"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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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Sathyam Commentary
3 February 2001

Tamil Nation & the Unity of India

"...The break up of India, if it comes will not come from the efforts of tamilnation.org. It will come despite our efforts. It will come from a failure of political leaders in India to openly recognise that India is a multi national state - and recognise the enduring wisdom of the words of Pramatha Chaudhuri: "...It is not a bad thing to try and weld many into one but to jumble them all up is dangerous, because the only way we can do that is by force. If you say that this does not apply to India, the reply is that if self determination is not suited to us, then it is not suited at all to Europe. No people in Europe are as different, one from another, as our people. There is not that much difference between England and Holland as there is between Madras and Bengal. Even France and Germany are not that far apart."... We, for our part,  recognise that Tamils are Indians. We are Indians because we are Tamils. And, if we were not Tamils, we would not be Indians. Again, if there were no Bengalis, no Marathis, no Kannadigas, no Tamils (to mention but a few of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent), there would be no 'Indians'.  The unity of India will not come simply by English speaking 'Indians' speaking to each other in English...Those concerned to secure the unity of India will need  to adopt a more 'principle centred' approach towards struggles for self determination in the Indian region. "


Ravishankar Dixit a visitor to tamilnation.org wrote on 25 December 2000

"(Your) site has very good subject matter which reflects the superior quality of  the intellectuals in Tamil society. But alas, I am an Indian and I cannot see a part of India going off. I cannot see why Tamilians need a separate Tamil Land.... Every language has its  own self-respect, its own greatness. I don't know why Tamilians are so touchy when it comes to their language. Look at Kannada for example (it is my mother tongue) or Marathi. Kannadigas number some 50 million and Marathis a little over 90 million. Do you think we do not have enough number of people to ask for our own Kannadanadu or Marathisthan? Or do you think we do not have that  right because our cultures and languages are less supreme than Tamil, for which reason we have to be a part of India?... So, just learn how to live together and respect other languages and cultures. Just learn to mingle peacefully with other people. Uphold the dignity of India. Without the name of India, Tamilians will be dirt cheap. It is because of the greatness that is India, Tamilians also are having a piece of the cake. If they want to opt out, they will be eating pieces of shit..."  (see also Response by Ravishankar Dixit, 16 February 2001)

We are moved to respond.

More than 80 years ago, in 1920, Pramatha Chaudhuri wrote an article titled "Bengali Patriotism". It appeared in the well known Bengali monthly, Sabuj Patra (Green Leaves), which he edited. Pramatha Chaudhuri spoke as a Bengali and wrote in Bengali, but that which he so eloquently said would apply equally to the Tamils, the Marathis, the Malayalees, and the other nations of the Indian sub continent. 

Chaudhuri described the various people of India as different "nations" entitled to national self determination. According to him the possibility of harmony and co-operation was much more, if this separateness was recognised rather than denied. He declared that the unity of India will not come from the efforts of "minds bred on English textbooks" and insisted that that unity will be built only on the foundation of "provincial patriotism". 

It was Mark Twain who once remarked that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Reports during recent years of the disintegration of India may also be greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, the challenge that India continues to face (with increasing urgency) is the task of telescoping two different processes which are at work.

On the one hand, after the departure of the colonial ruler in 1948, we have seen the emergence of the separate national identities of the Indian sub continent, seeking recognition and demanding equality, in the fullest sense of that term - not dissimilar to the emergence of the nations of Europe in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and the 19th centuries.

On the other hand, we live in the 21st century, at a time when the increasing inter-dependence of states has led to the growth of regional economic and political communities. The same states who warred with each other in Europe to assert their separate interests, have felt the need to pool their sovereignty within the framework of a larger European Community.

True inter-dependence will come only between those who are independent. Pramatha Chauduri's writing (in the 1920s)  remains essential reading today for all  us who regard ourselves as Indians and who are concerned to secure and protect the unity that is India. He said:

"To be united due to outside pressure and to unite through mutual regard are not the same. Just as there is a difference between the getting together of five convicts in a jail and between five free men, so the Congress union of the various nations of India and tomorrow's link between the peoples of a free country will be very different. Indian patriotism will then be built on the foundation of provincial patriotism, not just in words but in reality."

A stable unity will emerge only when New Delhi acquires the vision and the strength to structure a polity where the different peoples of the sub continent (including those in the island of Sri Lanka) may freely associate with each other in equality and in freedom. The price of  failure, will be the disintegration of the Indian state because, in the years ahead, the political awakening of the different peoples of India will continue to gather momentum - and this will be unstoppable.

If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people and for the people, then it also means that no one people may impose their rule on another. It is this appeal to democracy which has given national movements their enduring appeal.

It will be futile for New Delhi, Canute­like, to order the rising tide of nationalism to recede. The rising tide of Kashmiri nationalism will not recede in the years to come. Neither will Assamese nationalism recede - on the contrary, these nationalisms and others will grow from year to year.

If the disintegration of India comes, it may come with the same seeming suddenness of the collapse of the centralised Soviet state - because the seeds of disintegration have had several decades to germinate, underground and  in fertile soil. It will come because of  the failure to learn the lessons of the two world wars - lessons which led to the formation of the European Union. It will come because of a failure to understand the underlying reasons which contributed to the break up of the Soviet Union - a break up, which showed, Gorbachov (amongst others) that too little too late was  not enough. 

The real political question is not 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 is the issue that the 21st century will have to confront. 

And, here we need to understand that 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 self­determination' 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)..."

It was a vision that was spelt out in Tamil Eelam, Kurds & Bhutan in July 1985, and articulated on behalf of  the Tamil national movement at Thimpu in August 1985, more than 15 years ago:

"... we are not chauvinists. Neither are we racists. The togetherness of the Tamil people is not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. We do not say that our language is the sweetest in the world but we do say that our language is sweet to our ears. We do not say that our culture is the oldest in the world but we do say that it is a culture of great antiquity and that it has made a rich contribution to the world. We do not say that our thinkers are the most influential that the world has known but we do say that their thoughts have left the world with a greater understanding of itself. We do not say that we are the chosen people but we do say that we, too, are a people, and that we are entitled to live our lives in the way we choose.

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..."

It  is this vision which has directed our efforts  in cyberspace during the past several months: And it was this vision which also led to the caution in Culture and the Tamil Contribution to World Civilisation:

"The effort to acquaint the world of the important contributions of Tamil culture, is not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. Tamil culture is a culture of great antiquity and it has made, and will continue to make, a rich contribution to world civilisation. At the same time, Tamils have gained, and continue to gain, by their interaction with other peoples and other cultures - particularly those of the Indian sub continent. No people are an island unto themselves..."

The break up of India, if it comes, will not come from the efforts of tamilnation.org. It will come despite our efforts. It will come from a failure of political leaders in India to openly recognise that India is a multi national state - and recognise the enduring wisdom of the words of Pramatha Chaudhuri:

"...It is not a bad thing to try and weld many into one but to jumble them all up is dangerous, because the only way we can do that is by force. If you say that this does not apply to India, the reply is that if self determination is not suited to us, then it is not suited at all to Europe. No people in Europe are as different, one from another, as our people. There is not that much difference between England and Holland as there is between Madras and Bengal. Even France and Germany are not that far apart. If some of our politicians shudder at the mention of provincial patriotism, it is because their beliefs smack of narrow national selfishness."

We recognise that Tamils are Indians. We are Indians because we are Tamils. And, if we were not Tamils, we would not be Indians. Again, if there were no Bengalis, no Marathis, no Kannadigas, no Tamils (to mention but a few of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent), there would be no 'Indians'.  The unity of India will not come simply by English speaking 'Indians' speaking to each other in English.  Pramatha Chaudhuri said it all more than eighty years ago:

"You have accused me of "Bengali patriotism". I feel bound to reply. If it is a crime for a Bengali to harbour and encourage Bengali patriotism in his mind, then I am guilty. But I ask you: what other patriotism do you expect from a Bengali writer?  The fact that I do not write in English should indicate that non Bengali patriotism does not sway my mind. If I had to make patriotic speeches in a language of no part of India, then I would have to justify that patriotism by saying that it does not relate to any special part of India but that it means love for India as a whole. In a language learnt by rote you can only express ideas learnt by heart..."

It is not that we are unmindful of the importance of securing a strong and united India. But the strength and unity of India lies not in the nuclear bomb, but in its peoples. Nuclear capability will not guarantee unity. The nuclear bomb did not prevent the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the non-nuclear states of Latvia, Estonia and Georgia.  There is a need to understand that a people's aspiration for equality and freedom is an energy which is in many ways more potent than that contained in a nuclear bomb. 

There are those (including Marxists) who would assert that conflicts between peoples will be assuaged by economic growth. But, economic growth  will not happen  unless the different peoples of India are energised to work together to achieve their shared aspirations. Peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, do not somehow 'melt' and disappear - and, in any case, a 'third world' economy will not provide a large enough 'pot' for the 'melting' to take place. It is no accident that a Gujerati does not stand for election in Tamil Nadu, or a Tamil in Bengal, or a Marathi in Kashmir - and there is a need to recognise and address this political reality.

Those concerned to secure the unity of India will need  to adopt a more 'principle centred' approach towards struggles for self determination in the Indian region. A  myopic approach, even apart from anything else, may well encourage the very outside 'pressures' which New Delhi seeks to exclude. Those truly concerned to secure the unity of India may need to attend more seriously to the words of Julius Nyerere, an ex President of Tanzania and one of Africa's most respected elder statesperson, in an interview reported in the New Internationalist, January/February 1999:

"It seems that independence of the former colonies has suited the interests of the industrial world for bigger profits at less cost. Independence made it cheaper for them to exploit us. We became neo-colonies. ... The majority of countries in Africa and the rest of the South are hamstrung by debt, by the IMF. We have too much debt now. It is a heavy burden, a trap. It is debilitating. We must have a new chance. If we doubled our production and debt-servicing capabilities we would still have no money for anything extra like education or development. It is immoral. It is an affront.

The conditions and policies of the World Bank and the IMF are to enable countries to pay debt, not to develop. That is all! Let us argue the moral case. Let us create a new liberation movement to free us from immoral debt and neo-colonialism. This is one way forward. The other way is through Pan-African unity...

Kwame Nkrumah and I were committed to the idea of unity... I did not believe in these small little nations. Still today I do not believe in them. I tell our people to look at the European Union, at these people who ruled us who are now uniting...." 

It is this vision of an Indian Union, of free and equal nations, which will continue to direct our work and we repeat:

"...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 the words of a Gujerati and an Indian, Mahatma Gandhi will continue to inform our actions:

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, 
but it is very important that you do it." 


Response by Ravishankar Dixit, 16 February 2001

Though my mail to you contained a few obscenities for which I owe apologies to you, you have elucidated a concept that is very relevant in a very tolerant tone. Thanks for such a maturity.

Mr. Nadesan Satyendra's commentaries and opinions are thoroughly compiled and presented as a reaction to my outburst. There is a very conscious effort on your side to make me understand things that I might not have. But, I am an Indian and I repeat that. I uphold that which is Indian basically. A Tamilian is not basically un-Indian. He might even represent the whole sub-culture of the South India. 

According to me, Tamilian separatism stems from a deeply rooted psychological reason which can be applied to a mass. Tamil language for example, is loud (not being offensive here). If five languages are spoken simultaneously, Tamil is the one which can be recognized immediately. Tamils have a distinct taste for strong colours like deep red, dark green and dark orange. Tamils are the ones who showed nationalistic fervour when Kannadigas, Telugus, Malayalees and others in South India were virtually sleeping. Tamils are the ones who stand apart in a loud way. As I gather through my limited Tamil knowledge, Tamil has extreme words for even milder substances, strong intonations; the usage of 'ta' and 'ra' which are considered to be harsh consonants are the most easily identifiable phenomenon of Tamil.

The reason behind this elaboration is to analyse the mass-psychology of the body of Tamil people. I am not even a poor student of history or geography or even literature, but as a common Indian who has a sensibility whose wavelength matches that of common-Indian-sense, I have my own opinions and thoughts regarding this effort of a Tamil Nation. With this background knowledge, what I feel is that Tamil culture has a deep and very edgy sensitivity. This sensitivity has become the reason for the willingness to 'stand apart', 'show to this world' and 'stand up and in front'. There is this wretched question of Brahminism and Non-Brahminism in Tamil Nadu too. Iyers and Iyengars who by and large make up most of the opinion-building and pathfinders of ideologies are shunned away by the non-Brahmin society. Iyers and Iyengars do have to be extremely canny, smart and opportunistic in Tamil Nadu to get what they want. While the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu are extremely touchy about being  proud Tamilians, others hate them. While they hate others, they would not go as far as to belittle the Tamilness which is essentially the same factor that forms their ideological inclinations as those of the non-Brahmins. The issue of Brahmins and Non-Brahmins is not such a mangled one, in say, Karnataka or Andhra or even Maharashtra (where I believe Brahministic superiority sways its head in a vulgarity unseen anywhere). 

This sensitivity has been carefully nurtured by the Cholas, Cheras and all others. Tamilnadu is on the eastern side of Karnataka. Karnataka which is the western demon to Tamilnadu has been built upon the ideologies of the 13th Shankaracharya of Sringer Mutt Vidyaranya (again a Brahmin!). Tamils see Kannadigas as their evil twin, since they are towards their west. Kannadigas are the traitors, cunning people holding the flowing water and the slayers of Tamil kings. These curious insights towards the animosity grown within the Tamil psyche have been carefully grafted by the political ideology of exclusivism, Tamil-supremacy propaganda and the almost ridiculous EVP anti-Rama agenda of  yore. The chequered mass-mentality of Tamil Nadu is extremely difficult to rationalize. The extremely intelligent Tamil, the supremely hard-working Tamil, the highly sensitive Tamil is also the most vulnerable to chauvinism. This chauvinism is encashed by the political hegemony of the state. Tamil political agenda are in no way different than say that of Bihar's politicians or Gujarat's.

The history of Sri Lankan Tamils that has been presented here in this site is no different than a biased, opportunistic, populist, mass-sympathy-encashing propaganda. The atrocities against Tamils are ofcourse condemnable, but at the same time, it is the headlong attitudes of the Tamils that make them easy targets everywhere they go. 

Less on an ideological side, my own experiences with Tamils have been a mixture of extremely calm, serene and friendly reach-outs to irritating and most discouraging encounters of chauvinistic attitudes.

As I told you, I am not even a student of history. I just rationalize things with common sense and with the knowledge that I get from reading and observation. Thanks for the elaborative insights into the ever-surprising Tamil mind though!

Though I never hope for a separate Tamil nation to exist, I always wish all Tamilians to live in a way that is dignified and with their own cultural identity respected by everyone in India. That can only happen when Tamils stop feeling too touchy and sympathetic about themselves and commingle their aspirations and ambitions with that of the common, less-fortunate (and culturally inferior according to Tamils) states (like Karnataka, Kerala or up Bihar). Good luck. Thanks.

Our Response:  There is one matter to which we may usefully respond - and that is the view that you have expressed  that  the matters presented in this site are 'biased, opportunistic, populist, mass-sympathy-encashing propaganda'. The Oxford English Dictionary defines propaganda as 'any association, systematic scheme or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practise' and to the extent that we are concerned to propagate our stated mission of nurturing the growing togetherness of the Tamil people, it is perhaps right to say that it is engaged in 'propaganda'. But it is in this 'neutral' sense of the word 'propaganda' and not in a pejorative sense, that we would describe our efforts. We seek to present the matters relevant to the history, language, literature, culture, suffering and aspirations of the Tamil people (living today in many lands) in a fair and truthful manner, and the extent to which we have succeeded (or failed), is ofcourse, a matter that visitors to the website will judge for themselves.

At the same time, we  have often asked ourselves why it is that we write and we have found Sundara Ramasamy's reflections in this regard helpful. We do not agree that 'it is the headlong attitudes of the Tamils that make them easy targets everywhere they go'. Here, a fair minded perusal of Sri Lanka's Broken Pacts and Evasive Proposals may prove useful. 

"One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement." - (Professor Marshall Singer, at US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995)

Chauvinism is the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. tamilnation.org is not chauvinist. We do not say that we are better than other peoples. We say that we are as good as - and that we too, are a people, and have made and will continue to make a rich contribution, as such people, to the one world to which we all belong.

 

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