The day was June 23, 1933. Kamarajar, who was to contest the Virudhunagar municipal elections, was kidnapped by members of the Justice Party. One of the most powerful leaders who were in Sayalkudi rushed to Virudhunagar as soon as he came to know of the incident. He called the members of the Congress party and arranged for a public meeting. Speaking on the stage, the leader said, “I know that some members of the Justice Party have kidnapped one of our party’s true volunteer from contesting elections. Kamaraj should come here before the meeting gets over and I leave the stage. Otherwise, those who kidnapped him will face the consequences.”
Immediately Kamarajar was dropped near the stage by those who kidnapped him. Kamarajar later came to the stage and thanked the leader.
This leader who roared and sent the members of the Justice Party with their tails between the legs is none other than Pasumpon U. Muthuramalinga Thevar.
Born to Ukkirapandi Thevar and Indiraniammal Thevar, a young Muthuramalinga Thevar grew up under the custody of his maternal grandmother Parvathiammal as Indiraniammal died when Muthuramalingam was just 6 months old. Parvathiammal raised Muthuramalinga Thevar, imparting cultural and ethical values through ancient epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavadham.
He was aided by his father’s family friend Kuzhanthaisami Pillai in his education. Right from a young age, Muthuramalinga Thevar was passionate about Tamil and its rich literature. However, his formal education ended abruptly when a plague broke out in the Ramnad region. Though his schooling came to an end, it did not stop Thevar from learning. He read books relating to politics, history, public affairs, religion, philosophy, Vanasastra, Ayurveda, Siddha medicine and Astrology. He even learnt Silambam (martial arts), horse riding and rifle shooting.
Thevar is also known for his eloquence in both Tamil and English and became a great public speaker.
Contribution to Indian National Movement
Thevar became a full-time member of the Congress party and attended the 1927 Congress session at Madras as a volunteer when he was just 19. He became a close aide of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. When Netaji and Thevar went to the former’s house, Netaji introduced Thevar to his mother as “I have brought my younger sibling to our home”.
When Gandhi had supported Pattabhi Sitaramayya to be elected as Congress President, Thevar supported Netaji, who was re-elected as President during the 1939 session held at Tripuri.
Thevar played a vital role in mobilizing manpower for the Indian National Army (INA). Lakhs of men and women joined the Bose-led INA from southern districts of Madurai, Ramnad, Rameshwaram just because Thevar asked to. He even started a Tamil Weekly “Nethaji” and motivated the youth to join the INA. The impact is felt even today as one can hardly spot a family in these regions which are not connected with the INA. Even today, youngsters from this region join the Indian Army, thanks to Netaji and Thevar. Havaldar Palani, who laid down his life during the recent Galwan Valley clash with the Chinese PLA, was also from Ramanathapuram.
Real Voice of the Oppressed
The Madras Presidency government brought in the Criminal Tribes Act in 1920 that branded entire communities as criminals. This oppressive Act had the backing of the Justice Party (the parent organization of today’s DMK), which had pledged itself to the British. Thevar led protests against the draconian acts and mobilized people against the Act. When the Maravars of 19 villages in Appanad were forced to register under the CTA in 1929, Thevar led a massive campaign in the villages, urging them to defy it.
Thevar made continuous appeals and led protests for the abolition of the Criminal Tribes Act. The Justice Party, which was in power in Madras Presidency, refused to repeal the Act, which drew the battle line between Thevar and the Dravidian demagogues.
He believed in the Congress party and actively campaigned for it in the hope that it would emancipate the poor and repeal the Criminal Tribes Act. But, Rajaji, after becoming Chief Minister, did not live up to the promise. Instead, he took positions favouring the Criminal Tribes Act. Congress arrested Thevar several times for his labour strikes and anti-Criminal Tribes Act campaign.
It is because of this that Thevar joined the Forward Bloc flouted by Netaji.
The Criminal Tribes Act was used to exploit workers and labourers working in factories and mills. Thevar formed the Pasumalai Mahalakshmi Mills Workers Union, Madura Knitting Company Labour Union and Meenakshi Mills Textile Workers Union, securing their right to work with dignity.
Thevar was also at the forefront during the temple entry movement for Dalits in Tamil Nadu. When Vaidyanatha Iyer was making arrangements for leading a group of people from the Dalit community into the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, he was faced with opposition from orthodox sects and even had threats issued to his life. At that time, Rajaji asked Vaidyanatha Iyer to meet Thevar and request his interference for the smooth entry of Dalits into temples. Apprised of the matter, Thevar issued ‘bit notices’ across the city, saying, “I would be there at the entrance of the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Those who dare to prevent the Dalits entering the temple shall come and meet me. I will answer them”. This made the miscreants who had planned to attack Vaidyanatha Iyer and others to run helter-skelter.
A Firebrand Nationalist
Thevar considered ‘Nationalism’ and ‘Spirituality’ as his two eyes. “Politics without divinity is a body without soul”, Thevar preached to his followers. Thevar led Netaji’s Forward Bloc in Tamil Nadu and became one of the prominent nationalist voices from Tamil Nadu. With his popularity, he contested in a constituency where Thevars formed only about 18,000 voters, but won with a margin of 1 lakh votes. In the Parliament, he staunchly opposed the special status given to Kashmir through Article 370.
He vehemently opposed the North-South divide peddled by the Justice Party and its offsprings today as DK, DMK and other Periyarist organizations.
Thevar was a celibate and lived the life of a sage. Being born in a wealthy family, Thevar donated his wealth to the Dalit community. Because of his deeds, he is revered as a God by the people of the region. However, with the glorification of E.V. Ramaswami Naicker by the Dravidian parties, Thevar was reduced to a caste leader.
Every year on his birth cum death anniversary, ‘Guru Poojai’ is an observer with leaders cutting across ideologies and party lines paying respects to Muthuramalinga Thevar. However, this occasion to celebrate the nationalist leader has been made into a photo-op by the Dravidian parties, especially the DMK, who use this opportunity to appease the Thevar vote bank.
Courtesy: The Commune