Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 9: Annai Nagammai Street

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Where is Annai Nagammai Street?

 Annai Nagammai street is a small street, which leads off from Ramakrishna Mutt Road (to the left), just before the Mandevalli signal.

Who was Nagammai?

Nagammai, or as she was addressed, Annai Nagammai, was E V Ramasamy Naicker’s wife – better known as Periyar.

As a young man, Periyar was vocal in his denunciation of religion, God and ritual. Periyar’s father felt that his constant critique of the sacred texts stemmed from an inner wildness of character, which could be steadied by marriage. Ramasamy was 19, Nagammai was 13. Their families had known each other for years, in fact, she was his maternal uncle’s daughter. She was due to marry an elderly wealthy man since her family was poor. However, Ramasamy insisted on marrying her against his family’s wishes; since there was an attachment between them.

Two years after they married, they had a daughter who passed away as an infant. They had no more children.

When Ramasamy became ‘Periyar’, a public man, Nagammai participated fully in his political activities. However, she was reluctant at first about following atheism and anti-Brahminism. In spite of his later professions that women should be independent in thought and action; during the early years of their marriage, Periyar did persuade or compel Nagammai to embrace his ideology. Once she accepted his philosophy of rationalism and anti-Brahminism, she was very active in all his agitations.

When Periyar was part of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi called upon the party workers to enforce a Prohibition in India. Nagammai was particularly active during this movement. She led groups of women in the picketing of liquor shops in Erode (their hometown) in 1921, along with her sister-in-law Kannamma. They ensured that even if they were arrested (since picketing was prohibited by the British), there would be other batches of women ready to continue the agitation.

It is a testament to Nagammai’s commitment to the cause that the situation in Erode became so tense that Sir Sankaran Nair (a member of the Madras Legislative Council) was sent from Delhi to request Gandhi to call of the picketing in Erode. Gandhi responded by saying that it was out of his hands; and the only people who could decide whether to stop the picketing of toddy shops were Nagammai and Kannamma.

Nagammai was also at the forefront of the Vaikom Satyagraha, launched by Periyar with the aim of ensuring that lower-caste communities gained the right to enter temples. When Periyar was imprisoned for refusing to leave the state, Nagammai toured Travancore state with women volunteers and spoke for the cause, addressing several meetings.

Nagammai passed away on 11th May 1933. In a true rationalist fashion, Periyar refused to mourn her death. He opined that in this way, she would be spared any worry from his future agitations, the results of which might trouble her. On the contrary, he felt he had been released from this domestic bondage. He even went to Thirupur to address a meeting when she was on her deathbed; and left for another rally in Trichy the day after she passed away.

Sources:

Gopalakrishnan, M.D., Periyar: Father of the Tamil Race. Emerald Publications (Michigan, 1991).

Diehl, A. Periyar E.V. Ramaswami: a study of the influence of a personality in contemporary South India. B I Publications (Michgan, 1978).

Arulmozhi, A. (January 25, 2012). Relevance of Periyar Feminism. In The Modern Rationalist . Retrieved May 9, 2012, from http://new.modernrationalist.com/2012/01/relevance-of-periyar-feminism-a-arulmozhi/.

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