With elections around the corner, it is no surprise that language politics has begun peaking in Tamil Nadu. Dravidian parties continue to maintain their stance – Hindi will not be allowed into the State. The context is the 1965 anti-Hindi agitations spearheaded by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which had proved to be the biggest reason for its landslide victory in the following 1967 State Assembly elections (with a two-third majority), thus forming the government under C N Annadurai. Ever since, no party outside the Dravidian realm has managed to oust them.
Is English not an equal threat to Tamil?
What is the objective of the Dravidian parties through their continuous intolerance towards Hindi?
If it is to protect the Tamil language, it would be a very misleading assumption as Dravidian parties have shown no qualms about the growth of English in the State, which is an equal danger to Tamil. According to a report from Firstpost in 2019, out of the 9.37 lakh students who appeared for the class 10 State board exam, nearly 28% were from English medium schools.
In fact, Periyar, the father of the Dravidian movement, called Tamil as the language of barbarians while being greatly appreciative of English. C N Annadurai, the founder of DMK was an English Teacher. Hence, the threat of English replacing Tamil in the State does not concern Dravidian parties as much. Yet, both DMK and AIADMK have criticised the National Education Policy citing fear about the entry of Hindi into the state through the document’s three language policy; this is despite the fact that Hindi is not proposed to be a compulsory subject.
It would be naïve to fall for DMK’s fear mongering against Hindi’s entry into the State through the three language policy, as over forty CBSE schools adhering to the policy are run by DMK leaders and their family members.
Are Dravidian ideologues the sole keepers of Tamil culture?
The role of Dravidian parties in preserving Tamil needs re-assessment. Often, they are boldly displayed as its protectors and stake absolute claim in preserving and spreading it. Perhaps this why Tamil voters are unaware of contributions from the likes of U.V Swaminatha Iyer, who was the gateway of Tamil glory and culture to the world. His entire life was spent tracing ancient Tamil literary works, without which priceless Tamil classics would have been lost forever.
Having published over ninety books connected to classical Tamil literature, and collected around 3,067 paper manuscripts, palm-leaf manuscripts and notes of various kinds, his tireless service brought a renewed renaissance to the Tamil land. He also published Silapaddikaram and Manimekalai, two of five epics from ancient Tamil literature.
Purananuru, one among the pathinen melkanakku (The Eighteen Greater Texts) of the Sangam Period written by more than 150 poets was also published by him. Until Swaminatha Iyer’s publications of ancient Tamil texts, Sanskrit and Telugu had dominated the music scene for four decades.
While his contributions are endless, his efforts have known no recognition, stifled by Dravidian politics.
Mylai Ponnuswamy Sivagnanam was another man who led the Tamil movement to protect the borders of the Tamil state. In the year 1952, there was an intense struggle within the Madras Presidency by Telugu speakers, who were demanding a separate State. After many violent protests, Andhra Pradesh had later become India’s first linguistically defined State after independence.
When a demand was made by Telugu speakers to make Madras their capital, Ponnuswamy Sivagnanam, party leader and a scholar of Tamil classical literature, fiercely opposed it. His famous slogan was “thalai koduthenum thalainagarai kaapom, vengadathai vidamaatom” (we will protect the capital even if we have to part with our heads; we will not let go of Thirupathi). His claims about ‘why the disputed territories belonged to Tamil land’ were irrefutable. He cited references from Silappadikaram, which was a big win for the Tamils as the Joint Parliamentary committee headed by KN Wanchoo of the Rajasthan High Court took note of his arguments and ensured that Madras remained with the Tamils.
His movement also protected Kanyakumari, Thiruthani and Hosur, from getting snatched away from the Tamil state. While the Tamil classic Silappadikaram played a crucial role in guarding the territory of Tamil Nadu, Periyar, one among the tallest DMK ideologues, dismissed it as a casteist text and a propaganda of the ‘Aryans’.
Periyar’s views on classic Tamil literature like Kamba Ramayanam and Silappadikaram have been very shallow. He compared Thirukkural to excreta and dismissed Tamil as a language of barbarians (not once but several times), with the justification that it will not lead to any progression. He was critical of the Tamil society and culture and described them as backward and irrational, while proclaiming English as the only alternative.
He envisioned a separate land called Dravida Nadu, comprising of Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu speaking areas separated from the rest of India. This idea failed to gather support from other non-Tamil areas mentioned above. They instead demanded their own States, getting territorially separated from Tamil Nadu.
The word ‘Dravidian’ never existed before the Christian missionary scholar Robert A. Caldwell coined it from the Sanskrit word ‘Dravida’. Before it became mainstream, the Sanskrit roots of Tamil language were well known. The anti-Hindi sentiment is brewed by parties that have no concern for the Tamil language. Their agenda seems to be about the establishment of a distinct Dravidian identity, dismissing Tamil’s original roots and Vedic connections, thereby destroying the language itself.