IMPLICATIONS FOR SECULAR HUMANISM FROM PERIYAR’S CRITIQUE OF BRAHMINICAL HINDUISM



IMPLICATIONS FOR SECULAR HUMANISM FROM PERIYAR’S CRITIQUE OF BRAHMINICAL HINDUISM

Periyar wanted everything that is done in this world should have some positive contribution to humanity, beyond religious and other differences. This is possible only in a secular Humanistic framework.

16.1 Secularism
            Before getting into any further discussion it is necessary to define, secular humanism. To define secular humanism, it is essential to note two preliminary words which together constitute the idea of secular humanism. They are secularism and Humanism. Secularism has varied meanings.  R. Paulraj has defined it as ‘a movement in society directed away from other worldliness to this worldliness’.[1] It is defined in the New Catholic Encyclopedia as “a form of humanism that limits true value to those temporal qualities that contribute to man’s natural perfection, both individual and social, to the actual exclusion of the supernatural.”[2] It is also “…desacralisation of political forces and deconsecration of values.”[3] It may be defined thus as a system or philosophy which is concerned with this world, and activities in this world, at the exclusion of any spiritual aspect. In relation to human beings, it can be said as a system which is concerned with the life of humanity in this world. As a system it does not oppose religion as such. But it has no regard for spiritual or supernatural elements. But it is not secularization.[4] 
16.2 Humanism
            Humanism is a world view ‘in some way centered on man rather than on the superhuman or the abstract’.[5]  For Ambedkar, “it is concerned with man’s life here on earth, and welfare of man in human society.”[6]  He was also of the opinion, that Humanism and rationalism have advanced together.[7]  So the aim of humanism is to have a meaningful and harmonious life in this world. Harmonious life means that people should come together and work towards establishing a healthy society, beyond all religious and caste differences.

16.3 Secular Humanism
Generally,  “it may be defined as any philosophical, political, or cultural affirmation of man as the principal object of concern, to the exclusion of all religious or theological thesis about his origin and destiny.”[8]  Paulraj says, “(the) secular humanism recognizes the value and the dignity of man and makes him the measure of all things.”[9] Thus in secular humanism man is the measure of all things. Secular humanism rejects the idea of God and his divine providence. The secular humanists will not deny the religious element in humans. But they would say that religious elements are of no use to human life.
The notable secular humanist M.N. Roy did not reject religion as such but he protested against it for it suppressed the revolt of people against the unjust activities. Secular Humanism persuades people to give up anything which are of no help to humanity.
Another notable secular humanist is Jewaharlal Nehru. He also did not reject religion as such, but condemned the irrational dimension of religion.[10]  Nehru further states how religion is used to curb human abilities:
Social evils, most of which are certainly of removal, are attributed to original sin, to the unalterableness of human nature, or the social structure, or (in India) to the inevitable legacy of previous birth. Thus one drifts away from even the attempt to think rationally and scientifically and takes refuge in irrationalism, superstition, and unreasonable and inequitable social prejudices and practices.[11]

16.4 Periyar a Secular Humanist
Like other Secular Humanists, Periyar also did not reject religion as such.  He accepted religion as a way of life.  He was also of the opinion that, religion was misused by the religionists to exploit the mass. He therefore felt that religion is the cause of all evils in the society. Like other Secular Humanists, Periyar emphasized and lived for the life of human beings in this world. Periyar was of the opinion that only a Secular Humanism, that is pure concern for humanity beyond religious flavours could unite the human beings together.

16.5 Implications for Secular Humanism
            Periyar’s secular humanism contains factors like, reason, right perception, helping one another, religion a way of life, human dignity, human progress, morality, harmony, welfare, service and human liberation.  

16.5.1 Periyar and Secular Humanism
Periyar would accept any religion that is subject to reason and concerned with humanity.  His perspective therefore, is not anti-religious, but anti-supernatural and anti-superstitious.  For him that part of religion, which Periyar accepts, should also be applicable to all and should help in developing human life in this world.  In such a case, where religion is restricted, secular humanism transcends religious barriers and concerns humanity as a whole. It helps to avoid all unwanted troubles caused in the name of religion and god. This is the background in which implications for secular humanism can be drawn, from Periyar’s critique of Brahmanical Hinduism.

16.5.2. Reason
Periyar asserted that, “the two things that render people irrational are god and religion.”[12]  Since religion and God have made humanity irrational, Periyar questioned the need of religion.  His argument is that if there were no religion and god, humanity could use reason evenly in all realms of life as religious people are reluctant to apply reason to religious concepts, rituals, etc. The first implication for secular humanism, therefore, is using reason to decide upon anything in this world.

16.5.3. Right Perception
For Periyar, “God and religion are confusing the Society.”[13]  As religion and God have already curbed human reason, humanity is not in a position to understand why there are lots of differences and inequalities in the society.  They have been also incapacitated  to think aright because the religionists have taught the people that these are the works of God.  But when humanity is free from religion and God, they would be able to say that, these are the realities of this world. 
The second implication for secular humanism is clear and right perception.  When things are perceived rightly, there will not be any chance for one group to exploit the other. For Periyar, these irrationalities and confusions are the result of ignorance. He said, “human knowledge alone can remove the pain caused by human ignorance.”[14]

16.5.4 Helping One Another
The third implication for opting secular humanism is that, we should help one another.  It is not in the hand of God, but in the hand of people.  Periyar says, “if we are to share the food and work equally there is no necessity for god.”[15] He further says, “belief in God is not in any way useful to help others.”[16]  When Periyar says, belief in god does not help in any way to help others, he contradicts his own stand that, religion should induce one to be helpful to others. Every religion is based on some idea of God or reality or Brahman. This idea creates faith in individuals. This faith is the same in every religion. This faith should motivate a person to help others. And that help should transcend all religions.  Here is where secular humanism finds its validity.
16.5.5 Religion a Way of Life
Periyar said that, he had no problem with people who accepted religion as a way of life in this world.[17]  This has been repeatedly expressed by Periyar as:
People cannot live without religion.  I do not mean relationship between man and god or salvation, fate, pardon, reward in the heaven.  What I mean is that there must be regard between man and man through love, devotion, peace, brotherhood, honesty and unity.  To say the same in understandable language, I would say religion is a way of life, a human movement.  If you want to call it religion I have no objection: without even a religion of this type it would be difficult for man to live in this earth.[18]
It can be said that the fourth implication for secular humanism is accepting religion as a way of life.

16.5.6 Human Dignity and Human Progress
Once Periyar said, any religion that operates against human dignity or ill-treats human beings should be destroyed.[19]  Thus human dignity is the fifth implication for secular humanism.   According to him “even if I were to lead a life in hell, I would deem it better than the earthly one, if I were regarded there as a human being.”[20]  Another lucid expression is that “even if I were to live in a place where I would have to experience much worse sufferings than those of a hellish life, I would consider it a pleasanter life than this mean, caste-ridden existence, if only I were respected as a man there.”[21]  It was not mere human dignity that Periyar worried about, but anything that affected any human effort or human progress.[22]  He puts his mission, as “my work is the emancipation of the society.  I am for the eradication of the high and the low.  I want to restore dignity and respect for all men.  I want equal justice and equal treatment and equal opportunities to all.  Redemption of self-respect and restoration of dignity to mankind is the dedicated task of mine.”[23]
It may be said that the sixth implication for choosing secular humanism is human progress. Periyar’s concern was not limited to individuals alone but to society also. He said, “therefore, real progress for society can come only when the leaders of society disabuse the minds of people of blind faith in fate, destiny, religion and god.”[24]  Here too he did not reject faith as such, but blind faith or superstitious beliefs.
16.5.7 Morality and Harmony
The seventh implication in secular humanism is high regard for morality.  Since Periyar had accepted religion as a way of life, for him morality counted more than anything else.  He says, “religious devotion is for the individual.  Character is for all.  There is no loss if there is no devotion.  Everything is lost if there is no character.”[25]  For him, morality is more important because it is concerned with this world and life in this world.  Moreover, this morality leads to harmonious life.[26]
 The eighth implication for secular humanism can be said as harmonious life.  Periyar was even eager to accept religion if it offered morality and harmony.  He says, “I want a religion in which there is true brotherhood, unity and discipline.”[27]  He was of the opinion that the first obstacle for harmonious life in this world is religion.[28] 
16.5.8 Welfare and Service
Periyar did not stop with human progress; he went further and said, “my only goal is the welfare of the people.”[29]  It is a clear indication to affirm that Periyar was a genuine secular humanist. He wanted that in everything human welfare should be given prime importance.  He also said that service makes human life meaningful and joyful.  For instance, “compete in doing service to others and thus seek your glory and joy.”[30]  Welfare of humanity and service to humanity therefore are other implications for secular humanism.
16.5.9 Human Liberation 
Periyar’s concern for humanity impelled him to totally ignore the spiritual dimension of religion.  He discouraged the spiritual dimension of religion in order to liberate humanity from oppressive structures.  Human liberation from any oppressive structure or bondage is another implication for Secular Humanism.  Periyar was convinced that as long as people follow Brahmanic rituals and practices, they will not be liberated from Brahminism. According to Periyar, the money and material wasted for festivals could be used constructively to educate the masses and also can be used for feeding the poor and needy so that they also can be liberated from their bondage.
16.6 Periyar’s Perspective
Periyar, as a secular humanist was not against religion as such but was against the evils that were perpetuated in the name of religion.  His opposition to religion was to purify it from all supernatural and superstitious elements which were irrational and confusing rather curtailing human progress. He was of the opinion that everything we do in this world should help humanity. Otherwise such things should be abandoned. Sometime religion makes people selfish and to confine to narrow outlook. Such an attitude causes disharmony in the society. In such a situation, secular humanism seems to be more meaningful.


[1] R. Paulraj, Op.cit., P.5.
[2] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.XIII.  “Secularism”., by T.F. Mc Mahon, pp.36-38.
[3] The Secular Witness of E.V. Mathew, Introduced by J.R. Chandran, (Madras: C.L.S., 1972),
p. XVII.
[4] The Secular City, Havey Cox, (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1965), p.2.
[5] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Humanism” by W.J. Ong, pp.215-224.
[6] K.N. Kadam, “Dr. Ambedkar, the Rationalist and Humanist”, Dr.B. R. Ambedkar The
Emancipator of the Oppressed, ed by K.N. Kadam, (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1993),  p.81.
[7] Ibid.
[8] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Secular Humanism”, by W.P. Hass, pp.226-229.
[9] R. Paulraj, op. cit., p.8.
[10] Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, (London: Meridian Books Limited, 1951), p. 12.
[11] Ibid., p.15.
[12] Collected works, Vol. 1, p.100.
[13] Ibid., p.18.
[14] The Revolutionary sayings of Periyar, trans. By Dr. R. Ganapathy, A Periyar Cenetenary
Publication, Department of Information and Public Relations, Government of Tamil Nadu, 1985, p.111.
[15] Collected works, Vol.1., p.102.
[16] Ibid., p. 111.
[17] Kudi Arasu, 1-7-28.
[18] Periyar E. V. Ramasami, The Salvation to Shudra Slavery, (Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya
Akademy, 1986) , p.23.
[19] Kudi Arasu, 18-12-27.
[20] The Revolutionary Sayings of Periyar, op. cit., p.4.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Cf. Periyar Kalagiyam, Vol.3, p.152.
[23] Collected works, Vol.1., p.161.
[24] Periyar, Man and Religion, op. cit., p.2.
[25] The Revolutionary Sayings of Periyar, op. cit., p.107.
[26] Periyar, Man and Religion, op. cit., p.9.
[27] Periyar E.V. Ramasami, The Salvation to Shudra Slavery, op. cit., p.24.
[28] Periyar Kalagiyam, Vol.3, p.133.
[29] The Revolutionary Sayings of Periyar, op. cit., p.7.
[30] Ibid., p. 108.

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