Relations with Chennai will continue to trouble
7 March 1999
The Tamil National Movement (Tamizhar Desiya Iyakkam) is holding
a conference in support of the Eelam cause in Madurai today
(Sunday). The Tamizhar Desiya Iyakkam is led by the Indian Defence
Minister's long standing ally, P. Nedumaran.
Sections of the press in Tamil Nadu lament that sympathy for the
Tigers in Tamil Nadu is on the rise again. Some of them, such as the
Frontline and Thuglak, even try to be helpful by promoting and
legitimising the Sri Lankan government's point of view. One of
these, the Junior Vikatan recently interviewed our High Commissioner
in Delhi, Mangala Moonesinghe. The nationalists there, however,
denounce such helpful gestures from some members of the fourth
estate in Tamil Nadu, as a manifestation of an old conspiracy by
Brahmins and Non-Tamils in the state to undermine Tamil interests.
Mr.Moonesinghe states in his interview to the Junior Vikatan that
the Tamil Nadu Chief minister M.Karunanithy and other senior
political leaders in the state had declined to accept invitations to
meet the Sri Lankan political leadership in India. (This was
reported in the Tamil press here). Better informed professionals at
the Foreign Ministry may find this troubling, especially because
Tamil Nadu is fast emerging as an economic power to be reckoned with
in our immediate neighbourhood.
The problem, it should be understood, runs much deeper. It has no
quick fix solution and hence needs much in-depth understanding. It
is naive to assume that it can be solved by one to one meetings with
Tamil Nadu politicians or charming them with one's seeming
There is currently a debate being waged in cyberspace on Brahminism
and Tamil Nationalism.
It might throw some light on the suspicions (more ideological than
political) and sensitivities which affect, across the Palk strait,
the perception of the Tamil question here. Why does the perception
that Brahmins and non-Tamils in Tamil Nadu are eagrely on the side
of the Sri Lankan government be a thorn on the side in building
bridges with this south Indian state? Tamil nationalism has posed a
powerful challenge to the ideological construction of the modern
states of India and Sri Lanka since 1948.
At the core of the efforts to construct a pan Indian identity,
overarching and encompassing diverse ethnic groups and cultures,
was/is the notion of Sanskrit- Vedic culture as the foundation of
the subcontinent's civilization. The 'fathers' of the 'modern Indian
nation' strongly held this view.
At one end of this spectrum were those liberals who wanted to
accommodate the subcontinent's linguistic and cultural diversity to
make the process of nation building smoother. And at the other, were
the Hindhuthva ideologues who were agitating for a pure casteist
version of the Hindu socio-religious order as based on Manu's
But fundamentally they were agreed on the fact that the broad
Sanskrit-Vedic ideology, represented by the modern binary
Hindu-Hindi, should have a key function in forging the modern Indian
During a tour of Tamil Nadu in April 1919, Gandhi called on the
Tamil people to reject English and accept Hindi. He urged them to
study Hindi to bring out their national feelings (not Tamil but pan
Indian). He had also caused the setting up of the Organization for
the Propagation of Hindi in Madras the year before.
On the other hand, Golvalkar, one of the founding fathers of the
BJP's Hindhuthva ideology, said in his manifesto "As a solution to
the problem of lingua franca, till the time Sanskrit takes that
place, we shall have to give priority to Hindi on the score of
convenience" (Bunch of Thoughts).
The Indian constitution eventually made Hindi as written in the
Devanagari script of Sanskrit the official language of India and its
language of communication.
The eighth schedule of the Indian constitution that lists the
languages of India includes Sanskrit, a language that had ceased to
be spoken on the subcontinent many centuries before Christ.
They are just "other languages" in the Indian constitution. A recent
move by the state government of Tamil Nadu to make instruction in
Tamil compulsory in public schools has been subject to veiled and
open attacks in the so called 'Brahmin press'.
Tamil nationalists argue that at the core of the problem is the
refusal of the Brahmins to consider themselves ethnic Tamils despite
their residence in south India for more than two millennia.
They say that, instead, the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu assume, nowadays
ulteriorly, that they are Aryans and consider Sanskrit as their
language although they are native Tamil speakers.
Their subdivisions (gothras) in Tamil Nadu are classified according
to the groups of their forefathers who migrated to the south from
Aariyavartha (the land of the Aryans in Sanskrit)- the boundaries of
which are defined by the Hindu law giver Manu in the Manusmriti. At
the centre of the Sanskrit cultural order is the Brahmin.
'The binary Arya/Anarya is one of the discursive definitions by
which the Sanskrit social order constitutes itself.' The
Brahmin/Aryan concept, both as self-perception and textual
definition, is biogenetic i.e. racial. The anuloma and prathiloma
rules concerning mixed caste offspring leave no doubt as to the
racial definition of the concept. The Hindu Law of modern India is
based on the Manusmriti.
The Sudra, in the Sanskrit-Vedic cultural order, may only serve the
Brahmins and is expressly forbidden from acquiring knowledge.
"It is the duty of the king to order the Sudra to serve the
Brahmins. If the Sudra refuses he should be punished and be forced."
Ch.10.V.235. Harsher injunctions against the Sudras that may revolt
the modern sensibility are numerous in the Manusmriti.
Now this is not an ancient outmoded text that may only be fit to
stir one's serendipitous curiosity.
On the contrary, it has been the basis of politically enforcing
social hierarchy and cementing relations of power in medieval and
even early modern India.
Let us take the 'Krityakalpataru', the enormous work in fourteen
volumes of Bhatta Lakshmeedara, the Brahmin scholar minister who
wrote it for his king, Govindachandra of the Gaahadhavaala dynasty
of Kanauj, the ruler of most of north India in the middle of the
twelfth century AD.
The 'Krityakalpataru' is the earliest of the Nibandhas, "digests of
social/religious codes of conduct", which define and expatiate on
Varnasramadharma, the basis of the Indian caste system.
According to Lakshmeedara "Whatever act the Aariyas who know the
Vedas claim to be Dharma, is Dharma; whatever they reject is said to
be Adharma" - 'Krityakalpataru'. Vol.1 Chapter 1.
Chapter 29 of Book 2 takes up in detail the things Sudras should be
denied - "One must never bestow learning upon a Sudra…. Whoever
tells him about Dharma or instructs him in vows will go to the hell
called 'Vast Darkness', along with the Sudra himself. "Suffice to
say here that the medieval Sanskrit influenced 'Nihandu' (Thesaurus)
composed by Pingalar lists the Vellalas, the Tamil farming/scribal
caste, as Sudras. (Chapter 2.)
So this, in essence, was the Vedic-Sanskrit culture revered by the
makers of modern India say Tamil nationalists.
The ideologues of Hindhuthva were blunt unlike some of their
castemen in the Congress. How Gandhi and other Congress leaders
discreetly and, at times, openly shared these views has been well
recorded by scholars of the Dravidian movement and by Dr.Ambedkar.
The biggest and most serious challenge to 'Hindhuthva' as the core
founding ideology of the modern Indian state was the Dravidian
movement's assertion that the Aryans were alien invaders.
The concerted assaults on 'Hindhuthva' by Dr. Ambedkar and the
Dravidian movement and linguistic and literary evidence that the
Aryans were a people who had come into the subcontinent from
elsewhere created an urgent need to legitimize and 'ground' the
It was in this context that Guru Golvalkar , an ideological
progenitor of the BJP, contrived the dogma that north India was the
original homeland of the Aryans. He asserts in his manifesto
" The origin of our People is unknown to scholars of history. In a
way were are anaadhi; without a beginning or we existed when there
was no need for any name. We were the good, the enlightened people.
We were the people who knew about the laws of nature and the laws of
spirit. We had brought into actual life almost everything that was
beneficial to mankind.
"Then the rest of humanity was just bipeds and so no distinctive
name was given to us. Sometimes in trying to distinguish our people
from others, we were called the enlightened -the Aryas- and the rest
Melachas". (Bunch of Thoughts).
In Sanskrit Melachcha means barbarian. Now one of his scholarly
modern day followers (Aggrawal) argues "The most weird aspect of the
Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is that it has its origin not in any
Indian records... AIT has no support either in Indian literature,
tradition, science, or not even in any of the south Indian
(Dravidians, inhabitants of south India, who were supposed to be the
victims of the so-called Aryan invasion) literature and tradition."
Tamil nationalist scholars in South India say that this is the
latest effort by Brah-minism and its allies to undermine the basic
tenets of the distinct southern linguistic-cultural identity. They
say that this is a blatant effort to cover up what, according to
them, is indubitable evidence in the Tamil classics that the Tamils
saw the Aryans as hostile invaders.
"Let my bangles break like the Aryan army that was routed before the
fort of the Cholas at Vallam." says a girl in the 2nd century B.C
Another work from the same period says "like the Aryan hordes at
Mulloor that fled before the lone spear of Malaiyan, (the wielder)
of the shining sword".
As long as politically influential Tamil nationalists in south India
refuse in this manner to yield to the pan-Indianising influence of
Hindi and Vedic culture, suspicions will linger on; suspicions that
now find their way inexorably into cyberspace; and more importantly
they are, even distantly, suspicions that will continue to trouble
Colombo's relations with Chennai.