Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 16: Manniammai Street

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Where is Maniammai Road?

Maniammai Road is in Palvakkam. It runs parallel to East Coast Road, and in a tiny street, which is perpendicular to Periyar Road.

Who was Maniammai?

Maniammai was Periyar E V Ramasamy’s second wife. Her father was Kanakasabai Mudaliar, a member of the Dravida Kazhagam. Influenced by her father, Maniammai joined the party and became Periyar’s personal assistant. At this time, Periyar was over sixty years old, and Maniammai was in her twenties. She had been a student of the Self-Respect movement since her childhood, and a great admirer of Periyar.

When Periyar was seventy-two, he announced the intention of naming a political heir since his ill-health prevented him from traveling for the movement. In the midst of speculation (C N Annadurai was a popular candidate to lead the party next), Periyar dropped a bomb. In 1949, he announced the Maniammai (not yet his wife) would be his political heir. He said that he planned to make her the trustee of the party funds too. By 1949, she had been his personal assistant for around five years. This announcement created much controversy and shock, both in the party and among others.

At the same time, Periyar and Maniammai had a registered marriage. Many members of the party were repulsed by this marriage, probably due to the age difference. Periyar explained that the sole reason for the marriage was to ensure that Maniammai would be his legal heir, and no more. The party was divided over this issue; some people supported Periyar’s decision and others opposed it. There was even a petition in the party, signed by many prominent leaders, asking Periyar not to go ahead with the marriage. He refused. A DK Committee even passed a resolution to this effect, but by the time the resolution was passed, the marriage had already taken place.

As a result of this marriage, C N Annadurai broke away from the DK along with a group of party workers, and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Maniammai was, essentially, Periyar’s caretaker. She ensured that he followed a strict diet (difficult, as Periyar was very fond of food!), and that he took his medicines on time. She accompanied him on all his tours. Maniammai usually stayed in the background of the movement, and was habitually seen selling pamphlets and books outside the venue where Periyar was addressing a meeting.

When Periyar passed away in 1973, Maniammai announced that she was determined to carry on the activities of the Dravida Kazhagam. In 1974, during the general body meeting of the DK, she was unanimously nominated as the leader of the party. Also in 1974, she spearheaded a campaign to set fire to effigies of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita; and a mockery of the Ramlila celebrations where effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Indrajit were burned. She was imprisoned for her share in this protest.

She also donated Periyar’s ancestral home in Erode to the nation.

Maniammai passed away in 16th March, 1978. She was succeeded by K Veeramani.

Sources:

Gopalakrishnan, M.D., Periyar: Father of the Tamil Races. Emerald Publishers (Madras, 1991)

Rathnagiri, R., Periyar E V Ramasamy: The Revolutionary. Periyar Iyyakkam Publications (Thanjavur, 2003)

Nalankilli, T. (December 2005). Periyar Drops a Bombshell. In Tamil Tribune. Retrieved 22 August, 2012, from http://www.tamiltribune.com/05/1201.html

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