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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > Culture of the Tamils > Caste & the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins >The Origin of the Non-Brahmin Movement, 1905-1920

Caste & the Tamil Nation

The Origin of the Non-Brahmin Movement, 1905-1920

K.Nambi Arooran
in **Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism

"The linguistic term ` Dravidian ' was a contribution of Robert Caldwell to modern Indian linguistics. He used the term with reference to the four principal languages of South India, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, which "justly claim to be considered as springing from a common origin, and as forming a distinct family of tongues "... although non Brahmins from the two main Dravidian language groups - Tamil and Telegu - joined the non-Brahmin movement the use of Dravidianism as a political weapon was mostly confined to the Tamil non-Brahmins..."

"The linguistic term ` Dravidian ' was a contribution of Robert Caldwell to modern Indian linguistics. He used the term with reference to the four principal languages of South India, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, which "justly claim to be considered as springing from a common origin, and as forming a distinct family of tongues ".(1)

He derived the word Dravidian from the Sanskrit, Dravida. However, Caldwell was not the first to apply the term to a group of allied languages. He himself pointed out that a Sanskrit scholar of the 8th century A.D., Kumarila, had used the term Andhradravidabhasa to denote the languages of the Telegu and Tamil countries.(2)

In later times in Sanskrit literature the term Dravida was used in a broader sense to denote the entire land south of the Vindhyas and its inhabitants. (3)

An attempt is made in the following pages to trace how the term Dravidian gained currency in politics in the period under survey.

The main thesis established by Caldwell was that the Dravidian languages were "independent of Sanskrit ". (4) In his lengthy introduction he attempted to outline the pre-Aryan civilization of the "primitive Dravidians ", and also used the word " Brahmans " as synonymous with " Aryans ". (5) Scholars like P. Sundaram Pillai and J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, basing their opinions partly on the views of Robert Caldwell and G. U. Pope and partly on the Tamil classics brought to light then, described Tamil culture as independent of Aryan influence. On the other hand Brahmin scholars and historians contended that South India was a more marshy jungle and the reclamation was started by the Aryans who migrated into South India during the period of the Sutras (750-350 B.C.). (6) Northern sources refer to Dravidian languages as the Paiiaci (prakrit), the language of demons.(7)

But non-Brahmin scholars began to argue the other way. For example S. Somasundara Bharati (1879-1959), a non-Brahmin Tamil scholar who later became Professor of Tamil (1933-38) at the Annamalai University, held that the Tamils were the original inhabitants of South India and that they possessed a rich civilization before the coming of the Aryans. He wrote:

" The first Aryan stranger, who swam south across the trackless jungles, was dazzled with the splendour of the Royal Pandyan courts, and he was not too proud to seek shelter in the hospitable Tamil land that smiled to a sunny clime ".(8)

M. Srinivasa Aiyangar commented in his Tamil Studies, thus:

" Within the last fifteen years a new school of Tamil scholars has coma into being, consisting mainly of admirers and castemen of the late lamented professor and antiquary, Mr. Sundaram Pillai of Trivandrum. Their object has been to disown and to disprove any trace of indebtedness to the Aryans, to exalt the civilization of the ancient Tamils, to distort in the name of historic research current: traditions and literature, and to pooh-pooh the views of former scholars, which support Brahmanization of the Tamil race ". (9)

The educated non-Brahmins by the beginning of the 20th century began to question the inferior position assigned to the Dravidian civilization in history. Most of the non-Brahmin leaders in Madras city as well as in the districts hailed from the landowning and merchant castes and they began to aspire to political power and official influence commensurate with their wealth and status in society). The Brahmins hold a pre eminent position in education especially the University, and, as a consequence, in the higher and clerical grades of government employment. The Brahmins consistently held the dominant position in government service ever since the establishment of the British rule in the Carnatic. In 1855, for example, the Brahmins held 237 of the 305 posts in the upper levels of the district administration of the Madras Presidency.10 The following table illustrates the relative increases in the percentage of appointments held by Brahmins between 1896 and 1912. (11)

Distribution of Selected Government Posts in 1912

No Per cent of
total Male population
Per cent of appointments held
in 1896 in 1912
Deputy Collectors
Brahmins 77 3.2 53 55
Non-Brahmin Hindus 30 85.6 25 21.5
Muhammadans 15 6.6 6.5 10.5
Indian Christians 7 2.7 4 5
Europeans and Eurasians 11 0.1 11.5 8
Sub Judges
Brahmins 15 same 71.4 83.3
Non-Brahmin Hindus 3 as above 21.4 16.7
Muhammadans nil nil nil
Indian Christians nil nil nil
Europeans and Eurasians nil 7.2 nil
District Munsifs
Brahmins 93 66.4 72.6
Non-Brahmin Hindus 25 21.2 19.5
Muhammadans 2 0.9 1.6
Indian Christians 5 11.5 3.9
Europeans and Eurasians 3 nil 2.4

The above table reveals two facts. Firstly, the position of the non-Brahmin Hindus in government service bore little relation to their numerical strength. Secondly, the non-Brahmin Hindus had lost ground over the years 1896-1912, while the Brahmins had considerably improved their position. The frustration and bitterness that this discrimination caused was considerable and it increased when the rate of literacy increased among the non-Brahmins.

The position of the Tamil Brahmins in government service was mainly due to their high rate of literacy in general as well as in English. Literacy in English was the key to enter government service. The following two tables show the relative position in literacy among selected Tamil castes during 1901-1921. (12)

Male Literacy of Selected Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per cents)

1901 1911 1921
Brahmin 73.6 71.9 71.5
Chetti 32.0 39.1 39.5
Nadar 15.4 18.1 20.0
Vellala 6.9 24.6 24.2
Agamudaiyan 14.9 20.8 20.8
Kallan 10.9 15.7 16.3
Maravan 10.6 13.8 13.7
Vaniyan 14.8 31.7 29.8

Male Literacy in English of Selected Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per cents)

1901 1911 1921
Brahmin 17.88 22.27 28.21
Chetti .15 .98 2.34
Nadar .05 .30 .75
Vellala .19 2.12 2.37
Agamudaiyan .15 .33 .72
Kallan .13 .27 .38
Maravan .04 .l3 .23
Vaniyan .04 1.12 1.12

The apparent decline in the literacy rate of the Tamil Brahmins between 1901 and 1921 was due to the fact that "a number of persons of other less educated castes may, for various reasons, have returned themselves as Brahmans; and hence the number of Brahmans has been unduly swollen and the number of illiterates has increased out of all proportion to the literates "(13)

The slight decline in the literacy rate among Velalas between 1911 and 1921 was also attributed to the same fact that a number of persons of other less educated castes may have returned themselves as Vellalas.

In the matter of English literacy the Tamil Brahmins led all the other castes. But there was a gradual rise in general literacy as well as in English literacy among the different non-Brahmin castes during the first two decades of the 20th century. Educated non Brahmins soon realised that education was mainly responsible for the ascendancy of Brahmins in all walks of life, more especially in government service. They became conscious of their disadvantageous position in society arising out of their backwardness in education.

As early as 1909 an attempt was made in Madras City by two lawyers - P. Subramanyam and M. Purushotham Naidu - to form an organisation under the title 'The Madras Non-Brahmin Association '.(14)These two provisional secretaries, in a statement to the press, explained that the Association had been started " for the purpose of ameliorating the condition of the Non-Brahmin classes, and lifting them up, as much as possible, to a higher social level, by affording pecuniary help to the poor and intelligent boys of the non-Brahmin communities and helping them to prosecute their studies, and by giving scholarships to deserving young men to learn the various industries in foreign countries and by adopting such other methods as are calculated to improve the social status of the various backward non-Brahmin communities in the Madras Presidency ".(15) It was also stated that the Association was distinctly non-political and non-aggressive. Thus an association was conceived purely for social progress.

A few days after the above announcement a letter to the editor of the Madras Mail (6 May 1909) was written by a certain V. Vannamuthu, in which he argued that the non-Brahmins of Southern India were all of Dravidian origin ; therefore, he suggested the adoption of, the name ` The Madras Dravidian Association'.

Another letter from ` M.P.N.' said: " The non-Brahmins form the bulk of the population, and almost all the Zamindars, and rich landed proprietors, and the bulk of the thriving merchants and dubashas belong to this community: But yet ... the community as a whole has not sufficiently realised the importance of the benefits of Western education, and ... it has, as a result of this apathy, been left behind in the race by other and more pushful communities. The non-Brahmin is certainly not wanting in intelligence, if only he tries to develop it ". (16)

The reader even suggested that a few Europeans should be invited to participate in the deliberations of the Association and offer advice. The reader also wanted that the non-Brahmins should avoid discussion of the terms ` non-Brahmin' and ` Dravidian ' and begin work in earnest. (17)

The initiative taken by two Vakils in starting this association was criticised by a reader who called himself ` Alpha '.(18) The reader felt that the Vakils who book the initiative would be able to attract only members of the same profession and so suggested that "public men like Dr. Nair, Messrs. Theagaroya Chatty and Venkatasamy Naidu ought to be at the helm to steer the ship clear of all petty mindedness and narrow spirit ". (19) It was a remarkable suggestion because it was Dr. Nair and Theagaroya Chatty who later successfully founded the Non-Brahmin Movement in 1916.

Even before the formal inauguration of the proposed Non Brahmin Association, objections were raised to a communal organisation. E. Ekambara Iyer, a Brahmin correspondent from Nandyal, wrote in the Madras Mail (2 June 1909), criticising the designation of the Association for in its scope it included " the improvement of the whole human race in India, except the poor Brahmin ".

He wanted the educated non-Brahmins to think twice before supporting this Association, and to " try their best to sink (not to accentuate) any or all difference based upon class and class or caste and creed ". Similar feelings were expressed by C. V. Reddy, a non-Brahmin reader from Guntur, in another letter to the editor .(20)

He considered that the very name of the Association implied hostility to the Brahmins which was neither necessary nor desirable. Further C. V. Reddi pointed out the " too wide and clumsy " nature of the term 'non-Brahmin' which meant to include "every caste and race in the Presidency, except Brahmins", and said :

" The Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas, though they would fain supplant the Brahmins, yet would think it infra dig to mix with the fourth class ".(21)

He even feared that there might not be enough sympathy and co-operation between class and class to ensure success to this movement and therefore suggested that more definite and restricted associations such as the Raddi Association, the Balija Association, and the Vellala Association were likely to be more useful and practicable .(22) Thus there were differences of opinion among non-Brahmins themselves over the naming of the Association and also doubts, over the co-operation expected from different non-Brahmin castes.

After so much discussion and criticism of the proposed Non-Brahmin Association during May-June 1909, no efforts were reported in the following months regarding the actual formation of the Association. Towards the middle of September, the two provisional honorary secretaries reported that the holding of the first public meeting had bean postponed as it was considered expedient to hold it after the Association had enrolled one thousand members, and that they hoped to achieve the target by October 1909.(23)

After this announcement nothing was heard of the proposed inauguration of the Madras Non-Brahmin Association. It was likely that a sufficient number of non-Brahmins failed to come forward to extend support for the Association. This may be due to the lack of leadership from influential non-Brahmins like Dr. Nair and P. Theagaroya Chatty who later came forward in 1916 to start a movement with the same objectives of the above Association.

It was also likely that the circumstances were not ripe enough to bring out the discontents among non-Brahmins into the open. Though this isolated attempt in 1909 to organise an association for the welfare and progress of the non-Brahmins did not succeed, it revealed the beginnings of such thinking in that direction.

The few non-Brahmins who were already in government service had their own grievances. They alleged that they had no fair deal in their prospects on account of partiality and nepotism by Brahmin superiors, and they feared for a long time even to go forward and represent their grievances publicly. For the purpose of voicing their grievances collectively a group of non-Brahmins started an association called 'The Madras United League' in Madras city in 1912.24 The League was primarily meant for the government employees and the members were mostly from the Revenue Board Office and the Public Works Department. However other interested non-Brahmins were also allowed to join the League and the Secretary, C. Natesa Mudaliar, himself was a private doctor. Within a year the membership of the League rose to three hundred. (25)

One of the useful services rendered by the Madras United League started in 1912 was the running of an adult education class in the evenings in which the members themselves played the role of teachers. At the first anniversary of the Madras United League, a resolution was introduced to change the name of the League on the ground that it was not indicative of the constituents of the organization or its objectives.

A few suggested that the League might be called the Non-Brahmin Association. There was much opposition to a negative name and it was suggested that the League might be called the Dravidian Association. This was accepted and the name of the Madras United League was changed into the Madras Dravidian Association. (26) However this was not the first time that the word ` Dravidian ' was used to denote castes other than Brahmins. As early as September 1892 an association called the Adi Dravida Jana Sabha was founded in Madras by Panchamas who claimed themselves as ` Adi' or ancient Dravidians. (27) Similarly a member of the Pariah Mahajana Sabha (founded in October 1894 in Madras city), "resented the names 'Pariah' and ` Panchama ' and claimed to be called by their racial name the Dravidians ".(28)

The Madras Dravidian Association held regular meetings which provided an opportunity for many non-Brahmins to meet and discuss their problems. (29) Literary meetings were also arranged under its auspices. (30) However the popular annual function was the reception accorded to the non-Brahmin graduates of the year. It brought the young graduates of the community in one platform and introduced them to the elite of the non-Brahmins, and such occasions were said to have " infused the spirit of healthy revolt against the Brahmins and the spirit of self-respect in themselves ". (31) Almost all the leading non-Brahmin citizens of Madras city attended this annual gathering. (32)

An important achievement of the Madras Dravidian Association was the establishment of a hostel in Madras city for non-Brahmin students in July 1916. Non-Brahmin students who came for collegiate education from districts had difficulty in getting hostel accommodation in Madras city because of caste barriers. (33) The hostel was called ` Dravidian Home' and it was run under the care of C. Natesa Mudaliar. (34) The Dravidian Home had a literary Society for the benefit of its inmates. The establishment of the Dravidian Home was the first practical step of a small but influential group of non-Brahmins in Madras city to organize themselves.

The Madras Dravidian Association became a popular organisation among the non-Brahmins and it attracted the attention of non-Brahmin politicians like P. Theagaroya Chetti (1852-1925) and Dr. T. M. Nair (1868-1919). They saw the possibilities of building on the basis of the Dravidian Association a more powerful political movement to voice the grievances of the non-Brahmins.

The non-Brahmin consciousness and the current feelings of despair among the non-Brahmin youth were clearly brought out in Non-Brahmin Letters, a book published in Madras in 1915.(35) It contains 21 letters and they are signed by and addressed to different persons by name. The names include caste suffixes such as ` Chatti ', ` Raddy ', ` Naidu ', ` Mudaliar ' and ` Row '(36) The letters in general reflect the growing consciousness among educated non-Brahmin youth of their lowly position in society. The letters urge the non-Brahmins to educate themselves and to organise in order to compete with the Brahmins. It was suggested in one of the letters that a Dravida Maha Sabha should be formed in Madras city with branches in each district, taluk, town and village with the object of uplifting the non-Brahmin community. (37)

The letters also reveal the lack of unity and mutual jealousy among the various non-Brahmin castes. One letter points out how a donor agrees to donate Rs. 5,000 for the non-Brahmin movement if he was made an important office-bearer . (38) Another expresses suspicion over the activities of an unnamed person in the non-Brahmin movement. (39) The prevalence of suspicion and jealousy among the non-Brahmins explains the reason for the late origin of a united effort among the non-Brahmins of South India .(40) But by the middle of the second decade when they realised that their literacy rate was rising and that they had the necessary qualifications to compete with the Brahmins they inevitably rose in protest against the exclusive control of government services and public life by Brahmins. The Madras Mail (19 July 1916) rightly observed : " In course of time education has been able to break down many of the barriers in the way of the non-Brahmin communities, who were not backward in taking advantages of the opportunities offered ".

From the beginning of the second decade of this century there was widespread political agitation in India for securing Self Government. In view of the active participation of India in the war effort Britain indicated that steps would be taken towards responsible representative self-government after the war. At this juncture the catalyst which triggered the formation of a non Brahmin political organisation was the foundation of the Home Rule Movement by Mrs. Annie Besant. Already the non-Brahmins looked with suspicion at Congress as a Brahmin controlled organisation. Their suspicion grew stronger when Mrs. Besant joined the Congress and began her work for Home Rule. Mrs. Besant had become President of the Theosophical Society in 1907.

The Theosophical Society was first founded in New York in 1875 to promote the cause of ` Universal Brotherhood' and to popularise 'Eastern Wisdom' in the West. (41) Subsequently the Theosophical Society shifted its headquarters to Bombay in 1879 and, ultimately, to Madras city in 1882. The leaders of the movement, both in their lectures and writing-, extolled the virtues of ancient Aryan civilization and Sanskrit literature. In Madras city as well as in the districts Sanskrit schools wore started, societies for the promotion of Aryan morals established, and Hindu religious literature disseminated through catechisms and tracts. Mrs. Besant quickly established herself as the outstanding revivalist of Smarta Hinduism in South India. (42) In addition to encouraging scholarly researches in Sanskrit she was largely instrumental in arousing cultural and religious nationalism among the Brahmin politicians in Madras city.(43) Mrs. Besant organised the Madras Hindu Association in January 1904. (44) She justified the fourfold caste system, supporting her argument from Sanskrit literature.(45)

When Mrs. Besant extended her activities of the Congress and initiated the Home Rule League in Madras in September 1916, non-Brahmins felt that the success of the Home Rule Movement in the event of Reforms would result in the entrenchment of Brahmins in the administration of the country. Therefore the non-Brahmin leaders felt that there was greater need among them to unite and counteract Mrs. Besant's Home Rule Movement than ever before.

At a meeting held in Madras in November 1916 by a group of about thirty non-Brahmins, including P. Thaagaroya Chetti and Dr. T. M. Nair, it was resolved to start a company for publishing newspapers advocating the cause of the non-Brahmin community. The idea to bring out daily newspapers came foremost in the minds of the non-Brahmin leaders because of the Brahmin control of the two of the three leading dailies in Madras city. The English daily Hindu (started in 1878 as a weekly and was turned into a tri-weekly in 1883, and into a daily in 1889) was published by S. Kasturiranga Iyengar, while the only Tamil daily Swadesamitran (started in 1882 as a weekly and became a daily in 1889) was published by A. Rangaswami Iyangar. (46)

Both were highly nationalistic in spirit and both vigorously advocated Home Rule. The Brahmin hegemony over journalism stemmed from two factors : first, as pointed out earlier, the Brahmins constituted an elite group in society, and secondly, their recognised position of leadership in society enabled them to assert themselves as protagonists of the nationalist movement. Therefore the non-Brahmin leaders founded the South Indian People's Association primarily for conducting daily newspapers to guide, define and publicise the views of the non-Brahmins on public questions) The first issue of the Association's English daily Justice appeared on 26 February 1917. The Tamil daily Tiravitan was started in June 1917. For the Telugu readers the well established Telugu weekly Andhraprakasika (founded in 1885) was acquired and was changed into a daily. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Justice, the Madras Mail (26 Feb. 1918) wrote : " Two or three years ago no one would have been bold enough to predict success for an Indian paper in Madras hostile to Home Rule ".

The South Indian People's Association issued the Non-Brahmin Manifesto in December 1916, to define the attitude of the non Brahmin communities in the Madras Presidency towards the Home Rule Movement. (47) The Manifesto surveyed the condition of the non-Brahmins, referred to the pre-eminent position of the Brahmins in various fields and pointed out the directions for progress of the non-Brahmins in future. It declared that the Indian Constitution should be revised after war and there should be progressive political development towards self-government and in the meanwhile the British authority which alone could hold the scales even between various castes and creeds should continua. The demand for Home Rule was regarded as an extremist claim, unsuitable for the then existing conditions and a demand which the non-Brahmins could not support. The Manifesto stated that the post-war scheme of Reforms should be such as to enable every class and caste to get representation according to its number and acknowledged position in the country and exhorted the non-Brahmins to organise themselves in associations and educate themselves.

The announcement of Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, on 20 August 1917 outlining the reform measures, was the signal for the starting of intense political activity among the non-Brahmins. On the same day when Montagu announced the Reform scheme in London, the non-Brahmins held the first conference at Coimbatore. (48) Speaking at the conference Dr. T. M. Nair said that the non-Brahmin sentiment had been there in the country 'for ages' and that it was openly expressed then because

" Non-Brahmins were looking to the British Government for protection, to hold scales evenly and to mete out Justice, but when they saw a movement progressing whose object was to undermine British influence and power in this country, they thought it their duty to rally round the British Government and to support them ".(49)

The Madras Mail (31 Dec. 1917) also pointed out that: "The sentiment underlying the movement is the deep-rooted fear and distrust the non-Brahmin community have of Brahmin domination .... This underlying sentiment has been in existence for generations . . .".

The political party organised by the South Indian People's Association was named the South Indian Liberal Federation which later came to be popularly known as the Justice Party after the English daily Justice. The Federation was organised in October 1917 and its objectives wore defined as :

"(a) to create and promote the education, social, economic, political, material and moral progress of all communities in Southern India other than Brahmins,

(b) to discuss public questions and make a true and timely representation to Government of the views and interests of the people of Southern India with the object of safeguarding and promoting the interests of all communities other than Brahmins and

(c) to disseminate by public lectures, by distribution of literature and by other means sound and liberal views in regard to public opinion ".(50)

The party was open to all persons other than Brahmins who subscribed to its objects. Branches of the South Indian Liberal Federation were soon organised in the major towns of the presidency. Membership was open to all persons of Southern India, other than Brahmins, and it included leading representatives of the Indian mercantile community, zamindars and landholders, pleaders and retired Government officials. (51)

From August 1917 onwards a number of Non Brahmin Conferences were held in the districts in which local non Brahmin leaders took an active part in shaping Dravidian consciousness. All these conferences passed resolutions demanding that any Reform scheme should secure adequate representation of non-Brahmins in the legislature and in all branches of administration. (52)

The formation of the South Indian People's Association and the South Indian Liberal Federation and the publication of its three dailies soon brought to the surface the latent Dravidian consciousness among the non-Brahmins. The founding of numerous Dravidian associations in Madras city were an outward expression of this consciousness.(53) The various Dravidian associations while leaving the political activities to be channelled by the Justice Party, confined themselves to educational and social activities such as the running of fro e night school, reading room, library and hostel, and offering scholarships to deserving non-Brahmin students.

The Indian Councils Act of 1909 introduced communal representation in the legislatures. In the Madras Presidency two seats were provided for the Muslim community among the nineteen elected members. (54) The granting of communal representation to Muslims in 1909 served as a precedent for the non-Brahmins to seek special representation in the Legislative Council as an underprivileged community. In a memorandum submitted to the Madras Government, the Justice Party pointed out that, " Increased power bestowed on the 'people without communal demarcation will lead to greater concentration in the hands of a few and to greater disparity between the few and the many.

This is what happened in a very pronounced manner in southern India since the Minto Morley reforms and necessitated the starting of the non-Brahmin Movement ".(55) A few months earlier Madras Mail (31 Dec.. 1917) in a leader pointed out that,

"Even under the Minto-Morley scheme of reforms the non-Brahmins felt that they did not secure sufficient representation to counterbalance Brahmin pretensions to power ".

The first victory for the Justice Party and thereby for Dravidian Nationalism came when the Government of India Act of 1919 provided for the reservation of seats in general non-Muhammadan, constituencies to non-Brahmins in Madras Presidency.(56)

During this period Dravidian Nationalism also found expression among the members of the Congress Party in the Madras Presidency. Non-Brahmins who remained loyal to the Congress began to think in terms of forming an organization within the Congress to safeguard their interests in elections under the proposed Worms by seeking communal representation. This was in a way to counteract the claims of the Justice Party to be the sole spokesman of non-Brahmins. This led to the founding of the Madras Presidency Association in September 1917, with the avowed object of gaining communal representation .(57)The Justice Party criticised the formation of the Madras Presidency Association and stated that "it has been engineered into existence by Brahmin Home Rulers, in the interests of the united front bogey ".(58)

The membership of the Madras Presidency Association was confined to representatives of the various communities of the Madras Presidency other than the Brahmins and Muslims, who did not agree with , the attitude of the Justice Party towards the reform proposals. (59) But Brahmins and Muslims were admitted into meetings and conferences of the Association as ` observers'. (60) Branches of the Association were established all over the Presidency and regular conferences ware held in the districts."

By December 1917 it was reported that the M.P.A. had 15 branches with over 800 members .12 The Association brought out two daily news papers, one in English and one in Tamil. C. Karunakara-Menon, editor and publisher of the English daily the Indian Patriot devoted ' his paper to the interests of the Association. The Tamil daily was a now newspaper called Tecapaktan ('The Patriot') and was edited by Thiru. Vi. Ka.

Although both the Justice Party and the Madras Presidency Association agreed on the need for communal representation they differed over the means of securing it. The Justice Party wanted separate non-Brahmin electorates, 63 but the M.P.A. opposed communal electorates and wanted the reservation of a certain number of seats for non-Brahmins in general electorates.s4 In other words the M.P.A. pleaded for the creation of plural constituencies with a general electoral roll. In fact finally when the communal representation was decided by Lord Meston the alternative suggested by the M.P.A. was adopted and 28 seats in plural member constituencies were reserved for non-Brahmins out of 63 seats available in non-Muhammadan constituencies .(65)

The M.P.A., though it ceased to function after the introduction of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, doubled, the impact of the Justice Party on Tamil politics for it revealed that nationalists could also be regionalists and that Congress could not look askance at regional issues. The M.P.A. was important, too, in drawing apart from the Brahmin congressmen a number of able non-Brahmin agitators and scholars like V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Tiru. Vi. Ka., and in providing a training ground for new leaders like E. V. Ramaswami Naicker.(66)

At the same time when Dravidian consciousness was taking shape not only the question who were Dravidians but also the question who were non-Brahmins came to be widely asked. The leaders of the Justice Party claimed that the term ` non-Brahmins' denoted all other than ` Brahmins'. But the leadership of the party came mostly from the ` advanced ' or ` forward ' non-Brahmin Hindu castes which according to one estimate formed about 19 per cent of the population. But they always claimed to include in the movement the 'backward' non-Brahmins (49 per cent), .depressed classes (Panchamas-17 per (Muslims and Christians).(67)

The leaders of the Justice Party from the beginning were quite aware of " the big question of lifting up the artisan and depressed classes ".(68) Dr. T. M. Nair expressed sympathy for the Panchamas and he stated that the Justice Party would have to organise and win the support of the Panchamas to justify the Party's claim to be the sole representative of South Indian non-Brahmins .(69) But there were doubts about the genuineness of the higher caste-non Brahmins' sympathy towards the Panchamas. Leaders of the Panchama organisations were reluctant to support the Justice Party. (70) The two leading Panchama organisations in Madras city were the Adi Dravida Jana Sabha and the Pariah Mahajana Sabha. These two associations held periodical meetings independently and protested against the granting of immediate Home Rule.(71) They were mostly keen on social reform rather than constitutional advancement.

Although the Panchamas wished to keep aloof from the Justice Party the Muslims and the Indian Christians extended their support and freely participated in the meetings and conferences of the justice Party. Mohamed Usman, the Secretary of the Madras Muslim League and A. K. G. Ahmad Thambi Maricar, the Muslim member of the Madras Legislative Council, presided over and addressed some of the non-Brahmin conferences. (72) During the Khilafat agitation the Justice Party passed a resolution to the effect 'that non-Brahmins of Madras were emphatically of opinion that the integrity of the Caliphate should be preserved '.(73)

Rev. Fr. Ambrose, a Christian, moved a resolution in the Coimbatore Non-Brahmin Conference, explaining the objects of a Central District Association in Coimbatore. (74) Therefore it may be concluded that from the point of view of most of the non-Brahmin leaders with the exception of leaders like Dr. Nair, the term 'non Brahmins' included in its compass non-Brahmin Hindus excluding the Panchamas, but including the Muslims and the Indian Christians.

During the second decade of the 20th century the term Dravidian gained a racial as well as a linguistic meaning. From the time of the formation of the Justice Party the term Dravidian applied to non-Brahmin castes in South India, and Dravidian Nationalism emerged as a defence of these castes against Brahmin dominance and a reassertion of cultural identity.

The leaders of the Justice Party appealed to Dravidians-that is, not simply to those who spoke one of the Dravidian languages but to those who claimed to inherit a common racial heritage to unite them against the so-called Aryan invaders from the North-the South Indian Brahmins. Therefore the term Dravidian may be said to have been brought into politics as a rallying point for South Indian non-Brahmins. With the exception of a few leaders, the Telegu non-Brahmins in the Justice Party hardly identified themselves as Dravidians. Those few Telugu leaders were bilingual : their mother tongue was Telugu although they lived in Madras city or in the Tamil districts. (75)

The Telugu Congress leader Konda Venkatappayya, speaking at the Fifth Andhra Conference at Nellore, said :

" The Provinces of India as they now stand were not originally formed on a language basis. As Andhras, Dravidians, Canarese and Malayalees have ,been irregularly grouped in the one Presidency of Madras, so different races speaking different languages are likewise indiscriminately clubbed together in other provinces ".(76)

By the term `Dravidians' he meant `Tamils'. From the time when Caldwell published his work, Dravidianism was upheld by Tamil-speakers, because Tamil was considered to be the most ancient of the Dravidian languages. (77)

Further, Telugu hardly expressed any desire to claim Dravidian status, because Telugu, unlike Tamil, contained a great number of Sanskrit words, which tended to weaken the claim that Telugu was a culture independent of the so-called Aryan influence. (78). P.Chenchiah, a member of the M.P.A., who represented the twelve Telugu districts and gave evidence before the Joint Select Committee on the Government of India Bill, 1919, observed :

" The relation between Brahmins and non-Brahmins in the Telugu area is more cordial and harmonious than it is in the South . . . . The real living issue in that area is not the communal representation question, but the question of a separate Province for the language area ". (79)

From this it was clear that the communal antagonism between Brahmins and non-Brahmin in Andhra country was not so bitter as it was in Tamilnad. (80) Hence although non Brahmins from the two main Dravidian language groups - Tamil and Telegu - joined the non-Brahmin movement the use of Dravidianism as a political weapon was mostly confined to the Tamil non-Brahmins."


1. Robert Caldwell, op. cit., p. 4.
2 Ibid., p. 5.
3. For example the term Pancadravidas meant the Brahmins of five groups which included Kannada, Telugu, Maharashtra, Karnata (Tamil), and Gurjara. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, Cultural contacts between Aryans and Dravidians (Bombay, 1967), p. 10.
4. Robert Caldwell, op. cit., pp. 46-48.
5 Ibid., pp. 117-119.
6 S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Ancient India (London, 1911), p. 5. The author pointed out that, " The history of peninsular India begins ... somewhat later than that of Hindustan ; for the Dravidian civilization of the south, though much more ancient than its history, owes its history to Aryan immigration, as much as does north India ".
Ibid., pp. 29-30.
7.Robert Caldwell, op, cit., p. 6.
8. S. Somasundara Bharati, Tamil Classics and Tamilakam (Tuticorin, 1912), p. 6.
9. M. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Tamil Studies (Madras, 1914), p. 46.
10 R. E. Frykenburg, "Elite formation in Nineteenth Century South India An interpretative analysis ", Proceedings of the First International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, I, (Kuala Lumpur, 1966), p. 573.
11 Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, vol. XXI (Reports from Commissioners, etc., vol. XI), " Royal Commission on the Public Services ", Appendix, Vol. II, " Minutes of Evidence relating to the Indian and Provincial Services taken in Madras from the 8th to the 17th of January 1913 ", cd. 7293, 1914, pp. 103-104.12 Census of India : Madras, 1921, XIII, Part I, pp. 128-129.
13 Ibid., pp. 119,128-129.
14 Madras Mail, 1 May 1909. The membership fee was fixed at Re. ] p.a.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., 8 May 1908.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid., 22 May 1909.
19. Ibid. A 'Graduate' proposed the name of P. Kesava Pillay of Gouty among other leaders who should be approached to take the lead in forming the Non-Brahmin Association. Ibid., 2 June 1909. In fact later Kesava Pillai became one of the founders of the Madras Presidency Association. E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp. 60-61.
20. Ibid., 3 June 1909.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23 Ibid., 10 Sep. 1909.
24. P. Rangaswami Naidu, " The Origin of Justice Party ", Justice Party Golden Jubilee Souvenir (Madras, 1968), p. 257.
25. Ibid., p. 258. ac Ibid., p. 257.
27. B. B. Majumdar, Indian Political Associations and Reform of Legislature (1818-1917), (Calcutta, 1965), p. 259.
28 Madras Mail, 9 May 1916.
29 During 1914, the following meetings held under the auspices of the Madras Dravidian Association were reported :
`Our present social needs'-M. Singaravelu Chettiar (15 May).
'The historical bearing of the Indian Epics'-G. Ranganatha Mudaliar (25 July).
` Paropakaram '-Srimat Pamban Kumara Guru Dasa Swamigal
(22 Aug.).
`The present condition of the Dravidians'-Mrs. Alamelmangammal (5 Sep.).
'The Thirumurais of St. Appar'-E. N. Thanikachella Mudaliar(3 Oct.).
' The conditions of progress'-Mrs. Besant (30 Oct.). The dates refer to Madras Mail.
30 'The Antiquity of Tamil' was the topic in one such meeting. Madras Mail, 5 Feb. 1916.
31 K. M. Balasubramaniam, South Indian Celebrities (Madras, 1934), I, p. 49.
32 Madras Mail, 26 Nov. 1915, 27 Nov. 1916, 26 Nov. 1917. Besides the general reception to all non-Brahmin graduates by the Madras Dravidian Association, certain castes claiming Vaisya status (Komati, Chetti) arranged separate reception to their graduates. Madras Mail, 24 Nov. 1916, 25 Dec. 1918.
33 The Madras Mail (16 Oct. 1915) in a leader entitled 'Hostels in Madras' discussed the problem of finding proper accommodation for students from the mofussil. It referred to the Senate Committee Report of the Madras University, according to which over one thousand students in Madras City were forced to find accommodation for themselves.
34 Madras Mail, 30 June 1916.
35 The author is one S.K.N., and the book is dedicated to' The Non-Brahmin Community'. According to E. F. Irschick it was published by C. Karunakara Menon. E. F. Irschick, op. cit., p. 46.
36 The last named caste suffix 'Row', more correctly ` Rao ', denotes a Telugu or Maratha Brahmin. But a study of the contents of the letter signed by ` S. N. Row' shows that the writer is a non-Brahmin. For example he says: ` I have Brahmin friends who are more enthusiastic for our cause than many of our leaders, as we call them'.
Non-Brahmin Letters, p. 28.
37 Ibid., p. 59.
38 Ibid., pp. 65-66.
39 Ibid., p. 80.
40 The Non-Brahmin Movement in Maharashtra was started in the last quarter of the 19th century by Jotirao Phule (1827-1890) of Poona. Phule attempted to break the monopoly of Brahmins over religious and intellectual life in Maharashtra by organising non-Brahmin religious ceremonies and educating lower-castes. For this purpose he founded the Satya Shodak Samaj in 1873. After Phule's death the Non-Brahmin Movement was revived in 1900 by the Maharaja of Kolhapur State, His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati (1874 1922). Sir P. Theagaroya Chetti, one of the founder-leaders of the Non¬Brahmin Movement in Madras, attended the Non-Brahmin Social Conference at Hubli on 27 July 1920, which was presided over by the Maharaja. A. B. Latthe, Memoirs of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati (Bombay, 1924), pp. 322-325, 577-580.
Ian Copland, " The Maharaja of Kolhapur and the Non-Brahmin Movement, 1902-10 ", Modern Asian Studies, VII, 2, Apr. 1973, pp. 209-225.
41 J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (Delhi, 1967), pp. 218-223.
42 There are two principal divisions among the Brahmins. The larger section Smarta Brahmins worship Siva, while the smaller section Sri Vaishnava Brahmins worship Vishnu. The Smartas were often known by their caste title Aiyar but some bore the title Sastri ; the Sri Vaishnavas were known as lyengars but some had names ending in -achari or -acharya.
43 C. H. Heimsath, Indian Nationalism and Hindu Social Reform (Princeton, 1964), pp. 255-257.
44 For the aims and objects of the Association see N. Subbarau Pantulu Garu (ed.), Hindu Social Progress (Madras, 1904).
The Varnasrama Dharma Samraksana Sabha was founded in Madras city in 1915 and soon branches came up in districts. At the first annual conference of the Sabha at Conjeevaram the following resolution was passed : " Varnasshrama Dharma of the Hindus must be preserved in all its purity and perfection and that it is consistent with order and progress in our motherland ". Madras Mail, 3 May 1916.
A Students Hindu Association was founded in Madras in 1915, and at the first anniversay meeting Mrs. Besant spoke on' Students and politics'. Madras Mail, 18 Feb. 1916.
45 Annie Besant, Wake up, India (Madras, 1913), pp. 262-294.
46 The third leading daily (English) Madras Mail was owned by Europeans.
47 Hindu (W), 22 Dec. 1916.
The full text of the Non-Brahmin Manifesto Golden Jubilee Souvenir (Madras, 1968), pp. 1-7. Also in E. F. Irschick, op. cit., Appendix 1.
48 Madras Mail, 20 Aug. 1917. The Congress Party was also holding its District Conference at the same place and time.
is given in the Justice Party
49 Ibid., 22 Aug. 1917.
50 Ibid., 18 Oct. 1917.
51 Note on S.I.L.F. appended to the address presented by the S.I.L.F. to Chelmsford and Montagu on their visit to Madras on 19 Dec. 1917. IOL. MSS. r. D. 523/26, Montagu Collection, Addresses presented at Madras.
52 Of all the conferences the annual South Indian Non-Brahmin Confederation held in Madras city symbolised the growing political awareness among the non-Brahmins. Madras Mail, 3 Dec. 1917,13 Jan. 1919, 30 Dec. 1919.
53 The Royapuram Dravidian Association (10 Sep. 1917), The Dravidian Reading Room and Library at Egmore (26 Sep. 1917), The Royapettah Dravidian Association (26 Oct. 1917), The Georgetown Dravidian Association (4 Dec. 1917), The Alandur Dravidian Association (3 Dec. 1917), The Purasawalkam Dravidian Association (16 Aug. 1918).
The dates refer to Madras Mail.
54 Notes on the Administration of Sir Arthur Lawley, Governor of Madras, 1906-1911 (Madras, 1912), p. 158.
55 Madras Mail, 17 Sep. 1918.
56 E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp. 91-159.
57 Madras Mail, 21 Sep. 1917.
58 Ibid., 26 Sep. 1917.
59 The Justice Party rejected the Congress-League scheme of reforms, whereas M.P.A. accepted it subject to communal representation. Hindu (W), 14 .1917.
60 Madras Mail, 20 Dec. 1917. To the Tanjore conference held in April 8, thirty Muslims came from Nagore and Negapatam and extended their ort. Ibid., 22 Apr. 1918. Some of the conferences were held in the same place either simultaneously immediately after the Justice Party Conference.
61 Ibid., 14 Nov. 1917.
62 OL. MSS. Eur. D. 523/36, Montagu Collection. Address presented by the A. to Montagu and Chelmsford on their visit to Madras on 17 Dec. 1917.
63 Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, vol. IV, House of Commons Paper no. 203, 1919. Report from the Joint Select Committee on the Govt. of India Bill. Appendix H, Memorandum of the S.LL.F.
64 Ibid., vol. II, Minutes of Evidence, Representatives of the M.P.A.
65 IOL. MSS. Eur. F. 136/33, Meston Collection. Letter from Lord Meston to Lord Willingdon, Governor of Madras, 8 Mar. 1920, Madras.
66 David Arnold, Nationalism and Regional Politics: Tamilad, India, 1920¬1937, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (University of Sussex, 1973), p. 53. E. V. Ramaswami Naicker was the chairman of the Reception Committee when the second annual conference was held at Erode. Madras Mail, 11 Oct. 1919.
67 S. Saraswathi, Minorities in Madras State, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (University of Madras, 1965), cited in P. Spratt, D.M.K. in Power ( Bombay, 1970), p. 19.
The Coimbatore Non-Brahmin Association resolved 'to work for the political, social and economic advancement of the non-Brahmins-Hindus, Musalmans and Christians-of the district'. Madras Mail, 7 Sep. 1917.
68 Madras Mail, 10 Aug. 1917.
69 A. A. Nair, " Dr. T. M. Nair ", in Justice Party Golden Jubilee Souvenir, p. 44.
70 E. F. Irschick, op. cit., p. 71.
71 One of the speakers at a meeting of the Pariah Mahajana Sabha said : " that unless and until caste distinction was crushed and the depressed classes treated better, India should not dream of either self-government or Home Rule ". Madras Mail, 24 Jan. 1916. In November 1917, the Adi Dravida Jana Sabha passed a resolution stating that, the immediate grant of the Home Rule to India will be injurious to the masses of India in general and to the Adi Dravidian Panchamas in particular ". Madras Mail, 5 Nov. 1917.
72 Ibid., 28 Dec. 1917, 20 Apr. 1918, 13 Jan., 21 June, 22 Sep. 1919.
73 Ibid., 22 Sep. 1919.
74 Ibid., 22 Aug. 1917.
75E. F. Irschick, op. cit., pp. 176-178.
76 Madras Mail, 1 June 1917
77 Caldwell was also aware of this when he wrote : " It thus appears that the word `Dravida', from which the term `Dravidiari' has been formed, though sometimes used in a restricted sense, as equivalent to Tamil, is better fitted, notwithstanding, for use as a generic term, in as much as it has the advantage of having already been occasionally used by native philologists in a generic term". Caldwell, op. cit., p. 7.
78 This was one of the reasons why the purist movement succeeded in Tamilnad whereas it did not succeed in other Dravidian-language speaking areas.
79Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. IV, House of Commons paper d. 203, 1919. Report from the Joint Select Committee on the Govt. of India 11, vol. II, Minutes of Evidence, p. 298.
80 For the same reason when the Self-Respect Movement was started by V.R. as a protest against Brahminism, it gained popularity only in the Tamil tricts and not elsewhere.
Similarly, at a later date in the Dravidian movement when the demand for separate Dravidanad comprising the principal four Dravidian languages king areas was put forward, the concept gained popularity only in Tamilnad not elsewhere.

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