"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

Brahminism & Mr.Taraki

May/July 1992

[see also  Sanmugam Sabesan on திராவிடக் கட்சிகளின் தமிழ்த் தேசியம், March 2005]


Mr.Taraki is a regular columnist in the Sinhala owned newspaper, the Sunday Island, published in Colombo. The Sunday Island's views on the Tamil national liberation struggle are, ofcourse well known. It is a paper which denies the existence of the Tamil nation. It is a paper which has consistently refused to recognise the legitimacy of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam - a liberation struggle which seeks to defend the Tamil people against a forty year effort by the Sinhala State to subjugate and bend them to its will. It is to this paper that Mr. Taraki writes on Tamil affairs - no doubt to the satisfaction of those whom he serves.

Recently the editors of three newspapers in Sri Lanka were charged under the country's draconian emergency regulations with 'causing hatred, ill will and contempt of the government', simply because they had published the allegation of the former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Premadasa Udugampola, that death squads used against the JVP had the patronage of the government. Mr. Taraki's writings on Tamil affairs, though they have sometimes given the appearance of favouring the Liberation Tigers, have never attracted the same kind of attention from the Sri Lanka government.

It was the Shah of Iran who once remarked that one of the weapons that he used against national liberation movements was internal subversion. The goal, he said, was to allow the national movement to grow in a particular direction in order to defeat it. Mr. Taraki's latest piece, in the Sunday Island of 26 April, entitled ‘Tamil Nationalism Fights Back’, appearing as it does in a paper opposed to Tamil nationalism of any kind, merits careful attention, particularly as it seems that Mr. Taraki is intent on setting the ideological agenda for Tamil nationalism.

What does Mr. Taraki say? He begins with what is an unexceptionable assessment.He says:

‘‘The (Sri Lanka) government’s objective is to crush the LTTE. Jayalalitha’s objective, however goes far beyond that. Her express desire is to undermine the roots of Tamil nationalism in her state, so that in future Tamil Nadu would not be the breeding ground for pan-Tamilian sentiments. Her success will have a far reaching impact on the Tamil question as a whole than the victories of the Sri Lankan army in the North and East. What is she doing to destroy the roots of Tamil nationalism? Her main assault has been through systematic state patronage to Hinduism.’’

Mr. Taraki is right when he says that Chief Minister Jayalalitha seeks to use Hinduism to blunt the thrust of a growing Tamil national consciousness. But herein lies the nub - and the question that Mr.Taraki chooses not to ask. Why does Chief Minister Jayalalitha take the view that a resort to Hinduism is the answer to a rising Tamil national consciousness?

Is Hinduism in some way inconsistent with Tamil national consciousness? Is belief in a religion inconsistent with the Tamil national identity? Cannot Hindus be Tamils? Cannot Christians be Tamils?

Does not Chief Minister Jayalalitha know that any national identity is rooted in the heritage of a people, in their language and in their culture, that it is consolidated by an outside which treats them differently, and that it is given direction and purpose by their aspirations for a future, where they may live in equality and in freedom?

Again, if Christianity failed to prevent the growth of the separate nations of Christian Europe, why should Hinduism succeed in preventing the growth of the separate nations of Hindu India?

Does not Chief Minister Jayalalitha see the force of reason in that which the Bengali writer, Pramatha Chauduri said in the 1920s:

‘‘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?... 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 much apart...’’

Why then does Chief Minister Jayalalitha take the view that the answer to a rising Tamil national consciousness is Hinduism? Has she succumbed to a foolish whim, an irrational thought?

But, it would be unkind to suggest that Chief Minister Jayalalitha is foolish or irrational. All reports suggest that she has considerable political savvy. Her political instinct has clearly told her that it suits her purpose well to suggest that Tamil nationalism is opposed to religion. It suits her purpose well to suggest that Tamil nationalism is god less. If she can direct Tamil nationalism to that particular dead end, she knows that it will die of ‘natural causes.’

She knows well enough why it was that Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, the undoubted father of the Dravidian movement, in the end, failed to deliver on the promise of Dravida Nadu. What was it that went wrong? Why did E.V.R. fail where Mohamed Ali Jinnah succeeded?

Mr.Taraki is right that the ‘Dravidian movement was born in 1916 to oppose the domination of Brahmins, who were portrayed as Aryan outsiders in Tamil society.’ But if ideology is concerned with moving a people to action, why did E.V.R’s ideology fail to deliver Dravida Nadu?

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

The comments of Professor K.Nambi Arooran in his well researched Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism, serve to throw some light. He writes:

‘‘The (Madras) Mail (15 Nov 1939) in a leader entitled ‘The Justice Party’s War Aims’ criticised the war aims of the Justice Party and said that it was "sad to see a once great political party declining into a narrow and separatist sect". The Mail posed to E.V.R. a series of questions relating to the proposed Tamilnad such as its geographical boundaries, the status of non-Tamils, and its foreign and defence policies. The Mail considered the scheme of E.V.R. as "utterly impracticable" and said that it would be wrong to believe that a relatively weak Tamil State could be happier when independent than as a member of the federation.’’

‘‘ To the criticisms levelled against his scheme of a Dravidian State, E.V.R. replied in detail in a letter to the editor of the Mail (20 Nov 1939). His definition of Dravidanad lay on linguistic bases in the same manner as the Congress demanded linguistic provinces. But, for E.V.R. the concept was a Dravidian Federation which compromised all areas where the four major Dravidian languages were spoken.

His definition of Dravidians included all people who inhabited those areas - "Muslims, Christians, Depressed classes and all ‘Hindus’ except Brahmins who call themselves Brahmins. As to the problem of non Tamilians living in those areas, E.V.R said that the non Dravidians (meaning Brahmins) would be duly protected and properly safeguarded.’’

‘‘ (But in the end) it was a question how much support the demand for Dravidanad received from Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam language speaking peoples. Among the leading members of the Justice Party itself there were many who doubted at the support of the Andhras, Kannadigas and Malayalis for the proposed Dravidanad scheme of E.V.R.

For example, S. Somasundara Bharati, presiding over the Chingleput District Justice Party Conference, said that their salvation lay in making this movement for the separation of Tamilnad more dynamic, that he had not much faith that Andhras and Malayalis would fall in line with them, and that therefore he suggested not to agitate with them, for Dravidastan, but confine themselves to the separation of Tamilnad.’’

It was one thing to found a movement which addressed the contradiction between the non Brahmin Dravidian and Brahmin Aryan who sought to rule and dominate. It was quite another thing, to mobilise Dravidians, speaking different languages with different historical memories, into an integrated political force in support of the demand for Dravida Nadu.

But that was not all. E.V.R extended his attack on Brahminism to an attack on Hinduism - and indeed to all religions as well. Mr. Taraki is right when he says that ‘E.V.Ramasamy Naicker , who is known as the father of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu , was one of the most virulent opponents of Hinduism who ever lived in India.’ E.V.R threw out the Hindu child with the Brahmin bath water.

E.V.R was right to extoll the virtues of pahuth arivu, common sense. He was right to attack mooda nambikai, foolish faith. His rationalism was often a refreshing reaction to religious dogma and superstition. His attack on casteism, his social reform movement and his Self Respect Movement in the 1920s infused a new dignity, thanmaanam, amongst the Tamil people and laid the foundations on which Tamil nationalism has grown.

But the failure of EVR to recognise that Brahminism was one thing, Hinduism another and spiritualism yet another, proved fatal. His belligerent atheism failed to move the Tamil people. In the result even within Tamil Nadu, EVR's Dravida Kalagam became marginalised, and the DMK which was an offshoot of the Dravida Kalagam and the ADMK which was an offshoot of the DMK, both found it necessary to play down the anti religious line.

One consequence of EVR’s atheism was that spirituality in Tamil Nadu came to be regarded as the special preserve of those who were opposed to the growth of Tamil nationalism. It is this which Chief Minister Jayalalitha now seeks to exploit. And it is this which Mr.Taraki is intent on perpetuating when he says:

‘‘The Tamil Nation.... has also taken cudgels against Brahminism. But the Tamil Nation has got the whole thing muddled. Ideologically this paper has very little to do with the fundamental ideas of the Dravidian movement. Their editorial motto is that of Aurobindo Ghose, one of the chief proponents of militant Brahminism and the idea of Hindutra. In fact EVR quit the nationalist movement over the Shermadevi incident in which Aurobindo’s revolutionary associate, V.V.S. Aiyer was involved.’’

Tamil Nation is not muddled. It is clear about the roots of Tamil nationalism It understands only too well that Hindus and Christians are also part of the Tamil nation. Tamil Nation recognises that the fundamental ideas of the Dravidian movement are rooted in the resistance against Brahmin domination. The Tamil Nation recognises that the fundamental ideas of the Tamil national movement owe their origin to the Social Reform movement of E.V.R.

But Tamil Nation is not about to accept the kind invitation of Mr. Taraki to throw out the Hindu child with the Brahmin bath water and so help those who are intent on destroying a growing Tamil national togetherness. Support for the positive contributions that E.V.R. made in the area of social reform should not prevent us from examining where it was that he went wrong. Again it may well be that E.V.R. represented a necessary phase in the struggle of the Tamil people and given the objective conditions of the 1920s and 1930s, E.V.R was right to focus sharply on the immediate contradiction posed by Brahmin dominance. Be that as it may, in the 1990s, we need to learn from E.V.R. - not simply repeat that which he said or did.

As for Aurobindo's words which the Tamil Nation carries on its editorial page, Mr. Taraki, whether knowingly or unknowingly, misleads his readers when he fails to inform them that Aurobindo quit the political arena by 1911; that the E.V.R - V.V.S. Aiyer Shermadevi incident occurred in 1924/25; that Aurobindo had nothing whatever to do with the stand that V.V.S. Aiyer took at Shermadevi; and that the quotation that the Tamil Nation carries is from Aurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri, which he wrote in his Pondicherry Ashram in the 1930s.

The lines from Savitri bear repetition here: ‘‘Truth and Knowledge are an idle gleam, if they do not bring power to change the world." Karl Marx said something similar, albeit in somewhat different words: ‘Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it.’

The Tamil Nation needs no lectures from pseudonymous writers in the Sinhala owned press in Sri Lanka about what Tamil nationalism is or should be about.

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