Monday, January 03, 2022

Dravidian Foundational Myths & Tamil Exceptionalism

In a Twitter thread, I used the phrase ‘Foundational Myths’ and a horde of people misunderstood it and vented their ire. 

Dr Sumanth Raman had tweeted the following: “The traditional Dravidian propaganda line is that Centre always discriminates against Tamil Nadu. Never mind if facts do not support it. If you keep saying it again and again enough people will believe it. This is needed to fan the flames of regionalism and linguistic chauvinism on which their vote bank depends. Tamil Nadu is in the top 3 in almost all parameters and that is bcos of Dravidian party Govt they say. But if Centre discriminated how did they allow TN to flourish? A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.”

While endorsing this, I said the following: “Perfectly summarised. Part of the Dravidian narrative is this victimhood. Madurai MP Su Venkatesan of the CPIM exemplifies this. All he does is dig out a nugget every day and cry that this is happening. These are the foundational myths that Periyar had taught them - Hindu, Hindi, Northerner domination which will keep the Dravidians forever a slave. Everything is seen from this lens. NEET, EWS, Jallikattu, vaccine shortage - you name it.”

This is the definition from “Foundation myths in some way define the cultures that produced them. As a foundation myth develops over time, it becomes a way for people to understand the nature of the world they live in and their place within that world. It provides support for the culture's way of viewing the world, in much the same way that the foundation of a house supports the structure.”

A very old civilisation such as India or Bharatavarsha has its own foundational myths. A very modern nation such as Pakistan has its own. Dravidian sub-national group, as envisaged by Periyar EVR has its own. I merely pointed out what it was - these are not new. Periyar has repeatedly defined them in his writings. He believed in this and he made a large number of his followers believe in this. Their belief is that the foreign Aryan, the Hindi-speaking Northerner, the sacred-thread wearing Brahmin and his powerful collaborator Vaishya Baniya, following the Hindu religion, have for too long subjugated the Tamils or Dravidians, who are a distinctly different race, different culture and have different value systems which are at odds with the former. Therefore, the Dravidians must oppose the Hindu religion and the dominance of the Hindi speaking Northerner. If possible, the Dravidians should have a homeland of their own, devoid of the undesirable elements as defined above.

This foundational myth is what drives DK and largely DMK. While DK buys the above wholesale, DMK folks may accept parts of the above. But when they feel an injustice is done to them, they will fall back to the Periyarian hardline position as stated above.

No other state in India has this strong a feeling towards any other group. Keralites have border problems with Karnatakans. Karnatakans in turn have problems with Maharashtrians. Maharashtrians hate Gujaratis. Andhra and Telangana have been at war minus the shooting. But no one feels the hatred towards their neighbouring state that Periyarians have for the Northerners and the Brahmins, since this comes from their basic foundational myths and is visceral.

This also leads to Tamil exceptionalism. Tamils truly believe that they are so distinctly different from the rest of India that they need to be governed by different set of rules. The underlying thinking is that left to themselves, they would rather be a separate nation. But for certain technical reasons this is not possible today [as Annadurai dropped that demand]. Therefore at least they should be allowed to define their own set of rules and manage themselves according to those rules. While many examples can be shown, I will take up just two.

Release of ‘seven prisoners’ linked to Rajiv Gandhi’s killing. This is named as ‘எழுவர் விடுதலை’. That competent courts found them guilty of a heinous crime of assassinating a former PM of the country is irrelevant. That most of them are actually foreign citizens [Sri Lankan citizens] is also irrelevant. That the foreigners were in India clandestinely to execute their murderous plans on Tamil soil and took the help a few Indian Nationals is irrelevant. They are all clubbed together as one indivisible unit and they should all be released, the law and the justice be damned. That all political parties in Tamil Nadu demand this and pass a resolution in the Tamil Nadu assembly and have the temerity to expect that this be accepted by the Governor of the state and the President of a sovereign nation, speaks about the height of Tamil exceptionalism. 

NEET is likewise. Every political party in Tamil Nadu thinks NEET can be wished away through their belief in Tamil Exceptionalism. Supreme Court and other federal institutions, fairness, uniformity and rule of law etc. be damned.

For both the above, the Tamil Nadu MPs want to meet the Home Minister and the President repeatedly. They truly believe that they can lobby hard and make this work. They believe there is space in the Indian constitution to make this work. After all, 69% reservation was inserted in the 9th schedule of the Indian constitution on the request of Tamil Nadu Govt. in 1994, so that it could not be judicially challenged in the light of the 1992 Indira Sawhney judgement. Did not the Modi government go out of the way to make Jallikattu happen? If Tamils can get these exceptions, why not the others?


This has to be taken up squarely by the BJP. They need to directly confront DMK and their allies and tell them what BJP stands for and what they will not allow.

There is also a clear need to address the ninth schedule of the constitution and all exceptionalisms - Punjab, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and J&K exceptionalism included.