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Issue #2: The Dravidian Movement

India Ink
Issue #2: The Dravidian Movement
By India Ink Team • Issue #2 • View online
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With the Tamil Nadu elections coming up, there’s always a discussion about Dravidian politics and the current state of the Dravidian movement. At the time of Periyar and the Self-Respect Movement, Dravidian politics was radical and promised freedom from oppression for so many different groups. Today, the situation feels very different. Based on a 1994 by MSS Pandian, we look at the roots of the Dravidian movement as a campaign by elites. And how Periyar transformed it into mass, popular movement. His ideas are still relevant today.
Hope you have a good Sunday!
The India Ink Team

Before Periyar, the Dravidian movement was just elites fighting elites
1. At the end of the 19th century, the British-controlled regions of South India were dominated by Brahmins (both politically and socially) even though they were a tiny minority.
2. These powerful Brahmins mostly identified themselves with English and Sanskrit while looking down on Tamil language and culture.
3. The origins of the Dravidian Movement can be traced back to an ideology created by “a tiny group of highly educated and capable Vellalas” in the early 19th century.
4. Maraimalai Adigal was one of the last famous Vellala thinkers to shape Dravidian thought. He claimed that in ancient Tamil society, Vellalas were the most advanced community because they were cultivators and followers of Saivism. To him, Brahmin culture was uncivilised.
5. Based on this understanding of history, Adigal then articulated a new vision of society that dethroned Brahmins, putting Vellalas at the top instead. Essentially, he replaced the Brahmin caste system with a new Vellala “caste-like” system.
6. So this early Dravidian ideology was just about deciding who should be the real elites – until the arrival of the Self Respect Movement in the 1920s. At first, the two worked together to attack Brahminism. But that quickly changed when Periyar, began to attack all of Hinduism – including Saivism followed by Vellalas.
7. Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement took the original selfish vision of Dravidian politics and turned it into a real mass movement that fought against many kinds of oppression. His philosophy of rationality and freedom always looked towards the future and would come to shape Tamil politics for decades.

You can zoom into each point and learn more by going to our website below!
Before Periyar, the Dravidian movement was just elites fighting elites
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India Ink Team

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