Periyar founded the Self-Respect Movement with the aim of instilling a separate individuality in the hearts and minds of those subjugated by the Brahmanical supremacy in the caste-based society of India.
Caste discrimination has long been a social evil that India has struggled to rid itself of. Codified in the Manusmriti, it has eroded the society for hundreds of years by dividing it into sections based on birth and occupation. Brahmans acquired the highest position in the society as practitioners and learners of religion and Shudras acquired the lowest rung of the ladder as menial workers.
Periyar’s ideology was simple. He was convinced the development of self-respect was directly connected to the development of individuality. This would have them refuse to be led by the nose and face humiliation by the members of the upper caste. He believed caste to be a mental prison and then a societal prison. One of his most popular quotes on Self-Respect was, "we are fit to think of 'self-respect' only when the notion of 'superior' and 'inferior' caste is banished from our land".
Periyar staunchly believed that self-respect was just as significant as life itself. He deemed swaraj to be political freedom and that was not a birthright for him. The protection of one’s self-respect was a birthright. He described the movement as Arivu Vidutalai Iyakkam, that is, a movement to liberate the intellect.