"The linguistic term ` Dravidian ' was a
contribution of Robert Caldwell to modern Indian linguistics. He
used the term with reference to the four principal languages of
South India, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, which "justly
claim to be considered as springing from a common origin, and as
forming a distinct family of tongues "... although non Brahmins
from the two main Dravidian language groups - Tamil and Telegu - joined the
non-Brahmin movement the use of Dravidianism as a political weapon
was mostly confined to the Tamil non-Brahmins..."
"The linguistic term ` Dravidian ' was a contribution of Robert
Caldwell to modern Indian linguistics. He used the term with
reference to the four principal languages of South India, Tamil,
Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, which "justly claim to be considered
as springing from a common origin, and as forming a distinct family
of tongues ".(1)
He derived the word Dravidian from the Sanskrit, Dravida. However, Caldwell was not the first to apply the term to a
group of allied languages. He himself pointed out that a Sanskrit
scholar of the 8th century A.D., Kumarila, had used the term
Andhradravidabhasa to denote the languages of the Telegu and Tamil
In later times in Sanskrit literature the term Dravida
was used in a broader sense to denote the entire land south of the
Vindhyas and its inhabitants. (3)
An attempt is made in the
following pages to trace how the term Dravidian gained currency in
politics in the period under survey.
The main thesis established by Caldwell was that the Dravidian
languages were “independent of Sanskrit ". (4) In his lengthy
introduction he attempted to outline the pre-Aryan civilization of
the "primitive Dravidians ", and also used the word " Brahmans " as
synonymous with " Aryans ". (5) Scholars like P. Sundaram Pillai and
J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, basing their opinions partly on the views
of Robert Caldwell and G. U. Pope and partly on the Tamil classics
brought to light then, described Tamil culture as independent of
Aryan influence. On the other hand Brahmin scholars and historians
contended that South India was a more marshy jungle and the
reclamation was started by the Aryans who migrated into South India
during the period of the Sutras (750-350 B.C.). (6) Northern sources
refer to Dravidian languages as the Paiiaci (prakrit), the language
But non-Brahmin scholars began to argue the other way. For example
S. Somasundara Bharati (1879-1959), a non-Brahmin Tamil scholar who
later became Professor of Tamil (1933-38) at the Annamalai
University, held that the Tamils were the original inhabitants of
South India and that they possessed a rich civilization before the
coming of the Aryans. He wrote:
" The first Aryan stranger, who swam south
across the trackless jungles, was dazzled with the splendour of
the Royal Pandyan courts, and he was not too proud to seek
shelter in the hospitable Tamil land that smiled to a sunny
M. Srinivasa Aiyangar commented in his Tamil Studies, thus:
" Within the last fifteen years a new school of
Tamil scholars has coma into being, consisting mainly of
admirers and castemen of the late lamented professor and
antiquary, Mr. Sundaram Pillai of Trivandrum. Their object has
been to disown and to disprove any trace of indebtedness to the
Aryans, to exalt the civilization of the ancient Tamils, to
distort in the name of historic research current: traditions and
literature, and to pooh-pooh the views of former scholars, which
support Brahmanization of the Tamil race ". (9)
The educated non-Brahmins by the beginning of the 20th century began
to question the inferior position assigned to the Dravidian
civilization in history. Most of the non-Brahmin leaders in Madras
city as well as in the districts hailed from the landowning and
merchant castes and they began to aspire to political power and
official influence commensurate with their wealth and status in
society). The Brahmins hold a pre eminent position in education
especially the University, and, as a consequence, in the higher and
clerical grades of government employment. The Brahmins consistently
held the dominant position in government service ever since the
establishment of the British rule in the Carnatic. In 1855, for
example, the Brahmins held 237 of the 305 posts in the upper levels
of the district administration of the Madras Presidency.10 The
following table illustrates the relative increases in the percentage
of appointments held by Brahmins between 1896 and 1912. (11)
Distribution of Selected Government
Posts in 1912
||Per cent of
total Male population
| Per cent of
| Non-Brahmin Hindus
| Indian Christians
| Europeans and Eurasians
| Non-Brahmin Hindus
| Indian Christians
| Europeans and Eurasians
| Non-Brahmin Hindus
| Indian Christians
| Europeans and Eurasians
The above table reveals two facts. Firstly, the position of
the non-Brahmin Hindus in government service bore little relation to
their numerical strength. Secondly, the non-Brahmin Hindus had lost
ground over the years 1896-1912, while the Brahmins had considerably
improved their position. The frustration and bitterness that this
discrimination caused was considerable and it increased when the
rate of literacy increased among the non-Brahmins.
The position of the Tamil Brahmins in government service was mainly
due to their high rate of literacy in general as well as in English.
Literacy in English was the key to enter government service. The
following two tables show the relative position in literacy among
selected Tamil castes during 1901-1921. (12)
Male Literacy of Selected Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per cents)
Male Literacy in English of Selected Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per cents)
The apparent decline in the literacy rate of the Tamil Brahmins
between 1901 and 1921 was due to the fact that "a number of persons
of other less educated castes may, for various reasons, have
returned themselves as Brahmans; and hence the number of Brahmans
has been unduly swollen and the number of illiterates has increased
out of all proportion to the literates "(13)
The slight decline in the literacy rate among Velalas between 1911
and 1921 was also attributed to the same fact that a number of
persons of other less educated castes may have returned themselves
In the matter of English literacy the Tamil Brahmins led all the
other castes. But there was a gradual rise in general literacy as
well as in English literacy among the different non-Brahmin castes
during the first two decades of the 20th century. Educated non
Brahmins soon realised that education was mainly responsible for the
ascendancy of Brahmins in all walks of life, more especially in
government service. They became conscious of their disadvantageous
position in society arising out of their backwardness in education.
As early as 1909 an attempt was made in Madras City by two lawyers -
P. Subramanyam and M. Purushotham Naidu - to form an organisation
under the title 'The Madras Non-Brahmin Association '.(14)These two
provisional secretaries, in a statement to the press, explained that
the Association had been started " for the purpose of ameliorating
the condition of the Non-Brahmin classes, and lifting them up, as
much as possible, to a higher social level, by affording pecuniary
help to the poor and intelligent boys of the non-Brahmin communities
and helping them to prosecute their studies, and by giving
scholarships to deserving young men to learn the various industries
in foreign countries and by adopting such other methods as are
calculated to improve the social status of the various backward
non-Brahmin communities in the Madras Presidency ".(15) It was also
stated that the Association was distinctly non-political and
non-aggressive. Thus an association was
conceived purely for social progress.
A few days after the above announcement a letter to the editor of
the Madras Mail (6 May 1909) was written by a certain V. Vannamuthu,
in which he argued that the non-Brahmins of Southern India were all
of Dravidian origin ; therefore, he suggested the adoption of, the
name ` The Madras Dravidian Association'.
Another letter from ` M.P.N.' said: " The non-Brahmins form the bulk of the population,
and almost all the Zamindars, and rich landed proprietors, and the
bulk of the thriving merchants and dubashas belong to this
community: But yet ... the community as a whole has not sufficiently
realised the importance of the benefits of Western education, and
... it has, as a result of this apathy, been left behind in the race
by other and more pushful communities. The non-Brahmin is certainly
not wanting in intelligence, if only he tries to develop it ". (16)
The reader even suggested that a few Europeans should be invited to
participate in the deliberations of the Association and offer
advice. The reader also wanted that the non-Brahmins should avoid
discussion of the terms ` non-Brahmin' and ` Dravidian ' and begin
work in earnest. (17)
The initiative taken by two Vakils in starting this association was
criticised by a reader who called himself ` Alpha '.(18) The reader
felt that the Vakils who book the initiative would be able to
attract only members of the same profession and so suggested that
"public men like Dr. Nair, Messrs. Theagaroya Chatty and Venkatasamy
Naidu ought to be at the helm to steer the ship clear of all petty
mindedness and narrow spirit ". (19) It was a remarkable suggestion
because it was Dr. Nair and Theagaroya Chatty who later successfully
founded the Non-Brahmin Movement in 1916.
Even before the formal inauguration of the proposed Non Brahmin
Association, objections were raised to a communal organisation. E.
Ekambara Iyer, a Brahmin correspondent from Nandyal, wrote in the
Madras Mail (2 June 1909), criticising the designation of the
Association for in its scope it included " the improvement of the
whole human race in India, except the poor Brahmin ".
He wanted the
educated non-Brahmins to think twice before supporting this
Association, and to " try their best to sink (not to accentuate) any
or all difference based upon class and class or caste and creed ".
Similar feelings were expressed by C. V. Reddy, a non-Brahmin reader
from Guntur, in another letter to the editor .(20)
He considered that the very name of the Association implied
hostility to the Brahmins which was neither necessary nor desirable.
Further C. V. Reddi pointed out the " too wide and clumsy " nature
of the term 'non-Brahmin' which meant to include "every caste and
race in the Presidency, except Brahmins", and said :
" The Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas, though they
would fain supplant the Brahmins, yet would think it infra dig
to mix with the fourth class ".(21)
He even feared that there might not be enough sympathy and
co-operation between class and class to ensure success to this
movement and therefore suggested that more definite and restricted
associations such as the Raddi Association, the Balija Association,
and the Vellala Association were likely to be more useful and
practicable .(22) Thus there were differences of opinion among
non-Brahmins themselves over the naming of the Association and also
doubts, over the co-operation expected from different non-Brahmin
After so much discussion and criticism of the proposed Non-Brahmin
Association during May-June 1909, no efforts were reported in the
following months regarding the actual formation of the Association.
Towards the middle of September, the two provisional honorary
secretaries reported that the holding of the first public meeting
had bean postponed as it was considered expedient to hold it after
the Association had enrolled one thousand members, and that they
hoped to achieve the target by October 1909.(23)
announcement nothing was heard of the proposed inauguration of the
Madras Non-Brahmin Association. It was likely that a sufficient
number of non-Brahmins failed to come forward to extend support for
the Association. This may be due to the lack of leadership from
influential non-Brahmins like Dr. Nair and P. Theagaroya Chatty who
later came forward in 1916 to start a movement with the same
objectives of the above Association.
It was also likely that the circumstances were not ripe enough to
bring out the discontents among non-Brahmins into the open. Though
this isolated attempt in 1909 to organise an association for the
welfare and progress of the non-Brahmins did not succeed, it
revealed the beginnings of such thinking in that direction.
The few non-Brahmins who were already in government service had
their own grievances. They alleged that they had no fair deal in
their prospects on account of partiality and nepotism by Brahmin
superiors, and they feared for a long time even to go forward and
represent their grievances publicly. For the purpose of voicing
their grievances collectively a group of non-Brahmins started an
association called 'The Madras United League' in Madras city in
1912.24 The League was primarily meant for the government employees
and the members were mostly from the Revenue Board Office and the
Public Works Department. However other interested non-Brahmins were
also allowed to join the League and the Secretary, C. Natesa
Mudaliar, himself was a private doctor. Within a year the membership
of the League rose to three hundred. (25)
One of the useful services rendered by the Madras United League
started in 1912 was the running of an adult education class in the
evenings in which the members themselves played the role of
teachers. At the first anniversary of the Madras United League, a
resolution was introduced to change the name of the League on the
ground that it was not indicative of the constituents of the
organization or its objectives.
A few suggested that the League
might be called the Non-Brahmin Association. There was much
opposition to a negative name and it was suggested that the League
might be called the Dravidian Association. This was accepted and the
name of the Madras United League was changed into the Madras
Dravidian Association. (26) However this was not the first time that
the word ` Dravidian ' was used to denote castes other than
Brahmins. As early as September 1892 an association called the Adi
Dravida Jana Sabha was founded in Madras by Panchamas who
claimed themselves as ` Adi' or ancient Dravidians. (27) Similarly a
member of the Pariah Mahajana Sabha (founded in October 1894 in
Madras city), "resented the names 'Pariah' and ` Panchama ' and
claimed to be called by their racial name the Dravidians ".(28)
The Madras Dravidian Association held regular meetings which
provided an opportunity for many non-Brahmins to meet and discuss
their problems. (29) Literary meetings were also arranged under its
auspices. (30) However the popular annual function was the reception
accorded to the non-Brahmin graduates of the year. It brought the
young graduates of the community in one platform and introduced them
to the elite of the non-Brahmins, and such occasions were said to
have " infused the spirit of healthy revolt against the Brahmins and
the spirit of self-respect in themselves ". (31) Almost all the
leading non-Brahmin citizens of Madras city attended this annual
An important achievement of the Madras Dravidian Association was the
establishment of a hostel in Madras city for non-Brahmin students in
July 1916. Non-Brahmin students who came for collegiate education
from districts had difficulty in getting hostel accommodation in
Madras city because of caste barriers. (33) The hostel was called `
Dravidian Home' and it was run under the care of C. Natesa Mudaliar.
(34) The Dravidian Home had a literary Society for the benefit of
its inmates. The establishment of the Dravidian Home was the first
practical step of a small but influential group of non-Brahmins in
Madras city to organize themselves.
The Madras Dravidian Association became a popular organisation among
the non-Brahmins and it attracted the attention of non-Brahmin
politicians like P. Theagaroya Chetti (1852-1925) and Dr. T. M. Nair
(1868-1919). They saw the possibilities of building on the basis of
the Dravidian Association a more powerful political movement to
voice the grievances of the non-Brahmins.
The non-Brahmin consciousness and the current feelings of despair
among the non-Brahmin youth were clearly brought out in Non-Brahmin
Letters, a book published in Madras in 1915.(35) It contains 21
letters and they are signed by and addressed to different persons by
name. The names include caste suffixes such as ` Chatti ', ` Raddy
', ` Naidu ', ` Mudaliar ' and ` Row '(36) The letters in general
reflect the growing consciousness among educated non-Brahmin youth
of their lowly position in society. The letters urge the
non-Brahmins to educate themselves and to organise in order to
compete with the Brahmins. It was suggested in one of the letters
that a Dravida Maha Sabha should be formed in Madras city with
branches in each district, taluk, town and village with the object
of uplifting the non-Brahmin community. (37)
The letters also reveal the lack of unity and mutual jealousy
among the various non-Brahmin castes. One letter points out how a
donor agrees to donate Rs. 5,000 for the non-Brahmin movement if he
was made an important office-bearer . (38) Another expresses
suspicion over the activities of an unnamed person in the
non-Brahmin movement. (39) The prevalence of suspicion and jealousy
among the non-Brahmins explains the reason for the late origin of a
united effort among the non-Brahmins of South India .(40) But by the
middle of the second decade when they realised that their literacy
rate was rising and that they had the necessary qualifications to
compete with the Brahmins they inevitably rose in protest against
the exclusive control of government services and public life by
Brahmins. The Madras Mail (19 July 1916) rightly observed : " In
course of time education has been able to break down many of the
barriers in the way of the non-Brahmin communities, who were not
backward in taking advantages of the opportunities offered ".
From the beginning of the second decade of this century there was
widespread political agitation in India for securing Self
Government. In view of the active participation of India in the war
effort Britain indicated that steps would be taken towards
responsible representative self-government after the war. At this
juncture the catalyst which triggered the formation of a non Brahmin
political organisation was the foundation of the Home Rule Movement
by Mrs. Annie Besant. Already the non-Brahmins looked with suspicion
at Congress as a Brahmin controlled organisation. Their suspicion
grew stronger when Mrs. Besant joined the Congress and began her
work for Home Rule. Mrs. Besant had become President of the
Theosophical Society in 1907.
The Theosophical Society was first founded in New York in 1875 to
promote the cause of ` Universal Brotherhood' and to popularise
'Eastern Wisdom' in the West. (41) Subsequently the Theosophical
Society shifted its headquarters to Bombay in 1879 and, ultimately,
to Madras city in 1882. The leaders of the movement, both in their
lectures and writing-, extolled the virtues of ancient Aryan
civilization and Sanskrit literature. In Madras city as well as in
the districts Sanskrit schools wore started, societies for the
promotion of Aryan morals established, and Hindu religious
literature disseminated through catechisms and tracts. Mrs. Besant
quickly established herself as the outstanding revivalist of Smarta
Hinduism in South India. (42) In addition to encouraging scholarly
researches in Sanskrit she was largely instrumental in arousing
cultural and religious nationalism among the Brahmin politicians in
Madras city.(43) Mrs. Besant organised the Madras Hindu Association
in January 1904. (44) She justified the fourfold caste system,
supporting her argument from Sanskrit literature.(45)
When Mrs. Besant extended her activities of the Congress and
initiated the Home Rule League in Madras in September 1916,
non-Brahmins felt that the success of the Home Rule Movement in the
event of Reforms would result in the entrenchment of Brahmins in the
administration of the country. Therefore the non-Brahmin leaders
felt that there was greater need among them to unite and counteract
Mrs. Besant's Home Rule Movement than ever before.
At a meeting held in Madras in November 1916 by a group of about
thirty non-Brahmins, including P. Thaagaroya Chetti and Dr. T. M.
Nair, it was resolved to start a company for publishing newspapers
advocating the cause of the non-Brahmin community. The idea to bring
out daily newspapers came foremost in the minds of the non-Brahmin
leaders because of the Brahmin control of the two of the three
leading dailies in Madras city. The English daily Hindu (started in
1878 as a weekly and was turned into a tri-weekly in 1883, and into
a daily in 1889) was published by S. Kasturiranga Iyengar, while the
only Tamil daily Swadesamitran (started in 1882 as a weekly and
became a daily in 1889) was published by A. Rangaswami Iyangar. (46)
Both were highly nationalistic in spirit and both vigorously
advocated Home Rule. The Brahmin hegemony over journalism stemmed
from two factors : first, as pointed out earlier, the Brahmins
constituted an elite group in society, and secondly, their
recognised position of leadership in society enabled them to assert
themselves as protagonists of the nationalist movement. Therefore
the non-Brahmin leaders founded the South Indian People's
Association primarily for conducting daily newspapers to guide,
define and publicise the views of the non-Brahmins on public
questions) The first issue of the Association's English daily
Justice appeared on 26 February 1917. The Tamil daily Tiravitan was
started in June 1917. For the Telugu readers the well established
Telugu weekly Andhraprakasika (founded in 1885) was acquired and was
changed into a daily. On the occasion of the first anniversary of
the Justice, the Madras Mail (26 Feb. 1918) wrote : " Two or three
years ago no one would have been bold enough to predict success for
an Indian paper in Madras hostile to Home Rule ".
The South Indian People's Association issued the Non-Brahmin
Manifesto in December 1916, to define the attitude of the non
Brahmin communities in the Madras Presidency towards the Home Rule
Movement. (47) The Manifesto surveyed the condition of the
non-Brahmins, referred to the pre-eminent position of the Brahmins
in various fields and pointed out the directions for progress of the
non-Brahmins in future. It declared that the Indian Constitution
should be revised after war and there should be progressive
political development towards self-government and in the meanwhile
the British authority which alone could hold the scales even between
various castes and creeds should continua. The demand for Home Rule
was regarded as an extremist claim, unsuitable for the then existing
conditions and a demand which the non-Brahmins could not support.
The Manifesto stated that the post-war scheme of Reforms should be
such as to enable every class and caste to get representation
according to its number and acknowledged position in the country and
exhorted the non-Brahmins to organise themselves in associations and
The announcement of Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India,
on 20 August 1917 outlining the reform measures, was the signal for
the starting of intense political activity among the non-Brahmins.
On the same day when Montagu announced the Reform scheme in London,
the non-Brahmins held the first conference at Coimbatore. (48)
Speaking at the conference Dr. T. M. Nair said that the non-Brahmin
sentiment had been there in the country 'for ages' and that it was
openly expressed then because
" Non-Brahmins were looking to the British
Government for protection, to hold scales evenly and to mete out
Justice, but when they saw a movement progressing whose object
was to undermine British influence and power in this country,
they thought it their duty to rally round the British Government
and to support them ".(49)
The Madras Mail (31 Dec. 1917) also pointed out that: "The sentiment
underlying the movement is the deep-rooted fear and distrust the
non-Brahmin community have of Brahmin domination .... This
underlying sentiment has been in existence for generations . . .".
The political party organised by the South Indian People's
Association was named the South Indian Liberal Federation which
later came to be popularly known as the Justice Party after the
English daily Justice. The Federation was organised in October 1917
and its objectives wore defined as :
"(a) to create and promote the education,
social, economic, political, material and moral progress of all
communities in Southern India other than Brahmins,
(b) to discuss public questions and make a true
and timely representation to Government of the views and
interests of the people of Southern India with the object of
safeguarding and promoting the interests of all communities
other than Brahmins and
(c) to disseminate by public lectures, by
distribution of literature and by other means sound and liberal
views in regard to public opinion ".(50)
The party was open to all persons other than Brahmins who subscribed
to its objects. Branches of the South Indian Liberal Federation were
soon organised in the major towns of the presidency. Membership was
open to all persons of Southern India, other than Brahmins, and it
included leading representatives of the Indian mercantile community,
zamindars and landholders, pleaders and retired Government
From August 1917 onwards a number of Non Brahmin Conferences were
held in the districts in which local non Brahmin leaders took an
active part in shaping Dravidian consciousness. All these
conferences passed resolutions demanding that any Reform scheme
should secure adequate representation of non-Brahmins in the
legislature and in all branches of administration. (52)
The formation of the South Indian People's Association and the South
Indian Liberal Federation and the publication of its three dailies
soon brought to the surface the latent Dravidian consciousness among
the non-Brahmins. The founding of numerous Dravidian associations in
Madras city were an outward expression of this consciousness.(53)
The various Dravidian associations while leaving the political
activities to be channelled by the Justice Party, confined
themselves to educational and social activities such as the running
of fro e night school, reading room, library and hostel, and
offering scholarships to deserving non-Brahmin students.
The Indian Councils Act of 1909 introduced communal representation
in the legislatures. In the Madras Presidency two seats were
provided for the Muslim community among the nineteen elected
members. (54) The granting of communal representation to Muslims in
1909 served as a precedent for the non-Brahmins to seek special
representation in the Legislative Council as an underprivileged
community. In a memorandum submitted to the Madras Government, the
Justice Party pointed out that, " Increased power bestowed on the
'people without communal demarcation will lead to greater
concentration in the hands of a few and to greater disparity between
the few and the many.
This is what happened in a very pronounced manner in southern India
since the Minto Morley reforms and necessitated the starting of the
non-Brahmin Movement ".(55) A few months earlier Madras Mail (31
Dec.. 1917) in a leader pointed out that,
"Even under the Minto-Morley scheme of
reforms the non-Brahmins felt that they did not secure
sufficient representation to counterbalance Brahmin pretensions
to power ".
The first victory for the Justice Party and thereby for Dravidian
Nationalism came when the Government of India Act of 1919 provided
for the reservation of seats in general non-Muhammadan,
constituencies to non-Brahmins in Madras Presidency.(56)
During this period Dravidian Nationalism also found expression among
the members of the Congress Party in the Madras Presidency.
Non-Brahmins who remained loyal to the Congress began to think in
terms of forming an organization within the Congress to safeguard
their interests in elections under the proposed Worms by seeking
communal representation. This was in a way to counteract the claims
of the Justice Party to be the sole spokesman of non-Brahmins. This
led to the founding of the Madras Presidency Association in
September 1917, with the avowed object of gaining communal
representation .(57)The Justice Party criticised the formation of
the Madras Presidency Association and stated that "it has been
engineered into existence by Brahmin Home Rulers, in the interests
of the united front bogey ".(58)
The membership of the Madras Presidency Association was confined to
representatives of the various communities of the Madras Presidency
other than the Brahmins and Muslims, who did not agree with , the
attitude of the Justice Party towards the reform proposals. (59) But
Brahmins and Muslims were admitted into meetings and conferences of
the Association as ` observers'. (60) Branches of the Association
were established all over the Presidency and regular conferences
ware held in the districts."
By December 1917 it was reported that the M.P.A. had 15 branches
with over 800 members .12 The Association brought out two daily news
papers, one in English and one in Tamil. C. Karunakara-Menon, editor
and publisher of the English daily the Indian Patriot devoted ' his
paper to the interests of the Association. The Tamil daily was a now
newspaper called Tecapaktan ('The Patriot') and was edited by Thiru.
Although both the Justice Party and the Madras Presidency
Association agreed on the need for communal representation they
differed over the means of securing it. The Justice Party wanted
separate non-Brahmin electorates, 63 but the M.P.A. opposed communal
electorates and wanted the reservation of a certain number of seats
for non-Brahmins in general electorates.s4 In other words the M.P.A.
pleaded for the creation of plural constituencies with a general
electoral roll. In fact finally when the communal representation was
decided by Lord Meston the alternative suggested by the M.P.A. was
adopted and 28 seats in plural member constituencies were reserved
for non-Brahmins out of 63 seats available in non-Muhammadan
The M.P.A., though it ceased to function after the introduction of
the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, doubled, the impact of the Justice
Party on Tamil politics for it revealed that nationalists could also
be regionalists and that Congress could not look askance at regional
issues. The M.P.A. was important, too, in drawing apart from the
Brahmin congressmen a number of able non-Brahmin agitators and
scholars like V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Tiru. Vi. Ka., and in
providing a training ground for new leaders like E. V. Ramaswami
At the same time when Dravidian consciousness was taking shape not
only the question who were Dravidians but also the question who were
non-Brahmins came to be widely asked. The leaders of the Justice
Party claimed that the term ` non-Brahmins' denoted all other than `
Brahmins'. But the leadership of the party came mostly from the `
advanced ' or ` forward ' non-Brahmin Hindu castes which according
to one estimate formed about 19 per cent of the population. But they
always claimed to include in the movement the 'backward'
non-Brahmins (49 per cent), .depressed classes (Panchamas-17 per
(Muslims and Christians).(67)
The leaders of the Justice Party from the beginning were quite aware
of " the big question of lifting up the artisan and depressed
classes ".(68) Dr. T. M. Nair expressed sympathy for the Panchamas
and he stated that the Justice Party would have to organise and win
the support of the Panchamas to justify the Party's claim to be the
sole representative of South Indian non-Brahmins .(69) But there
were doubts about the genuineness of the higher caste-non Brahmins'
sympathy towards the Panchamas. Leaders of the Panchama
organisations were reluctant to support the Justice Party. (70) The
two leading Panchama organisations in Madras city were the Adi
Dravida Jana Sabha and the Pariah Mahajana Sabha. These two
associations held periodical meetings independently and protested
against the granting of immediate Home Rule.(71) They were mostly
keen on social reform rather than constitutional advancement.
Although the Panchamas wished to keep aloof from the Justice Party
the Muslims and the Indian Christians extended their support and
freely participated in the meetings and conferences of the justice
Party. Mohamed Usman, the Secretary of the Madras Muslim League and
A. K. G. Ahmad Thambi Maricar, the Muslim member of the Madras
Legislative Council, presided over and addressed some of the
non-Brahmin conferences. (72) During the Khilafat agitation the
Justice Party passed a resolution to the effect 'that non-Brahmins
of Madras were emphatically of opinion that the integrity of the
Caliphate should be preserved '.(73)
Rev. Fr. Ambrose, a Christian, moved a resolution in the
Coimbatore Non-Brahmin Conference, explaining the objects of a
Central District Association in Coimbatore. (74) Therefore it may be
concluded that from the point of view of most of the non-Brahmin
leaders with the exception of leaders like Dr. Nair, the term 'non
Brahmins' included in its compass non-Brahmin Hindus excluding the Panchamas, but including the Muslims and the Indian Christians.
During the second decade of the 20th century the term Dravidian
gained a racial as well as a linguistic meaning. From the time of
the formation of the Justice Party the term Dravidian applied to
non-Brahmin castes in South India, and Dravidian Nationalism emerged
as a defence of these castes against Brahmin dominance and a
reassertion of cultural identity.
The leaders of the Justice Party appealed to Dravidians-that is, not
simply to those who spoke one of the Dravidian languages but to
those who claimed to inherit a common racial heritage to unite them
against the so-called Aryan invaders from the North-the South Indian
Brahmins. Therefore the term Dravidian may be said to have been
brought into politics as a rallying point for South Indian
non-Brahmins. With the exception of a few leaders, the Telegu
non-Brahmins in the Justice Party hardly identified themselves as
Dravidians. Those few Telugu leaders were bilingual : their mother
tongue was Telugu although they lived in Madras city or in the Tamil
The Telugu Congress leader Konda Venkatappayya,
speaking at the Fifth Andhra Conference at Nellore, said :
Provinces of India as they now stand were not originally formed on a
language basis. As Andhras, Dravidians, Canarese and Malayalees have
,been irregularly grouped in the one Presidency of Madras, so
different races speaking different languages are likewise
indiscriminately clubbed together in other provinces ".(76)
`Dravidians' he meant `Tamils'. From the time when Caldwell
published his work, Dravidianism was upheld by Tamil-speakers,
Tamil was considered to be the most ancient of the Dravidian
Further, Telugu hardly expressed any desire to claim Dravidian
status, because Telugu, unlike Tamil, contained a great number of
Sanskrit words, which tended to weaken the claim that Telugu was a
culture independent of the so-called Aryan influence. (78).
P.Chenchiah, a member of the M.P.A., who represented the twelve
Telugu districts and gave evidence before the Joint Select Committee
on the Government of India Bill, 1919, observed :
" The relation between Brahmins and non-Brahmins
in the Telugu area is more cordial and harmonious than it is in
the South . . . . The real living issue in that area is not the
communal representation question, but the question of a separate
Province for the language area ". (79)
From this it was clear that the communal antagonism between Brahmins
and non-Brahmin in Andhra country was not so bitter as it was in
Tamilnad. (80) Hence although non Brahmins from the two main
Dravidian language groups - Tamil and Telegu - joined the
non-Brahmin movement the use of Dravidianism as a political weapon
was mostly confined to the Tamil non-Brahmins."
1. Robert Caldwell, op. cit., p. 4.
2 Ibid., p. 5.
3. For example the term Pancadravidas meant the Brahmins of five
groups which included Kannada, Telugu, Maharashtra, Karnata
(Tamil), and Gurjara. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, Cultural contacts
between Aryans and Dravidians (Bombay, 1967), p. 10.
4. Robert Caldwell, op. cit., pp. 46-48.
5 Ibid., pp. 117-119.
Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Ancient India (London, 1911), p. 5. The
author pointed out that, " The history of peninsular India
begins ... somewhat later than that of Hindustan ; for the
Dravidian civilization of the south, though much more ancient
than its history, owes its history to Aryan immigration, as much
as does north India ".
Ibid., pp. 29-30.
7.Robert Caldwell, op, cit., p. 6.
8. S. Somasundara Bharati, Tamil Classics and Tamilakam
(Tuticorin, 1912), p. 6.
9. M. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Tamil Studies (Madras, 1914), p. 46.
10 R. E. Frykenburg, "Elite formation in
Nineteenth Century South India An interpretative analysis ",
Proceedings of the First International Conference Seminar of
Tamil Studies, I, (Kuala Lumpur, 1966), p. 573.
11 Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, vol. XXI (Reports from
Commissioners, etc., vol. XI), " Royal Commission on the Public
Services ", Appendix, Vol. II, " Minutes of Evidence relating to
the Indian and Provincial Services taken in Madras from the 8th
to the 17th of January 1913 ", cd. 7293, 1914, pp. 103-104.12 Census of India : Madras, 1921, XIII, Part I,
13 Ibid., pp. 119,128-129.
14 Madras Mail, 1 May 1909. The membership fee was fixed at Re.
16. Ibid., 8 May
18 Ibid., 22 May 1909.
19. Ibid. A 'Graduate' proposed the name of P. Kesava Pillay of
Gouty among other leaders who should be approached to take the
lead in forming the Non-Brahmin Association. Ibid., 2 June 1909.
In fact later Kesava Pillai became one of the founders of the
Madras Presidency Association. E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp.
20. Ibid., 3 June
23 Ibid., 10 Sep. 1909.
24. P. Rangaswami Naidu, " The Origin of Justice Party ",
Justice Party Golden Jubilee Souvenir (Madras, 1968), p. 257.
25. Ibid., p. 258. ac Ibid., p. 257.
27. B. B. Majumdar, Indian Political Associations
and Reform of Legislature (1818-1917), (Calcutta, 1965), p. 259.
28 Madras Mail, 9 May 1916.
29 During 1914, the following meetings held under the
auspices of the Madras Dravidian Association were reported :
`Our present social needs'-M. Singaravelu Chettiar (15 May).
'The historical bearing of the Indian Epics'-G. Ranganatha
Mudaliar (25 July).
` Paropakaram '-Srimat Pamban Kumara Guru Dasa Swamigal
`The present condition of the Dravidians'-Mrs. Alamelmangammal
'The Thirumurais of St. Appar'-E. N. Thanikachella Mudaliar(3
' The conditions of progress'-Mrs. Besant (30 Oct.). The dates
refer to Madras Mail.
30 'The Antiquity of Tamil' was the topic in one such meeting.
Madras Mail, 5 Feb. 1916.
31 K. M. Balasubramaniam, South Indian Celebrities (Madras,
1934), I, p. 49.
32 Madras Mail, 26 Nov. 1915, 27 Nov. 1916, 26 Nov. 1917.
Besides the general reception to all non-Brahmin graduates by
the Madras Dravidian Association, certain castes claiming Vaisya
status (Komati, Chetti) arranged separate reception to their
graduates. Madras Mail, 24 Nov. 1916, 25 Dec. 1918.
33 The Madras Mail (16 Oct. 1915) in a leader
entitled 'Hostels in Madras' discussed the problem of finding
proper accommodation for students from the mofussil. It referred
to the Senate Committee Report of the Madras University,
according to which over one thousand students in Madras City
were forced to find accommodation for themselves.
34 Madras Mail, 30 June 1916.
35 The author is one S.K.N., and the book is dedicated to' The
Non-Brahmin Community'. According to E. F. Irschick it was
published by C. Karunakara Menon. E. F. Irschick, op. cit., p.
36 The last named caste suffix 'Row', more correctly ` Rao ',
denotes a Telugu or Maratha Brahmin. But a study of the contents
of the letter signed by ` S. N. Row' shows that the writer is a
non-Brahmin. For example he says: ` I have Brahmin friends who
are more enthusiastic for our cause than many of our leaders, as
we call them'.
Non-Brahmin Letters, p. 28.
37 Ibid., p. 59.
39 Ibid., p. 80.
40 The Non-Brahmin Movement in Maharashtra was started in the
last quarter of the 19th century by Jotirao Phule (1827-1890) of
Poona. Phule attempted to break the monopoly of Brahmins over
religious and intellectual life in Maharashtra by organising
non-Brahmin religious ceremonies and educating lower-castes. For
this purpose he founded the Satya Shodak Samaj in 1873. After
Phule's death the Non-Brahmin Movement was revived in 1900 by
the Maharaja of Kolhapur State, His Highness Shri Shahu
Chhatrapati (1874 1922). Sir P. Theagaroya Chetti, one of the
founder-leaders of the Non¬Brahmin Movement in Madras, attended
the Non-Brahmin Social Conference at Hubli on 27 July 1920,
which was presided over by the Maharaja. A. B. Latthe, Memoirs
of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati (Bombay, 1924), pp.
Ian Copland, " The Maharaja of Kolhapur and the Non-Brahmin
Movement, 1902-10 ", Modern Asian Studies, VII, 2, Apr. 1973,
41 J. N.
Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (Delhi, 1967), pp.
42 There are two principal divisions among the Brahmins. The
larger section Smarta Brahmins worship Siva, while the smaller
section Sri Vaishnava Brahmins worship Vishnu. The Smartas were
often known by their caste title Aiyar but some bore the title
Sastri ; the Sri Vaishnavas were known as lyengars but some had
names ending in -achari or -acharya.
43 C. H. Heimsath, Indian Nationalism and Hindu Social Reform
(Princeton, 1964), pp. 255-257.
44 For the aims and objects of the Association see N. Subbarau
Pantulu Garu (ed.), Hindu Social Progress (Madras, 1904).
The Varnasrama Dharma Samraksana Sabha was founded in Madras
city in 1915 and soon branches came up in districts. At the
first annual conference of the Sabha at Conjeevaram the
following resolution was passed : " Varnasshrama Dharma of the
Hindus must be preserved in all its purity and perfection and
that it is consistent with order and progress in our motherland
". Madras Mail, 3 May 1916.
A Students Hindu Association was founded in Madras in 1915, and
at the first anniversay meeting Mrs. Besant spoke on' Students
and politics'. Madras Mail, 18 Feb. 1916.
45 Annie Besant, Wake up, India (Madras, 1913), pp. 262-294.
46 The third leading daily (English) Madras Mail
was owned by Europeans.
Hindu (W), 22 Dec. 1916.
The full text of the Non-Brahmin Manifesto Golden Jubilee
Souvenir (Madras, 1968), pp. 1-7. Also in E. F. Irschick, op.
cit., Appendix 1.
48 Madras Mail, 20 Aug. 1917. The Congress Party was also
holding its District Conference at the same place and time.
is given in the Justice Party
49 Ibid., 22 Aug. 1917.
Ibid., 18 Oct. 1917.
51 Note on S.I.L.F. appended to the address presented by the
S.I.L.F. to Chelmsford and Montagu on their visit to Madras on
19 Dec. 1917. IOL. MSS. r. D. 523/26, Montagu Collection,
Addresses presented at Madras.
52 Of all the conferences the annual South Indian Non-Brahmin
Confederation held in Madras city symbolised the growing
political awareness among the non-Brahmins. Madras Mail, 3 Dec.
1917,13 Jan. 1919, 30 Dec. 1919.
53 The Royapuram Dravidian Association (10 Sep.
1917), The Dravidian Reading Room and Library at Egmore (26 Sep.
1917), The Royapettah Dravidian Association (26 Oct. 1917), The
Georgetown Dravidian Association (4 Dec. 1917), The Alandur
Dravidian Association (3 Dec. 1917), The Purasawalkam Dravidian
Association (16 Aug. 1918).
The dates refer to Madras Mail.
54 Notes on the Administration of Sir Arthur Lawley, Governor of
Madras, 1906-1911 (Madras, 1912), p. 158.
55 Madras Mail, 17 Sep. 1918.
56 E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp. 91-159.
57 Madras Mail, 21 Sep. 1917.
58 Ibid., 26 Sep. 1917.
59 The Justice Party rejected the Congress-League scheme of
reforms, whereas M.P.A. accepted it subject to communal
representation. Hindu (W), 14 .1917.
60 Madras Mail, 20 Dec. 1917. To the Tanjore conference held in
April 8, thirty Muslims came from Nagore and Negapatam and
extended their ort. Ibid., 22 Apr. 1918.
Some of the conferences were held in the same place either
simultaneously immediately after the Justice Party Conference.
61 Ibid., 14 Nov. 1917.
62 OL. MSS. Eur. D. 523/36, Montagu Collection. Address
presented by the A. to Montagu and Chelmsford on their visit to
Madras on 17 Dec. 1917.
63 Great Britain, Parliamentary
Papers, vol. IV, House of Commons Paper no. 203, 1919. Report
from the Joint Select Committee on the Govt. of India Bill.
Appendix H, Memorandum of the S.LL.F.
64 Ibid., vol. II, Minutes of Evidence, Representatives of the
65 IOL. MSS. Eur. F. 136/33, Meston Collection. Letter from Lord
Meston to Lord Willingdon, Governor of Madras, 8 Mar. 1920,
66 David Arnold, Nationalism and Regional Politics: Tamilad,
India, 1920¬1937, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (University of
Sussex, 1973), p. 53.
E. V. Ramaswami Naicker was the chairman of the Reception
Committee when the second annual conference was held at Erode.
Madras Mail, 11 Oct. 1919.
67 S. Saraswathi, Minorities in Madras State, Unpublished Ph.D.
dissertation (University of Madras, 1965), cited in P. Spratt,
D.M.K. in Power ( Bombay, 1970), p. 19.
The Coimbatore Non-Brahmin Association resolved 'to work for the
political, social and economic advancement of the
non-Brahmins-Hindus, Musalmans and Christians-of the district'.
Madras Mail, 7 Sep. 1917.
68 Madras Mail, 10 Aug. 1917.
69 A. A. Nair, " Dr. T. M. Nair ", in Justice Party Golden
Jubilee Souvenir, p. 44.
70 E. F. Irschick, op. cit., p. 71.
71 One of the speakers at a meeting of the Pariah Mahajana Sabha
said : " that unless and until caste distinction was crushed and
the depressed classes treated better, India should not dream of
either self-government or Home Rule ". Madras Mail, 24 Jan.
1916. In November 1917, the Adi Dravida Jana Sabha passed a
resolution stating that, the immediate grant of the Home Rule to
India will be injurious to the masses of India in general and to
the Adi Dravidian Panchamas in particular ". Madras Mail, 5 Nov.
72 Ibid., 28 Dec. 1917, 20 Apr. 1918, 13 Jan., 21 June, 22 Sep.
73 Ibid., 22 Sep. 1919.
74 Ibid., 22 Aug. 1917.
75E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp. 176-178.
76 Madras Mail, 1 June 1917
77 Caldwell was also aware of this when he wrote
: " It thus appears that the word `Dravida', from which the term
`Dravidiari' has been formed, though sometimes used in a
restricted sense, as equivalent to Tamil, is better fitted,
notwithstanding, for use as a generic term, in as much as it has
the advantage of having already been occasionally used by native
philologists in a generic term". Caldwell, op. cit., p. 7.
78 This was one of the reasons why the purist movement succeeded
in Tamilnad whereas it did not succeed in other
Dravidian-language speaking areas.
79Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. IV, House of Commons
paper d. 203, 1919. Report from the Joint Select Committee on
the Govt. of India 11, vol. II, Minutes of Evidence, p. 298.
80 For the same reason when the Self-Respect Movement was
started by V.R. as a protest against Brahminism, it gained
popularity only in the Tamil tricts and not elsewhere.
Similarly, at a later date in the Dravidian movement when the
demand for separate Dravidanad comprising the principal four
Dravidian languages king areas was put forward, the concept
gained popularity only in Tamilnad not elsewhere.