Dravidian movement

Print edition : July 18, 2003

The views of Dr. Subramanian Swamy expressed in his article under the title "Is the Dravidian Movement dying?" indicate that even learned people, when prejudiced are blind to realities and tend to give a distorted picture of them. It is stated that "the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu can be dated to begin from December 1916 when the Non-Brahmin Manifesto was released. In the manifesto, the Dravidian concept was anti-Brahmin specific because the patrons of the movement, the British imperialist rulers, had wanted it that way."

The cause of revolt against Brahmin domination does not arise in modern times, but dates back to ancient times, when the concept of Varna Dharma was given shape in the form of Purusha Sukta in the tenth Mandala of the Rig Veda. The mythology of Maha Vishnu taking the avathar (incarnation) of Parasurama to eliminate Kshatriyas (rulers), and the incident of Dhronacharya asking for Guru Dakshina and getting the thumb of Ekalavya, the low-caste archer, as narrated in the Mahabharata, indicate how brahminical tyranny functioned in those times. The story of Rama (in Ramayana) beheading Sambuka, the Sudra sanyasi, shows the unjust and cruel nature of the social order under brahminical Sanathana Dharma.

Even if these events are considered fictional, they reflect the concrete reality of an unequal, unjust and cruelly inhuman social order sanctified by the Scriptures and codified by Dharma Sastras like Manu Smriti. Under the dominant influence of Vedic or Brahminical religion, all the rulers in the Indian subcontinent were enjoined to safeguard the Varna-Jaathi scheme under which the Sudras and Panchamas were denied learning, social status, share in administration and the material and cultural benefits of advancement in civilisation.

The ancient society of Tamils as depicted by their literature of that age was remarkably secular and devoid of discriminatory practices based on birth. Prof. N. Subramanian writes: "The Tamil Kings were not Kshatriyas but merely rulers and they intermarried freely with the other non-Brahminical communities. The introduction of the Varna system in the south led to just two principles, one the acceptance of the superiority of the Brahmins; two, the organisation of professions on a hereditary basis." (History of Tamil Nadu - to A.D. 1565, page 270). The Pallava rule from Kanchi that began in the 4th century A.D. definitely brought the Tamils under the socio-cultural dominance of Brahmins based on the exploitative structure of Varna-Jaathi, consistently upheld and eulogised by the Vedas, Ithihasas (epics), Puranas and Dharma Sastras. Then followed more than 1,500 years of rule under different dynasties and various kings, who ruled on the pattern of Manu's code maintaining the brahminical social order. The ruler's might and religious faith were deliberately used to keep the Sudra-Panchamas illiterate, ignorant, superstitious, intellectually and morally deprived and degraded. Destructive, purposeless, frequent wars among the rulers, caste oppression and clashes made the life of the common people wretched and miserable.

It was only under the British regime that a radical and revolutionary change took place in this oppressive and inhuman socio-cultural milieu. In spite of daring inadequacies and imperfections, the administrators sought to maintain the rule of law and social equality. Official posts and all kinds of secular opportunities were by law opened to all. Above all, modern education was made available to all sections of the people. It brought about renaissance and new thinking among the Indians in the 19th century. Sudras and Panchamas, those who belonged to lower castes, awakened and aspired for liberty, equality, progress and a legitimate share in the governance and income of the country. For the first time after several centuries, they began to look beyond the confines of their castes; their intellectual horizon expanded and saw the possibilities of enjoying the fruits of developments in the arts and literature, science and technology. They started to prepare themselves to take part in civic life, to experience equal social status, to play their part in public life and move with others in every sphere of activity.

It was at this stage that the Sudras and Panchamas became aware of the social order based on Varna Dharma and Brahmins, as the jealous guardians of the system, obstructing and frustrating their progress and legitimate rights. For thousands of years, Brahmins have been enjoying hereditarily the privileged status of belonging to the highest Varna and the monopoly of literary pursuit. They engaged themselves, due to their highest ritual position, only in mental work and not in manual labour. When the Britishers wanted educated persons to run the administration, Brahmins were able to learn easily English and other modern subjects to suit to the needs of the imperialist rulers. This great advantage in learning, which was deliberately denied to other castes according to the Sastric (scriptural) injunctions of Hinduism, enabled Brahmins to monopolise almost all the spheres of public activity - education, administration, judiciary, journalism, politics and professions. Being an exclusive caste and stubborn in safeguarding their hereditary and traditional birth-based superiority, they unitedly used all kinds of tactics and skills to keep down the Sudras and Panchamas, who were just attempting to come up under the impact of modern education.

It was to fight against this adverse and hostile atmosphere created by the Brahmins that the non-Brahmin leaders (Sudras and Panchamas) founded the organisation, the South Indian Liberal Federation (Justice Party). They decided to make use of the British rule to put an end to the two millennium-old exploitation and oppression based on Varna-Jaathi. This was the stand taken by Mahatma Jothiba Phule, Sri Narayana Guru, Sahu Maharaj, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and others who dedicated their life and work for the advancement of the common toiling people of this land.

The non-Brahmin Manifesto (December 1916) issued by Theagarayar said: "Not less than 40 million out of 41.5 million, who form the population of this Presidency (composite Madras state), are non-Brahmins... they make little or no use of their influence among the masses for the general political advancement of the country. In these days of organised effort, they maintain no proper organisation for protecting and promoting their common interests and for preventing professional and other politicians, with hardly any corresponding stake in the country, from posing as their accredited spokesmen. Nor have they a press of their own to speak the truth on their behalf. Their political interests, therefore, as compared with those of the Brahmins, who number only about a million and a half, have materially suffered."

After giving elaborate figures to substantiate his stand about the monopolistic dominance of the Brahmins, Theagarayar goes on to say: "Old established traditions, the position of the Brahmins as the highest and the most sacred of the Hindu castes, the nature of their ancient calling, and the steady inculcation of the belief, both by written texts and oral teaching, that they are so many divinely-ordained intermediaries without whose active intervention and blessing, the soul cannot obtain salvation, and their consequent freedom from manual toil - all these helped them to adapt themselves easily to the new conditions under British rule, as under previous epochs, in large numbers and far more successfully than the other castes and communities." Then he speaks of how these others suffered "because of the subtle and manifold ways, in which political power and official influences are often exercised by the Brahmin caste". The founding fathers of the Justice Party were not against the movement towards political freedom. The manifesto says: "India has earned the right to demand that the basis of her constitution should be broadened and deepened, that her sons, representing every class, caste and community, according to their acknowledged position in the country and their respective numerical strength, should be given a more effective voice in the management of her affairs, that she should be given fiscal freedom and legislative autonomy in matters affecting her domestic policy and economic position, and that, lastly, she must be accorded a place in the Empire conducive to the sense of self respect of her children as British subjects and not inferior in dignity and power to that occupied by any self-governing colony."

This shows that the Justice Party (which forms part of the Dravidian Movement), even when it was founded in 1916, was "strongly in favour of progressive political development of a well-defined policy of trust in the people". It did not agree with "the social reactionary and the impatient political idealist". At the same time, it stood for slow but sure and steady progress towards freedom. Dr. Swamy must be aware that B.G. Tilak, who headed the extremist section of the Congress, shared the views of the Justice Party regarding the positive aspects of British rule after he had become mature in experience. At the age of 64, just about three months before his death in 1920, Tilak said: "The Congress Democratic Party (newly floated by him) believes in the integration or Freedom of India in the British Commonwealth for the brotherhood of mankind, but demands autonomy for India and equal status as a sister-state with every other partner in the British Commonwealth." He again candidly stated: "You must not forget that it is the connection with England and the education she gave that have given rise to the ambitions that fill your hearts... We want the English people, and the English institutions, English liberty and Empire." (Gokhale and Sastri - P. Kodanda Rao, 1961, pages 24, 25)

Dr. Swamy goes on to state that Dr. Annie Besant, "a prominent personality in the freedom struggle, debunked the manifesto as mischievous and unpatriotic", and that "the Dravidian movement's focus was defined and set solely against the Brahmins without an ideological structure for developing a pan non-Brahmin consciousness". Strangely, it was Mrs. Besant's advocacy of Varna Dharma in collaboration with Brahmins in early 20th century that accentuated the non-Brahmins to form their own organisation. In his "Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism," Dr. K. Nambi Arooran writes: "Mrs. Besant organised the Madras Hindu Association in January 1904. She justified the fourfold caste system, supporting her arguments from Sanskrit literature. When Mrs. Besant extended her activities of the Congress and initiated the Home Rule League in Madras in September 1916, non-Brahmins felt that the success of the Home Rule Movement in the event of Reforms would result in the entrenchment of Brahmins in the administration of the country. Therefore the non-Brahmin leaders felt that there was greater need among them to unite and counteract Mrs. Besant's Home Rule Movement than ever before (pages 46, 47). Regarding the criticism that the Dravidian Movement's primary focus is on Brahmins, we wish to quote the opening lines of the book The Brahmin in the Tamil Country by Prof. N. Subramaniam: "The study of the position and function of the Brahmin ought to interest any one, who wishes to know the mechanism of Hindu society; for the essence of Hindu sociology all along has been the caste system and undoubtedly the Brahmins has ever been the core and axle of that system." So it is quite natural that those who are deprived and degraded by the caste system fight against its upholders.

Dr. Swamy has a strange manner of presenting recent history to suit his partisan perception. He writes: "In 1932, the (Dravidian) movement suffered a setback when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar rejected the British offer of separate electorates for the Scheduled Castes, and sided with Mahatma Gandhi to sign the Poona Pact." But what happened actually? Dr. Ambedkar accepted the British Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald's Communal Award, Gandhi stoutly opposed this and undertook a fast unto death, saying that he would give up the fast only if his alternative proposal was accepted. So Dr. Ambedkar was put to intense, unfair psychological pressure, rather coerced, and made to sign the Poona Pact which, again, was not fully implemented in the proper spirit. The Scheduled Castes and Dr. Ambedkar were betrayed. This strengthened their disillusionment with Gandhi and his party, and brought them closer to Periyar and his followers.

It is a travesty of truth to say that "until Independence in 1947, the Dravidian movement functioned as a handmaiden of the British imperialists," and that "after the country became free the Congress saw the Dravidian movement as a tool to keep other national opposition parties from gathering strength, and used them as ideological storm-troopers". No state patronage or outside prop of any kind, direct or indirect, can help a movement to grow steadily, become popular, retain the influence among the vast number of people, gain power and implement radical measures effecting beneficial, egalitarian, progressive and fundamental changes in social set-up and practices. In their struggle to gain human rights and dignity, and to safeguard cultural identity and linguistic equality, to eliminate caste discrimination and uphold social justice, the leaders, cadres and members of the Dravidian movement have undergone sufferings, incurred losses and made sacrifices that are remarkable and memorable.

The Justice Party was in power from 1921 to 1937 with a one-year break in 1926-27 when the Swaraj Party supported Dr. P.Subbarayan's Independent Ministry. The DMK formed the Ministry in 1967 and from then on either that party or the AIADMK has been winning general elections and ruling Tamil Nadu. The non-Brahmin movement won communal representation to different sections of the people in the Composite Madras Province under the 1919 India Act. It implemented Government Orders giving reservation in education and job opportunities, passed the Hindu Religious Endowment and Charitable Trusts Act to regulate the management of the secular activities of religious places, abolished by law the system of Devadasi (divine prostitute), introduced the free noon-meal scheme in Madras (Chennai) Municipal Corporation schools to poor students (a scheme Kamaraj expanded throughout the State when he was the Chief Minister), threw open all public places - schools, roads, tanks etc. - to the depressed classes, refused to issue or renew licences to the bus companies that refused to carry `untouchables'. Abolition of the Inamdari system, promotion of the Dravidian languages and the establishment of the Andhra and Annamalai Universities were some of the other outstanding steps taken by the Justice Party Ministries during the British period.

During his two year tenure (1967-69) as Chief Minister, Arignar Anna (C.N. Annadurai) made self-respect marriages performed without any religious ceremony lawful, legally introduced the most rational and equitable two-language formula in schools, ordered the removal of the pictures of gods, goddesses and religious symbols from government offices as an important measure of upholding secularism, named Madras State as Tamil Nadu and, above all, cultivated the politics of mutual understanding with the opposition parties in place of confrontation.

The Dravidian parties consistently advocate state autonomy to make the federal structure meaningful and perfect. They demand that Tamil be made one of the official languages of the Union. They scrupulously adopt the necessary measures, including constitutional amendments, to promote and safeguard the policy of reservation meant for the advancement and adequate representation of the socially and educationally backward classes. They encourage the education of women, inter-caste marriages and widow marriages, and have lawfully provided for an equal share for women in the property of the parents. The governments formed by the Dravidian parties did not lag behind others in bringing about economic development and implementing welfare and socialist measures.

Apart from these and many other achievements of the governments of Dravidian parties, what Periyar's self-respect movement and the Dravidar Kazhagam have achieved as non-political socio-cultural organisations is something unparalleled in more than a thousand years of the history of the land. Periyar's contribution to the success of the Vaikom Satyagraha is outstanding. It was the first notable social struggle on a large scale. Its successful culmination enabled the Avarnas and Panchamas to use the public roads along with Savarnas, the upper-caste people. This paved the way for their temple entry in course of time; Periyar had urged this even in the early 1920s. He fought against the caste system in several ways. The Constitution abolished untouchability. But Periyar pointed out that this ban would become a reality only when caste was eradicated. Ten thousand members of the Dravidar Kazhagam burnt the provisions of the Constitution that make caste structure legitimate. Three thousand of them were sentenced to undergo imprisonment for varying periods, from three months to three years. Among them ten died, two of them in prison and the rest after their release due to the rigours they underwent in prison. The steps Periyar's movement took and has been taking to eradicate caste, to promote social justice, to emancipate women, to eliminate blind faith and superstition and to spread the rational humanist outlook are too numerous to be recounted in a rejoinder like this.

I have given an outline of the performances of the Dravidian movement to show that without a sound ideological basis, it would not have accomplished such progressive and egalitarian tasks. Promotion of a scientific humanist outlook, establishment of a casteless society, affirmative action or positive discrimination for the advancement of the socially disadvantaged or underprivileged sections, a secular and federal polity, and democratic socialism are the principles and policies of the Dravidian movement, which will help to build a strong, united and prosperous India. The parties or leaders who deviate from these basic principles owing to political exigencies commit error and do harm. Though the activities of the Dravidian movement are mainly confined to Tamil Nadu, they have a salubrious all India impact. There was an occasion when Dr. Swamy did not hesitate to align with a Dravidian party to contest a parliamentary seat.

The word Dravida is not of Sanskrit origin. It is the Sanskrit form of Tamil. The great Tamil scholar, linguist and former Vice-Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University, Dr. M. Varadaraj, in his Tamil book, History of Tamil Literature (Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, Sixth Edition, 1986) describes how Tamil became Dravida: Tamil, Damila, Dramida, Drabida, Dravida. Vajranandi, a Jain saint, had established in 470 A.D., Dravida Sanga near Madurai, to carry on literary and academic work. Adi Sankara, in his Soundarya Lahari, uses the phrase Dravida Sisu to refer to the Saivite saint Thiru gnanasambandar of Seerkazhi.

K. Veeramani general secretary, Dravidar Kazhagam Chennai * * *

Political parties may face decay, political leaders may perish, but the socio-politico changes brought in by the Dravidian movement are here to stay, and the prophets of doom like Dr. Subramanian Swamy will be proven wrong by history once again.

The French Revolution and the October Revolution may be things of the past, but the impact they left on humanity cannot be ignored or brushed aside nor can their ideals be buried in haste. The article by Dr. Subramanian Swamy does not reflect the ground realities. All humans are one, and scientific studies have revealed that there exists a common gene in all human beings and that gene is named after its founder as sangene. The mapping of human genes for 50 years had thrown more light on the oneness of humanity, as theories on continental drift, especially the map fit theory, had proved beyond an iota of doubt that all continents were held together once and drifted.

So to accept that humanity is one and the world is one, science had to unearth mysteries. The common gene in every human being had also proven that theories of race are culture-oriented. While race is disproved, both Aryan and Dravidian theories will have to die. Perhaps Dr. Swamy wants the Aryan concept too to die, and if that were the case, one can welcome to some extent his wishful thinking. The Second World War waged by Hitler propounding the supremacy of the Aryan race, which he demonstrated with the killings of millions of Jews, still reminds us that whoever claims supremacy over fellow beings in the name of his race of birth will be taught a befitting lesson by mankind.

The Dravidian movement, first of all, did not start with the release of the Non-Brahmin Manifesto. The word Dravidian may have had its origin at a later date, but the seeds of the Dravidian movement could be seen in the first available Tamil grammar Tholkappiam, which codifies a rule to remove Sanskrit words from Tamil speech and writing. In this grammarian principle, one can see the first voice of Dravidian awakening. This is the opinion of Tamil scholars in their doctoral theses, and it may appear chauvinistic to those who want to dub the Dravidian movement in whichever way possible. But let us look around us in this Age of Science. The Academie Francias is fighting against the intrusion of Franglais. What the French do now, Tamils much before the Christian era did for keeping away the incursions of Sanskrit. In India attempts are made to remove Urdu and replace it with Hindi. This Sanskritisation will be welcomed but when attempts are made to de-sanskritise Dravidian languages to restore the proximity with the mother of Dravidian languages, Tamil, the same school will voice its protest. This doublespeak exposes the hollowness of men who suffer from a superiority complex for centuries.

The Dalit movement that is on the rise at the dawn of 21st century is a natural offspring of the Dravidian movement. Wherever men claim equality and whenever all human beings seek equal rights, the spirit of the Dravidian movement will live there. No one can say that with the withering away of the Soviet Union, the Socialist movement is dead; the same logic and historical compulsions apply to the existence of the Dravidian movement.

N. Nandhivarman general secretary, Dravida Peravai

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