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Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar was a pioneering feminist and Dravidianist whose life and work is worth recalling in the context of International Women’s Day. She was an associate of leading luminaries in Indian politics such as Mahatma Gandhi, Periyar, Thiru Vi Ka, Varadarajulu Naidu, Anna and others. Chinna Kutthoosi, a writer now deceased, has said that if the list of people who worked with Periyar was drawn up, Ramamirtham Ammaiyar would be among the first on it.

Born in a Devadasi family, poverty forced her to being sold when she was a child for Rs 10 and an old saree to another Devadasi woman. Later in life, she was in the forefront in the fight to abolish the Devadasi system. But while Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy’s contribution to the abolishing of Devadasi system is often talked about, Ramamirtham’s role is ignored. The only recognition she had during her 50 years of public life was when Annadurai gave her an award for her work for the Dravidian movement in 1956. After her death, in 1989, the DMK government named the scheme for marriage assistance to poor women after Ramamirtham.

When she was a Congress volunteer during the freedom struggle, she moved from her tiled roof house to a hut when Mahatma Gandhi called for those who agree with Congress policies to live in huts. She put up a signboard outside her house that those who didn’t wear Khadi shouldn’t enter the house.

When Gandhi was campaigning against untouchability, Moovalur Ramamirtham insisted that Dalits had the right to wear dhoti and made them do so. When Periyar left Congress and started the self-respect movement, she followed him. When Anna left Dravidar Kazhagam and started the DMK, she joined hands with Anna.

One of her plays spoke against the Devadasi system. Angered by this, a group of Sanatanists got onto the stage and cut her hair as she was performing.

Ramamirtham had to face much opposition. One of her plays spoke against the Devadasi system. Angered by this, a group of Sanatanists got onto the stage and cut her hair as she was performing. After that, Ramamirtham cropped her hair on her own and didn’t let it grow long.

Moovalur Ramamirtham Vaazhvum Paniyum (Life and Work of Moovalur Ramamirtham), a book written by P Jeevasundari, is an important reference. The author says she did considerable research to write the book since the contributions of Ramamirtham needed to be recorded for posterity.

Jeevasundari found the manuscript of Ramamirtham’s autobiography and published it. That book gives several details about her social work and her contributions towards abolishing the Devadasi system. M Valarmathi, a senior researcher at the World Tamil Research Institute, has written a  book on Ramamirtham.

In 1936, Moovalur Ramamirtham wrote a novel about the condition of Devadasis and how they could escape the system. This was an early feminist tract. In her preface to the book, Ramamirtham wrote that she had escaped from the Devadasi system and she has taken an oath that she would work for its abolishment. Scholar S Anandhi has written an article in the Economic and Political Weekly about the importance of this novel.

Moovalur Ramamirtham wrote a series called Damayanthi in 1945 in Dravida Nadu. She published a tract in 1939 about Islam and the situation in India, in which she discussed the communal situation then. What she had to say is relevant in today’s India.

Ramamirtham was born into a Devadasi family. Her father was Krishnaswamy and mother, Chinnammal. She was sold to Achikannu, a Devadasi, for Rs 10 and an old saree. She took Achikannu’s name for her initial and called herself A Ramamirtham.

Ramamirtham refused to go through the Devadasi ritual. Instead she married her music teacher Suyambu Pillai. She was instrumental in Periyar conducting the self-respect marriage of Kuthoosi Gurusamy and Kunjitham.

Upon her death in 1962, Murasoli, M Karunanidhi’s newspaper, praised her in verse using these terms: Fiery speech, silver hair, bold walk and blazing eyes that sought to burn injustice.

Moovalur Ramamirtham campaigned against ostentatious marriages and dowry. She campaigned for intercaste marriages, widow marriage and self-respect marriages. After 50 years of activism, she passed away when she turned 80.

Upon her death in 1962, Murasoli, M Karunanidhi’s newspaper, praised her in verse using these terms: Fiery speech, silver hair, bold walk and blazing eyes that sought to burn injustice.


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