Puthiya Parithi and Jeyannathann Karunanithi
“The human urge to search for pattern amidst the chaos, the nature of humans to weave myths to conserve the unspoken history and lived experiences via metaphors, thereby has led to numerous key days which we remember by heart”
Remember the 5th of November. A statement, a clamour which is now widely associated with questioning the status quo across the globe, whose origins is closely linked with the treason committed by Guy Fawkes and his Catholic associates against English Crown and Parliament. The human urge to search for pattern amidst the chaos, the nature of humans to weave myths to conserve the unspoken history and lived experiences via metaphors, thereby has led to numerous key days which we remember by heart. We, the people from Dravidian stock now have a phrase to remember, to inherit, to disseminate far and wide, and that is, “Remember, Remember, the month of September”, thanks to the numerous key moments which has happened on this month of September over a century, under the immense pressure of Brahmanism.
September. This is a month which has given Dravidians much more than one reason to remember and cherish. Among the various thinkers and ideologues this world has ever seen, Periyar occupies a unique position, as he not only established the contours of his ideology, but also took the ideology to people, allowed the ideology to evolve, while conserving the core intent. Along the same lines, there are no parallels for Anna (C.N. Annadurai), if we are to search for a person who contradicted with the founder of the ideology while scripting a journey which led to the ascension of the same ideology to the higher echelons of power politics. The month of September which assumes paramount importance for being the birth month of Periyar and Anna, also has valuable lessons as well as tools to further their millennia long quest for equal existence in this land, with Self Respect.
Oppression of a highest order has always been the seed for the crystallization of the revolution of any form. It was the omnipresent Brahminism- fuelled oppression, exclusion and appropriation of power structures which then assumed the form of Home Rule Movement under the leadership of Annie Besant, which led to the birth of the Dravidian Movement. Home Rule Movement espoused Swarajya (Self-Government) and as it had the implicit support of Indian National Congress, it led to the involvement of Congressmen in its activities. INC of those days, in Madras Province, had an overwhelming Brahmin presence, which in turn led to Home Rule Movement being dominated by Advocates from Mylapore. Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar, who was then organizing the non-brahmins to aspire for opportunities in face of overt exclusion practiced by Brahmins witnessed this mobilization, understood the long term implications of this emerging circumstances which would lead to institutionalized Brahmanism. He, in turn engineered a cascade of meetings that led to the mobilization of key Non-Brahmin personalities, leading to the emergence of South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), also known as ‘Justice Party’. The seed for SILF, the Home Rule Movement, was founded on 1916, on the 12th day of the month, which was September.
September, was the month, when Justice Party completed its first full-term as the ruling party of Madras Province. Justice Party, which was founded opposing the asphyxiating Brahmin dominance, had elected representatives from Non-Brahmin Castes, Christian and Muslim communities. At a time, when Brahmin domination was overwhelmingly felt in employment and University education, O. Thanikachalam Chettiar on 5th August 1921, brought forward two proposals of far-reaching consequences to Legislative Council, which demanded representation in employment in accordance with the proportion of the communities in the population. This had happened during the Justice Party rule when King Panagal was the First Minister of the Presidency. This was passed with overwhelming majority, while facing stiff opposition from Brahmins, in turn becoming a first step towards the long journey of ensuring fair representation of every community in Government services. The right to vote for women in Madras Province was made possible by the proposal of Diwan Bahadur Krishna Nair, from which even Brahmin women benefitted. The first Government led by Justice Party, abolished the usage of the term ‘Panchamas’ (outcast) and introduced the term Adi – Dravidas (The ancient Dravidians), appointed officials to look after the welfare of Adi-Dravidas, created Hindu Religious Endowment Board which questioned the monopoly held by Brahmins in temple affairs. Though the first Justice Party Government ended its rule in September, it marked the start of the glorious history of Dravidian Movement which seeked to ensure the creation of a ‘New Deal’ for the millions of people who were oppressed under the weight of Brahmanism.
The pioneering social engineering attempts by the first Justice Party government led to their victory in 1923, but they lost the 1926 election due to the rift which emerged in the party. The political backflips of an higher order, later led to the emergence of a Government led by Subbarayan, with support of Justice Party. It was during that period, Periyar distanced himself from Congress and initiated the Self Respect Movement. It was under his guidance, his long term demand for a functioning Communal G.O. saw the light during the rule of Subbarayan, which ended on September of 1930, the month when Justice Party came back to power with single majority. In 1934, with the repeal of Non-Cooperation Movement by Gandhi, Congress decided to enter the election, which in turn disrupted the electoral fortunes of Justice Party, which was facing then facing a low point.
This changed circumstances led Justice Party to embrace Periyar. Though Periyar was opposed to Indian National Congress of that time, he didn’t accept the invitation from Justice Party immediately. He forwarded a Working Plan to Congress and Justice party, which was structured along socialist ideals about safeguarding the interests of labour, agriculture while including emancipatory ideals of abolishing untouchability and distinctions based on birth and importantly, ensuring proportional representation, which are now strongly associated with objectives of Dravidian movement. With the Brahmin dominated Congress rejecting the work plan, the Non- Brahmin led Justice Party, accepted the Work Plan. This was the first step taken by Justice Party to fit itself within the Dravidian framework structured by Periyar. The date when Justice Party accepted the Periyar’s work plan was 1934, 24th day of September.
The Dravidian identity and the opposition to Hindi are now seen synonymous by North Indians. While Tamils clarify their stance, by bringing out the nuanced difference between the principled stand of espousing stiff resistance to Hindi Imposition and being simply Anti-Hindi. The reason being, the sheer force with which the unilateral imposition of Hindi was resisted by Tamils from time to time, starting with the year 1938. During the year 1938, an Anti- Hindi Imposition brigade was assembled and they undertook a historic march from Uraiyur in Tiruchirappalli. The day, when this 42-day long march ground to a stop was 11th of September. On the same day, Periyar addressed a public meeting, bellowing a rallying cry, which was, “Tamil Nadu for Tamils”, a slogan which is reverberating in some corner of Tamil Nadu until this very day.
Institutions reflect the nature of the majority of the constituents in spite of the existence of a history and a narrative in place. Though Justice Party accepted the leadership of Periyar, its key leaders, in spite of being non-brahmins, were not keen on abolishing the power structures propped up by caste and were relentlessly chasing Government titles and positions. In order to weed out the constituents who had deviated from the ideals of Justice Party, Periyar through Anna, passed certain progressive resolutions which angered certain Justice Party stalwarts. This led to them strategizing to out-manoeuvre Periyar by gaining the support of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was then waging a struggle against Brahmanism which is entrenched across Indian subcontinent. In the year 1944, a meeting was arranged by Sunday Observer P. Balasubramaniam in Connemara Hotel, in which Babasaheb Ambedkar gave a speech. To their agony, Ambedkar pronounced in his speech, the need for a leader like Periyar to dismantle the ossified structures of Brahmanism and the need for clear work plans like that, proposed by Periyar. The day, when Babasaheb Ambedkar lent his word of credence about the Periyar and his Dravidian ideology was 24th day of September. Akin to the half botched attempts by vested interests until now, to posit Babasaheb Ambedkar against Periyar, an attempt was made then and it embraced an epic fail on this very day of September, 1944.
September assumes a paramount importance, as not only the purge from Justice Party was deftly strategized by Periyar but also the key ideals of the Dravidar Kazhagam were drawn on this month. The idea of ‘Dravida Nadu’ assumed its final form in the conference that was held on 29th September, 1945, in Tiruchirappalli. Emancipating people from caste and religious divide and discrimination, from superstitious practices, safeguarding people from various forms of exploitation found mention in the list of ideals which was drawn. In addition to that, the institutional framework of the Dravidar Kazhagam was also finalized then. Black Shirt, which impacted the cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu broke into the scene, with the formation of Black Shirt Brigade in this Conference and there started the symbolic association which continues until now, of how Black outfit clad person is identified as a Periyarist, almost immediately, like a reflex. It is also to be noted that, the friction between Periyar and Anna emerged with regards to the question of wearing Black Shirts, as Anna didn’t subscribe to the idea of wearing Black Shirts, for he associated ‘fascism’ with uniformed outfits.
The seeds of friction which were sown in September of 1945, began to germinate by September of 1947 on the question of August 15, the Indian Independence day. While Periyar viewed Indian Independence Day with cynicism, as a mere transfer of power, from one exploiter to another, that is, British to Brahmins, Anna chose to celebrate the day, stating that, of the two exploiters at the helm, one has chosen to step down. Under these circumstances, a conference on Separation of Dravida Nadu from Indian Union was arranged by Periyar on 14th of September, 1947, which was boycotted by Anna and his coterie of supporters. But, later Anna and Periyar joined hands when then Chief Minister Omandur P. Ramasamy banned the Black Shirts Brigade.
Periyar announced Anna as the next leader of Dravidar Kazhagam in the Erode Conference, after which Periyar understood that Anna has chosen to adopt the Electoral democracy path. Hence, he decided to find an alternative leadership and transfer the properties of Dravidar Kazhagam to the chosen one. With his relative, E.V.K. Sampath having chosen the path of Anna, he decided to chose Maniammai as the successor, who was then assisting him in his day to day activities. According to Hindu Law then, a women neither had the right to adopt nor had the right to get adopted. Hence, the law was chosen to be circumvented, which culminated in the marriage of 70 year old Periyar to 32 year old Maniammai, a decision of Periyar which was vehemently opposed by Anna and his supporters. On 10th of September, 1949, Kudi Arasu carried a news item which announced the change of name of K.A. Maniammai to E.V.R. Maniammai which was the final straw for Anna’s group in Dravidar Kazhagam. The incensed Anna’s group met in a house in Chennai to pass a no-confidence resolution on Periyar which led to the formation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravida Progressive Federation) under the leadership of Annadurai on 17th of September, the birthday of Periyar.
September: With numerous events to draw inspiration from, to draw valuable lessons for their long journey towards reclaiming their lost legacy, countless brothers and sisters of Dravidian stock, not only from Tamil Nadu or the ones who speak one of the Dravidian family of languages, but also the ones from backward class and oppressed sections (Bahujans) across the Indian subcontinent, now have a phrase to remember, to inherit, to disseminate far and wide, and that is, “Remember, Remember, the month of September.”