தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Caste & the Tamil Nation

S. Ranganathan, Ph.D.
5 June 2006

Note by tamilnation.org We publish here in full a communication that we received from Dr.S.Ranganathan. We do so because the matters that he has raised are important issues that concern the whole question of the Tamil national identity and its growth. Some of Dr.Ranganathan's comments may have sprung from a misunderstanding of that which we ourselves believe - and that may not be surprising, given that this website contains more than 5000 web pages. The page on  “Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins” contains articles written by many different authors and expressing different points of view. However, may we say at the outset that we ourselves agree with much of what Dr.Ranganathan has said and in particular the need to be inclusive and to bring together everybody who is a Tamil. Dr.Ranganathan's comments  (though sometimes couched in 'combative' style) deserve a detailed response from us and we give that response below.


My dear Tamil brother tamilnation.org,

While searching the web for something, I stumbled on your website. First, I was ecstatic; I was born in Tamil Nadu and I was always very proud to be a Tamilian. However, after reading your article “Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins”, I was shocked and saddened to find that it is far from what your Mission Statement claims. It was venomous, vindictive, vitriolic and vituperative.

I happened to be born as a Tamil Brahmin. However, I entirely agree with you that about fifty or so years ago, the Brahmins (well, at least some of them) did manipulate other castes to their benefit. Nevertheless, I believe we the younger generation are paying the price even though we do not have those same views. I remember, as a boy growing up in Tamil Nadu, I used to be terrified by the goondas of Mr. EV Ramaswamy Naicker (“Periyar”), who went out of their way to terrorize the poor Brahmins by cutting their thread, cutting off their hair, harassing the women….. the list goes on. While I admit that EVR did a great service to our society by bringing out the inequalities, the way he went about in achieving it was horrible. I have the following questions:

1. Why are you not considering the Brahmins also as Tamils? We may have different lifestyles; yet we ALL are Tamils.

2. Why are you always singling out the Brahmins for all the atrocities of the past? In fact, there were more atrocities committed by other higher castes than Brahmins.

3. How come you don’t give credit to thousands of Brahmins who fought against castes and for the advancement of the lower castes? I can name Rajaji, Mr. Vaidyanatha Iyer (of freedom movement) of Madurai, to name a few famous ones; there were hundreds of them who were not in the limelight.

4. You don’t mention about the “Tamil Thaatha”, Dr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer; the great Tamil Poet, Bharatiyar; all my Tamil teachers in High school were Brahmins who loved the Tamil Language and sacrificed lucrative careers to pursue a poorly paid teaching job in Tamil.

4. How come the so-called Tamilians are not reading the beautiful and pure Tamil poetries sung by the Alwars and the Nayanmars.

5. Do you know that all the Alwars and Nayanmars are NOT Brahmins and yet, all of them are worshipped as saints.

6. Instead of talking about the inequalities in a peaceful manner, why propagate venomous propaganda, which benefits nobody?

I am completely against the nonsensical view of this Aryan-Dravidian concept. Take two people in Tamil Nadu; one a Brahmin and the other not. Look at them; they both pretty much look the same; you cannot tell the difference. Even if there were Aryans, what we have today is a mixture of Aryan-Dravidian and there is no such pure Dravidian, except for the Todas and the Irulas. I am an ardent fan of our Tamil culture, especially the Chola Kings. At every opportunity I get, I brag about the Tamil culture and how the Chola Kings were great warriors and sea farers and how their kingdom spread all the way to Indonesia.

In conclusion, I beseech you to have the inclusiveness of everybody who is a Tamil irrespective of whether he is a Brahmin, Vaisya, or whatever. I am also against the caste system, an evil afflicting our society. If the government is serious, it should completely eliminate the caste system and shouldn’t ask people about their castes.

Your website quotes the following:

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

If you truly believe in the above quotation, then it behoves you to be inclusive and bring together everybody who is a Tamil.
“Tamil Vaazhga”

Sincerely,
 


Response by  tamilnation.org, 10 June 2006

Dr.Ranganathan says

" after reading your article “Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins”, I was shocked and saddened to find that it is far from what your Mission Statement claims. It was venomous, vindictive, vitriolic and vituperative."

Our Mission Statement says

"This Site exists to nurture the growing  togetherness of more than 70 million Tamil people, living in many lands and across distant seas - a growing togetherness rooted in a shared heritage, a rich language and literature, and a vibrant culture - a growing togetherness consolidated by struggle and suffering and given fresh impetus by the digital revolution - a growing togetherness given purpose and direction by a determined will to live in equality, in freedom and in peace with their fellow beings and meaningfully contribute to an emerging one world, unfolding from matter to life to mind ..."

And to this Mission we are committed. We agree that the Aryan Invasion Theory and the 'Aryan/Dravidian divide' has been increasingly questioned by many researchers.  Dinesh Agrawal's essay on the Demise of the Aryan Invasion Theory has appeared at this website from the date of its launch. Again, Navaratna S. Rajaram and Davis Frawley have also explored the question in their  Vedic "Aryans" and the Origins of Civilization: A Literary and Scientific Perspective.  We do not seek to found Tamil nationalism on the basis of the Aryan invasion theory - nor for that matter, on notions of race. A nation is not a race. To assert that it is, would be to be found a nation on elusive (and often non existent) physical characteristics - something akin to that which Adolf Hitler attempted in Germany with his 'Aryan' theory - and blue eyed blondes. A nation is a togetherness 

"... rooted in the past and which has grown through a process of differentiation and opposition. It is not nature or nurture - but, it is both. It is a togetherness given expression in a distinct language and a culture but it is not simply a cultural togetherness. Neither is it simply an economic togetherness. It is a political togetherness concerned both with the structure and the exercise of power in a world frame." 

As we have mentioned, the page “Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins” contains articles written by many different authors and expressing different points of view. We felt that an open forum which gave expression to the different points of view on the caste issue which has divided the Tamil people for so long and which has worked against the growth of an over riding Tamil togetherness, would further our mission. At the same time, our own view on Periyar appears in the Tamil Heritage page and we quote:

" But, in the end, Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, the undoubted father of the Dravidian movement failed to deliver on the promise of Dravida Nadu. E.V.R. failed where Mohamed Ali Jinnah succeeded. It is true that the strategic considerations of the ruling colonial power were different in each case - and this had something to do with Jinnah’s success. But, nevertheless, if ideology is concerned with moving a people to action, the question may well be asked: why did E.V.R’s ideology fail to deliver Dravida Nadu?

Two aspects may be usefully considered. One was the attempt of the Dravida movement to encompass Tamils, Malayalees, Kannadigas and all Dravidians and mobilise them behind the demand for Dravida Nadu. Unsurprisingly, the attempt to mobilise across what were in fact separate national formations failed to take off.

It was one thing to found a movement which rejected casteism. It was quite another thing, to mobilise peoples, speaking different languages with different historical memories, into an integrated political force in support of the demand for Dravida Nadu...

...That was not all. E.V.R extended his attack on casteism to an attack on Hinduism - and indeed to all religions as well. Periyar threw out the Hindu child with the Brahmin bath water.

E.V.R was right to extol the virtues of pahuth arivu, common sense. He was right to attack mooda nambikai, foolish faith. His rationalism was often a refreshing response to religious dogma and superstition. His attack on casteism, his social reform movement and his Self Respect Movement in the 1920s infused a new dignity, thanmaanam, amongst the Tamil people and laid the foundations on which Tamil nationalism has grown. The Iyer Heritage Site (which appears to be no longer functional) served to show that even in the present day the self perception of at least some Brahmins is that they are  "Aryans".

It was the pioneering work of EVR that led to the growth of the Dravida Munetra Kalagam (DMK) led by C.N.Annadurai and later by M.Karunanidhi,  to the All India Dravida Munetra Kalagam led by M.G.Ramachandran and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munetra Kalagam (MDMK) led by V.Gopalasamy.

But, having said that, the refusal of EVR to recognise that casteism was one thing, Hinduism another and spiritualism, perhaps, yet another, proved fatal. His belligerent atheism failed to move the Tamil people. In the result even within Tamil Nadu, EVR's Dravida Kalagam became marginalised, and the DMK which was an offshoot of the Dravida Kalagam and the ADMK which was an offshoot of the DMK, both found it necessary to play down the anti religious line and adopt instead a ‘secular’ face. One consequence of EVR’s atheism was that spirituality in Tamil Nadu came to be exploited as the special preserve of those who were opposed to the growth of Tamil nationalism.

Furthermore, the anti-Brahmin movement tended to ignore the many caste differences that existed among the non-Brahmin Tamils and failed to address the oppression practised by one non-Brahmin caste on another non-Brahmin caste. It is a failure that continues to haunt the Tamil national movement even today. Caste divides and fragments the  togetherness of the Tamil people.

Support for the positive contributions that E.V.R. made in the area of social reform and to rational thought, should not prevent an examination of where it was that he went wrong. Again, it may well be that E.V.R. represented a necessary phase in the struggle of the Tamil people and given the objective conditions of the 1920s and 1930s, E.V.R was right to focus sharply on the immediate contradiction posed by 'upper' caste dominance and mooda nambikai. But in the 21st century, there may be a need to learn from E.V.R. - and not simply repeat that which he said or did."

Dr.Ranganathan says

" I am also against the caste system, an evil afflicting our society. If the government is serious, it should completely eliminate the caste system and shouldn’t ask people about their castes."

Whilst we have some understanding of the sentiments that Dr.Ranganathan expresses, the words of  Dee Hock in The Art of Chaordic Leadership may also be relevant -

"..A vital question is how to insure that those who lead are constructive, ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who behave in that manner. It comes down to both individual and collective sense of where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led. Where an organizational community will be led is inseparable from the shared values and beliefs of its members..."

And it is to those 'shared values and beliefs' that we may need to direct attention. Gandhi was unable to abolish caste and it is not likely that a Government will be able to do so by issuing an edict to that effect. There may be a need to invest more in primary schools and education in the villages and so on. And until that equality in opportunity is achieved, there may be a need to continue with calibrated measures to prevent further oppression. Admittedly striking the right balance is no easy task.

Dr.Ranganathan points out -

"Take two people in Tamil Nadu; one a Brahmin and the other not. Look at them; they both pretty much look the same; you cannot tell the difference. Even if there were Aryans, what we have today is a mixture of Aryan-Dravidian and there is no such pure Dravidian, except for the Todas and the Irulas."

This may well be true but at the same time we may want to recognise the stigma attached to inter caste marriages and recognise that the 'mixing' may not have been widespread.

Dr. Ranganathan goes on to  asks several questions and we shall endeavour to respond to each of them as best as we can.

Q. Why are you not considering the Brahmins also as Tamils? We may have different lifestyles; yet we ALL are Tamils.

A. We agree entirely and we do consider Brahmin Tamils are Tamils

Q. Why are you always singling out the Brahmins for all the atrocities of the past? In fact, there were more atrocities committed by other higher castes than Brahmins.

A. We do not single out the 'Brahmins for all the atrocities of the past.' We agree that the other so called higher castes have committed many atrocities and given the larger number of the so called higher castes, the atrocities too may well have been more.

Q. How come you don’t give credit to thousands of Brahmins who fought against castes and for the advancement of the lower castes? I can name Rajaji, Mr. Vaidyanatha Iyer (of freedom movement) of Madurai, to name a few famous ones; there were hundreds of them who were not in the limelight.

A. We have given credit to many Brahmins who fought against caste divisions and that includes for instance V.V.S.Aiyar despite the controversial Gurukulam affair.

Q. You don’t mention about the “Tamil Thaatha”, Dr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer; the great Tamil Poet, Bharatiyar; all my Tamil teachers in High school were Brahmins who loved the Tamil Language and sacrificed lucrative careers to pursue a poorly paid teaching job in Tamil.

A. We do refer to Subramaniya Bharathi  in our Literature section and to  Dr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer in our Heritage section and we have paid tribute to the contribution that  Dr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer made. We quote -

" Swaminatha Aiyar spent a lifetime researching and collecting many of the palm leaf manuscripts of the classical period and it is to him that we owe the publication of Cilapathikaram, Manimekali, Puranuru, Civakachintamani and many other treatises which are a part of the rich literary heritage of the Tamil people. "

And about Bharathi we have said -

 " Bharathi was a vigorous campaigner against casteism. He wrote in 'Vande Matharam' :
ஜாதி மதங்களைப் பாரோம் -
உயர் ஜன்மம்இத் தேசத்தில் எய்தின ராயின்
வேதிய ராயினும் ஒன்றே -
அன்றி வேறு குலத்தின ராயினும் ஒன்றே

We shall not look at caste or religion, All human beings in this land
- whether they be those who preach the vedas or who belong to other castes - are one."

Q. How come the so-called Tamilians are not reading the beautiful and pure Tamil poetries sung by the Alwars and the Nayanmars.

A. We ourselves cannot speak for the 'so called Tamilians.' But tamilnation.org has included in its pages the songs of the Alwars and the Nayanmars.  In this connection our page on Spirituality and the Tamil Nation may also be of interest.

Q. Do you know that all the Alwars and Nayanmars are NOT Brahmins and yet, all of them are worshipped as saints.

A. Yes, we did know that.  Here  மானிடம் தழுவிய ஆழ்வார்கள் by  ம. தனபாலசிங்கம் may be of interest more so because M.Thanapalasingham is a committed Tamil Eelam activist.

Q. Instead of talking about the inequalities in a peaceful manner, why propagate venomous propaganda, which benefits nobody?

A. We do not seek to propagate venomous propaganda but we do seek to bring out in the open the feelings of those who have been oppressed for many centuries. At the same time we do recognise that passion is not the preserve of any one caste alone. Whilst we understand the feelings that may have impelled Dr.Ranganathan to express himself in the way that he has, we ourselves take the view that we cannot nurture the togetherness of the Tamil people by denying the ground reality of the 'glass war' and the stigma of 'inter caste' marriage.

We are mindful of the  complexities of the Non-Brahmin-Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu and the analysis of V.Geetha and S.V. Rajadurai in Towards a Non Brahmin Millenium - From Iyothee Thass to Periyar -

"...In a context when Brahmins claimed that birth was no more a badge of status and then went ahead to act and speak as if it was, non-Brahmins, comprising a range of castes and communities...claimed the contrary. They called attention to practices of discrimination, humiliation and negation suffered on account of their always already lowly birth, and came to articulate a philosophy and practice of rights which would help them combat inequality and humiliation...in 1972, (Periyar) revived with vigour the demand for a separate Tamil Nadu, for a state of being and community where touch may not defile and where angst and despair would not torment those unlucky millions who had been born as shudras and panchamas."

At the same time we agree with the views of Professor Hart in Forum on Brahminism & the Tamil Nation

"..Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own political agenda to push. They have been responsible for many things that I feel are entirely unconscionable. But is this any different from the other high castes? I have heard many many stories of high non-Brahmin castes killing and abusing Dalits. You can't blame the Brahmins for this. In fact, the most pernicious example of the caste system was in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, where there are virtually no Brahmins and never have been....Tamil culture has not suffered because of one group. It has suffered because of the caste system and because of its treatment of women... Let's promote inter caste marriage, let's get rid of dowry and give women independence and self-respect, and above all, let's avoid a victimization complex which only plays into the hands of those who have a vested interest in continuing the inequities that exist in Tamilnad. If every Brahmin were to disappear from Tamilnad, the Dalits and others who are exploited would benefited not one iota..."  

We do truly believe in the ideal which appears in our mast head.

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

And we will continue to do what we can to further that ideal, however insignificant our contribution may be.

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