Sankaralinganar: The Tamil Activist Who Fasted for Statehood

Sankaralinganar was an Indian Tamil independence activist and Gandhian who fasted to death in 1956 in an effort to change the name of Madras State to Tamil Nadu. He was a Tamil Nadu statehood activist who died while on an indefinite hunger strike to rename the erstwhile ‘Madras State’ as ‘Tamil Nadu’.

The Activist from Virudunagar

  • A staunch Gandhian and a freedom fighter, Sankaralinga Nadar or Sankaralinganar hailed from Virudunagar district. He urged the then Congress government to fulfil his 12-point agenda, which included renaming the state.
  • He launched an indefinite hunger strike in Virudunagar in 1956. All alone, in a thatched shelter, he fasted for 77 days in the district’s Desabandu grounds and later died at a Madurai hospital in October 1956.

Political Pressure and Death

  • Stalwarts who dominated Tamil Nadu’s political scene in the 1950s, including then Chief Minister K Kamaraj, P Kakkan, DMK founder leader CN Annadurai, Communist party leader P Ramamurthi, and MP Sivagnanam (Ma Po Si), requested Sankaralinganar to give up the fast. However, he refused to move from his agenda and died for his cause.
  • On October 14, 1956, The Sunday Standard (the Sunday edition of The Indian Express) ran a Madurai datelined report describing the last hours of Sankaralinganar. The Gandhian was 78 years old when he launched the indefinite fast on July 27, 1956.
  • He even wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chief Minister Kamaraj. The Sunday Standard report had said: “He demanded that Madras State should be renamed Tamil Nadu, criticised the lavish expenditure by high dignitaries and wanted the lot of political sufferers improved.”

Irony of Death

  • It is ironic that he was forcibly taken to the Erskine Hospital in Madurai by the authorities only on the ‘request of his relatives’ on October 10, 1956. He was unconscious when he was taken to the hospital and put under the treatment of Dr MD Ananthachari, Principal of Madurai Medical College.
  • He was given glucose injections on the first day of his admission and milk and fruit juice on the second day. “Though he regained consciousness, he was very weak and died this morning,” the report states, of October 13, 1956. He had willed his body to be given to the Communists to bury in a place where Gandhi had stayed during his last visit to Virudunagar.

Legacy

  • Sankaralinganar’s demand for a name change, which was echoed by Tamil enthusiasts including Sivagnanams’s Tamilarasu Kalagam was fulfilled when the DMK captured power for the first time in 1967 under the leadership of Dravidian icon CN Annadurai. In 1968, a Bill approving the name change was adopted in the Parliament.

His death symbolizes the sacrifice and struggle of many Tamil activists who fought for the rights of their people and culture. His legacy continues to be remembered today as a symbol of Tamil identity and pride.

Written by IAS POINT

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