Tamil nationalism

Tamil nationalism

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Dravidian politics

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Distribution of Tamil speakers in South India and Sri Lanka (1961).

Tamil nationalism has developed among the Tamils of both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. It expresses itself in the form of linguistic purism ("Pure Tamil"), of irredentism ("Dravida Nadu"), and of Anti-Brahminism ("Self-Respect Movement"). Tamil irredentism in Sri Lanka (Tamil Eelam) was the casus belli of the Sri Lankan Civil War of 1983 to 2009. In the Republic of India, Tamil irredentism led to the anti-Hindi agitation during the 1960s.


Linguistic purism


In late 1964, an attempt was made to expressly provide for an end to the use of English, but it was met with protests. Some of these protests also turned violent.[1] As a result, the proposal was dropped,[2][3] and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament.[4] The exact extent to which, and the areas in which, the Union government uses Hindi and English, respectively, is determined by the provisions of the Constitution, the Official Languages Act, 1963, the Official Languages Rules, 1976, and statutory instruments made by the Department of Official Language under these laws.

Four states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan[5]- have been granted the right to conduct proceedings in their High Courts in their official language, which, for all of them, was Hindi. However, the only non-Hindi state to seek a similar power - Tamil Nadu, which sought the right to conduct proceedings in Tamil in its High Court - had its application rejected by the central government earlier, which said it was advised to do so by the Supreme Court.[6] In 2006, the law ministry said that it would not object to Tamil Nadu state's desire to conduct Madras High Court proceedings in Tamil.[7][8][9][10][11] In 2010, the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court allowed lawyers to argue cases in Tamil..[12].

Basis in pre-modern literature

Although nationalism itself is a modern phenomenon, the expression of linguistic identity found in the modern Pure Tamil movement has pre-modern antecedents, in a "loyalty to Tamil" (as opposed to Sanskrit) visible in ancient Sangam literature.[13] The poems of Sangam literature imply a consciousness of independence or separateness from neighbouring regions, which is significantly stronger than suggested by the archaeological evidence as to the material culture of the Tamil region.[14] Similarly, Silappadhikaaram, a post-Sangam epic, posits a cultural integrity for the entire Tamil region[15] and has been interpreted by Parthasarathy as presenting "an expansive vision of the Tamil imperium" which "speaks for all Tamils."[16] Subrahmanian sees in the epic the first expression of Tamil nationalism,[15] while Parthasarathy says that the epic shows "the beginnings of Tamil separatism."[17]

Medieval Tamil texts also demonstrate features of modern Tamil linguistic purism, most notably the claim of parity of status with Sanskrit which was traditionally seen in the rest of the Indian subcontinent as being a prestigious, trans-local language. Texts on prosody and poetics such as the 10th century Yaapparungalakkaarihai and the 11th century Veerasoazhiyam, for example, treat Tamil as the equal of Sanskrit in terms of literary prestige, and use the rhetorical device of describing Tamil as a beautiful young lady and as a pure, divine language[18] both of which are also central in modern Tamil nationalism.[19] Vaishnavite[20] and Shaivite[21] commentators took the claim of divinity one step further, claiming for Tamil a liturgical status, and seeking to endow Tamil texts with the status of a "fifth Veda."[22] Vaishnavite commentators such as Nanjiyar went one step further, declaring that people who were not Tamil lamented the fact that they were not born in a place where such a wonderful language was spoken.[23] This trend was not universal, and there were also authors who sought to argue and work against Tamil distinctiveness through, amongst other things, Sanskritisation.[24]

Dravidian identity

An official signboard in Tamil Nadu, which praises the Tamil language

Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu developed a Dravidian identity (as opposed to a Tamil identity distinct from other Dravidian-speaking peoples). "Dravidian nationalism" in this sense comprises the four major ethno-linguistic groups in South India. This idea was popularized during the 1930s to 1950s by a series of small movements and organizations that contended that the South Indians (Dravidians) formed a racial and a cultural entity that was different from the north Indians.

This particular moment claimed that the Brahmins were originally from the north and they imposed their language, Sanskrit, religion and heritage on the southern people. A new morphed ideology of the Dravidian nationalism gained momentum within the Tamil speakers during the 1930 and 1950.

Tamil Nationalism was thus based on three ideologies: dismantling of Brahmin hegemony; revitalization of the "Pure Tamil Language" and social reform by abolition of existing caste systems, religious practices and recasting women's equal position in the society. By the late 1960s, the political parties who were espousing Dravidian ideologies gained power within the state of Tamil Nadu.[25] Subsequently the Nationalist ideologies lead to the argument by Tamil leaders that, at minimal, that Tamils must have self determination or, at maximum, secession from India[26]

Dravidian nationalism has given rise to various doctrines of national mysticism and fanciful anachronism, such as Thaevanaeyap Paavaanar's Kumari Kandam, a continent spanning the Indian Ocean, submerged in 16,000 BC, or an "original Veda" composed by Mamuni Mayan some 10,000 years ago, Devaneya Pavanar's Homo Dravida of 200,000 BC, his Kumari Kandam civilization of 50,000 BC, his "Second Tamil Sangam" under a Pandyan king in 6097 BC, etc.

Political parties

Since the 1969 election victory of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) under C. N. Annadurai, Tamil nationalism has been a permanent feature of the government of Tamil Nadu. After the Tamil people achieved self determination the claim for secession became weaker with most mainstream political parties, except a fringe few, are committed to development of Tamil Nadu within a united India. Most major Tamil Nadu regional parties such as DMK, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) frequently participate as coalition partners of other pan-Indian parties in the Union Government of India at New Delhi. The inability of the national parties of India to comprehend and capitalize on Tamil nationalism is one of the main reasons for the lack of presence in Modern Tamil Nadu. The modern day Tamil Nationalism have actually contributed to a more flaccid celebration of Tamil identity and the ‘uplift’ of the poor.[27]

Cross-straits nationalism

In October 2008, amongst an alleged build up in shelling into the Tamil civilian areas by the Lankan military, with the army moving in on the LTTE and the navy battling the latter's sea patrol, Indian Tamil MPs, including those supporting the Singh government in the DMK and PMK, threatened to resign en masse if the Indian government did not pressure the Lankan government to cease firing on civilians. In response, to this strain of nationalistic pressure, the Indian government reported it had upped the ante on the Lankan government to ease tensions.[28]

Tamil nationalists turn out in support of the Eelam rebels when Chennai-based The Hindu was alleged to have been supporting the Government of Sri Lanka. Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N. Ram named members of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, Thamizh Thesa Pothuvudaimai Katchi,[29] some lawyers, and law college students as responsible for incidents of vandalism at their offices.

See also


  1. ^ Hardgrave, Robert L. (August 1965). "The Riots in Tamilnad: Problems and Prospects of India's Language Crisis". Asian Survey (University of California Press)
  2. ^ "The force of words", Time, 1965-02-19, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,940936,00.html, retrieved 2007-06-05 
  3. ^ Forrester, Duncan B. (Spring — Summer 1966), "The Madras Anti-Hindi Agitation, 1965: Political Protest and its Effects on Language Policy in India", Pacific Affairs 39 (1/2): 19–36, doi:10.2307/2755179 .
  4. ^ Official Languages Act, 1963, S. 3(5).
  5. ^ Language in Courts - a bridge or a barrier?
  6. ^ Special Correspondent (12 March 2007), "Karunanidhi stands firm on Tamil in High Court", The Hindu: 1, http://www.hindu.com/2007/03/12/stories/2007031205180100.htm .
  7. ^ The Hindu : Tamil Nadu / Thanjavur News : No objection to Tamil as court language: A.P. Shah
  8. ^ Silobreaker: Make Tamil the language of Madras High Court: Karu
  9. ^ The Hindu : Tamil Nadu News : Karunanidhi hopeful of Centre’s announcement
  10. ^ indianexpress.com
  11. ^ Tamil Nadu government press release
  12. ^ "Advocate argues in Tamil in High Court". The New Indian Express. 23 June 2010. http://expressbuzz.com/cities/chennai/advocate-argues-in-tamil-in-high-court/183847.html. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  13. ^ Steever 1987, p. 355
  14. ^ Abraham 2003, pp. 211, 217
  15. ^ a b Subrahmanian 1981, pp. 23–24
  16. ^ Parthasarathy 1993, pp. 1–2
  17. ^ Parthasarathy 1993, p. 344
  18. ^ Monius 2000, pp. 12–13
  19. ^ Ramaswamy 1993, pp. 690–698
  20. ^ Narayanan 1994, p. 26
  21. ^ Peterson 1982, p. 77
  22. ^ Cutler 1991, p. 770.
  23. ^ Clooney 1992, pp. 205–206
  24. ^ Pandian 1994, p. 87; Kailasapathy 1979, p. 32
  25. ^ Moorti 2004, p. 549
  26. ^ Kohli 2004, pp. 285–299
  27. ^ Palanithurai 1989
  28. ^ The Times Of India. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/PoliticsNation/India_asks_Lanka_to_protect_civilians/articleshow/3610295.cms. 
  29. ^ http://www.tamizhdesiyam.blogspot.com


  • Abraham, Shinu (2003), "Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using archaeological evidence to identify the Tamil kingdoms of early historic South India", Asian Perspectives 42 (2): 207, doi:10.1353/asi.2003.0031 
  • Clooney, Francis X. (1992), "Extending the Canon: Some Implications of a Hindu Argument about Scripture", The Harvard Theological Review 85 (2): 197–215 
  • Cutler, Norman; Peterson, Indira Viswanathan; Piḷḷāṉ; Carman, John; Narayanan, Vasudha; Pillan (1991), "Tamil Bhakti in Translation", Journal of the American Oriental Society (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 111, No. 4) 111 (4): 768–775, doi:10.2307/603406, JSTOR 603406 
  • Kailasapathy, K. (1979), "The Tamil Purist Movement: A re-evaluation", Social Scientist (Social Scientist, Vol. 7, No. 10) 7 (10): 23–51, doi:10.2307/3516775, JSTOR 3516775 
  • Kohli, A. (2004), "Federalism and the Accommodation of Ethnic Nationalism", in Amoretti, Ugo M.; Bermeo, Nancy, Federalism and Territorial Cleavages, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 281–299, ISBN 0801874084, http://books.google.com/?id=49O1L3LzkVgC&pg=PA281&dq=Federalism+and+the+Accommodation+of+Ethnic+Nationalism+A+Kohli, retrieved 2008-04-25 
  • Moorti, S. (2004), "Fashioning a Cosmopolitan Tamil Identity: Game Shows, Commodities and Cultural Identity", Media, Culture & Society 26 (4): 549–567, doi:10.1177/0163443704044217 
  • Narayanan, Vasudha (1994), The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual, Studies in Comparative Religion, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 0872499650 
  • Palanithurai, G. (1989), Changing Contours of Ethnic Movement: A Case Study of the Dravidian Movement, Annamalai University Dept. of Political Science Monograph series, No. 2, Annamalainagar: Annamalai University 
  • Pandian, M.S.S. (1994), "Notes on the transformation of 'Dravidian' ideology: Tamilnadu, c. 1900-1940", Social Scientist (Social Scientist, Vol. 22, No. 5/6) 22 (5/6): 84–104, doi:10.2307/3517904, JSTOR 3517904 
  • Parthasarathy, R. (1993), The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal: An Epic of South India, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 023107848X 
  • Peterson, Indira V. (1982), "Singing of a Place: Pilgrimage as Metaphor and Motif in the Tēvāram Songs of the Tamil Śaivite Saints", Journal of the American Oriental Society (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 102, No. 1) 102 (1): 69–90, doi:10.2307/601112, JSTOR 601112 .
  • Steever, Sanford (1987), "Review of Hellmar-Rajanayagam, Tamil als politisches Symbol", Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (2): 355–356 
  • Subrahmanian, N. (1981), An introduction to Tamil literature, Madras: Christian Literature Society 

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