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Dravidian Movement in Its Pre-Independence Phases

Author(s): N. Ram
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 14, No. 7/8, Annual Number: Class and Caste in
India (Feb., 1979), pp. 377-379+381+383-385+387+389-391+393+395-397+399+401-402
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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Dravidian

MIovement in Its Pre -ndependence


Phases
N Ram

The significant feature of the political situation i'7 Tamil Nadu is the existence of the two massbased and politically powerful organisations - the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Working apparently at cross puirposes and staking rival claimnsto have
reached the summit of Dravida Iyakkam, these two streams defy the authoritarian logic inherent in glib
condemnations of 'regional forces' and the arrogant advocacy of an allegdly ideal 'two party model' for
countries like India. Such a view does tot take into account the character of the actual 'parties' in whose
interest the 'two-party system' is allowed to function and develop, nor the class forces whose aspiratioins
they express. It also ignores the historical forces which gave rise to such phenomenotn as the Dravidiani.
Movement which, for all its weaknesses, inconsistencies and limitations, cannot he summarily disnmissed
as being anttagonistic to an 'all-india' approach whose ideal political expression is alleged to be found in a
'two-party system'.
This article attempts a political explanation of the conmplexof historical forces that were working
in the seconid half of the 19th century and wvhichgave rise to the Dravidian Movement.
THE very existence of the two massbased, vigorously kicking political organisation - the All-India Anna Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam.(AIADMK)and the
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)
highlights a significant feature of the
political situation in Tamil Nadu. Working apparently at cross-purposes and
staking rival claims to have reached the
-summit of Dravidar Iyakkam (or the
Diavidian Movement), the two nevertheless to.gether defy the authoritarian
logic inherent in the condemning or
disnmissingof 'regional forces' and in
the 'two party model' so lightly and
arrogantly advocated for India.
In.whose interests do the two parties
fuinction and develop? What are the
social and class forces whose aspirations
they express? And in what direction
are they tending? To answer these
questions, a historical analysis hecomes
necessary of the complex forces working in the second half of the nineteenth
century and through the twentieth century.
Such a perspective would demonstrate
as we hope to do in a preliminery
fashion in this paper - that the complex historical phenomenon known as
the Dravidar Iyakkam.,for all its limitedlness, inconsistencies, and weaknesses,
cannot he
treated patronisingly by
those advocating an all-India approach.
WVhatis needed is a many-sided political explanation of an essentially political phenomenon.
To deal with the state's ruling party
first, it must be recognised that the explanations most frequently advanced
in academic and journalistic analyses
for the rapid rise and electoral. success
of the party led hy M G Ramachandran
fall into the trap of dismissivism. There

is either a one-sided and exaggerated


emphasis on the role of 'film glamoul'
supposed to appeal especially to women,
or there is the characterisation of the
AIADMK as a 'one man party'. Alternatively, of course, there is that sweeping assertion that Tamil Nadu is still
in the grip of the forces of 'regionalism' or 'cultural nationalism' or of 'primorclial sentiment'.'
These various explanations, while
they do make contact with certain real
aspects of the phenomenon, miss the
leading fact: that the AIADMK has
inherited the greater part of the committed strength and following of the
undivided DMK - which itself was
lescribed on the morrow of its fouinding by one of its publicists as "the
latest organisational shape of the Dravidian movement ... the answer to the
anxious quest of the Dravidian people
for a democratic organism best suited
to give adequate expression to their
feelings and sentiments, aims and aspirations".2
It is an inherent characteristic of
politics that numerous and varied components are interwoven into its transfortmingprocesses. Consequently, simpleminded or single-term solutions can
be rejected out of hand.3 Nor is it
possible to build neat and compact
models of political development on the
asstunmption
that the advance or decline
of the programme of a political party,
or the mode of political articulation of
a particular class or classes, will be
linear or uninterruipted.
Nevertheless, if we - adopting the
at,general method of abstraction tempt to separate the essential from
the inessential, the phenomena as they
occur in their most typical form fronm

the disturbing influences, certain characterising features of the Dravidar Iyakkam, and in fact of political development in Tamil Nadu become reasonably
clarified.
The first fact that becomes quite clear
is that the elements comprising this
movement have repeatedly asserted
themselves well over a century. As for
the last decade and a half, the traditional strength of the dominant bourgeois-landlord movement, the Congress,
has been steadilv eroded by the advance
of the political organisation (or organisations) of the Dravidar lyakkam, and
this process has so far appeared to be
irreversible. The evidence of this is
manv-sided and impressive. It consists
of the directly observable political
activity of the major political forces in
Tamil Nadu - their slogans, their mass
mobilisations, their ideological and
political campaigns - in relation to the
masses of the people. It consists of
their specific activity and impact among
industrial and unorganised workers,
among students, teachers, middle-class
employees and professionals, in the
uirban areas; and among agricultural
labourers and different sections of the
peasantry, and other labouring people,
in the rulral areas. It consists in their
ability to organise and rally numbers
for their strategy and tactics. It lies in
the less easily observable connections
with the interests of the exploiters
which the two main parties of the
1D-avidar Iyakkanz
have developed in
the course of their evolution. It consists
in the evidence provided by the results
of consecutive assembly elections,
which are summarised in the Table.
The results of the Assembly elections
provide a clearer picture of the correla377

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Annual Number February 1979


TABLE-

Year

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

SALIENT FEATURES OF ELECTORAL CHANGE IN TAMIL NADU AS REFLECTED IN LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY


ELECTIONS, 1957-1977

Voter Tturnout

DMK

(Per Cent) Number of


Seats
1957
1962
1967
1971
1977
Note:

49.33
70.65
76.59
71.83
61.57

AIADMK

IPercentage of
Votes

13
50
138
184
48

12.80
27.10
40.77
48.58
24.89

of
Nunmber
Seats

Congress

Percentage of
Votes

Numberof
Seats

NA
NA
NA
NA
30.36

151
139
50
NA
29

NA
NA
NA
NA
130

Janata

Percent- Numberof Percentage of


Seats
age of
Votes
Votes
14.30
46.14
41.04
NA
17.53

NA
NA
NA
17
10

NA
NA
NA
34.99
16.69

NA is Not Applicable. The Congress did not contest any Assembly seat' in the 1971 elections, in a deal
with the DMK. The seats captUred and votes polled by the Congress(O) in 1971 are credited to the Janata
on the generally accepted assumption that the Janata Party in Tamil Nadu draws virtually its entire political
base from the Congress(O), although it is equally clear that the decline in political strength from the days
of Kamara; is very sharp.

tion of political forces in Tamil Nadu


than the results of the parliamentary
elections do. The June 1977 results, in
particular, allow us to measure the independent electoral strength of the
AIADiMKand the DMK, in relation to
the independent strength of the traditional Congress camp, the then-undivided Congress, and the Janata parties,
without the mediation of very temporary
and uinstablealliance factors. It can be
seen clearly that the Dravidian moveinent has made serious inroads into the
main all-India parties of the big bourgeoisie and landlords and also reached
past the Congress and other parties,
mobilising sizeable sections of hitherto
untapped mass support.
LEGITIMACY OF THE TERM,
'DRAvAiAR IYAKKAM'

A legitimate

stract and schematic theoretical constructs. This weakness is particularlv


evident in the two major empirical
studies of the movement which tend to
conclude that Tamil nationalism is
'cultural nationalism'.5

However, since the idea of a Dratidar


Iyakkam is a real one to both the protagonists and antagonists of the movement, and since an idea that takes root
among the masses (especially over a
whole historical epoch) becomes a material force, the term, separated from the
misleading and gullible connotations
given it by the pioneering Western
political scientist, becomes a useful descriptive device to take into account a
many-headed and complex social,
ideological, and political phenomenon.
ORIGINS

question might arise at

this satge: Is there a Teal-7ife-political


animal which -oan be referred to as the
Dravidian movement (or as it was
known in an earlier phase and narrower groove, the 'Non-Brahmin Movement')? Is it not an invention by
Western academics and ignorant theorists who look at the surface of the
problem merely and go mainly by
verbal and bookish evidence? The
answer is partly no and paltly yes.
The 'Dravidar Iyakkam' as conceptualised in the main academic studies
of it4 is indeed a creature of the
Western political scientist's imagination,
a bookish concept introduced into a
situation where the wood is simply
asking to be missed for the trees. The
tendencY to focLuson the superficial and
to mix up the primary with the secondary, the significant with the trivial, is
certainly characteristic of the bulk of
these academic studies which are either
industrious but unevenly pursued, empirical investigations or extremely ab-

AND RISE

OF THE

DRAvIDIAN

MOVEMENT

We propose that any in-depth and


theoretically fruitful research into the
Dravidian movement can be conducted
only if it is hypothesised as a complex
response to the meeting and working
out of the following historical processes:
(a) the national awakening in Tamil
Nadu as a part of the old Madras Presi(b) the inter-linked stirrings
dency,
(initially spontaneous, later organised to
a certain extent) of the masses of the
people against caste and class oppression, (c) the 'divide and ru-le' manoeuvres of British imperialism and its servitors, and (d) the compromising policy
of the bourgeois leadership of the
freedom movement on social and class
issues.
In this paper, we attempt to offer a
connected interpretation and a preliminary analysis of the pre-Independence
phases of the Dravidian movement,
based on the vast volume of empirical
research that has been published, even
as we draw attention to the gaps in this

historical data.
If, by-passing the real historical processes mentioned above, one goes
merely by the inward-looking rhetoric
and subjective claims of the leaders and
publicists of Dravidian 'revivalism', or
is swayed by the uncritical co.ndemnation of the movement as sectarian, communal, and even 'anti-national' by the
orthodox Congress leaders, there is no
hope of comprehending the political
phenomenon in a scientific sense. Just
as important as comprehending the
movement in its different streams is the
need to study its different phases.
At the very outset, two misconceptions about the path of modern political development in Sout-h India need
to be removed: The first is that there
was a backwardness and hesitation in
participating in the freedom movement;
the second is that the freedom struggle
as it developed in this region was
largely the handiwork of Brahmin interests. These misconceptions - which
were originally promoted by astute representatives of the colonial power
have found influential academic support
in numerous devious ways.
The impression that South India was
a political backwater contributing little
to the rising freedom tide in the second
half of the nineteenth century has been
dispelled by recent empirical research,
notably the work of R Suntharalingam.
His detailed study6 attempts to explore
the connection between the origins of
the different sections of professional and
administrative intelligentsia and the
nascent (merchant) bourgeoisie, on the
one hand, and the articulation of democratic and anti-colonial demands and
social reform activity, on the other.
Suntharalingam'sresearch, though hampered by the absence of a scientific
theoretical framework, explores a field
characterised by a vigorous search of

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Annual Number February 1979

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


freedom initiated by the professional
intelligentsia, divergent attempts at
social reforms under pressure of socioeconomic and educational changes, and
obstacles put in the way of both the
freedom movement and social reform
by the forces of revivalism and communalism. Noting that the impact of
the socio-economic changes imposed by
British colonialism was highly uneven,
he makes the perceptive observation
that caste associations became vehicles
for political mobilisation only in the
tw7entiethcentury, and that this phenomenon arose directly from the failure
of an earlier generation of leaders of
the freedom movement to resolve tensions generated by the uneven rate of
the colonial impact in South India.7
Any serious attempt to understand
the process of national and democratic
awakening in historical perspective must
relate its origins to the historical transformnationwhich took place in the early
years of the nineteenth century: the
process of development of the different
peoples of India into nationalities side
by side with the beginnings, rise and
development of capitalism. The process
of nationality formation, which was
first evident in the maritime regions of
Bengal, Maharashtra,Gujarat and Tamil
Nadu, intensified in the second half of
the nineteenth century. The emergence
of national consciousniess, the development of literature in the local languages, and the awakened interest in the
historical past were an integral part
of this larger process."
Tamil nationalism is sometimes
characterised in academic literature as
'cultural nationalism'. We have alreadv
seen that Marguerite Barnett, the black
American political scientist who has invested a great deal of effort in her study
of the Dravidian movement, goes so far
as to label her study, "The Politics of
Cultural Nationalism in South India".
We believe that such an approach,
mixing up schematic theory with empiricism, obscures and diverts attention
fromnthe main direction and the essential tendencies of the political development of Tamil Nadu over the past century. To start with, such an approach
refuses to face the question of the
awakening to national life of the Tamil
people under British rule as part of an
all-India national movement.
The
national question in South India, and
on the Indian sub-continent, is not seen
primarily as part of the national-colonial
question, as an integral part of the experience of the people's struggle against
British imperialist rule. The connection between the nationality formation

and awakening to national life in different parts of South India and the evil
of British colonial oppression, is obscured in a mass of secondary and often
trivial detail. Rather, the anti-imperialist direction in which the national
question developed is implicitly denied
in such approaches which mix up irreconcilable theoretical conceptions of
class, caste, nationality, political identity, and ideology.
To take up the specific viewpoint and
approach of Barnett as a negative example, her story has the following elements: Elite non-Brabmins ranged
against Brahmins and hence the origins
of Taniil 'cultural nationalism'. Forward non-Brahmins and backward nonBrahmins and untouchables in jostling
correlation and fierce contention, the
fragmentation of the non-Brahminmovernent, and the emergence of the demand
for Dravida Nadu.
Backward nonBrahmins ranged against untouchables
and other backward social groups, The
development of 'cultural nationalism'
through all this from movement to party,
along the path of pragmatic, bread-andbutter, existence.
It is as though British imperialist
oppression and its insidious policy of
'divide and rule' did not dominate this
historical period. It is as though the
people were passive instrutnents, Or
pawns, in a drama of manipulative
movements and not the active creators
of the complicated history of the
Indian freedom struggle.
Tamil nationalism, in Barnett's extreme formulation of this view,
is not territorial but cultural nationalism. The cultural nationalist sees
the nation as inherent in the group
of people who possess certain cultural characteristics. And so, while
the territorial nationalist gives priority to the direct relationship of the
individual to the territorially defined
nation State, the cultural nationalist
gives priority to collective cultural
realisation through nationalism. Cultuiral nationalists within a culturally
heterogenous territorial State are
likely to stress equality of culturally
defined 'nations' or groups; the territorial nationalist, in contrast, would
stress the equality of individuals.10
Such an approach understands the
process of nationality formation and
national awakening apart from their
real historical and class context. By
making a schematic distinction between
'cultural nationalism' and 'territorial
nationalism', it reduces Tamil nationalism, by force of bookish assertion, to
the former i e, to something less
than full-fledged national consciousness.
Such an approach is clearly incapable
of establishing any serious connection
between the developmnentof a Tvamil

nationality and developing capitalism;


between the awakening to life of the
Tamils as a nationality atnd the antiimperialist and anti-feudal stirrings anki
struggles of the masses; between the
democratic posing of the national question in terms of overthrowing imperialism and eliminating national inequality
and special privilege and the slogan of
'national culture' employed by the indigenous bourgeoisie, partly against imperialism, partly (in alliance with the
landlords) to drug the minds of the
toiling people and divert them from the
path of revolutionary class struggle.
The Western political scientist introduicesa bookish concept into a situation where nobody is shown to have
thought in these terms - or raised this
slogan - in any recognisable sense.
Having no reference to a living and
active nationality striving, along with
other emergent nationalities, to break
free from the shackles of imperialism
and feudalism, and unrelated to any
particular class, the construct of cultural natioinalism'relates to the Dravidian
movement in the role of a pseudoscientific mystique.
STIRRINGSAGAINST SOCIAL OPPRESSION
AND THER

RBELEVANCE

In the modern colonial society, it


was no suirprise at all that any movement for social equality and against
caste domination had to have an antiBrabmin orientation,1' since the Brahmin was the supreme caste in the Hindu
hierarchy, the kingpin in the oppressive
In fact,
varnashramadharmastructure.
evidence
there is today considerable
from the second half of the nineteenth
century on both the extraordinary privileges of the Brabhnins in Hindu society
and the spontaneous stirrings of persons and groups drawn from the lower
this oppressive domincastes against
ance.
The situiation was usefully indicated,
although over-simplistically, by Richard
Temple who, writing in 1882, asserted
that: in Bengal, Brahmin influence was
moderated by the trading and literary
castes; in the North-Western Provinces
by the Rajputs and the Muslimns; and
in Bombay bv the Parsis and Jains;
and South
Maharashtra
however, in
India, Brahmin influence was absolute,
with the other castes in a position of
almost total subservience.'2
A variety of factors appears to have

contributed to this situation in South


India."3 In the first place despite the
decline in political power and despite
the absence of any clear-cut dominance
in agrarian life .except

as parts of

Thanjavu

in pockets such

district); the
879

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


continued to lord it over the
Brahbmiins
llinidu ritual hierarchy, treating the nonBrahmiins as inferior beings. Secondly,
Brahinins were in the vanguard of the
developing intelligentsia, moving into
key positions as officials, professors,
lower bureaucrats, writers, lawyers, and
editors. They were, moreover, extiremely
active in the leadership of the Congress
an(d in the Home Rule movement, providin(g a handle to anyone interested
in b)randing these organisations of the
freedom movement as casteist and sectarian. Thirdly, there was in the Tamil
districts a pointed and highly provocative movement led by Brahmin interests (especially in the first quarter of
the twentieth century) in support of
carunashrarmadharnia-

which found an

influential precursor and ally in the


highly divisive revivalism of the Theosophical movement pioneered by the
AmericaniColonel I-I S Olcott, and led
with considerably more public impact
Iby Annie Besant.
Already, in the second half of the
nineteenth century, voices were raised
against this hegemony and privilege.
The cotltroversy that was whipped up
by British and Anglo-Indian journals
over the elevation of a Brahmin, Muthuswamy Iyer, to the judgeship of the
Madras High Court in the late 1870s
fouind a responsive chord among certain
sucti(ns of the people drawn from nonB.rahmin castes.14 The sentiment that
"subordination to a Brahmin is an outrage that makes the blood boil in the
veinsi of a European"15 had beenpreceded by a letter (published in the
M11adrasAMail) from a 'Sudra Correspondenit' challenging official statements
ab)outMiithuswamy Iyer's knowledge of
I-HinduLaw and customs and contending
that the judge moved only within the
rarefied cricle of his Brahmin relatives
and frienids and had little actual knowledge or experience of the habits and
ways of the rest of the community.
This correspondent went on to opine
that, despite progress in Western education and other fields, Hindus were
still too mloved by 'caste feelings' to
be expected to discharge their official
responsibilities impartially.16 Another
opponent, taking on the label of a 'A
Driavidian Correspondent', observed
that the l3rhamin was "least fitted of
all castes to deal fairly with the masses

Annual Number February 1979

merit vis-a-vis other castes."7


The complex interaction among divergent movements in social reform, Hindu
revivalism as spurred on powerfully by
the Theosophical Society from the
1880s, interests (including missionary
efforts) acting on behalf of the colonial
power, and the rising forces of the
inational awakening has been researched
in enlightening detail by Suntharalingam.
What is especially interesting for our
purpose is the evidence provided on the
intimate liaison between Theosophy and
Ilindu revivalism, which created a
climate for revivalism of an entirely
different vintage - despite the heroic
efforts by rationalist sections such as
the Madras Hindu Social Reform Association'8 in the last decade of the
nineteenth century.
For, intertwined with strongly democratic feelings against oppressive caste
domiination was a revivalist streak
which went by the name of 'Dravidianism'. In fact, revivalism and obscurantism, that leaned heavily on Sanskritic
var,nashramadharmacontinually fed the
taprcots of a southern variety. This
particular division contributed distinctive elements of tragedy to the correlation of the bourgeois-led freedom
movement with what came to be known,
over an extended period and almost
interchangeably, as the 'Non-Brabmin'
or 'Dravidian' movement.

Significantly, the concept of 'Non13rahmiin',inseparably tied to the idea


of the unity and integrity of South
ln(lia springing magically fromi a 'Dravidian' past, was first postulated by
European colonial scholars, some of
whom, went so far as to postulate rigid
racial divergences. Eugene Irschick
Pavs considerable attention to the
Pioneering attempts of Christian missionaries to study Tamil culture and
language.19 The Reverend Robert Caldwell (1819-1891) developed the theory
that Sanskrit had been brought to
South India originally by Aryan Brahman colonists, and with it a peculiar
type of Hinduism emlbodying the worship of idols.2'(He advanced the specific
hypothesis that Tamil had been cultivatecl by 'native Tamilians' called Sudras
Iw the Brabmins, even though they had
)een Dravidian chieftains, soldiers and
cutltivators, never really conquered by
the Brahmins." Caldwell (whose psetudo... since he considers himn-selfas a god,
scientific historical researches such as
and all others as Milechas". The writer a detailed studly of Shanars of Tirunelproceeded to argLle that, in a situation veli and a pioneering philological work
where Brahmins were holding over 70 have earned him a great prestige in
per ce.nt of ptublic appointments, it Tamil Nadu) proposed that the term
would be unwise to invest them with Sudra be dropped and, instead, the
such high positions and thereby name of each 'Dravidian caste' be used
strengthen their position in the govern- accordinig to the rocalih, of the bccur-

renice.22While another missionary, G U


Pope (1820-1907), contributed substantially to the development of studies of
Tamil literature and religion and addedl
a new sophistication to Tamil cultural
studies,23 influential colonial officials,
such as J H Nelson and the brutally
repressive Governiorof Madras, Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant-Duff, manipulated and made political capital out of
these sentiments expertly.24In his 1886
address to the graduates of the University of Madras, Grant-Duff demarcated
the Brahmins of South India (whom he
attacked, no holds barred) from the
non-Brabmins in the auidience: "You
are of pure Dravidian race" and "I
should like to see the pre-Sanskrit
element amongst you asserting itself
rather more."25

Suntharalingam's point about the


consequences of a generation of leaders
of the bourgeois-led freedonmmovement
failing to resolve tensions generated
by the uneven rate of the colonial impact in Sotuth India is well taken in.
this context. Not that a broader approach to what a leading publicist
defined in 1911 as "the intimate coninection between our social and political
advance"26was altogether absent in the
earlier period. The vanguard 'enlighterieers' drawn from the professionial
intelligenitsia of the 1870s, 1880s, and
1890s, certainly represented such ani
approach on social issues. The controversy that developed over the Age
of Consent Bill (an anti-infant mnarriage
measLre) in 1890 led to ani articulate
iiinority of 'modernisers' among the
intelligentsia appealing formliallyfor an
alliance with "Dravidian social reformers
and theii- leaders".27 Following the
rupture of ranks in the IHindu social
reform movement, there surfaced in
November 1892 an organisation that had
as its declared objectives the promotion of education among girls and
women, the reform of domestic and
mnarriage habits and, above all, the
abolition of untouchability and the
"amalgamationof castes". It represented
a highly progressive response to a complicated situation. The short-lived
Madras Hindu Social Reform Association, whose activities invited fierce
attack from the revivalists and failed
to attract the support of the all-India
and provincial Congress leaders,
requiired its members to practise ediication of wN7omen,
postponement of the
marriages of (lauighters, inter-caste
dining, and encouragement of widow
remarriage, and made a p-olemical
(listinction between the 'thinking reformer' and the 'courage-of-conviction
reforrner'.28

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


The problem of developing a move- the names of the particular divisions
ment on the l)asis of "the intimate of I-lindus, you touch a chord of each
connection between our social and division".3"
political advance" continued to troublle
From a somewhat different stance of
the growing ranks of the freedom emphasised loyalty to) the Raj, C
movement, and especially its leadership, Sankaran.Nair declared in a lecture in
and through the 1890s there was ex- 1909 that nationalism was "an
impospressed a strong criticism of the sible (drainso long as the caste system
'moderate' style of politics and, in fact, stands in the way" and
that, as a result
"idisillusionment with the ideology and of Brahmin dominance, other
sections
tactics of the Congress".29 The disil- of society were being rendered
unfit to
lusionment was both on political and accept political responsihility.32
social reform issues and the kind of
Bu.t just as there was no question of
response evoked in the first deca(lde of 'transceniding'either the
Brahmin-nonthe twentieth century - a period of Brahmin issue or the other
social diviraclical ferment in South India -sUgsions of the old order without fighting
gests a shift of the forces of the it out, the facile and repeatedly publicfreedom movement to entirely new and ised assumption that
nationalism could
hi(gher grouind.
not develop in South India on account
Politically, the gains made by the of the caste divisions proved wrong
'extremist' camp within the Congress It was, at best, a needless fear,
at
and the mass swerve in favour of this worst, an apologetic or even blatant
approach- as seen in the revolutionarv stance in support of the colonial power.
events of 1905-1908 and, in particuilar,
Nevertheless, men like Sankaran Nair
in the events of February-March 1908 were making an important point when
in Tuticorin and Tirtnelveli under the they focused on the impact on public
leadership of V 0 Chidambaram Pillai life of the orthodoxy and ritual
privileges
and Subramania Siva - prepared the wvhichthe Brahmins who entered the
ground for transition to an era where leadership of the Home Rule movement
the freedomnmovement began to search tended to saddle it with.33 In 191.3, the
actively for a wider an(dmore powerful hearings of the Royal Commission on.
mass base, going far beyound the ranks Puiblic Services in Madras firmed up
of the intelligentsia.
these feelings by hig.hlighting the disRepresenting a more complex ancl proportionate share of posts in the
differentiated experience for the deve- Madras Government services held by
lopment of social reform concerns, the Brabmrins.34
new period saw, in South India, the
On the eve of the First World War,
suirfacing of the 'Non-Brahmin Move- feelings of resentment against Brahmin
ment' and sharp contradictions within
privileges in social and public life came
the nationalist ranks.
to be videly articulated in letters to
Way-ouit 'modernisers' suich as K the daily press. While a writer from
Srinivasa Rani,a Marathi-speakingBrab- South Arcot district, for example,
min from Thanjavur district, put forwar(d observed that "the Brahmin vs nonthe view that there was no qtestion of Brahmin hatred is found supreme in
Indlia developing politically until it every Taluk",35 another could record
clo!sedits blatantly divided social ranks. his bitter resentment over an experi"Unless the ground is cleared, the rocks ence in Madurai where he and some
and stones removed, the basis of Natio- Brahmin friencls celebrating the connal life broadened and deepend, andl ferral of an honorary Rao Bahadurship
the centre of life and interests changed on a friend came across segregation of
from persons to principles, and diver- non-Brahmins from Brahmins in the
gent sects, classes, and creeds to the ClubI. .36
couintry at large, and unless our poliThe academic literature on the subtical sympathies go forth, from the pale ject tends to mix up the two issues:
of Iyers, Iyengars and Raiis, to wider demiocraticopposition. to Brahmanical
circles of men.. .transcending Brahman privileges and participation in the freeand non-Brahman ... democracy on any
dom movement. Irschick himself seems
large scale will be a danger, delusion to be either naively or calculatingly on
and sham."30 In a remarkable tract the wrong track when he postulates
pui)lished in 1911 that takes the form that "fear of a Brabman take-over of
of a conversation between an Indian political power, should Mrs Besant
an(dan Englishman on the political con- succeed in her Home Rule endeavours,
lition of India (particularly Madras), set off a series of reactions which culSrinivasa Rau made 'Ramdoss' define minated in the formation of a nonwhat, in his perception, were the Bral-man party to challenge her
loyalties that complicated Indian politics moves".S37It w-asnot the 'fear of a
-among other things, "if you use..
Brahmin take-over' but a willingness to

A-nnualNumber February 1979


serve the British masters in what was
perceived to be their own class interests that led to the remarkableseries of
moves led by landlord and mercantile
interests drawn from the higher nonBrahmin castes to form the Justice
party.
Tlhe whole point here is that the
initially spontaneouLs,growingly organised, revolt of the intelligen.tsia and
the masses belonging to socially oppressed castes against the BrahminlomnnatedHindu caste structure is not
to be confused with the interests articulated in the fonnation of a political
organisation whose organising credo
was total loyalty to the British Raj,
opposition to the freedom movement in
all its forms, and - as the movement
began to run out of steam -a
singleminded hunt for patronage through
implementation of commuinal rule. The
real situation, as opposed to the illusion attempted to be created by Justice
party propaganda, appeared to be
indicated by the following editorial
olbservation: "The Non-Brahmans are
as solidly in favour of Home Rule as
any other community, despite the efforts
of a small but exceedingly vocal clique
which has been magnified by the forces
of reaction as representing the forty
odd millions in this Presidency."38
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to
uinderestimate the fact that the ideological assumption that Dravidian history was separate from, and clearly
superior to, the Aryan or Brahmanic
tradition in India was influentially taken
over by sections of the population in
South India in the first two decades of
the twentieth centuiry. It was reflected
in the sporadic publishing activities of
the Madras Dravidian Association
(dating from 1912); in the 'Non-Brabmin
Letters', a series of 21 'heart-searching'
epistles authored by one 'SKN', professing to articulate the position and the
aspirations of various caste groups;
and, of course, in the "Non-Brabmin
Manifesto".39 For a somewhat later
phase, Barnett cites the following
revealing samples of not uninfluential
writings from Dravidian movement
journals:

i0

Dravidato (September 29, 1920):


cites with approval a non-Brabmini
conference resolution to the effect that
"Tamil is not properly encouraged now
in the present universities and that
many foreign Aryans, who wielded an
influiencein the University, brought the
language to its present low condition...".
Dravidani (October 11, 192.1): categorises selfishness, trickery, mischief,
partiality towards their own class, barted,
and avarice, as Brahmin traits, adding
383

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

AnntualNumber February 1979


that "their selfishness is exhibited in
their demanding immediate swaraj with
the idea that they may hereby advance
the cause of their class and makina
other classes their servitors, retard their
own progress of the world".
Dravidan (january 22, 1923): "From
the very beginning of the Eniglish rule,
the cu-nning Brahmans in Madras have
occupied all posts in the government
from the lowest to the highest and have
been successfully keepin(g ouit the other
commliunities by filling lip the vacancies
with men of their owii community."
Nyaya Dipika
(januiary 25, 19235):
"The Brahmans are also foreigners to
India as are the British.. the Brahmans,
coming into India from Central Asia
three thousand years ago, put down the
ancient inhabitants of the country, have
created dissatisfaction among them by
bringing into being racial, religious, and
caste differences, and have been comnmanding the Inclians ever since."
A

PERSPIECTI-VE

ON

THE

JUS1ICE

PARTY

In a period of accelerated, though


complicated,
advance of the freedom
struggle among the masses in South
India, both the South India
Liberal
Federation (or Justice party), foundecl
in 1916 to articulate the interests of
the big feuidal landlordls and the most
collaborating section of the mercantile
bourgeoisie,
ancd the
Self-Respe^t
League, foutnded by E V Ramasami in
1925, made significant contact with the
Brahmin-non-Brahbnin issue.
Although
distuirbingly
intertwvined in practice,
they must he analysed as independent
m ovements influencing political development of Madras Presidency, especially
the Tamil districts. Otherwise there is
no question of drawing scientific concluisions from this experience.
There was certainly scope for exploit
ing the issue which both these tendencies took up, since Brahmins had an
extremely dominant role not merely in
the administrative
arena buit also in
higher
education
during the period
under
consideration,
as
Irschick's
research emphasisCs.41 "In 1921, banks
ancd other money
establishments employed Telugu and Tamil
Brahmans,
Komatis (Telugu Vaisyas), and Vellalas;
these four groups held
almost twothirds of the available positions.
In
pulblic administration there was a marked preponderance of Tamil Brahmans....
In1 positions
concerned
with
law,
instruction, and letters, the pattern was
similar."42 The data puit together by
the Madras government in 1912 showed
that, at the higher levels of government
service where Indians were employed,
Brahmins made up 55 per cent {of

Deputy
Collectors, 83.3 per cent of
Sub-Judges, and 72.6 per cent of District
Mtunsifs.43 The analysis of caste composition among those employed in 1917
in the IRevenue and Judicial departments
as tahsildars, deputy tahsildars, English
head clerks, sharistacdars of district and
sub-courts
reinforces very much the
same concltusion.44 In higher education
itself, a hreak-up showed that between
1870 and 1918,
the proportion
of
Brahmins among the students enrolled
and those
granted
Bachelor of Arts
degrees by the University of Madras
was in the range, 67-71 per cent.45 As
for the proportion
of candidates for
the Bachelor of Law degriee, Brahmins
constituted 73.57 per cent in 1919; and
for the Licentiate of Teaching degree,
the figure was 73.03 per cent. Only in
the medical field was the
proportion
appreciably lower.46
In this context, certain features of
political
development in the Madras
Presidency dur-ing the earlier phases of
th- freedom movement fall into perspec
tive. As already noted, the tendency of
existing academic
studies to identify
'Brahmin political involvement' with the
freedom movement (in its Home Rule
movement
phases)
and non-Brahmin
involvement with tendencies
such as
Dravidian 'cultural nationalism', whicn
could not be accommodated within the
freedom movement, does serious violenice to the essence of a far more complicated historical reality.
The most prominent example of this
approach is Barnett's naively hypothesised tension
between
two abstract
behavioural models - the
'Brahmanic'
mo(lel and the 'kingly' model.47
Obviotusly, the dichotomisation of socioeconomic 'elites' into a Brabmin/elite
non-Brahmin
model tension has some
reference
to the process of
overall
historical change in South India in the
late nineteenth century and the early
twentieth century. But, since there is
no attempt to research into and scientifically identify the main direction of
socio-economic
change, and the class
reality during a period
encompassing
tiv. origin, rise and
development of
capitalism as well as the rise and development of a new stage of the freedom
movement,
the schema sweeping the
surface-reality
misses what
goes on
beneath.
The crucial fact that must be grasped
in this connection is that, during the

a disproportionately high and privileged


'in the
section of this intelligentsia
Presidency at least up to the 1920,s, it
has been all too easy to identify Brahmins with the politics of hIome Ruile
and 'forward non-Brahmins' with the
politics of loyalty to the Rai.
The issue becomes much clearer when
we consider the role of the British Raj
in sponsoring and encouraging casteisml, communalism, and other divisive
forces. British imperialism had a deep
rooted political stake in this practice
which was actively adapted to the soil
on which it was developed. There is
no evidence whatever to suggest that
it felt for the illusion, so readily
accepted hy later-day academic researchers
like
Barnett, of equiating
'Brahmin
political involvement' with nationalism,
'forward
non-Brahmins' with 'cuiltural
nationalism' and loyalty to the Raj, and
the masses drawn from the backward
and untouchable castes with a lack of
involvement in
either the
freedom
movement or cultur-al nationalism.48
The revolutionary upsurge in Tuticorin and Tirunelveli in early 1908
must have been too fresh in its memory
to permit any
illusion. The
such
militant masses who rallied around V 0
Chidambaram Pillai - drawn from the
petty and
aspiring
bourgeoisie, the
intelligentsia and, above all, the working class - could not, by any stretch
of political
posturing,
be fitted into
caste-based
models of understanding
the freedom movemeint, since the hulk
of them were indisputably non-Brahmin.
British imperialist policy, based on
powerful class interests, was a consciof
ouis policy of dividing the people

India in order to prevent them from


rallying to the freedom struggle. It
found and developed on this soil extensively complex elements of caste, communal discords and social obscurantism.
It built upon this basis, it actively
seized upon and encouraged the retrograde, it promoted slogans designed to
divert the masses from the struggle for
Independence - such as, "Home Rule
is Brahmana's Rule ,74 - it even won
certain tactical successes through such
methods.
However, the policy of
'divXdeand rule', even while it should
not be underestimated, could not withstand the challenge of the freedom
movement indefinitely. Repeatedly, the
mass base and sweep of the freedom
struggle made nonsense of the wellphases of modern political development publicised assumption that, in this
with which we are concerned, the well- society, Muslim would stay divided
to-do intelligen.tsia played an extremely from Hindu, forward non-Brahminfrom
prominent role in freedom movement Brahmin, backward non-Brahmin from
organisation.s nder bourgeois, Congress forwardl non-Brahmin, untouchable from
hegem,ony. And since Brabmins formed all the other castes. The growing

384

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


unity of the masses forged in struggle
was uinderminiingthe very foundations
of imperialist rule in India and, along
with these foundations, (logmas of unalterable caste-based political behaviour
which was supposed to he inherent in
these 'natives'.
The failure of British imperialism
and its servitors to stem the rising tide
of the freedom movement was reflecte(d
in the specific political dlevelopment orf
South Iindia through the 1920s and
1930s: the failuire of the anti-national
Justice party with its slogan of 'nonBrahminism' to win the support of the
masses on the one hand, and the protracted and complex development of the
bourgeois-led freedom movement of the
people on the other.
In 1967, speaking at a reception
organised by the 'Justice Party' in
Madras, C N Annadurai, DMK Chief
Minister of Madras, made play with his
claims to be a representative of 'three
different schools of thought' - the
jtustice party, with its 'magnanimity'
and tradition of fuilfilling 'the desires
ofc the people' and achieving 'whatever
was possible wvithoutclashing with the
British regime', the Self-Respect Movement, and the Congress, with its 'diplomacy in handling political problems'.50
This was as much to whitewash the
anti-national role of the Justice party
as is attempted in the far more sophisticated academic literature (notably the
work of Baker and Washbrook),51 which
attempts to make it out that the quintessence of political development during
the perio(d was inter-elite and intergroup manoeuvres among the indigenouls popuilation: "The years 1916-20 in
Madras City witnessed a complex series
of manoeuvres between
the various
grouips who all wished to stand forth
as the leaders of the province when the
benefits of the reformed constittition
were released. Radical posturing and
all-India alliances enabled the Nationalists . . . to

drum

the

Mylaporeans

out

of the Congress by 1918. In early


1920, however, just as they were preparing to use the Congress name and
organisation to fight the first elections
to the new legislatures, they in turn lost
control of the provincial Congress to
their erstwhile allies from the mofussil .... The Nationalists had to quit the

Congress or they had to stay in it and


ignore the elections;

for them, a

step

either way it was,

into the political

wilderness....
Tle
battle
for the
leadership of the province under the
dyarchy constitution was thus left to
the Mylaporeans and the Justicites."52
The Justice party itself, in this view,
was ". .. a very mixed hag indeed. It

Annual Number February 1979

included City mierchantsand politicianis


. Then there were professiolnal
inen....

Several families which spread

widlely in the public services... were


also interested in this new group....
Next came several of the higgest estateholders of the province, particularly the
rajas of Pithapuram, Ramnad, Bobbili
and Kalahasti... . Finally there was a
scattering of local politicians of all
sorts.... The banner around which
these various groups cluistered was the
cause of the non-Brabmancommunity."53
The 'cause of the non-B;rabman
community' referred to here is chiefly
the demand that seats be reserved for
'non-Brahmans' in the new Legislative
Council. In this academic view, "as
a

tactical

weapon

..

. it was superb.

Behind the demand for the reservation


of seats was a request that government
should recognise the jtusticites as fhie
leaders of the non-Brahmanmajority in
the province, and should admit that the
non-Brahmans deserved special considerations. In this way, the justice
leaders wouild become the main channels of government patronage....
By
1920, they had won a goo(d measure of
success. "54

Let us see what kind of 'stuccess'was


won by the justice party, how, and
with what consequences for politics in
the Presidency. We can study this in
the light of the detailed empirical research done on the subject, notably by
Irschick. The class interests involved
in the fouinding of this party cannot be
in serious dispute, although it is true
that the support it drew was somewhat
'mixed'. The conclave of 30 or so nonBrahmin leaders, including T M Nair
and P Tyagaraja Chetti, at the Victoria
Public Hall in Madras in November
1916, might have decided only to form
a joint stock companv, the Souith
Indian People's Association, in order to
publish newspapers in English, Telugui
and Tamil and articulate 'non-Brabman
grievances'. However, bv December
that year, the isstuing of the 'NonBrabnminManifesto' and the formation
of the South India Liberal Federation
made explicit the ideological and political line of the new movement. The
tone was decidedly anti-national and
the immediate agenda wvasfrontal opposition to Home Rule agitation.
Beginning on the note that
the time has come when an attempt
should be made to define the attitude
of the several important non-Brabmin
Indian communities in the Presidency
toward what is called 'the Indian
1-homeRule Movement'.
the Manifesto declared that nonBrabmins could never sunpport any
measure that

in operation, is designed, or tends


collmpletely, to undermine the influence and authority of the British
Rulers, who alone in the present circumstances of India are ahle to hold
the scales even between creed and
class and to develop that sense of
unity and national solidarity without
which India will continue to be a
congeries of muttually excluisive and

wvarring grotups within a common puirpose and a common patriotism.55

The newspapers of this so-called NonBrabmin movement Justice, released


on February 26, 1917, Dravidan (in
Tamil), begun in mid-1917, and Andhra
Prakasika (in Telugu), fouinded in 1885
and taken over actively pushed the
view that Home Rtule wvould benefit
only the Brabmins.
The real interests behind this movement and these slogans were also evident from the fact that, right from the
beginning, the bulk of funds supporting
the newspapers and activities of the
Justice party came from the big landed
the
gentry of
Presidency.
Irschick
reveals that, within a year of its founding, the party was formally backed by at
least Rs 100,000.56
Backed by such
muscle, the organisation attempted
to
spread throughout the Presidency.
Exploiting
the weaknesses of the
Congress-League scheme, and the disillusionment it created among influential
sections
of the freedom ranks, the
juistice party attempted to advance its
political line of servile loyalty to the
Raj under the signboard of the 'NonBrabmin Movement'.
One interesting
counter-move, in 1917, was the forination of the Madras Presidency Association (MPA), whose immediate platform
was to forward a scheme to ensure full
communal
representation
to
nonBrabmins but withotut in any way
breaking ranks with the freedom movement.
Forced to counter the Justicite propaganda that it was a tool of the Brabmins
to undermine the rising status of the
Non-Brabmin movement, the MPA went
on to build an influential
organisational structure. Irscbick makes an important point relating to the difference
in class character between the Justice
party and the MPA, in noting that onlv
a relatively few zamindars
and large
landowners backed the latter, which was,
in fact, in constant trouble over funds.57
The MPA responded to the Justicite
claim to represeint the real interests of
non-Brabmins by quickly reversing its
initial opposition to commu.nal represen
tation and putting forwar(d the line worked out by its President, P Kesava
Pillai in co-operation with influential
activists of the freedom ranks such as
E V Ramasanili, T V Kaliyanasundaram385

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ECONOMTCAND POLITICAL WEEKLY


Mudaliar, P Varadarajulu Naidu and
V Chakkarai Chettiar - at the speclal
Madras Provincial Congress Conference
in December 1917 that, given the peculiar circuimstances of the Madras Presideency, "the comnitinities...
other than
lriialhmaas should also he adequately
represented in the Legislative Council".58
Findlinig a good part of their thunder
stolen l)y an organisation from within
the free(lom ranks, and smarting under
the reftusal in the Montagu-Chelmsford
'lleport' to concede the principle
of
commuiiiiinal representation, the Justice
leaders concenitrated on demonstrating
with increased blatancy their loyalty to
the lIaj. The enactment of the hated
Rowlatt Act and the Jalianwala Bagh
ma.ssacre of April 13, 1919, gave them
an opportunity to court British favours
nore actively. Commenting
on the
Roxxvlatt'Report', Tyagaraja Chetti, one
of the Justice bosses, exclaimed: "To
what comMunity
belong
most of the
persons who find a bad eminence in
thIa.t Report? Who is the central figure
among them8? Hie is none other than
the Brahmin gentleman
(Tilak) who
lhas been elected
to the P'residential
chair of the n-ext session of the Indian
Nationial Congress.')'9
The party also
condoned the massacre at Amritsar
commanded hy General Dyer.
This,
according to Irschick,
reveals "more
clear ly than any other instance the
dulo'receto which it was cut off from allIndia opinion and events."60
The proceedings of the joint Select
Committee in London to concretise the
final details of the Go)vernment of Inidia
Bill (h)y way of implemeuiting the Montaguti-Chelmsford proposals) attracted a
strong Justiciwx attekiipt to have communal repr-esentation accepted for the
Madlras 1'residency.
The contingent
which arrived in England, apart from
the top leader, Nair, included all the
chief satraps of the Juistice bloc, including
the representative of the AllInclia Landholders'
Association
and
Madras Zamindars and Landholders'
Assocation,
who was later to become
the Raja of Panagal and the chief partv
b)oss.61 Following Nair's death due to
illness in Englancd (before he could
tendler evidence before the Joint Select
Committee), K V Reddi Naidu and A
liamaswami Mtudaliar took uip the task
on behalf of their party. Appearing
before the Conmmittee on Auiguist 12,
1919, Reddi Nai(lol prefacedl his remarks wvith the observation that stubstantial nDumIbers of non-Brabmins had
joined the arme(l forces, that 'Besantine agitation' was boglls, and that Brahmins were tunfit to utndertake several
administrative responsibilities.62 Assert-

Annual Number February 1979

ing that India could not be considered


a nation, he tried to demonstrate an
irreconcilable racial divide between
Brahmins (Aryans) and non-Brabmins
(Dravidians). The way out of the inequitous situation, he explained, was to
give non-Brahmin caste Hindus a
system of communal electorates. In
aInswer to a specific question, he explaiined that the Justice demands included in the term 'Non-Brahmin' all
those who were neither Brabmin nor

inivitation of Lord Willingdon - initially with A Subbarayulu


Reddiar, a
landlord
from
Cuddalore, as 'chief
minister' and later led by P Ramarayaningar, the future Raja of Panagal carried absolutely no conviction among
the masses. Its
reactionary
political
orientation was remarkable for opposing
everything that was popular and anticolonial and for the total isolation this
policy earnied for the party in national
affairs; while the abuse of authority,
untouchable.63
the sordid hbunt for patronage and the
Appreciating the content and spirit corruption b)ecame a sensitive election
behind the Justice party proposals, the issue in 1926.68
Committee showed a new receptivity,
It viciously attacked Gandhi, in his
ofl behalf of the colonial power, to- capacity as the rising
leader of the
wards the argument that a special ap- freedom movement, and his programme
proach was needed in a presidency of non-co-operation
with the tXaj.
where conditions were evidently ex- Characterising
him early in 1921 as
ceptional. Or, as Ramaswami Mudaliar "the least tolerant and most vain of
put it in a memorandum to the Com.- pul)lic men", who sought to trade on
mittee, the Madras Presidency should his standing among the illiterate masses
be "treated as the 'political Ulster of t3) spread false doctrines, it came ou.
India,"64 Following this remarkable frontally against the Malabar uprising
performance, the Justice leaders made of 1921, going so far as to attack
iiiWnsive efforts to court the favour of GCandhi (intriguingly, in the light of
the British Press, tndertook speaking his knoxwn hostility to this anti-imperiatoturs in major centres of that country, list and anti-fetudal
uiprising) as
and tried to form a liaison with sec- preparing to "convert this country into
tions of the Liberal and Labour parties. a cremation ground before it attains

When the Joint Select Committee incluided in its 'Report' of November 17,
1919, the recommendation that the
non-Brabmins of Madras Presidency
"muist be provided with separate representation by means of reservation
of seats",65 it appeared that the Justice
party had driven home its point (at
least to its colonial patrons) although
the way the recommendation was impleniented fell far short of its expectations."6

With the 1919 constitutional scheme


in action, the politics of grovelling
before the Raj fouind fresh scope. A
creature of the British, isolated from
everything national, democratic, and
cnlightened (and under Tyagaraja
Chetti's narrow-grained leadership divesting itself of whatever social reform
pretensions that existed), the Justice
party rodle to office in the 1920 elections. Irschick makes clear the character
and(1 significance of these
elections:
Only 2.9 per cent of the total population of the Presidency was eligible to
vote and the, voter turn-ouit wvas l)arely

25 per cent of this. With the Congress


boycotting the polls, the Julstice pIarty
w,as left unchallenge(d in the field an'd
bagged 6.3 out of the 98 elected seats.
Booste(d

by

goveriinment

appointments

the
strengrth it couldI boast of was
actually 81 in a Legislative
Council
of 127.67
The bgunch that took office at the

Swaraj".6"'

Gandhi's (lecision to call off non-cooperation


following Chauri Chaura in
February 1922, and growing evidence
that the mnasses rallying to the freedom
struiggle cJuld not be contained within
the limits
imposed by the bourgeois
leadership of the Congress, only invited
the of-ficial Jtusticite response that it was
do(,ubtful that the Bardloli decisions
xvotld l)e honoutred by the great numI)er of "hoolig-ans and rowdies" who
ha(d fl;.cked to non-co-operatioin
to
"indulge in their nefarious predilections
towards violence and lawlessness".70
Ther e is niow iron-clad evidence that
the justice
party demonstrated
in
office, amiong other things, that it ha(d
no sympathy whatsoever for the unitouchable masses who were struggling
for- elementary democratic rights. Developing otut of the militant
strike of
workers at the Buckingham and Carnatic
Mills in 1921, the management's effort
to prise untouchable workers away fromo
their caste Hindu colleagues began to
yield poisonouis frtuit. Leacling to clashes
b)etween
the, untouchable
sections
(against wvhomisearegation was practised
even within. the factory) which were
persuaded to go in and the 'caste Hindu'
strikers, the tactic provided the governnc nt the pretext to
resort to a
murderous volley of firing which took
several lives.71
WVith Justice party journals drawing
387

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


from the experience the wretched conclusion that there was "undue pampering of the Adi-Dravidas by the officials
of the Labour Department, and partly
by the, perhaps, unconscious encouragement given to them by a few police
officers",72the situation appeared tailormade for a diversion from the class
issues involved. The
British, pastmasters at using such an opportunity
to split the ranks of the toiling people,
went all out to picturise the class
struggle of vanguard of the working
class in the Presidency ancdthe weaknesses and gaps that had been exposed
in the field as essentially a caste
problem.73
The 'Puliyanthope troubles', as these
happenings came to be known, revealed
the extent to which the Justice party
in office was alienated from the masses
of the untotuchablesand even their welfare organisations. Leaders from the
untouchable ranks, such as M C Raja,
a member of the Legislative Council,
began sharply to criticise the Justice
party as out of tune with the aspirations of their people. At the second
South India Adi-Dravida Congress held
at Koilpatti in Tirunelveli district in
mid-1923 - after this organisation had
broken ranks with the Justice party
he observed that the party's 'natural
aniimosity' towards the untouchables
had been evident long before the
'Puliyanthope troubles'.74
Irschick sums up the results of the
first stint in office by the Justice party
usefully. First, even on social questions,
the party's unwillingness to allow the
untouchables to play a role in its
policy indicates the closing of party
ranks to include only caste Hindus
with a relatively high position in the
ritual hierarchy, an established position in government service and education, and a strong investment in
the land and commerce of south
India....
Second, not only had the
social role of the Justice party become narrowerand more conservative,
but election to the Council and the
formation of a justice ministry had
changed the party ... into a mere
political mechanism, a broker for
government jobs for a few select
non-Brahman caste Hindu-s.75
He might have added, a political
mechanism at the beck and call of the
'colonial power and a broker for
patronage which alienated itself growingly from the people - for one thing,
in the 1923 Cotuncilelections, when the
electorate had risen to 3 per cent of
the total population and the voting
turnout to 36.2 per cent of this, the
Justice party lost grouindfrom 1920. It
won only 44 seats as against 63 earlier
and it was only the government appointment of 17 additional members

that gave it a leg-up to carry on in

Annual Number February 1979

the Presidency, was powerfully oriented


towards oppressed groups in the caste
In the period of its rapid decline hierarchy, including untouchables, and
that approached senility, the party went adopted concrete measures to involve
through the motions of building bridges women and youth.8'
Although, unfortunately, EVR took
to the non-Brahminmovement in Mahato employing justice party platforms
rashtra- with little avail.77
That the efforts to put on a new to preach his views on self-respect and
face at this stage had no seriouLseffect social equality it must not be forgotten
was reflected in the trouncing that the that he also used these occasions to
Justicites received in the 1926 elections sharply criticise that party's attitude to
at the hands of the Swarajists and even social reform.82 The social and class
independents; and Irschick's evidence character of the suya;rnariyathai
iyakkam,
shows that the party was very close to which was clearly different from that
With substantial of the Justice party, must be considedemise in 1926.78
sections of the former activists and red an open-ended question that only
sympathisers leaving the party to join detailed research with a scientific basis
can solve.
the ranks of the freedom movementwhich was developing in a new phase
However, the infoi-rmationnow availof mobilising the masses, with new
able on the political activities of E V
tactics - a Special Confederation of
Ramasami (1879-1973), the founder of
the Justice party convened at Coimba- the
Self-Respect movement, reveals a
tore in July 1927 attempted to make a great deal of the
history of the Dravivirtue out of necessity by recognising dian movement. As a
boy from a wellthat it was "permissible for such nonto-do merchant family boldly violating
Brahmans as desire to do so to join the caste-based rules of social
behaviour';
Congress maintaining intact the indi- as a
young man who sought and failed
viduality of the Justice party".79
to find. the personal and social answers
With the death of the Raja of he wvas
looking for in sanyasihood and
Panagal in December 1927, a phase in religious mysticism; as an ardent Conthe political development of the Pre- gressman who
campaigned wholeheartsidency came decisively to an end. "It edly for freedom and social reform and
was really the end of the party, though spent a small personal
fortune as part
for eight more years it led a twilight of
his commitment to the movements;
existence and even held office, between as a Congressman
alienated by the high1930 and 1936...".80
caste prejudices and social obscurantSuich, then, was the character and ism of the party
leadership in the
experience of the party that British Presidency
and in the country, notably
colonial interests went all out to pro- Gandhi; as an
enemy of Congress upmote as an alternative to the organisa- holding the
banner of militant social
tions of the freedom movement in reform which claimed it sought to "turn
Madras Presidency. The historical data the present social system topsy-turvy
are far too firm today to allow any and
establish a living bond of uinion
illulsions about its 'magnanimity' and among all
people irrespective of caste
isuccess'.
or creed";83 as a social reformer who,
following a visit to the Soviet Union
RISE OF SELF-RESPECT
MOVEMENr
in 1931, campaigned with short-lived
Meanwhile, a series of highly signifi- conviction in suipport of socialism and
cant socio-political and ideological participated in conferences against landdevelopments facilitated the emergence lordism and usury; as a leader of the
of the suyamariyathai iyakkan -assoSelf-Respect League falling, tragically,
ciated with, but independent of, the into the trap of collaboration with the
path of development of the decrepit jtistice party; as the leader of a justice
Justice party. The year of E V Rama- party completely discredited among the
sami's formal break with the Congress people; as the founder-leader of the
- coming
after repeated attempts to Dravida Kazhagam collaborating with
have it out on social issues -signals
British imperialism against the freedom
no less than a new phase in the poli- movement; as a tragic figure railing.
tical development of Tamil Nadu. While against the transfer of power, characterthe Jtustice party tried to spread its ising Ifndependence Day as a 'day of
tentacles throughout the Presidency mourning' and demanding 'freedom
(and while its class character leaves from Brahmin Raj'; as a supporter of
little room for dispute), the Dravidian the newly formed Dravida Munnetra
social reform movement started by E Kazhagam led by former lieutenants
V Ramasami in 1995 (with the able who had broken loose from his auassistance of S Ramanathan) and con- thoritarian hold over the organisation,
centrated within the Tamil districts of and an enemy of the Congress Ministry

office.76

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AninualNumber February 1979

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

headed by C Rajagopalachari;as a suppcrter of the 'Kamaraj Congress', seen


as representing the interests of 'real
Tamilians'; as a supporter of the DMK
in power; as an idol-breaker who, towards the end of his very long life,
polemicised against and rejected the
Tamil language and Tamil culture set
up as fetishes; as a militant propagandist of social reform divorced from, and
contraposed to, class analysis and a
scientific theory of economic and political change -the
rich, many-sided,
outrageously inconsistent life of this
Periyar ('Great Elder') of Tamil Nadu
politics seems to embody many of the
specific historical features and contradictions of political development in
over three quarters of a century.
The biographical details now available on Periyar provide ipsights into
the weaknesses, the inconsistencies, the
vacillations and the contradictions of
the bourgeois leadership of the freedom movement. The failure to win
over and keep this outstanding individual and his followers within the
camp of the freedom movement is a
measure of the failure of this leadership to provide consistently democratic
answers to the key issues of the day.
This particular inconsistency, which
could be sharply discerned in the split
between the 'extremists' and the
'moderates' of the 1905-1908 period,
was expressed in a more developed and
refined form in Gandhism: its essence
lay in what R P Duitt characterised as
"the disastrous combination of political
radicalism and social reaction in

the leadership of the Justice party,


faded away with the decline and demise
of that party. The second trend, whose
popularisation was essentially a phenomenon of the late 1920s, was carried
forward actively and militantly by
Periyar and far outlived the Justice
party, influencing political development
in Tamil Nadu after Independence. In
an atmosphere charged with suffocating
remnants of superstition and religious
obscurantism, of caste division and privilege, this revolt against Brahmanical
Ilinduism and varnashramadharma
characterised by a simple and straightforward sharpness and gaining, over the
years, in qualities of popularisation had an important positive role.
If the movement can be said to have
diverted people's consciousness, energy
and organisation from class issues, the
essential explanation is that the theoretical and practical work of those
charged with the historic responsibility
of taking up class issues, and of developing the class struggle towards successful democratic and socialist revolution, was too weak to prevent the
people from being so diverted. Some
of the more perceptive leaders of the
working class movement and party critically grasped the positive elements in
Periyar's contribution even while evaluating his pro-British political positions
and his opportunist role following the
transfer of power. Some others were
carried away to the extent of considering him a great revolutionarv
fighter. When the working class party
and movement as a whole comes to a
India".84
serious historical self-criticism and
evaluation of its work, it is likely to exTwo TRENDS WITHIN THE SEL.F-RESPECTr
plain the connection between its line
MOVEMJENT
and practice and the specific ide-ologicalpolitical
alternative to Congress domiIt is important to grasp the fact
that, in its social determinedness and nance and Congress rule that emerged
content, the Self-Respect movement ancl developed in Tamil Nadu.
The tendency of certain academic
which appropriated the slogan *of'NonBrahminism' covered two essentially researchers, such as Barnett, to identify
different tendencies. These tendencies the essential differences between Peridiverged sharply in terms of philosophi- yar and the working class movement as
cal-social outlook, although politically a difference centering on alleged
they made common cause with the 'Brahmin domination' of the CommuJustice party. It is certainly no small nist party85 reflects an absurdly superwhich
qualitative distinction that is involved ficial and false understanding
between the 'moderate' and 'radical' refuses to go beyond Periyar's words
positions that academic researchershave and see the profound differences in
tended uncritically to identify within class outlook, ideology and practice that
the social reform movement. The quali- separated him from the working class
These approaches completative distinction is between a revivalist- movement.
idealist position that claimed to return tely miss the significance of the role
to the spiritual, religious and social roots of the working class in the freedom
of an idealised Dravidian path and a movement between 1918 and 1.947 and
crudely atheistic, metaphysically mate- the qualitative change brought about
rialist attack on religious and social when the political line and practice of
the working class began to contendob)scurantismled by Periyar.
The first trend, fitfully espoused by given all its limitations in development

with the political line and practice


of the bourgeoisie. They are unable to
see the political and practical differences
b)etween the bourgeoisie and the proletarian approaches to a series of issues,
including the content of freedom and
the problem of democratic social reform.
In Tamil Nadu, in the twentieth century, there became increasingly evident
two irreconcilable cultures, the culture
of the bourgeoisie and the landlords
and the culture of the cruelly, often
and exploited
barbarically, oppressed
toiling people. The latter contained, in
however rudimentary a form, live democratic and socialist cultural elements.
of the industrial
The development
working class was the leading factor in
the development of the democratic and
socialist culture; the process of differentiation among the peasantry, throwing
growing numbers into the ranks of the
the class
rtural poor and intensifying
countryside,
in
the
contradictions
strengthened the objective basis for the
development of this culture.
-

if the bourgeoisie and the landlords


- initially drawn by and large from
the top sections of the upper castes appropriated the slogan of 'Tamil culture' and 'Dravidianness' and used it to
njol)ilise the masses behind them, it
must also be recognised that the demosocialist elecratic and rudimentary
ments in Tamil culture and society repeatedly asserted themselves in politiincreasingly
This became
cal life.
evident as the oppressed classes provibasis for the
ded the developing
increasfreedom movement, as they
ingly fought against social and cultural
degradation as well as class exploitation and to overthrow the colonial
oppressor.
The strivings, the struggles, the revolts of the people belonging to the
lower and untouchable castes in Tamil
society to improve their social position
form an important component of the
democratic struggle.
'Historical studies of the complex interaction in Tamil Nadu between caste
anld class under the modern colonial imThe major
pact have merely begun.
part of data available relate to the
changes over a century and a half in
of the
the socio-economic
position
masses drawn from the Nadar caste,
foirmerly a depressed caste known as
Shanars. The pioneering study is by
the American political scientist, Robert
L Hardgrave, Jr,86 a detailed probing
which lights up the field brilliantly in
spite of being somewhat naive in its
theoretical
certain
and in
sweep
assumptions about the forces of socioeconomic and political transformation.

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


Ilardgrave's empirical data concern
the masses belonging to a caste which
incltudes very large numbers of those
who "lived almost wholly from the
products of the palmyra, and the vast
majority... engaged in climbing"; and
sizeable sections who were already in
the beginning of the nineteenth century
active in regional trade.87
With the development of transport
and communication and new opportunities for expanding trade, the Nadars
fanned out north of the Tambaraparni
River into 'Maravar country' with jaggery, dried fish, and salt. Immigation
followed trade and this significant movement resulted in the creation of pettais,
fortified enclosures protecting their
trading interests, and new mercantile
settlements. The Nadars appear to
have settled in the early part of the
nineteenth century, according to the
evidence provided in Hardgrave's narrative, in six primary centres - Sivakasi, Virudhunagar, Tirumangalam, Sattankudi, Palayampatti and Aruppukottai
- known as the 'Six Towns of Ramnad'.
In these concentrations there developed
a stratum of enterprising merchants,
middlemen and moneylenders who accutmulatedsubstantial wealth. The bulk
of the masses belonging to this caste
grouping (which had a number of subbranches) continued to labour in extremely humble occupations and were subject to harsh socio-economic oppression; nevertheless, the formation of new
and rising classes closely tied to the
imnpactof British rule brought about
significant changes both socially and
politically in the region.
Almost without comprehending the
theoretical significance of his rich empirical data, Hardgrave is dealing with
the formation of a modern class, drawn
from a very depressed social section
ritually considered just above the untouchables, of petty bourgeois and
nourgeois sections involved in mercantile and moneylending activity. This is
the preparatory phase for the origins
of the bourgeoisie in the late nineteenth century and in the first quarter
of the twentieth century. A most interesting part of the stuidy is the consequential impact of this objective transformation, in terms of the stirrings of
large masses drawn from this particular
caste against social oppression. The
formation of loose mercantile associations in the settlements, of caste counIcils to administer communal funds and
administer corporate authority in other
respects, of exclusive temples and
schools. These are sketched by Hardgrave as part of the process of modern
socio-economic articulation.

Hardgrave's narrative identifies ani


initial process of imitating the Brahmanical ctustomsof the higher castes among
the more developed mercantile and
moneylending sections of the community
as a response to "the incongruity
between the economic position of the
Six Town Nadars and their low social
status".88 He also traces in detail the
conflicts that arose with the masses
drawn from the higher castes (especially
the Maravars,the numerically dominant
caste of the region) beginning in 1860
at Aruppukottai and Palayampatti. In
1872, a case was brought by the donminant Brahmin and Vellala interests of
Tiruchendur against seven Nadars for
entering the temple; in 1874, some
Nadars of Madurai unsuccessfully sued
in the court of the Second Class Magistrate of the town on the claim that
criminal force had been used by the
servants of the Meenakshi temple in
expelling one Mooka Nadan from the
temple; a similar case, brought two
years later at Tiruthangal in Ramanathapuram, was also unsuccessful.
The situation culminated in a series
of bloody and fratricidal clashes, with
the superintendent of police in Tirunelveli recording an 'unstable equilibrium',
which he gloated over thus: "Everywhere the lower castes are asserting
themselves, while denying the caste
below the right which they themselves
newly claim."89 With zamindars and
powerful landlords drawn from the
higher castes taking a strong hand in
all this, according to Hardgrave's
evidence,90 the situation developed towards a major conflagration - which,
starting from raids by a confederacy
drawn from a wide variety of castes
(who considered themselves antagonistic to the Nadars) on Nadar villages
in the vicinity of Sivakasi, culminated
in the murderous sacking of Sivakasi
on June 6, 1899.91 The large masses
of Maravars who formed the leading
force in the attack were sent in retreat,
but not before a substantial loss in
lives, dwellings, and property, had been
inflicted. The fighting once again
moved to the rural areas and when the
military was finally brought in, nearly
150 villages had been involved and a
few thousand houses destroyed.92
The response to all this was to strengthen the urge to form caste associations
believed to be for socio-economic uplift. Whereas the Kshatriya Mahajana
Sangam, formed by several prominent
merchants and traders congregating in
Madurai in 1895, never really got
going,93 15 years later a plenary session
of the caste association in Poraiyur in
Thanjavulrdistrict convened and hosted

An-nualNumber February 1979


t)y an educated and extremely wealthy
family of akbari contractors resulted in
a Tamil Nadu-wide caste association
of Nadars, the Nadar MahajanaSangam.
The association became extremely active
between 9Il17 and 1921, promoting an
upsurge of attempts to speed up educational activity (including education for
girls) and Nadar welfare and philanthropic activity.94 From then on, the
momentum of socio-economic and political transformation gained speed and
scale, with a strong push made for
securing educational opportunities and
government patronage. In addition to
schools and colleges, the Sangam was
instruimentalin founding libraries, reading rooms, and even a co-operative
bank.95
New antagonisms took shape and
suirfacedsporadically between the sharp
and powerful Nadar traders, middlemen and moneylenders and other sections of the people - which these
powerful interests attempted to ineet
by increasingly taking up the banner of
all-in Nadar unity and communal
uplift.96

In 1922, the first efforts to establish


mechanised production of matches by
two Nadar traders (with imported
German machinery) began to yield results in Sivakasi, but production quicklv
switched to hand processes in response
to economic factors caused by the higb
'cost of mechanised production and the
abundant availability of super-cheap
labour.97 From matches, the route of
productive activity that the aspiring
Nadar bourgeoisie took was fireworks
production and litho printing, introduced in 1930.98 Yet, the main character
of Nadar bourgeois activity remained
trade, with very little movement into
industrial spheres other than those
mentioned above.99
And what is most significant for our
purpose, a differentiated process of response to the developing political situation manifested itself. Whereas, earlier, the leaders of the Nadar caste organisation declared themselves as eternally loyal to the British Raj - with a
resolution of absolute feisance being a
set feature of Nadar conferences from
1910 on - and whereas even with aft
upswing in the freedom movement influential persons such as WPA Soundarapandian continued to articulate their
political positions via the non-Brabrmin
movement and the Justice party in
favour of the colonial Raj,100the myth
of Nadar political behaviour as a caste
bloc began to dissolve with the onset
of the first non-co-operation movement.
Ac Hardgrave sees it,
Today, in retrospect on the 1920)s
391

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


and early 1930s, many Tamilians
will speak of the solid support of the
Nadar community for the governIn fact, however, a major
ment.
portion of the Nadar community opposed the Justice party and gave its
wholehearted support to the Congress
and the non-co-operation movement.
It was not E V Ramasami Naicker
but Gandhi who captured the imagination

...

Mahajana

Nadar

The

Sangam... remained essentially an


organisation of the mr.erchantcommunity of Ramnad and Madurai. The
Sangam's support for the Justice party
reflected the solid suipportof the Six
Town Nadars for the non-Brahmin
party... The situation in Tinnevelly, however, was fundamentally
different . .. [here]. The Nadars pre-

sented a common Congress face to


the Justice Vellalas.

. ..

During the

1930s, fissures began to appear in


the solidity of the Ramnad Nadars
for the Justice

party

... The

Siva-

kasi Nadars were unwilling to remain


followers of a Virudhunagar clique,
and as the justice party began to take
on the colour of atheism in the. SelfRespect movement, the more conservative Sivakasi Nadars reacted with
profound

distaste. .. .

In

Virudhu-

nagar, the Justice leadership did not


go unchallenged, but opposition was
silenced by the overwhelming power
of the justice party group, in both
wealth and numbers. The western
portion of Virudhiinagar, 'the wrong
side of the tracks' at that time, was
the section in which many of the
poorer Nadars lived, together with
Muslims and other castes. Coolie
labourers and small shopkeepers, they
were a backward community in comparison with their educationally advanced and wealthy neighbours east
of the tank

. . ..

There was a strong

but rarelv voiced sympathy for

the

Congress.'0'

K KamarajNadar, later to become an


important leader of the Congress movement on a national scale, was brought
up on Virudhunagar's 'west side'. Beginning with defiant activity in the nonco-operation movement, braving the disfavour of the caste assembly for his
participation in the 1920 Vaikom satyagraha against the exclusion of untouchables from the temples, Kamaraj's long
and tangled political career began to
express the strength as well as the
glaring inconsistencies and weaknesses
of the Congress leadership of the
freedom movement and in relation to
social reform. Nevertheless, the story
of Kamaraj and his times represents a
sharp turn in the political situation
among the broad masses of the Tamil
people, which reduces to absurdity assumptions of watertight caste-based
political behaviour.
In contrast to Kamarajas an activist
of the freedom movement drawn from
the smaller trading interests of the
Nadar caste grouping, stands the public
life of W P A Soundrapandian, an ac-

Annual Number February 1979

knowledged leader of the caste-based Hinduism and religion itself. The idea
association who entered the camp of was popularised that
Brabmanical
the Justice party and yet retained his Hinduism was the invention of a small
active involvement in social refornm. clique in its selfish interests and
Apart from championing what came to needed the soil of ignorance, illiteracy,
be known as a programme of social up- and exploitation of the masses to
lift for Nadars, he made attempts to im- flourish. This was done with directness
prove relations between the caste orga- and imaginative polemical force. Innisation he led and other backward and gersollian rationalism was picked up
depressed communities. As a matter of and made use of repeatedly over the
fact, under his leadership, attempts years of development of the Self-Reswere made to have schools and temples pect movement, but Periyar's own
which were exclusively run for Nadars rationalism had a more vigorous atheist
thrown open to untouchables. Soundra- orientation and a stronger populist
pandian actively entered the Self. flavour, expressed in the celebrated
Respect movement under inspiration Periyar saying: "God does not at all
from E V Ramasami, militantly em- exist. The inventor of God is a fool.
ploying his position and influence to The propagator of God is a scoundrel.
take up such causes as the abandon- The worshipper of God is a barbament of the Sanskritic pretensions of an rian.9102
earlier generation, the affirmation of
With the kind of historical data
Dravidian Self-Respect within his caste, available today, it is clear that his
remarriage of widows, a ban on the use suyamariyathai iyakkam doctrine, after
of Brahmin priests for Nadar weddings, his break with the Congress, went far
and Self-Respect marriages.
beyond the bounds of philosophical
The combination of activism in the rationalism, embracing such wide demofreedom movement and a declining and cratic social concerns as: an attack on
ineffective concern with a mild brand of orthodox Hindu assumptions of 'superiosocial reform on one side, the combina- rity' and 'inferiority'; the right of action of support for the anti-national cess to temples and wells of all comJustice party and vigorous involvement munities and the rooting out of unin the Self-Respect movement on the touchability; the fierce caricaturing of
other - this sharp variance between Brahmanical mythologies; the diversion
two leading representatives drawn from of temple funds for non-religious purthe Nadar caste ranks expresses an poses; the conduct of marriages on the
essential feature of the overall political principle of Self-Respect (i e, rational
development in Tamil Nadu in that and equal consent between the man
and the woman) without the use of
epoch.
The historical data on the Nadars Brahmin priests and rituals, quite frehave been cited in detail to emphasise quently with Periyar himself officiating;
the kind of complicated objective pro- the abolition of all caste suffixes in
cesses which provided a backdrop fo names; the uplift of women and a ratiothe organised political activity of the nal approach to numerous other social
period as well as to Dravidian social evils in South India.'03 In particular,
reform efforts. To the extent that it drew the attempts to force the entry of
attention to the social, ritual and cul- depressed castes into temples and the
tural oppression of the njasses of the public ridicule of Hindu texts preachpeople of the non-Brahmin and lower ing an oppressive Brahmanical code'04
castes and made contact with real socio- differentiated Self-Respect social coneconomic processes, the radical trend cerns from the varieties professed by
represented by E V Ramasami uithin the Justice party.
the Dravidian social reform movement
At the annual Self-Respect conference
identified itself with the assertion of at Erode in May 1930, the movement,
democratic cultual elements in Tamil not only inscribed equal civil rights for
society. It expressed a radical challenge depressed castes and for women on its
to the social and cultural foundations banner, but went so far as to advocate
of this order.
measures to redistribute wealth within
Although non-Brabminism has been society.'05
the organising centre and most catchy
Baker's research suggests a firm
signboard of the movement that Periyar correlation between the radical Draviled over half a century, the content of dian social reform movement and a
the movement was by no means res- complex of socio-economic changes
tricted to that. His attack on Brah- taking place, by drawing attention to
manical pretensions developed on a the fact that Periyar's movement struck
wide front against the caste system, "deeper root in some of the towns that
superstition, ritual hierarchy, Manus- were being deeply disturbed by economniti, mythology, temple worship, mic change"'.l06 'Its headquarters were
393

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in Erode, Periyar's home town, and its
sweep extended to the two rising manufacturing centres, Madurai and Goimbatore, as well as Salem, Tiruchirapalli,
the port of Tuticorin, the towns of the
Chettinad area in Ramnad, some of ths
growing trading towns of thek, cotton
tract such as Virudhunagarand the new
industrial suburb of Madras city, Perambur.107 Baker makes another valuable
point when he remarks that the compromising "dependence on the patronage of certain leading Justicite politicians ensured that the movement's radicalism remained mostly rhetorical".'08
As it turned out, the contradictions
that appeared in the socio-economic and
political spheres'proved too much for
Periyar's Dravidian programme to
tackle in a consistently democratic way.
The prominence assumed by caste associations among sections which contributed a substantial and rising mercantile class - such as the Devangas of
Salem and Coimbatore, the Nadars, the
Komatis of the Andhra districts, the
Beri Chettiars of Madras - as well as
among castes which comprised wide
sections of the peasantry as well as
landlord interests, such as the Gounders, constituted a new social and
political phenomenon of the 1930s. The
spontaneous and embryonically organised anti-zamindar feelings and activity,1119 in the Tamil and the Andhra
areas demanded a response that could
link the militant social agitations of the
type led by Periyar with a firm democratic attack on feudal landed relations
and its attendant values.
While there was no question of the
intelligentsia or the bourgeois leadership of the Congress providing any such
programme, the actual historical development emphasised that neither could
it be provided by the camp. of Periyar
- for reasons that remain to be investigated in detail. In 'a word, the
Self-Respect movement could not sustain its social radicalism consistently,
much less extend it democratically to
the sphere of politics in order to develop a combined anti-colonial and anti.
feudal movement.
CONTEXT

OF NAITONAL

AND DEMOCRAIIC

ADVANcE
The larger context in which the SelfRespect movement worked out its course
throtugh the 1930s and 1940s was, ot
course, the growing mobilisation 91
very broad masses - above all the
working class and the toiling peasant
masses - under the banner of overthrowing the colonial oppressor. As
early as in 1931, Periyar "found that
many of his lieutenants were attracted

Annual Number February 1979

their separation from the anti-imperialist current, and when communists


arising out of the anti-imperialist struggle were able to attract or combine with
other democratic currents- notably in
tions"."10
So far as Periyar was concerned, he the Kerala and Andhra areas, but also
was clearly no successor to Jyotiba in pockets of Tamil Nadu Periya-r
Phule of Maharashtra- "the great moved into more and more opportunist
iconoclast democrat, the friend of the collaboration with those whose organispoor and oppressed" who spearheaded"a ing credo was servility before the
liberation challenge to the entire Hindu colonial oppressor.
Following the trouncing which the
society and to the colonial structure"
and "never wavered in his loyalty to remnants of the Justice party received
the masses, in giving priority to their aL the hands _of the Congress in the
interests".1"1 Nor was he cast in the Madras Legislative Assembly elections
mould of Javalkar who, in the 1930s, of 1937 - with all the bosses, including
refused to turn back to non-Brahmanism the Raja of Bobbili, P T Rajan (a big
but went ahead to combine the anti- feudal landlord of Madurai district), the
caste struggle with a championing ot Kumararaja of Venkatagiri, and A P
the peasant and anti-imperialist struggle Patro, defeated - Periyar took formal
- talking of a peasant war
against charge of that party in a desperate atcapitalism, of an independent peasant tempt to find his political moorings.
organisation, of the Russian revolution, The lesson that he drew from the rout,
and of a non-violent peasant army."2 and from the mass defection of JustiThe closest Periyar came to linking cites into the Congress camp or into
his militant social reform concerns with inactivity, was typical:
Now, tnany people change from party
an attack on feudal and semi-feudal
to party.... Since the recent foolish
agrarian relations and advocacy of
election has shown that all those
political power in the hands of the
who want jobs and posts should join
democratic masses was in the immediate
the Congress, now the people who
want positions and those who will
aftermath of his return from Europe
not have any respect if they do not
and the Soviet Union in the early 1930s,
have these positions and those who
when he temporarily espoused the rehave no other goal in life are fast
volutionary cause, participated in antijoining the Congress ....
It is my
moneylender and anti-zamindar actiopinion that we should feel happy
about
this ... (because) the Justice
vities, and, as Baker puts it (although
party is being purified.115
somewhat patronisingly), "preached reIn 1937-38, the working class of
volution throughout Tamilnad, erected
a 'Stalin Hall' to house a Self-Respect India was conducting several extensive
conference in Coimbatore, and gave the strikes for better conditions and for
Self-Respect movement the litany that national and social emancipation.'16 A
'capitalism, superstition, caste distinc- prominent feature of the labour movetions and untouchability must be rooted ment during this period was solidarity
strike-action and joint worker-peasant
out'."'1'3
Such activity was not sustained in demonstrations which succeeded in forgthe face of intimidation and repression ing the fighting unity of the working
by the colonial regime. "In 1934", as people, irrespective of religion, caste,
Baker portrays the weakening and sur- or nationality. The organised trade
render, "government started to bring union movement made rapid strides in
him to heel. They jailed him for a the Madras Presidency, particularly in
seditious article which, among other the Coimbatore industrial centre.U7 The
things, accused the Justice ministers of All India Trade Union Congress
'sharing the spoils' of government, ar- (AITUC) increased its strength among
rested him again for conniving in the the organised working class, made
publication of a revolutionary pamph- inroads into the strength of other
let, and, when they started in early organisations, and became the rallying
centre of the whole labour movement.
1935 to mop up all ... (communist and
leftist organisations in the province) A distinctive feature of the working
forced him to a recantation of his class action during this period was the
clearly political character of the
b)olshevik views."114
And, tragically, in a period when demands raised by vanguard sections.
the freedom movement began to make
The period 1937-39 was marked also
a big impact on the peasantry and other by the increased strength of the orgasections of the people, when certain nised peasant movement reflected in an
radical and fighting elements who, had increase in the membership of the All
once functioned within the confines of India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), although
the 'Non-Brahmin movement' overcame unevenly in South India."l8 The adby the idea of agitation and political
martyrdom,and some abandoned him to
join the Civil Disobedience campaign or
small undergroundrevolutionary associa-

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Annual Number February 1979

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

vance, which came in the wake of a democratic organisations. The protest


series of partial struggles against feudal movement against India's forced inlandlordism and imperialist oppression, volvement in the imperialist war devewas particularly striking in the Malabar loped on a broad scale, and a spontaneregion of the Madras Presidency.'19 OIus demonstration by workers in Madras
Following the formation of the Con- city on the first day of the war was a
gress Ministry headed by C Rajagopala- striking feature of this protest.'2' Unrest
chari in July 1937, the rural poor, under among the peasantry demanding lower
the leadership of the All Malabar Kar- rents and a moratorium on debts manishaka Sangham, launched mass strug- fested itself chiefly in the Andhra and
gles against landlordism and for agrarian Kerala regions. The glorious struggle
reform. The actions of the peasantry, of the Kayyoor peasantsT22which broke
which sharply exposed the class charac- out in March 1941 sharply expressed
ter of the Congress party and in parti- the contradiction between the rural
one side
and
cular its inability to carry out election masses on the
promises, played an important role in imperialism and landlordism ranged on
bringing about the final split within the other. The struggle of the nationthe Congress organisation between the alities - trapped within the Madras
'Left' and the 'Right' and in the emerg- Presidency and also within the princely
ence of an influential Communist party states - for the formation of autonomin the Kerala region, with leaders of ous states based on the linguistic and
the calibre of P Krishna Pillai, A K nationality principle assumed particuGopalan and E M S Namboodiripad.The larly acute forms among the rnajornonactive mobilisation of
agricultural Tamil nationalities in South India.
The objective change in the character
labourers and poor peasants - the bulk
of whom belonged to the lower and un- of the war into a people's war and the
touchable caste - was a feature of lifting of the ban on the Communist
mass organisation in only a part of the Party encouraged the development of
Presidency and, speaking in general, the kisan and trade union movements
did not occur in the Tamil-speaking extensively. The All India Kisan Sabha
areas during this period. Yet, it repre- steadily increased its membership during
sented a rising trend that certainly had the last three years of the war.123 In
an impact on the class configuration and South India, especially in the Andhra
the political development of South India and Kerala areas, the Kisan Sabha led
as a whole, including the Dravidar the struggle of the tenants and agricultural labourers against oppression by
Iyakkam.
The struggle of nationalities, in landlords and moneylenders and against
demanding an end to the hated system hunger and eviction. It was during this
of colonial Provinces and the formation period that the Kisan Sabha and the
of states based on the nationality prin- Communist movement began to take
ciple, was particularly advanced in root among the untouchable agricultural
South India during this period. The labourers of East Thanjavur.124
development of mass political activity
With the end of the war and the rout
that followed the formation of the pro- of the fascist aggressors, the class convincial governments, with all their class tradictions within the country sharpenlimitations, stimulated the national ed tremendously. The transfer of
movements of Andhra, Kerala and
power came in a situation of unpreKarnataka and, in an entirely different cedented mass revolutionary
upsurge.
way, the national movement in Tamil This upsurge was characterised by peaNadu. The Congress leadership paid sant revolts, the greatest of which
lip-service to the right of nationalities developed in
Telangana, general strikes
to form independent states, but tended of
workers, student strikes, the mass
in practice to oppose mass movements struggles of the
peoples of the 'native
in support of this democratic demand. states' and, above
all, the direct involveIt must be remembered too that stu- ment of the armed forces in the antidents became an organised force in the imperialist movement. Madras PresiPresidency in the fight for Independence, dency became an active scene of this
democracy and socialism precisely dur- mass revolutionary activity of 1946.
ing this period.
Militant demonstrations by workers,
It is true that the outbreak of the students, and the petty bourgeois masSecond World War affected the growth ses, in solidarity with the Royal Indian
and development of the fighting move- Navy (RIN) struggle in Bom-bay, took
ments of the toiling and democratic place in Madras city, Madturai,Tiruchi
masses and, in particular, the activity anid some other parts of the preand memrbershipof the Kisan Sabha.120 sidency.'25 Apart from these the strike
Nevertheless, the war could not stop struggle. of the South Indian Rlailway
or reverse the activity of the mnassand workers in August-S-eptember, and fhe

general strike of the Coimbatore textile


workers in November of that year, the
struggles of the agricultural labourers
and poor peasants in Kerala, culminating in the armed uprising of workers
and peasants in Punnapra-Vayalar,the
militant upsurge among untouchable
agricultural labourers in eastern Thanjavur and, above all, the Telangana
people's armed struggle - this antiimperialist and revolutionary upsurge
of the toiling and democratic masses
profoundly affected the character of
the political arena in the Presidency,
ushered in independence, and provided
the context in which the Dravidian
movement had to work out its line and
programme of action.
This experience has to be researched
in detail in order to draw sober lessons
about the course of development in
South India, but it is an absurd caricature indeed that reduces the mass
mobilisation of the late 1930s and 1940s
in Tamil Nadu to the mobilisation of
backward castes for patronage-"for a
greater share of government appointments, power and influence."'126 In
fact, the tendency of Western academic
researchers to speak of the behaviour
of the 'backward castes' in socio-psychological and manipulative terms
obscures the very essence of the political
development of the period: the intensification and expansion to new territory
of class contradictions and the increasing
political initiative and involvement of
the toiling and democratic masses drawn
from various castes. The edge of this
initiative and involvement though the
late 1930s and the 1940s was directed
against imperialism. This is not at all
to deny specific weaknesses in the
organisation and consciousness of the
people in South India or in India as a
whole, or to deny the fact that particular sections belonging to the lower
and untouchable castes were driven by
an oppressive social order and influenced by opportunist leaders to fall
victim to the imperialist policy of
'divide and rule'. Such weaknesses and
setbacks in the anti-imperialist, democratic and revolutionary movement
must, however, be examined in a scientific historical perspective.
It was remarkable that, through all
this, Periyar was able to plough his
isolated furrow of the 'Non-Brahmin
movement' with the slogan of Tamil
Nad for the Tamilians', cut off from
the broader all-India currents. The
anti-communism of this movement was
becoming more pronounced dulring this
phase. When war broke out in 1939,
th-e coablitionof the rump of the Justice
party and the Seif-Respecters unasha-

-quA

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Aniual Number February 1979

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL W1tEKLY


denoting caste to names should
mneedlysupported the war policy of the
be given up, now and for the
colonial government and, leaning upon
future.
the Muslim League demand for Pakis(4) The name of the South India
tan, emphasised its own demand for a
Liberal Federation or Justice
separate Dravida Nadu12 7- loyal to
party should be changed to Drathe British Empire and to be directly
vida Kazhagam immediately.
admiiinisteredby the Secretary of State
for India.
in fact, in a certain sense, the f orThe ill-advised decision by the ination of the Dravida Kazhagam itself
Rajagopalachari ministry to introduce in 1944 out of the decrepit Justice party
Ilin(di
as a compulsory
language in
was a concession to the mood of the
schoo's and then, when the first anti- titmes. Another round of mass efflux of
Hindci agitation was organiised by the Justicites to the Congress in the wake
Dravidian movement, to use the notori- of 1937 pointed to a cleai trend. To win
ous Criminal Law Amendment Act over the masses in a radically changed
against the demonstratorsl28 gave situation, the DK adopted a new poliPeriyar and his foflowers an opportunity tical signboard and new slogans. It
to pick up a sensitive cultural issue and made a desperate attempt at a political
employ some of the methods of agita- recovery among the masses by offering
t on developed within the freedon them a programme that attempted to
movement against a Congress Minis- subsume their class and national optry.'29 The occasion also witnessed, as pression to their
ritual and social ophas already been noted, the first ex- pression by Brahmins and 'Aryans' as
plicit demand issued for a separate an explanation of their unacceptable
Dravida Nadu for Dravidians.
condition.
The nature and demand of the times
Periyar's political perspective in this
phase became clear from other kinds intensified the differences within the
of issues he was chamtipioning: for ex- Dravida Kazhagam, resulting in the
ample, as late as in 1940, he was peti- surfacing of two conflicting political
tioninig the Governor of Madras with lines. One line, represented by Periyar,
the complaint that the communal rule sut itself in frontal opposition to the
movemnentfor Indian Independence and
hal not lbeen observed properly.'30
Such a line could not but have a demanded freedom from 'Brahmin Raj'.
serious impact on those (including a The other trend, represented by Annapart of the leadership) who had been durai, came out for accomimodationwith
1umbilised under the banner of the the freedom struggle even while conti"Dravidar Iyakkam"-even
as the line nuing to focus on the demand for freepursued by the Justice party in its dom from 'Aryan' Congress yoke. Periheyday, during the 1920s, had its own yar's rigid world-view and the organisaim.pact, bringing aboout a significant tional methods he pursued, contributed to
defection to the Congress. During this thui development of these differences.
per;od of ugly collaboration with all Iln 1947, Annadurai took the party close
that was pro-imnperialistand anti-demo- to a split by publicly disclaiming
cratic, Annadurai (who had become atn identification with Periyar's notorious
important leader next only to Periyar) declaration that Independence Day was
expressed his political differentiation a 'day of imiourning'by noting in coniwith the policies of the boss. Grasping tortionist fashion:
the need for a less compromising poliWe, the, Dravidians, have been emphasising that we should not be under
tical policy and for fresh efforts to reBritish rule ever since 1939. Even at
vive the movement among the mnasses,
a time when the country was in ferhe preposed, at the Salem conference of
ment with anti-Hindi agitation, in
the Justice party in 1944, four resoluthe Madras conference we demanded
tions which indicated the response of
complete freedom and autonomy for
us. For years it has been our endeava significant section within the Draviour and cherished wish to be free
dian movement to the mood of the
from the foreign yoke. But today,
times:
after abolishing alien rule, the Con(1) Those who had been granted
gress is trying to impose Aryan domihonorary titles by the British
nation. We oppose the Congress
solely on this grotund.132
should immediately surrender
them, andl nobody should receive
Despite conciliatory moves and very
such titles in future.
temporary truces, the two trends moved
(2) Those who held honorary posi- irrevocably towards a split in newly
tions such as Honorary Presid- indlependentIndia. Following the public
ency Magistrate, leader of the controversy with Periyar over the Inlocal panchayat and so on should dlpendenice, isstue, Annaduirai and his
resign these posts.
supporters actually withdrew themselves
(3) The habit of attaching suffixes from active involvement in party affairs,

boycotting even the conference organised for a separate Dravida Nadu in


October 1947.133Between this time and
October 1948, a final effort to bring
about a compromise yielded some
results, with Annadurai proclaimed as
Periyar's successor at the Erode conference of the party.134
However, following 70-year-old Periyar's decision to marry a 29-year-old
woman and anoint her his 'successor'
-which
was made out to be in outrageous contravention of the principles
of Self-Respect -Annadurai
and his
followers abandoned the DK and formed
a new political party. The final split in
1949, which brought a whole stage in
the development of the Dravidar Iyakkam to a close, had been brought about
bv a combination of factors. Among
these were differences over political
positions, over tactics, over the issue
of participation in elections, over
organisational questions (specifically
inner-party democracy), and over political morality and style.
The essence of the split, in short,
was a significantly divergent response
w ithin the
Drauvidir Iyakkamnto the
new challenges of political development
in independent India.
IMPACT

OF

COMPR}OMISING

LINE

OF

BOURGEoIS LEADERSHIP OF FBEEDQM


STRUGGLE

While placing the various streams


emerging from the 'Non-Brahmin moveinent' -and especially the Self-Respect
stream-in
the historical perspective
of the moobilisation,in phases, of the
whole people against the colonial oppressor, it is vital to draw the proper
conclusions about the character of the
leadership of the freedom struggle.
We have already noted how, in the
earlier phases of the freedom awakening in South India, the intelligentsia
whieh played such a prominent role
in giving the movement its shape failed
to provide consistently democratic
responses to the social, economic, and
political issues involved. While the
Western-educated sections of
the
intelligentsia who came under the influence of the bourgeois enlightenment
compromised on a whole range of issues
connected with the people's quest for
liberation, the more militant sections
which asserted themselves in the 1890s
and the first decade of the twentieth
century and identified themselves with
the aims and interests of the rising
hourgeosie attacked British colonial
ritle compromised by making common
catise with the old feudal order and
its institutions. This section explained
all this as directing fire against the
397

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enemy first.13-5 The refusal to take up

crucial class issues, such as the fight


against usury and feudal landlordism
and the combating of the values of the
old order (including caste and oppressive hierarchical social structure),proved
a serious obstacle to unifying the masses
oil an anti-imperialist and democratic
programme.

And it was not as thoulgh the compromising characteristics of the intelligentsia and the aspiring bourgeoisie
were confined to the Brahmin and higher
caste sections.
The nascent sections
of the intelligentsia springing from the
lower castes were strongly asserting
democratic aspirations by challenging
their own inferior social position, but
the grave limitation was that, time
and again, they failed to go beyond
their own narrow worlds of caste and
community and link themselves to
b)roader democratic currents. In Tamil
Nadu, at any rate it is clear that during
this transitional period the radical and
advanced sections who found a new
path were more than matched numerically and in terms of political significance by those who drifted into opportunism or were diverted from the central
goals. B T Ranadive puts the matter in
clear perspective in relation to the experience of the Non-Brahmin movement
in Maharashtra:
The compromising and uncompromising trends in a democratic revolution always clash fiercely, as they di(d
here. Th-e participants had their own
subjective consciouisness 0f fighting
a struggle between Brahmans and
non-Brabmans. Buit deen historical
forces were at work and the tendency
to compromise

vi th feuidalismiiclashed

with the tincempromising trend which


manifested itself as a wholesale opposition to the caste system and
cleminanded all-rouiind liberation .

If Periyar spearheaded the uncompromising trend of overthrowing the


old hierarchical social order for a time,
it was inevitable that, given the class
limitations, his movement would be
fairly quickly swamped by opportunism. The camp commanded by Periyar
did not, of course, remain stagnant or
unaffected. While certain elements
broke away to merge with the most
advanced democratic and revolutionary
currents (as has been noted), by far the
preponderant section becan-e part of
another type of political development.
Ranadive portrays this lucidly, again in
relation to Maharashtra:
With the passage of time and the
growing grip of opportunism, the
earlier form of anti-Brahman opposition becomes its real content.... The
newv intelligentsia, nurtured among
the non-Brahmans, the product of
WesteP~n educaticen4, gzvvrs exact
wseight acts as az bourgeois intelligentsia gives ulp the pConeer's
unlcompr-omlisingprinciples, merges

in.ide

the Congress ... suppresses


by Rajagopalachari and others (who
the people and keeps the castes in
existence. This is a histoi.:cal latw. had the firm support of Gandhi) and
the tendencies championed by E V
The intelligentsia springing,
further.
friom the most oppressed communi- Ramasami within the freedom moveties sooner or late accepts the frame- inent widened rapidly through the
wourk of b)o,urgeoisdemocracy, satis- 1920s. The latter's
militant activities in
fies itself with a general declaration
of rq-Hts, leaving the masses in the thle Vaikam protest against untouchability'41 - which earned for him the
lurch. (emphasis in original.)134
title of Vaikam Veera (Hero of Vaikam)
If these weaknesses and gaps could
frcm his admirers - had been far
he seen clearly in the phases of the
ahbad, in terms of significance as well
development of the freedom movement
as tactics, of the line worked out, in
until the early 1920s, they became much
person, by Gandhi. And the difference
more pronounced after that -despite
was only too glaring on the issue of
the fact that Gandhi and the new
separate dining at a traditional school
bourgeois leadership of the Congress
in Kallidaikuruchiin Tirunelveli district
marked a significant change from the
run on behalf of the Congress by WS
old orthodox leadership.
Iyer, a former rivolutionary terrorist.
The compromising character of the
The fact that as late as in January 1925
Congress leadership in the Madras th
e Congress leadership of the PresidPresidency could be seen in the conency was vacillating and temporising on
fusion and vacillation over Council
thi- issue of non-Brabmins being forced
boycott and a series of tactical questions
to eat apart from Brabmins, could not
affecting the freedom struggle. It lay
but be expected to embitter matters.142
in the failure to adopt a meaningful
The final break came in the Kancheepuprogramme of agrarian reform. The
ram conference of the Tamil Nad Conweakness was also sharply exposed in
gress Committee in November 1925,
the approach to sensitive social deafter two resolutions moved by E V
mands. It is significant that a resoltuRamasami
recommending that the Contion moved at a meeting of the Madras
gress should recognise the principle of
Provincial Congress Committee in June
commuLinal representation for non1920 by V 0 Chidambaram Pillai (reBrabrins in public services and renowned for his swadeshi activities earlier
presentative bodies were disallowed by
in the century), to the effect that the
the chairman.1'3
Congress should champion the demand
The conservative positions of Rajafor secuiring proportional representation for non-Brahmins in the public gopalachari and his close associates on
services and representative bodies in the question of Hindu social hierarchy,
the presidency, was adopted most varnashramadharma, and quite explihesitantly and after being watered citly caste, and their frequently exdown substantially.1'8 The inability to pessed conviction that Vedanfic Hinduface the problem frontally or place the isin was a guarantee *ofsocial discipline,
emphasised in Copley's
isslle in clemocratic perspective became have been
more and more emphasised duLringthe research into Rajagopalachari'spolitical
next half decade. It took the form of career.144The backward-looking attitude
reluffing repeated attempts by non- was expressed, decades later (in 1953),
Birahmin sections within the Congress in the move to promote education acto have the issuie of proportional re- cording to traditional vocational backpresentation for their castes clinched; ground. This drew a barrage of justified
bypassing a move at a party committee accusations that it was based on Brahmeeting in April 1922 to set up a com- manical and high-caste prejudices
mittee to investigate and recommend against the masses of the lower castes and
ways to bring abouit a better under- it triggered off an inner-party revolt to
Rajagopalachari as Chief
standing and relationship between replace
Brahmins and non-Brabmins; and deve- Minister.'45
loping a quarrel in November 1922 at
Even more significantly, there is firm
a Congress meeting in Tiruppur (near evidence today that E V Ramasami's
Coimbatore) over a resolution to allow highly subjective alienation from the
Nadars entry into the temple;.139
freedom movement on account of difC Rajagopalachari,a prominent 'no- ferences with the top Congress leaderchanger' and a close colleague of E V ship was provoked and fanned by a
Ramasami's during this phase, appeared series of public positions adopted by
tc embody all the conservative and Gandhi (especially during his visits to
compromising traits of the bourgeois Madras) on social questions. For exCongress leadership and came under ample, Irschick cites the instances of
grave suspicion specifically for clinging Gandhi telling a gathering in April 1921
on to Brabmanical social hierarchicai that "in Madras I have not a shadow of
institutions and values and for his doubt that Hinduism owes its all to
trend of appointments to party posts.140 the great traditions that the Brahmins
The gap between the forces represented have left for Hinduism.. , the Brahmins

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have declared themselves and they


ought to remain the custodians of the
pturity of our life"; 146 reiteratinig i
March 13925 that "if youi but follow
Varnashrama Dharma in its spirit, we
shall cease to he puiny individuals anL
we shall walk in the fear of God";7
and clarifying (in the wake of criticism
of his positions in the Tamil districts)
in 1927 that, being a non-Brahmin himself, all that he wanted to emphasise
was that "VarnashramaDharma is not
an unmitigated evil but....one of the
foundations on which Hinduism is buiilt
..(and)
earth".'48

defines

man's

mission

on

By no means confined to words and


actually converging with the highly
provocative

varnashramadhrama

move-

ment being conducted in Tamil Nadu,


the conservative stance adopted by the
provincial and national leadership of
the Congress on sensitive social issues
hears a heavy responsibility, indeed for
the separation of Self-Respect activists
fromnthe freedom ranks.
1he lesson, therefore, is clear beyond
dispuite in the light of historical data
available on modern political development in SouithIndia. The compromising
bourgeois leadership dared not champion the agrarian revolution and attack
the basis of the old order and its institutions and values. It failed consistently
to advocate democratic solutions to
unite the masses and to work out
tactics to promote their unfettered
strtuggle to overthrow both the colonial
structure and the old social order. It
couild not unite all the democratic currents in society. Only the working class,
guiided by Marxism-Leninism,

5
6

couild do

that. And, while the working class


movement linked itself more and more
assertively in the advanced phases of
the freedom struggle, with various other
dei-mocratic currents- including left
tendlencies in the Congress as well as
from the ranks of the non-Brabmin
movement, the State people's progressive
aspirations, anti-caste agitations, and
the peasant movements - its advance
has, to this day, not been rapid enough
or on such a scale as to wrest the political initiative in the land of the Tamils
from the organisations of the Dravidian
movement.

7
8

.0
1

I1

Notes

I The hypothesis of the Dravidian

movement as a political effect of


the transformation of 'primordial
sentiment' was put forward by
Rolbert L Hardgrave, Jr, in "The
D,ravidian Movement", Popular
Prakashan, Bombay, 1965; and
variouis others have followed it
up. The thesis of 'cultural nationalism' is basic to Eugene F
Irschick's "Politics and Social CoInflict in South India: The Non-

12

Brahman Movement and Tamil


Separatism, 1916-1929", Oxford
University Press, Bombay, 1969,
and has been adventurously developed by Marguierite Ross Barnett
in her detailed studclv,"The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in
South India", Princeton Universitv
Press, Princenton, New Jersey,
USA, 1976. For a detailed (and
somewhat polemical) critique of
Barnett's work, see N Ram, 'Prehistory and hTistorv of the DMK',
pp 59-91 in Social Scientist, December 1977, No 65.
S Vedaratnam, "A Plea for Understanding: A Reolv to the Critics
of the DTravidaan Proerassive
Federation", Vanguard Publishinq
House. KancheepuLram(undated,
probably written in 1951), p 3.
S,ee Ytiri Krasin. 'Some Oniestions
of the Metbodolocy of Political
Thinking' in "Time, Space and
Wl-itics
Soviet Stuidies in the
Political Sciences", Published bv
Soci(77 Sciencees Toda,; Editorial
Board, USSR Academv of Sciences. Moscow, 1977, especiallv
no 40-45.
The maior academic stuidlies of
the movement are. anart from the
stuidies hv Harderave, Irsehick
and Tarnett mentio-ned ahrnve.
Christopher Tohn Baker's "The
Pnlities o f Sou1th Tndia, 19201937'. V;kas P`iblisbing Houise.
New Delhi. 1976: and a recent
addition. Anita Die'hl's "Perivar
, V Ramaqami A Studv of the
Tnfluienceof a Personality in Contemporary Soluth India". B T Piblications New Delhi, 1978.
The stiudies bv Trschick and
Barnetf are referred to here.
R nStlntbaralinnam,"Politics an(d
and Nationalist Avakening in
South Tndia, 1852-IR91", the
Universitv of Ari7ons Press, Tueson, Arizona, USA. 1974.
u.untharalingam,
cited above, preface, n xiv.
Sep "A Contemporarv History of
India", edcted bY V V Bialabulse0ovieb: and A M Dvakov. TJSSR
Acadlemv of Sciences. published
l.v Peonle's Puiblishinq House
New Delhi, 1964. nn 1-15. The
onaninc wZorkof K Kailazanathv.
head of the Denartment of Tarnil
at the TaffnaUniversity. Sri Lanka,
mnichtbe expected to throw completelv new liebht on this area
when it is puiblished.
1Rarnett,cited above.
Barnett, cited above p 8.
1B T Ranadive makes this point in
1kis review article. 'Toward,s ani
Understanding of the Non-Brabman Movemnent',a critiouie of
(G-ailOmvedt's studv, "Cultural
Revolution in Colonial Society The Non-Brabman Movement in
Western India, 1873-19,30", Scientific Socialist Education Trust,
B3ombay,1976, in S9cial Scientist,
March 1978, No 68, p 78.
R Temple, "Men and Events of
My Time",

London,

1882,

cited

l)y Suntharalingamp 7.
1.3 These are dealt with, unevenly
and wvith differring emphases, in
Suntharalingam, Irschick, Barnett,

and Baker (cited already); and


also C J Baker and D A Washbrook, "South India: Political
instituitions and l'olitical Change,
1880-1940", Macmillan (India),
Delhi, 1974. Washbrook's attack
on naive, mega-caste-based models
and iinterpretations of
South
Indian society quickly demolishes
the abstract theoretical foundation
on which academics like Barnett
btiild their case. Mega-lables
like 'Non-Brahmin', or
even
'Vanniya Kula Kshatriya', did
not represent the essence of social
reality, although they were certainly derived from a complex
soc,al reality. These lables were
a(lopted for specific purposes
which can be understood in the
cnritext of larger economic, social
anti political conditions. Washbrook and Baker criticise some of
the superficialities and untested
assumption inflicted on existing
academic studies of South Indian
society and political development,
hut their own standpoint is basically pro-imperialist andclirected
towards covering up the connection between the comnlex political development of a historical
epoch and the principal contradiction
between British imperialism and the masses of the people
Of India.

14 See Suntharalingam,pp 151-153.


15 MacdrasMail, August 21, 1878.
cited by Suntharalingam,p 152.
16 Madras Mail, August 5,1878, cited
by Suntharalingam,p 153.
17 AMadrasMail, September 5, 1878.
cited by Suntharalingam,p 153.
18 See analysis of "Hindu Revivalism
and the Age of Consent Bill Controversv" by Stuntharalingam,pp
.288-337.
19 Trsehick, "IntellecttualBackgrouind
of Tamnil Separ-atism",in stiudv
citecl ahove, pp 275-.310.
20 IrTschick,p 279.
21 Ib`il.
22 Ibid.
9.3 Irschick, pp 279-280.
24 Jrschick, pp 280-281.
25 Irsehick, p 281.
26 K Srinivasa Raii, "The Crisis in
India", Madras, 1911, cited bv
Jrschick p 41.
27 Suintharalingamp 320.
28 Suintharalingam,p 328.
29 Suntharalingam,p 334.
30 Srinivasa Rasi, cited in Irschick,
p 41.

31 Srinivasa Rau, cited in Irschick,


p 41.
32 C Sankarap}Nair, "Two Notable
Lectuires", ead C Krishnan, Cal'cit, 1910, p 39, cited by Irsehick.
p 42.
33 Cited by Irsehick, p 42.
34 Irsehick, p 42.
35 Madras Mail, September 23, 1916,
citedi bv Irschick, p 44.
36 New India, February 24, 1916,
cited by Irschick, pp 44-45.
.37 Irschick, p 44.
38 The Hindu, September 17, 1917.
.39 See Irschick, pp 44-52.7
40) Barnett, p 27.
41 Irschick, pp 12-19.
42 Irschick, pp 12-13.
43 Great
Britain,
Parliamrentary
Papers, Volume XXI, "Royal
AA1

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44

45

46
47

48
49
50

51
53,
53
54
55
556
57
58
59
6)0
61
62
633
64
65
r6
67
68
69
70
71

72

Public SerCommission on the


II,
Volume
Appendix
vices",
to
Minuites of Evidence relating
the Indian and Provincial Services
takeni in Madras fronm januLary 8
to 17, 1913, cited by irsehick, pp
13-14.
GO 1123, October
23.
1917,
Orclinarlv
Home (Miscellaneous),
Series.
Government of Madras.
cite(l l)v Irschick, nn 1.3-15.
GO 22, jantiary 21, 1919 Public.
of
Ord;narv Series, Government
pp
Madras, cited by Irschick,
18-19.
Ihid.
has been taken
The hypothesis
from
over withont
(liscussion
Loniisi Diinioiot, '"IIom(oIlierarchicus: An Essav on the Caste Sy sof
Chicago
tem", University
See BarPress,
Chicago, 1970.
nett, pp 28-29.
This is the essence of Barnett's
arguminent in pp 3-84.
Dravidatn. qu-)ted in Irschick, p
51.
C N Annadturai, speech delivered
at the reception accordled by the
Justice T)artv in Madras on Apr il
20, 1967, in "Occasional Speeches
of Anna" edited bY A K Moorthv
and G Sankaran, Anna Publishing
pp
Ihouise, Thanfavur, 1975-76,
49-51.
and
cited
Baker
Washbrook,
earlier.
Baker, pp 32-33.
Baker, pp 26-27.
Baker, p 33.
Irsehick, p 48.
Irschick, p 51.
Trschick, p)p 61-62.
New India, December 22, 1977,
cited bv Irschick, p 68.
Madras Mail, October
21, 1918.
citedl bv Irschick, n 1.35.
Irschick, p 135.
Trschick, pp 137-138.
Trschick, p 150.
Irschick, pp 150-151.
Trschick, pT)p 151-152.
Trschick, p 158.
Trsclick, pp 159-170,
Trschick, p 178.
Trschick, np) 18(0-182.
D-avidan, September
19, 1921.
cited bv Irschick. n 183.
Justice, Februiar-v 13. 1922, cite(d
bv Irschick, p 183.
has been
Verv little research
puiblishecl on this imDc)rtant experience of a major stru-ggle led
by the first trade union in India,
For
the Madras Labouir Union.
a sketchv account, see C Revri.
"The Indian Trade Union Movement: An Outline Historv, 1880New
Lonsrman,
1947", Orient
Delhi, pp 90-91: an(d for an undisciissi-m of the issutes
critical
involved, Irschick, np 189-191.
Justice, Sentembrer 7, 1921, cite(d

1)y Irschick, p 190.

73

74
75
76
77
78
79

See opinion of L;onel Davidson,


Govern
HlonmeMember of the
ment of Ma(dras, cite(d l)v Irschick, pp 190-191.
Q)uotedl in Irschick, p 192.
Irsehick, pp 192-1933.
Irsehick, p 258.
Irseh ick, pp 262-26.3.
Irschick, pp 313-317.
The Hindu4 (weekly edition), July

8()
81
SS
83
84
85

p
7, -1927, cited by; Irschbik,
317.
JrSchick, p 320.
Irschick, p 341.
Irschick, p 332.
Reu-o!t,. Jutne 23, 1929, cited by
Trschick, p 3.31.
R P Dutt, India Today, People's
Publishing Hcuse, Bombay, 1949,
? 30.3.
see B T
connec*ion.
Tn
this
Bana(live's criticism of Omvedt in
article cited earlier,
the review

123
124

mp 89-91.

Rohert L Hardgrave, "The NaThe Political


dar-s of Tamiland:
in
Cuiltture of a Community
Universitv
Oxford
Change",
Press, Bomhoav. 1969.
87 Hard(lrave, "Nadars", p 94.
Ilardierave, p 106.
H
9in Maduira an(l
89 "Dis-iurbances
Tinnevelly", cited bv Hardgrave,
"Nadars", pp 110-111.
9Q0 Hard(-,rave, "Nadars", n 111.
91 Hardgrave, "Nadars", pT 115-116.
92 Hardgrave, "Nadars" -p 118.
93 Hardgrave, "Nadars", n 131.
94 Hardgarave, "Nadars", n 132.
95 Har(dacrave, "Nadars", n 147.
96
Hardcrave, "Nadars", p 147.
97 Hardgrave, "Nadars", n 150.
98 Hardgrave, "Nadars". npo 150-151.
99 Hardgyrave, "Nadars" p 151.
"Nadars", pp 174100 Hardgrave,
175.
pp 184"Nadras",
101 Hardgrave,
186.
cited
102 Quoted by
Anita Diehl,
earlier, p 39.
103 Baker, cite(d earlier, p 83.
104 Baker, p 192.
105 Baker, p 192.
103 Baker, p 192.
86

107

Baker,

108
109
110

Baker, p 192.
Baker. pp 200-211.
The Hindu, Anril
and 7,

192.

and

October

7, juily 2, 3
1921:
27,

125
136

197
128

19
1,0
1I
1.32
19.
1:.4
1.35

see Ni-ranjana, "The Stars Shine


PBrightly", translated
from the
Kannada l)y Tejaswini Niranjana,
People's Publishing
House, New
1.977. Also T V KriDelhi,
shoan, "Kerala's First Communist:
Life of 'Sakhavu' Krishna Pillai",
CPI publlcation, New Delhi, 1971,
p) 88.
Balabuschevich and Dyakov, pp
391-392.
Kisan Sabha
and
Commutnist
efforts to organise the agricultural
Thanjavur
labourers of eastern
after the
began
seriouslv soon
First Congress of the CPT held in
Bombay in May 1943. The decis on to concentrate in this vanguard aerarian area in Tamil Nadi
was followed un in a concrete
of the
way
after the meeting
Central Kisan Council at Bombay
For a discusin Auigtust 1943.
sion of some the objective and
promoting
ilibjective conditions
the rise of p Kisan movement in
see
this part of Tamil Nadu,
Saraswvathi Menon, 'Certain Features of the Historical Development of Thaniavur Kisan MoveInternlay of Class and
ment:
published elseCaste Factors',
wvhere in this issue.
The Hindu, February
See
2.3.
26, 27 and 28, 1946.
Barnett, pp 48-60.
Barnett, p 53.
See A R H Coplev, "The Political Career of C Raiagopalachari,
Macmillan
(India),
1937-1954",
Madras, 1978, pp 97-109.
Ibid.
Btairnett, p 65.
Barnett, p 66.
C N Annadliirai in Dratr;ida Nadu,
cited by Barnett,
.Aurrust 1947,
p 68.
Barnett, p 69.
Barnett, p 69.
B T Rana(live, cited
earlier,
np 85-86.
B T Ranadcive, p 88.
ibid.
MaldrasMail, june 26, 1920, cited
bv Irschick, p 267.
'See Irschick, pn 267-268.
S; tamparanar, "Tamilar Talaivar",
fouirth edition, Erode. 1960, cited
bv Trschick, p 268.
Barnett,
)Tn 268-269:
Irschick,
p 36; and Baker, 'Leading up to
Career of
the Early
Perivar:
in
F V
Ramasami Naicker',
South
Asia",
"TL(ac1ership in
Vikas
edited by B N Pandey,
New
Delhi,
Publishing Houise.
1977, pp 513-514.
For- accotunts, see Trscbick, pp
269-271: and Baker, "Leading up
cited above, ppJ
to Perivar... "
515-516.
Irschick, pp 271-272.
See esrnec'ally pn 29-.33 and pp
281-286 in Cooley, cited earlier.
Copley, pp 283-286.
Thie Hindu, April 11, 1921, cited
lv Irschick, p 337.
The Hinduz, March 23S, 1925, cited
by Irschick, p 337.

K Balarl andayuthtam, "rica


Valkkai Varalarni", Madras,
1"I
1966, all cite(d by Baker, n 193.
1i37
111 B T Ranadive, cited earlier, pp
1.3.8
78-83.
112
See B T Ranadive p) 89.
13N
of
This phase
113 Baker. p 193.
140
E V Ramasarni's nolftieal activitrequires to he researched in munch
vreater detail than has been done
141
in the
academic stuidies cited
here.
B
1 A 'Raker.
p 193.
115 Oiioted bv Barnett, -p 67-68.
and Dvakov,
116 See Balabuschevich
ed. cited earlier. no 320-393.
o
117 Ibid.
321. For more (letails,
see N C Bhocendranath, "DevelopmeTt of the Textil.e Incdustry 142
ini Malras (Upto 19.50)", Univer1957, pn 236silv of Madras,
953.
118 Balabiischevich and Dvakov, eci, 1413
o 326.
144
119 Prakash
Kar-at, 'Th e Peasant
1934145
in
Malabar.
Movement
Septem19.40', Social Scientist,
146
her 1976, No 50.
120 B5alabulschevich and Dyakov, pp
147
.389-.392.
121 Ibid, p 370.
148 The Hindu (weekly ed), September 15, and October 277, 1927,
122 For- an outstanding novel based
cite l by Irschick, p 388.
experience,
on this revolutionary
and

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