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Dravidian politics

Dravidar Kazhagam or Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Organization) was the first fully Dravidian party in India. It was a radical party formed by E. V. Ramaswamy, also called Thanthai Periyar (The Noble Father) of erstwhile Madras Presidency. Its original goals were to eradicate the ills of the existing caste system including untouchability and on a grander scale to obtain a "Dravida Nadu" or Dravidian nation mainly from the Madras Presidency. The founders were motivated by theories that the Brahmins (who migrated from the north) and Aryans were wreaking havoc on the local Dravidian populace. The DK thus became the first fully Dravidian party and would in turn give birth to many other Dravidian parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) over the course of time.

Contents

Origins

The roots of the Dravidar Kazhagam lie in the Self Respect Movement, founded by Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. Periyar formed the Self Respect Movement in 1925, breaking in the process from the Indian National Congress party of which he had been a member until then. The Self Respect Movement represented "non-Brahmins". The non-Brahmin community was defined to include all South Indians other than Brahmins. The South Indian Liberal Federation (also called the Justice Party) was an elite organization, formed in 1916, which also claimed to promote non-Brahmin interests. The Self Respect Movement and the Justice Party were merged in 1938 under Periyar's leadership. The name of this party was changed to the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in 1944, at the same time that the party was more formally organized.

The party at its inception retained the flag of the South Indian Liberal Federation which had a picture of a traditional type of balance instrument, called tarasu in Tamil, signifying the idea of equality.[1] The Dravidar Kazhagam was founded not only for equality but for 'proportionate rights' according to population. its central theme was to remove the degraded status imposed on Dravidians and to lead to a bright future. To denote this, the Dravidar Kazhagam adopted a black flag with a red circle inside it, the black signifying their degradation - social and economic - and the red denoting the movement for uplift.[2]

The DK opposed Brahminical social, political and ritual dominance, and aimed to form a separate country of Dravida Nadu, to include either all of South India or the predominantly Tamil-speaking regions. Its sharp opposition to religion, especially Brahminical Hinduism, was widely popular. Dravidian ideology is based on staunch anti-Brahminism, and is anti-Sanskrit and anti-North India. However, it never became a full-fledged political party by choice; instead, it prefers to be a cultural and social reformist movement and a pressure group leaving active politics to its progeny, DMK and AIADMK.

Work

The work of the Dravidar Kazhagam largely centered around annihilation of caste, removing untouchability, opposing Brahminism and denouncing Hindu Gods and Goddesses, seeking to educate people on superstitions and ignorance as well as women's liberation. Even though there some aberrations, Periyar's protests were largely symbolic and did not call for the destruction of private property or physically harm anyone, including the Brahmins. The workers of this party were often quite visible as they wore black shirts and white dhotis. The party was very much opposed to Hindi as well as all Northern traditions seen as maligning the south and its unique culture. It continues to remove astrology and other superstitions viz. numerology, palmistry, etc.

Controversies

The Dravidar Kazhagam was well known for its hard line approach to fight for the Dravidian rights and was often involved in mass attempts to change the system outright. One such incident involved bringing in Adi Dravidas into the sanctum sanctorum and asking Brahmin priests to worship in Tamil instead of Sanskrit, since Tamil was propagated to be inferior in comparison to Sanskrit, a language that was restricted only to the Brahmin community. During Indian independence in 1947, the party has not accepted as Periyar viewed Independence as the transfer of power from British to the Brahmin-Bania combine who occupied all important positions. With a firm belief that caste-based reservations are the only way to empower the under-represented, they supported reservations in education and employment right from 1919. Periyar was instrumental in introducing reservation in Tamil Nadu from 1921 even before independence.

The split

As the party gained prominence, many in the party wanted to contest in the elections and implement their ideology through democratic means. Among these were Annadurai and his followers. However, Periyar argued that politics will force ideology to the background and Dravidar Kazhagam remained a social organization. Moreover, many felt that a greater Dravida Nadu was impossible and even Periyar resigned to the fact that even an independent Tamil Nadu would be a remarkable achievement. With a straining relationship in the organization, Periyar, supreme leader of the party, married Maniammai in her thirties, as an arrangement of the future of the party. Furthermore, he began to give more power and control to her and is even reported to have said that she would be his successor. This enraged some members of the party who broke up and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, later winning the elections in Tamil Nadu. The party was later headed by Veeramani after the demise of Maniammai.

Legacy

The organization laid the foundation for further Dravidian involvement into politics. It singularly enthused a new Dravidian spirit that later on led to the formation of many parties in the southern states that would eventually challenge the Indian National Congress stranglehold. Though it failed to achieve its grandiose idea of an independent Dravidian nation, it fostered a spirit of unity amongst the Dravidians, especially in Tamilians who continue to oppose Hindi to this day. Its influence is especially felt in Tamil Nadu where since 1967, only the Dravidian parties have won the assembly elections. [1]

While it can be said that Dravidar Kazhagam was instrumental in lessening the importance of Brahmins on Tamil society especially in politics and administration, ultimately the ideas of equality and equal opportunity adopted by the Indian Constitution contributed a little to make the entire educated and political classes which wield influence. Dravidar Kazhagam was one force which ploughed upside down the traditional Hindu and Indian attitudes for the betterment of the underprivileged.

Mandal Commission Report

In connection with the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report which had been submitted to the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi in 1980, and which had been conveniently shelved by the Congress Government, the Dravidar Kazhagam was the first organization to ask why the government was sleeping over it. Thus, the it organized an agitation on Octoer 3, 1983 with the cooperation of like-minded Parties asking why the recommendations of the Mandal Commission were not being implemented. The General Secretary of the Dravidar Kazhagam, K. Veeramani and the representatives of other parties met the President of India and urged the need for carrying out the recommendations of the Commission.[3]

Conferences were at Patna, Nagpur, and at Allahabad going into the following year in favor of the Mandal Commission Report and in all those Conferences the General Secrety K. Veeramani represented the Dravidar Kazhagam and said that in fairness to the Backward classes the recommendations of the Commission should be totally accepted and the necessary laws for their implementation should be enacted. Two days later K. Veeramani and other supporters of the Report staged a "dharma" in front of the Prime Minister's residence in order to draw her attention to the urgency of the problem; they were all arrested immediately. Indira Gandhi did not yield to pressures on this question. The Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi continued the same policy.[3]

When V.P. Singh assumed office as Prime Minister of India, the Parliament in August 1990 accepted the Mandal Commission Report, and planned to implement it. Immediately the forward classes in some states rose against it. Reacting against this unfeeling attitude of the forward class people, the Dravidar Kazhagam and the DMK have been urging the Prime Minister to stand up to his commitment. On October 22, 1990 with staunch support of the Chief Minister Kalaignar Karunanidhi, these two Parties organized a state wide "bandh" in Tamil Nadu to show how the entire state stands solidly in support of the Mandal Commission Report. The Prime Minister is a man of principles and he has been repeatedly saying that he is committed to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. In the meantime, some of the forward class people have moved the Supreme Court and that court has passed Stay Orders against the implementation of the Report. Though the hands of the Government were tied by this stay order, the Kazhagam has continued to work for the implementation of the Report.[3]

Tamil Eelam problem

Another burning question which has been engaging the Dravidar Kazhagam actively since 1983 is that of the helpless Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Though Tamilians had been attacked off and on by the Sinhalese for a number of years, from 1983 the plight of the Tamils became miserable because the Sri Lanka government seemed to convince at the atrocities committed against the Tamils. Some Tamil groups equipped themselves and tried to meet the challenge of the Sinhalese militants. As a result of the continued skirmishes, hundreds of Tamil civilians, including women and children, were killed.[4]

In order to induce the government of India to take some action at the political level the Dravidar Kazhagam took a series of steps. On June 18, 1983, it convened an All-Party Conference in Madras and discussed the ways to solve the problem. The consensus was that the Government of India should have a dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the genocide and find means of allowing the Tamil population to live in peace in that country. Two weeks later, on July 2, the Dravidar Kazhagam leaders address a mammoth public meeting at Anna Nagar, Madras to inform the public how their brothers and sisters were being massacred in Sri Lanka.[4]

On July 23, 1983, the General Secretary sent messages to all the Parliament members representing Tamil Nadu asking them to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and urge her to everything possible to save the innocent Tamils. Finding that the Government of India was not taking immediate steps to solve the problem, the Dravidar Kazhagam decided to observe the August 15, 1983 as a day of mourning. The Party members were instructed to show their resentment against the Central Government's lukewarm attitude, by wearing black badges on their arms, flying black flags over their houses and hoisting black flags in public places. Further, the members of the State Legislative Party and the Parliament were requested through personal letters not to participate in any of the functions connected with the Independence Day.[4]

By this time, refugees from Sri Lanka were pouring into Tamil Nadu in large numbers. On August 16, 1983 the General Secretary of the Dravidar Kazhagamthe announced that Periyar Rationalist Propaganda Institution would offer educational facilities to the children of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. When the President of Sri Lanka Jayawardene visited New Delhi to enter into a pact with Prime Minister of India, the Dravidar Kazhagam held a black flag demonstration to express its indignation against his inhuman attitude to Tamils. As a result of the meeting which Jayawardene had with the officials of the Indian Government, India agreed to send a unit of the Indian Army to Sri Lanka for keeping peace in the island; it was called Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The Dravidar Kazhagam arranged a number of meetings and expressed condemnation of this agreement signed on July 29, 1987 because it felt that the IPKF would be used to curb the activities of the Tamil rebels who wanted a separate Province Eelam for the Tamils settled in Sri Lanka.[5]

On Independence Day August 15, 1984, the Dravidar Kazhagam observed mourning and its general secretary and members hoisted black flags in many places of Tamil Nadu. K. Veeramani and five thousand members of the party who were involved in this were arrested. On December 3, 1984, a unit of the Ceylonese Marine Force chased and shot down some Indian fishermen who were fishing off the coast of Rameswaram. When the General Secretary of the Dravidar Kazhagam and the Head of the Madurai Mutt expressed before the Madurai Collector's office their protest against the inaction of the Indian Government, they were arrested. The Dravidar Kazhagam gave help to the families of the fishermen who had been killed. In order to plan and organize continued support for the Tamil Eelam freedom fighters, Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization (TESO) was formed in Madras on May 13, 185 with Dr. Kalaignar Karunanidhi as President and K. Veeramani and Madurai Nedumaran as members.[5]

When the Central Government of India ordered Tamil Eelam leadership to be sent out of Madras, thousands of Tamilians marched along the streets of New Delhi protesting against the provocative order. Five days later TESO successfully prevented movements of trains throughout Tamil Nadu as a protest against the extradition of the Eelam leadership. When the situation on the borders between India and Sri Lanka were tense, Nedumaran heroically sailed to Sri Lanka, videotaped the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and on his return, went straight to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to apprise him of the situation in Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi refused to meet him and thus showed his indifference to the sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.[6]

When the Government of India sent an Indian Battalion] to Sri Lanka as IPKF, the Dravidar Kazhagam protested against it. (Periyar Father of Tamil 55) The worst fears of the Dravidar Kazhagam regarding the IPKF proved true within a week or two of its functioning in Sri Lanka. The battalion had to take orders from the Sri Lanka Government and naturally that Government employed the IPKF against the guerrilla fighters of Eelam. Very soon, Indian papers reported that the Indian Government was spending at the rate of rupees one crore per day for maintaining the IPKF in Sri Lanka. The general public then realized that making the Indo-Lanka pat was a historic folly on the part of the Indian Government awoke to the realities but stood on false prestige and did not wish to withdraw the IPKF. But ironically, the Government of Sri Lanka insisted on the withdrawal of Indian troops in May 1989 probably because this force tried to prevent the Sri Lanka army from hunting down not only the freedom fighters but the innocent Tamil civilians.[6]

Notes

  1. ^ Saraswathi, S. (2004) Towards Self-Respect. Institute of South Indian Studies, pp. 93 & 94
  2. ^ Saraswathi, S., Towards Self-Respect, p. 94.
  3. ^ a b c Gopalakrishnan, M.D. (1991) Periyar: Father of the Tamil race, Chennai. Emerald Publishers, p. 52.
  4. ^ a b c Gopalakrishnan, Periyar: Father of the Tamil race, p. 53.
  5. ^ a b Gopalakrishnan, Periyar: Father of the Tamil race, p. 54.
  6. ^ a b Gopalakrishnan, Periyar: Father of the Tamil race, p. 55.

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