"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
"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
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
" 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
||Per cent of
total Male population
|Per cent of
|Europeans and Eurasians
|Europeans and Eurasians
|Europeans and Eurasians
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.
Male Literacy of Selected
Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per cents)
Male Literacy in English
of Selected Tamil Castes, 1901-1921 (in per
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
(c) to disseminate by public
lectures, by distribution of literature and by other
means sound and liberal views in regard to public
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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.
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.
13 Ibid., pp. 119,128-129.
14 Madras Mail, 1 May 1909. The membership fee was
fixed at Re. ] p.a.
16. Ibid., 8 May 1908.
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.
20. Ibid., 3 June 1909.
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.
28 Madras Mail, 9 May 1916.
29 During 1914, the following meetings held under the
auspices of the Madras Dravidian Association were
`Our present social needs'-M. Singaravelu Chettiar (15
'The historical bearing of the Indian Epics'-G.
Ranganatha Mudaliar (25 July).
` Paropakaram '-Srimat Pamban Kumara Guru Dasa
`The present condition of the Dravidians'-Mrs.
Alamelmangammal (5 Sep.).
'The Thirumurais of St. Appar'-E. N. Thanikachella
' 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,
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
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.
45 Annie Besant, Wake up, India (Madras, 1913), pp.
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
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
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
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.
The dates refer to Madras Mail.
54 Notes on the Administration of Sir Arthur Lawley,
Governor of Madras, 1906-1911 (Madras, 1912), p.
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
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.
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
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