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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CONTENTS
OF THIS SECTION

Last updated
29/10/07

Sundaresan Balakrishnan, 13 December 2006
Jahawir Iqbal, Kattankudi, Batticaloa, Tamil Eelam, 12 June 2006
 Dr.S.Ranganathan and Response by tamilnation.org, 5 June 2006
Rajan Sriskandarajah, 2 September 2002
Thangavelu.V  2 September 2002
D.Rajanayagam,  1 September 2002
Na. Kumaran in the Tamil Circle on Eelam and the Dalit Question 29 August 2002
Pon Kulendiren, 29 August 2002
Thangavelu.V , 28 August 2002
M.Nadarajan, 27 August 2002
Rakesh Chandra 19 March 2001
Dev Mahadevan USA, 12 March 2001 
B. Manjunath,16 January 2001
Muhammad Backer, Emirates 13 July 2000
V.Thangavelu - Canada, 2 May 2000
R. Shanmugalingam - USA, 7 May 2000
V. Thangavelu - Canada, 30 April 2000
Thamilselvan - Australia, 29 December 1999
Sam Sampanthar - UK, 29 December 1999
Rajesh Rajappa - November 1999 including response from tamilnation
V.Thangavelu - Canada, 12 September 1999
R. Kothandaraman, 21 June 1999
V.Thangavelu - Canada, 29 May 1999
Vijay - Tamil Nadu, 21 March 1999  including response from tamilnation
Sam Sampanthar - UK, November 1998 including response from tamilnation

 

Forum on...
Caste & the Tamil Nation

From: Sundaresan Balakrishnan, 13 December 2006

I was born to a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu. But I have abhorred the caste system from my early days. My grandmother who loved me dearly used to sit on the porch and ask any and every one of my friends whether they are "good" meaning they are from upper caste or not. She would admit some of my non Brahmin friends who she considered "good" and not others. To get my friends I used to throw a dry cloth on her and she would go to take a bath. This let me admit my friend inside without the embarrassment. She would get upset but would not scold me.

Later in my life, I was asked to find a place to burn my dead grandfather at Mylapore. When I went to the burning ground I was told that the one place where Brahmins burn their bodies is already used and I should come next day. I told him my grandfather is dead and does not care for caste. The man told me that people of other non Brahmin castes are strictly adhering to their caste and he wanted to be absolutely sure that it will be OK. I had to tell him that my grand father was a devotee who used to celebrate the marriage of Radha with Krishna in several houses and they go out singing devotional songs and later have meals together. Several of the people who accompany him were non Brahmins. Finally he relented.

Similarly, one of the person who worked at a shop owned by my late father got married. His mother tongue is Telugu and he was a non Brahmin. I went to the marriage and when I sat for the meals I asked the Nadaswaram people to sit with me. Immediately the bridegroom (who worked in our shop) came rushing to me that the in-laws of his will get upset if an untouchable eat with the rest of us.

Caste system has gotten into the Tamil population (as it has in the rest of India including sometimes the muslim and christians in India. One of my cousin got married to a Sikh and her mother proudly told me that the bridegroom is a brahmin Sikh).

I have great problem with the caste system especially when those who practice it do not even do the job that caste is supposed to do. For example I do not consider myself a Brahmin since I am neither a teacher or a priest. But segregation and untouchability are beyond the pale in modern society. Even the delienation based on job classification is stupid in a modern societal context.

It is surprising to note that the Great Tamil scholars were so much ahead of their time when they mentioned that there are only 2 castes upper and lower and the upper caste is for those that share their possession and the lower those that do not share.

To day caste system has no place in any society. But to delve on it does not help anyone. India and the Tamil people change slowly. We are not revolutionaries in that sense. We are traditionalists and hence we change slowly but change is occuring surely. Let us celebrate the shared Tamil culture without deviding ourselves into multiple fractions. Tamil is a great tradition which we all share and we can all contribute for its future. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

 The article "Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins" appears to be reflecting everything but the reality of the state of Brahmins and others condemned to be born as "forward castes" in Tamil Nadu today. The line  "In India, Brahmins, who are 3.5 per cent of the population, hold 78 per cent of the judicial positions and approximately 50 per cent of parliamentary seats" for instance represents the "fairy tale" nature of the reality conveyed by the article. Just walk up to any government office in Tamil Nadu and one can see if this is true.   Today the so-called forwards which include Brahmins and Mudaliars do not have political representation. They are convenient scape goats for miseries of the caste system. When you go to southern  Tamil Nadu and see the discrimination such as 2-tumbler system, separation of well and drinking water sources, is it not obvious that the perpetuators of this are no one but influential "backward" castes such as Thevars, Vanniars etc. There is virtually no Brahmin population in Southern Tamil Nadu and to continue to call Brahmins as oppressors is basically same as denying plain reality. The comments made by Prof Hart regarding influence of Brahmins in present caste system is absolutely true. The present Tamil political class in reality appear to a bunch of Tamil traitors who do not have guts to promote unified society within the Tamil state. The first step in this would be stop treating Tamil Brahmins (and other forwards) as non-Tamils while giving higher benefits Hindi speaking Muslims as Tamils.

Response by tamilnation.org  We too agree with the views of Professor Hart in the 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..."  

More generally our response to Mr.S.Ranganathan in June 2006 may be of relevance.


From: Sachi Sri Kankatha, Japan, 30 August 2006

On the Maviddapuram Temple Entry (1968) Conflict and C.Suntheralingam

I appreciate the comments provided by V.Thangavelu and his interaction with C.Suntheralingam in 1966, which was in reference to my note on caste supremacy theme with Sunteralingam's politics as a loose cannon of yester generation. I partly agree with Mr.Thangavelu that Suntheralingam may not have been a caste supremacist in his heart; nevertheless, his actions were mischievous and abetted anti-Tamil political interests in late 1960s. This is why I tagged him as a loose cannon of yester generation, in Eelam Tamil politics.

Suntheralingam represented the Vavuniya constituency from 1947 to early 1960. Then, in the aftermath of the Maviddapuram Temple Entry conflict, he attempted to fish in troubled waters by openly challenging the Federal Party leader S.J.V.Chelvanayakam in Kankesanthurai constituency (within which Maviddapuram was located) during the May 1970 general election. Suntheralingam's unsuccessful and divisive campaign slogan ('Siluvaiyaa - Velaa?'; i.e., 'Are you for the Cross or for the Vel?') against Chelvanayakam was tasteless, sophomoric and unbecoming of a senior politician. He polled only 5,788 votes and came third against Chelvanayakam's (FP) 13,520 votes and V.Ponnambalam's(CP) 8,164 votes, thus demonstrating that he was indeed a loose cannon. Suntheralingam's tasteless campaign of 1960s provides fodder even now for anti-Tamil polemicists like H.L.D.Mahindapala, the ex-editor of Ceylon Observer.

For the record, I provide below excerpts from Bryan Pfaffenberger's paper on this explosive issue which was entitled, 'The political construction of defensive nationalism: The 1968 Temple-Entry crisis in Northern Sri Lanka', which appeared in the Journal of Asian Studies, Feb.1990, vol.49, no.1, pp.78-96.

"...The spokesman of the 'Defenders of Saivism, C.Suntheralingam, did not put the point quite so strongly. He stated that the objection was not to untouchable temple entry per se but rather to any attempt to coerce the temple management into changing its views (and to any interference by the Colombo government in Hindu religious affairs; Ceylon Observer, July 5, 1968, p.2). He declared to a reporter that he had in fact played a role in the voluntary opening of another major Jaffna temple, the Nallur Kanthacami temple, to Minority Tamils some years before the Maviddapuram fracas and had campaigned for temple-entry reform in his youth. 'Even now I am for temple entry', he said, 'but not by force' (Ceylon Observer, July 20, 1968, p.4). Suntheralingam may very well have been sincere, but his statements were widely taken as just so much rhetoric intended only to sugarcoat the conservative position.

Faced with the temple-entry conflict, the Federal Party found itself in a no-win situation and, in the face of contradictory pressures, showed signs of attempting to avoid the issue. The member of parliament for the district in which Maviddapuram is situated, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, attempted to keep a low profile during the conflict, but conservative Vellalars wanted to force the issue; they demanded that Chelvanayakam resign his seat and contest it on the temple-entry issue 'because the public had lost confidence in him' (Times of Ceylon, Aug.9, 1968, p.1).....Chelvanayakam, the MP whom conservative Vellalars had asked to resign, soundly beat Suntheralingam in the 1970 election, just two years after the Maviddapuram conflict."


From: Chudar P. [chudar_p@rediffmail.com] 22 August 2006

Vanakkam! I found your website to be of a laudable purpose and as a great knowledge repository in the web. Hats off to your great work! That being said, I wish to point out a minor anomaly in your website. In  'Tamil Dispora - a Trans State Nation'  page under "Related Sites" heading, you have provided hyperlinks to websites that serve the interests of specific castes like Parpanar (Brahmin), Vellalar etc. For thousands of years, the caste system has been the greatest hurdle to the economic and the cultural development of Tamils and Tamil nationalism. It’s my strong view that encouraging these websites by providing their hyperlinks does not help but works against your stated mission.

Also, I am curious about the order in which the hyperlinks are provided in that page. It starts with Parpanar (Brahmin) and ends with Dalits. Also the title "Caste & the Tamil Nation - Brahmins, Non Brahmins & Dalits" lists the castes in the same order. It is neither the Tamil nor the English alphabetical order nor is it a perfect random order. Has the aryan vedic varna system been encrypted into our unconscious minds? How may more millennia and how many more struggles it will take before we get out of this caste mess?

Response by tamilnation.org  Many thanks for your comments. We agree with you that the caste system has been the greatest hurdle to the growth of Tamil national identity. We have changed the order in which the castes were listed (in the pages that you referred to) so as to remove any doubt that visitors to this website may have had that the 'order' reflected some sort of  a hierarchic ranking. On the question of including hyper links to sites that serve specific castes, whilst we understand the concerns you have expressed, we ourselves believe that the way forward is to recognise the current reality, and at the same time openly examine the pernicious caste system and the need to transcend caste based divisions. We seek to adopt an inclusive approach. Brahmins, Non-Brahmins and Dalits are also Tamils (whatever order that we may mention them) - and in this way we seek to encourage a growing  Tamil togetherness.

From: V.Thangavelu, Canada, 22 August 2006

Vanakkam. I read the comment by Sachi Sri Kantha that Prof.C.Suntharalingam gave "overt expression of caste  supremacy." In fairness to Prof.C. Suntharalingam let me straighten the record.  It was in 1966 I believe, Prof. C came to the Jaffna Municipal Council to look into some municipal records. He was then one of the Trustee of Jaffna Sivan temple and I was the acting Commissioner of JMC. We discussed many topics of common interest at that time. One of the topic is about the pernicious caste system. I asked him how come he opposed temple entry (Maviddapuram Temple) by the so called "low castes" and whether it is not a fact  that the caste system itself is outdated and a curse of Hinduism and by extension the Thamil society. He laughed loudly and told me he himself does not believe in caste system and he is opposed to it. He opposed temple entry because Communists, who don't believe in religion or God, were trying to enter the temple and create trouble! I don't know whether he meant what he said, but this is what he told me. I have no reason to disbelieve him.

From: S. Govender, South Africa, 31 July 2006

I recently read the comments on your website by S. Ranganathan, in a correspondence to you regarding Brahmins in India.

May I say at the outset that I am a South African and that while my father is Tamil and my mother is a descendent of Hindi-speaking people from Uttar Pradesh, I consider myself Tamil and have done much to learn about the history of Tamil-speaking civilisation. I recently watched a series of music videos that were exclusively of Tamil origin and also a travel and tourism television programme that visited the 'Chollywood' of Tamil cinema. I was struck and disgusted that the main characters were, it seemed to my eyes, exclusively fair skinned, whilst the dark skinned Tamils were merely background dancers or extras.

Speaking from experiences in South Africa, I have never seen anything to refute my belief that Tamils, the Dravidians as it were, are a dark skinned race. There may exist some lightening of complexion through invasion and intermarriage of millenia, but to display to the world the type of obvious racial propaganda as displayed in these music videos would be as if Nigerian cinema had White lead actors.

It is a disgrace that we Tamils do not celebrate our status as an ancient dark skinned people. As the African-Americans once preached, 'black is beautiful', and no amount of propaganda can change that simple fact.

From: Jahawir Iqbal, Kattankudi, Batticaloa, Tamil Eelam, 12 June 2006

The stand that tamilnation.org has taken on the issue of caste is highly commendable . In every society, there is a system of gradation and stratification. In white meritocratic societies one finds the class system. However it is at the brink of extinction.

The problem with the Tamil nation is that  Hindu thought seems to propagate the caste system. It is therefore a guilt-ridden trip for Hindus to actually push themselves out of such a tyrannical system of thought which has plagued them for centuries. I'm told in Jaffna conservative society - no matter whether you are Hindu or Christian (Catholic or Protestant) you are bound by this straight-jacket. If they bump into a new person the first question to ask is: "Thambi neengal avedum?" They ask from which village they have come from...the next question is: Are you related to so and so...then the "cat" is out of the bag! A human being is treated as to where he finds himself in this system of Varna.

It is excellent that tamilnation.org is openly speaking about this curse of a system. Because a society is judged by its taboos. When we don't bring it to the open this matter will never be gotten rid of. In Jaffna even many TULF stalwarts (excluding Tantai Chelva) in the past supported the move to refuse certain castes' entrance to the temple. It was like the Jews keeping the Gentiles away in the outer-court of the Temple.

We can't exclusively blame the Brahmins for the folly of demented religious reasoning. However, all this fuss centers around "control". Brahmins have the monopoly on God and they are the only ones who have the legitimacy to "speak" God-tongue: Sanskrit. One time the Catholics had a hold on "Latin mass." These are all mechanisms to have a firm hold on society. God always seem to stay out of these man-made pet-doctrines and play toy-boxes. The Tamil revolution that is occurring right now has already legislated against the caste system. That action is good but not enough to uproot the centuries-old "tree of curse". Perhaps there needs to be enlightenment.

But the worry is, it is among the so-called "cerebral classes" that this caste system thrives. Why? Don't you think all this is interlinked with property, human rights, control and monopoly? Why is it that in a marriage proposal caste is a dominant issue? If the proposal is successful what needs to occur is transfer of wealth: both immovable wealth and liquid assets in the form of dowry! These assets must therefore ought to stay within the caste. The question is in the process of emancipation which needs to be dismantled first.

As a young Sufi-Muslim in Batticaloa I've listened to Kasi Ananthan's poetry reading. In one of his poems he asks a pertinent question..."Does a Vellala woman have three breasts?" [Vellalan Pennuku moontru marpa? Veruthum angangal angum undara?] Poets always dig deeper and hit at the heart of the problem: they call a spade a spade. Others simply eat the fruit of the "Tree of curse" and go to sleep.

Ambedkar's fine mind was attracted to the rationality of the Buddha. I'm interested to learn more about the emancipated 'Brahamin'-woman who married Ambedkar. I wonder whether tamilnation.org would kindly furnish more information on her as I've come to appreciate tamilnation.org as an open-university in Tamil studies. The editor of tamilnation.org is not only wide awake, he is undoubtedly keeping the Tamil Nation on their toes. Making them to think on their feet as it were. Many thanks, Salam!

From: Dr. S. Ranganathan, 10/11 June 2006

Dear fellow Tamil Brother, Vannakam. Thank you so much for your frank and open communication in response to my email. I deeply appreciate it. Let us stand united as proud Tamilians and work towards the enrichment and betterment of our mother language and our Tamil culture. Nanri

I have a question: This is pertaining to “who is a Tamil”. The way I understand it, a “Tamil” is somebody whose mother tongue is Tamil; that he/she speaks that language at home. Therefore, how could Mr. E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker (‘Periyar’) be considered as “Tamil”? I am told he spoke Telugu at home. This question arose when I was delving deep into your outstanding website, which is full of educational and interesting information and I was looking at notable Tamils during the 21st Century.

Response by tamilnation.org On the question of 'Who is Tamil' you may find the discussion at One Hundred Tamils of the 20th/21st Centuries - Who is a Tamil? of interest and in particular the question raised by Vijay Pillai in relation to EVR  in February 2000 and our response.

From: Rajan Sriskandarajah <rajan@hvc.rr.com> 2 September 2002

In trying to determine whether casteism is a Tamil phenomenon, or whether it was something introduced by the Aryans (Brahmins) into the Tamil society, a couple of questions need to be answered.

1. When we talk about casteism, are we talking about differences in occupations, or is it about social class (caste) defined by birth?

2. When we quote ancient Tamil literature, how accurate are these books? More importantly, how accurately are we in interpreting them?

All societies have had occupational classes, and some occupations have been treated as lowly. Ancient Tamils have also had this type of occupational classes, and some occupations have been considered as 'lowly'. This is about "social class" and "class differences."

Ancient Tamil books do describe the "Pulayans" and the "Parayans." The occupations that these groups engaged in were indeed 'dirty' and 'smelly' and they were segregated from those who considered themselves as 'clean'. Should we be ashamed of this behavior of the ancient Tamils? It is certainly not something that we can be proud of. However, one must remember that 'dignity of labor' and 'respect for all occupations' is a recent phenomenon, even in the so called liberal societies.

This is different from 'caste' being defined at birth - based on one's Karma. This is the phenomenon that was introduced by the Aryans, with the Laws of Manu. According to Vedic legends, Manu (the great-great-grandson of Lord Brahma) decreed that the Brahmins originated from the head of Brahma and therefore superior to all other beings. Kshatryas originated from the arms of Brahma, and were designated the duty of protection. Vaisyas came from the abdomen, and were assigned the duty of creating wealth - trade, agriculture, etc. Sudras came from the feet, and therefore became the slaves.

This classification was defined at birth. There was no hope of changing one's caste except in the next birth, and that too only if a Sudra behaved well in this birth! Manu also prohibited marital interactions between the castes. Even sex was explicitly prohibited between castes.

The ancient Tamil society, on the other hand, was classified based on occupation, and occupation was based on land use. Ancient Tamil land was classified as Kurunchi, Mullai, Marutha, Neithal, and Palai. This was not defined at birth.

Tholkaapiyam, for example, is clear on this. Book III Verse 22 states:

பெயரும் வினையும் என்று ஆயிரு வகைய
திணைதொறும் மரீஇய திணை நிலைப் பெயரே.

Peyarum Vinaiyumenru Aayiuru Vakaya Thinnaithorum mareea thinnai nilaip peyare.

There were no restrictions on marital interactions between the groups (except for slaves?). Verse 25 states:

அடியோர் பாங்கினும் வினைவலர் பாங்கினும்
கடிவரை இல புறத்து என்மனார் புலவர்.

Adyor paanginum vinaivalar paanginum Kadivarai ila puraththu enmanar pulavar.

Having said this, I must admit that there are sections in Thokaapiyam that talks about caste. These are in Verses 615-619 in Marapiyal section on Varnashrama Dharma. Many who have studied Tholkaapiyam well (I am certainly not one of them) consider these verses to be later interpolations. Interpolations have been a problem with ancient books. People who have come later have added text into older books. This has occurred in the bible too. Mudaliyar Rasnayagam laments about the interpolations into the Yalpana Vaivapa Malai. "Varnashrama Dharma" is not a pure Tamil word. Verses 615-619 do not conform to the general trend of Tholkaapiyar's writing. They are contextually inappropriate and most likely interpolations.

Therefore, trying to interpret the nature of ancient Tamil society, based on ancient books is pure guesswork. Casteism as it is practiced today in Tamil society, however, is as decreed in the Laws of Manu, where one's caste is defined at birth and is unchangeable. This practice must go.


From: Thangavelu.V <athangav@sympatico.ca2 September 2002

I wish to add further comments to my earlier piece. The word Varnaashrama consists of two words. Varna refers to the four-fold (Chadur) divisions of people according to colour Viz the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Sudras; deemed to have come forth from the mouth, the arms, the thighs and the feet of the Brahman respectively. The Brahmins were at the top of this hierarchy, and after the emergence of Brahman concept, the Purohits styled themselves as Brahmins since the Brahman concept was their contribution to society. The Tamils who were black in complexion, irrespective of their occupation, were classed as Sudras.

The Sudras have to serve the first 3 Varnas. In one sense Varna could be classed as racism rather than casteism! In course of time of another Varna was added viz the Panchamar (Untouchables). The chart shows the major divisions and contents of the system. The basic castes are called "varnas," or "colours." Sub castes, or "j‚tis," are subdivisions of the varnas. In Bagawat Geetha, Krishna says that even He cannot alter the Varnaashrama Dharma, even if he wishes so, because it was in existence at the time of creation. He advocates the practice of Suya Dharma, one doing the duty (occupation) allotted to him. Ashrama refers to the four "stages of striving" in pursuit of Purucharthas (Uruthipporul) viz Righteousness (Aram); Wealth (Porul); Pleasure (Inpam) and Liberation (Veedu).

It is the practice of Varna that gave rise to a multiplicity of castes through cross marriages between the Varnas. The influx of foreigner invaders like Huns, Greeks etc. who inter-married with the locals resulted in multiplication of castes. The present day Rajputs are descendants of Huns and locals. When the twice born (The first 3 Varnas) come of age, they enter into the four ashrams or "stages of life."

The first is the brahmacarya (1-24), or the stage of the student (brahmac‚rin). For boys, the student is supposed to go live with a teacher (guru), who is a Brahmin, to learn about Sanskrit, the Vedas, rituals, etc. The dharma of a student includes being obedient, respectful, celibate, and non-violent. "The teacher is God." For girls, the stage of student hood coincides with that of the householder, and the husband stands in the place of the teacher.

The second stage is the g‚rhastya (24-48), or the stage of the householder, which is taken far more seriously in Hinduism than in Jainism or Buddhism and is usually regarded as mandatory, like student hood. Arjuna's duty to fight the battle in the Bagawat Geetha comes from his status as a householder.

The third stage is the v‚naprastya (48-72), or the stage of the forest dweller. This may be entered into optionally if (ideally) one's hair has become grey, skin wrinkled, and grandchildren exist to carry on the family. Husbands and wives may leave their affairs and possessions with their children and retire together to the forest as hermits.

The fourth stage is the sanny‚sa(over 72), or the stage of the wandering ascetic, the sanny‚sin (or s‚dhu). If a man desires, he may continue on to this stage, but his wife will need to return home; traditionally she cannot stay alone as a forest dweller or wander the highways as an ascetic. The sanny‚sin has renounced the world completely, is regarded as dead by his family (the funeral is held), and is finally beyond all dharma and caste.

The deceptive Brahman concept (Brahminism) was introduced by Aadi Sankarar, a Nambuthiri Brahmin from Kerala, under the name of 'Advaita' philosophy in the 9th c. A.D. By writing voluminous distorted commentaries to the Vedas, he brought the 'Six-fold' religions viz. Saivaism, Vaishnavism, Saktham , Gowmaram, Kanapathyam and Sowram into the Brahman concept, and got them under the control of the Brahmins. This is presently known as Hindu religion.

Caste divisions among Tamils got solidified between the 9th and the 13th centuries during the Chola period. This is also the time Hinduism/Saivaism gained ascendancy and wiped out the non-caste religions Jainism and Buddhism. During the Thevaara period of Appar, Sampanthar and Sunderar, Thamils were allowed into the sanctum sanctorum for worship, but they lost this right later.

The Hindu religion explains low birth, poverty etc to one's deeds in his/her previous birth. Those who performed meritorious deeds are born as Brahmins and those who did evil deeds are born as lower castes and untouchables. Also the Hindu religion exhorted its followers not to feel jealous about the high and wealthy nor feel sorry for the low and the poor. In one word it said it is their fate! Reaping the fruits of the previous birth. Thirukkural composed by Valluvar was an attempt to define the Tamil traditions, culture and believes as opposed to Aryan culture, though not in any revolutionary manner.

He says "All beings are equal at birth, there worth or distinction varies according to their occupations "(Kural 972). He also refutes the claim for any one to call himself a Brahmin based on birth only. He says " Brahmins are those who are virtuous; because they are kind to all living beings."

The Siddhas who lived in the 14-17th century came heavily against Brahmins, idol worship and caste system. Thirumoolar (7th century) in his Thirumanthiram (10th Book in Thirumurai) declares "if a Brahmin only in name is allowed to perform pooja to God Siva, it will bring great disease to the warrior kings and famine to their domains. So says Nandhi (the Bull) the learned!"

Sivavaakiyaar outpourings against temple worship, caste etc. was so radical, special efforts were made to collect and burn his works by Saiva Adheenams. He pointedly asked where is caste,  and whether there is any difference when you have sex with parachchi and panaththi? Unfortunately the radical but individual efforts of the Siddhas failed to have any impact on the entrenched Hindu caste system.

One reason why caste system survives is due to its hierarchical structure. Those who want to abolish the higher castes, which are counted as superior to them, are at the same time like to maintain their superiority over the castes below them. When the statue of Naavalar was taken in procession in the seventies to Valvettithurai, the processionists were stoned and driven away. But those who stoned Naavalar did not allow other castes to enter their temples! Chellachchannathi temple was one of the last to throw its doors open to untouchables!

There was no organized religion during the Sankam period. But by the 2nd century AD, several temples for Siva, Murugan, Balaraman, and Vishnu have cropped up. This is evident when one reads Cilappathikaram, a later work by Ilango.

I have read the excellent research article written by Prof George Hart who has quoted extensively from the Sankam literature to establish that caste existed among the ancient Tamils as well.

It should be remembered that the Sankam literature is a collection of selected poems spanning at least 5 centuries from 300 BC to 200 AD. There was time lapse between the composition of the poem and its inclusion in the selected works later. During this period the Varnaashrama Dharma was slowly but steadily creeping into the Tamil society and reflected in the later works. Kudi based on one's occupation was slowly giving rise to caste based on birth. So the poems in Purananooru, Ahananooru and Kalithokai (a very much later work) should be read in the proper context.

There was no caste system among the early Sankam Tamils. What they had was occupational guilds based on the type of work they did. Prof Hart misinterprets the word Kudi to mean caste. Even today Jaffna Tamils speak of Kudi (also Kulam) meaning traditions of a group of families related by blood. Caste is rigid. One is born into certain caste and it cannot be changed even if you change your vocation. One of the strongest arguments in support the theory that the concept of caste was foreign to Tamils is the word j‚tis itself. It is not Tamil, but Sanskrit.

The poets of the 3rd or the last Sankam came from all walks of life cutting across social barriers. Royals, Kusavar, Kuravar, Paanar, Petty traders, Teachers etc. Surprisingly 53 Thamil poetesses adorned the Sankam demonstrating equal opportunity to women in the sphere of education. Avvayar who is a Kuravar was one of the best poets of this age. In later period some of these 'castes' fell from grace and treated as untouchables.

40. குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று

யாயும் ஞாயும் யாரா கியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
யானும் நீயும் எவ்வழி யறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயனீர் போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாங்கலந் தனவே.

-செம்புலப் பெயனீரார்.

 

There is a poem (40) by an unknown poet in Kurunthokai. The girl thinks her lover might forsake her and go away without marrying her. The boy then allays her fears. He asks, My mother and your mother, how they are related! My father and your father, in what way they are related! Me and you, did not know each other before! Like the rain that mixes with the red soil Our hearts full of love have got mixed with one another!

This poem indicates that marriage can take place outside the family circle. In discussing the relationship with the two families, the boy never asks about what caste they belonged to or what religion they professed. This is evidence that no caste as understood now was in existence during the Sankam age.

In Canada the younger generation has nothing but contempt for the archaic and irrational caste system based on birth. Social barriers that existed in the caste- based Jaffna society are breaking down fast. Inter-caste and inter-racial marriages, especially when they are love marriages, are becoming .


From: D.Rajanayagam <daggi.rajanayagam@t-online.de> 1 September 2002

This has been an interesting article and discussion. The article in Himal was well-written and well-informed, though it contained some errors particularly regarding the present situation and the LTTEĻs actions.

I have written a detailed article regarding 'The Jaffna Social System: Continuity and Change under conditions of war'  in Asien Forum 24 1993, which discusses precisely the actions of the LTTE regarding caste. Another article on the topic is coming out shortly.

While discussing about caste system of South Asia we have to learn to differentiate between Varna and Jati. 'The Portuguese word Casta that became Caste in English combines them both.' No, it does not, and that was the problem. Portuguese casta comes from pure and chaste and thus gave a totally unreal perception to the Europeans of what jati (or varna) was about, both of which stem from quite different etymological roots. If you want to find an equivalent for jati at all, the best might be the ancient concept of (natio which refers to birth and tribe)

"So we cant blame anyone including the Brahmins (both the imported and local variety) for the existence of this archaic evil amongst us."

No doubt about that, but the Brahmins exploited and exacerbated the system no end and robbed it of its flexibility. Incidentally, there were other reformers (religious ones, too) besides Arumuka Navalar who were not so rabid about caste as he. Think of Marai Malai Atikal whose admittedly quaint cure consisted in making everybody in the Tamilland into a Vellalar (which is of course a time-honoured means).

One should not forget that the so-called kind-hearted efforts by the Sinhalese to convert the low castes to Buddhism were by no means disinterested. Moreover, caste exists in Sinhala society, too, and low castes as well!!


From: Na. Kumaran in the Tamil Circle <nakumaran@hotmail.com>, 29 August 2002
Subject: Eelam and the Dalit Question

'Caste of the Tiger: Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils' by Ravikumar (Translated from Tamil by R Azhagarasan) in HIMAL South Asia, August 2002  and published also in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Island of 26 August 2002.

"In 1981, the UNP leaders, who shout themselves hoarse about democracy, summoned their military thugs and burnt down the Jaffna library, the biggest library in Southeast Asia. About the same time, caste fanatics in a small village, Ezhudumattuval, near Jaffna, threatened Dalit children at a school, seized their books and notebooks and set them afire."Why did Tamil society choose to condemn one incident and remain silent on the other?" - Dominic Jeeva, Dalit author from Eelam

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief V Prabakaran's two and half hour press conference on 10 April this year is regarded as a turning point in the ongoing peace initiatives in Sri Lanka. Prominent among the issues raised at the press meet were those concerning Muslims and Estate Tamils (also called Hill-Country Tamils, Tamils of Indian Descent or New Tamils, since a majority came over from India as plantation workers). Responding to these queries, Prabakaran and LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingam said they had invited leaders of these two groups for talks on issues concerning their future and, as expected, an agreement has now been arrived at. However, the press conference was disturbingly silent on the question of Dalit-untouchables who constitute nearly 15 percent of the Tamil population in Eelam. No one saw fit to raise the matter and the Eelam leadership too chose not to dwell on it. The silence of the assembled press corps is understandable. But the reticence of  the Tamil leadership is deliberate neglect. A problem that has been awaiting a resolution for decades was simply glossed over as if it did not even exist.

The primary reason for this neglect is that contemporary Sri Lanka lacks an energetic Dalit organisation that can exert the necessary social pressure to ensure that the issue gets the prominence it deserves. This current absence of Dalit political leadership is conspicuous in an otherwise forceful history of assertion. In fact, Dalit political consciousness among Sri Lankan Tamils predates the mobilisation of their counterparts in Tamil Nadu. The militant struggle against untouchability by Sri Lankan Dalits gives them the distinction of being among the earliest to wage war against casteism. But over the years the Sri Lankan Dalit movement has lost its organisational drive, and so while the Muslims and the Estate Tamils have ensured that their issues remain prominent on the Eelam agenda, the most oppressed of the Tamils do not evoke even a passing mention from the Jaffna Tamils, who lead the armed separatist struggle.

Roots of violence

It is customary for Tamil nationalists to regard the Jaffna Tamils as role models, particularly because of their `achievements' in the armed struggle. But Eelam and the Jaffna Tamils have an unsavoury tradition that does no credit to their claim to special status. They have produced casteist, chauvinist scholars such as Arumuga Navalar of the early 19th century, who, echoing Manu, the preceptor of the varna system, declared that the parai (Dalit drum), the woman and the panchama (Dalit) are "all born to get beaten". Navalar is just one among a large company of Jaffna Tamils who stoked casteism and helped it take strong roots in the island. The history of caste Hindu atrocities on Dalits is long and shameful. The significant moments in the Dalit struggle for self-respect and upper caste reprisals merit recapitulation if only to demonstrate why this problem will not be easily resolved.

Those who celebrate the greatness of the Tamil armed struggle are of course careful to avoid mention of when Jaffna's earliest episodes of armed violence took place and against whom these were directed. Violence began to inform the Tamil landscape as early as 1944 when some caste Hindus gunned down a Dalit as he tried to cremate the body of an old woman of his community at the Villoonri cremation ground in Jaffna. This anti-Dalit violence was to continue sporadically over the years. Thus, it can be said that the culture of armed struggle began in Sri Lanka in the form of attacks on untouchables. However, Eelam's panegyrics to itself and its armed revolution cannot accommodate such uncomfortable facts.

In the circumstances, it is not surprising that Dalits in Sri Lanka were forced to form political organisations much earlier than Tamil Nadu Dalits. In fact, they were pioneers in political mobilisation even among Sri Lankan Tamils. Tamil nationalism acquired a real political edge only in the 1940s with the formation of the Tamilar Congress in 1944 and the Tamilarasu Party in 1949. Dalit mobilisation preceded this by a quarter century, with the formation of the Forum for Depressed Class Tamil Labourers in July 1927. The forum launched an agitation for "equality in seating, equality in eating" in 1928 in protest against caste discrimination in schools where Dalit children were forbidden from learning or dining with other children. Two years of sustained struggle resulted in an administrative order that in grant-aided schools low-caste children should be allowed to sit on benches instead of on the floor or outside on the ground. In retaliation, caste Hindu Tamils burnt down 13 schools that implemented the new regulations. And by way of political follow-up, the elite of the Vellala community from Urelu, Vasavilan and Punalakkattavan petitioned the government in 1930 to rescind the equal-seating directive.

The next major effort to thwart Dalit rights took place in 1931, when the then British government of Sri Lanka set up the Donoughmore Commission to look into the changes to be introduced in the country's constitution. The commission recommended the introduction of universal adult franchise in Sri Lanka. As a result, the Dalits gained voting rights. Unable to tolerate this development, caste Tamils, headed by prominent leaders like S. Natesan, launched an agitation. They were ready to give up their own voting rights to prevent Dalits from getting theirs. To demonstrate their social power, they went one step further and imposed several new restrictions on Dalits. According to the new draconian strictures: "Untouchable women should not cover their torso and (must) remain half-naked. They should not wear jewels, not use an umbrella, nor use the caste thread in marriages. Their children should not bear the names used by dominant castes. They should not cremate, but bury the dead bodies. They should not use footwear; should not get water from public wells; should not sit in buses; nor send their children to schools". These restrictions were even harsher than the restrictions imposed in the 1930s on Dalits of Tiruchi, Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu by the dominant Kallar, Maravar and Thevar communities.

Sri Lankan political parties, including caste Tamil leaders, advanced several reasons to oppose universal franchise. They argued that the extension of voting rights to all would increase corruption; that only landowners are patriotic so voting rights should be restricted to them; that voting rights would be misused by the illiterate and that women should not get involved in politics and hence should not be given the right to vote. However, the Donoughmore Commission stood firm, and Dalits attained voting rights in 1931.

Suffrage gave them some political leverage and was a boost to their struggle, as is evident from some of the limited changes that came about in the economic sphere. For instance, S Natesan, who was at the forefront of the opposition to voting rights for untouchables, under compulsion of seeking Dalit votes, had to introduce measures such as the legalisation of the tree tax (mara-vari scheme) in 1936. This helped the Dalits involved in the toddy business gain economic independence from upper caste Tamils. This and other successes stimulated further attempts at forging Dalit political unity for agitational ends.

The Conference of Oppressed Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka was organised in August 1943. One of the outcomes of this conference was the formation of the Northern Sri Lankan Minority Tamils Mahasabha. In order to unite Dalits all over Sri Lanka, the Northern Sri Lanka Minority Tamils Mahasabha was renamed the All-Sri Lankan Minority Tamils Mahasabha and its demands were enlarged to include protection for arrack production, improving educational opportunities for untouchables, reservation for untouchables in teacher training and representation for untouchables in the legislature.

Meanwhile, the agenda to suppress Dalits was being continuously pursued in the constitutional sphere. Sri Lankan political parties, dissatisfied with the recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission, demanded a new constitution for Sri Lanka. In 1942, these parties asked that the British send a mission to Sri Lanka to initiate the process of writing a new constitution for the country. In response to such pressures, London dispatched a commission to Sri Lanka to elicit the views of the various communities on the proposed new constitution.

Competitive politics

The Commission, headed by Lord Soulbury, conducted its deliberations from December 1944 to April 1945, and held discussions with representatives of various communities. The Minority Tamils Mahasabha decided to submit a separate memorandum to the commission. But the Tamilar Congress Party and its president, GG Ponnambalam, insisted that a separate submission would affect the unified Tamil cause. To decide the issue, the Minority Tamils Mahasabha organised a meeting in Jaffna, to which Ponnambalam was also invited. The Mahasabha made it clear that if the Congress memorandum included issues of Dalit welfare, particularly those concerning education, professional rights and eradication of untouchability, it was ready to give up its plan to submit a separate memorandum. With Ponnambalam rejecting this demand, the Mahasabha was forced to go along with its original plan to submit a separate memorandum.

In the hostile climate that prevailed, with the Tamilar Congress and caste Tamils assuming a threatening attitude, the Dalit leadership was forced to smuggle members of the Soulbury Commission to their villages in order to show them the wretched conditions of living. But all this was of no consequence, since the caste Hindu sentiment prevailed and the welfare of Dalits found no place in the newly drafted constitution. Instead the `unified Tamil' cause found safeguards in the `Soulbury Constitution', which proscribed any legislation that would affect a community or religion. This constitution was in force till 1972, when it was redrafted. Ironically, the constitution that caste Hindu Tamils believed would safeguard their interests exclusively, to the detriment of the Dalits, was later to pave the way for their own marginalisation, as Sinhala chauvinism rode roughshod over the clauses designed to protect minority rights.

As recommended by the Soulbury Commission, elections were held in 1947 in which the United National Party (UNP) and the Tamilar Congress were the main contenders. The third force was constituted of the left, represented primarily by the breakaway factions of the sole pre-war left party - the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP). One faction of the LSSP set up the Sri Lankan Communist Party in 1943. When M Karthikeyan introduced this party to the Jaffna Tamils, a large number of Dalits joined it. Dalit writers like Daniel, Dominic Jeeva, ML Subramaniam, and K Pasupathi were part of this group. Though they joined the communist party, they continued their work with the Minority Tamils Mahasabha, with which they had been associated in the past.

As political consciousness among the Dalits evolved, two trends emerged within the Minority Tamils Mahasabha. Some accepted the communist ideology while others were content with agitating for small privileges. On the electoral strategy, there was unanimity of opinion that they should not vote for the Tamilar Congress, which had not only actively campaigned against the inclusion of Dalit rights in the Soulbury constitution but had also failed to nominate Dalit candidates in the election. There was however a difference of opinion between the moderates and others on whether they should vote for the UNP or the left parties. The majority of the Minority Tamils Mahasabha campaigned for the UNP, which had appointed a Dalit to the senate. The UNP programme was more pro-Dalit" than that of the Tamilar Congress. The UNP campaigned against untouchability, announced several schemes for Dalit welfare and promised to nominate a Dalit member to the assembly. For many moderate Dalits, these assurances were aufficient ground for supporting the UNP.

In contrast to the stand taken by the Tamilar Congress, the Tamilarasu party, which first raised the slogan of Tamil `right to self-determination', initially embarked on a policy of Dalit accommodation. The Tamilarasu decided to take Tamil nationalism beyond Jaffna and unite Tamils from all the areas, focusing on the racist attitude of the Sinhala government. As a Tamil nationalist party it was forced by the presence of independent-minded Dalit political organisations to address the problem of untouchability and casteism, at least nominally. The Tamilarasu included `abolition of untouchability' as one of its resolutions at the party's fifth conference held in July 1957. The accommodationist compulsions of an inclusive nationalism are evident in Tamilarasu leader Thanthai Selva's speech at the time of the party's founding:

"If we want to qualify ourselves to win, we have to eradicate the evils in society and purify it. Among the Tamils, there are untouchables. They think they are oppressed by others. Ethically speaking, if we do harm to others, someone will do the same to us. If Tamils want to attain liberation, they must give the same to those who are deprived of their rights in our society".

The promises and resolutions however, did not add up to much in real terms. The Tamilarasu did not make any effort to implement them in their parliamentary programme. Meanwhile, developments in the larger Sri Lankan polity were to have adverse consequences for both upper caste Tamils and Dalits. This was particularly the case with the government's chauvinist Sinhala Only Act of 1956, which deprived all Tamils of their fundamental rights. Despite such openly discriminatory developments, the communist party continued to support the UNP and since by now the communists dominated the Minority Tamils Mahasabha, many Dalit leaders had no option but to join Tamilarasu. A new organisation, the Minority Tamils United Front was formed with the support of the Tamilarasu party.

Tea and temples

In order to consolidate its support among the Dalits, the Tamilarasu pushed for the introduction of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act in April 1957. This act treated caste-based discrimination in public places as a crime but imposed a fine of `not more than SLR 100' and a jail term of six months for perpetrators of such crimes. Just how lightly the problem of untouchability was taken is evident from a comparison with the situation that obtained in Tamil Nadu in the 1930s. Raobahadur `Rettaimalai' Seenivasan (a Tamil Dalit leader who attended the Round Table Conference with BR Ambedkar) says in his autobiography that a fine of INR 100 was imposed on those who prevented untouchables from using public wells, ponds and the market. In 27 years the real value of the rupee had declined, but there obviously was very little change in the legal attitude to untouchability. In the interest of condign punishment, if nothing else the depreciation of the currency could have been factored into punitive fines.

With such weak protective laws to help them survive with dignity, Dalits had to increasingly address their own social issues through direct action to force political parties to heed their plight. In October 1958, the Minority Tamils Mahasabha gave a call for a "teashop entry movement". The Mahasabha delivered an ultimatum demanding that teashops should begin admitting Dalits before 13 December, failing which they would agitate in front of the offending establishments. This movement put pressure on the Tamilarasu Party, which responded by announcing an "annihilation of untouchability week" from 24 November. The party, keen to prevent the division of its Tamil base, initiated a dialogue with the teashop owners in Jaffna. As a result, two teashops run by non-Tamil south Indians admitted untouchables. Others soon followed suit.

It is a singular irony of Sri Lankan politics that Dalits attained the right to vote in 1931, but had to struggle for another 27 years before they could drink tea in public with dignity. But though teashop doors had opened, school gates remained shut.

It was only through the efforts of the Communist Party leader Pon Kandaiah that 15 schools for the children of the Dalit community were opened. Competitive politics involving the communist and the Tamilarasu parties, in the context of organised Dalit activity, was clearly a determining factor in securing some limited policy gains. Changes in the nature of competitive politics were to have adverse consequences for the Dalits. This is most clearly evident from the developments in the aftermath of the split in the Communist Party in 1964 and the subsequent participation of Tamilarasu in the UNP-led government in 1965.

As part of its constituency building, N Shanmugathasan's communist party led the popular temple-entry movements, apart from launching agitations to seize untitled lands and access water from public wells. Newspapers almost daily carried stories about Dalit agitation - among others, the burning of Kandasamy temple chariot in April 1968 and the riots that took place during the staging of the play Kandan Karunai in June 1969. In response, Tamilarasu, the Tamil nationalist party, strongly criticised this agitation. The Tamilarasu leadership had become concentrated in the hands of a Colombo-based group with representatives from the dominant communities in Jaffna. The political resolutions of the party were drafted in accordance with the interests of the dominant caste of Jaffna, the Vellalas.

By the 1970s, Sri Lankan politics had taken a turn for the worse, acquiring an increasingly ethnic character, as the politics of Sinhala-Tamil accommodation began giving way to conflict. Tamil nationalism intensified in response to the continuous Sinhala racist policies. The Tamilarasu, having compromised itself by participating in the government, began to lose its base among Tamils. The major racist attack of 1983 opened a new trend in the country's politics, particularly Tamil politics. While Sinhala politics continued to be competitive, Tamil politics became the monopoly of a nationalism that subsumed every other division within society in the interest of an overarching unity that refused to admit intra-ethnic differences.

Caste and the Tiger

The rise of armed struggle after 1983 and the consequent fall of democratic movements became a major hurdle in the way of an independent Dalit movement. Since nationalism could not concede even the slightest hint of an inner contradiction, writers who continuously focused on the problem of `panchamars' were dubbed enemies of the Tamil nation. The Tamil national liberation movement suppressed the voice of the Dalits. The discrimination that followed from Sinhala majoritarianism in education and employment largely affected caste Tamils. But the ethnic conflict drew Dalits into the circle of violence. As the conflict heightened, well-to-do caste Tamils fled to foreign lands, but Dalits who lacked the resources to follow suit remained in Eelam, and consequently were recruited into the armed struggle. This trend intensified in the 1990s and today the majority of LTTE cadres happen to be Dalit.

The increased participation of Dalits and women in the armed struggle had the paradoxical effect of loosening some of the more rigid strictures of Hindu society that are incompatible with the flexibility required by armed combat. But this did not lead to Dalit issues being addressed in any formal or concrete sense. The changes that have taken place are merely pragmatic adaptations dictated by necessity. Even so, caste Tamils, who see themselves as the sole representatives of all Tamils, are uncomfortable with this new state of affairs since they fear that the rigid rules of subordination will be permanently breached. As if to reinforce the orthodoxy, while limited social change has been taking place in the Lankan Tamil homeland, emigre caste Tamils have reinforced caste distinctions in their adopted countries.

Clearly, migration to foreign lands has not mitigated the effects of caste; caste feelings remain strong and there is little reason to believe that the pragmatic concessions that the Tamil society in the home country has made in conditions of war will last when and if peace arrives. Hence, it is important to ask whether the (interim) government that will be formed after the peace initiatives will address the problems of the Dalits. Dalits have played a crucial role in the powerful struggle that forced the Sinhala government to negotiate, but it is increasingly looking like the LTTE will abandon the Dalits when there is no longer any need for their services. Caste Tamils in Eelam could well give vent to their caste feelings once the climate of fear is dispelled. To avoid such a situation, the Dalits need to procure some assurances.

The details of the LTTE's understanding with the Estate Tamils and Muslims are not very clear. Yet, the concessions that the latter have managed to extract over the last two decades is instructive at least as a modular specimen to be imitated. On 21 April 1988 an agreement, based on talks held in Madras on 15, 16 and 19 April 1988, was reached between the leaders of Muslim United Front and the Tigers. The 18-point agreement, signed by Kittu alias Sadasivam Krishnakumar for the Tigers and MIM Moheedin for the Muslim United Front, recognised the cultural and social distinctness of the Muslims and provided constitutional safeguards to them. 33 percent of the population in the eastern territory is Muslim and the figure is 18 percent for the northeast. Hence, the agreement stated that not less than 30 percent of state assembly seats should be given to them, besides giving them an unspecified representation in the ministry. Based on the percentage of Muslims living in each district  in the northeast, proportional reservation would be given to them in jobs in the public sector. It was also agreed that an Islamic university would be started with special educational facilities. The chief ministership of the northeastern province would rotate between Muslims and `others'.

Such an agreement is important for the Dalits. A similar agreement could now be chalked out to provide education, jobs and land to the Dalits. The demands made in the resolutions of the Minority Tamils Mahasabha and the plan of action put forth in the movements for eradication of untouchability (by the communists in the 1960s) should also be taken into account in such an agreement. If the future is to be insured against social conflict, the Tigers will have to come forward unilaterally to provide a solution to the Dalit problem. The current absence of a Dalit movement is no indication that there will not be one in future. The long war has paved the way for change, and the long negotiation for peace has forced on the LTTE many unprecedented changes in their policy. This new found flexibility can be the basis for a long-term vision to secure genuine democracy. And that can happen only when the problems of the most oppressed are substantially addressed. This is the primary duty of
 a democratic dispensation and to fulfil that the Tiger must lose its caste.


From: Thangavelu.V <athangav@sympatico.ca> in the Tamil Circle, 28 August 2002
Subject: Dalits among Sri Lankan Thamils

The response by M.Nadarajan and others to the article "Dalits among Sri Lankan Thamils" is factually misleading in many respects and does not reflect accurately the practice of the pernicious caste system among the Thamils from a historical perspective. The response tends to paint a rosy picture of the prevalent caste system; though it is true the liberation struggle had blunted its ill effects. So let me correct the half-truths that have crept into the response by Nadarajan and others and set the record straight.

Half truth- "There were no untouchables as such in Sri Lanka, except perhaps the Rodiyas of the Sinhalese. The manifestation of un-touchability amongst Tamils was in the refusal of entry of a few castes to temples and drawing water from public wells. This is no longer the case."

Truth: There were many castes among Thamils that were considered "untouchable" by untouchable it is meant not only denial of temple entry and drawing of water to a section of the Tamils, but also denial of education, inter-marriage etc. I don't want to list the relevant castes, which is not a pleasant job to do.

Half-Truth-" The few who call themselves Brahmins confine their work to the temple and other Hindu religious rites. Castes were divided according to the work performed by each groups members."

Truth: Yes the Brahmins were confined to performing poojas in temples and other rituals, but the fact that a certain caste monopolise the priesthood, and continued to do so without any protest whatsoever solely on the basis of birth confirms the prevalence of the caste system. The claim "Castes were divided according to the work performed by each group" is not true. Hindu caste system stigmatise one caste by birth not according to the type of work you do!

In effect the caste system is a product of Hinduism and its offshoot Saivaism. The Agamas that govern the practice of Saivaism in temples denies entry of low caste Hindus into temples. Arumuga Navalar was a keen adherent of Agamas and that explains the reason why he practiced and advocated the perpetuation of casteism in temples. He even denied entry of so called low castes to schools started by him! He vehemently opposed the worship of Kannaki (Paththini worship to Sinhalese, first introduced by Vijayabahu 1, contemporary of Cheran Chenkuttuvan) by Saivaits calling her derisively as "Chettichi Magal" (daughter of Chetti)!

The four great Saivait Saints (Nayanmaars), noted for their extreme devotion and dedication to Lord Siva, treated persons of all castes as equals, but they never called for the abolition of the caste system itself! The story about Nanthanaar, an untouchable, who went to Thillai to witness the Blissful dance of Siva was supposed to have entered the flame praising the Holiest of the holy things, His graceful feet amidst the shower of flowers by the Devaas. This is a myth. The reality is the Thillai Moovayiravar burnt him to ashes for daring to pollute the sanctum sanctorum! The door (9th) through which Nanthanaar gained entry into the temple is still kept locked because of the "pollution" caused by an untouchable! I am narrating all these to establish the connection between Hinduism/Saivaism and caste system.

Half truth- "In Sri Lanka they were not banned from entry to temples or drawing water from public wells."

Truth- In reality, however, many low castes Hindus are still denied entry into village temples. My village is an example.

Half-truth- " If women were not allowed to wear blouses or had to be half naked, not wear jewels etc. The practice must have vanished in the 19th century."

Truth- " This practice did not vanish in the 19th century. It continued till the middle of the 20th century.

Half Truth- "Today they are in all the professions such as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and hold senior government jobs."

Truth- " The number of professionals in proportion to the population of Dalits is negligible even today.

Half truth- "The reason why it is still a major problem in India is due to attempts at legislation and granting of privileges, which helps perpetrate discrimination."

Truth- One cannot right inequality perpetrated over many centuries without conferring special privileges on the Dalits. Without legislation and special privileges it will take many more centuries to right the wrongs!

We should not attempt historical revisionism, but boldly admit past mistakes and injustices done to a sizable section of the Thamil society in the name of religion and move forward. The Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle and the consequent social revolution it has triggered has helped to blunt the practice of centuries old caste system. If not for the national liberation struggle we will be in the same boat as the Thamil Nadu Thamils.

Inter marriage and education are the key to the eradication of Hindu caste system and that includes Brahmin caste as well. Overall the caste system is dying, but it is still not dead. An independent Thamil Eelam should confer special privileges on Dalits for a specified period to bring them on par socially and economically with the privileged castes.

Let me conclude by quoting Malathy who is a regular contributor to the Thamil Circle on "Historic Revisionism" that is constructed to avoid culpability and self-criticism about perpetuating the caste system.

"The "Historical Revisionism" explained above by Prof. Schalk is used not only by the Sinhala but also by Caste Hindus, and probably by many other groups to avoid culpability and self criticism. Here is how Caste Hindus construct their "historic revisionism" to avoid culpability and self-criticism. They say:

" Hinduism preaches, "God is Love", but then they ignore the close connection Hinduism has to Casteism. They say it was not Hinduism per se but some powerful group in "those days" who is responsible for the practice of Casteism. They give explanations based on "caste based economic model" which they say started with good intentions but has unfortunately turned bad. They say Casteism is really an import from north-India and we Tamils had a more egalitarian religion called "Saivaism"


From: M.Nadarajan <mnada@optonline.net> 27 August 2002

The 'Island' has published an article by one Ravikumar on the question of 'Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils'. This has been both written and published with the sinister motive of creating divisions amongst the Tamils. In this connection I wish to point out that a similar article was sent to a "Dalit Magazine" in India for publication. The Editor of that that magazine had the commonsense of sending it to an expartiate Tamil for his comments before publishing it. Our response to that article is given below and would be an appropriate response to this aricle as well.

Eelam and the Dalit question

The author who is obviously from India does not understand the 'dalit' problem in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. The caste system did exist amongst Tamils as well the Sinhalese carried over as baggage from India, but nowhere near as prevalent as in India. There were no untouchables as such in Sri Lanka, except perhaps the Rodiyas of the Sinhalese. The manifestation of un-touchability amongst Tamils was in the refusal of entry of a few castes to temples and drawing water from public wells. This is no longer the case. There are no Brahmins in Sri Lanka who claim superiority over other castes. The few who call themselves Brahmins confine their work to the temple and other Hindu religious rites. Castes were divided according to the work performed by each group's members.

In India there are several castes that are bunched together as 'Dalits'  and there are arguments amongst politicians who call themselves leaders of different castes or group of Dalits, eg.the Vanniyanars and Pallars. More and more people claim to be Dalits in order to benefit from the facilities and reservations made for them in educational institutions and employment.

For the sake of these notes we will call the lower castes amongst the Sri Lankan Tamils, 'Dalits'. It is evident from the article that dhobies and barbers are considered Dalits in India. In Sri Lanka they were not banned from entry to temples or drawing water from public wells. There are several sub-castes amongst the Vellalas who are not considered lower castes. In the past high caste Vellalas may have frowned on marriage even with lower caste Vellalas. Nowadays inter caste marriages amongst the different groups of Vellalas are quite common. Inter caste marriages with non-Vellalas are also taking place as in India.

The article is acceptable if it was captioned 'the history of the emancipation of the low castes in Sri Lanka.' The article speaks of what happened before the 19th century. The article refers to what Arumaga Navalar who lived perhaps in the 19th century had said. If women were not allowed to wear blouses or had to be half naked, not wear jewels etc the practice must have vanished in the 19th century. Only banning of temple entry and teashop entry (meaning they were served, but they had to use different cups), prevailed into the 1940s. That too, as the author himself points out, is a thing of the past.

Christian missionaries, the left movement, and later in 1949, the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) was responsible for reducing discrimination. The Federal Party was even responsible for legislation which made it a crime to discriminate. As the author says, the Federal party passed a resolution proposing the abolition of untouchability and even helped to form the Minority Tamils United Front. It also held successfully an 'annihilation of untouchability week'.

Mr.C.Suntheralingam, a onetime minister in the UNP government was one of the few high caste Tamils who opposed temple entry. He lost his deposit at the next election he contested.

No amount of legislation or special privileges given can eradicate the system. It is only by educating the people and by example that it can be got rid of. It can be only done gradually over a period of time. With the LTTE openly saying that they are against the caste system it has been virtually eradicated. This, the opposition to the dowry system, and the emphasis on equality of men and women are some of the social revolutions brought about by the LTTE. The author wonders why no one asked any questions at the International News Conference on the subject of Dalits and no answers were given. This is because it is no longer an issue. The leader of the LTTE himself is from the fishermen caste. I do not know if he would be considered a dalit in India. It is totally incorrect to say, 'the wave of Tamil national liberation movement suppressed the voice of the Dalits'.

There is no need for a reserved seat for Dalits. Due to adult franchise all Tamils have the same right to vote and politically have equal status. They are not prevented from contesting elections or from going to schools. Today they are in all the professions such as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and hold senior government jobs. It must be admitted that in the remote villages it may still exists to some degree. In my own village the LTTE official in charge of issuing passes was from a so-called 'lower caste'. The LTTE did not think twice about appointing him. However some villagers felt squeamish about going to him for passes.

Crocodile tears are being shed that there are no political organizations for Dalits, although in the past they had several and staged numerous protests. There is no need anymore for separate organizations for them. There seems to a mischievous attempt at splitting Dalits away from the bulk of the Tamils. This will not help the Dalits or Tamils in general. 'Dalits'  if any may be called that, are not a separate community like the Muslims. We do not need 'dalit movements and dalit intellectuals in Tamil Nadu to create pressure to discuss the (non-existent) problems of Dalits in Jaffna and safeguard their fundamental rights'. Thank God for that.

Who asked them to do so? This is like President Chandrika saying that she wanted to 'release the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE', as if any one asked her to! The author gives the gratuitous advice to the LTTE not to abandon the Dalits as the Federal party did, (in fact it did not) and to come forward to provide solutions to the problems of Dalits .He talks about the political power of the Hindus as against that of the Dalits. Unlike in India where many Dalits have become Muslims or Buddhists almost all Dalits in Sri Lanka, except for a minuscule minority, are Hindus! There are four paragraphs in the article about Muslims, again trying to stoke the fire. The reason why it is still a major problem in India is due to attempts at legislation and granting of privileges, which helps perpetrate discrimination."


From: Pon Kulendiren <kulen@rogers.com> 29 August 2002

The article titled "The Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils" in the news circle and subsequent views by Mr V Thangavelu, has prompted me to give my observations on this issue.

The National liberation struggle in Eelam has partially removed many stigmas like Male Chauvinism, Dowry system, Temple entry, Animal sacrifice in Temples and Caste system in Eelam. There is more work to be done on social changes and prove to the Indians and specially the Tamil Nadu population that we are far ahead of them in social reforms.

When I say partially it is because there are still many issues in Eelam that are still linked to the dirty word CASTE. Still Caste plays an important part in proposed marriages among Eelam people. It is immaterial whether the family live abroad or in Eelam. Many roads and areas in Jaffna carry the caste name. Examples are Thattar Theru, Pandarakulam, Siviyar theru, Vannarpannai, Kusavankulathadi, Kollankallatty etc. In Colombo many Roads that carried colonial names were changed to the local names ( Eg: Buller's Road, Parsons' Road , Mcallum road, Duke Street etc). Then why was no action taken in Jaffna and other towns in Eelam to erase Caste names from roads and areas?

When it comes to caste, society still has restrictions by not allowing low caste people to sit with the high caste crowd at a meal after a wedding or age attaining ceremony or family event.

For a very long time low caste people were prohibited from drawing water from Veeramakali Amman Temple well in Nallur. There may be similar restrictions in other temples. Many high caste families do not allow low caste men to draw water from their well but employ them to drain the well and clean it. While draining the well, unnoticeably, the well cleaner's sweat gets mixed with the water. The so-called high caste well owner drinks the same water.

This applies in case of a local toddy tavern ( Kallu Kottil). Many high caste men are frequent customers of the local tavern owned by toddy tappers. They also taste the fried prawns and crabs prepared by the tavern owner. Caste system is overlooked in that situation. Still people hesitate to buy lands in areas populated by any low caste community. The area name itself carries a stigma (eg: Arasavelli.). During weddings it is still a custom to donate the two bunches of Bananas; that decorate the entrance to the Dhobi and Barber caste people. They are termed "Kudimahan".

This system still exists in many villages and has not changed much. Few decades ago in Puttur many low caste people were converted to Buddhism because of the discrimination they faced among the high caste. It is an accepted fact that many Hindus were converted to other religions because of caste discrimination. We have seen that the Indian and Sri Lankan media have used caste system as a weapon to criticize popular leaders.

In India Jegajeevan Ram, a senior Congressman was denied the opportunity to become Prime Minister of India by the Brahmins, in the Congress, just because he was an untouchable. Devadasi system permitted High Caste rich men in many Indian villages to have sex with women from low caste but not to marry them. The freedom movement in Eelam has eradicated much of the dirty work done by the so-called low caste people - beating of drums at funerals, the barber officiating at funerals and so forth amounting almost to every aspect of their work. Their work even otherwise was not defined in any religious literature but had been adopted to keep them in bondage.


From: Rakesh Chandra 19 March 2001

I recently came across this website. I am not Tamil. Although I appreciate and respect the rich Tamil heritage and culture, I fail to understand why the mythical 'Aryan-Invasion-Theory' should be a basis for Tamil nationalism. I can enumerate several points which modern researchers have put forth to debunk this theory:

(1)No Evidence of any Aryan-Dravidian conflict or any war is available.
(2)There is nothing called an 'Aryan' race. Arya just means a noble one.
(3)How do you explain that Ravana in Ramayan was an accomplished Brahmin? Wasn't he a "Dravidian"?
(4)How come Tamil and non-Tamils both believe in the Vedas, worship similar Gods etc.? How come Tamils have Sanskrit origin names?
(5)The minor differences in skin color are not prominent enough, that north-Indians can be said to be belonging to a distinct race. There are similar variations even among Europeans. For example East Europeans look  different from West Europeans, the Germans from British and so on.
(6)Skin variations can also be caused due to different climatic conditions and diet.
(7)Why hasn't it been ever considered that Vedic Hinduism is essentially native to India (Indus-Sarasvati culture)? Maybe it was just comprised of a federation of different ethnic groups, following the same philosophical principles, culture and religion.
(8) The original Varna system was supposed to be flexible, so that a person could change his/her caste based on merit.

It is indeed sad to see that a false Aryan Invasion theory propagated by the colonial missionary zealots aimed at dividing and denigrating Hinduism is being so blindly accepted by us Indians.

Response: We agree with you 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. 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 also a political togetherness concerned both with the structure and the exercise of power in a world frame." 

We have attempted to explain the elements of that togetherness in 'What is a nation?' and it is that togetherness that we seek to nurture. Here, it is perhaps, also important for us to point out that in our view:

"...the growing togetherness of the Tamil people, is but a step in the growth of a larger unity. We know that in the end, national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context. ... we recognize that our future lies with the peoples of the Indian region and the path of a greater and a larger Indian union is the direction of that future. It is a union that will reflect the compelling and inevitable need for a common market and a common defence and will be rooted in the common heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters of not only Tamil Nadu but also of India. It is a shared heritage that we freely acknowledge and it is a shared heritage to which we have contributed and from which we derive strength..."

And this is a view that was declared at Thimpu in 1985 and which we expanded upon recently in the Tamil Nation & the Unity of India.

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From: Dev Mahadevan USA, 12 March 2001 

I would like to point out something on the discussion on 'Brahmanism and Tamil Nation'. Of the four Tamil Saivaite saints, three were Brahmins. The entire Tamil Saiva community rate their work above the four Sanskrit Vedas. Would it not be nice to come together as one Tamil people instead of separating ourselves based on caste and creed? Yes, I am born as a Brahmin. My best friends are not Brahmins. My two brothers married outside caste and race. My parents and grandparents taught me not discriminate on the basis of caste. They instilled in me reverence for Nandanar who merged with Siva due to his devotion. Often times I become tired of these discussions because of some of the negative connotations associated with it. Would it not be a good effort bring everybody together, whosoever they may be, under one Tamil fold?

Response: We share your views. Caste divides. It weakens us. We cannot build on narrow (and divisive) foundations.  Yes, there is a need to transcend caste and nurture the growing togetherness of the Tamil people - and we believe that each one of us has something meaningful to contribute, however small that contribution may be. Postmortems about the past are useful only to the extent that they guide our actions in the future. Here, we have found Jacob Pandian's assessessment in Caste, nationalism, and ethnicity : an interpretation of Tamil cultural history and social order, helpful:

"Ethnic systems arise from the self-conscious, organized use of ethnicity to conceptualise self and/or collective identity. This self conscious, organized use of ethnicity may be characterized as identity summation. Individuals seek consistency and coherence in their formulation of identity, but ethnicity qua ethnicity does not have systemic consistency or coherence. Within the same cultural tradition, a number of political and religious symbols of greater or lesser importance exist, and some of these have more continuity and have greater relevance as representing cultural boundaries. It is not necessary for these symbols to be interrelated as a systemic whole. It is true that these symbols often fuse each other's meanings and are transformed to convey a collective or synthetic meaning; but the fusion, transformation and synthesis occur in their use to conceptualise identity.. ..the Tamils use the symbols of Tamilakam, Panchayat, Chenthamil, Amman, Nadu Veadu and Karppu in the conceptualization of collective identity. Some of these symbols are directly related to jati group identity and others to Tamil ethnic identity. But jati and Tamil ethnic identities are not opposed; in fact, both jati and Tamil ethnic identities have common epistemological roots, although Tamil language serves as the emblem of Tamil identity and distinctive ritual/political emblems represent jati identity..."

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From: B. Manjunath,16 January 2001

These are the Tamil Brahmins who have contribute to Tamil: C.V.Raman, (Nobel Prize Winner), Chandrashekar (Nobel Prize Winner), Subramaniam (Nobel Prize Winner), M.S.Subbulakshmi (Bharatharatna), Subramaniya Bharathi (Poet & Freedom Fighter), T.N.Sheshan (Politics). Many, many musicians, may be more than 100 and thousands of scientists and IT professionals who have made Tamil popular on the Web are Tamil Brahmins.

Response: M.S.Subbulakshmi may not have been a Brahmin, though she was married to one. But be that as it may, many hundreds of Brahmin Tamils have contributed to the growth of Tamil togetherness. The foundations of the Tamil renaissance of the 19th century were laid by the work of U.V.Swaminatha Aiyar and Thamotherampillai. Another Brahmin, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan is still remembered, and honoured, at Trinity College, Cambridge University. Kalki Krishnamurthy was 'a colossus striding the Tamil journalistic field' and for many his Ponniyin Selvan served as a window to the mighty Chola empire. Again, as you rightly point out, today, many IT professionals in many parts of the world are making an enduring contribution to the Tamil digital revolution.  Jacob Pandian's Caste, nationalism, and ethnicity : an interpretation of Tamil cultural history and social order is an important contribution to further our understanding of the Tamil collective identity.


From: Muhammad Backer, Emirates 13 July 2000

Caste and Religious Chauvinism: This website is very nice. One of the viewers quoted some remarks such as Brahmins are not Tamils. Such kind of chauvinism - caste or religious should not be encouraged. In fact, the contribution by Brahmin communities to Tamil language is remarkable. I request the owner of the site not to publish such articles which creates hatred feelings on the basis of caste or religion. We are in the internet age.


From: V. Thangavelu Canada, 12 May 2000

Vanakkam. Till today. I did not had the opportunity to read the response of my friend Ramalingam Shanmugalingam to my piece "Brahminism and Tamil Nationalism." ....

I judge others purely on their deeds, not words. It does not matter who that person is or how great his standing in the political or literary world. In short I don’t hold a brief for someone because he happens to be my friend, relative, mentor, idol, guru or what else. I scrupulously follow Valluvar’s advice "After lending ear to many expositions by several persons, one should be able to weigh them all and determine the beneficial element in them. That which helps in this alone is to be called wisdom" (Kural 423).

The problem with Shan... (is that) he does not analyse the subject with a critical mind ....  At this point I want to make a distinction between the Tamil scholar Kalaignar Karunanidhi and the politician Dr. M. Karunanidhi. The former has a place in history for having given new poise, style and vigour , on par with Anna, to spoken and written Tamil. It still amazes me how a school dropout managed to master the Tamil language and use it with such deadly effect! But the political Kalaignar is a different "kettle of fish" altogether, and a total disappointment. When the history of Tamil Eelam is written he will be referred to as the modern day Nero who fiddled while Tamil Eelam was burning!

Shan’s drawing a comparison between Pazh Nedumaran and K.Veeramny does not hold water. In fact it is a poor comparison and shows a lack of knowledge about Tamilnadu politics. Pazh Nedumaran did not mount AIADMK’s political platforms to canvass votes for Jayalalitha! . Nor did he confer the title "Samookaneethi Kaaththa Veerangkanai" on Jeyalalitha! Today Jeyalalitha is the most virulent critic of the LTTE just like the maverick Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, N.Ram and Thuklak Cho.

She raises the bogey of LTTE "destabilising" Tamil Nadu at the drop of a hat! It is she who cries wolf all the time about LTTE cadres infiltrating’ into Tamil Nadu which she knows is false.

She exploited the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi for her own political ends. She literally and metaphorically rode to power in 1990 over the corpse of Rajiv Gandhi. She accused the DMK of a hand in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi which she knows very well is palpably false.

Only the year before she was singing a different tune. Jeyalalitha declared that if anything was to happen to Prabhakaran at the hands of the SLA, the whole of Tamil Nadu would rise like one man to defend him!

As far as I know only once did Pazh Nedumaran accompany Jeyalalitha to Delhi to canvass support for the implementation of the Mandala Commission report. As an indefatigable and committed supporter of Tamil Eelam cause Pazh Nedumaran and Jeyalalitha stand at opposite poles! So with K.Veeramany who has toned down or given up totally his support for Tamil Eelam lately. In an interview to Kumudam, Veeramany declared that it was true he supported the LTTE once up on a time, but he had since given it up. I can understand his fear of TADA.

My assessment of Kalaignar, Shan might claim, is not representative of majority Tamil opinion. So let me quote for the benefit of Shan what Muthu Kannan from Tamil Nadu has to say about Chief Minister Karunanidhi. I took this from Tamil Canadian web site (Talking Point) .

"I am very disappointed with our CM Karunanidhi’s speech today. He says that he will welcome Tamil Eelam if LTTE wins it in a war or in a peace talk by its own. But he says that there is a ban on LTTE in India and therefore he won’t allow Tamil Nadu to be used as a base for Eelam activities. Also he says that he has put 60 checkpoints over the Tamil Nadu coast so that essential things like medicine, food and petrol are not taken to Eelam for injured Tigers or their use. I have lost all the respect I had for him. If he can’t help the Eelam Tamils at this critical stage when is he going to help the TAMILS? May be his desire to help the Tamils is reduced by the fact that his nephew Murasoli Maran is a Minister in the BJP government. Murosoli Maran is known here as careerist and he is not bothered about TAMIL people’s plight in TAMIL NADU or EELAM. M. Maran is only concerned about himself! I have got nothing against Murosoli Maran but just telling what the ordinary people are talking here in Tamil Nadu! ......."

Let me tell my friend that unlike Karunanidhi, if MGR was alive today, he would have sent train loads of food, medicine and clothing to the Tamil people reeling under the military jackboot of President Chandrika’s Sinhala army! He would not have cared a damn for the Central government when the issue is about offering humanitarian assistance to alleviate hunger and thirst of fellow Tamils.

As for Shan’s claim that Kalaignar’s government got "dismissed twice for his alleged support for Freedom Fighters " it is not true... On the contrary in 1990 Karunanidhi’s government was dissolved not because of his support to freedom fighters, but in spite of Karunanidhi locking hundreds of wounded LTTE cadres who had earlier gone to Tamil Nadu for medical treatment at his invitation.

The then erstwhile socialist Prime Minister Chandrashekar who wanted to become the PM at any cost though he had less than 35 MPs in Parliament, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi, dismissed the DMK government though Karunanidhi went to Delhi and fell at his feet to save it.

These unfortunate boys are still locked up in the notorious Tippu Mahal Special camp at Veloor along with those acquitted in Rajiv Gandhi’s murder case by the Supreme Court!

Kalaignar Karunanidhi also refused to admit the crew of ‘Ahat’ ship who got acquitted by the Vizhakapattanam Court.

Again did not Kalaignar expel Vaiko from the DMK on the spurious charge the latter conspired with the LTTE to assassinate him? A blatantly unfounded and un-substantiated charge just to get Vaiko out of the way and make room for Stalin? How can anyone in his right mind hatch such a conspiracy theory about someone who thought it is dis-respectable to talk to Kalaignar while seated?

Only last week he banned the Conference organized by Pazh Nedumaran and his supporters at Chithamparam to celebrate the fall of Elephant Pass to the LTTE. And after all these he calls himself "Thamizh Inath Thalaivar’! O Tempore! O Mores!

In regard to Jain’s Commission, Kalaignar had nothing to fear. He was not a proxy to the conspiracy or murder of Rajiv Gandhi although Jeyalalitha and Dr.Subramaniam Swamy were pointing the accused finger at him for ulterior motives. The assassination took place when Tamil Nadu was under governor’s rule. But Kalaignar did not have the courage to tell the Commission that he did not go to receive the returning IPKF because their hands were soaked with the blood of thousands of innocent Tamils! Instead he told a white lie that because IPKF was returning home after losing thousands of soldiers he simply did not have the stomach to see them or receive them!

Now to Kalaignar’s "new line of interpretative ability re Tamil literature is unparalleled and unheard of" is an over reaction. Churning of such plethora of adjectives comes only from those who see the stone not for what it is but as god! Probably Shan is mixing Kural Oviyam with Kalaignar's latest commentary on Thirukkural! These are two different works. As for his Thirukkural commentary it is a hotchpotch which is neither fish nor fowl! I like Shan to read the book "Thirukkuralum Thiravida Iyakkamum" by K.Thirunavukkarasu to get a balanced view. If he does not have a copy I am prepared to lend mine.

The Tamils don’t expect anything from a person like Jeyalalitha whose entry to politics is an unmitigated disaster for Tamils and Tamil Nadu. She had no qualification or experience for such a job. MGR made the biggest mistake of his life when he brought Jeyalalitha from obscurity to fame. But mercifully Jayalalitha does not claim she is the leader of the 60 million Tamils. The fall is greater when the pedestal is high! But Kalaignar and Veeramany (Thamizhr Thalaivar) both make bombastic claims. That is why my disappointment is very profound when I find both whom I ‘worshipped’ are gods with clay feet! As for his protest over receiving Bill Clinton, well if Shan wants me to thank him for small mercies I will. But unlike him I will not sing praise or write eulogies about those who don’t deserve such praise.

Finally I wish to remind Shan that it is Valluvar who exhorted freedom fighters to take care of the internal enemies first. It is no coincidence that Dr.Subramniam Swamy wants the Indian government to send its army to arrest the LTTE leader, or The Hindu editor to declare that the fall of Elephant Pass is a "threat to peace" or N.Ram to give space to Rohan Gooneratna, the well know LTTE baiter to denigrate and belittle the LTTE!

"It is easy to pluck out a thorny tree while it is yet growing. The attempt to cut it down, after it is fully-grown will only cause harm to the hand (Kural 879)

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From: Ramalingam Shanmugalingam USA 7 May 2000

Vanhakkam Tamilnation. I have pleasure in appending below my effort to say some of the untolds in Thangavelu's "Brahminism and Tamil Nationalism".

Time and place, I have said many times, should determine policies and practices... During  British rule, things were not the same as they are today, everywhere, including India and Ceylon.

Census Superintendent W. R. Cornish wrote in 1871 that, "politically it is not to the advantage of the government that every question connected with the progress of the country should be viewed through the medium of Brahmin spectacles. . The true policy of the state would be to limit their numbers in official positions and to encourage a large proportion  age non-Brahmin Hindus and Muslims to enter official service so as to allow no special preeminence or preponderance of particular caste" (Report on the Census of Madras Presidency 1871 Vol. P. 197)

Though affirmative action existed on paper, the inequality was maintained even after independence.

E. V. R. Periyar was not an exception to changing positions when expediency dictated change. In 1919 Periyar relinquished his position as Municipal Chairman, District Board Member and Taluka Board member in one resignation to join the All India Congress and was subsequently elected Chairman of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Later, because of internal caste and class squabbles Periyar left the Congress.

When Periyar made Hindi fanatics withdraw from demanding official or national language status for Hindi as a  link language, 'aRignar' C. N. Annadurai - 'anhnhA'  wrote in his book 'perijAr oru cakAptam' (Periyar - an Epoch) and  I give my
interpretation as follows:

"The language issue was a simple problem to him. He was more concerned about cultivating humanity among the people of Tamil Nadu; their belief in savagery, policies that transcend the country, policies that make man an animal, and those destructive policies that were discarded by the rest of the world some two to three centuries ago should be made to vanish; these undesirables should be removed and Tamils should engage in clear thoughts, and should shine with distinction with rationality and culture in their deeds; he was convinced in the need for a knowledge revolution and centred his vision on that. That keen vision personified is Periyar."

Lamenting the betrayal of Periyar by his strong followers and disciples today is anachronistic. Even 'anhnhA' broke away from the Dravida Kazham and formed the DMK. The AIADMK is a break away from 'anhnhA's' DMK. Political expediency of the times dictated changes and not disloyalty to the policies of Periyar. Many blame K. Veeramany for his association with Jayalalitha. Why even 'paza' Nedumaran, the long time "mentor" of the freedom fighters has not done anything different from Veeramany in looking up to Jayalalitha for help. In fact Eelam Tamils are indebted to Nedumaran for his continued support. It was   Churchill at the peak of WWII declared that he was prepared to join the devil for a larger cause. So what is wrong with Veeramany joining the devil Jayalalitha? If it is all right for Nedumaran it should be good for Veeramany.

It is uncharitable to impute motives for somebody's omission or commission  in the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka. Even MGR in the early days of Tamil militancy kept aloof on the grounds that as a film star he had fans among the Sinhalas and hence would not like to alienate them. But, subsequent events proved that he has done his part well.

On the other hand, Kalaignar is the most abused of Tamil Nadu leaders. It is of no consequence that Kalaignar unashamedly or advisedly compromised the lofty ideals of Periyar, since MGR was the first Dravida Kazhakam offspring to include a Brahmin in his cabinet. His extra marital passion fashioned a Brahmin non-Tamil to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Fate had no hand in these anomalies. It is hate and the good going rate for the biggest noise in Tamil Nadu politics.

Periyar in his 'iLygnarkaLukku azyppu' took to task those who pay lip  service to anti-Arya rhetoric. I give my interpretation from "Invitation to Youth":

"....The reason for the subjugation of Tamils to Aryans are the  epics and sacred narratives. What else can it be? Muslims and Christians are not trapped into Aryan subjugation like Tamils, because they hate and undermine Aryan yarns, sacred narratives and theories worse than human  excretion. We can also realise this through history. The obvious is evident. We pretend to hate the Aryans and their philosophy in our rhetoric. In effect our praise of the Aryans and their philosophy is very evident in our praise of Ramayanam and Periya Puranam."

But, today, things have changed. Some Brahmins are reluctant to call themselves Brahmins as much as some non-Brahmins are reluctant to call themselves Tamils. In a changing world, it is what I believe and it is my work towards realizing my aspirations that counts and if that has a following so much the better.

I had an interesting experience with Kalaignar. I was demonstrating the Character Phonetics Yarzhan Tamil Editor to Kalaignar and his colleagues and  emphasized on the retention of the traditional letters before the Periyar improvement to some odd letters for reducing the number of characters.

Kalaignar was not in favor of going back to the traditional style and he said, "How can we go back on what Periyar has caused?" I could have asked the same question: then why did you "compromise on Periyar's lofty ideals?"  But that was not the purpose of my visit. I appreciate his position vis a vis the Tamil Freedom Fighters. His government was dissolved twice for his  alleged support for the Freedom Fighters. There is no evidence of any worthwhile protests. The "Sword of Damocles" was hanging over his head during the Jain Commission investigations with every conceivable anti-Kalaignar force working overtime to remove him from the political scene. Again, political expediency is prompting Kalaignar to react to situations within India.

It was Kalaignar who raised his voice against Prime Minister Vajpayee's Hindi narration during Clinton's visit to India. It is said that as Lenin gave teeth to Karl Marx's work, Kalaignar has given a new light to Thirukkural with his 'kuRaLOvijam'. Kalaignar's new line interpretative ability re Tamil literature is unparalleled and unheard of. For that I salute him. After all he is also human and perhaps give in more easily at times to minor human urges such as anger, or disappointment, but his record as a
young Dravida leader is unsurpassed.

Tamils have to consolidate their energies to stop the war and establish  Tamil Eelam. Tamils have more than what Tamils can chew in the opposition. India, is in a better position to help give peace a chance in Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam. The Sinhala Government in their arrogance derived from borrowed strength will even try to bite the hand that feeds it.

This is the time for Tamils to be careful with words that will meliorate rather than indulge in pejoratives. Let us sing songs of praise and not amphigory, however legitimate our anger may be. Let us rise above "Gallery Theatrics". If we have to pin point
something, let us be balanced. What may seem friendly may change with time and place and turn enemy. The haves try to control the have nots - even their spirit. Such is the time and place in which we live. But whatever the climate may be, Tamil aspirations should not be shaky. The means to the end may change but the end should remain in tact.

Tamils should never forget the fact, that Tamils learn Tamil and come to know Thirukkural but foreigners come to know the gift of Tamil through Thirukkural. Today, the freedom fighters are in an advantageous position, but the war has still got to be won and I would like to remind my fellow  Tamils to look up to Valluvar for guidance and for starters like to give you all,

    'perukkattu vEnhdum panhital ciRija
    curukkattu vEnhdum ujarvu."              Kural 963

    Humility in Prosperity
    Dignity in Adversity.

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From: V. Thangavelu Canada, 30 April 2000

[Others] have commented on the role of Tamil Nadu Brahmins and the press controlled by them to denigrate, belittle and ridicule the national liberation struggle of the Tamil people. Publications like The Hindu and Frontline are in the frontline in this sordid campaign against Tamil nationalism in general and the national liberation struggle spearheaded by the LTTE in
particular.

E.V.R.Periyar, the greatest reformer in the history of Tamil Nadu, advised Tamils that “if they see a Brahmin and a snake at one and the same time, they must thrash the Brahmin. first.” Though Periyar did not literally mean what he said, he was driving home the point that the Brahmins as a social group, with notable exceptions, have continuously opposed, oppressed and exploited the Tamils for the last two thousand years. They claimed superior caste status for themselves as something divined by God (s) and Vedas, called Tamils Sudras, eulogised Sanskrit as Deva Bhasha and dubbed Tamil as Neesha Bhasha not worthy for worship in the temples Tamil themselves built!

Periyar before he died lamented the fact that his mission to uplift Tamils was half-finished and still leaving the Tamils the stigma of being called Sooththirar! His successors though invoking his name to capture and consolidate political power have turned their backs on Periyar and betrayed his ideals paying only lip service to him now and then! These days DK leader K.Veeramani is playing an ignoble role as the Rajaguru of Jayalalitha (described as such by Ananthi of BBC Thamil Oosai), though the latter heading a Dravidian political party had turned her Poes Garden residence into a Yakasalai for performing moth-eaten Hindu rituals.

Jayalalitha, when she was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (1990-96), publicly declared on the floor of the Tamil Nadu state assembly that she was proud to be called a Paappathi! Jeyalalitha rose to politics exploiting her closeness to MGR, but she had jettisoned MGR’s policy of unstinted support for the Tamil Eelam cause overboard. She and her party are now easily the most vicious critics of the LTTE. Apparently her caste consciousness and her hatred for Tamil nationalism got better of her!

As for Kalaignar Karunanidhi he has unashamedly compromised the lofty ideals of Periyar and the Dravidian movement to gain political power. He no more speaks about the evils of Brahmins or Brahminism....

As rightly pointed out the Brahmins control 90% of the print media in Tamil Nadu with a total monopoly on English language newspapers. Those who want to know the machinations of Brahmins should  read the recent Hindu editorial captioned “Turning point in Sri Lanka”. On the capture of Elephant Pass by the LTTE, true to form the Hindu editorial proclaimed “The moment for collective political action has arrived. The capture of the strategically vital pass by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is the most serious setback that peace has suffered in the island in the past five years.... and must considerably enhance the bargaining power of the LTTE.”

Last week when the Madras High Court ruled against the Government Order issued by the Tamil Nadu state government making Tamil language the medium of education in Kindergarten schools upto standard V, a move vigorously opposed by
Jayalalitha, the Hindu could hardly suppress its glee! It gloated over the discomfiture of the Tamil Nadu government. Not only The Hindu, other Brahmin owned or controlled publications like the Thinamalar, Thinamani, Frontline, Kalki, Ananda Viakadan, Kumudam, Cho’s Thuklak, just to name a few, were equally hilarious in claiming the judgement as a rebuff to “Tamil extremism”!

The same publications have now turned their guns against Vaiko for his speech at the human rights rally held in Geneva. Not to be left out the notorious LTTE baiter Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who polled less than 25,000 votes and lost his deposit during the last general elections to the Lok Saba in Madurai constituency, said he would seek an appointment with President Mr. K.R.Narayanan to apprise him of the MDMK chief's "impropriety".

So while fighting for our national liberation , let us also at the same fight against the internal enemies of Tamil Nationalism and make Periyar dreams a reality. We should not forget the saying of Tamil sage Valluvar “ It is easier to pluck out a thorny-tree while it is still young and growing! Any attempt to cut it down after it is fully gown will only cause harm to one’s hands ( Kural 879).

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From: Thamilselvan, Australia, 29 December 1999

I have been a regular reader of Tamil Nation. We are thankful for the excellent information provided by your web site.  But this section about the Aryan Invasion Theory, stands in stark contrast to all other valuable information provided in your web site.

My grandmother used to say " Arya Koothu" for actions which are disguised to hide their ulterior motives. I feel the writings by some of these people about this Aryan Invasion Theory is also an "Arya Koothu" to disguise their true motives of keeping Bharatha together and for propagating Pan India sentiments.

But the real danger is, in this process the true history gets distorted and we will be the ultimate losers as ever. These people have their own vested interests in propagating this anti Aryan Invasion Theory to advocate their own ends.

Their writings are in stark contrast to what ever is known in real history and what ever is recorded in authoritative information bases such as Encyclopaedia of Britannica . For example, in the Encyclopaedia of Britannica a search on the word 'Agastya' discloses:

"The history of Tamil Nadu begins with the establishment of a trinity of Tamil powers in the region--namely, the Chera, Chola, and Pandya kingdoms. By about AD 200 the influence of northern Aryan powers had progressed, and the Aryan sage Agastya had established himself as a cultural hero."

There is no doubt this is an authentic record of real history. To this day, we are reeling under this impact of our 'Aryan Cultural Heroes'.

These Aryan cultural heroes from the very beginning, have been systematically destroying Dravidian culture by demeaning Dravidian culture and Tamil language.

We can see at the Tamil temples even the Tamil God - Lord Muruga needs Sanskrit translators to interpret our pleas. It is unthinkable that the ancient Tamils at their height of civilisation would have tolerated a foreign language such as Sanskrit to converse with their gods. This is only a strange phenomenon encountered in our contemporary Tamil life. The reason is, the Aryan invasion is well entrenched and goes very deep into Tamil psyche.

The Tamils have been indoctrinated to believe that their language is inferior (Neecha Pasai) to converse with the higher echelons such as gods and only the Aryan language Sanskrit (Theva Pasai) is suitable for this purpose. It was even drilled into them that the Vedic chants will have their real power only if it is pronounced in chaste Sanskrit. Then of course, you need the middle man or our famous Parpan (Brahmin) to do the translation for us. This is when the rot or decline started for this ancient Dravidian civilisation. The foreign Brahmins dominated in all our cultural spheres and brought the decline of our civilisation.

The Aryan north Indians and Dravidian south Indians are ethnically different by their culture , physical look and languages. There is no escape from this simple truth. The only common thread is Hinduism. But even in Hinduism there are lots of differences. For example, god Muruga is not worshiped in North India. In fact, the warrior Tamil god Muruga may have been a later day Tamilian answer to the North Indian warrior gods such as Rama.

There are also other historical evidences such as the following piece of recorded history:

Rajendra Chola (reigned 1014-44) outdid Rajaraja's achievements and sent (1023) an expedition to the north that penetrated to the Ganges River and brought Ganges water to the new capital, Gangaikonacolapuram.

In Tamil historical records, it was recorded that Rajendra Chola also captured two Aryan Kings and brought them back. So it can be seen that the ancient Tamils themselves were calling these usurpers as Aryans who were very different to them.

Even today, from the shrill cry emanating from the Aryan mass media such as the Hindu, Indian Express, (Vaa-santhy? pugal) Front Line, India Today, Ananda Vikatan, Kumutham, Cho Parpan's Thuglak, infact any publication churned out by the Brahmin mass media Inc, including the TV programs are vehemently against our National liberation struggle or anything good for Tamilians is evidence of this great divide between the mainstream Tamilians and the Aryan invaders even after a millennium.

Even today these Aryans adhere to their own tradition (or Pura Nadai) while paying lip service to Tamil and it's culture. They are even ashamed to have Tamil names and are very proud to Sankritize their own names such as the famous Vaa-santhy instead of Vasanthy.

So it is my humble opinion that this section on Aryan Invasion Theory was planted in your  web site by these vested interests to gain credibility and legitimacy ...   It would be a great service for our common cause if this Aryan Invasion Theory section could be removed from your esteemed Tamil Nation web site. I have written this letter after carefully thinking over this topic for years.

In addition, if these writers have any backbone they should fight against and prove that their version is correct with the official information bases such as Encyclopaedia of Britannica, Encarta etc, rather than writing like this for our own local consumption.

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From: Sam Sampanthar UK 29 December 1999

A subversive thought -

Initially the ancient peoples all over the world worshipped various forces of nature. By the time of the Upanishads it seems to me that most of the thinking Rishis had come to the conclusion that there is in fact nothing beyond our existence. However they were afraid to proclaim the truth indiscriminately to everyone. They were aware that belief in the Law of Karma helped create an orderly society. Just as a blind man needs a stick to help him walk so do most people require some form of religious belief to get through life. Hence the Rishis were prepared to reveal the truth only to those who were ready to receive it. Time and time again you will see this refrain.

You must have heard of Chithambara Irahasiam- there is nothing behind the curtain hiding the innermost sanctum! Sai Baba says I am God and so are you. The only difference is that I know it and you do not.The implication may be that there is nothing else.    

Even today one hesitates to speak the truth.

It may be best to say that there is only One God but many paths and mention the Law of Karma. The one difference between Hinduism and some of the other religions is that Hinduism is only concerned with the salvation of the self and not with saving of other souls. To that extent it is selfish.

Other religions have dedicated orders whose vocation is serving the less fortunate or they demand that a certain percentage of ones income is given to charity. Hindus spend vast sums building temples and installing images in magnificent attire while ignoring the destitute as it is easy to assuage the conscience saying that it is due to their Karma that they are in that state. Less pomp and more charity may be in order and should be encouraged. In other words Karma Yoga is the only acceptable path in the modern world.

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From: Rajesh Rajappa, November 1999

I was very impressed with you site. After years of Aryan domination we have tried to break out on our own (thanks to people like Periyar). Inspite of never having been a part of any North Indian kingdom why  should Tamil Nadu be a part of the Indian Union. Is there any legal basis on which Tamil Nadu can ask to be a separate country or is it legally impossible ?

Response from tamilnation: Whilst it is true that Tamil Nadu was never a part of any North Indian kingdom, there may be a need to revisit the whole Aryan invasion theory. There is much that the Tamil people share with their brothers and sisters of India. This is not simply a 'cultural' affinity - it has also something to do with the unifying influence of the single Indian market.

Again, whilst Periyar's contribution to social reform and anti-casteism are considerable, we may also need to ask why it was that he failed in his demand for Dravida Nadu. 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.

As to the question of the legality of a demand for separation, the short answer is that such a demand would violate the Indian Constitution. In Sri Lanka   too, the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam violates the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution. However, the comment of the International Commission of Jurists in 1984 is of some relevance:

"The freedom to express political opinions, to seek to persuade others of their merits, to seek to have them represented in Parliament, and thereafter seek Parliament to give effect to them, are all fundamental to democracy itself. These are precisely the freedoms which Article 25 (of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights) recognises and guarantees - and in respect of advocacy for the establishment of an independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka, those which the 6th Amendment is designed to outlaw. It therefore appears to me plain that this enactment constitutes a clear violation by Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law under the Covenant..." (Paul Sieghart: Sri Lanka-A Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka in January 1984 on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and its British Section, Justice, March 1984)

Again, the real political question may not be one of separation or division but one of determining the terms on which different nations  may 'associate' with one another in equality and in freedom - and this may be the issue that the 21st century may have to confront. The growing togetherness of the Tamil people, is but a step in the growth of a larger unity. The words of  Sumantra Bose in Reconceptualising State, Nation and Sovereignty merit attention:

"The clash between the ever-increasing clamour of claims to nationhood and aspirations to sovereignty, on the one hand. and the persistence, indeed consolidation, of visions of a monolithic, unitarian, and indivisible statehood, on the other, certainly represents one of the most striking contradictions, and one of the most fundamental moral and ideological conflicts, of our times... Demands for 'national self≠determination' are in one sense, therefore, also a struggle for a higher form of democracy....

The poetical and philosophical vision that is required today has been eloquently articulated, ironically enough, by radical Tamil nationalists ('chauvinists' and 'separatist terrorists', according to the official wisdom), in l985: 'We know that in the end, national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional and ultimately in a world context. And we recognise that our future  lies with the peoples of the Indian region, and that the path of a greater and larger union is the (eventual) direction of that future....'"

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From: V. Thangavelu, Canada 12 September 1999

I have just read the comments by Thiru Ramkumar Kothandaraman regarding my observations on Kural vs the Geethai.

I can understand ... his attempt to dismiss my criticism of Geethai as the "illusion of (those) who are brain washed" etc. Well, it is the Brahmins (not all of them) who brain washed the Tamils into believing they are Sudras – the fourth and the last caste created by god. They were brainwashed to believe  even that their own language Tamil originated from Sanskrit. Tamil was called disparagingly as "neesha paashai" while Sanskrit was reverently referred to as "deva paashai". How a language supposed to be "deva paashai" became a dead language will remain a mystery!

To assert that the Geethai does not advocate "Varnashram" is to hide a whole pumpskin in a plate of rice. I have in my possession a dozen Tamil translations of the Geethai including that of Bharathi and one copy in English by Swami Prabhananda and Christopher Isherwood (1996 edition) . In Chapter 4 – Verse 13 this is what Krishna (reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) says to Arjuna – (Translation from Bhagavad – Gita – page 25)

"I created the four castes which corresponds to the different types of Guna and Karma. I am their author; nonetheless you must realise that I am beyond action and changeless."

In other words " Though I am the creator, know Me to be incapable of action or change" - that is I cannot change the four fold division of caste even if I wish....

Below is the original text in Sanskrit.   

"Sathurvarnayam Maya Sirushdam Guna,   Karma Vipasaga Thasya Kartharamabi Mam Vithyakarthara, Mafvyayam " ( Chapter 4, Slokam 13 )

There are other slokams which promote this caste system to absurd lengths. Krishna claims that "one cannot arbitrarily assume the duties which belong to another caste". "Prefer to die doing your own duty" exhorts Krishna. "The duty of another will bring you into great spiritual danger". " Socially the caste system is graded; but spiritually there are no such distinctions." " Everyone can attain the highest sainthood only by following the prescribed path of his caste duty". "Doing of duty honours the Devas"

Again  Krishna claims that "in every age when Dharmam declines and Adharmam raises its head I come to destroy the evil and restore Dharmam" (Chapter 4 – Slokam 7) meaning the restoration of the Sathurvarnayam (Sloka 8). The more than 4000 Hindu sub-castes are a by-product of this Varnashrama Dharmam or more aptly Adharmam!

"Most contemporary Brahmins are more pragmatic and liberal than Dravidian chauvinists..." asserts my friend.

This may or may not be true. But judging from Brahmin chauvinists like "Thuklak Cho" the journalist, N. Ram, editor of Frontline, Subramanian Swamy, the politician, Ms. Jeyaram Jeyalalitha, the Aiyangar Tamil woman from Kannada – the Brahmins as a social group are vehemently opposed to Tamil nationalism.

Not a single Brahmin owned journal (e.g. the Hindu, Dinamani, Dinamalar, Kalki, Ananda Vikadan etc.) supports the just struggle of the Tamil Eelam Tamils. This despite the fact that the majority of  Tamils are Hindus!

The Brahmin establishment feels threatened that the rise of Tamil nationalism will destroy their claim for caste superiority and social status. It was not for nothing that the Sudras were forbidden to study the Vedas!

The Geethai unashamedly makes the claim that women, vaishiyars and sudras were born out of the womb of sin (paapayoni)! Even a protagonist of Geethai -   like Swami Chinmayananda could not stomach such blasphemous calumny though it came from the mouth of a Divine Avathara. In the Geethai Commentary that he wrote (page 158 -Chennai 1979) he makes the comment -"Born out of the womb of sin (Papayoniyah) – this term qualifying women, traders and workers, would be a blasphemous calumny against a majority of mankind – an unpardonable crime, even if the statement comes from the Divine mouth of a prophet."

This concept is diametrically opposed to the lofty teachings of the Kural. Valluvar refutes the central teaching of Geethai about birth and declares that "All beings are the same in birth. But work decides their varied worth" (Kural 972). Hence my contention is that unlike Thirukkural, Geethai represents a value system fundamentally foreign to Tamil culture. At this point I rest my case for the present.

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From Ramkumar Kothandaraman 21 June 1999

Thiru Thangavelu has directly attacked the Geetai and says that it preaches something that is not preached by Thirukkural and goes on to repeat the usual Dravidian rhetoric about Brahmins, Varnashram etc

… Most of us, who call ourselves  proud Tamilians or  proud Hindus or  proud Indians or  proud Sri Lankans or whatever, and who at the drop of the hat compare the Geetai and the Thirukkural, most probably have never completely read and understood the Geetai or the Thirukkural.

Geeta has never talked about varnashram and it is actually an illusion of (those) who are brainwashed to believe that the Geetai has some elements of varnashram in it. The intent is to attack anything that is associated with Brahmins. Most contemporary Brahmins are more pragmatic and liberal than Dravidian chauvinists...

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From V.Thangavelu, Canada 29 May 1999

I find the Gitai is being quoted extensively to drive home the point that one has to do his duty and not runaway from it. That is fine, but then the Gitai reinforces the varnachrama 'tharmam' and ipso facto the superiority of the Brahmin. It is the varnacharma tharmam that has given birth to the 4000 or more castes in Tamil society.

The gospel of Gitai runs contrary to Thirukkural which clearly states that it is right conduct that determines ones status not birth.

I need not tell you that the Tamils lost their direction and became slaves of the Brahmins after the Sangam period. The rot that started during and immediately after the Sangam period continues to this day. If not for Rev.Caldwell, Tamils would not have known that the Tamil language is "uyar thani semmozhe' Should we then exalt Gitai at the expense of  Thirukkural? Gitai and Kural cannot co-exist.

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From Vijay, Tamil Nadu, 21 March 1999

"As a Tamil from India, I have often felt like a second rate citizen. Tamil language and Tamil people do not count in the affairs of India. Very often I feel that if Tamils all over the world had a nation of their own, they would preserve some of their dignity... How I wish the dream comes true. Tamils must feel proud of their race and culture. That is the first step towards a Tamil nation. The days of Periyar and Anna have given way to youth only interested in films and fun. How can we instil in them a sense of pride for their race and language and their nation."

Response from tamilnation:

For Tamils to yearn for an independent Tamil state is natural. A sense of pride will grow in us as a people, as we work together to translate that yearning to political reality. A sense of pride will grow as we surmount the differences amongst ourselves, whether they be based on the accident of so called 'caste' or the district or province of our birth. Ram Ravindran explored some of the issues in his contribution titled "How to build Tamil Pride" in November 1998.

The togetherness of the Tamil people is a growing togetherness. In the latter part of the 19th century, the work of Swaminatha Aiyar and C.W.Thamotherampillai laid the foundations for a Tamil renaissance. Subramaniya Bharathy gave vibrant expression to the togetherness of the Tamil people. His songs like Senthamizh Nadu Ennum Pothinale and Yamarintha Moligale.. continue to move Tamil minds and Tamil hearts today. Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and Annadurai gave a social and political impetus to this Tamil  renaissance. And, today Velupillai Pirabaharan with his single minded determination and heroism is fertilising the growing togetherness of more than seventy million Tamil people, living in many lands and across distant seas. Distress is binding the Tamil people together and so bound, we are finding our strength.

The Tamil cultural renaissance of the second half of the 19th century, the rise of the Dravida Tamil national movement of the first half of the 20th century, and the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam are but tributaries flowing into one river - the river of the increasing togetherness of the Tamil people - and this is a river that will not flow backwards.  What is a nation? Seton-Watson's words are persuasive:

"The belief that every state is a nation, or that all sovereign states are national states, has done much to obfuscate human understanding of political realities. A state is a legal and political organisation, with the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens. A nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness... All that I can find to say is that a nation exists when a significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one. It is not necessary that the whole of the population should so feel, or so behave, and it is not possible to lay down dogmatically a minimum percentage of a population which must be so affected. When a significant group holds this belief, it possesses 'national consciousness'." (Hugh Seton-Watson, Professor of Russian History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, : Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977)

Today, the Tamil people are a transtate nation  of more than 70 million people - a nation without a state. And we are engaged in building that state. However, we are not chauvinists. We do not say that we are 'better than' but that we are 'as good as' and we say that we, too, have a contribution to make to world civilisation.

We do not deny the heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters of India. We recognise the compelling push towards inter-dependence in an emerging post modern world.  But true inter-dependence will come only between equals. There cannot be inter-dependence without independence. We need to stand perpendicular before we can shake hands - and associate with dignity. In the longer term, it is true that the growth of nationalism will lead to a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context - but, always, the crucial element must remain the voluntariness of the process.

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From Sam Sampanthar, United Kingdom, November 1998

"I do not think the reference to 'Tamil Brahmins ' adds anything to your brilliant response in Ram! O Ram!. After all there may be some Brahmins who are sympathetic to the cause. Why hurt their feelings? Attack the message not the messenger. You must by now have read Ram's interviews in the Frontline.

Response from tamilnation

The matter you raise is an important one. Admittedly, the need to be sensitive to the feelings of those who may continue to regard themselves as Tamil Brahmins cannot be denied. The article Ram! O Ram! was written in 1992, when the writer was six years younger and that may partially (though, not totally) explain the somewhat combative language!

Having said that, there may be a continuing need to address the question as to how to 'nurture the growing togetherness' of the Tamil people and at the same time include those Tamils who continue to hold themselves out as Brahmins.

On the one hand, there is ofcourse, the need to recognise the contributions made to Tamil language and literature by a host of Tamil Brahmins such as Swaminatha Aiyar and many others. On the other hand, the problem is that the Brahmin community is a caste based community. Caste is rooted in birth. Unlike religion, it is not simply a matter of belief. A Tamil may change his religion, but he may not change his caste.  Caste denies equality amongst the Tamil people. It has served to divide the Tamil people - and it is often directed to keep them divided, and it may be necessary to point this out, even though this may be hurtful.

A Brahmin who is truly sympathetic to the Tamil cause may also need to recognise that his caste identity is not relevant to the age in which we live. There may be a need for more 'Tamil Brahmins' to follow in the illustrious foot steps of Subramanya Bharathy who was born of Brahmin parents.

It is no accident that it was Periyar E.V. Ramasamy’s Suya Mariyathai Iyakkam, with its goal of abolishing casteism, that laid the foundation for the growth of Tamil nationalism through the Dravida Kalagam and later the DMK, the AIDMK and the MDMK.

Again, that is not to say that EVR's anti-Brahmin movement itself did not have its shortcomings. For one thing it tended to ignore the many caste differences that existed among the non-Brahmin Tamils and failed to effectively address the oppression practised by one non-Brahmin caste on another non-Brahmin caste. For another,  E.V.R extended his attack on casteism to an attack on Hinduism - and indeed to all religions as well. Periyar E.V.Ramasamy threw out the Hindu child with the Brahmin bath water. 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.

Today, the struggle for Tamil Eelam led by the Liberation Tigers has taken the attack on casteism  further and has helped to eradicate, to a large extent, caste based divisions in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka.

Much more, ofcourse, needs to be done. Ram Ravindran's reflections on how to build Tamil pride are not without relevance:

"It is my feeling that people do certain things deliberately to perpetuate the casteism.

Example:

When everyone learns standard Tamil, why perpetuate caste Tamil. Is it like the black English spoken in America? Why wear clothes in a certain way for no reason except to declare one's caste?

Why do different caste groups.... avoid eating certain kinds of food (whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian) and tell the kids that a certain group has to eat certain food and so forth?.....

The Bhavad Gita says that to a self-realised man a Brahmin, an elephant rider, a dog, and a dog eater all are the same - there is a part of Brahman in all of them. Why not practice it. Just imagine the impact if the Chief Minister or Shri Shankaracharya, if Rajnikanth or Simran or the local MLA would go to a place where there is a two glass tea-shop and would take tea from the untouchable tea glass (after all even THAT glass is sipped from just like the OTHER glass too) a cup of tea and have it video broadcasted. What an impact it would have, just imagine! ..."

A Brahmin, who in this day and age, continues to hold himself out as a Brahmin also sends a message. The message is that to him, caste divisions matter and caste interests matter - and in this way, the messenger merges with the message. The article Ram! O Ram! was written, in response to an interview by Mr.Ram in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island, which introduced him as 'a scion of the Kasturi Ranga Iyengar family’. This was seventy five years after Subramanya Bharathy had sung:

 aiyar.gif (4069 bytes)

It would seem that Mr.Ram's recent interview with President Chandrika Kumaratunga continues a project he started  with Sri Lanka Minister, Gamini Dissanayake in 1987 and the Indo Sri Lanka Accord. Today, his language may be different from that which he used in his 1992 interview in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Island (when he declared that  "Tamil Eelam is a pipe dream") - but  no one will accuse Mr.Ram of being inconsistent. Six years after the 1992 interview, the message and the messenger remain the same - and one cannot escape the feeling that the real need may be for those who hold themselves out as 'Tamil Brahmins' to be more sensitive to the feelings of the people of Tamil Eelam, who are struggling to free themselves from alien rule.

Professor George Hart in 1997 on Tamil, Brahmins, & Sanskrit " ....here are some facts:   1. Brahmins are only 2% of the population, yet they have contributed much more to Tamil literature than their number would indicate.

2. The purest (i.e. least Sanskritized) Tamil was written by the medieval Saiva Brahmin commentators on Tamil. For example, Parimelazakar translates the yoga asanas into Tamil, and the only way anyone can figure out what he is saying is to read the sub commentary (by Gopalakrishnamachari), who gives the original Sanskrit terms. You will find no Tamil any purer than that of Naccinarkkiniyar et al.

3. Brahmins have contributed to Tamil from Sangam times. Kapilar is one of the greatest Tamil poets.

4. 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.

5. You cannot blame the Brahmins for Sanskritizing Tamil. Tenkalai Aiyengars often use Tamil words where most non-Brahmins use Sanskrit ones. The Sanskrtization of Tamil is a very old process and cannot be understood except in an all-South-Asian context. The Bengali used in Bangladesh is highly Sanskritized, and the Muslims are quite proud of their language. The fact is, Sanskrit was the lingua franca of South Asia for intellectual purposes, much as Latin was in Europe. Buddhists used it, Jains used it, much as Spinoza, a Jew, wrote his philosophical treatises in Latin. The Tamil of Ramalinga Swamigal, a non-Brahmin, is highly Sanskritized.

6. Sanskrit and Tamil are part of the same intellectual and literary tradition. The fact is, Sanskrit literature owes an enormous amount to Dravidian -- much of its syntax, its literary conventions, vocabulary. When we come to the great kavya of Sanskrit (e.g. Kalidasa), it is definitely part of the same stream as Tamil literature, just as French, English and German belong to a Western European literary tradition. This is even true of Sangam literature -- it is clearly of the same cultural tradition as, say, the Sanskrit Mahabharata.

7. Tamil is richer because it has many styles. It is the only Indian language that has a pure, unsanskritized style (well, there is a pure Telugu, called accu telugu, which was cultivated mainly by Brahmins). This style is very rich, no doubt. But Tamil has innumerable other styles -- many dialects, a highly Sanskritized style, a style with many English words, etc. etc. All of these add to the richness and expressiveness of the language -- why impoverish the language by removing its resources?

8. ... a personal note from an outsider. 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.

9. Please note that I am not pro- or anti-Brahmin. I am acutely aware of the negative role Sanskrit has played in the development of the Indian regional languages. Indeed, A. K. Ramanujan, a Brahmin, once told me that the worst things that ever happened to South India were Sanskrit and English. A slavish devotion to Sanskrit has had a negative effect on Tamil and, even more so, on other South Indian languages. But we cannot change the past. There is nothing inherently good or bad in a word, whatever its origin, so long as it has been adopted for general use in a language. What is bad -- and what I deplore -- is the mindless assumption that Sanskrit is somehow superior. It is not. Indeed, Sanskrit is a very limited language, because it has no spoken substratum. But where Sanskrit words have come into common usage in South India, they have acquired broad connotative powers that enhance the spoken languages that have borrowed them (much like Latin and French words in English). It is insulting to Tamil to claim that the language cannot borrow words without being corrupted. Tamil has a long, powerful tradition, and it is a very rich language. Judicious borrowing can only enhance, not spoil it..." 

 

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