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Dravidian Movement: A case against Irrationality

‘What is the Dravidian model?’ has been asked multiple times on the internet. Learning from history, it seems like, the answer is “it’s a fight against irrationality”, not a movement against any particular community.

Rationalism is a distinguishing trait that sets humans apart from animals – and this statement is in no way intended to belittle other species. Our cognitive abilities, powers of reasoning, and language skills have endowed us with a unique status on this planet, enabling us to assert dominance over other species and effectively control the Earth, at least until a superior force emerges.

Fascism, on the other hand, perceives those within its inner circle as superior beings, relegating fellow human beings to a lower stratum. As previously discussed in our blog posts, the lynchings of individuals like Henry Smith and Sam Hose in the United States exemplify how privileged white men considered African Americans as inferior human beings. Similarly, in various Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, women are often subjected to treatment akin to that of slaves and are viewed primarily as procreation machines.

Authoritarian fascist regimes are notorious for exhibiting irrational behaviors. Lacking in reasoned judgment, they adhere to the belief that the human species is not a homogenous entity but rather a hierarchy structured by birth, as dictated by a Supreme power.

The Issue of Irrationality in India: Caste-Based Discrimination

India, recognized as one of the world’s oldest theological civilizations, is not exempt from the grip of such a profoundly irrational ideology.

In India, according to the Varnashrama system, a Brahminical belief, individuals are categorized into one of five groups. At the pinnacle resides the self-perceived privileged group, possessing superlative intelligence and the exclusive right to knowledge and education. They are exempt from menial labor and are solely dedicated to acquiring and disseminating knowledge.

There are three additional categories, encompassing warriors, merchants, and laborers. The fifth category, the untouchables, stands apart and does not belong to any of these groups. This classification is determined by birth, and it is considered permanent and unalterable, as dictated by divine law. For instance, the children of sewage workers are expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps, just as the offspring of Senators are destined for a life in the Senate. Access to education is restricted for the other four classes of people.

In contemporary terms, this situation can be likened to the notion that all knowledge in Silicon Valley is accessible only to a single homogeneous group of individuals.

While the northern part of India accepted this hierarchy as customary, the southern region vehemently resisted it, viewing rationalism and equality as the cornerstones of their society.

However, this resistance does not imply that the southern region was immune to the perils of the perceived divine hierarchy. As late as 1916, a social movement was born to oppose caste-based discrimination, ultimately leading to the Dravidian Movement.

The Exodus: From North to South

While the caste-based hierarchy prevailed in the northern regions, it did not infiltrate the South until the 4th century A.D.

Professor N. Subramanian, in his book “The Sangam Polity,” reveals that ancient Tamil culture, as depicted in Sangam literature, did not adhere to a hereditary hierarchical structure. The Tamil civilization encouraged intercultural exchanges and marriages. However, with the arrival of the Brahmins in the 4th century A.D., the Tamil society was introduced to the hierarchical caste system, marking the beginning of Brahmin domination.

Much like they did in the north, the Aryans divided southern society into four classes based on occupation, ensuring the permanence of social status.

For nearly 1,500 years, the rulers of the South adhered to the caste-based hierarchy, with Brahmanical communities enjoying the privileges of the uppermost tier.

The Arrival of the British

When the British arrived in India, they sought to establish social order and promote equality in a society characterized by myriad divisions. This included making education accessible to everyone, irrespective of their religion or caste.

The first step toward social equality was taken with the signing of the Caste Disabilities Removal Act in 1850.

However, untouchable children in schools were subjected to mistreatment. They were allowed only to sit in corridors while the rest of the students received instruction in classrooms. Additionally, their families grappled with poverty, making education unaffordable.

Yet, another facet of the story emerges. Even prominent national leaders, glorified in today’s textbooks, were not initially proponents of universal education.

In Maharashtra, from 1881 to 1920, figures like Bala Gangadhara Tilak and his nationalist movement opposed the education of women and non-Brahminical society, fearing it would erode national identity. However, their stance evolved over time.

The Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a member of an untouchable caste, vehemently opposed the hierarchical structure.

The Origin of the Dravidian Movement

Fifteen centuries later, in 1916, the Dravidian movement was initiated by Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar, Taravath Madhavan Nair, and Sir P. Theagaraya Chetty in Madras. They published the Non-Brahmin Manifesto (not an anti-Brahmin Manifesto) demanding equal opportunities for all segments of society. Their protest was against the disparity in social status resulting from the hierarchical structure enforced by Brahmins upon their arrival in the region.

The movement opposed the irrationality perpetuated by the hereditary hierarchical structure rather than targeting any specific community. Their demand was simple: treat all segments of society equally and provide fair opportunities.

Subsequently, leaders of the Dravidian movement, including Annadurai and Periyar, championed rationalism and education as means to eradicate the irrational beliefs propagated by the caste-based hierarchy rooted in birth.

Continuing the Fight Against Irrationality

Even though the present-day ruling party of India asserts that the hierarchical structure based on Varnashrama is no longer practiced, traces of it persist within their political tradition.

For example, Throwpathi Murmu, the President of India, hails from an untouchable or Dalit community according to Varnashrama. Yet, she did not receive an invitation to the inauguration of the new Parliament building.

Similarly, there are numerous instances where the ruling Union Government of India subtly exhibits forms of discrimination.

While other parts of India have not vocally opposed this discrimination, the South has been resolute in its battle against caste-based discrimination and the hierarchical societal structure of Varnashrama, which forms the foundation of Sanathana Dharma.

In stark contrast, the term “Aryan” carries racial connotations, especially when associated with the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which the Aryan race was perceived as superior to others.

While Aryans are believed to have migrated to the Indian subcontinent, Dravidians are considered indigenous people, representing one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

The Dravidian South has consistently favored rationality and education over irrationality and ignorance, irrespective of whether it pertains to Sanathana or Sharia. This preference is driven by the importance accorded to education, with leaders and governments in the region focusing on social reforms rather than the creation of hierarchical structures.

Rationalism forms the bedrock of a just and equitable society. When we deny people equal opportunities based on their birth, we not only act irrationally but also unjustly. The Dravidian movement in India stands as a shining example of how rationalism can be employed to combat oppression and inequality.

Image generated by AI.

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