OF THIS SECTION
Balakrishnan, 13 December 2006
Kattankudi, Batticaloa, Tamil Eelam, 12 June 2006
5 June 2006
Rajan Sriskandarajah, 2
Thangavelu.V 2 September
D.Rajanayagam, 1 September 2002
Na. Kumaran in the Tamil Circle on
Eelam and the Dalit Question
29 August 2002
Pon Kulendiren, 29 August 2002
Thangavelu.V , 28 August 2002
M.Nadarajan, 27 August 2002
Rakesh Chandra 19 March 2001
Dev Mahadevan USA, 12 March 2001
B. Manjunath,16 January 2001
Muhammad Backer, Emirates 13 July 2000
V.Thangavelu - Canada, 2 May 2000
R. Shanmugalingam - USA, 7 May 2000
V. Thangavelu - Canada, 30 April 2000
Thamilselvan - Australia, 29 December 1999
Sam Sampanthar - UK, 29 December 1999
Rajesh Rajappa - November 1999 including response from
- Canada, 12 September 1999
R. Kothandaraman, 21 June 1999
V.Thangavelu - Canada, 29 May 1999
Vijay - Tamil Nadu, 21 March 1999 including response from
Sam Sampanthar - UK, November 1998 including response from
Caste & the Tamil Nation
From: Sundaresan Balakrishnan,
13 December 2006
I was born to a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu. But I have abhorred the
caste system from my early days. My grandmother who loved me dearly used
to sit on the porch and ask any and every one of my friends whether they
are "good" meaning they are from upper caste or not. She would admit
some of my non Brahmin friends who she considered "good" and not others.
To get my friends I used to throw a dry cloth on her and she would go to
take a bath. This let me admit my friend inside without the
embarrassment. She would get upset but would not scold me.
Later in my life, I was asked to find a place to burn my dead grandfather
at Mylapore. When I went to the burning ground I was told that the one place
where Brahmins burn their bodies is already used and I should come next day. I
told him my grandfather is dead and does not care for caste. The man told me
that people of other non Brahmin castes are strictly adhering to their caste and
he wanted to be absolutely sure that it will be OK. I had to tell him that my
grand father was a devotee who used to celebrate the marriage of Radha with
Krishna in several houses and they go out singing devotional songs and later
have meals together. Several of the people who accompany him were non Brahmins.
Finally he relented.
Similarly, one of the person who worked at a shop owned by my late father
got married. His mother tongue is Telugu and he was a non Brahmin. I went to the
marriage and when I sat for the meals I asked the Nadaswaram people to sit with
me. Immediately the bridegroom (who worked in our shop) came rushing to me that
the in-laws of his will get upset if an untouchable eat with the rest of us.
Caste system has gotten into the Tamil population (as it has in the rest of
India including sometimes the muslim and christians in India. One of my cousin
got married to a Sikh and her mother proudly told me that the bridegroom is a
I have great problem with the caste system especially when those who
practice it do not even do the job that caste is supposed to do. For example I
do not consider myself a Brahmin since I am neither a teacher or a priest. But
segregation and untouchability are beyond the pale in modern society. Even the
delienation based on job classification is stupid in a modern societal context.
It is surprising to note that the Great Tamil scholars were so much ahead
of their time when they mentioned that there are only 2 castes upper and lower
and the upper caste is for those that share their possession and the lower those
that do not share.
To day caste system has no place in any society. But to delve on it does
not help anyone. India and the Tamil people change slowly. We are not
revolutionaries in that sense. We are traditionalists and hence we change slowly
but change is occuring surely. Let us celebrate the shared Tamil culture without
deviding ourselves into multiple fractions. Tamil is a great tradition which we
all share and we can all contribute for its future. Thanks for allowing me to
share my thoughts with you.
The article "Caste
& the Tamil Nation - Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins" appears to be
reflecting everything but the reality of the state of Brahmins and
others condemned to be born as "forward castes" in Tamil Nadu today. The
line "In India, Brahmins, who are
3.5 per cent of the population, hold 78 per cent of the judicial
positions and approximately 50 per cent of parliamentary seats"
for instance represents the "fairy tale" nature of the reality conveyed
by the article. Just walk up to any government office in Tamil Nadu and
one can see if this is true. Today the so-called forwards
which include Brahmins and Mudaliars do not have political
representation. They are convenient scape goats for miseries of the
caste system. When you go to southern Tamil Nadu and see the
discrimination such as 2-tumbler system, separation of well and drinking
water sources, is it not obvious that the perpetuators of this are no
one but influential "backward" castes such as Thevars, Vanniars etc.
There is virtually no Brahmin population in Southern Tamil Nadu and to
continue to call Brahmins as oppressors is basically same as denying
plain reality. The comments made by Prof Hart regarding influence of
Brahmins in present caste system is absolutely true. The present Tamil
political class in reality appear to a bunch of Tamil traitors who do
not have guts to promote unified society within the Tamil state. The
first step in this would be stop treating Tamil Brahmins (and other
forwards) as non-Tamils while giving higher benefits Hindi speaking
Muslims as Tamils.
We too agree with the views of
Professor Hart in the Forum on
Brahminism & the Tamil Nation -
"..Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own
political agenda to push. They have been responsible for many things
that I feel are entirely unconscionable. But is this any different from
the other high castes? I have heard many many stories of high
non-Brahmin castes killing and abusing Dalits. You can't blame the
Brahmins for this. In fact, the most pernicious example of the caste
system was in the
Tamil areas of
Sri Lanka, where there are virtually no Brahmins and never have
been....Tamil culture has not suffered because of one group. It has
suffered because of the caste system and
because of its
treatment of women... Let's promote inter caste marriage,
let's get rid of dowry
and give women independence and self-respect, and above all, let's avoid
a victimization complex which only plays into the hands of those who
have a vested interest in continuing the inequities that exist in
Tamilnad. If every Brahmin were to disappear from Tamilnad, the Dalits
and others who are exploited would benefited not one iota..."
More generally our response to
Mr.S.Ranganathan in June 2006 may be of relevance.
Sachi Sri Kankatha, Japan, 30
On the Maviddapuram Temple Entry (1968) Conflict and
I appreciate the comments
provided by V.Thangavelu and his interaction with
in 1966, which was in reference to my note on caste supremacy theme with
Sunteralingam's politics as a loose cannon of yester generation. I
partly agree with Mr.Thangavelu that Suntheralingam may not have been a
caste supremacist in his heart; nevertheless, his actions were
mischievous and abetted anti-Tamil political interests in late 1960s.
This is why I tagged him as a loose cannon of yester generation, in
Eelam Tamil politics.
Suntheralingam represented the Vavuniya constituency from 1947 to
early 1960. Then, in the aftermath of the Maviddapuram Temple Entry
conflict, he attempted to fish in troubled waters by openly challenging
the Federal Party leader
S.J.V.Chelvanayakam in Kankesanthurai constituency (within which
Maviddapuram was located) during the May 1970 general election.
Suntheralingam's unsuccessful and divisive campaign slogan ('Siluvaiyaa
- Velaa?'; i.e., 'Are you for the Cross or for the Vel?') against
Chelvanayakam was tasteless, sophomoric and unbecoming of a senior
politician. He polled only 5,788 votes and came third against
Chelvanayakam's (FP) 13,520 votes and V.Ponnambalam's(CP) 8,164 votes,
thus demonstrating that he was indeed a loose cannon. Suntheralingam's
tasteless campaign of 1960s provides fodder even now for anti-Tamil
polemicists like H.L.D.Mahindapala, the ex-editor of Ceylon Observer.
For the record, I provide below excerpts from Bryan Pfaffenberger's
paper on this explosive issue which was entitled, 'The political
construction of defensive nationalism: The 1968 Temple-Entry crisis in
Northern Sri Lanka', which appeared in the Journal of Asian Studies,
Feb.1990, vol.49, no.1, pp.78-96.
"...The spokesman of the
'Defenders of Saivism, C.Suntheralingam, did not put the point quite so
strongly. He stated that the objection was not to untouchable temple
entry per se but rather to any attempt to coerce the temple management
into changing its views (and to any interference by the Colombo
government in Hindu religious affairs; Ceylon Observer, July 5, 1968,
p.2). He declared to a reporter that he had in fact played a role in the
voluntary opening of another major Jaffna temple, the Nallur Kanthacami
temple, to Minority Tamils some years before the Maviddapuram fracas and
had campaigned for temple-entry reform in his youth. 'Even now I am for
temple entry', he said, 'but not by force' (Ceylon Observer, July 20,
1968, p.4). Suntheralingam may very well have been sincere, but his
statements were widely taken as just so much rhetoric intended only to
sugarcoat the conservative position.
Faced with the temple-entry
conflict, the Federal Party found itself in a no-win situation and, in
the face of contradictory pressures, showed signs of attempting to avoid
the issue. The member of parliament for the district in which
Maviddapuram is situated, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, attempted to keep a low
profile during the conflict, but conservative Vellalars wanted to force
the issue; they demanded that Chelvanayakam resign his seat and contest
it on the temple-entry issue 'because the public had lost confidence in
him' (Times of Ceylon, Aug.9, 1968, p.1).....Chelvanayakam, the MP whom
conservative Vellalars had asked to resign, soundly beat Suntheralingam
in the 1970 election, just two years after the Maviddapuram conflict."
From: Chudar P.
[[email protected]] 22 August 2006
Vanakkam! I found your website to be of a laudable purpose and as a
great knowledge repository in the web. Hats off to your great work! That
being said, I wish to point out a minor anomaly in your website. In
'Tamil Dispora - a
Trans State Nation' page under "Related
Sites" heading, you have provided hyperlinks to websites that serve
the interests of specific castes like Parpanar (Brahmin), Vellalar etc.
For thousands of years, the
caste system has been the greatest hurdle to the economic and the
cultural development of Tamils and Tamil nationalism. It’s my strong
view that encouraging these websites by providing their hyperlinks does
not help but works against your
Also, I am curious about the order in which the hyperlinks are
provided in that page. It starts with Parpanar (Brahmin) and ends with
Dalits. Also the title "Caste
& the Tamil Nation - Brahmins, Non Brahmins & Dalits" lists the
castes in the same order. It is neither the Tamil nor the English
alphabetical order nor is it a perfect random order. Has the aryan vedic
varna system been encrypted into our unconscious minds? How may more
millennia and how many more struggles it will take before we get out of
this caste mess?
Many thanks for your comments. We agree with you that the
caste system has been the greatest hurdle to the growth of Tamil
national identity. We have changed the order in which the castes were
listed (in the pages that you referred to) so as to remove any doubt
that visitors to this website may have had that the 'order' reflected
some sort of a hierarchic ranking. On the question of including
hyper links to sites that serve specific castes, whilst we understand
the concerns you have expressed, we ourselves believe that the way
forward is to recognise the current reality, and at the same time
openly examine the
pernicious caste system and the need to transcend caste based
divisions. We seek to adopt an inclusive approach. Brahmins,
Non-Brahmins and Dalits are also Tamils (whatever order that we may
mention them) - and in this way we seek to encourage a growing
V.Thangavelu, Canada, 22 August
Vanakkam. I read the
comment by Sachi Sri Kantha that Prof.C.Suntharalingam gave "overt
expression of caste supremacy." In fairness to
Prof.C. Suntharalingam let me straighten the record. It was in
1966 I believe, Prof. C came to the Jaffna Municipal Council to look
into some municipal records. He was then one of the Trustee of Jaffna
Sivan temple and I was the acting Commissioner of JMC. We discussed many
topics of common interest at that time. One of the topic is about the
pernicious caste system. I asked him how come he opposed temple entry
(Maviddapuram Temple) by the so called "low castes" and whether it is
not a fact that the caste system itself is outdated and a curse of
Hinduism and by extension the Thamil society. He laughed loudly and told
me he himself does not believe in caste system and he is opposed to it.
He opposed temple entry because Communists, who don't believe in
religion or God, were trying to enter the temple and create trouble! I
don't know whether he meant what he said, but this is what he told me. I
have no reason to disbelieve him.
From: S. Govender, South Africa, 31 July
I recently read the comments
on your website by S. Ranganathan, in a correspondence to you
regarding Brahmins in India.
May I say at the outset that I am a
South African and that while my father is Tamil and my mother is a
descendent of Hindi-speaking people from Uttar Pradesh, I consider
myself Tamil and have done much to learn about the history of
Tamil-speaking civilisation. I recently watched a series of music videos
that were exclusively of Tamil origin and also a travel and tourism
television programme that visited the 'Chollywood' of Tamil cinema. I
was struck and disgusted that the main characters were, it seemed to my
eyes, exclusively fair skinned, whilst the dark skinned Tamils were
merely background dancers or extras.
Speaking from experiences in
South Africa, I have never seen anything to refute my belief that
Tamils, the Dravidians as it were, are a dark skinned race. There may
exist some lightening of complexion through invasion and intermarriage
of millenia, but to display to the world the type of obvious racial
propaganda as displayed in these music videos would be as if Nigerian
cinema had White lead actors.
It is a disgrace that we Tamils do
not celebrate our status as an ancient dark skinned people. As the
African-Americans once preached, 'black is beautiful', and no amount of
propaganda can change that simple fact.
From: Jahawir Iqbal,
Kattankudi, Batticaloa, Tamil Eelam, 12
has taken on the issue of caste is highly commendable . In every society,
there is a system of gradation and stratification. In white meritocratic
societies one finds the class system. However it is at the brink of extinction.
The problem with the Tamil nation is that Hindu thought seems to propagate
the caste system. It is therefore a guilt-ridden trip for Hindus to actually
push themselves out of such a tyrannical system of thought which has plagued
them for centuries. I'm told in Jaffna conservative society - no matter whether
you are Hindu or Christian (Catholic or Protestant) you are bound by this
straight-jacket. If they bump into a new person the first question to ask is:
"Thambi neengal avedum?" They ask from which village they have come from...the
next question is: Are you related to so and so...then the "cat" is out of the
bag! A human being is treated as to where he finds himself in this system of
It is excellent that
is openly speaking about this curse of a system. Because a society is judged by
its taboos. When we don't bring it to the open this matter will never be gotten
rid of. In Jaffna even many TULF stalwarts (excluding
Tantai Chelva) in
the past supported the move to refuse certain castes' entrance to the temple. It
was like the Jews keeping the Gentiles away in the outer-court of the Temple.
We can't exclusively blame the Brahmins for the folly of demented religious
reasoning. However, all this fuss centers around "control". Brahmins have the
monopoly on God and they are the only ones who have the legitimacy to "speak"
God-tongue: Sanskrit. One time the Catholics had a hold on "Latin mass." These
are all mechanisms to have a firm hold on society. God always seem to stay out
of these man-made pet-doctrines and play toy-boxes. The Tamil revolution that is
occurring right now has already legislated against the caste system. That action
is good but not enough to uproot the centuries-old "tree of curse". Perhaps
there needs to be enlightenment.
But the worry is, it is among the so-called "cerebral classes" that this caste
system thrives. Why? Don't you think all this is interlinked with property,
human rights, control and monopoly? Why is it that in a marriage proposal caste
is a dominant issue? If the proposal is successful what needs to occur is
transfer of wealth: both immovable wealth and liquid assets in the form of
dowry! These assets must therefore ought to stay within the caste. The
question is in the process of emancipation which needs to be dismantled first.
As a young Sufi-Muslim in Batticaloa I've listened to
poetry reading. In one of his poems he asks a pertinent question..."Does a
Vellala woman have three breasts?" [Vellalan Pennuku moontru marpa? Veruthum
angangal angum undara?] Poets always dig deeper and hit at the heart of the
problem: they call a spade a spade. Others simply eat the fruit of the "Tree of
curse" and go to sleep.
Ambedkar's fine mind was attracted to the rationality of the Buddha. I'm
interested to learn more about the emancipated 'Brahamin'-woman who married
Ambedkar. I wonder whether
would kindly furnish more information on her as I've come to appreciate
as an open-university in Tamil studies. The editor of
is not only wide awake, he is undoubtedly keeping the Tamil Nation on their
toes. Making them to think on their feet as it were. Many thanks, Salam!
From: Dr. S. Ranganathan, 10/11 June 2006
Dear fellow Tamil Brother, Vannakam. Thank you so much for
your frank and open communication in response to
I deeply appreciate it. Let us stand united as proud Tamilians and work
towards the enrichment and betterment of our mother language and our
Tamil culture. Nanri
I have a question: This is pertaining to “who is a Tamil”. The way I
understand it, a “Tamil” is somebody whose mother tongue is Tamil; that
he/she speaks that language at home. Therefore, how could
Ramaswamy Naicker (‘Periyar’) be considered as “Tamil”? I am told he
spoke Telugu at home. This question arose when I was delving deep into
your outstanding website, which is full of educational and interesting
information and I was looking at
notable Tamils during the 21st Century.
Response by tamilnation.org
On the question of 'Who is Tamil' you may find the discussion
One Hundred Tamils of the 20th/21st Centuries - Who is a Tamil? of
interest and in particular
the question raised by Vijay Pillai in relation to EVR in
February 2000 and
From: Rajan Sriskandarajah
<[email protected]> 2
In trying to determine whether casteism is a Tamil phenomenon, or whether it was
something introduced by the Aryans (Brahmins) into the Tamil society, a couple
of questions need to be answered.
1. When we talk about casteism, are we talking about
differences in occupations, or is it about social class (caste) defined by
2. When we quote ancient Tamil literature, how accurate are
these books? More importantly, how accurately are we in interpreting them?
All societies have had occupational classes, and some occupations have been
treated as lowly. Ancient Tamils have also had this type of occupational
classes, and some occupations have been considered as 'lowly'. This is about
"social class" and "class differences."
Ancient Tamil books do describe the "Pulayans" and the "Parayans." The
occupations that these groups engaged in were indeed 'dirty' and 'smelly' and
they were segregated from those who considered themselves as 'clean'. Should we
be ashamed of this behavior of the ancient Tamils? It is certainly not something
that we can be proud of. However, one must remember that 'dignity of labor' and
'respect for all occupations' is a recent phenomenon, even in the so called
This is different from 'caste' being defined at birth - based on one's Karma.
This is the phenomenon that was introduced by the Aryans, with the Laws of Manu.
According to Vedic legends, Manu (the great-great-grandson of Lord Brahma)
decreed that the Brahmins originated from the head of Brahma and therefore
superior to all other beings. Kshatryas originated from the arms of Brahma, and
were designated the duty of protection. Vaisyas came from the abdomen, and were
assigned the duty of creating wealth - trade, agriculture, etc. Sudras came from
the feet, and therefore became the slaves.
This classification was defined at birth. There was no hope of changing one's
caste except in the next birth, and that too only if a Sudra behaved well in
this birth! Manu also prohibited marital interactions between the castes. Even
sex was explicitly prohibited between castes.
The ancient Tamil society, on the other hand, was classified based on
occupation, and occupation was based on land use. Ancient Tamil land was
classified as Kurunchi, Mullai, Marutha, Neithal, and Palai. This was not
defined at birth.
for example, is clear on this. Book III Verse 22 states:
பெயரும் வினையும் என்று ஆயிரு வகைய
திணைதொறும் மரீஇய திணை நிலைப் பெயரே.
Peyarum Vinaiyumenru Aayiuru Vakaya Thinnaithorum mareea
thinnai nilaip peyare.
There were no restrictions on marital interactions between the groups (except
for slaves?). Verse 25 states:
அடியோர் பாங்கினும் வினைவலர் பாங்கினும்
கடிவரை இல புறத்து என்மனார் புலவர்.
Adyor paanginum vinaivalar paanginum Kadivarai ila puraththu
Having said this, I must admit that there are sections in Thokaapiyam that talks
about caste. These are in Verses 615-619 in Marapiyal section on Varnashrama
Dharma. Many who have studied Tholkaapiyam well (I am certainly not one of them)
consider these verses to be later interpolations. Interpolations have been a
problem with ancient books. People who have come later have added text into
older books. This has occurred in the bible too. Mudaliyar Rasnayagam laments
about the interpolations into the Yalpana Vaivapa Malai. "Varnashrama Dharma" is
not a pure Tamil word. Verses 615-619 do not conform to the general trend of
Tholkaapiyar's writing. They are contextually inappropriate and most likely
Therefore, trying to interpret the nature of ancient Tamil society, based on
ancient books is pure guesswork. Casteism as it is practiced today in Tamil
society, however, is as decreed in the Laws of Manu, where one's caste is
defined at birth and is unchangeable. This practice must go.
From: Thangavelu.V <[email protected]>
2 September 2002
I wish to add further comments to my
earlier piece. The word Varnaashrama consists of two words. Varna refers to
the four-fold (Chadur) divisions of people according to colour Viz the Brahmins,
the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Sudras; deemed to have come forth from the
mouth, the arms, the thighs and the feet of the Brahman respectively. The
Brahmins were at the top of this hierarchy, and after the emergence of Brahman
concept, the Purohits styled themselves as Brahmins since the Brahman concept
was their contribution to society. The Tamils who were black in complexion,
irrespective of their occupation, were classed as Sudras.
The Sudras have to serve the first 3 Varnas. In one sense Varna could be classed
as racism rather than casteism! In course of time of another Varna was added viz
the Panchamar (Untouchables). The chart shows the major divisions and contents
of the system. The basic castes are called "varnas," or "colours." Sub castes,
or "jâtis," are subdivisions of the varnas. In Bagawat Geetha, Krishna says that
even He cannot alter the Varnaashrama Dharma, even if he wishes so, because it
was in existence at the time of creation. He advocates the practice of Suya
Dharma, one doing the duty (occupation) allotted to him. Ashrama refers to the
four "stages of striving" in pursuit of Purucharthas (Uruthipporul) viz
Righteousness (Aram); Wealth (Porul); Pleasure (Inpam) and Liberation (Veedu).
It is the practice of Varna that gave rise to a multiplicity of castes through
cross marriages between the Varnas. The influx of foreigner invaders like Huns,
Greeks etc. who inter-married with the locals resulted in multiplication of
castes. The present day Rajputs are descendants of Huns and locals. When the
twice born (The first 3 Varnas) come of age, they enter into the four ashrams or
"stages of life."
The first is the brahmacarya (1-24), or the stage of the student (brahmacârin).
For boys, the student is supposed to go live with a teacher (guru), who is a
Brahmin, to learn about Sanskrit, the Vedas, rituals, etc. The dharma of a
student includes being obedient, respectful, celibate, and non-violent. "The
teacher is God." For girls, the stage of student hood coincides with that of the
householder, and the husband stands in the place of the teacher.
The second stage is the gârhastya (24-48), or the stage of the householder,
which is taken far more seriously in Hinduism than in Jainism or Buddhism and is
usually regarded as mandatory, like student hood. Arjuna's duty to fight the
battle in the Bagawat Geetha comes from his status as a householder.
The third stage is the vânaprastya (48-72), or the stage of the forest dweller.
This may be entered into optionally if (ideally) one's hair has become grey,
skin wrinkled, and grandchildren exist to carry on the family. Husbands and
wives may leave their affairs and possessions with their children and retire
together to the forest as hermits.
The fourth stage is the sannyâsa(over 72), or the stage of the wandering
ascetic, the sannyâsin (or sâdhu). If a man desires, he may continue on to this
stage, but his wife will need to return home; traditionally she cannot stay
alone as a forest dweller or wander the highways as an ascetic. The sannyâsin
has renounced the world completely, is regarded as dead by his family (the
funeral is held), and is finally beyond all dharma and caste.
The deceptive Brahman concept (Brahminism) was introduced by Aadi Sankarar, a
Nambuthiri Brahmin from Kerala, under the name of 'Advaita' philosophy in the
9th c. A.D. By writing voluminous distorted commentaries to the Vedas, he
brought the 'Six-fold' religions viz. Saivaism, Vaishnavism, Saktham , Gowmaram,
Kanapathyam and Sowram into the Brahman concept, and got them under the control
of the Brahmins. This is presently known as Hindu religion.
Caste divisions among Tamils got solidified between the 9th and the 13th
centuries during the Chola period. This is also the time Hinduism/Saivaism
gained ascendancy and wiped out the non-caste religions Jainism and Buddhism.
During the Thevaara period of Appar, Sampanthar and Sunderar, Thamils were
allowed into the sanctum sanctorum for worship, but they lost this right later.
The Hindu religion explains low birth, poverty etc to one's deeds in his/her
previous birth. Those who performed meritorious deeds are born as Brahmins and
those who did evil deeds are born as lower castes and untouchables. Also the
Hindu religion exhorted its followers not to feel jealous about the high and
wealthy nor feel sorry for the low and the poor. In one word it said it is their
fate! Reaping the fruits of the previous birth. Thirukkural composed by Valluvar
was an attempt to define the Tamil traditions, culture and believes as opposed
to Aryan culture, though not in any revolutionary manner.
He says "All beings are equal at birth, there worth or distinction varies
according to their occupations "(Kural 972). He also refutes the claim for any
one to call himself a Brahmin based on birth only. He says " Brahmins are those
who are virtuous; because they are kind to all living beings."
The Siddhas who lived in the 14-17th century came heavily against Brahmins, idol
worship and caste system. Thirumoolar (7th century) in his
(10th Book in Thirumurai) declares "if a Brahmin only in name is allowed to
perform pooja to God Siva, it will bring great disease to the warrior kings and
famine to their domains. So says Nandhi (the Bull) the learned!"
Sivavaakiyaar outpourings against temple worship, caste etc. was so radical,
special efforts were made to collect and burn his works by Saiva Adheenams. He
pointedly asked where is caste, and whether there is any difference when
you have sex with parachchi and panaththi? Unfortunately the radical but
individual efforts of the Siddhas failed to have any impact on the entrenched
Hindu caste system.
One reason why caste system survives is due to its hierarchical structure. Those
who want to abolish the higher castes, which are counted as superior to them,
are at the same time like to maintain their superiority over the castes below
them. When the statue of Naavalar was taken in procession in the seventies to
Valvettithurai, the processionists were stoned and driven away. But those who
stoned Naavalar did not allow other castes to enter their temples!
Chellachchannathi temple was one of the last to throw its doors open to
There was no organized religion during the Sankam period. But by the 2nd century
AD, several temples for Siva, Murugan, Balaraman, and Vishnu have cropped up.
This is evident when one reads
Cilappathikaram, a later work by Ilango.
I have read the excellent
research article written by Prof George Hart
who has quoted extensively from the Sankam literature to establish that caste
existed among the ancient Tamils as well.
It should be remembered that the Sankam literature is a collection of selected
poems spanning at least 5 centuries from 300 BC to 200 AD. There was time lapse
between the composition of the poem and its inclusion in the selected works
later. During this period the Varnaashrama Dharma was slowly but steadily
creeping into the Tamil society and reflected in the later works. Kudi based on
one's occupation was slowly giving rise to caste based on birth. So the poems in
Purananooru, Ahananooru and Kalithokai (a very much later work) should be read
in the proper context.
There was no caste system among the early Sankam Tamils. What they had was
occupational guilds based on the type of work they did. Prof Hart misinterprets
the word Kudi to mean caste. Even today Jaffna Tamils speak of Kudi (also Kulam)
meaning traditions of a group of families related by blood. Caste is rigid. One
is born into certain caste and it cannot be changed even if you change your
vocation. One of the strongest arguments in support the theory that the concept
of caste was foreign to Tamils is the word jâtis itself. It is not Tamil, but
The poets of the 3rd or the last Sankam came from all walks of life cutting
across social barriers. Royals, Kusavar, Kuravar, Paanar, Petty traders,
Teachers etc. Surprisingly 53 Thamil poetesses adorned the Sankam demonstrating
equal opportunity to women in the sphere of education.
Avvayar who is
a Kuravar was one of the best poets of this age. In later period some of these
'castes' fell from grace and treated as untouchables.
|40. குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று
யாயும் ஞாயும் யாரா கியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
யானும் நீயும் எவ்வழி யறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயனீர் போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாங்கலந் தனவே.
There is a poem (40) by an unknown poet in
girl thinks her lover might forsake her and go away without marrying her. The
boy then allays her fears. He asks, My mother and your mother, how they are
related! My father and your father, in what way they are related! Me and you,
did not know each other before! Like the rain that mixes with the red soil Our
hearts full of love have got mixed with one another!
This poem indicates that marriage can take place outside the family circle. In
discussing the relationship with the two families, the boy never asks about what
caste they belonged to or what religion they professed. This is evidence that no
caste as understood now was in existence during the Sankam age.
In Canada the younger generation has nothing but contempt for the archaic and
irrational caste system based on birth. Social barriers that existed in the
caste- based Jaffna society are breaking down fast. Inter-caste and inter-racial
marriages, especially when they are love marriages, are becoming .
From: D.Rajanayagam <[email protected]>
1 September 2002
This has been an interesting article
and discussion. The article in Himal was well-written and well-informed, though
it contained some errors particularly regarding the present situation and the
I have written a detailed article regarding 'The Jaffna Social System:
Continuity and Change under conditions of war' in Asien Forum 24 1993,
which discusses precisely the actions of the LTTE regarding caste. Another
article on the topic is coming out shortly.
While discussing about caste system of South Asia we have to learn to
differentiate between Varna and Jati. 'The Portuguese word Casta that became
Caste in English combines them both.' No, it does not, and that was the problem.
Portuguese casta comes from pure and chaste and thus gave a totally unreal
perception to the Europeans of what jati (or varna) was about, both of which
stem from quite different etymological roots. If you want to find an equivalent
for jati at all, the best might be the ancient concept of (natio which refers to
birth and tribe)
"So we cant blame anyone including the Brahmins (both the imported and local
variety) for the existence of this archaic evil amongst us."
No doubt about that, but the Brahmins exploited and exacerbated the system no
end and robbed it of its flexibility. Incidentally, there were other reformers
(religious ones, too) besides
Arumuka Navalar who
were not so rabid about caste as he. Think of
Marai Malai Atikal whose admittedly quaint cure consisted in making
everybody in the Tamilland into a Vellalar (which is of course a time-honoured
One should not forget that the so-called kind-hearted efforts by the Sinhalese
to convert the low castes to Buddhism were by no means disinterested. Moreover,
caste exists in Sinhala society, too, and low castes as well!!
From: Na. Kumaran
in the Tamil Circle <[email protected]>,
29 August 2002
Subject: Eelam and the Dalit Question
'Caste of the Tiger: Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils' by Ravikumar
(Translated from Tamil by R Azhagarasan) in
HIMAL South Asia, August 2002 and published also in the Sinhala owned
Sri Lanka Island of 26 August 2002.
"In 1981, the UNP leaders, who shout themselves hoarse about democracy, summoned
their military thugs and burnt down the Jaffna library, the biggest library in
Southeast Asia. About the same time, caste fanatics in a small village,
Ezhudumattuval, near Jaffna, threatened Dalit children at a school, seized their
books and notebooks and set them afire."Why did Tamil society choose to condemn
one incident and remain silent on the other?" - Dominic Jeeva, Dalit author from
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief V Prabakaran's two and half
hour press conference on 10 April this year is regarded as a turning point in
the ongoing peace initiatives in Sri Lanka. Prominent among the issues raised at
the press meet were those concerning Muslims and Estate Tamils (also called
Hill-Country Tamils, Tamils of Indian Descent or New Tamils, since a majority
came over from India as plantation workers). Responding to these queries,
Prabakaran and LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingam said they had invited leaders of
these two groups for talks on issues concerning their future and, as expected,
an agreement has now been arrived at. However, the press conference was
disturbingly silent on the question of Dalit-untouchables who constitute nearly
15 percent of the Tamil population in Eelam. No one saw fit to raise the matter
and the Eelam leadership too chose not to dwell on it. The silence of the
assembled press corps is understandable. But the reticence of the Tamil
leadership is deliberate neglect. A problem that has been awaiting a resolution
for decades was simply glossed over as if it did not even exist.
The primary reason for this neglect is that contemporary Sri Lanka lacks an
energetic Dalit organisation that can exert the necessary social pressure to
ensure that the issue gets the prominence it deserves. This current absence of
Dalit political leadership is conspicuous in an otherwise forceful history of
assertion. In fact, Dalit political consciousness among Sri Lankan Tamils
predates the mobilisation of their counterparts in Tamil Nadu. The militant
struggle against untouchability by Sri Lankan Dalits gives them the distinction
of being among the earliest to wage war against casteism. But over the years the
Sri Lankan Dalit movement has lost its organisational drive, and so while the
Muslims and the Estate Tamils have ensured that their issues remain prominent on
the Eelam agenda, the most oppressed of the Tamils do not evoke even a passing
mention from the Jaffna Tamils, who lead the armed separatist struggle.
Roots of violence
It is customary for Tamil nationalists to regard the Jaffna Tamils as role
models, particularly because of their `achievements' in the armed struggle. But
Eelam and the Jaffna Tamils have an unsavoury tradition that does no credit to
their claim to special status. They have produced casteist, chauvinist scholars
such as Arumuga Navalar of the early 19th century, who, echoing Manu, the
preceptor of the varna system, declared that the parai (Dalit drum), the woman
and the panchama (Dalit) are "all born to get beaten".
Navalar is just one
among a large company of Jaffna Tamils who stoked casteism and helped it take
strong roots in the island. The history of caste Hindu atrocities on Dalits is
long and shameful. The significant moments in the Dalit struggle for
self-respect and upper caste reprisals merit recapitulation if only to
demonstrate why this problem will not be easily resolved.
Those who celebrate the greatness of the Tamil armed struggle are of course
careful to avoid mention of when Jaffna's earliest episodes of armed violence
took place and against whom these were directed. Violence began to inform the
Tamil landscape as early as 1944 when some caste Hindus gunned down a Dalit as
he tried to cremate the body of an old woman of his community at the Villoonri
cremation ground in Jaffna. This anti-Dalit violence was to continue
sporadically over the years. Thus, it can be said that the culture of armed
struggle began in Sri Lanka in the form of attacks on untouchables. However,
Eelam's panegyrics to itself and its armed revolution cannot accommodate such
In the circumstances, it is not surprising that Dalits in Sri Lanka were forced
to form political organisations much earlier than Tamil Nadu Dalits. In fact,
they were pioneers in political mobilisation even among Sri Lankan Tamils. Tamil
nationalism acquired a real political edge only in the 1940s with the formation
of the Tamilar Congress in 1944 and the Tamilarasu Party in 1949. Dalit
mobilisation preceded this by a quarter century, with the formation of the Forum
for Depressed Class Tamil Labourers in July 1927. The forum launched an
agitation for "equality in seating, equality in eating" in 1928 in protest
against caste discrimination in schools where Dalit children were forbidden from
learning or dining with other children. Two years of sustained struggle resulted
in an administrative order that in grant-aided schools low-caste children should
be allowed to sit on benches instead of on the floor or outside on the ground.
In retaliation, caste Hindu Tamils burnt down 13 schools that implemented the
new regulations. And by way of political follow-up, the elite of the Vellala
community from Urelu, Vasavilan and Punalakkattavan petitioned the government in
1930 to rescind the equal-seating directive.
The next major effort to thwart Dalit rights took place in 1931, when the then
British government of Sri Lanka set up the Donoughmore Commission to look into
the changes to be introduced in the country's constitution. The commission
recommended the introduction of universal adult franchise in Sri Lanka. As a
result, the Dalits gained voting rights. Unable to tolerate this development,
caste Tamils, headed by prominent leaders like S. Natesan, launched an
agitation. They were ready to give up their own voting rights to prevent Dalits
from getting theirs. To demonstrate their social power, they went one step
further and imposed several new restrictions on Dalits. According to the new
draconian strictures: "Untouchable women should not cover their torso and (must)
remain half-naked. They should not wear jewels, not use an umbrella, nor use the
caste thread in marriages. Their children should not bear the names used by
dominant castes. They should not cremate, but bury the dead bodies. They should
not use footwear; should not get water from public wells; should not sit in
buses; nor send their children to schools". These restrictions were even harsher
than the restrictions imposed in the 1930s on Dalits of Tiruchi, Ramanathapuram
district in Tamil Nadu by the dominant Kallar, Maravar and Thevar communities.
Sri Lankan political parties, including caste Tamil leaders, advanced several
reasons to oppose universal franchise. They argued that the extension of voting
rights to all would increase corruption; that only landowners are patriotic so
voting rights should be restricted to them; that voting rights would be misused
by the illiterate and that women should not get involved in politics and hence
should not be given the right to vote. However, the Donoughmore Commission stood
firm, and Dalits attained voting rights in 1931.
Suffrage gave them some political leverage and was a boost to
their struggle, as is evident from some of the limited changes that came about
in the economic sphere. For instance, S Natesan, who was at the forefront of the
opposition to voting rights for untouchables, under compulsion of seeking Dalit
votes, had to introduce measures such as the legalisation of the tree tax
(mara-vari scheme) in 1936. This helped the Dalits involved in the toddy
business gain economic independence from upper caste Tamils. This and other
successes stimulated further attempts at forging Dalit political unity for
The Conference of Oppressed Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka was
organised in August 1943. One of the outcomes of this conference was the
formation of the Northern Sri Lankan Minority Tamils Mahasabha. In order to
unite Dalits all over Sri Lanka, the Northern Sri Lanka Minority Tamils
Mahasabha was renamed the All-Sri Lankan Minority Tamils Mahasabha and its
demands were enlarged to include protection for arrack production, improving
educational opportunities for untouchables, reservation for untouchables in
teacher training and representation for untouchables in the legislature.
Meanwhile, the agenda to suppress Dalits was being continuously pursued in the
constitutional sphere. Sri Lankan political parties, dissatisfied with the
recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission, demanded a new constitution for
Sri Lanka. In 1942, these parties asked that the British send a mission to Sri
Lanka to initiate the process of writing a new constitution for the country. In
response to such pressures, London dispatched a commission to Sri Lanka to
elicit the views of the various communities on the proposed new constitution.
The Commission, headed by Lord Soulbury, conducted its deliberations from
December 1944 to April 1945, and held discussions with representatives of
various communities. The Minority Tamils Mahasabha decided to submit a separate
memorandum to the commission. But the Tamilar Congress Party and its president,
GG Ponnambalam, insisted that a separate submission would affect the unified
Tamil cause. To decide the issue, the Minority Tamils Mahasabha organised a
meeting in Jaffna, to which Ponnambalam was also invited. The Mahasabha made it
clear that if the Congress memorandum included issues of Dalit welfare,
particularly those concerning education, professional rights and eradication of
untouchability, it was ready to give up its plan to submit a separate
memorandum. With Ponnambalam rejecting this demand, the Mahasabha was forced to
go along with its original plan to submit a separate memorandum.
In the hostile climate that prevailed, with the Tamilar Congress and caste
Tamils assuming a threatening attitude, the Dalit leadership was forced to
smuggle members of the Soulbury Commission to their villages in order to show
them the wretched conditions of living. But all this was of no consequence,
since the caste Hindu sentiment prevailed and the welfare of Dalits found no
place in the newly drafted constitution. Instead the `unified Tamil' cause found
safeguards in the `Soulbury Constitution', which proscribed any legislation that
would affect a community or religion. This constitution was in force till 1972,
when it was redrafted. Ironically, the constitution that caste Hindu Tamils
believed would safeguard their interests exclusively, to the detriment of the
Dalits, was later to pave the way for their own marginalisation, as Sinhala
chauvinism rode roughshod over the clauses designed to protect minority rights.
As recommended by the Soulbury Commission, elections were held in 1947 in which
the United National Party (UNP) and the Tamilar Congress were the main
contenders. The third force was constituted of the left, represented primarily
by the breakaway factions of the sole pre-war left party - the Lanka Samasamaja
Party (LSSP). One faction of the LSSP set up the Sri Lankan Communist Party in
1943. When M Karthikeyan introduced this party to the Jaffna Tamils, a large
number of Dalits joined it. Dalit writers like Daniel, Dominic Jeeva, ML
Subramaniam, and K Pasupathi were part of this group. Though they joined the
communist party, they continued their work with the Minority Tamils Mahasabha,
with which they had been associated in the past.
As political consciousness among the Dalits evolved, two trends emerged within
the Minority Tamils Mahasabha. Some accepted the communist ideology while others
were content with agitating for small privileges. On the electoral strategy,
there was unanimity of opinion that they should not vote for the Tamilar
Congress, which had not only actively campaigned against the inclusion of Dalit
rights in the Soulbury constitution but had also failed to nominate Dalit
candidates in the election. There was however a difference of opinion between
the moderates and others on whether they should vote for the UNP or the left
parties. The majority of the Minority Tamils Mahasabha campaigned for the UNP,
which had appointed a Dalit to the senate. The UNP programme was more pro-Dalit"
than that of the Tamilar Congress. The UNP campaigned against untouchability,
announced several schemes for Dalit welfare and promised to nominate a Dalit
member to the assembly. For many moderate Dalits, these assurances were
aufficient ground for supporting the UNP.
In contrast to the stand taken by the Tamilar Congress, the Tamilarasu party,
which first raised the slogan of Tamil `right to self-determination', initially
embarked on a policy of Dalit accommodation. The Tamilarasu decided to take
Tamil nationalism beyond Jaffna and unite Tamils from all the areas, focusing on
the racist attitude of the Sinhala government. As a Tamil nationalist party it
was forced by the presence of independent-minded Dalit political organisations
to address the problem of untouchability and casteism, at least nominally. The
Tamilarasu included `abolition of untouchability' as one of its resolutions at
the party's fifth conference held in July 1957. The accommodationist compulsions
of an inclusive nationalism are evident in Tamilarasu leader Thanthai Selva's
speech at the time of the party's founding:
"If we want to qualify ourselves to win, we have to
eradicate the evils in society and purify it. Among the Tamils, there are
untouchables. They think they are oppressed by others. Ethically speaking,
if we do harm to others, someone will do the same to us. If Tamils want to
attain liberation, they must give the same to those who are deprived of
their rights in our society".
The promises and resolutions however, did not add up to much in
real terms. The Tamilarasu did not make any effort to implement them in their
parliamentary programme. Meanwhile, developments in the larger Sri Lankan polity
were to have adverse consequences for both upper caste Tamils and Dalits. This
was particularly the case with the government's chauvinist Sinhala Only Act of
1956, which deprived all Tamils of their fundamental rights. Despite such openly
discriminatory developments, the communist party continued to support the UNP
and since by now the communists dominated the Minority Tamils Mahasabha, many
Dalit leaders had no option but to join Tamilarasu. A new organisation, the
Minority Tamils United Front was formed with the support of the Tamilarasu
Tea and temples
In order to consolidate its support among the Dalits, the Tamilarasu pushed for
the introduction of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act in April 1957.
This act treated caste-based discrimination in public places as a crime but
imposed a fine of `not more than SLR 100' and a jail term of six months for
perpetrators of such crimes. Just how lightly the problem of untouchability was
taken is evident from a comparison with the situation that obtained in Tamil
Nadu in the 1930s. Raobahadur `Rettaimalai' Seenivasan (a Tamil Dalit leader who
attended the Round Table Conference with BR Ambedkar) says in his autobiography
that a fine of INR 100 was imposed on those who prevented untouchables from
using public wells, ponds and the market. In 27 years the real value of the
rupee had declined, but there obviously was very little change in the legal
attitude to untouchability. In the interest of condign punishment, if nothing
else the depreciation of the currency could have been factored into punitive
With such weak protective laws to help them survive with dignity, Dalits had to
increasingly address their own social issues through direct action to force
political parties to heed their plight. In October 1958, the Minority Tamils
Mahasabha gave a call for a "teashop entry movement". The Mahasabha delivered an
ultimatum demanding that teashops should begin admitting Dalits before 13
December, failing which they would agitate in front of the offending
establishments. This movement put pressure on the Tamilarasu Party, which
responded by announcing an "annihilation of untouchability week" from 24
November. The party, keen to prevent the division of its Tamil base, initiated a
dialogue with the teashop owners in Jaffna. As a result, two teashops run by
non-Tamil south Indians admitted untouchables. Others soon followed suit.
It is a singular irony of Sri Lankan politics that Dalits
attained the right to vote in 1931, but had to struggle for another 27 years
before they could drink tea in public with dignity. But though teashop doors
had opened, school gates remained shut.
It was only through the efforts of the Communist Party leader
Pon Kandaiah that 15 schools for the children of the Dalit community were
opened. Competitive politics involving the communist and the Tamilarasu parties,
in the context of organised Dalit activity, was clearly a determining factor in
securing some limited policy gains. Changes in the nature of competitive
politics were to have adverse consequences for the Dalits. This is most clearly
evident from the developments in the aftermath of the split in the Communist
Party in 1964 and the subsequent participation of Tamilarasu in the UNP-led
government in 1965.
As part of its constituency building, N Shanmugathasan's communist party led the
popular temple-entry movements, apart from launching agitations to seize
untitled lands and access water from public wells. Newspapers almost daily
carried stories about Dalit agitation - among others, the burning of Kandasamy
temple chariot in April 1968 and the riots that took place during the staging of
the play Kandan Karunai in June 1969. In response, Tamilarasu, the Tamil
nationalist party, strongly criticised this agitation. The Tamilarasu leadership
had become concentrated in the hands of a Colombo-based group with
representatives from the dominant communities in Jaffna. The political
resolutions of the party were drafted in accordance with the interests of the
dominant caste of Jaffna, the Vellalas.
By the 1970s, Sri Lankan politics had taken a turn for the worse, acquiring an
increasingly ethnic character, as the politics of Sinhala-Tamil accommodation
began giving way to conflict. Tamil nationalism intensified in response to the
continuous Sinhala racist policies. The Tamilarasu, having compromised itself by
participating in the government, began to lose its base among Tamils. The major
racist attack of 1983 opened a new trend in the country's politics, particularly
Tamil politics. While Sinhala politics continued to be competitive, Tamil
politics became the monopoly of a nationalism that subsumed every other division
within society in the interest of an overarching unity that refused to admit
Caste and the Tiger
The rise of armed struggle after 1983 and the consequent fall of democratic
movements became a major hurdle in the way of an independent Dalit movement.
Since nationalism could not concede even the slightest hint of an inner
contradiction, writers who continuously focused on the problem of `panchamars'
were dubbed enemies of the Tamil nation. The Tamil national liberation movement
suppressed the voice of the Dalits. The discrimination that followed from
Sinhala majoritarianism in education and employment largely affected caste
Tamils. But the ethnic conflict drew Dalits into the circle of violence. As the
conflict heightened, well-to-do caste Tamils fled to foreign lands, but Dalits
who lacked the resources to follow suit remained in Eelam, and consequently were
recruited into the armed struggle. This trend intensified in the 1990s and today
the majority of LTTE cadres happen to be Dalit.
The increased participation of Dalits and women in the armed struggle had the
paradoxical effect of loosening some of the more rigid strictures of Hindu
society that are incompatible with the flexibility required by armed combat. But
this did not lead to Dalit issues being addressed in any formal or concrete
sense. The changes that have taken place are merely pragmatic adaptations
dictated by necessity. Even so, caste Tamils, who see themselves as the sole
representatives of all Tamils, are uncomfortable with this new state of affairs
since they fear that the rigid rules of subordination will be permanently
breached. As if to reinforce the orthodoxy, while limited social change has been
taking place in the Lankan Tamil homeland, emigre caste Tamils have reinforced
caste distinctions in their adopted countries.
Clearly, migration to foreign lands has not mitigated the effects of caste;
caste feelings remain strong and there is little reason to believe that the
pragmatic concessions that the Tamil society in the home country has made in
conditions of war will last when and if peace arrives. Hence, it is important to
ask whether the (interim) government that will be formed after the peace
initiatives will address the problems of the Dalits. Dalits have played a
crucial role in the powerful struggle that forced the Sinhala government to
negotiate, but it is increasingly looking like the LTTE will abandon the Dalits
when there is no longer any need for their services. Caste Tamils in Eelam could
well give vent to their caste feelings once the climate of fear is dispelled. To
avoid such a situation, the Dalits need to procure some assurances.
The details of the LTTE's understanding with the Estate Tamils and Muslims are
not very clear. Yet, the concessions that the latter have managed to extract
over the last two decades is instructive at least as a modular specimen to be
imitated. On 21 April 1988 an agreement, based on talks held in Madras on 15, 16
and 19 April 1988, was reached between the leaders of Muslim United Front and
the Tigers. The 18-point agreement, signed by Kittu alias Sadasivam Krishnakumar
for the Tigers and MIM Moheedin for the Muslim United Front, recognised the
cultural and social distinctness of the Muslims and provided constitutional
safeguards to them. 33 percent of the population in the eastern territory is
Muslim and the figure is 18 percent for the northeast. Hence, the agreement
stated that not less than 30 percent of state assembly seats should be given to
them, besides giving them an unspecified representation in the ministry. Based
on the percentage of Muslims living in each district in the northeast,
proportional reservation would be given to them in jobs in the public sector. It
was also agreed that an Islamic university would be started with special
educational facilities. The chief ministership of the northeastern province
would rotate between Muslims and `others'.
Such an agreement is important for the Dalits. A similar agreement could now be
chalked out to provide education, jobs and land to the Dalits. The demands made
in the resolutions of the Minority Tamils Mahasabha and the plan of action put
forth in the movements for eradication of untouchability (by the communists in
the 1960s) should also be taken into account in such an agreement. If the future
is to be insured against social conflict, the Tigers will have to come forward
unilaterally to provide a solution to the Dalit problem. The current absence of
a Dalit movement is no indication that there will not be one in future. The long
war has paved the way for change, and the long negotiation for peace has forced
on the LTTE many unprecedented changes in their policy. This new found
flexibility can be the basis for a long-term vision to secure genuine democracy.
And that can happen only when the problems of the most oppressed are
substantially addressed. This is the primary duty of
a democratic dispensation and to fulfil that the Tiger must lose its caste.
in the Tamil Circle, 28 August 2002
Subject: Dalits among Sri Lankan Thamils
The response by M.Nadarajan and others to the article "Dalits among Sri Lankan
Thamils" is factually misleading in many respects and does not reflect
accurately the practice of the pernicious caste system among the Thamils from a
historical perspective. The response tends to paint a rosy picture of the
prevalent caste system; though it is true the liberation struggle had blunted
its ill effects. So let me correct the half-truths that have crept into the
response by Nadarajan and others and set the record straight.
Half truth- "There were no untouchables as such in Sri Lanka, except perhaps the
Rodiyas of the Sinhalese. The manifestation of un-touchability amongst Tamils
was in the refusal of entry of a few castes to temples and drawing water from
public wells. This is no longer the case."
Truth: There were many castes among Thamils that were
considered "untouchable" by untouchable it is meant not only denial of
temple entry and drawing of water to a section of the Tamils, but also
denial of education, inter-marriage etc. I don't want to list the relevant
castes, which is not a pleasant job to do.
Half-Truth-" The few who call themselves Brahmins confine their
work to the temple and other Hindu religious rites. Castes were divided
according to the work performed by each groups members."
Truth: Yes the Brahmins were confined to performing poojas
in temples and other rituals, but the fact that a certain caste monopolise
the priesthood, and continued to do so without any protest whatsoever solely
on the basis of birth confirms the prevalence of the caste system. The claim
"Castes were divided according to the work performed by each group" is not
true. Hindu caste system stigmatise one caste by birth not according
to the type of work you do!
In effect the caste system is a product of Hinduism and its
offshoot Saivaism. The Agamas that govern the practice of Saivaism in
temples denies entry of low caste Hindus into temples.
was a keen adherent of Agamas and that explains the reason why he practiced
and advocated the perpetuation of casteism in temples. He even denied entry
of so called low castes to schools started by him! He vehemently opposed the
worship of Kannaki (Paththini worship to Sinhalese, first introduced by
Vijayabahu 1, contemporary of Cheran Chenkuttuvan) by Saivaits calling her
derisively as "Chettichi Magal" (daughter of Chetti)!
The four great Saivait Saints (Nayanmaars), noted for their extreme devotion
and dedication to Lord Siva, treated persons of all castes as equals, but
they never called for the abolition of the caste system itself! The story
about Nanthanaar, an untouchable, who went to Thillai to witness the
Blissful dance of Siva was supposed to have entered the flame praising the
Holiest of the holy things, His graceful feet amidst the shower of flowers
by the Devaas. This is a myth. The reality is the Thillai Moovayiravar burnt
him to ashes for daring to pollute the sanctum sanctorum! The door (9th)
through which Nanthanaar gained entry into the temple is still kept locked
because of the "pollution" caused by an untouchable! I am narrating all
these to establish the connection between Hinduism/Saivaism and caste
Half truth- "In Sri Lanka they were not banned from entry to
temples or drawing water from public wells."
Truth- In reality, however, many low castes Hindus are still
denied entry into village temples. My village is an example.
Half-truth- " If women were not allowed to wear blouses or had
to be half naked, not wear jewels etc. The practice must have vanished in the
Truth- " This practice did not vanish in the 19th century.
It continued till the middle of the 20th century.
Half Truth- "Today they are in all the professions such as
doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and hold senior government jobs."
Truth- " The number of professionals in proportion to the
population of Dalits is negligible even today.
Half truth- "The reason why it is still a major problem in India
is due to attempts at legislation and granting of privileges, which helps
Truth- One cannot right inequality perpetrated over many
centuries without conferring special privileges on the Dalits. Without
legislation and special privileges it will take many more centuries to right
We should not attempt historical revisionism, but boldly admit past mistakes
and injustices done to a sizable section of the Thamil society in the name
of religion and move forward. The Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle
and the consequent social revolution it has triggered has helped to blunt
the practice of centuries old caste system. If not for the national
liberation struggle we will be in the same boat as the Thamil Nadu Thamils.
Inter marriage and education are the key to the eradication of Hindu caste
system and that includes Brahmin caste as well. Overall the caste system is
dying, but it is still not dead. An independent Thamil Eelam should confer
special privileges on Dalits for a specified period to bring them on par
socially and economically with the privileged castes.
Let me conclude by quoting Malathy who is a regular contributor to the
Thamil Circle on "Historic Revisionism" that is constructed to avoid
culpability and self-criticism about perpetuating the caste system.
"The "Historical Revisionism" explained above by Prof. Schalk is used not
only by the Sinhala but also by Caste Hindus, and probably by many other
groups to avoid culpability and self criticism. Here is how Caste Hindus
construct their "historic revisionism" to avoid culpability and
self-criticism. They say:
" Hinduism preaches, "God is Love", but then they ignore the close
connection Hinduism has to Casteism. They say it was not Hinduism per se but
some powerful group in "those days" who is responsible for the practice of
Casteism. They give explanations based on "caste based economic model" which
they say started with good intentions but has unfortunately turned bad. They
say Casteism is really an import from north-India and we Tamils had a more
egalitarian religion called "Saivaism"
27 August 2002
The 'Island' has published an article by one Ravikumar on the question of
'Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils'. This has been both written and published with
the sinister motive of creating divisions amongst the Tamils. In this connection
I wish to point out that a similar article was sent to a "Dalit Magazine" in
India for publication. The Editor of that that magazine had the commonsense of
sending it to an expartiate Tamil for his comments before publishing it. Our
response to that article is given below and would be an appropriate response to
this aricle as well.
Eelam and the Dalit question
The author who is obviously from India does not understand the 'dalit' problem
in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. The caste system did exist amongst Tamils as well
the Sinhalese carried over as baggage from India, but nowhere near as prevalent
as in India. There were no untouchables as such in Sri Lanka, except perhaps the
Rodiyas of the Sinhalese. The manifestation of un-touchability amongst Tamils
was in the refusal of entry of a few castes to temples and drawing water from
public wells. This is no longer the case. There are no Brahmins in Sri Lanka who
claim superiority over other castes. The few who call themselves Brahmins
confine their work to the temple and other Hindu religious rites. Castes were
divided according to the work performed by each group's members.
In India there are several castes that are bunched together as
'Dalits' and there are arguments amongst politicians who call themselves
leaders of different castes or group of Dalits, eg.the Vanniyanars and Pallars.
More and more people claim to be Dalits in order to benefit from the facilities
and reservations made for them in educational institutions and employment.
For the sake of these notes we will call the lower castes
amongst the Sri Lankan Tamils, 'Dalits'. It is evident from the article that
dhobies and barbers are considered Dalits in India. In Sri Lanka they were not
banned from entry to temples or drawing water from public wells. There are
several sub-castes amongst the Vellalas who are not considered lower castes. In
the past high caste Vellalas may have frowned on marriage even with lower caste
Vellalas. Nowadays inter caste marriages amongst the different groups of
Vellalas are quite common. Inter caste marriages with non-Vellalas are also
taking place as in India.
The article is acceptable if it was captioned 'the history of
the emancipation of the low castes in Sri Lanka.' The article speaks of what
happened before the 19th century. The article refers to what Arumaga Navalar who
lived perhaps in the 19th century had said. If women were not allowed to wear
blouses or had to be half naked, not wear jewels etc the practice must have
vanished in the 19th century. Only banning of temple entry and teashop entry
(meaning they were served, but they had to use different cups), prevailed into
the 1940s. That too, as the author himself points out, is a thing of the past.
Christian missionaries, the left movement, and later in 1949,
the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) was responsible for reducing
discrimination. The Federal Party was even responsible for legislation which
made it a crime to discriminate. As the author says, the Federal party passed a
resolution proposing the abolition of untouchability and even helped to form the
Minority Tamils United Front. It also held successfully an 'annihilation of
Mr.C.Suntheralingam, a onetime minister in the UNP government was one of the few
high caste Tamils who opposed temple entry. He lost his deposit at the next
election he contested.
No amount of legislation or special privileges given can eradicate the system.
It is only by educating the people and by example that it can be got rid of. It
can be only done gradually over a period of time. With the LTTE openly saying
that they are against the caste system it has been virtually eradicated. This,
the opposition to the dowry system, and the emphasis on equality of men and
women are some of the social revolutions brought about by the LTTE. The author
wonders why no one asked any questions at the International News Conference on
the subject of Dalits and no answers were given. This is because it is no longer
an issue. The leader of the LTTE himself is from the fishermen caste. I do not
know if he would be considered a dalit in India. It is totally incorrect to say,
'the wave of Tamil national liberation movement suppressed the voice of the
There is no need for a reserved seat for Dalits. Due to adult franchise all
Tamils have the same right to vote and politically have equal status. They are
not prevented from contesting elections or from going to schools. Today they are
in all the professions such as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and
hold senior government jobs. It must be admitted that in the remote villages it
may still exists to some degree. In my own village the LTTE official in charge
of issuing passes was from a so-called 'lower caste'. The LTTE did not think
twice about appointing him. However some villagers felt squeamish about going to
him for passes.
Crocodile tears are being shed that there are no political organizations for
Dalits, although in the past they had several and staged numerous protests.
There is no need anymore for separate organizations for them. There seems to a
mischievous attempt at splitting Dalits away from the bulk of the Tamils. This
will not help the Dalits or Tamils in general. 'Dalits' if any may be
called that, are not a separate community like the Muslims. We do not need
'dalit movements and dalit intellectuals in Tamil Nadu to create pressure to
discuss the (non-existent) problems of Dalits in Jaffna and safeguard their
fundamental rights'. Thank God for that.
Who asked them to do so? This is like President Chandrika saying
that she wanted to 'release the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE', as if any
one asked her to! The author gives the gratuitous advice to the LTTE not to
abandon the Dalits as the Federal party did, (in fact it did not) and to come
forward to provide solutions to the problems of Dalits .He talks about the
political power of the Hindus as against that of the Dalits. Unlike in India
where many Dalits have become Muslims or Buddhists almost all Dalits in Sri
Lanka, except for a minuscule minority, are Hindus! There are four paragraphs in
the article about Muslims, again trying to stoke the fire. The reason why it is
still a major problem in India is due to attempts at legislation and granting of
privileges, which helps perpetrate discrimination."
From: Pon Kulendiren
<[email protected]> 29
The article titled "The Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils" in the news circle and
subsequent views by Mr V Thangavelu, has prompted me to give my observations on
The National liberation struggle in Eelam has partially removed many stigmas
like Male Chauvinism, Dowry system, Temple entry, Animal sacrifice in Temples
and Caste system in Eelam. There is more work to be done on social changes and
prove to the Indians and specially the Tamil Nadu population that we are far
ahead of them in social reforms.
When I say partially it is because there are still many issues in Eelam that are
still linked to the dirty word CASTE. Still Caste plays an important part in
proposed marriages among Eelam people. It is immaterial whether the family live
abroad or in Eelam. Many roads and areas in Jaffna carry the caste name.
Examples are Thattar Theru, Pandarakulam, Siviyar theru, Vannarpannai,
Kusavankulathadi, Kollankallatty etc. In Colombo many Roads that carried
colonial names were changed to the local names ( Eg: Buller's Road, Parsons'
Road , Mcallum road, Duke Street etc). Then why was no action taken in Jaffna
and other towns in Eelam to erase Caste names from roads and areas?
When it comes to caste, society still has restrictions by not allowing low caste
people to sit with the high caste crowd at a meal after a wedding or age
attaining ceremony or family event.
For a very long time low caste people were prohibited from drawing water from
Veeramakali Amman Temple well in Nallur. There may be similar restrictions in
other temples. Many high caste families do not allow low caste men to draw water
from their well but employ them to drain the well and clean it. While draining
the well, unnoticeably, the well cleaner's sweat gets mixed with the water. The
so-called high caste well owner drinks the same water.
This applies in case of a local toddy tavern ( Kallu Kottil).
Many high caste men are frequent customers of the local tavern owned by toddy
tappers. They also taste the fried prawns and crabs prepared by the tavern
owner. Caste system is overlooked in that situation. Still people hesitate to
buy lands in areas populated by any low caste community. The area name itself
carries a stigma (eg: Arasavelli.). During weddings it is still a custom to
donate the two bunches of Bananas; that decorate the entrance to the Dhobi and
Barber caste people. They are termed "Kudimahan".
This system still exists in many villages and has not changed
much. Few decades ago in Puttur many low caste people were converted to Buddhism
because of the discrimination they faced among the high caste. It is an accepted
fact that many Hindus were converted to other religions because of caste
discrimination. We have seen that the Indian and Sri Lankan media have used
caste system as a weapon to criticize popular leaders.
In India Jegajeevan Ram, a senior Congressman was denied the opportunity to
become Prime Minister of India by the Brahmins, in the Congress, just because he
was an untouchable. Devadasi system permitted High Caste rich men in many Indian
villages to have sex with women from low caste but not to marry them. The
freedom movement in Eelam has eradicated much of the dirty work done by the
so-called low caste people - beating of drums at funerals, the barber
officiating at funerals and so forth amounting almost to every aspect of their
work. Their work even otherwise was not defined in any religious literature but
had been adopted to keep them in bondage.
From: Rakesh Chandra
19 March 2001
I recently came across this website. I am not Tamil. Although I appreciate and
respect the rich
Tamil heritage and
culture, I fail to understand why the mythical 'Aryan-Invasion-Theory'
should be a basis for Tamil nationalism. I can enumerate several points which
modern researchers have put forth to debunk this theory:
(1)No Evidence of any Aryan-Dravidian conflict or any war is
(2)There is nothing called an 'Aryan' race. Arya just means a noble one.
(3)How do you explain that Ravana in Ramayan was an accomplished Brahmin? Wasn't
he a "Dravidian"?
(4)How come Tamil and non-Tamils both believe in the Vedas, worship similar Gods
etc.? How come Tamils have Sanskrit origin names?
(5)The minor differences in skin color are not prominent enough, that
north-Indians can be said to be belonging to a distinct race. There are similar
variations even among Europeans. For example East Europeans look different
from West Europeans, the Germans from British and so on.
(6)Skin variations can also be caused due to different climatic conditions and
(7)Why hasn't it been ever considered that Vedic Hinduism is essentially native
to India (Indus-Sarasvati culture)? Maybe it was just comprised of a federation
of different ethnic groups, following the same philosophical principles, culture
(8) The original Varna system was supposed to be flexible, so that a person
could change his/her caste based on merit.
It is indeed sad to see that a
false Aryan Invasion theory propagated by the colonial missionary zealots
aimed at dividing and denigrating Hinduism is being so blindly accepted by us
We agree with you that the Aryan Invasion Theory and the
'Aryan/Dravidian divide' has been increasingly questioned by many
Dinesh Agrawal's essay on the Demise of the Aryan Invasion Theory has
appeared at this website from the date of its launch. Again,
Rajaram and Davis Frawley have also explored the question in their
Vedic "Aryans" and
the Origins of Civilization: A Literary and Scientific Perspective.
We do not seek to found Tamil nationalism on the basis of the Aryan invasion
theory - nor for that matter, on notions of race. A nation is not a
race. To assert that it is, would be to be found a nation on elusive (and
often non existent) physical characteristics. A nation is a togetherness
rooted in the past
and which has grown through a process of differentiation and
opposition. It is not nature or nurture - but, it is
both. It is a togetherness given expression in a
and a culture but it is
cultural togetherness. Neither is it simply an
economic togetherness. It is also a political togetherness
concerned both with the structure and the exercise of power
in a world frame."
We have attempted to explain the elements of
that togetherness in 'What is a
nation?' and it is that togetherness that we seek to nurture. Here, it
is perhaps, also important for us to point out that in our view:
"...the growing togetherness of the Tamil people, is but
a step in the growth of a larger unity. We know that in the end,
national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of
sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context. ... we
recognize that our future lies with the peoples of the Indian region and
the path of a greater and a larger Indian union is the direction of that
future. It is a union that will reflect the compelling and inevitable
need for a common market and a common defence and will be rooted in the
common heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters of not only
Tamil Nadu but also of India. It is a shared heritage that we freely
acknowledge and it is a shared heritage to which we have contributed and
from which we derive strength..."
And this is a view that was
at Thimpu in 1985 and which we expanded upon recently in the
Tamil Nation & the Unity of India.
Dev Mahadevan USA, 12 March
I would like to point out something on the
discussion on 'Brahmanism and Tamil Nation'. Of the four
Tamil Saivaite saints, three were Brahmins. The entire Tamil Saiva community
rate their work above the four Sanskrit Vedas. Would it
not be nice to come together as one Tamil people instead of separating ourselves
based on caste and creed? Yes, I am born as a Brahmin. My best friends are not
Brahmins. My two brothers married outside caste and race. My parents and
grandparents taught me not discriminate on the basis of caste. They instilled in
me reverence for Nandanar who merged with Siva due to his devotion. Often times
I become tired of these discussions because of some of the negative connotations
associated with it. Would it not be a good effort bring everybody together,
whosoever they may be, under one Tamil fold?
We share your views. Caste divides. It weakens us. We cannot build on
narrow (and divisive) foundations. Yes, there is a need to transcend
caste and nurture the
growing togetherness of
the Tamil people
- and we believe that each one of us has something meaningful to
contribute, however small that contribution may be. Postmortems about the
past are useful only to the extent that they guide our actions in the
future. Here, we have found Jacob Pandian's assessessment in
nationalism, and ethnicity : an interpretation of Tamil cultural history and
social order, helpful:
"Ethnic systems arise from the self-conscious,
organized use of ethnicity to conceptualise self and/or collective
identity. This self conscious, organized use of ethnicity may be
characterized as identity summation. Individuals seek consistency and
coherence in their formulation of identity, but ethnicity qua ethnicity
does not have systemic consistency or coherence. Within the same
cultural tradition, a number of political and religious symbols of
greater or lesser importance exist, and some of these have more
continuity and have greater relevance as representing cultural
boundaries. It is not necessary for these symbols to be interrelated as
a systemic whole. It is true that these symbols often fuse each other's
meanings and are transformed to convey a collective or synthetic
meaning; but the fusion, transformation and synthesis occur in their use
to conceptualise identity.. ..the Tamils use the symbols of
Chenthamil, Amman, Nadu Veadu and
Karppu in the conceptualization of collective identity. Some of
these symbols are directly related to jati group identity and others to
Tamil ethnic identity. But jati and Tamil ethnic identities are not
opposed; in fact, both jati and Tamil ethnic identities have common
epistemological roots, although Tamil language serves as the emblem of
Tamil identity and distinctive ritual/political emblems represent jati
B. Manjunath,16 January 2001
These are the Tamil Brahmins who have contribute to Tamil: C.V.Raman, (Nobel
Prize Winner), Chandrashekar (Nobel Prize Winner), Subramaniam (Nobel Prize
Winner), M.S.Subbulakshmi (Bharatharatna), Subramaniya Bharathi (Poet & Freedom
Fighter), T.N.Sheshan (Politics). Many, many musicians, may be more than 100 and
thousands of scientists and IT professionals who have made Tamil popular on the
Web are Tamil Brahmins.
M.S.Subbulakshmi may not have been a Brahmin, though she was married to
one. But be that as it may, many hundreds of Brahmin Tamils have contributed
to the growth of Tamil togetherness. The foundations of the Tamil
renaissance of the 19th century were laid by the work of
and Thamotherampillai. Another Brahmin, the mathematician
Ramanujan is still remembered, and honoured, at Trinity College,
Kalki Krishnamurthy was 'a colossus striding the Tamil journalistic
field' and for many his Ponniyin Selvan served as a window to the mighty
Chola empire. Again, as you rightly point out, today, many IT professionals
in many parts of the world are making an enduring contribution to the
Tamil digital revolution. Jacob Pandian's
Caste, nationalism, and ethnicity : an interpretation of Tamil cultural
history and social order is an important contribution to further our
understanding of the Tamil collective identity.
Muhammad Backer, Emirates 13 July
Caste and Religious Chauvinism: This website is very nice. One
of the viewers quoted some remarks such as Brahmins are not Tamils. Such kind of
chauvinism - caste or religious should not be encouraged. In fact, the
contribution by Brahmin communities to Tamil language is remarkable. I
request the owner of the site not to publish such articles which creates hatred
feelings on the basis of caste or religion.
We are in the internet age.
V. Thangavelu Canada, 12 May 2000
Vanakkam. Till today. I did not had the opportunity to read
the response of my friend Ramalingam Shanmugalingam to
my piece "Brahminism and Tamil Nationalism." ....
I judge others purely on their deeds, not words. It does not
matter who that person is or how great his standing in the political or literary
world. In short I don’t hold a brief for someone because he happens to be my
friend, relative, mentor, idol, guru or what else. I scrupulously follow
Valluvar’s advice "After lending ear to many expositions by several persons, one
should be able to weigh them all and determine the beneficial element in them.
That which helps in this alone is to be called wisdom" (Kural 423).
The problem with Shan... (is that) he does not analyse the
subject with a critical mind .... At this point I want to make a
distinction between the Tamil scholar Kalaignar Karunanidhi and the politician
Dr. M. Karunanidhi. The former has a place in history for having given new
poise, style and vigour , on par with Anna, to spoken and written Tamil. It
still amazes me how a school dropout managed to master the Tamil language and
use it with such deadly effect! But the political Kalaignar is a different
"kettle of fish" altogether, and a total disappointment. When the history of
Tamil Eelam is written he will be referred to as the modern day Nero who fiddled
while Tamil Eelam was burning!
Shan’s drawing a comparison between Pazh Nedumaran and
K.Veeramny does not hold water. In fact it is a poor comparison and shows a lack
of knowledge about Tamilnadu politics. Pazh Nedumaran did not mount AIADMK’s
political platforms to canvass votes for Jayalalitha! . Nor did he confer the
title "Samookaneethi Kaaththa Veerangkanai" on Jeyalalitha! Today Jeyalalitha is
the most virulent critic of the LTTE just like the maverick Dr. Subramaniam
Swamy, N.Ram and Thuklak Cho.
She raises the bogey of LTTE "destabilising" Tamil Nadu at the
drop of a hat! It is she who cries wolf all the time about LTTE cadres
infiltrating’ into Tamil Nadu which she knows is false.
She exploited the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi for her own
political ends. She literally and metaphorically rode to power in 1990 over the
corpse of Rajiv Gandhi. She accused the DMK of a hand in the murder of Rajiv
Gandhi which she knows very well is palpably false.
Only the year before she was singing a different tune.
Jeyalalitha declared that if anything was to happen to Prabhakaran at the hands
of the SLA, the whole of Tamil Nadu would rise like one man to defend him!
As far as I know only once did Pazh Nedumaran accompany
Jeyalalitha to Delhi to canvass support for the implementation of the Mandala
Commission report. As an indefatigable and committed supporter of Tamil Eelam
cause Pazh Nedumaran and Jeyalalitha stand at opposite poles! So with
K.Veeramany who has toned down or given up totally his support for Tamil Eelam
lately. In an interview to Kumudam, Veeramany declared that it was true he
supported the LTTE once up on a time, but he had since given it up. I can
understand his fear of TADA.
My assessment of Kalaignar, Shan might claim, is not
representative of majority Tamil opinion. So let me quote for the benefit of
Shan what Muthu Kannan from Tamil Nadu has to say about Chief Minister
Karunanidhi. I took this from
Tamil Canadian web site (Talking Point) .
"I am very disappointed with our CM Karunanidhi’s speech
today. He says that he will welcome Tamil Eelam if LTTE wins it in a war or
in a peace talk by its own. But he says that there is a ban on LTTE in India
and therefore he won’t allow Tamil Nadu to be used as a base for Eelam
activities. Also he says that he has put 60 checkpoints over the Tamil Nadu
coast so that essential things like medicine, food and petrol are not taken
to Eelam for injured Tigers or their use. I have lost all the respect I had
for him. If he can’t help the Eelam Tamils at this critical stage when is he
going to help the TAMILS? May be his desire to help the Tamils is reduced by
the fact that his nephew Murasoli Maran is a Minister in the BJP government.
Murosoli Maran is known here as careerist and he is not bothered about TAMIL
people’s plight in TAMIL NADU or EELAM. M. Maran is only concerned about
himself! I have got nothing against Murosoli Maran but just telling what the
ordinary people are talking here in Tamil Nadu! ......."
Let me tell my friend that unlike Karunanidhi, if MGR was alive
today, he would have sent train loads of food, medicine and clothing to the
Tamil people reeling under the military jackboot of President Chandrika’s
Sinhala army! He would not have cared a damn for the Central government when the
issue is about offering humanitarian assistance to alleviate hunger and thirst
of fellow Tamils.
As for Shan’s claim that Kalaignar’s government got "dismissed
twice for his alleged support for Freedom Fighters " it is not true... On the
contrary in 1990 Karunanidhi’s government was dissolved not because of his
support to freedom fighters, but in spite of Karunanidhi locking hundreds of
wounded LTTE cadres who had earlier gone to Tamil Nadu for medical treatment at
The then erstwhile socialist Prime Minister Chandrashekar who
wanted to become the PM at any cost though he had less than 35 MPs in
Parliament, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi, dismissed the DMK government though
Karunanidhi went to Delhi and fell at his feet to save it.
These unfortunate boys are still locked up in the notorious
Tippu Mahal Special camp at Veloor along with those acquitted in Rajiv Gandhi’s
murder case by the Supreme Court!
Kalaignar Karunanidhi also refused to admit the crew of ‘Ahat’
ship who got acquitted by the Vizhakapattanam Court.
Again did not Kalaignar expel Vaiko from the DMK on the spurious
charge the latter conspired with the LTTE to assassinate him? A blatantly
unfounded and un-substantiated charge just to get Vaiko out of the way and make
room for Stalin? How can anyone in his right mind hatch such a conspiracy theory
about someone who thought it is dis-respectable to talk to Kalaignar while
Only last week he banned the Conference organized by Pazh
Nedumaran and his supporters at Chithamparam to celebrate the fall of Elephant
Pass to the LTTE. And after all these he calls himself "Thamizh Inath
Thalaivar’! O Tempore! O Mores!
In regard to Jain’s Commission, Kalaignar had nothing to fear.
He was not a proxy to the conspiracy or murder of Rajiv Gandhi although
Jeyalalitha and Dr.Subramaniam Swamy were pointing the accused finger at him for
ulterior motives. The assassination took place when Tamil Nadu was under
governor’s rule. But Kalaignar did not have the courage to tell the Commission
that he did not go to receive the returning IPKF because their hands were soaked
with the blood of thousands of innocent Tamils! Instead he told a white lie that
because IPKF was returning home after losing thousands of soldiers he simply did
not have the stomach to see them or receive them!
Now to Kalaignar’s "new line of interpretative ability re Tamil
literature is unparalleled and unheard of" is an over reaction. Churning of such
plethora of adjectives comes only from those who see the stone not for what it
is but as god! Probably Shan is mixing Kural Oviyam with Kalaignar's latest
commentary on Thirukkural! These are two different works. As for his Thirukkural
commentary it is a hotchpotch which is neither fish nor fowl! I like Shan to
read the book "Thirukkuralum Thiravida Iyakkamum" by K.Thirunavukkarasu to get a
balanced view. If he does not have a copy I am prepared to lend mine.
The Tamils don’t expect anything from a person like Jeyalalitha
whose entry to politics is an unmitigated disaster for Tamils and Tamil Nadu.
She had no qualification or experience for such a job. MGR made the biggest
mistake of his life when he brought Jeyalalitha from obscurity to fame. But
mercifully Jayalalitha does not claim she is the leader of the 60 million
Tamils. The fall is greater when the pedestal is high! But Kalaignar and
Veeramany (Thamizhr Thalaivar) both make bombastic claims. That is why my
disappointment is very profound when I find both whom I ‘worshipped’ are gods
with clay feet! As for his protest over receiving Bill Clinton, well if Shan
wants me to thank him for small mercies I will. But unlike him I will not sing
praise or write eulogies about those who don’t deserve such praise.
Finally I wish to remind Shan that it is Valluvar who exhorted
freedom fighters to take care of the internal enemies first. It is no
coincidence that Dr.Subramniam Swamy wants the Indian government to send its
army to arrest the LTTE leader, or The Hindu editor to declare that the fall of
Elephant Pass is a "threat to peace" or N.Ram to give space to Rohan Gooneratna,
the well know LTTE baiter to denigrate and belittle the LTTE!
"It is easy to pluck out a thorny tree while it is yet
growing. The attempt to cut it down, after it is fully-grown will only cause
harm to the hand (Kural 879)
Ramalingam Shanmugalingam USA 7 May
I have pleasure in appending below my effort to say some of the untolds in
Thangavelu's "Brahminism and Tamil Nationalism".
Time and place, I have said many times, should determine
policies and practices... During British rule, things were not the same as
they are today, everywhere, including India and Ceylon.
Census Superintendent W. R. Cornish wrote in 1871 that,
"politically it is not to the advantage of the government that every question
connected with the progress of the country should be viewed through the medium
of Brahmin spectacles. . The true policy of the state would be to limit their
numbers in official positions and to encourage a large proportion age
non-Brahmin Hindus and Muslims to enter official service so as to allow no
special preeminence or preponderance of particular caste" (Report on the
Census of Madras Presidency 1871 Vol. P. 197)
Though affirmative action existed on paper, the inequality was maintained even
E. V. R. Periyar was not an exception to changing positions when
expediency dictated change. In 1919 Periyar relinquished his position as
Municipal Chairman, District Board Member and Taluka Board member in one
resignation to join the All India Congress and was subsequently elected Chairman
of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Later, because of internal caste and class
squabbles Periyar left the Congress.
When Periyar made Hindi fanatics withdraw from demanding official or national
language status for Hindi as a link language,
'aRignar' C. N. Annadurai - 'anhnhA' wrote in his book 'perijAr oru
cakAptam' (Periyar - an Epoch) and I give my
interpretation as follows:
"The language issue was a simple problem to him. He was more
concerned about cultivating humanity among the people of Tamil Nadu; their
belief in savagery, policies that transcend the country, policies that make
man an animal, and those destructive policies that were discarded by the
rest of the world some two to three centuries ago should be made to vanish;
these undesirables should be removed and Tamils should engage in clear
thoughts, and should shine with distinction with rationality and culture in
their deeds; he was convinced in the need for a knowledge revolution and
centred his vision on that. That keen vision personified is Periyar."
Lamenting the betrayal of Periyar by his strong followers and
disciples today is anachronistic. Even 'anhnhA' broke away from the Dravida
Kazham and formed the DMK.
The AIADMK is a break away
from 'anhnhA's' DMK. Political expediency of the times dictated changes and not
disloyalty to the policies of Periyar. Many blame K. Veeramany for his
association with Jayalalitha. Why even 'paza' Nedumaran, the long time "mentor"
of the freedom fighters has not done anything different from Veeramany in
looking up to Jayalalitha for help. In fact Eelam Tamils are indebted to
Nedumaran for his continued support. It was Churchill at the peak of
WWII declared that he was prepared to join the devil for a larger cause. So what
is wrong with Veeramany joining the devil Jayalalitha? If it is all right for
Nedumaran it should be good for Veeramany.
It is uncharitable to impute motives for somebody's omission or commission
in the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka. Even
MGR in the early days of Tamil militancy kept aloof on the grounds that as a
film star he had fans among the Sinhalas and hence would not like to alienate
them. But, subsequent events proved that he has done his part well.
On the other hand, Kalaignar is the most abused of Tamil Nadu leaders. It is of
no consequence that Kalaignar unashamedly or advisedly compromised the lofty
ideals of Periyar, since MGR was the first Dravida Kazhakam offspring to include
a Brahmin in his cabinet. His extra marital passion fashioned a Brahmin
non-Tamil to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Fate had no hand in these
anomalies. It is hate and the good going rate for the biggest noise in Tamil
Periyar in his 'iLygnarkaLukku azyppu' took to task those who pay lip
service to anti-Arya rhetoric. I give my interpretation from "Invitation to
"....The reason for the subjugation of Tamils to Aryans are
the epics and sacred narratives. What else can it be? Muslims and
Christians are not trapped into Aryan subjugation like Tamils, because they
hate and undermine Aryan yarns, sacred narratives and theories worse than
human excretion. We can also realise this through history. The obvious
is evident. We pretend to hate the Aryans and their philosophy in our
rhetoric. In effect our praise of the Aryans and their philosophy is very
evident in our praise of Ramayanam and Periya Puranam."
But, today, things have changed. Some Brahmins are reluctant to
call themselves Brahmins as much as some non-Brahmins are reluctant to call
themselves Tamils. In a changing world, it is what I believe and it is my work
towards realizing my aspirations that counts and if that has a following so much
I had an interesting experience with Kalaignar. I was demonstrating the
Character Phonetics Yarzhan Tamil Editor to Kalaignar and his colleagues and
emphasized on the retention of the traditional letters before the Periyar
improvement to some odd letters for reducing the number of characters.
Kalaignar was not in favor of going back to the traditional
style and he said, "How can we go back on what Periyar has caused?" I could have
asked the same question: then why did you "compromise on Periyar's lofty
ideals?" But that was not the purpose of my visit. I appreciate his
position vis a vis the Tamil Freedom Fighters. His government was dissolved
twice for his alleged support for the Freedom Fighters. There is no
evidence of any worthwhile protests. The "Sword of Damocles" was hanging over
his head during the Jain Commission investigations with every conceivable
anti-Kalaignar force working overtime to remove him from the political scene.
Again, political expediency is prompting Kalaignar to react to situations within
It was Kalaignar who raised his voice against Prime Minister
Vajpayee's Hindi narration during Clinton's visit to India. It is said that as
Lenin gave teeth to Karl Marx's work, Kalaignar has given a new light to
Thirukkural with his 'kuRaLOvijam'. Kalaignar's new line interpretative ability
re Tamil literature is unparalleled and unheard of. For that I salute him. After
all he is also human and perhaps give in more easily at times to minor human
urges such as anger, or disappointment, but his record as a
young Dravida leader is unsurpassed.
Tamils have to consolidate their energies to stop the war and establish
Tamil Eelam. Tamils have more than what Tamils can chew in the opposition.
India, is in a better position to help give peace a chance in Sri Lanka and
Tamil Eelam. The Sinhala Government in their arrogance derived from borrowed
strength will even try to bite the hand that feeds it.
This is the time for Tamils to be careful with words that will
meliorate rather than indulge in pejoratives. Let us sing songs of praise and
not amphigory, however legitimate our anger may be. Let us rise above "Gallery
Theatrics". If we have to pin point
something, let us be balanced. What may seem friendly may change with time and
place and turn enemy. The haves try to control the have nots - even their
spirit. Such is the time and place in which we live. But whatever the climate
may be, Tamil aspirations should not be shaky. The means to the end may change
but the end should remain in tact.
Tamils should never forget the fact, that Tamils learn Tamil and come to know
Thirukkural but foreigners come to know the gift of Tamil through
the freedom fighters are in an advantageous position, but the war has still
got to be won and I would like to remind my fellow Tamils to look up to
Valluvar for guidance and for starters like to give you all,
'perukkattu vEnhdum panhital ciRija
curukkattu vEnhdum ujarvu."
Humility in Prosperity
Dignity in Adversity.
V. Thangavelu Canada, 30 April 2000
[Others] have commented on the role of Tamil Nadu Brahmins and
the press controlled by them to denigrate, belittle and ridicule the
national liberation struggle of the Tamil people. Publications like The
Hindu and Frontline are in the frontline in this sordid campaign against Tamil
nationalism in general and the national liberation struggle spearheaded by the
E.V.R.Periyar, the greatest reformer in the history of Tamil Nadu, advised
Tamils that “if they see a Brahmin and a snake at one and the same time, they
must thrash the Brahmin. first.” Though Periyar did not literally mean what he
said, he was driving home the point that the Brahmins as a social group, with
notable exceptions, have continuously opposed, oppressed and exploited the
Tamils for the last two thousand years. They claimed superior caste status for
themselves as something divined by God (s) and Vedas, called Tamils Sudras,
eulogised Sanskrit as Deva Bhasha and dubbed Tamil as Neesha Bhasha not worthy
for worship in the temples Tamil themselves built!
Periyar before he died lamented the fact that his mission to uplift Tamils was
half-finished and still leaving the Tamils the stigma of being called
Sooththirar! His successors though invoking his name to capture and consolidate
political power have turned their backs on Periyar and betrayed his ideals
paying only lip service to him now and then! These days DK leader K.Veeramani is
playing an ignoble role as the Rajaguru of Jayalalitha (described as such by
Ananthi of BBC Thamil Oosai), though the latter heading a Dravidian political
party had turned her Poes Garden residence into a Yakasalai for performing
moth-eaten Hindu rituals.
Jayalalitha, when she was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
(1990-96), publicly declared on the floor of the Tamil Nadu state assembly that
she was proud to be called a Paappathi! Jeyalalitha rose to politics exploiting
her closeness to MGR, but she had jettisoned MGR’s policy of unstinted support
for the Tamil Eelam cause overboard. She and her party are now easily the most
vicious critics of the LTTE. Apparently her caste consciousness and her hatred
for Tamil nationalism got better of her!
As for Kalaignar Karunanidhi he has unashamedly compromised the
lofty ideals of Periyar and the Dravidian movement to gain political power. He
no more speaks about the evils of Brahmins or Brahminism....
As rightly pointed out the Brahmins control 90% of the print media in Tamil Nadu
with a total monopoly on English language newspapers. Those who want to know the
machinations of Brahmins should read the recent Hindu editorial captioned
“Turning point in Sri Lanka”. On the capture of Elephant Pass by the LTTE, true
to form the Hindu editorial proclaimed “The moment for collective political
action has arrived. The capture of the strategically vital pass by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is the most serious setback that peace has
suffered in the island in the past five years.... and must considerably enhance
the bargaining power of the LTTE.”
Last week when the Madras High Court ruled against the
Government Order issued by the Tamil Nadu state government making Tamil language
the medium of education in Kindergarten schools upto standard V, a move
vigorously opposed by
Jayalalitha, the Hindu could hardly suppress its glee! It gloated over the
discomfiture of the Tamil Nadu government. Not only The Hindu, other Brahmin
owned or controlled publications like the Thinamalar, Thinamani, Frontline,
Kalki, Ananda Viakadan, Kumudam, Cho’s Thuklak, just to name a few, were equally
hilarious in claiming the judgement as a rebuff to “Tamil extremism”!
The same publications have now turned their guns against Vaiko
for his speech at the human rights rally held in Geneva. Not to be left out the
notorious LTTE baiter Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who polled less than 25,000 votes
and lost his deposit during the last general elections to the Lok Saba in
Madurai constituency, said he would seek an appointment with President Mr.
K.R.Narayanan to apprise him of the MDMK chief's "impropriety".
So while fighting for our national liberation , let us also at the same fight
against the internal enemies of Tamil Nationalism and make Periyar dreams a
reality. We should not forget the saying of Tamil sage Valluvar “ It is easier
to pluck out a thorny-tree while it is still young and growing! Any attempt to
cut it down after it is fully gown will only cause harm to one’s hands ( Kural
29 December 1999
I have been a regular reader of
Tamil Nation. We are thankful for the excellent information provided by your web
site. But this section about the
Aryan Invasion Theory, stands in stark contrast to all other valuable
information provided in your web site.
My grandmother used to say " Arya Koothu" for actions which are
disguised to hide their ulterior motives. I feel the
writings by some of these people about this Aryan Invasion Theory is also an
"Arya Koothu" to disguise their true motives of keeping Bharatha together and
for propagating Pan India sentiments.
But the real danger is, in this process the true history gets
distorted and we will be the ultimate losers as ever. These people have their
own vested interests in propagating this anti Aryan Invasion Theory to advocate
their own ends.
Their writings are in stark contrast to what ever is known in
real history and what ever is recorded in authoritative information bases such
as Encyclopaedia of Britannica . For example, in the Encyclopaedia of Britannica
a search on the word 'Agastya' discloses:
"The history of Tamil Nadu begins with the establishment of a
trinity of Tamil powers in the region--namely, the Chera, Chola, and Pandya
kingdoms. By about AD 200 the influence of northern Aryan powers had
progressed, and the Aryan sage Agastya had established himself as a cultural
There is no doubt this is an authentic record of real history.
To this day, we are reeling under this impact of our 'Aryan Cultural Heroes'.
These Aryan cultural heroes from the very beginning, have been
systematically destroying Dravidian culture by demeaning Dravidian culture and
We can see at the Tamil temples even the Tamil God - Lord Muruga
needs Sanskrit translators to interpret our pleas. It is unthinkable that the
ancient Tamils at their height of civilisation would have tolerated a foreign
language such as Sanskrit to converse with their gods. This is only a strange
phenomenon encountered in our contemporary Tamil life. The reason is, the Aryan
invasion is well entrenched and goes very deep into Tamil psyche.
The Tamils have been indoctrinated to believe that their
language is inferior (Neecha Pasai) to converse with the higher echelons such as
gods and only the Aryan language Sanskrit (Theva Pasai) is suitable for this
purpose. It was even drilled into them that the Vedic chants will have their
real power only if it is pronounced in chaste Sanskrit. Then of course, you need
the middle man or our famous Parpan (Brahmin) to do the translation for us. This
is when the rot or decline started for this ancient Dravidian civilisation. The
foreign Brahmins dominated in all our cultural spheres and brought the decline
of our civilisation.
The Aryan north Indians and Dravidian south Indians are
ethnically different by their culture , physical look and languages. There is no
escape from this simple truth. The only common thread is Hinduism. But even in
Hinduism there are lots of differences. For example, god Muruga is not worshiped
in North India. In fact, the warrior Tamil god Muruga may have been a later day
Tamilian answer to the North Indian warrior gods such as Rama.
There are also other historical evidences such as the following
piece of recorded history:
Rajendra Chola (reigned 1014-44) outdid Rajaraja's achievements
and sent (1023) an expedition to the north that penetrated to the Ganges River
and brought Ganges water to the new capital, Gangaikonacolapuram.
In Tamil historical records, it was recorded that Rajendra Chola
also captured two Aryan Kings and brought them back. So it can be seen that the
ancient Tamils themselves were calling these usurpers as Aryans who were very
different to them.
Even today, from the shrill cry emanating from the Aryan mass
media such as the Hindu, Indian Express, (Vaa-santhy? pugal) Front Line, India
Today, Ananda Vikatan, Kumutham, Cho Parpan's Thuglak, infact any publication
churned out by the Brahmin mass media Inc, including the TV programs are
vehemently against our National liberation struggle or anything good for
Tamilians is evidence of this great divide between the mainstream Tamilians and
the Aryan invaders even after a millennium.
Even today these Aryans adhere to their own tradition (or Pura
Nadai) while paying lip service to Tamil and it's culture. They are even ashamed
to have Tamil names and are very proud to Sankritize their own names such as the
famous Vaa-santhy instead of Vasanthy.
So it is my humble opinion that this section on Aryan Invasion
Theory was planted in your web site by these vested interests to gain
credibility and legitimacy ... It would be a great service for our
common cause if this Aryan Invasion Theory section could be removed from your
esteemed Tamil Nation web site. I have written this letter after carefully
thinking over this topic for years.
In addition, if these writers have any backbone they should
fight against and prove that their version is correct with the official
information bases such as Encyclopaedia of Britannica, Encarta etc, rather than
writing like this for our own local consumption.
Sam Sampanthar UK 29 December
A subversive thought -
Initially the ancient peoples all over the world worshipped various forces of
nature. By the time of the Upanishads it seems to me that most of the thinking
Rishis had come to the conclusion that there is in fact nothing beyond our
existence. However they were afraid to proclaim the truth indiscriminately to
everyone. They were aware that belief in the Law of Karma helped create an
orderly society. Just as a blind man needs a stick to help him walk so do most
people require some form of religious belief to get through life. Hence the
Rishis were prepared to reveal the truth only to those who were ready to receive
it. Time and time again you will see this refrain.
You must have heard of Chithambara Irahasiam- there is nothing
behind the curtain hiding the innermost sanctum! Sai Baba says I am God and so
are you. The only difference is that I know it and you do not.The implication
may be that there is nothing else.
Even today one hesitates to speak the truth.
It may be best to say that there is only One God but many paths
and mention the Law of Karma. The one difference between Hinduism and some of
the other religions is that Hinduism is only concerned with the salvation of the
self and not with saving of other souls. To that extent it is selfish.
Other religions have dedicated orders whose vocation is serving
the less fortunate or they demand that a certain percentage of ones income is
given to charity. Hindus spend vast sums building temples and installing images
in magnificent attire while ignoring the destitute as it is easy to assuage the
conscience saying that it is due to their Karma that they are in that state.
Less pomp and more charity may be in order and should be encouraged. In other
words Karma Yoga is the only acceptable path in the modern world.
Rajesh Rajappa, November 1999
I was very impressed with you site. After years of Aryan domination we have
tried to break out on our own (thanks to people like Periyar). Inspite of never
having been a part of any North Indian kingdom why should Tamil Nadu be a
part of the Indian Union. Is there any legal basis on which Tamil Nadu can ask
to be a separate country or is it legally impossible ?
Response from tamilnation:
Whilst it is true that Tamil Nadu was never a part of any North Indian kingdom,
there may be a need to revisit the whole
Aryan invasion theory. There is much that the Tamil people
share with their brothers and sisters of India. This is not simply a
'cultural' affinity - it has also something to do with the unifying influence of
the single Indian market.
Again, whilst Periyar's contribution to social reform and
anti-casteism are considerable, we may also need to ask
why it was that he failed in his demand for Dravida Nadu.
Support for the positive contributions that E.V.R. made in the area of social
reform and to rational thought, should not prevent an examination of where it
was that he went wrong.
As to the question of the legality of a demand for separation,
the short answer is that such a demand would violate the Indian Constitution. In
Sri Lanka too, the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam violates
Amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution. However, the comment of the
International Commission of Jurists in 1984 is of some relevance:
"The freedom to express political opinions, to seek to
persuade others of their merits, to seek to have them represented in
Parliament, and thereafter seek Parliament to give effect to them, are all
fundamental to democracy itself. These are precisely the freedoms which
Article 25 (of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights)
recognises and guarantees - and in respect of advocacy for the establishment
of an independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka, those which the 6th Amendment is
designed to outlaw. It therefore appears to me plain that this enactment
constitutes a clear violation by Sri Lanka of its obligations in
international law under the Covenant..." (Paul Sieghart: Sri Lanka-A
Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka in January
1984 on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and its British
Section, Justice, March 1984)
Again, the real political question may not be one of separation
or division but one of determining the terms on which different nations
may 'associate' with one another in equality and in freedom - and
this may be the issue that the 21st century may have to confront. The
growing togetherness of the Tamil people, is but a step in the growth of a
larger unity. The words of Sumantra Bose in
Reconceptualising State, Nation and Sovereignty merit attention:
"The clash between the ever-increasing clamour of claims to
nationhood and aspirations to sovereignty, on the one hand. and the
persistence, indeed consolidation, of visions of a monolithic, unitarian,
and indivisible statehood, on the other, certainly represents one of the
most striking contradictions, and one of the most fundamental moral and
ideological conflicts, of our times...
Demands for 'national selfdetermination' are in one sense, therefore, also a
struggle for a higher form of democracy....
The poetical and philosophical vision that is required today
has been eloquently articulated, ironically enough,
by radical Tamil nationalists ('chauvinists' and 'separatist terrorists',
according to the official wisdom), in l985: 'We know that in the end,
national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of
sovereignties, in a regional and ultimately in a world context. And we
recognise that our future lies with the peoples of the Indian region,
and that the path of a greater and larger union is the (eventual) direction
of that future....'"
V. Thangavelu, Canada 12
I have just read the
comments by Thiru Ramkumar Kothandaraman regarding
my observations on Kural vs the Geethai.
I can understand ... his attempt to dismiss my
criticism of Geethai as the "illusion of (those) who are brain washed" etc.
Well, it is the Brahmins (not all of them) who brain washed the Tamils into
believing they are Sudras – the fourth and the last caste created by god.
They were brainwashed to believe even that their own language Tamil
originated from Sanskrit. Tamil was called disparagingly as "neesha paashai"
while Sanskrit was reverently referred to as "deva paashai". How a language
supposed to be "deva paashai" became a dead language will remain a mystery!
To assert that the Geethai does not advocate
"Varnashram" is to hide a whole pumpskin in a plate of rice. I have in my
possession a dozen Tamil translations of the Geethai including that of
Bharathi and one copy in English by Swami Prabhananda and Christopher
Isherwood (1996 edition) . In Chapter 4 – Verse 13 this is what Krishna
(reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) says to Arjuna – (Translation from Bhagavad –
Gita – page 25)
"I created the four castes which corresponds
to the different types of Guna and Karma. I am their author; nonetheless you
must realise that I am beyond action and changeless."
In other words " Though I am the creator, know
Me to be incapable of action or change" - that is I cannot change the four
fold division of caste even if I wish....
Below is the original text in Sanskrit.
"Sathurvarnayam Maya Sirushdam Guna,
Karma Vipasaga Thasya Kartharamabi Mam Vithyakarthara, Mafvyayam " ( Chapter
4, Slokam 13 )
There are other slokams which promote this
caste system to absurd lengths. Krishna claims that "one cannot arbitrarily
assume the duties which belong to another caste". "Prefer to die doing your
own duty" exhorts Krishna. "The duty of another will bring you into great
spiritual danger". " Socially the caste system is graded; but spiritually
there are no such distinctions." " Everyone can attain the highest sainthood
only by following the prescribed path of his caste duty". "Doing of duty
honours the Devas"
Again Krishna claims that "in every age
when Dharmam declines and Adharmam raises its head I come to destroy the
evil and restore Dharmam" (Chapter 4 – Slokam 7) meaning the restoration of
the Sathurvarnayam (Sloka 8). The more than 4000 Hindu sub-castes are a
by-product of this Varnashrama Dharmam or more aptly Adharmam!
"Most contemporary Brahmins are more pragmatic
and liberal than Dravidian chauvinists..." asserts my friend.
This may or may not be true. But judging from
Brahmin chauvinists like "Thuklak Cho" the journalist,
N. Ram, editor of Frontline, Subramanian Swamy, the politician, Ms.
Jeyaram Jeyalalitha, the Aiyangar Tamil woman from Kannada – the Brahmins as
a social group are vehemently opposed to Tamil nationalism.
Not a single Brahmin owned journal (e.g. the
Hindu, Dinamani, Dinamalar, Kalki, Ananda Vikadan etc.) supports the
just struggle of the Tamil Eelam Tamils. This despite the fact that the
majority of Tamils are Hindus!
The Brahmin establishment feels threatened that
the rise of Tamil nationalism will destroy their claim for caste superiority
and social status. It was not for nothing that the Sudras were forbidden to
study the Vedas!
The Geethai unashamedly makes the claim that
women, vaishiyars and sudras were born out of the womb of sin (paapayoni)!
Even a protagonist of Geethai - like Swami Chinmayananda
could not stomach such blasphemous calumny though it came from the mouth of
a Divine Avathara. In the Geethai Commentary that he wrote (page 158
-Chennai 1979) he makes the comment -"Born out of the womb of sin
(Papayoniyah) – this term qualifying women, traders and workers, would be a
blasphemous calumny against a majority of mankind – an unpardonable crime,
even if the statement comes from the Divine mouth of a prophet."
This concept is diametrically opposed to the
lofty teachings of the
Kural. Valluvar refutes the central teaching of Geethai about birth and
declares that "All beings are the same in birth. But work decides their
varied worth" (Kural 972). Hence my contention is that unlike Thirukkural,
Geethai represents a value system fundamentally foreign to Tamil culture. At
this point I rest my case for the present.
Ramkumar Kothandaraman 21 June 1999
Thangavelu has directly attacked the Geetai and says that it preaches
something that is not preached by Thirukkural and goes on to repeat the usual
Dravidian rhetoric about Brahmins, Varnashram etc
… Most of us, who call ourselves proud Tamilians or
proud Hindus or proud Indians or proud Sri Lankans or whatever, and
who at the drop of the hat compare the
Geetai and the
probably have never completely read and understood the Geetai or the
Geeta has never talked about varnashram and it is actually an
illusion of (those) who are brainwashed to believe that the Geetai has some
elements of varnashram in it. The intent is to attack anything that is
associated with Brahmins. Most contemporary Brahmins are more pragmatic and
liberal than Dravidian chauvinists...
V.Thangavelu, Canada 29 May 1999
I find the
Gitai is being
quoted extensively to drive home the point that one has to do his duty and
not runaway from it. That is fine, but then the Gitai reinforces the varnachrama
'tharmam' and ipso facto the superiority of the Brahmin. It is the varnacharma
tharmam that has given birth to the 4000 or more castes in Tamil society.
The gospel of
clearly states that it is right conduct that determines ones status not birth.
I need not tell you that the Tamils lost their direction and became slaves of
the Brahmins after the Sangam period. The rot that started during and
immediately after the Sangam period continues to this day. If not for
Rev.Caldwell, Tamils would not have known that the Tamil language is "uyar thani
semmozhe' Should we then exalt Gitai at the expense of Thirukkural? Gitai
and Kural cannot co-exist.
21 March 1999
"As a Tamil from India, I have often
felt like a second rate citizen.
Tamil language and Tamil people do not count in the
affairs of India. Very often I feel that if Tamils all
over the world had a nation of their own, they would
preserve some of their dignity... How I wish the dream
comes true. Tamils must feel proud of their race and
culture. That is the first step towards a Tamil
nation. The days of Periyar and Anna have given way to
youth only interested in films and fun. How can we
instil in them a sense of pride for their race and
language and their nation."
For Tamils to yearn for an independent
Tamil state is natural. A sense of pride will grow in us
as a people, as we work together to translate that
yearning to political reality. A sense of pride will
grow as we surmount the differences amongst ourselves,
whether they be based on the accident of so called
'caste' or the district or province of our birth. Ram
Ravindran explored some of the issues in his
contribution titled "How
to build Tamil Pride" in November 1998.
The togetherness of the Tamil people is
growing togetherness. In the latter part of the
19th century, the work of
Swaminatha Aiyar and C.W.Thamotherampillai laid the
foundations for a Tamil renaissance.
Subramaniya Bharathy gave vibrant expression to the
togetherness of the Tamil people. His songs like
Senthamizh Nadu Ennum Pothinale and Yamarintha
Moligale.. continue to move Tamil minds and Tamil hearts
today. Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and Annadurai gave a social
and political impetus to this Tamil renaissance.
with his single minded determination and heroism is
fertilising the growing togetherness of more than
seventy million Tamil people, living in many lands and
across distant seas. Distress is binding the Tamil
people together and so bound, we are finding our
The Tamil cultural renaissance of the
second half of the 19th century, the rise of the Dravida
Tamil national movement of the first half of the 20th
century, and the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam are but
tributaries flowing into one river - the river of the
increasing togetherness of the Tamil people - and this
is a river that will not flow backwards.
What is a nation? Seton-Watson's words are
"The belief that
every state is a nation, or that all sovereign
states are national states, has done much to
obfuscate human understanding of political
realities. A state is a legal and political
organisation, with the power to require obedience
and loyalty from its citizens. A nation is a
community of people, whose members are bound
together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture,
a national consciousness... All that I can
find to say is that a nation exists
when a significant number of people in a community
consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as
if they formed one. It is not necessary that the
whole of the population should so feel, or so
behave, and it is not possible to lay down
dogmatically a minimum percentage of a population
which must be so affected. When a significant group
holds this belief, it possesses 'national
consciousness'." (Hugh Seton-Watson,
Professor of Russian History at the
School of Slavonic and East European Studies,
University of London, :
Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977)
Today, the Tamil people are
transtate nation of more than 70 million
people - a nation without a state. And we are engaged in
building that state. However, we are not chauvinists. We
do not say that we are 'better than' but that we are 'as
good as' and we say that we, too, have
contribution to make to world civilisation.
We do not deny the heritage that we
share with our brothers and sisters of India. We
recognise the compelling push towards inter-dependence
in an emerging post modern world. But true
inter-dependence will come only between equals. There
cannot be inter-dependence without independence. We need
to stand perpendicular before we can shake hands - and
associate with dignity. In the longer term, it is true
that the growth of nationalism will lead to a voluntary
pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately
in a world context - but, always, the crucial element
must remain the
of the process.
United Kingdom, November 1998
"I do not think the reference to 'Tamil Brahmins ' adds anything
to your brilliant response in
Ram! O Ram!. After all there may be some Brahmins who are sympathetic to the
cause. Why hurt their feelings? Attack the message not the messenger. You must
by now have read Ram's interviews in the Frontline.
Response from tamilnation
The matter you raise is an important one. Admittedly, the need to be
sensitive to the feelings of those who may continue to regard themselves as
Tamil Brahmins cannot be denied. The article
Ram! O Ram! was written in 1992, when the writer was six years younger and
that may partially (though, not totally) explain the somewhat combative
Having said that, there may be a continuing need to address the
question as to how to 'nurture the growing togetherness' of the Tamil people and
at the same time include those Tamils who continue to hold themselves out as
On the one hand, there is ofcourse, the need to recognise the
contributions made to Tamil language and literature by a host of Tamil Brahmins
Swaminatha Aiyar and
many others. On the other hand, the problem is that the Brahmin community is a
caste based community. Caste is rooted in birth. Unlike religion, it is not
simply a matter of belief. A Tamil may change his religion, but he may not
change his caste. Caste denies equality amongst the Tamil people. It has
served to divide the Tamil people - and it is often directed to keep them
divided, and it may be necessary to point this out, even though this may be
A Brahmin who is truly sympathetic to the Tamil cause may also
need to recognise that his caste identity is not relevant to the age in which we
live. There may be a need for more 'Tamil Brahmins' to follow in the
illustrious foot steps of
Bharathy who was born of Brahmin parents.
It is no accident that it
was Periyar E.V. Ramasamy’s
Suya Mariyathai Iyakkam,
with its goal of abolishing casteism, that laid the foundation for the growth of
Tamil nationalism through the Dravida Kalagam and later the DMK, the AIDMK and
Again, that is not to say that
EVR's anti-Brahmin movement itself did not have its shortcomings. For one
thing it tended to ignore the many caste differences that existed among the
non-Brahmin Tamils and failed to effectively address the oppression practised by
one non-Brahmin caste on another non-Brahmin caste. For another,
E.V.R extended his attack on casteism to an attack on Hinduism - and indeed to
all religions as well. Periyar E.V.Ramasamy threw out the Hindu child with the
Brahmin bath water. One consequence of EVR’s atheism was that spirituality in
Tamil Nadu came to be exploited as the special preserve of those who were
opposed to the growth of Tamil nationalism.
the struggle for Tamil Eelam
led by the
Liberation Tigers has
taken the attack on casteism further and has helped to eradicate, to a
large extent, caste based divisions in the north and east of the island of Sri
Much more, ofcourse, needs to be done.
reflections on how to build Tamil pride are not without relevance:
"It is my feeling that people do certain things deliberately
to perpetuate the casteism.
When everyone learns
standard Tamil, why perpetuate caste Tamil. Is it like the black English
spoken in America? Why wear clothes in a certain way for no reason except to
declare one's caste?
Why do different caste groups.... avoid eating
certain kinds of food (whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian) and tell the
kids that a certain group has to eat certain food and so forth?.....
The Bhavad Gita says that to a self-realised man a Brahmin,
an elephant rider, a dog, and a dog eater all are the same - there is a part
of Brahman in all of them. Why not practice it. Just imagine the impact if
the Chief Minister or Shri Shankaracharya, if Rajnikanth or Simran or the
local MLA would go to a place where there is a two glass tea-shop and would
take tea from the untouchable tea glass (after all even THAT glass is sipped
from just like the OTHER glass too) a cup of tea and have it video
broadcasted. What an impact it would have, just imagine! ..."
A Brahmin, who in this day and age, continues to hold himself
out as a Brahmin also sends a message. The message is that to him, caste
divisions matter and caste interests matter - and in this way, the messenger
merges with the message. The article Ram! O Ram! was written, in response to an
interview by Mr.Ram in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island, which
introduced him as 'a scion of the Kasturi Ranga Iyengar
family’. This was seventy five years after
Subramanya Bharathy had sung:
It would seem that Mr.Ram's recent interview with President
Chandrika Kumaratunga continues a project he started with Sri Lanka
Minister, Gamini Dissanayake in 1987 and the
Indo Sri Lanka Accord. Today, his language may be different from that which
he used in his 1992 interview in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Island (when he
declared that "Tamil Eelam is a pipe dream") - but no one will
accuse Mr.Ram of being inconsistent. Six years after the 1992 interview, the
message and the messenger remain the same - and one cannot escape the feeling
that the real need may be for those who hold themselves out as 'Tamil
Brahmins' to be more sensitive to the feelings of the people of Tamil Eelam,
who are struggling to free themselves from alien rule.
in 1997 on Tamil, Brahmins, & Sanskrit " ....here
are some facts: 1. Brahmins are only 2% of the population,
yet they have contributed much more to Tamil literature than their number
2. The purest (i.e. least Sanskritized) Tamil was written by
the medieval Saiva Brahmin commentators on Tamil. For example, Parimelazakar
translates the yoga asanas into Tamil, and the only way anyone can figure
out what he is saying is to read the sub commentary (by
Gopalakrishnamachari), who gives the original Sanskrit terms. You will find
no Tamil any purer than that of Naccinarkkiniyar et al.
3. Brahmins have contributed to Tamil from Sangam times.
Kapilar is one of the greatest Tamil poets.
4. Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own political
agenda to push. They have been responsible for many things that I feel are
entirely unconscionable. But is this any different from the other high
castes? I have heard many many stories of high non-Brahmin castes
killing and abusing Dalits. You can't blame the Brahmins for this. In fact,
the most pernicious example of the caste system was in the Tamil areas of
Sri Lanka, where there are virtually no Brahmins and never have been.
5. You cannot blame the Brahmins for Sanskritizing Tamil.
Tenkalai Aiyengars often use Tamil words where most non-Brahmins use
Sanskrit ones. The Sanskrtization of Tamil is a very old process and cannot
be understood except in an all-South-Asian context. The Bengali used in
Bangladesh is highly Sanskritized, and the Muslims are quite proud of their
The fact is, Sanskrit was the lingua franca of South
Asia for intellectual purposes, much as Latin was in Europe. Buddhists
used it, Jains used it, much as Spinoza, a Jew, wrote his philosophical
treatises in Latin. The Tamil of Ramalinga Swamigal, a non-Brahmin, is
6. Sanskrit and Tamil are part of the same intellectual and
literary tradition. The fact is, Sanskrit literature owes an enormous amount
to Dravidian -- much of its syntax, its literary conventions, vocabulary.
When we come to the great kavya of Sanskrit (e.g. Kalidasa), it is
definitely part of the same stream as Tamil literature, just as French,
English and German belong to a Western European literary tradition. This is
even true of Sangam literature -- it is clearly of the same cultural
tradition as, say, the Sanskrit Mahabharata.
7. Tamil is richer because it has many styles. It is the only
Indian language that has a pure, unsanskritized style (well, there is a pure
Telugu, called accu telugu, which was cultivated mainly by Brahmins). This
style is very rich, no doubt. But Tamil has innumerable other styles -- many
dialects, a highly Sanskritized style, a style with many English words, etc.
etc. All of these add to the richness and expressiveness of the language --
why impoverish the language by removing its resources?
8. ... a personal note from an outsider. Tamil culture has
not suffered because of one group.
It has suffered because of the caste system and
because of its treatment of women... Let's promote inter caste marriage,
rid of dowry and give women independence and self-respect, and above
all, let's avoid a victimization complex which only plays into the hands of
those who have a vested interest in continuing the inequities that exist in
If every Brahmin were to disappear
from Tamilnad, the Dalits and others who are exploited would benefited not
9. Please note that I am
not pro- or anti-Brahmin. I am acutely aware of the negative role Sanskrit
has played in the development of the Indian regional languages. Indeed, A.
K. Ramanujan, a Brahmin, once told me that the worst things that ever
happened to South India were Sanskrit and English. A slavish devotion to
Sanskrit has had a negative effect on Tamil and, even more so, on other
South Indian languages. But we cannot change the past. There is nothing
inherently good or bad in a word, whatever its origin, so long as it has
been adopted for general use in a language. What is bad -- and what I
deplore -- is the mindless assumption that Sanskrit is somehow superior. It
is not. Indeed, Sanskrit is a very limited language, because it has no
spoken substratum. But where Sanskrit words have come into common usage in
South India, they have acquired broad connotative powers that enhance the
spoken languages that have borrowed them (much like Latin and French words
It is insulting to Tamil to claim that the language
cannot borrow words without being corrupted.
Tamil has a long, powerful tradition, and
is a very rich language. Judicious borrowing can only enhance, not spoil