In Memory of Periyar: Navigating Anti-Brahminism in Indian Education for Inclusive Progress

Periyar and Ambedkar share a similar stance on education that it is the only tool which can liberate the masses. The Privileged Sections of Indian Society will claim that education is not very important for today’s life, hiding the reality that they have privileged access to education particularly in the elite institutions of the country.
In Memory of Periyar: Navigating Anti-Brahminism in Indian Education for Inclusive Progress

New Delhi- Thanthai Periyar is seen as the leader of social justice across the country, particularly in 'Thamizh Nadu', where his ideas laid the strong foundation of social justice in TamilNadu, though the violence against Marginalised Communities continued in the rule of both Dravidian Parties. But the problem is, the discourses about Periyar were mostly revolving around his idea of caste and gender. It is true that his ideas were strongly focussed on Caste Annihilation and Gender Equality. But there is seldom research on Periyarism in different dimensions and fields.

Thanthai Periyar is a universal leader and Periyarism is a universal ideology. Thanthai Periyar is seen as a staunch anti - casteist and feminist icon across the country. Rather confining his idea within the scope of Dravidian Movement and Ideology, this article will challenge the boundaries of his ideas once again. Periyar was also an educational activist in his time who spoke about brahminism in the education system.

This is an important question at this time. We see how the ruling BJP Government tries to falsify history, promote communalism, and institutional casteism (I use the phrase Institutional Casteism to denote the casteism in the higher education system which is promoted or not addressed by the power structures within the education institutions). We are also witnessing how casteism perpetuates among higher education institutions including the ones beyond the Indian border.

Our education system is suffering from the deadly diseases of Brahmanical Hegemony. At this time, I feel that we are in need of a radical approach in the Indian Education System, to debrahmanize the entire structure; which needs the ideas of Periyar primarily, in my opinion. In this writing, I will be using his three Speeches of Thanthai Periyar on Education. Rather taking Periyar’s Political Philosophy and applying it to contemporary times, this article takes his speeches on Education and traces his educational philosophy.

This article will not focus upon his dedicated efforts to uproot casteism (which includes his staunch opposition to Kulakalvi Thittam and his efforts to make educational institutions more accessible for Non Brahmin Children) which will take towards non theoretical arguments. Rather, this article tries to derive a vernacular educational philosophy from the writings of Periyar and placing Periyar in the current academic structural issues.

What is Education?

Periyar points out that the education system is confined to the survival of the individual, to running daily life through any means, and for pride. Even today this is the truth, that is why we can see numerous students don’t know how the education they acquired will help in the future. The education system is meant to create educated labourers for working in this state system, without questioning why the system runs like this. If the educated labourers question, it would become a problem for the people who desperately need cheap and unquestioning labour. Periyar was also clear that these educated labourers are created because of the bonding of Brahmin (Aryan) Teachers and the State System which appointed them. The State System provides numerous benefits for Brahmins to stay in this system and continue their job of creating the educated masses who lost self-respect. By creating these types of “slaves'' to the Government, Periyar points out that the Brahmins maintain their hegemony.

According to Periyar, the education system tends to develop a new generation of citizens with individualist ideas. Most of them forget that they are societal animals. Periyar points out that the lack of goal when it comes to education, is what pushing masses towards the acceptance of the existing educational system which is built on Brahmanical Foundations. When we speak about Brahmanism, it has material and non-material dimensions. The deep material notions of Brahmanism such as power, authority, and wealth is what we can understand from the wider term Brahmanism throughout this essay. It is important to note that all people are part of society where their mutual interactions and interdependence are the engines of the society.

Applying the Gramscian idea of Hegemony, we can understand how Brahmanical Hegemony dominates the oppressed communities in India through the means of education. Gramsci in his “Men or Machines” writes that,

“Knowledge is a privilege. Schooling is a privilege. And we don’t want it to be that way. All young people should be equal in terms of knowledge.”

He points out that education is a privilege in his time. Periyar, who can be seen as a contemporary of Gramsci shares something similar to that of Gramsci. He argues that the current education system is not equally affordable for everyone, which pushes the common people towards poverty when they attempt to afford this education to their children.

Nature of Education System:

Periyar argues that the then (current) education system is creating a new class who are educated in various fields who are Businessmen, Lawyers, Doctors, and etc, where this new class maintains the current Brahmanical System by building temples, supporting Aryanized Religion and Customs, and bringing the rest of the masses towards them. Taking the non-material aspects into account, Periyar says that the Brahmanical Education is transforming education as a tool of immorality from a tool of knowledge, discipline, and love. This Education Method is creating a strong divide between the ruler and the ruled, where the latter were forced to be in the status of oppressed.

Periyar on School Textbooks

Periyar further critiqued how the Indian textbooks not just alienated non-Brahmins but alienated South Indians in general, by focusing only on Ashoka, Mauryas, and British. Today, NCERT and other Institutions are forcing Ramayana and Mahabharatha to be in the History Syllabus. Periyar points out how school textbooks are laying foundations for the subordination of children belonging to the oppressed communities to the Brahmin Hegemon. It is important to note that as Gramsci said, in order to oppress the exploited communities, it is necessary to maintain hegemony. This hegemony includes falsifying and super-glorifying history, manipulating the mainstream media, taking hyper-nationalist or semi-hyper-nationalist films portraying a particular community in the worst way. Coming to the education field, it is a crucially important sector to maintain the hegemon, as it tinkers the mindset at a very young age.

Periyar asks, “Why does the Thamizh Community need to study about the Ramayana and Mahabharata Stories? Why are they included in national history?” Further, he asks that aren’t the people who are toiling for the upliftment of Thamizh Community, welfare of the community, growth of the language and literature, should take this issue of Brahminization of Thamizh History and Literature. This is not just a question of Periyar to the Thamizh Community at that time; but this question is relevant to every national community of this Indian State. Every national community, whether it is Thamizh or Malayalam, Bangla or Punjabi, Assamese or Marathi, should come forward and take this issue of Brahminization of their history.

Schools and Colleges

Periyar gave an interesting speech on a specific period of time, when children were suffering from lack of schools and colleges. The children don’t have enough schools to get their school education, and those who received basic school education are not getting into colleges due to less number of seats. When we see as a person without understanding the structural issues and systemic crisis, we can easily tell that more schools will help us to solve the issues. But Periyar clearly notes that even in this crisis situation, the system made sure that children belonging to the Brahmin community got their higher education cent percent.

Why is this happening? We can point out that the institution is suffering from casteism (Institutional Casteism) resulting in denying the education for Non Brahmins. But the Institution Structure is not only the problem, rather Brahminism also makes sure that the backward and oppressed communities are concerned about marriages, festivals and funerals.

Periyar clearly points out - how the children whose parents got economic capital are sending their children to the convent and Montfort schools claiming that their children will be spoiled if they are interacting with the children of the commoners; but the reality is they are already spoiled because of the cigarettes and alcohol. Sending the children to such schools is also an act of casteism. This act of casteism aims to prevent the interaction between the privileged kids and marginalised kids. The fact is these children, who never interacted with the children belonging to the commoners’ families, including the marginalised ones, tend to develop the tendency to discriminate and oppress the community at a very young age.

Periyar also points out how christian missionaries are forcing the children studying in their school to go to church, following christian religious sentiments, and reading sacred texts. We can understand how students’ progressiveness and ideas are challenged when religious institutions run the schools. It is also important to note Article 29 of the Indian Constitution for the discussion. It gives the minorities the right to establish and administer education institutions. But we also need to find a way through which these institutions run by religious minorities shouldn’t be influencing the education of the children by forgetting the thick line between rationalism and conservatism in education.

Periyar analyses how public wealth has been used in a brutal way in Temple Festivals in the leadership of the Nattanmai, rather than being spent in public education. (Nattanmai is the Tamil term denoted to refer to the leader of the Village, basically.) Once, there was also a controversy when Actress Jyothika talked about the need to shift the preference of public funding to school education from the renovation of temples.

What Sulochana tells?

Sulochana, who is pursuing her PhD in Science Education from HBCSE in Mumbai, shares how Reading Periyar changed her view of looking at the educational philosophy and current educational system. She notes that Periyar’s Vision of education is to realize the full liberatory potential of education. She primarily points out how Periyar’s emphasis on thinking education beyond the earning purposes make it liberatory in nature. As the system is rigged, Periyar always fought outside the system standing away from party politics but still influencing the parties and major leaders. This Anarchist Approach of Periyar is important in education as the goal of earning will keep us to work within the rigged system, and thinking beyond the border of earning will push us outside the system and make us fight against the same system. Sulochana strongly points out that education should be based on the notion of self-respect which should be present in the very nature of the institution and the relationship between the students and the teachers.

Education as a Market

Teachers are seen as mere labourers because the privatized education system itself is running like a coffee shop according to Periyar. This comparison is very relatable today, as we see similar to how Hotel Saravana Bhavan is seen as a brand, schools like PSBB and DAV in Chennai are seen as brands. This Market Treatment of Education system leads to building a community of people who are becoming more and more selfish every day. This is why he constantly asked everyone to see education beyond the financial dreams. In today’s time, where we are facing the triple challenges in the discourse of NEP: Commercialization, Communalization and Centralization. Commercializing Education is against Periyar’s vision of education, according to him it itself leads to marginalizing schools.

Taking from personal experiences, even in private schools, the affordability question is highly interlinked with the caste question. Seeing the growth of private schools and the increased level of casteism, we can also derive this example of how this commercialization of education has its own market only when they show strong caste divides among the people. The one unique feature of classrooms is that classrooms bring students from different families and different social backgrounds where children can socialize. Classroom itself functions as a miniature of the society, each having their own festivals, families, emotions and issues. Bringing Caste and Class Divides to this classroom is highly dangerous which affects the interaction of children coming from privileged sections and those who are from marginalized.

Periyar on Teachers

Nobody can ignore the role of a teacher in society. In the case of Indian Society, which is rooted in the system of Brahmanical Patriarchy, causing structural violence against the oppressed and the exploited communities, the role of teacher becomes not to educate the future generations to become educated labourers - but rather develop wisdom and self-respect of the students. In a speech in 1945, he notes how teachers are considered as mere labourers rather than an important social force which is structuring the society. Since they (teachers) are seen by themselves and by the society as mere labourers, they are forced to impose whatever they learnt, even if it is not making sense to them, to the students. They are not only creating educated labourers, but slaves who aren’t allowed to question why and what they are doing. Periyar also says (in Reform of Education), Our Education is like a machine producing traitors. He also reminds that mothers play a pivotal role in the child development as they educate their children from the early stage. Considering women as mere machines to produce children and keeping them uneducated will affect child development, which is what is happening today.

He points out the Thirukkural:

உலகத்தோடு ஒட்ட ஒழுகல் பலகற்றும்

கல்லார் அறிவிலா தார்.

Ulakaththotu Otta Ozhukal Palakatrum Kallaar Arivilaa Thaar. — (Transliteration).

This couplet calls those as fools, however educated, who have not learnt to walk with the world.

Periyar insists strongly that the notion of self-respect must be imparted to children in their primary education. To walk with the world in the 21st century, we must acknowledge this fact, and pursue rationality in our knowledge developing process. For this purpose, it is the duty of the teachers to critique the existing syllabus and textbooks and teach the same to children to be more critical and rational while approaching any question. Periyar highly doubts the Science Teachers who studied Biology and Astronomy and believe in the Superstitions. Consider this basic example.

The Science Teacher is teaching their/her/his students about the Solar System and coming to home and asking a Pundit to read their/her/his horoscope which is written on the basis of Geocentric Theory. This double standard itself is a great problem as the students tend to follow these double standards throughout their life. I came across students who speak about Planet System and Quantum Physics and strongly believe in religious traditions which are completely against the science which they/she/he have been studying for his entire school life. That’s why Periyar asks frankly whether these sciences will have any use in our life apart from employment.

Two ideas of Periyar can be juxtaposed at this point: Most of the Scientific and Rational Sense that Education System develops is failing among the students as they see these sciences only as means to get jobs; Students who pursue any job lacks morality and rationality as this system wanted him to be unquestioning slave. Talking to Vimalraj who is pursuing his research on Science Education from HBCSE, he has shared with us that reading Periyar Writings would be helpful to learn the sociology and politics of education. But we want to test these grounds and take Periyar into educational philosophy and use his ideas to critically see the current education system.

History of Tamil Nationals

As we know India is a multinational state. In this multinational state, it is difficult to bring inclusive syllabus in education. Basically, it will lead to the writing of our history from foreign perspective. This is what Periyar asks - Do we have anything related to the History of Tamilnadu in Textbooks? Where do Tamil children learn about Tamil History? The Brahmin Hegemony highly influences the textbook creation as we saw earlier. This leads to the oppression of the non-brahmins, where these people fall into the vicious trap of losing self respect about their own community and selves. Periyar says that there is no historical evidence in textbooks particularly to tell about Tamil History and Culture.

What is the necessity of having Ramayana and Mahabharatha in our Textbooks? The Tamil People who are in the textbook committee should have national emotions, not the toxic ones which raise slogans like Jai Shree Ram, more like patriotism and respect to one’s own community. These emotions should throw away the content from the textbooks which prevent the Tamil Community to progress, develop, and rationally think. According to Periyar, Instead of going to Palani and Tiruchendur, dive into the education system and make radical changes which paves the way for the progress of the Tamil Community in this land.

Periyar - A True Secular Educationist

V Anaimuthu, in his booklet - Pagutharivu Kolgai Eppothu Vellum? argues that in order to promote secularism through education we need to deal with education in the atheist lens. He points out that the education from kindergarten to University Level, is influenced by religion, forcing the children to believe in god. Developing school education from an Atheist Perspective will help the children to grow the tendency to think and rationally make choices; experiment and question the validity and the reality; and mainly to be independent. Whether it is the majoritarian religion, promoting Brahmanism knowingly or unknowingly through textbooks, or the religious minorities forcing the children to develop religious instinct from early childhood; this has to be prevented. Taking Periyar’s Lens, it can be strongly argued that it is foolish to save religion and educate everyone. According to Periyar, Brahminism created social exclusion in the education sector, which is maintained by religion and superstition. Can we blame Goddess Saraswati when we are denied education because of this Brahmin Hegemony? This question is important to analyze in today’s context.

Periyar on Language Education

Periyar argues that language and religion needs to be separated. When a language depends too much on religious literature, that language faces great challenges to become a universal language. He praises three languages including Russian. He talks about the reformation of Russian letters. Suba. Veerapandiyan, another prominent Periyarist, once said that the growth of a language not only depends upon the addition of new words but also reformation through deletions of unwanted words. We can also widen the scope to include reformation of letters too, which Periyar did. Periyar also points out that since no eminent person did alphabet reformation in Tamil he did though he is not a linguist.

In Memory of Periyar: Navigating Anti-Brahminism in Indian Education for Inclusive Progress
Periyar’s ideas Continue to Reverberate even after 50 years of his death

Periyar in Today’s Context

Periyar in his article in Kudiyarasu (1937), mentions that across the world the literacy rate is higher in many countries when compared to India, in which our country is having another challenge of social exclusion in education based on gender and caste. It is important to understand that Periyar is still relevant in today’s time. Periyar and Ambedkar share a similar stance on education that it is the only tool which can liberate the masses. The Privileged Sections of Indian Society will claim that education is not very important for today’s life, hiding the reality that they have privileged access to education particularly in the elite institutions of the country. There is an increase in dropouts of students from OBC, SC, ST communities. This is because of a multifaceted exclusion - institutional spaces, language, classroom atmosphere, and etc.

The way educational syllabus excludes the Bahujan Community itself pushes students from the Bahujan community to an insecure and excluded point. Bringing Periyar’s ideas into action, it is first necessary to remove the religious and cultural elements which are discriminatory and exclusionary in nature. It is necessary to bring rationale and contents which develop scientific temper in the syllabus. Instead of pushing the students to learn about Ramayana and Mahabharatha, we can encourage students to learn about things like the Indian Constitution and Secularism. The Great Myth of Merit is still poisoning the Indian Education System which is already marginalizing the Bahujan Students through their Brahminocratic Institutions. Periyar was very critical of the concept of Merit in his own times.

Today, we are witnessing how the Brahmin Domination is being played in educational institutions in the name of merit. Interestingly, the institutions ignore the question of creating a safer space in the educational institutions and focus more on the concept of merit. The 13000 students from marginalized sections dropped out from IITs, IIMs, and Central Universities which is not even a concern in the first place for people who are asking about merit.


Education is an important weapon; which is why the bourgeois class are holding hegemony over education along with other areas like mass media and cinema. Whatever exploiting class writes, the exploited are left to study the same. Why don’t we have much content about the history and the culture of the marginalized communities in school textbooks? Why don’t we have much research and study on the question of sanitation, where we are trying to showcase our capabilities in rocket research? The solution for all these lies in education itself. Education is also the strongest weapon to liberate the oppressed masses. We today have the best irreplaceable example of Dr. Ambedkar. Periyarism takes the issue of Hegemony and questions the irrational things taught in the name of Education.

Periyarist Pedagogy can be described as a pedagogy which aims to develop rationalism and pushes the students to question the conventions which exist in social, political and cultural spheres; focussing on the development of the ideas of Equality and Social Justice in the minds of the Children. Lectures about Periyar's ideas are not part of Periyarist Pedagogy. It is about applying his ideas in the methods of teaching, providing the child capabilities and tools and courage to question not only the teacher but also what they study.


Thanthai Periyar. (2021). Reform of Education. Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam.

Thanthai Periyar. (2021). Thanthai Periyarin Sindhanai Selvangal: Kalvi Patriya Sindhanaigal (4th ed.). Dravidar Kazhagam.

Thanthai Periyar. (2016). Thanthai Periyarin Sindhanai Selvangal: Maanavarkalaukku (4th ed.). Dravidar Kazhagam.

Anaimuthu V. (2021). Pagutharivu Kolgai Eppothu Vellum?. Marxiya Periyariya Podhuvudamai Katchi.

-The Author Thambi (pen name) is currently pursuing a Master's degree at Jamia Millia Islamia University and is an avid enthusiast in reading and writing about Periyar.

Disclaimer- The views expressed in the content do not endorse or promote discrimination, bias, or prejudice against any individual or community. Reader discretion is advised, and interpretations are subjective. The content does not represent the official stance of any organization or institution.

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