Women and the Self Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu: A Discussion from the 1990s

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


In her 1990 article, “Mother-Politics,” C S Lakshmi examines the concept of the “mother” in the context of Tamil culture and politics by analysing classical Tamil literature, Tamil cinema, and the rise of the Self Respect Movement.

V Geetha responds to Lakshmi, arguing that her analysis is based on selective source materials that are too weak to support her claims and that Lakshmi’s overall argument is “general” and can also be applied to other cultures.

In 1991, M S S Pandian, Anandhi S and A R Venkatachalapathy reply to Lakshmi as well, stating that not only does Lakshmi contradict herself on several counts, but her argument also overlooks aspects of the very evidence she relies on. They also question how Lakshmi could compare the Self Respect movement to Nazism.

Lakshmi responds to V Geetha and Pandian and others, clarifying that her intention was not to compare the Self Respect movement to Nazism but to illustrate how the members of the Self Respect movement were dividing labour along gender lines. She further emphasises that even within the Self Respect movement, the role of women was also being constantly contradicted.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Periyar, Women and an Ethic of Citizenship, V Geetha, 1998
  2. TAMIL NADU-Passing of the Periyar, EPW Correspondent, 1974
  3. Dravidian Movement and Saivites 1927-1944, A R Venkatachalapathy, 2009
  4. Making It Relevant, Anandhi S and Padmini Swaminathan, 2006


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Gender and Politics"


Curated by Anandita Chandra [anandita@epw.in]

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