‘Language, Race And Nationality’

Recent Discourses on Tamil Nationalism

Solomon Victus

Seeman, a Tamil film director started Nam Thamilar Katchi (NTK -We Tamils Party), basically a state level political party in 2009 with a primary objective of Tamil nationalism. NTK had triggered the question,who the Dravidian and Tamilian are. He claims that ‘we are Tamils by language, race and nationality’ and thus he takes an opposite position of earlier leaders like Annadurai and Karunanithi. Although he came through the ideological paths of DK and DMK memberships, he restarted the party NTK by picking up from the name earlier used by Adithanar. His party is basically formed with a combination of followers of V Prabhaharan and fans of Seeman. However Seeman has been sympathetic with AIADMK and Brahmin leadership while opposing Dravidian ideology and so his credibility on Tamil nationalism is under fire frequently.

One of the major drawbacks of Seeman’s policies is too idealistic in his political approach, especially his belief in overnight radical changes with an authoritative tone which are very appealing to the youngsters. Another drawback is about next level democratic leadership issue; it is still vague and ambiguous over the plausibility of his team working along with Indian federal system. In the name of opposing Dravidian rules in Tamil Nadu, particularly DMK, Seeman falls on the side of Hindu nationalism indirectly. One of the strong critiques on the political approach of Seeman is what would be the consequence of anti-Dravidian political position in Tamil Nadu if one goes on with the ideals of Tamil nationalism. The significant question is how far it is possible to set aside easily all the achievements made by Dravidian parties in the path of social justice overnight?

For Maniyarasan, the primary objective of Tamil Nationalism is redemption of sovereignty of the Tamil nation, fighting for land and language rights and fighting against Aryan as well as Brahmin-Vaisiya dominance and monopolist national parties in India. For him, India is not at all one nation but union of states and so Hindi cannot be the national language. He is seriously demanding the state for exclusion and expulsion of non-Tamils, especially Hindi speaking people from Tamil Nadu. They define that those who settled before November 1, 1956 and their successors could be accepted as insiders, and the rest of them can work and earn in Tamil Nadu but cannot claim to be candidates for the political leadership. He defines that all those who speak Tamil language, including Brahmins, who live for one or two generations in Tamil Nadu could be treated as Tamils. He cites examples from Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra States where no outsiders are allowed to become chief minister but can become member of the State Assembly. And so persons with ‘pure’ Tamil origin are to be permitted to rule the land. The questions and arguments continue whether it is justifiable to exclude Adi-Tamils under Tamil nationalism while including Aryan Brahmins.

Persons like Pazha Nedumaran, Trichy Veluchamy and Thirumurugan Gandhi are strong supporters of Tamil Nationalism ideology in Sri Lanka as well as in Tamil Nadu. Now they currently argue that the murder case of Rajiv Gandhi was a result of a mysterious international conspiracy, and it has nothing to do with LTTE. Pazha Nedumaran holds the view that majority nationalists like Tamils in Tamil Nadu must patronise minority nationalists because those people like Malayalis, Telugus and Sourastrians had been living in Tamil Nadu and contributing to the state for centuries. It is not fair to plan sending them out with an exclusive attitude. He argues that early Tamil poets and pundits were involved in producing classic literature with a global perspective. And therefore Tamil nationalism must have a broader perspective. He maintains that Tamil nationalism could survive in the long run only if it is inclusive in nature.

Thirumurugan Gandhi is of the view that one cannot talk of Tamil nationalism by ignoring Velupillai Prabhaharan and E V R Periyar. According to the assessment of Thirumurugan Gandhi, the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Thol Thirumavalavan takes a position of leftist Tamil nationalism since he accommodates B R Ambedkar, V Prabhaharan and EVR Periyar fairly. Having seen through the recent perception on Tamil nationalism and its strategies Thol Thirumavalavan has recently come to the conclusion that Tamil nationalism is no more a realisable project based on language identity politics in Tamil Nadu. He is for a broader secular national unity rather than limiting issues in language in Tamil Nadu. Founder of Tamil Nadu Green Party (Pasumai Thamilagam), S P Udayakumar takes a balanced position on those pioneering personalities along with serious ecological issues and sustainable development. All of them look sympathetically at the issue of new migrants from northern India but they are looking for a political guarantee from the state giving priority to the local workers. Parisalan, a strong proponent of the Tamil nationalism, is of the opinion that B R Ambedkar cannot be helpful to ethnic nationalities but only to Indian nationalism. For him Ambedkar was the one who strongly denied the Aryan invasion event and was in favour of Indian nationalism, and therefore Ambedkar cannot be helpful for Tamil nationalism. In the same tone Parisalan is opposing E V R Periyar’s legacy for he was a strong critic of the Tamil language. Does the Tamil Nationalism emphasise an extended Tamil Nadu, or sovereignty of the Tamils within the federal context of India? However, most Tamils feel that the sovereignty of Tamil Nadu must be maintained without compromise. The beauty of the Tamil Nationalists is that they are for secular democratic non-violent approaches, but in course of time this will definitely provoke people to indulge in hatred and violence.

 Labour scarcity in Tamil Nadu has been a serious issue in recent decades for hard work like agriculture, construction industry, restaurants, brick kilns, menial jobs like septic waste clearance, etc., and so it has become an economic necessity to bring labourers from outside. The situation is so bad that no industry, either formal or informal, could survive in Tamil Nadu today without northern migrant workers. As usual, the new labour force is willing to accept cheaper wages, long hours of work and less holidays as long as the local Tamil labour force is scarce. Since trade union activities are strictly forbidden in the name of neo-liberal industrial policy and ‘industrial peace’ there is no space for bargaining for their own wages and welfare. Compared with the northern migrant workers, Tamil labourers prefer more decent jobs and demand higher wages and other welfare measures with the employers, and so the employers prefer to bring in non-demanding labourers to their industries. The state experiences huge inflows of north Indians into Tamil Nadu. New recruits of higher-level officials, especially from the Union Government, also control banks, postal and railways and try to speak in Hindi with the local Tamil customers. Recently one of the TATA group industries in Hosur attracted one full train of labourers from north India, while many of the local qualified Tamils are jobless.

As long as no local person is in the queue for employment, Tamil nationalism is not an issue. The crisis becomes very sensitive while skilled people are locally unemployed and the outsiders are appointed who know neither Tamil nor English language. These northern workers are almost like bonded labourers in the hands of south Indian agents or middlemen who keep all of their basic documents of identity, controlling them with their commission demands. In many places the illegal sale of narcotic drugs, murder, thefts and violent attacks on Tamils are also witnessed. Anger of the locals is fanned by the political parties which profit out of these immigrants. Most of the hard-core Tamils are worried and it is almost seen as if Hindu nationalism is taking over Tamil nationalism. Moreover, Tamils have felt that the rights of Tamils are slowly and silently robbed away by the current Union Government and that many job opportunities, including their government jobs, are offered to the non-Tamils. The BJP is planning to make use of the Tamil nationalist sentiments for their political gains with the help of a communal riot.

Although anger of Tamils has some valid reasons, their reaction is perhaps unjustifiable. Fundamentally the Tamils must realise that they themselves were migrants in different states and countries and suffered a lot although they were sincerely contributing to the local places. There are so many cases one can cite in the past and present. What is hidden in this process is the reality of many northern workers who have already undergone a situation of penury without any jobs and are willing to accept any labour conditions. Instead of asking why they have come here one must know how they are forced to opt for cheap labour. The Tamils need to know what the real issue is behind this. Whereas these labourers who come for survival from all directions are willing to take the hard and menial jobs in Tamil Nadu that local Tamil labourers do not wish to do. If the Tamils fail to distinguish the labouring sector from the capital investment sectors, the anger of Tamils will have bad consequences on the future economy and on helping communal forces. What is necessary is to have worker-worker solidarity in sharing the job opportunities as well as in gaining bargaining power with the employers.

 Tamil Nadu has been known as a state in the forefront of consistently opposing neo-Aryanism, Brahminism, Hindi imposition, mono-culturalisation and fascism. That was the reason why Rahul Gandhi recently made an open statement in the Parliament to the BJP government, ‘You will never, ever win over the people of Tamil Nadu.’ Since Tamil Nadu proves to be industrially one of the well-developed states with a fairly good infrastructure, many north Indians are migrating to Tamil Nadu for job opportunities. Therefore a strong resentment has developed against the pro-Hindutva parties which are encouraging mass migration into Tamil Nadu. Right wing Hindutva parties and their allies in Tamil Nadu are silent over these immigration policies. Hindi is not a native language of any of the states of India, and no state is formed on the basis of Hindi either. The Hindi belt people speak about Hindu nationalism since there is no plausibility of claiming Hindi Nationalism in India. The BJP as well as the RSS have always opposed states based on language but are in favour of creating 100 Jan Parishads and ruling from New Delhi which could spell disaster for the regional cultures and languages in India.

Nevertheless there are many allegations about the existence of pseudo-Tamil Nationalist groups in Tamil Nadu, and each one blames the others. There are confusions and ambiguities in defining who are the Tamilians and Dravidians and who are the outsiders? Who is genuine Tamil? How do people measure the purity and quality of ethnicity, and what could be the criteria? Can one identify an ethnic group by language alone? Kerala, Mumbai and Sri Lanka are also witnesses of these problems in different ways. States like Maharashtra and Telangana have already legally restricted the movements of the immigration of neighbours into their states. And voting rights and ration cards should not be issued to the outsiders but must be discouraged with special Inner Line Permits like in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

A pertinent question which arises here is why are the common people running for job opportunities from BJP-ruled ‘Gujarat Model’ states to non-BJP ruled ‘Dravidian Model’ states? Infrastructure-wise most of the BJP-ruled north Indian states are still very weak. They are unable to attract investment from outside due to political uncertainties, violence, communal and hate feelings, etc. It is a puzzling question whether the BJP is encouraging such unemployed people to make use of the labour situation in Tamil Nadu and consolidating non-Tamil votes to BJP.

 Could one rightly brand these Tamil nationalist movements as communal or unprogressive under the Indian constitutional framework? For one thing Tamils are in general neither narrow-minded nor against the Indian Constitution. But whenever domination and oppression come in any form they wake up and protest. As far as history goes, the Tamils have always been inclusive, tolerant and accommodating, but recent developments in the socio-economic situation and right-wing political ideologies and identity politics of parties in Tamil Nadu have made them to rethink their position. One must remember that the neo-liberal market economy of global capitalism is able to survive efficiently by using religion, language and culture and by fanning communal feeling, uneven growth and thus new identity crises everywhere.

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Vol 56, No. 16, Oct 15 - 21, 2023