-respect of the backward classes. They wanted to remove the system of occupation based on caste and improve inter-caste marriage as well as window marriages.

This movement was centered on the principle of individuality developed by self-respect, equality in the various sphere of life and wanted to remove the social practices which were evil in nature.

The customs which were performed in the name of caste and religion were aimed to put the backward class in the lower seat of the society.

These customs were not according to rationalism and humanism but it emphasizes the perspective of the dominant class and caste to create social divisions. 

The self-respect movement was not only focused on the social divisions in the society based on caste and religion, but it was also focused on gender equality, that women and men are equal in all the spheres of the society 

They wanted to empower the women and provide social-economic status where the women could also take the decisions by themselves and remove the traditional hierarchy and patriarchal rules.

It also focused to remove the devadasi system which was prevalent in the temples which aimed to degrade the status of women in temples. 

In the government jobs, the higher posts were usually occupied by the dominant class and caste which created dissatisfaction to the educated backward castes.

This movement was based on the concept of removal of caste and work for getting an equal opportunity for all people irrespective of their caste, for their development and growth.

It was also focused on educating the untouchables and establishing harmony in society.

This movement brings the pride of the caste in lower strata. It was inspired by the literature of Tamil named tan – maanam or suya- mariyadai.

Some important factor which led to the movement:

1. Rising education among backward castes made them aware of their rights and duties. 

2. Emergence of leadership in backward castes like E V RAMASWAMI.

3. International demands of people for Equality, Liberty, and justice like the French revolution and the Russian revolution.

4. High caste rigidity and inequality prevalent in society lead to discontent among backward castes.

5. Various Britisher’s laws changed the social evils like Sati, child marriages, etc.

6. Era of Humanism and nationalism. Religious universalism was spread in that era

7. Emergence of western culture due to increasing connectivity and education in abroad.

The Dominant caste focused on the Sanskrit language which created division among the society based on the language the lower castes wanted to speak in their local language but the imposition of Sanskrit strengthen the movement. 

The great leaders of that time were not so concerned about the discrimination based on caste but when the movement started many great leaders supported the movement. 

Sri Guru Narayan in Kerala also struggled against the upper caste dominant people. He provided a slogan one religion one caste one God for mankind”.

Self respect movement was criticized by the orthodox people and to counter this movement they start some movement like;

Dharama Sabha by Radha Kant Dev to maintain the Status quo in the socio-religious matter and opposing the abolition of any custom.

Bharat Dharma Mahamandal, an organisation of orthodox educators who opposed any change in the equation of society. 

Sanatan Dharm Sabha in South India and Dharma Mahamandal in Bengal combined in 1902 to form Bharat Dharma Mahamandal which focused on the management of Hindu religious institutions.

The self-respect movement was a watershed movement in the South that sowed self-respect and equality in society.

Although this movement was failed and even this became political too. Even in present-day, we face discrimination based on caste and religion.


This article is written by;

Mr. Pankaj Kumar Gupta

(Email ID: [email protected])