P Jeevanandham ('Sorimuthu' was his original name) was born in the village of Boothapandi, in the then princely state of Travancore ( Kanyakumari District of Tamilnadu) into an orthodox middle-class family on August 21, 1907.

The orthodox and religious background of his family exposed Jeevanandham to literature, devotional songs and the arts, early on in his life. He grew up in an era when caste-based rigidity was widely prevalent, and from early on in his life he resented the very idea of untouchability and could not tolerate his Dalit friends being denied entry into temples and public places and being humiliated. Even as a school boy he became averse to Varnasrama Dharma, a Hindu religious code that stratifies society on caste lines and facilitates the practice of untouchability. The national movement and Gandhi’s call to wear khadi and his stand against untouchability influenced him to join the movement. He began wearing only khadi from then on.

Jeevanandham took his Dalit friends into the streets and public places were ,usually, entry was denied to them, which earned him the displeasure of his family and his orthodox caste members in his village. His father disapproved his behaviour and asked him to stop all things which were against their caste traditions. Jeevanandham said he would rather leave his home rather than following discriminatory practices and eventually did so.

Jeevanandham started his political life basing himself on Gandhian ideas. In 1924, he participated in the famous Vaikom struggle against  Hindus, where Dalits were barred from walking on the road leading to the temple at Vaikom (in present day Kerala state). He participated in a similar protest, demanding entry for Dalits into the famous Suchindrum temple at Suchindrum . He participated in more struggles, calls for which were given by the Indian National Congress.

Later, when he joined an ashram run by Congress leader V.V.S. Iyer at Cheranmahadevi (in the present-day Tirunelveli District), he found that Dalits and ‘upper-caste’ students were fed in separate halls. Jeevanandham supported Periyar’s protest against this practice, and not satisfied with a compromise offered by V.V.S. Iyer, he quit the ashram.

Jeevanandham, later, took charge of an ashram funded by a philanthropist in Siruvayal near Karaikkudi in the then Ramnad District. The purpose was to implement Gandhi’s constructive programme. The ashram life gave Jeevanandham an opportunity to read a lot of books. It was here that he had a meeting with Gandhi. When Gandhi sought to defend Varnasrama Dharma, Jeevanandham felt that it would be futile to expect Gandhi’s struggle to put an end to the practice once and for all.

When Periyar (Periyar E. V. Ramasamy), on returning from a visit to the Soviet Union, spoke highly of its achievements and expressed his desire to propagate socialism, Jeevanandham, who was by then familiar with the egalitarian principle, felt elated. His hopes of getting the movement merged with the Congress Socialist Party were dashed when Periyar began dragging his feet. He, however, remained in the Congress. He was elected as a member of the All India Congress Committee, a prestigious post in those days, and was also a member of the working committee of the State Congress unit. Later, when the Madras Provincial Congress Socialist Party was formed in 1937, Jeevanandham became its first secretary. He joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) two years later along with P. Ramamurti, another veteran of the movement.

The last 25 years of colonial rule saw the emergence of two movements in Tamilnadu – the Self-Respect Movement (which was a precursor to the Dravidian movement led by Periyar (Periyar E. V. Ramasamy) and the Communist movement. Before enrolling himself as the first member of the united Communist Party of India (CPI) in Tamilnadu, Jeevanandham was an active participant in these two earlier movements. His patriotism took him to the national movement ; his revulsion for untouchability and caste-based discrimination led him to support the Self-Respect Movement.

After joining the Communist Party of India (CPI), along with his comrade P. Ramamurti , organising workers on Marxist lines became the principal activity of Jeevanandham and Ramamurti. In this they were assisted by leaders such as M.R. Venkatraman and B. Srinivasa Rao. They had already organized workers and formed unions in industrial towns such as Madurai and Coimbatore when they were functioning as socialists. Jeevanandham was in the forefront of efforts to build a strong labor movement based on Marxism. His oratory and writings helped him fulfill the task. But these leaders had to suffer police repression and undergo imprisonment several times. Jeevanandham visited sensitive areas and kept the workers’ fighting spirit alive. Alongside industrial workers, agricultural laborers and small farmers were also organized in Thanjavur and other districts. Jeevanandham and Ramamurti inspired thousands of people through powerful speeches.

Under the colonial rule, Marxist literature and propaganda were banned, and Marxist workers were frequently arrested on one pretext or the other. Jeevanandham was no exception. He even had an externment order against him and had to stay away from the then Madras province for a brief period.

After Indian Independence, the ban on the Communist Party of India (CPI) was lifted, and all its leaders were released.

In the first general elections in post independent India, Jeevanandham contested for a seat for the Legislative Assembly from the Wasermanpet constituency in Madras (present Chennai), and won with a huge margin. P. Ramamurti, who was in jail then, was also elected with a comfortable majority, from a Madurai constituency.

After being elected to the Legislative Assembly, Jeevanandham put pressure on the government to initiate action on crucial issues. His speeches in the Assembly on issues relating to development schemes, reform measures and the language policy won due attention from the ruling Congress party and great admiration from people. His speech on the Official Language Bill echoed the feelings of the ordinary people in the State and revealed his vision on the cultural front. During this period, he also led many struggles, one of which was against the proposal to form Dakshina Pradesh comprising the four southern States. He thought this would be against the linguistic aspirations of the people in the four States. Although Jeevanandham lost in the subsequent elections, he continued his party work with the same zeal.

Jeevanandham also led agitations and was instrumental in merging the present-day Kanyakumari District, which was then with the Travancore-Cochin state, with the then Madras state (present Tamilnadu).

Jeeva played a key role in achieving the demands for naming the then Madras state as Tamilnadu and making Tamil its official language.

He was a supporter of pure usage of his native Tamil language, which had, to an extent, become corrupted with the influence of Sanskrit and other languages. He declared his name as "Uyirinban", a literal translation of the Sanskrit word "Jeevanandham". One of his major influences was the works of Tamil poet Subramania Bharthi, as also the persona and simple life-style of the poet. Jeevanandham was the first to take to cultural politics and cited his long struggle for nationalising Subramania Bharati’s songs and for fulfilling Tamils’ aspirations in respect of making Tamil a medium of instruction in schools and also making it an official language.

Jeevanandham was well-versed in Kambaramayanam, the Tamil version of the Indian epic Ramayana, which is considered a Tamil literary classic and consists of eloquent Tamil verses.

Jeevanandham was the founder of "Thamarai", a Tamil literary magazine. The communist Tamil newspaper, ‘JanaSakthi’, was also begun with his commitment.

Periyar encouraged Jeeva to translate Bhagat Singh’s classic essay “Why I am Atheist” in 1933. Jeeva translated it into Tamil, which was probably its first ever translation. It was so popular that there were 25 re-print editions till 2005.

Jeeva led a busy and hectic life : taking classes on Marxism for party workers, advising students to equip themselves to meet the nascent republic’s development needs, addressing literary fora on topics such as the greatness of poet Subramania Bharati, explaining the flaws in the government’s language policy at meetings of intellectuals, and addressing factory gate meetings in support of workers on strike. In between, he would be writing editorials for the party daily or discussing strategies for resolving industrial disputes.

In 1962, his health suffered a setback. Later in the year he visited the Soviet Union. He took treatment there and returned by the end of the year. However, his health worsened weeks later. On January 18, 1963, he died at his modest home at Tambaram, near Chennai. About two lakh people attended his funeral and paid their last respects to one who had toiled all his life for the common man, who symbolised the simplicity of Gandhism and who had a Periyar-like zest for social equality and the Marxist spirit to fight exploitation.

The Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation(TNSTC), Erode Division is named after Jeeva Transport Corporation in modern days.

The railway station at Vyasarpadi in Chennai is named after Jeevanandham, as Vyasarpadi Jeeva, as he lived in the area, for a period..


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