The event, featuring addresses by Members of Parliament, academics, journalists and student activists, covered the legacy of Periyar and the Dravidian movement, the challenges of casteism and lack of representation of marginalised sections of the society in education, federalism and the menace of majoritarian politics.
LAST Saturday, two developments took place at an event which may turn out to be historic in the political calendar of India. One, the event witnessed the launch of more than 50 books on social activist and politician Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, popular as Periyar, one of the leading proponents of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, translated into English. Two, the event saw the birth of a new student political organisation, the Students Federation of Dravidians (SFD).
The event was organised and coordinated by the Tamil students fraternity in Delhi at the Constitution Club of India. It is a movement touted to be for the welfare of students from the Dravidian (Scheduled Tribe/Scheduled Caste/Other Backward Class/Minorities/LGBTQ) communities in academic spaces. Two leaders of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Dr D.N.V. Senthil Kumar S., member of the Lok Sabha and M.M. Abdullah, member of the Rajya Sabha, attended the two sessions of the event as chief guests.
The event consisted of two panel discussions followed by the launch of the books.
First panel discussion
The first panel discussion was chaired by Dr Senthil Kumar and included Dr Shephalika Shekhar, Assistant Professor, BNMV College, Bihar; Tamil Nazar, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Nahala, Joint Secretary, Fraternity Movement Delhi University (DU); Athi Asuran, writer and publisher, Kaattaaru Magazine; Fathima Bathool, President, Muslim Students’ Federation, DU; Naresh Kumar, All India Students Association, JNU; Jahanvi Sodha, Founding Member, We The Women of India and Member, National Students Union of India, JNU; Elaiyakumar R., Research Scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia; and Yogendra Kumar, Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association.
The opening remarks were given by Elaiyakumar, who spoke about the attack on Nazar by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) at JNU. He highlighted the caste-based discrimination that exists in higher educational institutions which leads to the systematic denial of education to students from the marginalised communities. He also talked about the aims and objectives of the SFD, which includes representation of marginalised communities, establishing gender-neutral hostels for students, equality for all political organisations in university spaces, and ensuring proportional representation of all communities.
Dr Shephalika Shekhar said that one cannot understand Periyar without speaking of the Dravidian movement and culture.
Nazar talked about the attack on him by the ABVP and how the timely tweet by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M.K. Stalin helped their voices to be heard across the country and gather support. He thanked the speedy intervention and support of Dr Senthil Kumar and Tiruchy Siva, Rajya Sabha MP from DMK, in the JNU campus immediately after the incident.
Dr Shekhar said that one cannot understand Periyar without speaking of the Dravidian movement and culture. She traced the very beginning and history of the Dravidian movement and its core value system of preservation as opposed to conflict. She said that Dravidian culture must be understood from the works of Periyar, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, and social reformer and educationist Savitribai Phule. She reminded the gathering of the J.P. movement, Mandal I and Mandal II, the struggle for caste-based reservations in India, and the continuing resistance to the casteism that has permeated into every sphere of India’s society.
Yogendra Kumar spoke about the shrewd strategy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to identify and encourage specific communities that are ignored by majoritarian political parties in order to increase their vote share in elections. He also spoke about the fallacies in the critiques of the politics of identity where a person who is shamed for their identity throughout their life is also blamed for doing “identity politics” if they assert their rights through the same identity.
Bathool talked about the political empowerment of a society through students and the significance of including youth in the process of political decision-making. She stressed on the importance of remaining committed to the ideas of social justice and human rights.
Nahala, in her speech, mentioned how casteism prevents people from attaining equity and a socio-economic equilibrium. She asserted that hate is spread through media that is indirectly funded by the BJP through movies like RRR, The Kashmir Files, and The Kerala Story.
Sodha talked about how higher educational institutions remain underfunded despite India being one of the five largest economies in the world. She mentioned the current scenario is the exact opposite of the recommendations made by the University Education Commission, led by doctor, philosopher and statesman S. Radhakrishnan in 1950 and the National Education Commission, led by scientist and educationist Dr D.S. Kothari, in 1966, both of which asked the State to fund the educational institutions and not to intervene in their activities.
Asuran spoke about the need of the hour to unite all non-Brahmin students in all the education institutions across the country. He also talked about the universality of the Dravidian Movement and how the same applies to the SFD.
Dr Senthil Kumar stressed on the need to disseminate the Dravidian ideology beyond southern India. He said that student organisations are the most powerful organisations in the world, and stated that now is the right time to launch the SFD, especially after the brutal attack on the students at JNU, and the destruction of photos of Periyar, Karl Marx and Dr Ambedkar by members of the ABVP. He said that the ABVP attacks and instigates Tamil students at the JNU campus to instil fear in the minds of the students and their parents, which in turn would reduce the influx of more Tamil students into the campus.
According to him, the ABVP resorts to violent methods since it is aware that it cannot win through its ideology and principles. He stressed on the importance of education, and averred that the methods resorted to by the ABVP are nothing but an attempt to take away education from marginalised communities. He asked the students to voice out against oppression and fight it back. “Dravidian movement simply means inclusive growth for all,” he emphasised.
He briefly talked about the history of the Justice Party, a pre-independence political party which united a bunch of not so like-minded people such as the politicians and Dravidian activists Dr T.M Nair and Dr C. Natesa Mudaliar, and lawyer, industrialist and political activist Sir Pitti Theagaraya Chetty against the domination of Brahmins in educational institutions. He talked about the first reservation policy that was brought by the Justice Party in 1927, and how it was struck down by the Madras High Court in 1950.
Athi Asuran spoke about the need of the hour to unite all non-Brahmin students in all the education institutions across the country.
He further referred to how Periyar’s undying protests to make reservation compulsory in educational institutions resulted in the first Constitutional amendment in 1951. He talked about the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, writer and politician Dr M. Karunanidhi’s interpretation of the principles of the Dravidian movement into a sustainable and working model through his welfare schemes. Calling the term ‘freebies’ a misnomer for social welfare schemes, he talked about how Dr Karunanidhi made it possible to provide electricity free of cost to all villages in Tamil Nadu. He described how the welfare schemes of the Dravidian movement benefited women at large in Tamil Nadu by citing the distribution of free gas stoves to families. This especially contributed in supporting women to finish their cooking faster and then to attend education/work outside the kitchen, he averred.
He asserted that it was under the leadership of Dr Karunanidhi that a law was enacted in 1989 granting women property rights for the first time in the country. He also spoke about the policy decision of the current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin to run free buses for women, which reduced the financial burden of women and enabled them to save almost ₹ 1,500 per month. He also mentioned the state scheme by which women who studied in government schools from classes VI to XII are given a stipend of ₹ 1,000 every month during their college courses. The culmination of all these welfare schemes is that in an average domestic household, the man asks for money from the woman, said Dr Senthil Kumar candidly.
He said that 99 percent of the population of Tamil Nadu is theist, and has faith in God, yet the same population reveres and holds Periyar dear. Because Periyar’s ideologies and principles are vast, he has given us the choice to choose whichever suits us the best and reject the rest. He encouraged the students, and said that the best way to deal with their opponents is to kill them with their success and bury them with their smile.
Naresh Kumar gave the closing remarks of the panel.
Second panel discussion
The second panel was chaired by Abdulla. The other speakers in the panel were Priyanka Bharti, research scholar and General Secretary, Chhatra Rajad, JNU; Sumit Chauhan, anti-caste journalist and founding editor of The Shudra and The News Beak; Meena Kotwal, journalist and founding editor of the Mooknayak; Karunanidhy G., General Secretary, All India Other Backward Classes (OBC) Employees Federation; and Kayalvizhi J., research scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Abdulla contended in his speech that in order to start a movement, there was no need for a large gathering. Like Christianity, a powerful movement can begin with just one single person. Periyar died over five decades ago and yet he is still relevant in the Indian political scenario. The Indian political scenario, Abdulla said, can be categorised into two broad heads — Brahminism and anti-Brahminism. While Brahminism, as an ideology and practice consists of imperialism and inequality, anti-Brahminism is the ideology that opposes inequality, oppression and exploitation. Abdulla asserted that this struggle for equality through anti-Brahminism is the very basic principle of the Dravidian movement.
Further, Abdullah provided a short review of the timeline of the Dravidian movement, from the founding of the Justice Party in 1916 which followed various movements that translated ideas of social justice to welfare policies of the Tamil Nadu government. Abdulla addressed the issue of resisting Hindi language by Tamilians and said that the Dravidian ideology had no opposition or disregard for the Hindi language; it is only a forceful imposition of Hindi that Dravidians resist.
M.M. Abdulla insisted that it is an imperative quality of every evolved individual to question irrational and unscientific ideas and practices.
Abdulla insisted that it is an imperative quality of every evolved individual to question irrational and unscientific ideas and practices. He quoted Periyar to insist that any opposition to science is only a revelation of lies. “Under this current Union government, social justice has come under threat in the country. Reservation for OBC communities remains only on paper,”said Abdulla. He spoke about the democratic ideals of Periyar, and how he encouraged debates and discussions with every sphere of the society. He stressed on the need for democratic spaces and debates between all ideologies in the current political scenario. Abdulla concluded his speech by citing the difference between unity and uniformity, and said that the Dravidian movement always sided with the former and not the latter.
Kotwal spoke about the inherent casteism in the media that she, as a journalist, had faced first-hand. She said that even today, there is not a single Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Adivasi editor in any mainstream media outlet in India. Even the media outlets that have certain Bahujan representation, have less women from Bahujan communities, she pointed out. Therefore, as it was imperative that women from oppressed communities lead Indian media, Kotwal said that she started her media organisation, Mooknayak. Mooknayak, she said, aims to cover stories of caste-based oppression in the interior-most parts of India, where the mainstream media does not reach. All those who believe in humanity, believe in Periyar, Kotwal said.
Chauhan recollected his days at Delhi University and said that SFD shall be the home for all progressive students. He referred to the legacy of Periyar as a reformist, a Dalit-rights activist, and also as a journalist who wrote for various magazines and was even jailed for his editorials. Chauhan referred to the non-Brahmin manifesto and reasserted the fight for representation for Bahujans in India. He insisted that the Dravidian model of development was a far more sustainable form of governance than any other divisive method.
Bharti also hailed the legacy of Periyar, Dr Ambedakar and Savitribhai Phule, which was primarily focussed upon the liberation and equality of women in Indian society.
Karunanidhy elaborated on the political ideology of the DMK and its two notable works — the The Non Brahmin Manifesto (1916) and the State Autonomy Resolution (1974). He spoke about how there was no clause for reservation in Articles 217 and 224 of the Constitution, which provide for the appointment of high court judges. He mentioned how Article 309, read with Articles 233 and 234 of the Constitution allowed the state governments to frame rules regarding appointment of district judges, and also provided for the reservation of judges in the district and subordinate judiciary.
Karunanidhy G. underlined that there was no clause for reservation in Articles 217 and 224 of the Constitution, which provide for the appointment of high court judges.
He said that as per the statistics provided by the Union Law Minister, out of the 569 judges appointed in all the high courts of India since 2018, only 18.4 per cent belong to the OBC/minority/SC/ST communities. Upper caste judges form at least 78 per cent of all the high court judges appointed since 2018. Yet, in the judiciary of Tamil Nadu, due to the implementation of reservation in appointment, 58 judges belong to the OBC/Minority/SC/ST category, which includes the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, which is contrary to the rest of India. This, he said, is the demonstration of the vision of equality and non-Brahminical ideology of the Dravidian model.
He talked about the importance of federalism, and how Dr. Karunanindhi formed the Centre-State Relations Inquiry Committee, led by politician and judge Dr P.V.R. Rajamannar, in 1971 to study Centre–state relations and the urgent need to implement the recommendations made by the committee. “All state governments should have adequate powers to ensure social justice so that equality can prevail in the country,”concluded Karunanidhy.
The concluding remarks were delivered by Kayalvizhi.
The event marked the introduction of 50 books on Periyar translated into English and published by the Dravidar Kazhagam social movement. The English translations of The Non-Brahmin Manifesto and the State Autonomy Resolution published by D-Stock Publications were also introduced at the event. The event also saw the launch of Resolutions of Periyar EVR published by Kaattaaru Publications.