The basic philosophy of Periyar E.V.Ramasamy (17.9.1879 – 24.12.1973) was all men and women should live with dignity and have equal opportunities to develop their physical, mental and moral faculties. To achieve this, he wanted to put an end to all kinds of unjust discriminations and to promote Social Justice and rational outlook.

To put his principle into practice, Periyar associated himself with the Madras Presidency Association (MPA) in 1917. He was one of its vice-presidents. The Association advocated communal representation and demanded reservation for the Non-Brahmins and minority communities, as a ‘sine qua non’ of removing the injustices.

When Mahatma Gandhi (M.K.Gandhi: 1869 -1948) took the lead in the Indian National Congress, Periyar joined the organisation in 1919. He resigned 29 public posts he held at that time, including the municipal chairmanship of Erode town. He gave up his very lucrative wholesale dealership in grocery and agricultural products, and closed his newly begun spinning mill. Periyar wholeheartedly undertook the constructive programme – spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting the shops selling foreign cloth and eradication of untouchability. He courted imprisonment for picketing toddy shops in Erode in 1921. When his wife as well as his sister joined the agitation, it gained momentum, and the administration was forced to come to a compromise.

In 1922, Periyar moved a resolution in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee when it met at Tiruppur. The resolution required people of all castes to be allowed to enter and worship in all the temples, as a measure to end birth-based discrimination. Citing the authority of Vedas and other Hindu scriptures, the Brahmin members of the Committee opposed the resolution and stalled its passage. This reactionary stand of the members of upper Varna provoked Periyar to declare that he would burn Manu dharma Sastra, Ramayana etc. to show his disapproval to accept such scriptures to govern the social, religious and cultural aspects of the people.

Periyar’s determination to bring about socio-cultural revolution impelled him to support even his opponents when they implemented his progressive scheme. Though a Congress leader, he supported in 1923, the Justice Party’s measure to form Hindu Religious Endowment Board with a view to put an end to the age-old monopoly and exploitation of the upper castes in the managements of Hindu temples and religious endowments.

Periyar’s vigorous and spirited role in the Vaikom Satyagraha (1924-25) contributed in no mean measure for the triumph of that first historic social struggle in the history of modern India. This paved the way for the “untouchables” to use public roads without any inhibition and for other prospective egalitarian social measures.

At Cheranmaadhevi near Tirunelveli in Southern Tamil Nadu, they started a National training school as an alternative to those run under the control of the British Government. That school, known as Gurukulam, was funded by the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee and by other non-Brahmin philanthropists. It was managed by V.V.S.lyer, a Brahmin. Under his management, they showed discrimination between the Brahmin and Non-Brahmin students. Brahmin boys were treated in a better way than the others with regard to food, shelter and the cirriculum. Along with his companions Periyar stoutly opposed the discriminatory practice and put an end to it.

It was Periyar’s firm conviction that universal enjoyment of human rights will become a reality only when the Varna-Jaathi (caste) system was eradicated. Until the social reconstruction took place, he wanted communal representation as a measure of affirmative action to, uphold social justice. So he tried, every year from 1919, to make the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee to accept the policy of reservation to different social groups and communities. But his efforts bore no fruit in this regard. Finally he left Congress in November 1925 at the Kancheepuram Conference. He had to part company with Mahatma Gandhil because the later was not prepared to put an end to the Brahmin domination and to fight against caste system.