Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Justice leader

Any talk about non-Brahmin movements in south India would usually place EV Ramasamy as being at the forefront of the movement. Periyar, as EVR was known, was certainly a tall leader of the non-Brahmin (and later, Dravidian) movement, but in the politics of eroding Brahmin domination, Sir Pitty Theagaraya Chetty was a generation ahead of him. The South Indian Liberal Federation was founded by Sir Theagaraya and Dr. T.M.Nair in 1917 as a body to actively promote the representation of non-Brahmins in civic and political bodies of the time. The Federation brought out a newspaper titled 'Justice', with Dr. Nair as its editor, and thus came to be known as the 'Justice Party'. Dr. Nair continued to serve as the editor until he died in 1919, involving himself in editorial and advocacy matters, leaving Sir Theagaraya Chetty to look after the organizational and political affairs.

Sir Theagaraya thus became the first President of the Justice Party, a post he held until his death in 1925. He had entered politics quite early, and served as a member of the Corporation of Madras from 1882 until 1923. As the head of the Justice Party, he led it to a thumping victory in the Presidency elections of 1920. When invited to form the government, he listened to an inner voice which told him that he was too old and his health too frail for him to be an effective Chief Minister. In any case, he was at that time the non-official President of the Corporation of Madras, the first person to hold this post. Through all this, his struggle was aimed at bringing down Brahmin domination, rather than that of the British. He must have been a staunch supporter of Britain's continued rule of India, for he was one of those awarded the title 'Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India'.

This statue, in front of Ripon Building, does not show the 'Star of India' unlike another statue of Sir Theagaraya Chetty. But then, the latter is inside the Panagal Park, bang in the middle of the locality that is named after him!