The Dravida Movement

The Dravida Movement

The Dravida movement was basically for the demand of Dravinadu. DravidaNadu, is the name of a hypothetical “sovereign state” demanded by Justice Party led by E. V. Ramasamy and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by C. N. Annadurai for the speakers of the Dravidian languages in South Asia.

Initially, the demand of Dravida Nadu proponents was limited to Tamil-speaking region, but later, it was expanded to include other Indian states with Dravidia-language speakers in majority (Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka). Some of the proponents also included parts of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Orissa and Maharashtra. Other names for the proposed sovereign state included “South India”, “Deccan Federation” and “Dakshinapath”.

The concept of Dravida Nadu had its root in the anti-Brahminism movement in Tamil Nadu, whose aim was to end the alleged Brahmin dominance in the Tamil society and government. The early demands of this movement were social equality, and greater power and control. However, over the time, it came to include a separatist movement, demanding a sovereign state for the Tamil people. The major political party backing this movement was the Justice Party, which came to power in the Madras Presidency in 1921.  Since the late 19th century, the anti-Brahmin Tamil leaders had stated that the non-Brahmin Tamils were the original inhabitants of the Tamil-speaking region.The Brahmins, on the other hand, were described not only as oppressors, but even as a foreign power, on par with the British colonial rulers.

The prominent Tamil leader, E. V. Ramasami (popularly known as “Periyar”) stated that the Tamil society was free of any societal divisions before the arrival of Brahmins, whom he described as Aryan invaders. Periyar was an atheist, and considered the Indian nationalism as “an atavistic desire to endow the Hindu past on a more durable and contemporary basis”. The proponents of Dravida Nadu constructed elaborate historical anthropologies to support their theory that the Dravidian-speaking areas once had a great non-Brahmin polity and civilisation, which had been destroyed by the Aryan conquest and Brahmin hegemony.This led to an idealisation of the ancient Tamil society before its contact with the “Aryan race”, and led to a surge in the Tamil nationalism. Periyar expounded the Hindu epic Ramayana as a disguised historical account of how the Aryans subjugated the Tamils ruled by Ravana. Some of the separatists also posed Saivism as an indigenous, even non-Hindu religion.

Role of Justice Party

In December 1938, the Justice Party Convention passed a resolution stressing Tamil people’s right to a separate sovereign state, under the direct control of the Secretary of State for India in London. In 1939, E.V.Ramasamy organised the Dravida Nadu Conference for the advocacy of a separate, sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu. In a speech on 17 December 1939, he raised the slogan “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians”, which replaced the earlier slogan “Tamil Nadu for Tamils”.In 1940, the South Indian Liberal Federation (Justice Party) passed a resolution demanding a sovereign state of Dravida Nadu E.V.Ramasamy was clear about the concept of a separate multi-linguistic nation, comprising Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada areas, that is roughly corresponding to the then existing Madras Presidency with adjoining areas into a federation guaranteeing protection of minorities, including religious, linguistic, and cultural freedom of the people. The proposition was made with a view to safeguarding the national self-respect of Dravidians threatened by Indo-Aryan culture, language, political leadership, and business interests. A separatist conference was held in June 1940 at Kanchipuram when Periyar released the map of the proposed Dravida Nadu. With the promised grant of full self-government after World War II, and posed another threat to the Indian Freedom Movement However, it failed to get British approval. On the contrary, Periyar received sympathy and support from people such as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Muhammad Ali Jinnah for his views on the Congress, and for his opposition to Hindi. They then decided to convene a movement to resist the Congress. By the 1940s, E.V.Ramasamy supported Muslim League’s claim for a separate Pakistan, and expected its support in return. In an interview with the Governor of Madras, Jinnah, the main leader of Muslim League, said that India should be divided into four regions: Dravidistan, Hindustan, Bengalistan and Pakistan; Dravidistan would approximately consist of the area under the Madras Presidency. Jinnah stated “I have every sympathy and shall do all to help, and you establish Dravidistan where the 7 per cent Muslim population will stretch its hands of friendship and live with you on lines of security, justice and fairplay.”

In July 1940, a secession committee was formed at the Dravida Nadu Secession Conference held in Kanchipuram. On 24 August 1940, the Tiruvarur Provincial Conference resolved that Dravda Nadu should be an independent state (thani-naadu). The proponents of Dravida Nadu also sought to associate and amalgamate Tamil Islam within a supposedly more ancient Dravidian religion, which threatened the Islamic identity of Tamil Muslims, some of whom had earlier supported the demand for a sovereign Dravida Nadu movement.

In August 1941, E.V.Ramasamy declared that the agitation for Dravida Nadu was being temporarily stopped. The reason cited was that it was necessary to help the government in its war efforts. The agitation would be renewed after the conclusion of the war. Even though the agitation for Dravida Nadu was being stopped, the demand was very much intact. When the Cripps Mission visited India, a delegation of the Justice Party, comprising E.V.Ramasamy, W. P. A. Soundarapandian Nadar, Samiappa Mudaliar and Muthiah Chettiar, met the members of the Cripps Mission on 30 March 1942, and placed before them the demand for a separate Dravidian nation. The demand was rebuffed by Cripps, who told them that such a demand would be possible only through a resolution in the Madras legislature or through a general referendum.

In August 1944, E.V.Ramasamy created a new party called Dravidar Kazhagam out of the Justice Party, at the Salem Provincial Conference. The creation of a separate non-Brahmin Dravidian nation was a central aim of the party. In 1944, when E.V.Ramasamy met the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar to discuss join initiatives, Ambedkar stated that the idea of Dravidistan was applicable to entire India, since “Brahminism” was “a problem for the entire subcontinent”.

At the Dravidar Kazhagam State Conference in Tiruchi in the 1940s, prominent Tamil leader C. N. Annadurai stated that it was necessary to divide India racially to prevent “violent revolutions” in future, that according to him, had been prevented due to the British occupation of India.  On 1 July 1947, the separatist Tamil leaders celebrated the “Dravida Nadu Secession Day”.On 13 July 1947, they passed a resolution in Tiruchirapalli demanding an independent Dravida Nadu. On 16 July, Mahatma Gandhi expressed his opposition to the demand. Also in 1947, Jinnah refused to help E.V.Ramasamy to help create a Dravidastan. When India achieved Independence in August 1947, Periyar saw it as a sad event that marked the transfer of power to “Aryans”, while Annadurai considered as a step towards an independent Dravida Nadu, and celebrated it. Over the time, disputes arose between the two leaders. They fell out after Periyar anointed his young wife as his successor to lead the party, superseding senior party leaders.

Rise of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

1949, Annadurai and other leaders split up and established Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Annadurai was initially more radical than Periyar in his demand for a separate Dravida Nadu.In highlighting the demand for Dravida Nadu, the economics of exploitation by the Hindi-speaking, Aryan, Brahminical North was elaborated upon. It was contended that Dravida Nadu had been transformed into a virtual marketplace for north Indian products. And, thus, Annadurai explained that to change this situation, a separate Dravida Nadu must be demanded. Throughout the 1940s, E.V.Ramasamy spoke along the lines of a trifurcation of India, that is dividing the existing geographical region into Dravida Nadu, Muslim India (Pakistan), and Aryan Land (Hindustan). In public meetings that he addressed between March and June 1940, he projected the three-nation doctrine as the only solution which could end the political impasse in the country.

Decline of movement

The decline in support for the Dravida Nadu within the DMK can be traced back to as early as the Tiruchi party conference in 1956, when the party decided to compete in the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections of 1957. E.V.K. Sampath, who was leading a faction within DMK, argued that Dravida Nadu was “not feasible”. However, the party did state Dravida Nadu as a “long-range goal” during the elections. The political observers doubted the seriousness of their demand for a sovereign state, and stated that the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu was just a side issue, and a slogan to catch the imagination of an emotional public. In the 1957 elections, DMK managed to win only 15 of the 205 seats in the state assembly.

In 1958, V. P. Raman, a Brahmin leader, joined the party and became a strong opponent of the Dravida Nadu concept. In November 1960, the DMK leaders, including Raman, decided to delete the demand of Dravida Nadu from the party programme at a meeting held in absence of Annadurai. Political scientist Sten Widmalm writes, “It seems that the more the party distanced itself from the demand for Dravida Nadu, the more it was supported.” In the 1962 election, DMK more than tripled its seats, winning 50 seats to the State Legislative Assembly, but still could not displace the Congress from power.  On 17 September 1960, a “Dravida Nadu Separation Day” was observed, which resulted in arrests of Annadurai and his associates. The demand for a sovereign Tamil state was considered as a threat of Balkanization to India, and also raised concerns among the Sinhalese politicians in Sri Lanka. In 1962, a Sinhalese M.P. stated in the Parliament: “The Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidistan. We are carrying on a struggle for our national existence against the Dravidistan majority.”  Annadurai, who had been elected to the upper house of Indian parliament (Rajya Sabha) in 1962, reiterated DMK’s demand for independence for Dravida Nadu in his maiden speech on 1 May 1962. However, at the time of Sino-Indian War of 1962, he proclaimed that his party would stand up for the integrity and unity of India. A faction of DMK contended that the party should publicly abandon the demand for Dravida Nadu. In 1963, on the recommendation of the Committee on National Integration and Regionalism of the National Integration Council, the Indian parliament unanimously passed the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which sought to “prevent the fissiparous, secessionist tendency in the country engendered by regional and linguistic loyalties and to preserve the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” of India. This was essentially in response to the separatist movement demanding a sovereign Dravidistan.

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