WE BECOME ATHEISTS
Introduction Chapter I.
The Change Chapter II.
Thirst For Knowledge Chapter III.
Clash with Parents Chapter IV.
The First Dismissal Chapter V.
An Early Experiment Chapter VI.
The Second Dismissal Chapter VII.
To a Village Chapter VIII.
Atheist Awakening Chapter IX.
My Children Chapter X.
With Gandhi Chapter XI.
Political Action Chapter XII.
Between Gandhi and Marx Chapter XIII.
Economic Equality Chapter XIV.
Direct Action Chapter XV.
Seeking Election Chapter XVI.
Are They Outrageous? Chapter XVII.
Spread of Atheism Chapter XVIII.
Atheist Centers Chapter XIX.
Future of Atheism
We look back into our lives and review them either for
ourselves or for others. We weigh the pros and cons of the past
from the vantage of the present. Such a retrospect more often than
not is colored by our looking at them from a time which is not its
own. Our passions cool down and our past views change. It is next
to impossible to relive our past, but retrospection is as valuable
a psychological process as introspection. They may lead a man into
dejection or inspire him to further action.
A man like Gora can hardly find time to spare for writing an
autobiography. His life was so active and dynamic that he hardly
found time to stand and stare. He was not a man to wait for things
to shape his life. He endeavored all his life to shape them. He was
of the firm opinion that free humans shape events and create
conditions and slaves' lives are shaped by events. In choosing
alternatives or giving a turn to events he displayed a rare dynamic
spirit. In organizing campaigns for the establishment of social
and economic equalities he could not indulge in the pleasure of
sharing his personal experiences with others.
Gora suffered and struggled. He put up with hardships
patiently and with a smile on his lips. If he had compromised his
principles on any issue he would not have been Gora. With his
family, friends and colleagues backing him up he weathered many a
storm. Those who knew him personally know how he kept sufferings to
himself and spared a smile for others. It was not self imposed
suffering but he suffered for atheism. All his life was devoted to
removing the prejudice against atheism and making it an acceptable
and respectable term. He made atheism more positive than negative.
In this he differed from other rationalists and agnostics. He
fought against all religious racial, communal and caste labels. He
stood for democracy, economic and social equalities. All his
campaigns were directed towards this goal. He respected human
personality and raised his voice against anything that denies or
curbs human free-will.
In his hectic life, at the age of 73, he could spare a month
to write about his past experiences, rather, in outline. Four days
after finishing this draft he breathed his last. He didn't expect
to die so early. He hoped to live actively, at least, for ten years
more. When he was asked to write an autobiography, he pleaded lack
of time. His mind was attuned more to programs of action than to
cool retrospection. But he did look back on his life at its far
end. We don't know what he would have done if he had lived longer.
But what little he has given us of his autobiography is a precious
picture of his life and message. Gora's life was intertwined with
his philosophy. So, while he was narrating certain experiences and
influences in his life he invariably gave expression to his views
on human affairs. A careful reader will find in this book the
quintessence of his life and views from his own pen. Gora lived
and died an atheist.
Patamata, Vijayawada. LAVANAM 13th November, 1975.
To this account of my life, I would like to give the name, "We
Become Atheists", rather than "I Become an Atheist." Of course, I
take the responsibility for initiating the kind of atheist thought
and action described herein. But its fulfillment is largely the
result of the cooperation, sacrifice and resolute action of several
workers, friends, relatives and, particularly, of my wife and
children. Some of them adopted atheism too. Therefore, it is
appropriate to call this account, "We Become Atheists."
As I look back, I recall no special event that turned me an
atheist. But I can trace the growth of atheist thought and practice
Born and bred up in a high caste Hindu family in India, I was
conventionally orthodox and superstitious in the days of my
boyhood. I believed in the claims of divine revelations by my
parental aunt. Twice or thrice in a week, she went into trances,
muttered advice and distributed sacred ash. I constantly kept a
small packet of the ash in my pocket and thought that the presence
of the ash enabled me to pass examinations at the school. I passed
the Intermediate examination in first class. I little imagined that
a few years later, when I became an atheist, I would drive the
pretenses of obsession out of my aunt. But even at the age of 22,
when I appeared for the degree examination of M.A., I had the
packet in my pocket. All the same, I passed last in the rank of
five candidates for the subject of Botany. Being the last in the
rank, ordinarily I had the least chance of getting a job. My father
was in economic distress. I thought that if I could not help him
with my earnings, at least, I should not be a burden on the joint
family. What could I do? The old saying that where there is a will
there is a way, acquired a new significance for me. I wrote to my
Professor, R.V. Seshayya, who was then working at Tirupati. I
offered myself to be his servant if he could give me food and
lodge. He sympathized with my sad condition. He called me to
Tirupathi and treated me like his brother. I was doing odd jobs at
The security at Seshayya's household set me think of my life.
I lost faith in the packet of ash and developed the will to
succeed. Sense of self-confidence sprouted in me. Though I had no
idea of atheism at that time, obviously that was the beginning of
atheism in me. It was opening up my mind and taking me out of the
ruts of orthodoxy.
Two months later, the lectureship in Natural Science at the
American Mission College Madurai, fell vacant. Solmon, who was
holding the post, left for USA for higher studies. The other four
of my classmates did not apply for that post in the hope of getting
better jobs. Good or bad, I took it up. I found that my classmates
did not fare better than I. I was last in rank at the examination,
but I rose to be the first in job position in due course. I owed
the success to the attitude of atheism that was growing in me. My
mind was becoming bold and open. Seshayya kindly provided me with
the necessary money to buy some clothes and to go to Madurai.
Two incidents at Madurai speak of the change of my mind. At
Madurai I was faced with the problem of finding a suite of rooms
for my residence. Madurai is a place of pilgrimage and a crowded
city. After vigorous search, I found a big house in the outskirts
of the city. For the last few months it was kept locked and
unoccupied as it was supposed to be haunted by ghosts. I
disregarded the superstition and the landlord gladly let out two
rooms for me at a nominal rent. Fine. Practically, the whole house
with thirteen rooms and two halls was open to me. I lived alone in
My neighbors and also my colleagues at the college dissuaded
me from taking the risk of living in a haunted house. They related
to me their personal experiences of unwitting residence in haunted
houses. I pooh poohed them. After two or three months, tenants
gradually came to occupy other rooms. Soon the house was full and
I was confined to my original two rooms.
The other incident related to my work at the college. It was
a practice in those days to select students for appearance at the
final university examination. The Selection test was held three
months in advance of the final examination and the unselected
students were denied the opportunity to improve their standard by
diligent study during that period. When I was a student, I felt
that the practice of selection was unfair to the unselected
At the American Mission College, for the first time, as a
lecturer, I got the authority to select among my students. I
deliberately gave pass marks to all my students and recommended the
selection of all of them for appearance at the final university
examination. My method looked strange to the principal, Rev. W.W.
Wallace, who had been used to the practice of selection. He thought
that being new to the appointment and inexperienced, I was
inconsiderate. He asked me to revise my full list of
recommendations for selection. I told him: "I taught the class. I
set the test paper. I valued the answers. If any of them failed, it
means I failed to teach them well. I am satisfied with their
performance at the test. I recommend all my students for
selection." Now I see it was a piece of bravado. However, with age
Rev. Wallace looked at my championship of students with
sympathy and endorsed the list of selection of all my students with
the admonition that he would not honor my recommendations
hereafter, unless the present batch of students acquitted
themselves creditably at the final examination. I narrated the
event to my students and said, "I have done my duty. Now it is for
you to do yours." The appeal worked well. The principal was
surprised that the final results gave a bumper crop of first
classes, distinctions and high percentage of passes.
Evidently everyone bears immense potentialities. Release them.
With a sense of freedom and responsibility, they work wonders. I
achieved success when I gave up dependence on the packet of ash and
stood on my feet. I tried the same with my students who were
generally depressed with the fear of failure at the selection. I
removed the fear and the students proved worthy of the trust
reposed in them.
India was under the British rule till 1947. The government
helped promotion of Christian institutions. The Christian
missionary institutions, in their turn, zealously attempted at
proselytization. Accordingly, Rev. Wallace suggested to me that I
could go to Yale University for my Ph.D. and become the Rector of
the science department if I would embrace Christianity and become
a member of their mission. At once I felt a Hindu.
Though I was leaning atheistically, I had not got over the
influence of early nurture. I continued a vegetarian which was the
habit of the caste into which I was born. I wore the 'sacred
thread' which was the symbol of the caste. The discarding of the
packet of ash was just the beginning of the march towards the goal
of atheism. I had a long way to go.
Also the goal was not well-defined in my mind at that time.
Therefore, when I did not accept the offer of Rev. Wallace, I was
more a Hindu than an atheist. Of course, the question of change of
religion does not arise with an atheist at all, because he rejects
all religions. But my reaction to the suggestion was that of a
In view of the excellent results of my students at the final
examination, the principal did not want to disturb my place in the
college. But, when I rejected the offer of change of religion, I
thought that my position in the college was unsafe. A post was
vacant at the Agricultural Research Institute, Coimbatore and I
shifted there in the month of May, 1926. Rev. Wallace gave me a
good certificate of my services at the College for one year.
Thirst For Knowledge
The suggestion that I might become a christian, helped me
indirectly. I followed the customs of Hinduism and adopted the
habits of the caste of my parents, because I was taught and trained
in my childhood that way. Just like mother tongue, we generally
imbibe thoughts and practices of parents or of guardians, without
examining their merits and defects. In the case of religious
faiths, we are taught to cling to the faith of the parents and to
decry other faiths. This close mindedness is the cause of Jihads
and Crusades. But my reaction was somewhat different. The rejection
of the offer of Christianity raised a series of questions in me.
What is Hinduism? What is Christianity? How are they different?
What are other religions? How do they compare with one another?
With a desire to know the answers, I started reading English or
Telugu translations of the Bible, Bhagavatgita, the Quran, Vedas,
Upanishads and other religious books. I went through the volumes of
Max Muller's Sacred Books of the East. At one time, for over three
months, I pored over the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica every
day and read through references and cross references of god, soul,
salvation, rebirth, spirituality, other-worlds and so on. Being a
student of science, I was already acquainted with the principles of
physics, chemistry, geology and mathematics, besides my subjects of
botany and zoology. The wide reading introduced me to philosophy,
sociology, ethics, economics, politics anthropology, fine arts and
psychology. I was especially interested in abnormal and religious
psychology, as in them I found the clue to understanding man's
belief in the existence of god and soul.
I do not say that my study of the subjects was deep and
detailed. I cannot quote page and chapter of any book, though I
took down cursory notes as I was reading. But the study was
extensive, spread over five or six years. Further reading was
casual. I find that such general reading helped me to reflect and
to develop my own thoughts freely rather than become bookish and
bind myself to what others said instead of what I have to say.
Authority of books shifts responsibility of thoughts to others,
whereas reflection retains the freedom and responsibility of the
As a result of reading and reflection, I was conceiving of god
in general, without denominational associations of Hinduism, Islam,
Christianity or paganism. Further, I came to the conclusion that it
was man that made god out of psychological necessity in primitive
times. Metaphysical justification of the existence of god was a
clever after thought of the civilized man to preserve the faith, at
best for its use as a sanction for moral conduct and at worst for
aiding exploitation of the gullible masses.
Along with the reading and reflection, I was seeking
opportunities to discuss my views with learned persons and
religious priests. The opportunity for exchange of views increased
when I left for Colombo (Ceylon) after a year at Coimbatore. At
Colombo, I was the Botany Master at Ananda College, which was
managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. There I came in
contact with Buddhist priests, and not only listened to their
discourses but studied the books which they kindly lent. The one
year stay at Colombo was a valuable gain to me for enriching my
knowledge. The next year, 1928, I left Colombo to serve as Lecturer
in Botany at Pithapur Rajah's College at Kakinada, India.
I recall with interest an incident of discussion with a Hindu
scholar at Masulipatam, sometime about 1937. He was delivering a
series of public discourses on Hindu philosophy and was answering
questions everyday at the end of the talk. At the question time,
one evening, I requested, him to elucidate on the use of the neuter
gender for god (Brahma) of Hindu faith, instead of the customary
use of the masculine gender for god as in other faiths. I was aware
that in Sanskrit language, in which Hindu scriptures were written,
gender went with the form of the word, but not with the meaning of
the word. "Dara", a synonym of "wife" in Sanskrit, is masculine
gender. My question was innocent. I wanted confirmation from that
scholar that Hindu concept of god as power appropriately needed the
use of neuter gender. The use of the masculine gender, on the
contrary, betrayed man's domination, in the course of civilization,
in philosophical concepts too, as in economic and political
Perhaps the form in which I put the question did not express
the amount of respect expected of references to god. The scholar at
once asked me whether I was an atheist. I told him I was. But that
did not matter. The question was there to be answered. The
scholar's response was different. He said he would not talk to
atheists and asked me to leave the meeting. I said that it was a
public meeting and that I asked the question at the appointed time.
Why should I leave the meeting? The scholar looked daggers at me.
He said he would leave the meeting, if I did not. He got down from
the platform, walked a few paces away and stood with his back
towards the audience. My repeated requests to him to come back to
the meeting were of no avail. Then I said that the gathering should
not be deprived of the benefit of his talk on account of me. So I
left the meeting. A few who thought that I was right, also left the
meeting with me. Next day, a notice was put up at the meeting
place, "Atheists are not allowed."
The experience with the Hindu scholar was one of the many
instances when I was confronted with the prejudice against atheism.
Dictionaries give "wickedness" as a meaning of "atheism", besides
godlessness and impiety. Conscious of the prejudice against
atheism, Gandhi advised me to take another name instead of atheism,
as however noble the work I do, the name of atheism brings with it
disrespect and ignominy, and good work falls into disrepute.
In spite of these warnings and hard experiences, I prefer to
stick to the label of atheism, because atheism alone renders
changes, radical and lasting in human affairs. Those who fear the
changes steadily give atheism a bad name in order to stem its
growth. Everyone whom succeeding generations respected as a prophet
of an era of freedom and progress was persecuted by contemporaries
for heresy and blasphemy, if not wholly for atheism. The life
histories of Moses, Jesus, Mohamad, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi are
clear instances in this connection. Obviously, atheism is a
progressive force. Atheists should not mind the slander and
prejudices that vested interests spread against atheism.
Saraswati was ten years old when we were married in 1922. Like
me, she hailed from an orthodox home and orthodox custom required
girls to be married before puberty. Strict orthodoxy prescribed
eighth year as the upper limit for the marriage of girls. My elder
sister was eight when she was married. Until the Child Marriage
Restraint Act of 1935 prohibited early marriages, women's lot was
miserable with early pregnancy and occasional widowhood.
According to custom, Saraswati gave up school study soon after her
marriage and engaged herself in religious ceremonies that are
prescribed for married girls. Observance of the ceremonies is
supposed to ensure happy relations with the husband for the girl.
The temptation is similar to the promises of prayer.
Saraswati joined me in 1926 at Coimbatore. Naturally, her
reading was little but she has keen understanding and sound common
sense. We kept nothing private, and much less secret between us. On
account of openness of relations, we think together and act
together in complete harmony.
On joining me, Saraswati left orthodox habits and adopted the
atheist attitude. An incident was significant in this context. At
Colombo she was pregnant with the first child. When she was
carrying the fourth month, there was a solar eclipse in the
afternoon. Hindu orthodoxy imposes the disciplines of silence and
shutting up in a dark room for pregnant women at the time of any
eclipse. Non compliance is threatened with mutilations of the child
to be born. But Saraswati saw Buddhist, Moor and Burgher women
freely moving about in the streets of Colombo, regardless of the
time of the eclipse. Surely, some of these women must be pregnant
too. If the evils of infringement were real, all pregnant women
should be equally affected and their children should be maimed,
irrespective of faiths. But that doesn't happen. Therefore, the
disciplines relating to eclipse are a superstition of Hindu faith.
Thinking along these lines, Saraswati transgressed the taboos at
the time of the eclipse. After the full period, the delivery was
normal and the child also was normal. The experience equipped her
with the credit to persuade other pregnant women to give up the
superstition. We have nine children now. Both solar and lunar
eclipses occurred at different periods of her pregnancies. Nothing
untoward happened to us on account of the violations of
restrictions imposed by custom on pregnant women during eclipses.
Saraswati's cooperation has been of great assistance to me in
growing atheistic. The early steps of atheism were concerned with
working against superstitions. Later, when we took up economic and
political programs of atheism, Saraswati rose to the occasion and
was repeatedly imprisoned in that connection.
Clash with Parents
My parents lived at Kakinada. They were getting old. I desired
to be serviceable to them. When I was born on November 15, 1902 at
Chatrapur, now in Orissa, my father, Goparaju Venkata Subbarao, was
the head clerk of the Forest Department. He was popularly known as
"Sambho" owing to his ardent devotion to the Hindu god, Sambho,
that is, Siva. For his skill in draftsmanship and capacity to
tackle any volume of work, he was promoted to be the Sheristadar at
Parlakemedi, where my elder sister, elder brother and I had
elementary education. My father was again transferred to Kurnool.
But my brother and I continued our studies at Parlakemedi. Our
paternal aunt, who claimed divine revelations, was our guardian.
As frequent transfers, though on promotion, disturbed our
studies, my father chose to settle down at Kakinada in the Revenue
Department. At Kakinanda, in P.R. College, my brother, Narasimha
Rao and I continued our further education. He went for engineering
course later on and I went to Madras for my M.A. in Botany at the
Presidency College. While I was serving at Madurai, Coimbatore and
Colombo, the condition of my parents was constantly in my view.
Presently an opportunity arose. P.R. College at Kakinada opened the
degree course of study in Botany, and preferred its alumni for the
staff. I accepted lectureship and was happy that I was going to
serve my old college and also that I was living with my parents.
But conditions were not so happy as I hoped for. Atheist attitudes
markedly changed my ways of life and resulted in clashes with the
conservative and conventional methods of my parents and of my alma
My parental aunt continued to go into trances as in the past.
Of course, I received "sacred ash" from her when I was a boy. The
growth of rational thought changed the picture now.
A fortnight after I came to live in my parental home, I found
my aunt in trance in the prayer-room. She was reprimanding my
mother on some trifling matter. My father was a strict
disciplinarian. My mother was kind and loving to all her eight
children. We bore special respect and affection for her. So when I
overheard my aunt in trance finding fault with my mother, without
a second thought, I broke into the sanctum sanctorum with a stick
in my hand and threatened to thrash my aunt, unless she gave up
that nonsense. My father who was sitting before the deity was
dumbfounded at my rudeness. The whole situation was suddenly
silenced. I withdraw from the room. There were no more trances and
The reason for my immediate reaction was my reading of the
psychology of Religious Mysticism. I learnt that trances, visions
and revelations were either subjective illusions of weak minds
under the influence of overpowering autosuggestions or were
pretensions of cheats in the halo of religious belief. The
knowledge disabused my mind of respect for my aunt's trances though
I performed my duties to her as the elderly woman of the family.
Further, the family got into straitened circumstances by following
the advice of the so called divine revelations. On return to
Kakinada, I could see the loss and trouble suffered by the family.
A few years later my father fell out with my aunt. During her last
days she came away to me. At an advanced age of over eighty-five,
she died at my house at Masulipatam.
After my discourtesy to my aunt in trance, my father was not
happy with me. He supposed that the deity of our family possessed
my aunt, took her into trance and revealed advice through inspired
utterances. The rudeness to my aunt in trance was considered
rudeness to the deity of the family. It was an act of sacrilege.
Except my flouting of the religious faith, there was little to find
fault with me. Yet, it was not a small matter. He openly remarked
that he made a mistake in giving me higher education. He was
looking for an opportunity to teach me a lesson.
The full moon of August was the day each year when the sacred
thread was ceremoniously changed for a new one. On that day in
1928, my father held out a thread to me and asked me to wear it as
a matter of religious discipline and respect for the rules of
caste. I had not discarded the thread wholly so far. I was only
indifferent to it. But my father's conventional discipline
challenged my atheistic leanings. Politely I told him, "Father, I
have great regard for you. But I have no respect for caste. For the
past two or three years I have been indifferent to wearing the
thread, which is a symbol of a caste. But on this day, when the
thread is changed for a new one, let me make up my mind and be
honest to my convictions. I'll discard the thread wholly from
My father was enraged at this defiance of caste. In severe
voice, he repeated thrice, "I am your father, I command you. Wear
the thread". It was a moment of test for me. Gently but definitely
I replied, "No, please". "Get out of my house. You are a sinner. I
won't look at your face," was the harsh command of my father. He
turned his face away and walked quickly into his room and shut the
I was outcaste. My mother shed tears. I came to Kakinada from
Colombo to serve my parents. Atheism estranged me from them. The
news spread around. I took a week to secure a house for me to shift
from my parent's home. I was not economically hard up, as I was
holding a job in the college; but I was socially alienated from
friends and relatives who agreed with my father. My wife and I
lived almost alone in the new house with our first child, Manorama.
Neighbors looked upon us with suspicion. My mother visited us off
and on. Every month I was passing on a part of my salary to my
parents to relieve their economic strain.
The Gandhian movement of the Indian National Congress combined
constructive work with political fight. It spread throughout the
length and breadth of India, and liberalized old traditions of
caste and communal differences. In 1920, my father had a part to
play in the Gandhian movement: He donated two bags of paddy grain
to the Congress volunteer camp. For this act he was suspended from
service for one month by the British government. My father was a
generous man in many respects. My open apostasy defied his
authority as a father and he was angry with me.
After excommunicating me, my father was consulting Hindu
high-priests on the propriety of his action. Some of them seemed to
have advised him to review caste rules in the light of modern
events, especially the Gandhian drive against the observance of
One incident settled the issue. Dr. Duriseti Chalapati Rao was
our family physician. He belonged to the same caste as my father.
On one occasion, my father praised him for observing caste rules
and complained against me for disobedience. The doctor, without a
word, removed his coat and shirt and revealed that he did not have
a thread at that time. He told my father that many young men of the
age were indifferent to the caste rules. Only I was bold and
honest. Should I be punished for being honest and he be praised for
soft compromises with conditions around him? The doctor's
performance and pleading set my father to think afresh. My mother's
persuasion had its influence too.
After two and half years of excommunication my father called
me and my wife for common dinner with him. Strangely, some orthodox
relatives excommunicated my parents for eating with me. A few
months later, my parents who were around sixty years of age,
shifted to my new house which was more roomy and better ventilated.
I was happy I was serviceable to my parents. I did not
interfere with their ways of prayer and worship. Nevertheless,
their orthodoxy, was getting relaxed. For some time Saraswati had
to adjust between the extremes of somewhat orthodox parents-in-law
and heretical husband. She managed it well with tact and patience.
My parents spread out their time in living with me, and with my
brothers and sisters. We were eight in all. My parents lived up to
the ripe old age of ninety, and spent their last days with my
younger brother Sambasiva Rao.
My mother spoke at the public function of the celebration of
my sixtieth birthday. She recalled the instances of my
recalcitrance. With abundant motherly affection she added, "After
all, a son is a son."
The First Dismissal
I was reading extensively for and against atheism. Atheism was
not an intellectual understanding with me. I wanted to know how an
atheist was different from a theist in the ways of life. It
appeared to me that people closed their minds with faith in god and
fate. They lost initiative, became superstitious and fanatically
cling to their beliefs. But god and fate were beliefs with no basis
in reality. They were falsehoods. If we reject them, we stand on
our feet, feel free, work well and live equal, since all of us
belong to the same kind. With this ambitious plan, I set about my
life. I knew I would clash with vested interests and conservative
views in the old ways of life. But I would work with no regrets.
At first I started with exposure of superstitions and pulling
down sectarian walls. I discarded the sacred thread because it was
a caste symbol. As I was a student of science with some wide
reading of different branches of knowledge and as I had leisure and
held a job which placed me decently above want, I indulged in
discussions against superstitions, and accompanied them with
demonstrations of simple scientific experiments. For instance,
turmeric with slaked lime turns red. When lemon juice or tamarind
paste is added to the red substance, it turns yellow again. The
truth is turmeric responds to acid and alkali media. Ignorant of
the chemical nature of the reaction, mendicants shroud it in a
religious garb and present it as a miracle. Similarly, eclipses are
not explained in a scientific way, but are associated with
superstitious practices in the name of miracles. Miracles thrive
where ignorance prevails. And religious belief closes the mind and
becomes the source of dark superstition.
Close to my residence was a slum of untouchables, called
Atchutapuram. Untouchables are socially segregated, poor,
illiterate and downtrodden. I established contacts with the slum
and started an adult night school there on my own accord. But the
adults were irregular and slow to take advantage of the school. On
studying the situation I found that the immediate need of the
adults of the slum was not education but food. Most of them had to
work the whole day at odd manual labor. Either they were not paid
the wages for the day or they were paid so late that they bad to
buy foodgrains late and cook for the day to eat. The prospect of
obtaining labor for the next day was uncertain and the threat of
starvation constantly hovered over them. I learned the reality of
slum life more than I taught them lessons. And to be real to the
common people, atheism should solve the economic problem of India.
The academic life at the college posed its own problems. To
mention one, I noticed a student of my class dull and inattentive.
I talked to him privately and he said that he had no interest in
Botany. Fine. I requested him to think over and tell me the next
day the subject in which he had interest so that I could recommend
to the principal the change of his subject. He thought over and
informed me that he could not fix his interest on any subject. I
explained to him that the defect was not with Botany but with his
attitude towards life. I encouraged him to continue in Botany class
as he had already done three weeks in it. A few days later I held
a test for the class and deliberately gave him a good mark. He was
surprised and asked me if he was good at the subject. I encouraged
him and in the next test he deserved the mark. He passed B.A. in
Botany at the first chance. Ten years later, I met Suryanarayana,
the same student at a meeting in another district to learn from him
that he was teaching Botany in a school and, with a glee in his
face, he said he was creating interest in Botany in his students.
Supply cheer and man is all right.
There were several occasions for me to seek atheistic solution
of the problems of my students, their educational difficulties and
domestic troubles. I asked them to feel free as masters of their
lives, to take steps towards equality of all humans and to live
open without a blush and to tell what we do and to do what we tell.
These simple guidelines evoked new enthusiasm among my students.
They used to visit me with their families, and my wife and I paid
return visits to their homes. The social calls mingled up several
of us crossing conventional barriers of caste and communal
differences. It was a big change in India in those days before
attainment of political independence. I was happy to be with the
students both inside and outside the college. The happy relations
had a healthy effect on their studies. They paid good attention to
what I was teaching and fared well at examinations. Most of them
came out brilliantly as professors, legislators, advocates or
successful businessmen. Even forty years after the completion of
their student career, I keep up good social relations with many of
my old students. J. Venkateswarlu, Professor Emeritus of Andhra
University, C.V.K. Rao legislator of the State Assembly, Narayana
Prasad serving in the United Nations Organization, Acharyulu a
successful accountant at Bombay and T.V. Raghavulu, a former
minister, are some whom I can mention. This wide and abiding
sociability I attribute to the atheist way of life.
One of my students, B.V.D. Narayana Rao, started a manuscript
magazine. He had a flare for journalism. He requested me for an
article on atheism and I wrote one on "The concept of god". I said
that the concept of god was useful in three ways. Firstly, it
provided a ready answer to every question in the form of god's
creation and god's will. Secondly, it supplied a sanction for moral
conduct in the form of hope of heaven and fear of hell. Thirdly, it
could be molded conveniently for any theme of fine arts. A large
volume of song, dance, painting and sculpture was produced in the
name of god. In spite of its usefulness, the concept of god was a
falsehood. Like every falsehood, it corrupted mankind by importing
superstition and fanaticism into the belief in god. I concluded
that though god was a useful falsehood, it should be discarded as
every other falsehood in order to promote truthful life and real
P.R. College, where I served, was inspired with the ideology
of Brahmooism, a liberal offshoot of Hinduism. Yet avowed atheism
was too much of irreligion for the management. The authorities of
P.R. College took exception to my expression of atheist views in
the article on 'The Concept of God' and called for my explanation.
I replied that I was an atheist by conviction and those were my
views. My services were dispensed with after a due notice of three
My students moved in the matter and lodged a protest against
my dismissal. It was of no avail. After five years of lectureship,
I left the services of my alma mater in 1933. Atheism clashed with
my parents. Atheism caused my dismissal from the college.
AN EARLY EXPERIMENT
Saraswati and I were discussing every turn of events. But we
did not expect the dismissal from P.R. College. For our maintenance
we were wholly dependent upon the salary from the college. Our only
property was a thatched hut we put up on a plot of land which we
purchased by disposing of Saraswati's ornaments. The landlord of
the house we were living in after getting excommunicated by the
parents, took advantage of our social odium and was frequently
demanding higher rent. So we thought of putting up a hut of our
own. It was on the outskirts of the town with open fields around.
My parents joined us in that hut. My father drew a pension on
retirement from government service. As I was economically depressed
on losing the job at the college, my parents chose to go on a long
visit of relatives in other districts. I had three young children
by that time. Of course, we were hard hit by the dismissal. But
that did not unnerve us. We chose to go the atheist way. It was
uncharted. We should be prepared for risks and untoward incidents.
We are the masters of our lives. We cannot complain. We should
chose our course of life and act with freedom and a sense of
Equipped with hope and confidence, I decided to start a
tutorial college. It was a private institution to coach students
for public examinations. Some of my old students who had graduated
by then came to my assistance. We were fourteen in number. We gave
the name of 'Andhra Tutorial College' to the institution. A friend
of mine who sympathized with our venture, let out a portion of his
house for a small rent to locate the tutorial college. All the
fourteen of us did all the work ourselves, from sweeping the
premises to teaching the students. It was a successful beginning in
cooperative living. We divided the income from fees equally among
us. My share of the income was a tenth of what I got at P.R.
College. I cut the coat according to the cloth and Saraswati
wonderfully rose to the occasion.
All my colleagues were not atheists. They appreciated my
atheist way of life. M. Bhaskara Rama Rao, who was my student at
P.R. College, was very much attached to me. His early death
deprived me of a valuable friend.
Mrs. Durgabai, who later gained reputation as Dr. Durgabai
Deshmukh, was a student of the Andhra Tutorial College. By that
time she was in the forefront as the leader of the Congress
Movement. In 1930-33 she was the dictator of the Satyagraha camp at
Madras. She underwent long terms of imprisonment. When the
political movement took a turn for constructive work, she desired
to acquire academic knowledge by regular study. She sought my help
in the matter.
While I was teaching her, she often fell into a reminiscent
mood and related to me her experiences of political fights and
prison life. She introduced me to several political dignitaries.
At her instance, I served as a personal volunteer of Mahatma Gandhi
when he visited Kakinada during his Harijan tour of India. Running
of the adult night school at Atchutapuram acquainted me with the
realities of the economic condition of the slums. Teaching Durgabai
stimulated my interest in political life. The experiences were
useful to me when I added economic and political dimensions to
Durgabai was not only a political worker of eminence. She was
interested in problems of widow remarriage and inter caste
marriages. Saraswati and I were with her in her activities.
Putsala Satyanarayana, of Uppada, who later became a legislator,
was our close associate. Working in the field revealed to us
practical difficulties in the way of social reform. The first
hurdle was the parents of the parties to the marriage. Then the
public would be willing to help but afraid to commit themselves to
any specific act of assistance. Looking at the difficulties, the
prospective bride or the bridegroom would withdraw suddenly from
the scene of action. Amidst these uncertainties, one has to work
with patience and resolve. Suramma was a widow who steadfastly
braved the ordeal and married successfully. Some of those who
helped us greatly for the consummation of the marriage, were
unwilling to sit for a photograph with the newly married couple.
They would help, but they would not like to be known publicly as
helpers of a reform. Saraswati and I were the common hosts for
every marriage feast of unconventional alliance.
Indeed work at the Andhra Tutorial College opened to me
opportunities of social and political significance which service at
P.R. College could not. Salaried security of jobs and freedom of
work and expression do not go together. Freedom is certainly
attendant with risks. Its ups and downs stand in marked contrast
with the uniformity of weekly wages or monthly salaries. But this
uniformity is the enemy of initiative and innovation. If I chose
the freedom of atheism, I should take the uncertainties that go
with it. If I continued at the Tutorial College, perhaps, I could
have developed activities that would put atheism to test. That was
my dream also. But the sudden dismissal from P.R. College and the
meager income from the Tutorial College imposed such a financial
strain on me and Saraswati that we agreed to take help from a
strange quarter that delayed the strait experiment with atheism for
six years. When one of my position and devotion to atheism was
tempted by desire for security even for a while, the pressure of
economic conditions should be so enormous and enslaving as to
border on economic determinism in the case of common people. How
then are people to be released from this pressure? Some have got to
withstand the economic conditioning, and change the order. They are
atheists who can change the order instead of succumbing to it.
Atheists are masters of systems but not slaves of systems. But I
should admit, I yielded to the pressure and took six years to rebel
My dismissal from P.R. College evoked wide sympathy from
several quarters. The cooperation from my colleagues at the
tutorial college was an aspect of it. Further, Dr. S.
Radhakrishnan, who later on became President of India, was Vice
Chancellor of the Andhra University at that time. P.R. College was
affiliated to the Andhra University. He was known for his liberal
views and acts of generosity. He was not an atheist. But he thought
that a lecturer of a college should not be persecuted for
unorthodox leanings. With his recommendation, the subject of Botany
was opened at Hindu College, Musulipatam and I was offered the post
of lectureship. I took it up. After a year of work at the tutorial
college, I shifted to a regular college again.
THE SECOND DISMISSAL
A flood of letters congratulated me on my appointment as
lecturer in Botany at Hindu College, Masulipatam. They thought when
I was dismissed from P.R. College on the score of atheism, the
present appointment was a moral victory for my cause. The tutorial
college at Kakinada gave me a send-off and my colleagues continued
the college for a few more years.
The principal at Hindu College, Masulipatnam, K. Sivarama
Krishna Rao was kind to me. As I was known as an atheist on my
appointment, there was no room for misunderstanding. Further,
Sivarama Krishna Rao himself was considered a non-conformist and
there was much in common between us.
The work at Hindu College was light for me. I was already a
teacher for nine years. Further, the course of Botany was just
started and I taught only Intermediate classes here whereas I
handled B.Sc. classes at P.R. College. I utilized my spare time for
the spread of atheism. Practically, every weekend I used to go out
to address public meetings on atheism. In two years I visited most
of the villages around Masulipatam and in adjacent districts also.
Usually I spoke for two hours and at the end invited questions.
The answers lasted for another two hours. It was natural for me to
stand the strain of a four or five hour meeting as I was inspired
with the zeal of spreading atheism. But what encouraged me was the
response of the gathering which stayed all the time and asked me
questions also with interest. The longest meeting lasted for seven
hours from 1 to 8 P.M. at Duggirala (Guntur District). That was in
The theme of my talks was to say that god, soul and
other-worlds were false. I treated with god, soul and other-worlds
in general rather than limiting myself to Hindu, Christian or
Islamic concept of them. As the audience was mixed, questions often
related to denominational faith to which the questioner belonged.
Questions, and cross-questions of different denominations
themselves revealed that no denomination was wholly valid. My
general reading of all religions enabled me to meet every question
with confidence. The questions were usually forty to fifty. I
recollect the largest number was 136 at Anantapur. The answering of
questions clarified my understanding of atheism and also gave me a
picture of people's faith, its form and use.
The meetings were attended in hundreds. There was no
disturbance at meetings, except at Phirangipuram (Guntur District)
which is a stronghold of Catholics. The elders of the village
disapproved of the disturbance and arranged the meeting again the
next day in quieter atmosphere with bigger audience.
A particular feature of meetings on atheism was the
punctuality of its start. Indian villagers who are not used to
machines, take time leisurely. Meetings usually start hours late.
One of the early meetings was at Challapalli. It was announced at
1 P.M. and was widely advertised by placards and handbills. The
place was a cinema hall. I went there five minutes before time. The
convener too was not there. About ten persons were in the hall. I
drew a chair, announced myself and started the meeting punctually
at 1 P.M. by my watch. Five people ran out of the hall to call in
the people who came for the meeting but were loitering in the
streets or sitting in coffee houses. Within half an hour the hall
was full. The convener also rushed in. There was a loud protest
that I should not have started the meeting without the full
audience. "Though 1 P.M. was the time announced, we have to wait
for the audience. It may mean 2 P.M. also" was the argument of the
convener. I simply replied, "One may mean two for theists. For
atheists one means one." The reply caught the imagination of the
people. Thereafter, every meeting on atheism was punctually
Educational institutions at that time were conventional and
job oriented. Mahatma Gandhi characterized them as "mills to
manufacture clerks". The atheist mind was eager to change every
existing system and custom with a view to make them more free,
equitable and social. I thought of a college to be managed by
students and teachers, free of commercial interests. The new
college would encourage initiative, social mingling and technical
skill. There was response from the public of Bhimavaram, a town of
the adjoining district to sponsor such a college. A committee was
formed. I was its principal member, since I put forth the plan. The
university required the collection of a hundred thousand rupees for
the college for granting affiliation. Five thousand rupees were
readily subscribed and the members of the committee started
collecting further donations.
An elderly gentleman was attracted by the plan of the college.
He wanted to donate sixty thousand rupees. Fine. He showed me his
bank book with a balance of seventy two thousand rupees. The other
twelve thousand he would keep for his expenses during the rest of
his life. He imposed no condition or wish for the donation except
one. He wanted me to wear the "sacred thread". He said that,
because I was a moving figure of the committee, students would
flout rules of caste by my example. At once my eyes were opened to
the reality. I was working in a caste ridden climate. Politely I
told the gentleman, "I am not fit for this work. I shall resign
from the committee. Please pass on your kind donation to the
president of the committee." The elderly gentleman advised me to be
considerate. Sixty thousand rupees was more than half the amount we
were to collect for the college. But atheism was more to me than
the bright prospect of establishing the college of my dream. He
would give the donation only if I remained on the committee. It was
an impossible condition. I resigned from the committee. The
political movement in the country raged again. Some members of the
committee took part in it. The interest to establish the college
receded into the background. Later, another of the conventional
type came up at Bhimavaram. A big section of the youth were
attracted towards Marxism. They resorted to the method of strikes.
There were frequent student strikes at Hindu college too. The
management thought that my atheist propaganda was indirectly
responsible for the strikes. It resolved to dispense with my
services. After five years at Hindu College, I faced the second
dismissal in 1939.
Students took up my cause. They approached all the members of
the management and successfully prevailed upon them to revoke the
order of dismissal. But the principal was not happy, when the
management yielded to the student pressure. In his capacity as the
principal, he imposed disciplinary regulations on me, prohibiting
me from meeting students outside the class-room and banning the
expression of my views on atheism inside or outside the college, in
speech or writing.
The ban was too much for me. Should I resign immediately? The
students who fought in my behalf to get the dismissal order
revoked, did not want me to resign. It was shameful for me to serve
under a ban. I agreed to stay for a year and to resign at the end
of the academic year in 1940.
The two dismissals plainly placed the choice before me between
atheism and job. Saraswati and I chose atheism. In fact, the
principal did not accept my resignation at once. He knew that I
added two more children to my family, six by now. He was kind to me
when he started the course of Botany in the Hindu College and took
me as a lecturer after I was dismissed from P.R. College. He was
kind again to remind me of my responsibilities to the family and to
advise the withdrawal of my resignation. It was a question of
prestige for him when I suggested that the ban on me should be
lifted. There was no common ground between us if I valued freedom
to spread atheism more than the security of a job. The resignation
TO A VILLAGE
When I resigned the job at Hindu College, Masulipatam, I had
before me some choices for the next step. I was offered the
secretaryship of a Life Insurance Company. A scientific company
asked me to take charge of their section of Biology. The manager
and correspondent of a High School wanted me to take up its
headmastership, which fell vacant just a few days ago. These were
the jobs with security of service and salary. There was the other
offer of public work. Anne Anjayya invited me to settle down in his
village of Mudunur (Krishna District) and to carry on public work
in the manner I liked.
Every time in life we face alternatives for choice. The final
choice depends upon objective of life, either rolling in the
conventional rut or the desire for a change and taking risks of a
change. Atheist thought that took shape during the several lectures
and answering of questions, made it plain to me that every
individual has the freedom of choice. It is the fear of
responsibility that follows the choice, which compromises the
individual to conventional ruts and permits him conventionally to
shift the responsibility of the results of choice to god's will,
fate's decree, force of circumstances, inexorable custom, economic
condition, political necessity or the cultural pattern. Whatever
the plea, it is a question of owning responsibility of choice or
shifting responsibility of choice to some agent outside the
individual. I recognized that the tendency to shift the
responsibility of choice is the theist way of life and the
opposite, namely, the boldness and frankness to own responsibility
of choice is the atheist way of life. Atheists assert the freedom
to make choice everytime and to face consequences without regrets
and with a sense of responsibility. If the results prove
unpleasant, the individual is as free to change the choice as he
was to choose earlier. Throughout, it is a question of asserting
freedom with a sense of responsibility and using freedom under the
cover of faith in an external force that is supposed to determine
choice and the results of choice.
Saraswati and I were clear in our minds. I had already worked
for fifteen years from 1925 to 1940 as a lecturer in five different
colleges. The atheist disciplines do not agree with theist
conventions. I faced two dismissals. Why should I accept a salaried
job again to repeat the same clashes or to compromise with
conventional ways for fear of clashes? So, we chose to accept
Anjayya's invitation to go to Mudunur. The choice is attendent with
risk but it has the scope for the expression of freedom with a
sense of responsibility. With six children ranged from twelve to a
year in age, Saraswati and I went to Mudunur in August 1940.
Mudunur had a population of about 3,000, two miles from the
nearest road and eight miles from the nearest town, Gudivada, which
has a railway station. It had a branch post-office, an elementary
school and a dispensary. Communications and facilities have
improved considerably after India became independent, but Mudunur
was a typical village when we went there. Anjayya was its
accredited leader by virtue of his liberal disposition and a sense
of service and sacrifice. He was a freedom fighter in the Gandhian
movement of 1930-33.
Saraswati and I were born and bred up in towns. My job as a
lecturer in colleges confined me to towns. Except for addressing
meetings on atheism, I had little contact with villages. Therefore,
Mudunur gave us a valuable opportunity to know village life,
especially because more than eighty per cent of India's population
lives in villages. Those who do not know villages do not know India
Mudunur was one of the villages where I addressed a meeting on
atheism two years ago. I had a few acquaintances and I was known
there. Further, at the instance of Anjayya, Mudunur received us
kindly and maintained the family collectively. Two thatched huts
were put up for us in a private land just outside the village. It
was called the Atheist Centre. From there we carried out our
activities till 1947 when we shifted to Patamata, (Vijayawada).
It was a wonderful experience for those seven years when
everyone looked after our needs in general and no one was
responsible to us in particular. A friend would send us his milch
buffalo and another hay to feed her. We enjoyed the milk. We
received cereals and pulses by collective donation and clothes when
we needed them. Vegetable-groweres who carried gourds and greens in
the early hours of the morning to the market in the town, would
drop a few vegetables at our hut on their way. Thankfully we
collected them at day-break. The omnibus on the road gave us a lift
to the town free of charge and somebody would buy us postage for
correspondence. Our needs were met in kind and seldom we had the
occasion to handle a coin. Special mention should be made of
Puvvala Nagabhushanam who was theistic himself, but was attracted
towards the atheistic way of life and actively took care of us all
the years we were at Mudunur.
The first program I took up at Mudunur was the running of
Adult Education School. 86 adults ranging from 20 to 70 years of
age from Mudunur and neighboring villages formed the class which
met in a shed on the tank bund. The class sat from 12 noon to 2
p.m. punctually, a time suitable to villagers engaged in farm work,
and to teachers of elementary schools. Anjayya also attended the
class. I formulated a syllabus of the fundamentals of all subjects,
arts and sciences taught ordinarily in colleges. My wide reading
for atheism enabled me to take the class in all subjects. Prof.
N.G. Ranga spared me volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica for
reference. History, economics, politics, philosophy, sociology,
ethics, logic, fine arts, geography, physics, chemistry, biology,
geology, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, engineering and elements
of all subjects were in our course of study. It was a pleasure to
acquaint the villagers with the fundamentals of all the subjects in
their familiar language. It was training for me too. It was
interesting, indeed. Side by side with this education, the students
who were drawn from all castes and religions of the village,
brahmins and untouchables, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, grouped
into twos and three and played the host for the rest at tea by
turns every Saturday evening. The teas mingled up all castes in
their homes; Brahmin houses or untouchable slums. The social mix-up
raised an uproar, but the band of 86 adults braved the opposition.
The experience of common teas encouraged us to plan a
cosmopolitan meal in the untouchable slum in the month of February,
1941. The invitation was open with a small fee towards cost of
food. There were about 260 guests. It was a big affair in a village
where caste-distinctions were rigid. Elderly women, including
Ramanamma, Anjayya's mother took part in the common dinner. But it
was not without an echo.
M. Suryam, M. Krishnarao, M. Suryarao and Dr. S. Subbarao were
the Brahmin participants of the common dinner in the untouchable
slum. Suryam had two children too. When they returned home after
the dinner, their parents closed the doors on them, as eating in
untouchable slum was an affront to the rules of caste.
The four had the sympathy of the village with them though
their parents were stubborn. For a week they stayed with their
friends. In the meantime, there was rethinking of the problem by
the parents and the boys were readmitted into their homes without
A few years later, M. Suryam became an agent of Metropolitan
Life Insurance Company. His cosmopolitan views and acts stood him
in good stead. He mingled freely with his clientele without
reservations of caste distinctions. Consequently he won wide
sympathy, expanded business rapidly and rose to high position in
the company. He not only developed into a good businessman but
served as an active propagandist of atheism, frequently recalling
the incidents of adult class and common dinners.
The adult class gave me wide contacts in and around Mudunur.
Adiraju Amruteswararao, a teacher, attended the class with a few of
his students from Appikatla, two miles away. From Bollapadu and
Marrivada, villages on the other side also, there were regular
adults at the school. Perumal pedaled 16 miles on bicycle to and
fro between Mudunur and Gudivada town to attend the classes. There
was general sympathy and respect for atheism.
Anne Anjayya gave a fillip to the atheist movement by
persuading Ramakumar Varma to hold a conference of atheists. It was
held in 1941, at Kanumur, a village eight miles from Mudunur. It
was attended by about three hundred delegates and the conference
had free discussion during its three days. Tummala Gopala
Krishnayya was the secretary of the committee that was formed to
spread atheism. He took me round several villages for meetings on
Movva Sivarao of Mudunur, undertook to print and publish my
book in Telugu on Atheism (Nastikatvamu). In that book I used the
neuter gender for god, because god is a concept. The change from
the accustomed masculine gender attracted attention and set about
rethinking. The book went through three reprints.
Wherever I was called for a public meeting, I insisted on my
lodge and board to be arranged in the local untouchable slum. I
took the occasion to mingle the two sects among untouchables, Mala
and Madiga. Ordinarily, they do not interdine nor [do] they draw
water from the same well. I consider their mingling an achievement
for the atheist way of life.
At Mudunur I demonstrated fire-walking and dispelled the
superstition associated with it. There is a notion that one could
walk on fire only after a religious ceremony, as it was done. My
wife and I walked on fire without the ceremony. My son Lavanam who
was a boy of ten also walked. A few villagers, including women
followed us. It was strange. To the huge gathering that assembled
to witness the fire-walking by atheists, I explained the scientific
principle involved in firewalking. When fire is super hot, the
moisture on the skin of the sole gets immediately converted into
vapor. It acts as the insulating layer between the skin and the
fire during the short interval of two or three rapid strides on the
pit of fire. Only care should be taken to see that the fuel burns
for a sufficiently long time to get super heated.
Similarly with the magnet from some machines in villages, I
demonstrated the phenomena of attraction and repulsion. Some cheats
use them for exhibiting peace and war between dolls of gods of
On the occasion of an eclipse, Saraswati gathered pregnant
women of the village and dispelled the superstition associated with
it, as she did in Colombo.
The social mingling through common teas and dinners on the one
hand and the scientific explanation and exploding of superstitions
through demonstrations on the other, created a new awakening among
the people of Mudunur and the surrounding villages. They moved with
an open mind and revised old habits.
Puvvala Suryam is a musician of Mudunur. He made a living by
playing on violin. He was attracted by the atheist ideology. He
found that songs of classical music bore themes in praise of god.
He was unwilling to propagate theistic thought through his music.
He discarded the violin and started to live by hard physical labor.
He became an example of an earnest atheist. A scholar of another
village was attracted by Suryam's example. He composed songs with
humanist and rationalist themes and Suryam entertained atheist
audiences with the new songs.
Yellamanchili Butchayya, a young man of Mudunur wanted to
marry intercaste to set an example for the abolition of caste
distinctions. He married Puvvala Suryam's daughter on principle in
the teeth of opposition of his relatives. Kaviraj Tripuraneni
Ramaswamy of high repute as a non-conformist, iconoclast and
rationalist, presided over the largely attended marriage function.
Movva Pichayya and Kolli Ramamohanarao celebrated their marriages.
discarding religious rites and holding cosmopolitan dinners and
inviting local untouchables too. Marriage by civil registration
became popular among atheists. My brother, Sambasivarao's marriage
with a widow in the orthodox village of Kanakavalli, with
untouchables sitting along with others for lunch was a big social
revolution in those days in the context of prevailing Hindu
caste-convictions. A riot was feared. But the opposition of
conservatives did not take shape in the light of atheist awakening.
The atheist awakening revised the personal habits of
villagers. Indian villages are known for insanitation.
Soil-pollution has been an age-old bad habit with them. Atheist
awakening opened their eyes to the uncleanliness and indecency
contained in it and men and women in several homes took to the
construction and use of trench latrines. In this respect an item of
the constructive program of Mahatma Gandhi came to our help.
The sympathy for atheism spread so wide and deep into the
minds of people that in the census of 1941, from Mudunur village
142 persons classified themselves as atheists, disowning labels of
caste and religion. Ramaseshayya incurred the displeasure of the
Sub-Registar when he refused to associate himself with a label of
caste or religion for additional identification at the time of
registering a document. Similar was the experience of witnesses in
courts of law. A small provision which went unnoticed so long, had
to be culled out in order to meet the demands of the atheists. It
provided an alternative to the usual oath in the name of god. By
such bold and consistent action of the villagers, Mudunur soon came
to be known as the "godless village".
It is a common view that theism, and its opposite atheism
also, are concerned with philosophical questions, personal
discipline and social conduct have little to do with political and
economic affairs. That was the case in primitive times when
political and economic systems had not developed significantly and
religious faith dominated the life of the people. In the modern
age, things have changed considerably. Emphasis has shifted to
economic and political affairs. The old view is out moded. To be a
real way of life, atheism should concern itself with all aspects of
life and especially with economic and political systems because
political authority and state law control and regulate social
relations more than religious faith does in the modern age. From
care of children and mode of education to family planning and rate
of immigration, from irrigation facilities and land distribution to
food rationing and property rights, state law rules in the modern
age. Therefore we atheists wanted to bring political and economic
affairs into the purview of atheism. The occasion of Quit India
Movement of 1942 came in handy.
Earlier in 1941 Mahatma Gandhi conducted the movement of
Individual Satyagraha as a silent protest against India's
involvement in the Second World War. We were discussing its
progress in our adult school. At that time, Anjayya was more
interested in the methods of Subhas Chandra Bose than in the ways
of Mahatma Gandhi. So he joined the Forward Bloc of Bose. When Bose
was known to have left India to woo the help of Germany for winning
India's freedom, British government arrested associates of Bose.
Anjayya went underground and was later detained in Deoligaol till
1945. On account of the political changes, we discontinued the
Adult School after a year and planned to take part in the Quit
By 1942, other workers had gathered at the Atheist Center.
Prominent among them were Kana, D. Ramaswamy, T. Challayya, D.
Tatayya and R. Arjuna Rao. They expressed their agreement with
atheism and its political program. Some students of the Adult
School also joined us in the political action. We formed a good
team of Satyagrahis in the Quit India Movement. Saraswati, my
daughter Manorama and my sister Samrajyam were among the women who
were arrested. Ours was the largest single batch in Krishna
District to suffer imprisonment. Kana, Tatayya and Chellayya were
imprisoned twice between 1942 and 44. In Alipuram Camp Jail I
talked frequently to groups of fellow prisoners on atheism. They
belong to the four Southern language groups of Tamil, Telugu,
Malayalam and Kannada. Political action broadened the base of
atheistic thought and prison life gained for us wider acquaintance.
CHAPTER -- IX
I have nine children, five daughters and four sons. The number
is outrageous from the point of view of the needs of family
planning in capitalist society. Strangely, in socialist society,
not only mothers of many children are honored and special allowance
is granted for proper nurture of each child but childless mothers
are taxed. Motivation of private profit presents norms different
from collective welfare of socialist society.
Mahatma Gandhi was surprised at the large number of my
children especially because I live by public support after 1940.
He asked me why I was not observing celibacy. I said that I did not
like to raise an artificial barrier between my wife and my self,
especially when I denied her caste and property. If I denied myself
also to her, I would give scope for inhibitions that disturb
harmonious relations. Gandhi appreciated my situation and remarked
that I was novel in having a large family without private property
in public work.
From a rationalist standpoint, I should have taken to
contraceptives, if I did not like celibacy. But effective measures
of contraception were not commonly procurable in India in the
thirties and forties of this century. When vasectomy became handy,
I got sterilized in 1948. Nevertheless, on account of the atheist
way of life we have bestowed sufficient care on our children so
that they grow as assets to atheism. Our atheist outlook was
reflected even in giving names to our children.
The first is daughter born in 1928. Except for defying the ban
of eclipse, Saraswati and I had not grown assertively atheist. So
we adopted the name of Manorama for her, a name suggested by our
friend Dr. Aserappa of Colombo.
The second is a son, born in 1930. We were outcaste by that
time and we grew atheistic. That was the time of the Salt
Satyagraha Movement launched by Gandhi. So we called him Lavanam,
which means salt in Indian languages.
The third is Mythri, another daughter. She was born in 1932,
the period of Gandhi-Irwin pact and the Second Round Table
Conference in London. Climate of friendship was prevailing at that
time and Mythri means friendship.
Vidya is the fourth child and third daughter. She was born in
1934 when I was trying the experiment with education in Andhra
Tutorial College. Vidya means education.
The second son and the fifth child is Vijayam. Vijayam means
success, for Congress scored a sweeping success in 1937 elections,
when he was born.
The third son is Samaram, meaning war. He was born in 1939,
the time when the second world war started.
The next son is Niyanta born in 1941. Niyanta means dictator.
That was the year of dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini. Gandhi
was also made the dictator of the Congress to conduct the anti-war
The eighth child, a daughter, is Maru. The name means "change"
in Telugu language. She was born in 1944, when there was a change
in the Congress program from Satyagraha struggle to constructive
The last child is Nau, a daughter. Nau means nine. She is the
ninth child born in 1947.
The novelty of names attracted some of my friends who also
gave their children names like 'Agust' for the child born in August
1942 when the August Movement of Quit India started. When we were
released from prison in 1943 the child of a friend of mine was
given the name of' 'Viduthala', which means release. My grand
daughter is called Suez, because she was born in 1955 at the time
of the Suez crisis and her brother is named Chunav which means
elections as he was born in 1952 when India conducted the first
general elections with universal adult suffrage.
Some atheists changed their names into Kana, Nara, Madhu,
Vempo, Bhanu etc., to dissociate from caste and religious
association. As both Saraswati and I are atheists, the children
have grown in an atmosphere of atheism and they have not so far
felt the need to complain against it. Just as I discarded the
thread which is a mark of the caste, Saraswati cast aside her tilak
(rouge on forehead) and 'Mangalasutra' which are symbols of Hindu
wifehood. When Saraswati and I discarded the marks of caste and the
symbols of religion, our children too followed suit by training
when young, and by understanding as grown ups. Their attitude of
action and adjustment without complaint made them sociable and
useful members of the family and of the society. Since 1940 when I
left my job, my wife and I have been living on public subscription.
It gladly maintained my children too and in the long run they have
been offered ample facilities for development.
Besides food and clothing, an important problem with children
is their education in a country which does not provide for social
welfare. At Mudunur, Tummala Ramarao, took special care to give
elementary education to my children. Then all of them studied
Hindi. Gandhian movement created facilities for the spread of Hindi
free of charge. Lavanam gained proficiency in Hindi. Vajayam and
Samaram passed highest examinations in Hindi.
Mrs. Durgabai who had established Andhra Mahila Sabha in
Madras kindly offered to give regular education to my children in
that institution. Lavanam and Mythri went to Madras for that
purpose. But their education suffered a setback owing to bombing at
Madras and the consequent evacuation in connection with the Second
World War. Lavanam did not continue education further as he did not
like to study in the British educational system. What attainment he
has, is due to self-cultivation. He is well acquainted with Hindi,
Telugu and English to speak on public platforms and to write
articles in journals. Lavanam was picked up to interpret Vinoba's
Hindi talks into Telugu during his tour of Andhra Pradesh. In my
foot march with my associates from Sevagram to Delhi in 1961-62, he
interpreted my English speeches into Hindi.
Manorama stopped with elementary education after her marriage.
Yet she received training in social work and nursing at the centers
of Kasturiba Memorial Trust and worked for a few years in slum
areas. Other children studied Matriculation privately and qualified
themselves for further education. Mythri passed M.A. and Vidya did
B.A. by private study. When we shifted to Patamata from Mudunur,
Maris Stella Women's college was close to us and the other
daughters and grand-daughters studied B.Sc there, partly with the
help of friends and partly with the assistance of scholarship grant
for the children of those who were imprisoned in the freedom
movement. With the same help Vijayam and Niyanta passed M.A. and
M.Sc. at the Andhra University. Special mention should be made of
the kindness of Mr. J.S.R.L. Narayanamurty, who was a lecturer and
who gave Vijayam and Niyantha free food and lodge during their
study at the Andhra University. Samaram completed his Medical
course with the help given by Mr. Ch. Seshagirirao. Mr.
Seshagirirao, who married Vidya, my third daughter later on, has
been a source of constant help to us for every need. Maru too
studied Medicine with the help of Dr. Sushila Nayyar, who was a
secretary of Mahatma Gandhi and became the Health Minister of the
A pleasant surprise came from Dr. George Willoughby of USA.
During his tour in India, he visited Atheist Center at Patamata and
was pleased with the way of our life. He arranged for education of
my children in Philadelphia, USA for a year each by turns. Thus
Lavanam, Vijayam, Niyantha and Nau took the chances to go to U.S.A.
Just as Narayanamurty helped Vijayam and Niyantha at the Andhra
University, Mr. Maturusurya Prakasam of Vijayanagaram kindly helped
Vijayam to go to USA.
Thus all the children have education or educational training
by the help of friends and of public subscription. We are beholden
to them. Also my children who are now qualified for holding jobs,
choose to seek self-employment only and be helpful to the needy.
They see from my experiences that a job impedes freedom of action
and initiative. In capitalist set-up desire for private profit
tempts talent and honesty with security of a salaried job and uses
their services for furthering profits. The high salaries offered
for service depletes free society of talent and honesty and this
weakens revolt against capitalist exploitation. Every seeker of
jobs is an accomplice of exploiters. So movements for social change
give a call for those in jobs to come out, sacrifice comfort and
join the struggle for revolution.
CHAPTER -- X
My association with Mahatma Gandhi is a hotly debated question
with some rationalists. They see no common point between an avowed
atheist and a man of god, as Gandhi called himself. Of course
Gandhi did say that a blade of grass would not move without god's
behest. What then is its congruity with his unique method of
Satyagraha which calls on every one to insist on what he feels to
be the truth? It was this method of Satyagraha or non-violent
resistance that roused millions of Indians against odds to fight
against the forces of British imperialism. Was it god's command or
Gandhi's call to action?
To resolve this apparent paradox I wrote to Gandhi in 1930.
I went to him in 1944. My talks with him were narrated in the book,
An Atheist With Gandhi (60 pages, Navajivan Publishers, Ahmedabad).
24 pages of the book were taken up by the Introduction by
Kishorelal Mushruwala, a close associate of Gandhi.
I said in my book that Gandhi "was preeminently a practical
man. As a practical man, he took any situation as it obtained with
all its paradoxes. He never sat down to scan and to sift its
contradictions intellectually, but he moved the whole situation
towards the ideal of happiness for all mankind. He condemned
nothing before hand lest a good cause should be lost by bad
judgment. He only let things drop when they could not bear the
strain of progress. Practice was his test of fitness. He
subordinated intellectual and sentimental considerations to
practical purposes. He tested a system of medicine by the cure it
effected. He tested the advocate of the cause by the work he turned
out." (page 56 57) The emphasis on practice was the meeting point
between Gandhi and myself.
Two instances confirmed the commonness.
When I was with Gandhi at the Sevagram Ashram, "I wanted to
dissect a frog to demonstrate the phenomenon of heart-beat to the
nurses class which I was teaching. The nurses objected to the
dissection on the ground that it went against the principle of
non-violence (ahimsa). The matter was referred to Bapuji (Gandhi)
and he replied, "Dissect the frog, if that is the only way to
explain the heart-beat." "And I dissected the frog." (An Atheist
With Gandhi-Page 40).
Compare this incident with what happened at Ananda College,
Colombo. I wanted to dissect a frog to demonstrate heart-beat to my
students of class of Human Physiology. Buddhist priests on the
management of the college prevented me from the dissection on the
plea that it was killing. The priests eat meat. They say that they
do not kill but buy meat from the stall. The priests are speciously
argumentative. Gandhi was honestly practical.
The other instance related to my daughter, Manorama's marriage
with Arjunarao. She wanted to marry an "Untouchable" on principle
in order to establish castelessness. Gandhi agreed to get the
marriage performed in Sevagram Ashram, as it conformed to his vow
of blessing marriages between untouchables and non untouchables
only. He also accepted to replace mention of god with truth, in
deference to the needs of my atheism. Further, my wife, children
and atheist associates did not attend the regular prayers of
Sevagram Ashram. Gandhi did not mind our absence. Evidently, doing
work was more important to him than repeating the name of god.
Why then did Gandhi conduct prayers so regularly and mention god so
frequently? The reason is clear. He was conventionally a believer
in god by early training, even as I was. He continued the habit in
so far as it did not stand in the way of his work. He was more
concerned with real practice of programs than with intellectual
perfecting of principles. Nevertheless he did not hesitate to
revise an old habit whenever a present situation needed the change.
He started with the common Raghupati Raghava type of god. As he
pushed forward, he held that god was truth. But in 1931 he said, "I
went a step further and said Truth is God. You will see the fine
distinction between the two statements, namely, that God is Truth
and Truth is God. In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is
God, than to say that God is Truth." He made the change in order to
meet the objection of rationalist workers. In 1925 itself when a
conscientious objector protested against the mention of god in the
Congress pledge, Gandhi answered, "So far as the conscientious
objection is concerned, the mention of God may be removed, if
required from the Congress pledge of which I am proud to think I am
the author. Had such an objection been raised at the time, I would
have yielded at once." In the case of my daughter's marriage, he
dropped the mention of god altogether from the pledge.
Therefore, Gandhi was not that superstitious as he appeared to
be by the conduct of prayers. Leading millions of illiterate,
downtrodden and tradition bound common people of India towards the
goal of Swaraj or freedom, he was "hastening slowly" in changing
old ways which were of no immediate concern.
At the meeting of the Harijan Sevak Sangh in 1946, he
described himself by saying, "It is one thing for me to hold
certain views and quite another to make my views acceptable in
their entirety by the society at large. My mind is ever growing,
ever moving forward. All may not keep pace with it. I have,
therefore, to exercise the utmost patience and be satisfied with
hastening slowly." Change, he wanted; but he chose the speed of
change. Confronted with the ghastly situation of Hindu-Muslim
clashes in 1947, he chose to change the form of prayer and added
the name of Muslim god, Allah, in the Hindu verse. The change
raised a storm of protest from Hindu quarters. Gandhi stood firm.
He fell to the bullets of a Hindu assassin.
Gandhi called himself a "Sanatan Hindu". In essence he was not
a Hindu. He was basically a Human. In the sea of humanity, a human
is a rarity. Cut up by labels of race and nationality, class and
culture, caste and religion, humanity has become highly sectarian.
There is hardly a place for a human to live. So Gandhi was
Emphasis on practice as the test of truthfulness, openness of
mind for progressive change and humanness transcending were the
characteristics of Gandhi that took me to him. Similar features of
atheism made me and atheists acceptable to him though we did not
attend prayers and called god a falsehood. But the difference was
there. (page 52, An Atheist with Gandhi). Gandhi's method of
continuing conventional belief in god, however open, had the
advantage of establishing immediate communication with the mass of
people. Later, it suffered the reaction of losing the essence of
change and holding to the form of belief. The Atheist method, on
the contrary, raises initial prejudices and renders communication
difficult. Yet, the change achieved, however slow, is stable and
firm. Gandhi appreciated the content of atheism. He advised me to
take another name instead of atheism in view of the heap of
prejudice against it.
Conventionally, atheism is equated with wickedness. Yet, I
take to it deliberately for its promise to bring about permanent
change for human welfare. Atheists have a hard way to fight
through, but every step they take is a definite gain to humanity.
CHAPTER -- XI
Early atheist programs were similar to Gandhi's Constructive
work. While the Constructive program of Gandhi was linked with the
political fight of the Congress and had therefore a nation wide
significance, our work of adult education or village sanitation or
removal of untouchability or women's liberation was intensively
confined to a few villages. In a way, it was even non-political, as
we had not proceeded sufficiently far to come into touch with or to
clash with political authority. We moved in the thin margin outside
the direct authority of the government. But as our work widened, we
did clash with the conservative and capitalist ways of the
government, and we found the need of political action. Political
action becomes indispensable in the modern age if social work
should be free and broad. Gandhi told Ramaswamy, an atheist, that
he (Gandhi) was not a politician. He was essentially a man of
religion and a social reformer, and to the extent political factors
have come in his way he had been unwillingly drawn into political
sphere. (An Atheist with Gandhi - page 28).
Despite the fact that our social work in Mudunur village was
intensive, it was not so abiding as we wished. No doubt, Mudunur
Suryam became a successful Insurance agent, Nagulapalli Sitaramaiah
became a social worker of repute and Kalapala Suryam became a
legislator. They are all the products of the adult school and
active participants in the work at Mudunur. Also untouchability is
relaxed there to a great extent. But in the very village which was
know to be "the godless village" and in which 142 classified
themselves as atheists in 1941 census, religious ceremonies are
reappearing. Evidently social work without political legislation
The same is the experience with the several constructive
activities of Gandhi during the fight for freedom. The lasting
contribution of the Congress movement is the political freedom of
India but not social change by constructive work. Of course,
political work without constructive work is blind; at the same
time, the results of constructive work without political action are
short-lived. So we added political action to social work and
continued social work along with political action.
Our active politics started when we participated in the Quit
India movement in 1942. As we continued political action, our
politics have grown differently from the power politics in vogue.
The difference is partly due to the atheist outlook and partly to
our acquaintance with the Gandhian method. The principal feature of
power politics is the capture of the authority of the government
by fair or by foul means. The desire to capture power raises
competition for power among those who have the desire. Competition
leads to formation of political parties and rivalries among the
parties make the means of capturing power more foul than fair.
Party machinations and corruptive ways and the many evils to which
present democracies are subject flow from power politics.
The real purpose of politics is to solve people's problems by
means of governmental legislation. Constructive program is the
non-political method of solving people's problems. Sarvodaya is
non-political in that sense. But in the modern age when problems
are complex and social relations are wide, constructive work is not
able to cope up with the demands of people's needs. Therefore, we
require politics that is legislation, to solve our problems. But we
find politics also failing to solve the problems satisfactorily on
account of the competition for power entering into politics.
Therefore, unless politics are cleared of the mania for power,
politics cannot fulfill its real purpose of solving people's
problems. That is, those who hold the reins of governmental
authority should be people-minded and not power-minded. But to
suppose that lust for power is inherent in the very institutions of
government on account of its centralized authority and revenues,
and to recommend non-political methods for solution of people's
problems especially when non-political methods are inadequate to
deal with the problems of stage of civilizational progress, are
born of a feeling of frustration. Therefore, to be practical a way
must be found to turn power-politics into real politics, that would
make persons in authority people-minded instead of power-minded.
Gandhi proposed the method of decentralization of the basic
units of administration so that the people get into direct touch
with their representatives. The direct touch enables people to
control their representatives in authority and to check their
slipping into greed for power, because people stand to lose by such
a wrong. Even in self defense against the evil of power mania,
people should prevent legislators from abuse of power. But
effective check is possible only when units of administration are
sufficiently decentralized to keep legislators in close tough with
If Gandhi got into the seat of power on India winning freedom,
or if Jawaharlal Nehru followed the Gandhian way, India would have
had politics instead power politics. Both did not happen. Gandhi
was assassinated and Nehru held the power that preserved the
imperialist ways of centralized authority.
India has been politically free since 1947, but is in the grip
of power politics rather than in the dawn of real politics. What
program shall we, the atheists, take up to clear the present
politics of power mania? Decentralization is indeed desirable. But
it is not a feasible proposition for us as individual citizens in
a democracy. It can be done only after we get into seats of power.
Even Vinoba with all his prestige, mighty effort of foot march
throughout India, and huge following, could not get administration
decentralized effectively, though that was his avowed purpose.
Some of us were with him in the Sarvodaya movement, as it was
known. I wrote a book Why Gram-Raj by name printed by the
Sarvodaya publications. Its theme is the need of decentralization
of the basic units of administration. To start the work from where
we are, we took to the programs of partylessness and pomplessness
of legislators. The progress of atheist political action consisted
in formulation and practice of items of partylessness and
pomplessness. Nevertheless, we keep close to constructive work
In 1946, I was invited to the camp of Kasturiba Memorial Trust
at Borivilli, Bombay. Mridula Sarabhai was the Secretary of the
Trust. She was quite rational. She asked me to speak on
superstitions. Naturally, I referred to the need of atheism to
fight superstitions. There was a protest against the mention of
atheism in a camp which was run under the aegis of Gandhism. Also
Mridula dropped the item of prayer from the time-table of the camp.
The protest was carried to Gandhi. He did not take a serious notice
of it. He suggested that prayer might be arranged for those who
need it. Gandhians were more "godly" than Gandhi.
Next year Mridula Sarabhai became a Secretary of the All India
Congress Committee along with Kheskar. Sadiq Ali was the Office
Secretary. I was taken in as the Organizer, first at Allahabad,.
and then at Delhi Camp office. Gandhi was staying in the Bhangi
Colony on Panchkuan Road among sweepers. I was going there pretty
frequently. I noticed the difference between the slum dwellings of
sweepers where Gandhi lived and the posh mansions of the cabinet
ministers who held the posts in the care-taker government under the
prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru in the name of Gandhi.
Obviously the principles of Gandhism and its austerity began to be
Saraswati was with me for some time. We were invited to lunch
by Mohammad Rahamtullah Khan, the president of the Delhi Congress
Committee. He was very elderly and considerate. According to his
custom, he served beef as a dish at the meal. Saraswati and I are
vegetarians by the caste habit which we acquired in childhood. When
we discarded caste and religious association, we revised food
habits also that are linked up with caste distinctions. But
normally we remained vegetarian. At that time we ate a bit of beef
to show that we are not sentimentally vegetarian hidebound by caste
habits and religious feelings. We asked Md. Rahamtullah Khan
whether he would eat pork. Pork is a religious taboo to Muslims as
beef is to Hindu castes. Rahamtulla Khan saw the point in our
question. He rose above the levels of religious difference and told
us with dignity, "Yes, I should, when it is served to me." Of
course we did not have a dish of pork ready at hand. But his reply
left an impression on us and suggested an objective program for
effacing Hindu-Muslim differences. Twenty five years later we
conducted the program of beef and pork eating in the face of
opposition from conventional religionists. The incident at Md.
Rahamtulla Khan's house formed the basis for an organized and
extensive program in 1972.
BETWEEN GANDHI AND MARX
Nehru was not faithful to Gandhi as Lenin was to Marx. Nehru
had immense love and respect for Gandhi. That was sentimental. He
did not consider the Gandhian discipline of austerity feasible or
desirable in independent India. As Prime Minister of the care-taker
government till the August 15, 1947, Nehru was visiting Gandhi who
was residing in the slum of the sweepers. But he was himself living
in ministerial mansions of the British imperial regime. He paid
little heed to Gandhi's advice to Governors, ministers and
legislators to deem themselves as servants of people and to live a
way of life close to the common man of India who is poverty-
stricken. Gandhi did not simply say this but lived that way of
life in a hut at Sevagram Ashram and in the slums at Delhi.
Neither Nehru nor "Gandhians" appreciated the need of austerity to
deserve the respect of the mass of people for the laws they make.
In contrast to Nehru, stood Lenin. On becoming the Secretary
of the Communist party he refused the increase in his salary.
Noteworthy still was his conduct, when he shifted to Gorky Hill to
take rest. There was the mansion of the commander-in-chief of the
Czar who had fled after the revolution. Lenin stayed not in the
mansion, but in the servant's quarter. My admiration for him grew
a thousand fold when I saw the servants quarter by the side of the
big mansion when I visited Moscow in 1974. At once in my mind's eye
Gandhi's hut in Sevagram appeared side by side with the servant's
quarter where Lenin lived. Both stood in terrible contrast with the
Teen Murthi Bhavan in which Nehru lived, the palatial mansion of
the commander-in-chief of the British army in India. Lenin lived in
the servant's quarter of the mansion; Nehru lived in the mansion
itself. The difference indicated the difference in their
faithfulness to the ideology they professed.
Inspired by Lenin's simplicity, the rank and file of the
Communist party all over the world lived close to the common
people. Following Nehru, Gandhians deviated from the Gandhian
After the Quit India movement, my close colleague, Tummala
Challayya, was disillusioned with Gandhian ideology which could not
inspire Gandhians with simplicity. He was twice in prison in Quit
India movement, and an ardent Gandhian at first. Later, he moved
towards the Communist Party, and persuaded some others too to join
the Party. He and Yellamanchili Ramakrishnayya followed the path of
communism, went under ground and Ramakrishnayya was shot dead in an
encounter with police. Chellayya narrowly escaped capital
Chellayya persuaded me at that time to join the Communist
Party. The marked difference between the simplicity of Communist
workers and the pompous ostentation of Congressmen was his
irrefutable argument. I looked at Gandhism and Marxism in their
wider perspective, of theoretical implications and practical
programs. Principles of dialectical materialism and their
application to human history basically deny freewill to the
individual. This goes against the atheist assertion of the
freewill. In practice, the Marxian ideology would necessitate
secrecy and underground life in the attempt to organize for the
establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat or of its
champion, the Communist Party. I am averse to secrecy. While I
disapproved the pomp of congressmen. I could not accept the
implications of Marxism. I felt that both Gandhism and Marxism had
good parts and both of them needed atheist correction for clearing
them of faults. I explained this in my book "Positive Atheism." We
carried on the atheist work on political and constructive fronts,
without getting into the streams of the Congress or of the
Gandhi was assassinated on the January 30 1948. He had to lay
down his life because his followers would not listen to him. His
solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem was to give Jinnah, the Muslim
leader, a blank check to form the government of undivided India.
He said that it was firstly wrong to think in terms of Hindu
citizens and Muslim citizens, instead of thinking in terms of
Indian secular citizenship; and that secondly, even if religious
distinctions were granted, Hindus were in two thirds majority in
numbers and could easily be liberal to their Muslim brethren,
though they were found to be stubborn. Love of power blinded
reason. The Congress High Command agreed to the division to avoid
the colossal blood-bath. India was divided on August 15, 1947.
Gandhi's protest took the non-violent from of working for communal
harmony. His voice was drowned in communal frenzy and a Hindu shot
down a "Sanatana Hindu", who was simply a human.
After Gandhi's assassination, I severed connection with the
Congress and proceeded along the atheist path in all aspects of
life, as I conceived them.
We shifted from Mudunur to Patamata as the latter is on the
road-side with better communications being a suburb of Vijayawada
town. On the day we left Mudunur, there was a farewell function. A
purse of collections was presented to us and friends helped us to
shift the huts from Mudunur to Patamata. The seven years' stay at
Mudunur and the reminiscences of activities there have fostered,
bonds of lasting relationship. Paturi Nagabhushanam, the Secretary
of the Library movement, secured for us a plot of land at Patamata
to put up our sheds. We called that place also atheist center and
conducted adult education classes in the untouchable slum by our
side. The landlord, Govindarajulu Venkateswara Rao, and his
brothers, though congressmen, objected to our association with
untouchables since it would disturb the peasant-labour relations in
the area. But we continued our programs. They obtained an ex-parte
legal decree for our eviction. Chennupati Ramakotaiah, the head of
the village, sympathized with the clash of my ways with the
existing social set-up and invited me to his land in another part
of Patamata. The present Atheist Center, has been there since 1948.
Better communications at Patamata facilitated widening of
engagements. I participated in several library and adult education
conferences organized by Paturi Nagabhushanam who had devoted his
life to library movement. He took part in the freedom struggle of
1930-32 and is an enthusiastic Gandhite. He appreciated my
condition that wherever I go for a conference, my lodge and food
should be arranged in the untouchable slum. A notable incident
happened at the Alampur conference. The local organizers who
generally treated untouchables as manual laborers and disliked
close association with them, did not make the arrangements
satisfactorily as promised. At a late hour, Nagabhushanam
personally attended to the matter and several delegates to the
conference came to the slum and shared the meal they arranged. It
was a unique event in those parts and it served to awaken new
social consciousness. The most distinguished guest of the function
was Gadicherla Hari Sarvothama Rao, another freedom fighter of
radical views. He walked to the slum for participation in the meal,
in spite of his advanced age.
Similar incidents happened at a village in Cuddapah District
and at Vallabhapuram in Guntur District. Each incident gained fresh
friends to us who came forward with sacrifice of caste privileges
and worked for equal social respect.
The conference put me in touch with Ayyanki Venkata Ramanaiah,
Venkata Rama Naidu, Putumbaka Sreeramulu, Roche Victoria, Korukonda
Subbaraju and several elite of Andhra Pradesh.
Atheism extended its frontiers through programs of action.
Economic problem is the most important one in human affairs.
There are cases when men and women stake their life for honor and
liberty. Wars and suicides have no place in human life unless there
are values considered more worthy than food and comfort. Yet, in
day-to-day life food is very important. Those for whom food is
assured progress in fields of art and technology is more rapid than
those who have to search for or fight for food. The backwardness of
Asian and African countries is primarily due to their lack of
social security. Further, modern age recognizes the equality of all
humans. Therefore, to have social security evenly distributed among
all people yields better results in development of human affairs
than when its availability differs with advantages in competition.
Evidently, socialist countries enjoy greater peace and progress
than countries under capitalist economy, though both have social
security. Hence economic equality is the cry of the day.
Countries that have adopted the Marxian ideology have a
materialist awakening and they have definitely achieved economic
equality now. But their achievement is subject to political
dictatorship, which curbs individual freedom. The problem before
atheists is to find out a method by which economic equality is
achieved while preserving the freedom of the individual. That is,
taking democracy and socialism together.
Because no country has so far achieved socialism
democratically, the common belief is that Marxism alone stands for
socialism, while democracy supports capitalism. But we find Gandhi
attempted at achieving socialism democratically. The thirteenth
item of his Constructive Program is to work for Economic Equality.
Of course, the method proposed for achieving economic equality is
trusteeship. And Trusteeship is too good to be real. The Sarvodaya
movement which gave trusteeship the best trial has failed in the
final achievement. Therefore, while Marxism is well known by its
achievement of socialism, the thirteenth item of Gandhian program
is either little known by the lack of achievement or where it is
known it is discredited by its trusteeship principal which is both
non political and utopian. Nevertheless, the indication of
possibility of achieving socialism democratically is found in the
thirteenth item of the Constructive Program of Gandhi. It is this
possibility that attracts atheists. They feel that if democratic
political method is adopted instead of trusteeship, it is possible
to achieve economic equality without disturbing the freedom of the
The correction needed in this context is to drive democracy
towards legislations in favor of economic equality and atheists
feel that democracy can be driven in that direction when it is
rendered partyless and pompless. With this plan, atheists held the
Conference of Gandhi Sangh at Gudivada at first. The name of Gandhi
was taken in order to emphasize that not only Marx but Gandhi also
talked of economic equality. The conference highlighted the
thirteenth item of the Constructive Program. The organizers of the
conference were Mudedla Ramarao and K. Bhujanga Bhushana Rao who
were freedom fighters. S. Ramanathan, President of the All India
Rationalist Association and S. Jagannathan were among the guests
from Madras who contributed to the discussion. Kodati Narayan Rao
from Hyderabad helped us give shape to the resolution. The success
of the conference was due to the cooperative effort of several
persons who were interested in evolving a democratic method for
achieving economic equality.
The same work is carried on later when we formed Arthik
Samatha Mandal (Association for the achievement of economic
equality) at Wardha under the presidentship of J.C. Kumarappa. I
was the secretary, D.J. Hathekar, T.K. Bang, Suresh Ram and Vasant
Nargolkar were on the committee. We resolved that democracy should
be rid of party and pomp in order to think in terms of achieving
For spreading atheist ideas and programs of work, we wanted to
start a journal. A small printing press with a treadle came in
handy. Lavanam underwent training in press work at Madras with
Shramajeevi Acharya. At Patamata we started the press. My children
Vijayam, Samaram, Mythri, Vidya and several coworkers from Patamata
village worked in the press. I edited the Telugu weekly, Sangham,
(Society) in whose columns we discussed the atheist ideology and
plan of action. The press was bought out of public donation and the
journal was run on public sympathy. After running it for five
years, we changed the name to Arthik Samata (Economic Equality),
under the editorship of Lavanam. The change of name was in tune
with our emphasis on economic problems. When our press became too
rickety to print, C. Rangappa of Proddatur printed our journal in
his Sarathy Press. He printed some books of atheism too and helped
Besides the two journals in Telugu, Sangham and Arthik Samata,
we ran a Hindi monthly, Insaan (means a human being) for a few
years, to gain contact with the Hindi States of the North. Now we
have the English monthly journal, The Atheist, which has world wide
circulation in atheist circles. For a year Lavanam was at Kakinada
with C.V.K. Rao, assisting the editing of Sarathi which adopted the
ideology of economic equality.
Though we were busy with press, journal and spread of atheist
thought, we did not lose sight of constructive work. Being adjacent
to the town, the constructive work at Patamata was different from
the work at Mudunur. While unemployment and poverty are general
problems concentrated in urban areas in developing countries with
no social security, the specific problem with which we were
confronted was the eviction of hut-dwellers who are untouchables,
from the place they were living on. The reason for the eviction was
either the needs of town planning or the ownership of the land by
a rich man. Such a question came to us where 48 huts were involved.
I approached the municipal authorities and the state government to
provide the evicted persons with alternative house sites for the
huts. They pleaded lack of provision in the budget for the help.
My wife and I took a straight course. We helped the evicted hutsmen
to occupy a wide and unused road margin. The municipal authorities
objected to the occupation as it was illegal. Our simple answer was
that the occupation was moral. Where there is discord between
legality and morality, legality should be opposed and morality
should be upheld. Law is for man. If law hurts man's life, law must
be changed and man should be allowed to live. The straight and open
vindication of our stand, let the poor people live on there. The
stand we took involved the affected people in the contention and
they now stand on their legs with confidence. They feel strong
because they are in the right.
My children have grown with the humanist outlook. Their
marital alliances disregarded caste distinctions. The daughter of
Nara, an atheist married a muslim on principle. My son Lavanam,
married an "untouchable" and this was the second marriage that was
performed at Sevagram on atheist principles with no mention of god.
The first was the marriage of my daughter Manorama with Arjunarao.
As the children grew up and were qualified educationally by
private study or by regular collegiate education, we had to find
work for them. They did not want salaried jobs. So my second
daughter Mythri and Hemalata Lavanam started a private children
school at the atheist center, Patamata. It was named Vasavya
school. Vasavya is a word coined with the first letters of three
words in Telugu, Vastavikata (sense of reality), Sanghadrusti
(sociability), and Vyaktityam (individuality) -- the three
qualities that atheism cherishes. The children of Vasavya school
were required to drop caste appellations of their names. The school
enlisted the cooperation of the parents of students and educated
the homes indirectly. It was an enjoyable experience.
CHAPTER -- XIV
The feeling of freedom is the principal feature of atheism.
It makes atheists masters of every situation. Being masters they
cannot complain. With a sense of responsibility, and direct action,
they have to redress whatever they find unjust.
Direct action is the same as Gandhi's Satyagraha. When Gandhi
said that living faith in god was necessary for a Satyagrahi, he
spoke in common conventional language. In spirit and practice,
Satyagraha and atheistic direct action are alike in as much as both
should insist upon the right and oppose the wrong.
Direct action has two advantages. It sets right a wrong. Also
it disciplines the activist. Our action against ornamental flower
plants illustrated the double advantage. We felt that as long as
there is scarcity of food any where, it is anti social to use land,
water, manure, time interest or energy for growing non edibles.
From the point of view of social responsibility the color of tomato
or the shape of cabbage is more pleasing to the eyes then nonedible
salvia or pansy. So, after due notice to the concerned authorities,
some of us planned in 1968 to replace ornamental plants with
edibles in the public garden at Hyderabad. T. Ramarao who is not
avowedly an atheist, liked the plan. Before he participated in the
operation, he pulled out chrysanthemums from the pots of his garden
and put in coriander there. By practice and sacrifice he inspired
others to do likewise. It spoke of the honesty of his purpose and
added dignity to our work, with the result that several passers by
on the road joined us sympathetically in replacing flower plants
with edibles, in the garden that evening. The police imprisoned us
on the charge of destroying public garden. But the moral value of
our programs was so forceful that on rethinking, the government had
to withdraw the case against us unconditionally after a month.
Our direct action was largely against the pompous extravagance
of the heads of the State. Political power is a potent factor in
regulating lives of the people. On winning political freedom of
India, we expected the persons wielding political power to think
and work for the welfare of all people. But those who were elected
to seats of power, misused authority for selfish gains and used the
revenues of the government more for personal comforts and pride of
pomp than for people's welfare. So, we directed our action against
the pompous extravagances of heads of the State.
Elected legislators could abuse power since people were not
vigilant enough to check the excesses of their representatives.
Accustomed to feel subservient to their notion of god, common
people obeyed their governments too, instead of controlling them
and preventing lapses. Atheists re-educate the people to tell them
that they are the masters of their government, as democracy
requires them to be. Involvement in the programs of direct action
is the best method of education. Heads of State do need special
facilities for the performance of their special functions. But
personal pomp is certainly an abuse of authority and disdain of
people. They travel in first class and live in luxurious mansions,
while common people are packed in third class compartments and are
restricted to huts in slums. At one time, we insisted on the
ministers of the state too traveling in third class in sympathy
with the condition of common people whom they profess to serve. At
the railway station, we prevented them from getting into first
Chundi Veeraswamy, who earns out his livelihood barber, was a
great activist in the program. He could see the injustice in
comparison with his hard labor everyday. We were often kept out by
the police till the train left. However, P.V.G. Raju, and T.
Viswanatham when they were ministers traveled in third class some-
times in sympathy with our demand. M.V. Krishna Rao, another
minister travels in omnibus along with common people, a big change
in the prevailing customs in India. Tanguturi Prakasam, an elderly
gentleman, too traveled in third class on principle when he was the
state minister for revenue.
One minister's reaction was strange. When I persuaded him to
travel in third class, his ministerial dignity, false as it was,
was hurt. He slighted me with "Who are you?" Straight I replied, "I
am your master." The right of democracy struck him hard. He
withdrew behind the cordon of police.
Rajendra Prasad was a close associate of Gandhi. He became the
first President of the Republic of India. In a special interview,
I requested him, "The best place for the President of India is the
slum were Gandhi lived. I won't press that demand now. Please visit
the slum wherever you go. Slum-dwellers also are citizens of India.
Placed as you are, they cannot easily approach you. "He was too
honest to deny my request. He could not agree either, on account of
the form and pomp that surrounded him, and parried the question.
I repeated the request with Chandulal Trivedi, when he was the
Governor of Andhra State. He could receive addresses from clubs and
corporations, but he should visit the slums also. Twice we staged
black-flag demonstrations when he paid no heed. Popular sympathy
grew in our favor. Third time he yielded. He visited slums wherever
he went thereafter and attended to their needs. My wife, Saraswati,
and Andraiah played notable roles in those direct actions.
We pressed upon Sanjiva Reddy and Brahmanda Reddy, when they
were Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh to shift from their palatial
mansions to more modest abodes, closer to the common people. I had
a long discussion with Kamaraj Nadar on the point when he was the
President of the Congress Party. In 1961-62 14 of us, including
Saraswati and Lavanam, started on a foot march from Sevagram Ashram
to Delhi. It was 1,100 miles long and took 99 days. It was a
protest march against the pompous extravagance and party
affiliation of the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. At every camp
on the march and on the way too, we were meeting people, addressing
meetings and explaining that, in democracy people are masters and
ministers are servants. By the time we reached Delhi, we were 38
from different States of India. We wrote repeatedly to the Prime
Minister, the first representative of the people. We requested him
to set an example to the people as the "heir of Gandhi". He was
silent. At Delhi we blocked the entrance of his official residence,
Teen Murthi, as direct protest. He called for us to talk the next
day. Mahavir Bhai and I met him. He said he would gladly respond to
the demand, if the public is sufficiently awakened to the
principles of partylessness and pomplessness. We said that a
gesture from him would rouse the people to democratic
consciousness. At present democratic practices move in a vicious
circle shifting responsibilities of change from government to
people and people to government. I found the members of Communist
Party no better in their response. Their members in legislatures
draw the same salaries and allowances as those whom they call
bourgeoisie. They say that circumstances should change for persons
to change. How do circumstances change? Certainly by the effort of
some individuals. Lenin did not wait for the whole bourgeoisie to
lose the class character before he lived in the servant's quarter
in Gorki Hill.
Nevertheless, four legislators of the Andhra Legislature
elected a voluntary cut in their salaries and allowances to be
honest to their representation of people's interests. They were
C.V.K. Rao, Vavilala Gopalakrishnayya, M.V. Subbareddi and
Koarapati Pattabhi Ramaiah. Another aspect of direct action is
CHAPTER -- XV
One-adult-one-vote is the outstanding character of democracy.
The equality of voting franchise ought to lead to equality of
economic opportunity and equality of social respect among people
through appropriate legislation. But democracies have not so far
succeeded in establishing equality, despite the equality of voting
franchise. What is the reason? Atheists have thought over the
problem with an open mind. They have tried to find out where and
how democracy is sabotaged in the fair purpose of achieving
One of the reasons for failure of democracy is the
centralization of administration which removes the representative
away from the easy control of people. Then the representative can
abuse the powers of his position and fall into the temptation of
personal comfort. The programs of direct action have been attempts
to control the legislators and to compel them to shed pomp as far
as possible under the conditions of centralized administration.
The second method is seeking election by those who are
inspired with the desire to establish equality democratically. If
they get elected, they can try to introduce legislation to cut down
pomp and to decentralize administration. But there is a hurdle in
the way of seeking election. Political parties have crept into the
democratic machinery and have virtually captured the election
platforms. Parties set up their candidates, and scare away non-
party candidates from seeking election. Nor are the party
candidates useful for the purpose of democracy. The competition
among political parties for getting elected by hook or by crook,
fouls the election machinery. They collect huge funds, bribe and
corrupt voters, bug and blackmail opponents. After election their
attention is more absorbed in strengthening their positions by
pulling the legs of opponents than working for the welfare of the
people. The way of democracy that is side-tracked by political
parties is called power politics in contrast with the people's
politics of real democracy. Atheists are confronted with this ugly
conditions of power politics when they seek election. Atheists know
that there is no mention at all of parties in democratic
constitutions. Even if there is any provision it could be amended,
in view of the harm that political parties do to people's
interests. In the face of the conventions of power politics
atheists feet bold to seek election as non-party candidates.
I sought election to Parliament in the first general election
in India in 1952. Reve stood for the State Assembly from Suryapet
Constituency. Though people were habituated to power politics and
they were in the grips of political parties, I found it easy to put
across the purpose of democracy to the people. I held street corner
meetings, contacted the people straight and held open dialogues.
I did not succeed at the polls, but certainly I succeeded in
opening a new path to lead towards people's politics out of power
politics. It was a partyless movement.
M.N. Roy also propounded the theory of partyless democracy
earlier. Consistently he dissolved his party and encouraged the
members. to lead the partyless movement. A.G.K. Murty of Tenali
was a protagonist of the cause. He gave his full support to me.
Later when I sought election to the State Assembly again in 1967,
his. colleague M.V. Ramamurthy stood for the Parliament election.
In 1972 elections the number of candidates to seek election from
partyless platform increased. B. Venugopal from Repalle, Parachuri
Venkataratnam from Kuchinapudi, K. Muralidhararao from Nallagonda,
S. Narasimhulu from Cuddapah and Lavanam from Vijayawada were among
With the help of Mahadev Singh, S.R.L. Devi and Vandemataram
Ramachandrarao, we held a conference of Partyless Democracy at
Hyderabad in 1960. Jayaprakash Narayan inaugurated the conference.
Some principles were highlighted at the conference. We said that
candidates from partyless platform should considerably cut down
election expenses, because they were the main source of corruption.
Those who spend money at the election will be tempted to recover
the money by illicit means after the election. Secondly, the
opposition should be free and fluid, instead of being bloc and whip
bound. Opposition is effective only when it is free. It can then be
constructive too depending on the merits of the issue instead of
opposing for the sake of opposition which is unworthy of the
dignity of a legislator. When opposition is free, the cabinet of
ministers accepts the decision of the House by a majority of free
votes, even though it may mean amendment or rejection of a cabinet
proposal. In such a state of partylessness the leader of the House
is elected by the whole House by the method of eliminating.those
who get the least number of votes each time and repeating election.
It is the power politics where parties vie with one another that
call elections a "contest" meaning a kind of rivalry between the
different candidates. In the partyless approach, we seek election
but contest with none.
We held a series of talks, seminars and study classes in towns
and rural parts on partyless democracy. I toured the country
extensively in the month of April, May and June 1962 addressing
meetings on partyless and pompless democracy. A week long worker's
camp was held at Ghaziabad, near Delhi in early 1962.
Conferences on Partyless Democracy were organized successfully
in August 1961 at Hubli; in June 1962 at Calcutta; in October 1968
at Bangalore and in February 1975 at Warangal. The discussions on
partyless democracy clarified two features as principal changes
from power politics. First, seeking election is as much a right of
the citizen in democracy as casting vote. Party politics set up
party candidates at elections and practically shut out others from
the privilege. Partyless platform breaks the self arrogated
monopoly of political parties and encourages any number of
candidates to seek election in a constituency. Out of the several
candidates, voters choose those who commend themselves by their
history of service, integrity of conduct and ability to represent
people. The wide scope cuts across caste and communal bias and
presents alternatives to the yes men of parties. Not the promise of
a showy manifesto but the objective to legislate for establishing
economic equality and social justice becomes prominent. Secondly,
an elected member will serve his full term. The mischief of power
politics which asks a member of the rival party to resign every
time will be replaced by the healthy convention of checking the
lapses of a legislator by pressures of direct action. The extra
expenditure of by-elections will be avoided and the funds will be
usefully diverted to promote people's welfare. The party politics
which reduce a citizen's rights only to casting votes periodically
will be activated by the principle that the right of a citizen in
democracy is also to see that his representatives do their duty.
Democracy strengthens through people's participation.
Decentralization of the units of administration certainly
facilitates people's participation. But partylessness is the first
state from power-politics to decentralization.
Besides Radical Humanists of Royist ideology and Jayaprakash
Narayan, members of Sarvodaya are committed to the principle of
partylessness. So, I joined Sarvodaya a year after it started in
1951. I spoke freely about partyless programs from Sarvodaya
platforms. We held the conference of Partyless Democracy at Raipur.
Vishnu Sran, Tiwary and several friends helped its spread, with the
name of Satyagraha Samaj.
But Sarvodaya largely is non political in its activities.
Therefore, though it agreed to partyless democracy in principle, it
discouraged active programs in that direction. The conference on
partyless democracy at Raipur, the Sevagram-Delhi March in 1961
were opposed by Sarvodaya office bearers as being political, though
members like Thakurdas Bang, Ganesh Prasad Naik, Mahavir Bhai,
Lokendra Bhai and Hemdev Sharma actively supported and participated
in programs of partyless democracy.
Shri Shivamurty Swamy, member of Parliament from Raichur,
Karnataka, is an ardent supporter of Partyless Democracy. He
introduced a non-official bill in Parliament laying it down that
the Prime Minister should be elected by the whole House, giving up
the convention of appointing the leader of the majority party as
the prime minister. Sivamurty Swamy held a conference at Hubli to
which Mahavir Bhai, S.R. Subrahmaniam, Lavanam and I were invited.
Partyless democracy which emerged as the political program of
atheism by and large gathered wide support.
CHAPTER -- XVI
ARE THEY OUTRAGEOUS?
Atheist mind is open. Every time it practically writes on a
clean slate. All revolutions do it. Atheism is revolutionary.
Atheists respect old values in so far as they are useful to present
times. Atheists do not hesitate to drop such old values that do not
bear the march of progress. The only two values that abide with
atheists are the objective of equality of all humans and the method
of openness. Equality and openness are indispensable social needs.
Put to the test of equality and openness, we find most of our old
values require revision or even rejection. Thinking and working
along these lines, I was confronted with special situations, whose
solution from the atheist standards seemed ordinary to me, while
they looked outrageous to others till they understood me.
The first one related to the social status of unmarried
mothers. In India girls are married early. Till 1935 when Child
marriage Restraint Act was passed, marriages were mostly pre-
puberty. Therefore, motherhood is shielded by the condition of
marriage and unwed motherhood does not arise except in the case of
widows who are not remarried. So by old social custom unwed
motherhood is regarded a heinous crime on the part of the woman.
Unwed mothers either resort to abortion stealthily, or commit
The first case of an unwed mother we came across was at
Mudunur, sometime in 1946. She was a Brahmin widow. Her head was
shaven, as it is the custom with widows of some castes, including
Brahmins. She belonged to an adjacent village. She was about 25
years of age. When her pregnancy came to be evident, she was
discarded by the village and the helpless woman stayed alone on the
tank bund at a distance. When the case came to our notice, my wife
and I called her to the Atheist Center at Mudunur and offered her
all assistance of food, shelter, maternity home and post-natal
care. As friends of Mudunur were atheistically minded, they agreed
with me and came forward with material help.
The woman was happy at first at our offer. But when she found
out that at the atheist center we live without caste distinctions,
she being a brahmin, refused food at our hands, and left us. She
delivered in a hospital. The experience made us aware both of the
condition of unwed mothers and of the sentiment of caste.
I wrote news articles on the social injustice to unwed
mothers. For the same act, man is left free as he can escape while
woman is punished. Should special hardship be imposed on women on
account of the difference in sex? It is as unfair as the
discrimination due to color of the skin in racial differences.
Later, I found Radha Kishan Home at Hyderabad, run by Mr. and
Mrs. Dage, gave shelter to unwed mothers, but they strictly kept
their identity secret. Such treatment affords relief in individual
cases, but does not solve the problem socially. I was enthused when
I found that the Constitution of USSR, and that of People's China
give to unwed mothers the same status as other mothers.
In 1970 and again in 1974, when I visited USA and Europe, I
was glad to find that there were institutions to take care of unwed
mothers. As the institution of family itself is cracking in Europe
and USA and as marital alliance is going out of fashion, the way of
becoming a mother does not matter much there. Yet, the old custom
of disrespecting unwed mother has not yet been deliberately set
aside, though the sting is lost.
In 1951 my second daughter, Mythri, became an unwed mother.
As the boy was married, the question of her marriage with the boy
did not arise. As atheists, Saraswati and I wanted to face the
problem openly. Dr. Achamamba came out with her full support to us.
She offered to delivery, pre and post-natal care. As I was wholly
depending on public subscription for our food and work, I needed
support in this open solution of a problem which was shrouded in
secrecy so long.
I made known the fact to some of my friends by words of mouth
and by written letter. Some friends thought that my frankness was
foolhardy. A friend went to the extent of addressing some common
friends condemning the condition of my daughter and deprecating the
atheist way of life, in view of this incident.
But openness paid me well. While a few old friends dropped
out, many more new friends came in support. Gandhi was no more by
that time. But Kishorelal Mushruwala, who wrote the introduction to
my book, An Atheist With Gandhi, appreciated my stand.
Mythri was delivered of a daughter. She married Jonnalagadda
Ramalingayya and has three more children. She acquired academic
qualifications and plans to start a home for women where problems
can be solved openly raising the dignity of women to be equal to
men. Sex should not make a difference in social status as racial
traits ought not to.
The second event that raised a furor of protest was openly
eating Beef and Pork. Among Christians no meat is a taboo. But
pork-eating is forbidden for Muslims and beef is for Hindus
religiously. To disown religious sentiments into which many people
are born, we thought everyone ought to eat tiny bits of beef and
pork together openly. Saraswati and I and our children are normally
vegetarians. As diet habits are associated with caste and religious
distinctions in India, we have no objection to eat a bit of any
meat openly. At Delhi, Saraswati and I had eaten beef with
Rahamtulla Khan as mentioned before. Our atheist friends liked the
program and so we proposed the function of eating tiny bits of beef
and pork openly with bread or rice from 4 to 5 p.m. on Indian
Independence Day August 15, 1972 at Atheist Center, Patamata.
There were no special invitations, but anybody was welcome to
witness or to participate in the function. The announcement of the
function looked outrageous to Hindu and Muslim beliefs. But beef
and pork eating clears the mind of religious bias and breeds human
outlook. Without understanding the objective of the function,
Sankaracharya of Puri, a high priest of Hindus, who was then
camping at Hyderabad, issued a statement protesting against the
function. I replied that I was not a Hindu but a human, and so his
protest was misdirected. I invited him to the function, if he liked
to transcend a denominational belief and grow human. Sankaracharya,
with vested interests in Hindu sectarianism, rallied a protest with
hundreds of religious people. It became a law and order problem.
Police force was called into action. Amidst wide protest, 136
marched in a queue, noted down their names and addresses and
participated in the function of Beef and Pork eating that day
according to the schedule.
To us beef and pork eating looked a simple social obligation
that sheds sectarian associations, but to others it looked an
outrage against religious practices.
The function was repeated by the Atheist Association at
Visakhapatnam and at Vellore by Senthamizhko. At Coimbatore R.
Kasturi arranged a beef and pork lunch on a wide scale to more than
800 guests. Periayar E.V. Ramaswami participated in the function
which was inaugurated by Saraswati. E.V.R. was a fighter all
through his public life against religious belief and caste
distinctions. His presence at that ripe old age of 95, lent special
significance to the function at Coimbatore.
Abraham who organized the function at Madras limited the
number of guests to 13 to break the Christian superstition in that
number. C.S. Murthy, K. Rangasai and Janardhanam and Paul were
among the participants that day.
At Suryapet Kana organized the function in the face of Hindu
protest and at Gudivada too the function was well attended by men
women. Manorama, the widow of Sobhanarao, my early atheist
associate and Sanskrit scholar, took particular care to participate
in the function. The details of the several functions were
published in the columns of The Atheist.
The incidents with unmarried mothers and with beef and pork
eating were events of special significance for the Atheist
movement, as they shook religious faith and custom at the roots.
No wonder, they attracted attention. From atheist point of view
they are ordinary disciplines of social conduct, but from the point
of view of old values of custom and faith they looked outrageous.
In course of time, the objectives will be understood and the
prejudices will wear off.
CHAPTER -- XVII
SPREAD OF ATHEISM
Atheism is not new. For a long time it was used as a term of
abuse. Nevertheless, every prophet was persecuted by his
contemporaries for blasphemy, apostasy or heresy, if not altogether
for atheism. Obviously, atheism contains the element of progress
and basic change. Therefore, in the last century Charles Bradlaugh
of England projected the idea of atheism more openly and Robert
Ingersoll of U.S.A. called himself an agnostic but spread atheistic
ideas through speeches and writings. In India, Periyar E.V.
Ramaswami and his followers called themselves atheists, though they
did not use the words as such on platforms. They preferred to
negotiate in the name of Rationalism. In fact, many people with
atheistic leanings use the terms rationalism, humanism, or free
thought instead. Our speciality consisted in using the term atheism
openly and in giving it a positive content and in evolving social
and economic and specially political programs of action for
Since 1949, our periodicals, Sangham, Arthik Samata in Telugu,
Insaan in Hindi and The Atheist in English have served to spread
and explain the ideology and programs of atheistic thought and
action. So several friends and sympathizers, directly or
indirectly, adopted atheist ways. Kana at Suryapet and Nara at
Nuzvid and Venugopal at Repalle started atheist centers, and took
up the programs of the atheist center at Patamata, including its
political aspect. But others adopted the social and cultural
programs and some called themselves non-political.
The Atheist Society Or India which Jayagopal, the editor of
the English Journal, The Age of Atheism, started independently at
Visakhapatnam conducted the Beef and Pork function, and burned
religious scriptures openly. He takes a variety of bold programs
with rationalist thought but they call their center non-political.
Similarly, J. Veeraswamy and a band of workers at Hyderabad in
particular, and all over Andhra Pradesh in general, take up the
program of eradicating caste-differences. They actively encourage
inter caste marriages and help change of names from conventional
religious and caste association to nonconformist forms. Kana and
Nara are examples of nonconformism. A legislator with the name M.
V. Subbareddi, reddi being the application of a caste, changed his
name to Gamago. Yet the Caste Eradication Association calls itself
non-political, and turns out excellent work in its own sphere.
Vidya and Seshagirirao who are members of the Congress party,
consistently discard flower garlands and use fruits for reception
in sympathy with the direct action program of replacing ornamental
flower plants with edibles. M.V. Krishnarao, a minister of Andhra
Pradesh also rejects flower garlands and receives only fruits
Vinoba Bhave, who started the Bhoodan movement and gave shape
and substance to the Sarvodaya movement, toured Andhra Pradesh in
1955. My son, Lavanam, interpreted his Hindi speeches sentence by
sentence into Telugu throughout the seven months of the tour. I was
one of the organizers of the tour program. Vinoba regularly
conducts prayers both in the morning and in the evening. He
continued the practice at the meetings in the tour also. But in
deference to the atheist ideology of Lavanam and myself, Vinoba
kindly substituted the regular verses of prayer with five minutes
of silence. He said that during those five minutes the audience,
according to their wish, could severally meditate on god or think
of social values of life like truthfulness, compassion and love.
It was an accommodation of atheists in a common audience with
respect to each others views. It was an act of recognition of the
atheistic ideology. Vinoba visited the Atheist Center at Patamata,
when he visited Vijayawada during the tour in 1955. Esteem for any
ideology comes in the long run, not by its theoretical perfections
but by the lovable conduct of its votaries. It is more so in the
case of atheism, which has been a term of contempt so long. The
contempt is the result of the propaganda of interests vested in
exploitation of weaker sections. Yet, bias against it is a fact
which atheists cannot ignore to take notice of. Gandhi warned me
against this handicap and advised me to take another name in place
of atheism. But when we chose to take the label of atheism, it is
incumbent on atheists to be doubly wary of their own conduct. A
notable achievement in this direction goes to the credit of Madhu.
He is a young man who has taken to atheism. He acquitted himself so
well in social relations, that his villagers chose him to be the
president of the village committee, against the rich and powerful
man of the place who held the post for two terms already. The
machinations of the rich man could not unseat Madhu by virtue of
his sheer spotless character.
Lavanam and Mrs. Lavanam successfully conduct an experiment in
reclaiming criminals at Stuartpuram (Gauntur District) and they
withstand the threats of vested interests in the crimes, on account
of their straight forwardness. J. Vengala Rao, Chief Minister of
Andhra Pradesh, has extended his moral support to it.
The work at the atheist center gained publicity abroad by the
visits of foreign visitors to atheist center. I was invited to the
Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union at Boston,
U.S.A. in 1970 and for the next Congress at Amsterdam in 1974. In
that context I had the opportunity to tour Europe, America,
Australia and other countries in Asia. At that time I visited
Madalyn Murray O'Hair at Austin, Texas. She is well known for her
successful struggle to end prayer and the Bible reading in Public
Schools. With the slogan of "Tax the Church", she started the
Society of Separationists (SOS). As a result of exchange of views
between us in 1970 she started the American Atheist Center at
Likewise, when I visited Adelaide, Laurence Bullock was the
Secretary of the Rationalist Association of South Australia. The
Association considered it appropriate to change the name of their
Association to the Atheist Society of Australia. Thus, rationalist
and humanist societies are preferring the name of atheism, which
they deem more appropriate to describe their attitude.
Whatever be the name, the International Humanist and Ethical
Congress as well as Rationalist and Humanist Associations all over
the world gave me a free platform for talking on atheism. Moreover,
the platforms of Quaker groups everywhere, invited me for
discussions on atheism. Thus atheism is no longer a condemned
label. The conduct of atheists has salvaged it from the depths of
slander. The name is getting the respect that is its own and has
been denied to it so long.
We conducted the Atheist Meet in l970 at Patamata and the
World Atheist Meet there again in 1972. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was
to preside over it, but she could not go to India on account of
visa trouble. At the World Atheist Meet, R. Kasturi of Coimbatore
released my book Positive Atheism. Margarat Reish and Edwin
Lindseen were the two delegates from USA to the World Atheist Meet.
Details of the report about the World Atheist Meet were published
in The Atheist.
CHAPTER -- XVIII
When Saraswati and I went to Gandhi in 1944, we had eight
children. Now we have nine and nineteen grand children, including
three great grand children. Gandhi was surprised how we managed
that big family without private property. He had not seen any of
the kind so far. The speciality, if any, is due to our atheistic
Atheism understands that all distinctions between one person
and another are of our own making. Distinctions of caste, religion
and culture exist so long as we accept them. We can change them
whenever we desire. One belongs to a caste because he accepts and
declares it. There are cases where at strange place persons have
taken the label of the caste which is convenient there. National
differences change with frontiers. Classes go when property
relations are changed. Even racial traits blur with blood mixture.
When they exist, they are not related to attainment of talent or
exercise of intelligence. Family relationship also is one of the
The institution of family grows out of the custom of marriage
in man woman relationship. If there is promiscuity, clans and
groups or wider human societies may form. But relationships like
brother sister, father mother, son-daughter, aunt-uncle, husband-
wife will disappear. All people move as friends.
Whether the institutions of marriage and family will ever go
out of use is a hypothetical question. Care of children,
affectionate attention and emotional satisfaction of a sense of
belonging are advantages and they outweigh the snobbery of
paternalism and predisposition of kinship which accompany family
ties. Guarantee of social security by the government and,
especially, socialization of property loosened family loyalties to
a large extent. Yet, family remained for its own reasons. Now, the
question before the atheists is not whether family should remain or
go, but whether family relationships should be safer than friendly
relationships? Are not family relationships as artificial as
religious brotherhood, national fellowship, cultural bond, racial
alliance or class camaraderie, deserving no special consideration?
To the atheist mind all persons seemed the same without
difference between members of the family and friends of atheism.
Hence, at the atheist centers, we all moved equal. The members of
the family are dear to us not by sanguinity but by their devotion
to and participation in atheist programs. The success of the
conversion of members of family into workers of atheism is seen by
the generous help we received from the public for the upkeep of
atheist centers. They little complain of my large family. On the
contrary, they complimented me on having a good band of workers in
my family. In this context I should make special mention of S.N.
Agarwal and Bjorn Merker.
S.N. Agarwat was the Managing Director of Dholpur Glass Works.
He visited our center at Patamata and was pleased with the way my
daughter Mythri and my daughter-in-law Hemalata were running the
school for children, Vasavya Vidyalaya, with the assistance of Shri
Rajyam Patnaik. He was impressed with the team spirit of the
workers and attachment of the students to the teachers alike. He
donated the glassware from his factory sufficient both to equip a
laboratory to teach the children and to conduct periodical science
exhibitions, especially to explain superstitions scientifically and
to dispel faith in them. One exhibition was opened by Agarwal
himself and another by Dr. C.D. Deshmukh and Durgabai Deshmukh.
Balchand Mohta of Calcutta helped us with donation of money and
Bjorn Merker is a boy from Sweden who came to India to do
alternative civil service to compulsory military training in
Sweden. He was at the Atheist Center for seven months. He
identified himself so intimately with the programs of the Center
that he recommended atheist center to his parents for help. Dr.
Helmot and Mrs. Ulla Merker kindly sent us contributions every
month out of their salaries and helped us partly to maintain the
center and mostly to carry on the work in slums. They were my
standing hosts in Sweden when I visited Europe in 1970 and again in
1974. Dr. Marla and Irma were similarly helpful to us in West
In India where there is no social security guaranteed by the
government. the entire responsibility of bringing up children rests
upon the parents. Incidentally, the children imbibe the outlook of
the parents. So it was the case with my children too. But, if they
disagreed with the ideas of the childhood, they could leave the
home and stand on their feet. As all my children received good
education with the help of the public, any of them could leave
atheist centers and live their own way. In fact, my son in law,
Ramalingaiah left the Atheist Center at Patamata, when he did not
like our Partylessness. He lives by his homeopathic medical
practice and other means. So far none of my children have chosen to
leave the Atheist Center. They live in the Center as atheist
While a blood relative like Ramalingayya left atheist Center,
we continue to enjoy the cooperation and identification of workers
like Kana, Ramaswamy, Chellayya, Madhu, Rangarao, Nagayya,
Gopalaswamy, B. Venugopal and several others at atheist centers at
Mudunur, Patamata, Suryapet, Pedanemali, Repalle and Nuzvid. Bhanu
is Madhu's brother. But he is devoted to Atheist center at
Pedanemali more as an atheist worker than as the brother of Madhu,
who is the person in charge of the center.
Atheist centers with the ideology of equality of all humans
work in the midst of people who are accustomed to sectarian
customs. As in the case of every center with a progressive ideology
those around us subconsciously try to exploit us, though they
consciously help us too sometimes. Our ideological impact on them
and their conventional exploitation of us are mutual. The final
result every time depends on the strength and weakness of each
In the case of simple families, leadership of an ideology
often goes with relationship as with inheritance of private
property and skill of profession. But in atheism, a worker is one
who works, irrespective of the family relationship. The test of
work is the sacrifice of personal tastes and comforts for the
promotion of social welfare. Social value of the work takes
precedence over personal talent and training.
CHAPTER -- XIX
FUTURE OF ATHEISM
As atheists assert the freedom of the individual, they are
more concerned with present programs for plans into the future more
than with experiences of the past. What is good in the past readily
comes into our present practice. Only that which is unsuitable or
impracticable to present needs is left out. Moreover, too much
thought over the past inhibits initiative and is not educative to
progress of civilization. Situations change from time to time and
call for fresh thought, plan and action. Religious scriptures do
the greatest harm in this context because they claim infallibility
and unswerving loyalty. They stem progress by smothering initiative
and free thought. Any dogma, spiritualist or scientific, is equally
inimical to progress. Therefore, those whom succeeding generations
deem as prophets of eras of progress, were heretics of their own
ages. They revised old scriptures and scrapped some of them.
Revolutions demolish old ways and start afresh with new plans every
time. In this way, atheism is the source of all innovation and
progress. Old civilizations like those of Asia and Africa, are so
much rooted in the past that they have become today a lumber of old
and new mixed in disgusting disorder. They need atheism more
urgently than other countries where a series of religious,
cultural, materialist and industrial revolutions have broken away
people from the old repeatedly, and have made them more progressive
than people of the ancient civilizations.
Though ancient civilizations need atheism more than modern
ones, there is a general need of atheism for one important reason.
The so-called developed nations indeed have achieved considerable
progress technologically on account of their materialistic and
scientific outlook. It is creditable so far. But the same developed
nations have become exploiters of the weak people and have become
war-mongers all over the globe since they lack social outlook.
Scientific skill in the hands of developed nations has come to mean
the greatest threat to life. Scientific progress is used for the
manufacture of lethal weapons, subtle and secret, with immense
potentialities, allowing neither privacy nor safety; for anyone,
including the one who wields the weapon. Suicide squads have come
into vogue in military operations.
Atheism is scientific. But its science is subject to social
obligations to fellow-humans. It changes the emphasis from simple
science to social needs. If ancient civilizations are
superstitious, modern civilizations are anti-social. Atheism has to
set right the wrong on both sides to make them march together
towards one-humanity pulling down the artificial barriers of caste
and religion, nation and race, class and culture.
The ideal of one humanity is shared by the rationalists and
humanists also. But they have not developed the machinery for its
realization since they have taken a non-political stance. Politics
is the dominating power in the modern age. To ignore it is to fear
to strike. Gandhi's Constructive Program also was non-poliltical.
His greatest achievement consisted in winning independence for
India through political action by a non-violent method.
Constructive work was an extreme form of non-violence, too good to
be real. Under the guidance of Vinoba Bhave, the constructive work
was given another vigorous trial under the name of Sarvodaya. The
spectacular achievements at the start withered out in course of
time, not because it lacked earnestness but because it was non
political. After fifteen years of diligent effort, Jayaprakash
Narayan found that Sarvodaya should take to political programs
also. A big mass awakening; followed Narayan's reentry into active
politics. Democracy has a charm in the modern age. But party system
is its unworthy temptation. It has discredited Democracy. Frenzied
zeal for one's own party and, then, indecent lust for the
leadership of the party are at the base of the Watergate scandal
and of the dictatorship in Bangla Desh and of the declaration of
Emergency in India. Everything is in the name of democracy, but the
content is partisan attitude, both for those in power and for those
in opposition. Further, opposition is reduced to a mockery in
party-democracy. Unhealthy rivalry as fanatical as that between
blind religious faiths rises from party-attitudes. On account of
the evils of the party-system, honest politicians and the mass of
people are not only losing love for democracy but turning their
interests away from politics. The growth of non-political attitudes
is the result of party politics in democracy.
Non-politics is ineffective. Therefore, atheists as realists,
rid democracy of parties and take to partyless democracy which is
real and effective democracy.
The future of atheism consists in establishing partyless
democracy and achieving one equal humanity through it. National and
racial differences vanish as real democracies federate at first for
commonweal and then move towards one-humanity and one-wor1d. The
United Nations Organization will have to convert itself into United
People's Organization for the purpose. Atheist awakening rouses
people all over the world into the feeling of mastership over their
institutions and systems of life. The spread of the atheist outlook
is hope of humanity to turn from war to peace, from slavery to
freedom, from superstition to a sense of reality, from conflict to
Gora suffered an attack of cerebral hemorrhage and died at
once while addressing a public meeting on "Social Change in Rural
India", held at Vijayawada on the evening of Saturday, July 26,
Gora's death stunned every one as it was so sudden and
shocking. Messages of condolence and sympathy poured in from all
corners of the globe. Gora lived and died an atheist. He lives in
all those who stand for reason, truth love and tolerance and raise
their voice against superstition, blind dogma, racial
discrimination and social and economic inequalities. His work will
be carried forward unhesitatingly.
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