The Indian independence movement brought to fore great souls who were selfless and honest. While many of them resigned back to peace after independence, others ventured into politics. Not to make money or name for themselves, but to provide a better life for the suffering and the unprivileged. Though a few of them are still remembered today, most of them have been wiped off from the pages of history. One such man is P. Kakkan.
Kakkan was born into a Dalit family on 18 June 1908 in a small village called Thumbaipatti near Madurai. He did his primary schooling in Melur – the town closest to his village – before moving to Madurai for higher secondary education. He seemed to have failed the SSLC exam and thereafter, worked as a teacher before becoming a social worker. He was married to Parvati with whom he fathered five sons and a daughter. He was deeply religious as his father was a Poojari in a local temple in the village. As such, he rejected Periyar’s ideologies and methods. When Periyar, the leader of the Self-respect movement publicly declared his intention to organize a Dravidar Kazhagam procession to the Marina in order to burn pictures of the Hindu God Rama, Kakkan warned Periyar that the desecration of images would constitute an “anti-social act” that would forsake the strong faith in God by which Gandhi won independence for India.
Inspired by Gandhi, Kakkan joined the Congress in his student days. Along with Kamaraj, he led several protests against the British in the 30’s and the 40’s. He also participated in the Quit India movement and was jailed in Alipore for a while. Kakkan fought all his life for the unprivileged and against untouchability. When the Rajaji Government brought forth the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act 1939 which removed the civil and social disabilities against the depressed classes, Kakkan led the temple entry at Madurai.
Kakkan served as a minister for two terms in the Congress government of Tamil Nadu between 1957 and 1967. As a Public works minister, Kakkan played an important role in the expansion of Mettur and Vaigai reservoirs. Both the dams were strengthened during his reign. As a minister for Harijan/SC/ST welfare, he formed a Harijana Seva Sangham for the welfare and upliftment of the suppressed. As a minister for Agriculture, he established two agricultural colleges in Tamil Nadu.
He did not amass any wealth and always travelled by bus till his death. He did not have any property in his name. When age caught up with him and illness weakened him, Kakkan was admitted to the government hospital in Madurai where he spent his last days alone in the veranda of the hospital. When MGR, the then chief minister, visited him, he denied the CM’s request to move him to the special ward because he could not afford it. Until his death in 1981, he lived in a rented house in Chennai. He was truly a symbol of austerity.


Madurai A.Vaidyanath Iyer, though hailing from an orthodox family strived for the upliftment of the downtrodden throughout his life. Apart from Iyer’s involvement in the freedom struggle, the temple entry movement conducted by Iyer was the epitome of his contributions towards social harmony and the rights of downtrodden.
A. Vaidyanatha Iyer was born on 16 May 1890 at Vishnampettai village, Thanjavur district, in then Madras Presidency as the second of eight children in an orthodox family to Arunachalam Iyer and Lakshmi Ammal. He had an unblemished track record as a distinguished student throughout his education. He completed his FA in Madura College securing fourth rank at the state level. He served as a teacher for two years before qualifying himself in law and acquiring the status of Pleader.
Iyer managed the twin challenges of being an advocate as well as a political and social activist. Leaders like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Jamanlal Bajaj used to stay at his home during their visits to Madurai. Iyer’s wife Akilandam Ammal was arrested and imprisoned for three months in Vellore Jail when she went as a volunteer for the Satyagraha called by Gandhiji in 1940.
Inspired by Gandhiji’s call for Khadi promotion, Iyer visited numerous villages, talked to the villagers about Khadi and guided them in the production of Khadi cloth. With the help of young volunteers, he carried Khadi clothes on his own shoulders to boost the sale of Khadi. As a result, in 1924, Madurai district topped the entire state in Khadi manufacture and sales.
Vaidyanatha Iyer led the temple entry movement in Tamilnadu. He started conducting many public meetings and conferences for temple entry all over Tamil Nadu. On 8 July 8 1939 a historic event took place. On that day, Iyer went to Meenakshi Amman temple with a group of Dalits and members of other castes. At the entrance to the temple, they were honored by R. S. Naidu, who had made proper arrangements for them to worship the main deity of the temple. After this, Iyer announced that temple entry for Dalits had happened successfully. Rajaji was then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He thought that the temple entry movement would create a revolution in society. In September 1939, he had the bill for temple entry passed in the Legislative Assembly and it became law. Following the Meenakshi Amman temple, temple entry took place in the Azhagar temple and the Thiruparankuntram, Thiruvarangam, Pazhani and Srivilliputhoor temples before December 1939. Rajaji supported Iyer to a great extent to make the temple entry movement a great success.