The Justice Party’s provincial conference held in Salem on 27th August 1944 marked a turning point in Periyar’s movement. The name of the Party was changed as Dravidar Kazhagam. The members were asked to give up the posts, positions and titles conferred by the British rulers. They were also required to drop the caste suffix of their names. It was also decided that the members of the movement should not contest the elections. In other words, the Justice Party, which was political, was transformed into Dravidar Kazhagam and became a non-political socio-cultural movement. It remains so even today.

It was in the historic Salem conference, Periyar allowed Mr. K.Veeramani, the present President of Dravidar Kazhagam, who had not yet completed 11 years then, to stand on the table and address the gathering. Arignar Anna introduced him to the audience as the Thiru Gnanasambandar of the Self-respect movement. (Gnanasambandar was a precocious devotee and composer of hymns in Tamil in the Saivite lore).
In the last week of December 1944 and in the first week of January 1945, Periyar undertook a tour of North India. On 27th December 1944, he spoke in a conference of the Radical Democratic Party in Calcutta (Kolkotta). M.N.Roy introduced him to those assembled as his atheist preceptor. In 1945, a volunteer corps of black shirts was organised.

The Dravidar Kazhagam flag, in the ratio of 3: 2, a red circle in the middle in the black background, was adopted in 1946. The black represented the deprivations and the indignities to which the Dravidians are subjected to under the Hindu religious milieu. The red stands for the determined efforts to dispel the ignorance and blind faith among the people and to liberate them materially and mentally from all kinds of exploitation, particularly those of social and cultural. A two-day conference of black-shirt volunteer corps was organised in Madurai in May 1946. On the second day the pandal was burnt down at the instigation of Brahminical Hindu Sanathanis. In the same year on 9th December, Periyar raised his sure voice against the manner in which the Constituent Assembly was constituted.

Periyar declared that 15 August 1947, when India became politically free, was a day of mourning because the event marked, in his opinion, only a transfer of power to the Brahmin – Bania Combine, whose socio-cultural domination, in addition to economic exploitation, would be worse than the British rule. He also viewed the adoption of the Republican Constitution of India in 1950 in a similar vein.

Though he had basic differences with Mahatma Gandhi, Periyar was terribly grieved when he fell a victim to the bullets of a religious fundamentalist of the Hindutva variety on 30th January 1948. He even suggested on the occasion that India should be renamed as Gandhi Naadu.

The Congress government of Madras Province banned the black-shirt volunteer corps in March 1948. But that only made Dravidar Kazhagam more popular. As a result more than a lakh of people, most of them in black shirts, assembled in the D.K.Conference held at Tutucorin on 8,9 May 1948.

Periyar revived the agitation against Hindi when it was again introduced in the schools in June 1948. Though the authorities were stubborn in the initial stages and took stern steps against the agitations, they had to yield in course of time to the popular will, and withdrew the scheme of compulsory study of Hindi.

The firmly entrenched and deeply rooted social evils in India centre around the existence and perpetuation of the caste system known as Varna-Jaathi which forms a basic and inseparable part of the theory and practice of Hindu religion that sanctifies the stratified hierarchy or graded inequality. The beneficiaries of this social structure are the Brahminical upper castes.

Upper caste people who have enormous material resources and mental capabilities obtained through unjust privileges and exclusive traditional advantages. Those who work for the complete transformation of the social order have to wage an unequal war. By his experience and serious thought, Periyar was convinced that the individuals and movements that undertake the task of eradicating the social evils in India have to pursue the goal with devotion and dedication without deviating from the path and with uncompromising zeal. If they contest elections aiming to assume political power, they would lose vigour and sense of purpose. But many among his followers had a different view. They wanted to enter into politics and have a share in running the government. They were looking for an opportunity to part with Periyar. When he married Maniammai on 9th July 1948, they quit Dravidar Kazhagam stating that Periyar had set a bad example by marrying a young woman in his old age – he was 70 and she 30. Those who parted company with Periyar formed Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – DMK, under the leadership of C.N.Annadurai (Arignar Anna).

Least perturbed by sentimental and motivated protests, Periyar marched on with redoubled vigour to found an enlightened egalitarian society.

After the adoption of the Republican Constitution on 26th January 1950, Brahmins went to the Madras High Court and then to the Supreme Court in the same year asking for the discontinuance of the provision of reservation in educational institutions to the historically disadvantaged communities, on the plea that the provision violated the fundamental right to non-discrimination. The courts upheld the plea and declared reservations meant to promote Social Justice unconstitutional. Periyar organised meetings and conferences against the judgment, and also initiated agitations that gained momentum as days passed by. As a result, the Constitution {First Amendment Act} was passed in 1951 adding the Clause 40 the Article 15: “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and_ Scheduled Tribes.”

The Periyar Self-respect Propaganda Institution was registered on 23rd September 1952. In 1953, as instructed by Periyar, the Buddha’s Day was celebrated through out the state urging the need to follow a rationalist way of life, and the idols of the elephant god Vinayaga (Ganesha) were broken to demonstrate symbolically the inefficacy of the innumerable deities worshipped by the educated and uneducated people.

In the meanwhile C.Rajagopalachari who had become the Chief Minister of Madras State for the second time between 1952 and 1954, had introduced the scheme of conducting classes in the schools in the forenoon and asking the students to learn the traditional jobs of their parents in the afternoon. At the first stage it was implement in the rural areas of the state. The Dravidian leaders rightly assessed that the scheme was a clever device to keep the Shudra and Panchama castes as illiterates or semi-literates. Their children had just begun to attend school after centuries of denial of educational opportunities. They dubbed C. Rajagopalachari’s scheme as Castiest Education Plan (Kula Kalvi Thittam) and began to agitate under Periyar’s leadership demanding its withdrawal. As a consequence, the Chief Minister had to resign in March 1954, and Kamaraj assumed office on 14th April.

Kamaraj abolished the half-day-teaching scheme, and assured Periyar that his Government would extent educational facilities to people in every nook and corner of the state. He also assured that he would sincerely implement the policy of communal representation opening up opportunities to the underprivileged in education and administration. As Kamaraj adhered truly to his assurances, Periyar gave him his unstinted backing. Though Periyar supported Congress nearly 30 years after he quit the same in 1925, his support was more to the person than to the party.

In November and December 1954 and in the first week of January 1955, Periyar and his wife Maniammai went on a propaganda tour to Burma and Malaysia. In Burma (now Myanmar), he attended the Buddhist Conference, and had a discussion with Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. Perhaps this was the last meeting between the two great men, before the latter passed away on 6th December 1956. They had similar views on almost all the points related to socio-religious issues in India.

Periyar went to the burial ground in Thanjavur on 28 March 1955 to pay homage to Pattukkottai Azhagirisamy (Azhagiri, the dare-devil), an ardent follower of Dravidar Kazhagam principles and a fiery speaker, who passed away on the same day in 1949. He found a board indicating a separate place for burial for Shudras! Periyar wrote a letter to the district collector expressing his objection to the display of the board and to the practice of following “Varna dharma” even while burrying or cremating. As a consequence, the board was removed and the practice discontinued.

On 1st August 1956, the Dravidar Kazhagam undertook an agitation of burning the portrait of Lord Rama as he symbolised the preservation of Varna dharma. Periyar was placed under preventive arrest on this occasion.

The States in India were reorganised on linguistic basis on 1st November 1956, and Periyar welcomed this measure.

In those days, the board “Brahmins Hotel” was displayed, following the lead given by the Brahmins, to indicate that only vegetarian food was served there. Dravidar Kazhagam objected to the Varna dharma connotation and started an agitation symbolically in front of a hotel in Madras (Chennai) on 5th May 1957. Batches of volunteers agitated daily and 1010 of them courted arrest till 22nd March 1958 when it culminated in success.

The provisions of the Constitution that helped to safeguard Varna-Jaathi (Caste system) was burnt by about 10,000 volunteers of Dravidar Kazhagam on 26th November 1957. In this historic agitation, about 3000 of them were sentenced to undergo various terms of rigorous imprisonment, from two months to three years.

On December 14, 1957, Periyar was sentenced to undergo six months imprisonment in a case based on fabricated police diaries where in he was accused of asking his followers to use force against Brahmins, an accusation that Periyar naturally denied.

Two of the volunteers, Ramasamy and Vellaichamy, imprisoned for burning the provisions of the Constitution supporting casteism, died in jail. Their bodies were obtained with great effort by Maniammai from the unwilling and obstructing prison authorities and burried with due honours, after being taken in an emotionally charged procession through the main streets of Tiruchirappalli. Due to the rigours they underwent in prison, about 15 people died soon after they were released.

In January 1959, Periyar went to Bangalore to participate in the All India Official Language Conference. Along with General Kariappa and Medappa, he stressed the need to retain English as the Union Official Language. In February he undertook a tour of North India and propagated his principles of rationalism, social justice and self-respect way of life.

In June 1960, Periyar asked people to burn the map of India as a protest against the Central Government using the Union of India for upholding and safeguarding caste system. About 4000 people were arrested for taking part in this agitation.

In 1962, Periyar wrote a special article in the Tamil Rationalist daily, Viduthalai”, welcoming the present President of Dravidar Kazhagam, Thiru K.Veeramani who had offered to become a full time volunteer of the movement giving up his lucrative profession of a lawyer.

The Congress leader K.Kamaraj expressed his wish to resign Chief Ministership and work whole time to strengthen the Party. Periyar sent a telegram to Kamaraj stating that it would be suicidal to the people of Tamil Nadu and to him, if he quit the office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But Kamaraj did not change his decision, and consequently M.Baktavatsalam became the Chief Minister on 3rd October 1963.

As recommended by the National Integration Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Parliament enacted a law in 1963, prohibiting the propagation of ideas demanding separation from the Indian Union. Periyar vehemently opposed the law.

In April 1964, Dravidar Kazhagam conducted meetings throughout the State, condemning the Supreme Court’s verdict against the State’s Act fixing a ceiling to land holding.

Periyar criticized the spontaneous and fierce agitation that raged through out Tamil Nadu between January 25 and February 15, 1965 against the imposition of Hindi resulting in several deaths, because it was rudderless and unorganized.

In the name of protecting cows, an unruly mob, motivated by the Hindutva ideology attempted to burn the Delhi residence of K.Kamaraj and kill him on 7th November 1966. He escaped by sheer chance. Periyar strongly condemned this barbaric attack and called upon people to be vigilant to protect Kamaraj by all means.

Dravidar Kazhagam supported congress party in 1957, 1962 and 1967 general elections, and opposed DMK, which formed the government in the State in 1967. Soon after, Arignar Anna (C.N.Annadurai) went to Tiruchirappalli along with all his ministers and paid his homage to his mentor. Periyar was happy when the DMK regime renamed Madras State as Tamil Nadu and made Self-respect marriages legal. It was a non-religious mode of performing marriages introduced by Periyar in late 1920s. Though law till 1967 did not recognize such marriages, thousands of them were conducted due to the influence of the principles of Self-respect.

In October 1967, Periyar undertook a North Indian tour and asked people to work for the eradication of caste system. On 12th and 13th of October, he addressed a Conference of BCs, SCs, STs and minorities in Lucknow.

Periyar was deeply saddened when Arignar Anna, one of his chief disciples and an unquestioned leader of millions of Tamil Youth, passed away in his 60th year on 3rd February, 1969.

Dravidar Kazhagam decided in its Central Committee meeting in November to undertake an agitation demanding to put an end to the practice of appointing only Brahmins as Archakas in Agamic temples, as a way of removing one of the root causes of Varna-Jaathi.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gave an Award to Periyar, and the Union Education Minister, Triguna Sen in Madras (Chennai) on 27th June 1970, presented it to him. The citation hailed Periyar as “the Prophet of the New Age, the Socrates of South East Asia, Father of Social Reform Movement, and Arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.”

“Unmai”, a Tamil monthly (now a fortnightly) and Modern Rationalist, an English monthly, were started by Periyar in 1970 and 1971 respectively to propagate the ideals of rational humanism more extensively. The Allahabad High Court lifted proscription of the Hindi version of Periyar’s book on Ramayana in 1971. In the same year the proscription of “Ravana Kavyam” proscribed by the Congress Government of the Madras State was removed. On 12th January 1971, the DMK Government enacted a law giving equal opportunities to qualified persons to become the Archakas(priests) of Hindu Agamic temples irrespective of their birth in any Varna or Jaathi. On 23rd January a huge “procession of the eradication of superstitions” took place in Salem. The processionists carried large pictures and portraits truly depicting the events and gods described in epics and puranas. When a few intolerant orthodox onlookers threw footwears at the procession, the marchers used the same materials to beat the portrait of Rama beheading the Shudra Sambuka in deep meditation. This action of the Periyarists was blown out of proportion by the media through out India. They also published the pictures of gods and goddesses carried by the marchers. This event was used against DMK-Congress alliance in the general elections held in March 1971. But both the parties secured massive majority, the DMK in Tamil Nadu Assembly and the Congress in the Lokh Sabha.

On March 14, 1972 the Supreme Court gave a seemingly ambiguous judgment in the case against the Tamil Nadu Government’s 1971 enactment that threw the job of Archakas open to all the qualified persons irrespective of their caste. As the bureaucracy interpreted this judgement, in favour of the conservatives who defended the status quoe , Periyar announced an agitation, exhorting people to work for equal human rights in all spheres including social, religious and cultural. This agitation had become necessary to remove the indignity to the people belonging to the Dravidian race because they were dubbed as Shudras and Panchamas according to Vedic and Brahminical Sanathana Dharma known as Hindu religion.

Periyar organised a conference in Chennai on 8th and 9th December 1973. It was known as “Eradication of the social indignity of the Tamils Conference”. The conference decided to fight for equal rights and opportunities for persons of all castes to enter into Garba Graha (Sanctum Sanctorum), known as “Karuvarai Nuzhaivu Porattam” in Tamil. He undertook extensive tours to explain the need to bring to an end the Brahmin domination or privileges in priesthood and in other religious rites and ceremonies as an essential measure to reorganise the social order on the basis of equality.

In the meanwhile the court set aside on October 11, a case against inscribing on the pedestal of Periyar’s statues, his famous pronouncements (made in 1967) denying god, and denouncing the worship and propagation of the same.

In his last meeting at Thiagaraya Nagar. Chennai on 19th December 1973, Periyar gave an inspiring clarion call for action to gain social equality and dignified way of life. He fell ill on the next day and breathed his last on 24th December 1973.

Periyar’s life marked a turning in history and the beginning of a new era.