"Do you know who is Periyar?" Justice K.M. Joseph is reported to have asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta during the hearing of a case relating to hate speech directed towards minority communities.

The question was asked, reportedly after Tushar Mehta insisted that the speech by a DMK leader calling for butchering all Brahmins should also be considered hate speech and brought within the preview of the case that was being considered. When the Judge laughed/smiled at the request, Tushar Mehta appearing for the Central Government told the Judge that it is not a matter which should be laughed at.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was referring to the speech of a DMK spokesperson in June last year calling for the genocide of brahmins as advocated by Periyar. “If you want equality, you should butcher all Brahmins. This is what he says. Just because what he said was said some years ago by someone famous, it cannot be pardoned..it is hate speech… this DMK leader does not even face an FIR and he continues to be a spokesperson of a recognised political party”, Tushar Mehta is reported to have told Justice Joseph.

It was then that Justice Joseph asked if the Solicitor General knew who Periyar was, as if to say that he was a great man.

Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, also known as Periyar, who died in the year 1973, is now hailed as a social activist. He is known as the father of the Dravidian Movement, as we now know it. The present Tamil Nadu government headed by DMK decided in 2021 to celebrate his birth anniversary as 'Social Justice Day' in the state.

Here are some insights into who Periyar was:-

1. "Parpanan (Tamil term for Brahmin) should be driven away from this land", Periyar wrote on 29 January, 1954.

2. "However much a rationalist or atheist, if a person is a Brahmin he should not be allowed in our organizations", Periyar wrote on 20 October, 1954.

3. "To destroy caste discrimination, burn the pictures of Nehru and Gandhi and also the Constitution of India. If all these methods fail to give us results, then we should start beating and killing the Brahmins; we should start burning their houses", Sami Chidambaranar quoted in his biography of Periyar titled Tamizhar Thalaivar.

4. Periyar was a strong opponent of Dr. Ambedkar and alleged that Ambedkar accepted bribe from Brahmins and that the Constitution was made by Brahmins.

5. Periyar supported the British when they ruled India, hoping that the British would in turn support his demand of Dravidstan, a separate country for "Dravidians". He had a close alliance with Jinnah, who had openly called for Dravidstan and supported Periyar. This is clearly brought out in Vikram Sampath's book- Savarkar.

6. Periyar publically smashed an idol of Lord Ganesha at the Town Hall ground in Tiruchirapalli on 27 May 1953 and announced that he intended to hurt the feelings of the Hindus by doing so. One S. Veerabadran Chettiar sought registration of a crime against Periyar under Sections 295 and 295A of the IPC. When the dismissal of his complaint reached the Madras High Court, a single judge held that the mud idol of Ganesha was equivalent to dolls in the shop. "Though the intention of the respondents may be to decry the feelings and wound the susceptibilities of a large section of the people, still the intention alone is not sufficient unless it is carried out by an act which must fall within the scope of this section. The dolls in the shop, though they may resemble several of the deities in the temple, cannot be held to be objects held sacred by any class of persons. In modern society there are several images of the deities in the drawing rooms of several houses. It cannot for a moment be suggested that these images are objects held sacred", the High Court held. In appeal, the Apex Court disagreed with the interpretation of Section 295 of IPC but dismissed the appeal stating that it had been five years since the dismissal of the complaint. "The action complained of against the accused persons, if true, was foolish, to put it mildly, but as the case has become stale, we do not direct further inquiry into this complaint", the Apex Court said.

7. Despite Apex Court's warning not to indulge in such behaviour, in 1971 Salem protests, Hindu gods and goddesses were depicted in nude and with a garland of slippers around their neck. When a case was registered by police, Periyar reportedly said, "I have been doing these things from 1930". The 1971 issue was in discussion recently when film actor Rajinikanth refused to apologise for criticising Periyar for insulting Hindu gods.

8. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about Periyar- "Old and Senile men like Periyar deserve a place more in a lunatic asylum than in public life. It is high time Periyar and his followers were banished from this land".

9. "Wherever we find a temple, we must go inside and break all the idols", Periyar said in a speech, a recording of which is available in the public domain.

10. "Wherever we find a Brahmin, we must kill him and destroy him. He has done the same to us", Periyar said in a speech, a recording of which is available in the public domain.

11. "A few of us have to die. If one Tamilian dies for one Brahmin, only three of us will die out of every hundred. 94% of us will still remain. But they will be completely eliminated. We will definitely go that level. If they correct themselves, let them correct themselves. Otherwise, should we keep listening or keep experiencing?", Periyar said in his speech.

12. Dravidian leader Sirpi Rajan recently spoke about how sacred thread and tuft hair of Tamil Brahmins were cut under threat of violence and were sent to Periyar in gunny bags. Periyar would then publish the statics in his newspaper 'Viduthalai' of how many sacred thread and tuft hair were received from each district and would write that his workers from the district where fewer threads and hair were cut had to work harder.

13. In 1956, Periyar is reported to have written an editorial in his newspaper 'Viduthalai' stating, "If only the British had stayed on for another ten years, our men would have become husbands to more than half Brahmin women. Only because Brahmin women are easily falling in love with our men and that is why Brahmins started hating the British".

There are many more such instances in recorded history which shed light on Periyar and his ideology. His views about the unity and integrity of India, the Constitution of India, about citizens belonging to a particular caste and about the Hindu religion are clear from the few aspects mentioned above.

Justice K.M. Joseph needs to clarify his views on Periyar, now that he has seemingly endorsed Periyar. If Justice K.M. Joseph feels that hate speech is justified in some circumstances and that there are 'good' and 'bad' hate speech, he should say so clearly, so that the country can debate it. If his opinion is that the majority community can only be perpetrators and never victims of hate speech, Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud must consider whether Justice Joseph's bench should continue hearing the cases relating to hate speech.

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]