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India: Anna and the Dravidian Movement February 15, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Sundaram, Manu , trackback

Manu Sundaram

Let Tamil be your dream of victory, let Tamil culture be your armour,

Let wisdom be your weapon. Let virtue be your guide and companion.

C.N. Annadurai (Former Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu)

C.N. Annadurai (or Anna for short), regarded by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the country’s finest Parliamentarians, was a stalwart of the Dravidian Movement. To his supporters and followers he was known as “Arignar Anna” (Arignar in Tamil means genius) for his outstanding intellect and razor- sharp wit. He was also the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu when he led his party to victory in the state assembly alections in 1967. Arignar Anna’s tenure as Chief Minister was all too brief: he died, while still in office, in 1969.  But during this stint, he managed to elevate and embolden the Dravidian Movement like no other leader.

The Dravidian Movement first started as a social reformist struggle against caste-based discriminatory practices in India during the 1920s. After Independence, the Union Government of India started phasing out English and instituting Hindi has the official language. Protesting against this, the leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) took to the streets to register their opposition. Students and activists turned up in great numbers in response to the clarion calls of Arignar Anna and other Dravidian leaders. Renowned for his oratorical eloquence and leadership abilities, Arignar Anna held numerous meetings and demonstrations to fight against the imposition of Hindi on the Tamil speaking population in the South. During one such meeting, Arignar Anna was told of the argument that Hindi should be made the official language due to its “numerical superiority” as it was spoken by the majority of Indians. To this, Arignar Anna responded: “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous?”

Born on 15 September 1909 to Mr Natarajan and Mrs Bangaru Ammal, Arignar Anna studied at Pachiyappa’s High School and then at Pachiyappa’s College, Chennai. While working as an English teacher, he was attracted to the ideologies of E.V. Ramasamy (also known as Periyar or the “Great Leader”) and the fledgling Dravidan Movement. Soon he joined the Justice Party (later renamed as Dravidar Kazhagam) and started working as a Sub-Editor for the newspaper called Justice and launched a Tamil weekly (Dravidanadu) in 1942. In 1949, Arignar Anna separated from the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and formed the DMK along with Kalaignar Karunanidhi, Nedunchezhian and other leaders. Though similar in social ideology to the DK, the DMK sought to contest elections and advance the social reform movement through the political process. In the 1957 state assembly elections, DMK won 12 seats and Arignar Anna was the Leader of the Opposition in the Madras State Assembly. In 1962, he became a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) on the back of an improved performance by the DMK in the state assembly elections.

During his stint in the Parliament, Arignar Anna was recognized as a powerful speaker, sharp thinker and astute politician. In the midst of a Rajya Sabha discussion on changing the name of Madras State to Tamil Nadu in May 1963, Arignar Anna was interrupted by a fellow Rajya Sabha member asking “what [one] would gain by changing the name from Madras State to Tamil Nadu”. To which, Arignar Anna shot back: “What do I gain? What have you gained by renaming Parliament as Lok Sabha? What have you gained by renaming Council of States as Rajya Sabha? What have you gained by renaming President as Rastrapathi? Therefore I say what do you lose? This is important because if you were to lose something precious, we would not press for it. If you do not lose something fundamental, we will press for it. The other point was raised, what do you gain? We gain satisfaction sentimentally; we gain satisfaction that an ancient name is inculcated in the hearts of millions and scores of millions of people. Is that not enough compensation for the small trouble of changing the name?”

Arignar Anna and other Dravidian leaders fought against the imposition of Hindi. They felt, rightly, that any government-sanctioned requirement to study Hindi at school or for employment (such as the civil services) would disadvantage the Tamil-speakers. As Tamil and Hindi were completely dissimilar languages, it was argued that any compulsion to learn and practise Hindi would give an unfair advantage for Hindi-speakers. The public sentiment was squarely against the state government led by the Congress Party and  seen as towing the line of its parent party in power at the Centre. The Dravidian Language Movement grew in strength when around 1965 the Government of India was considering replacing English with Hindi as the official language of the country. However, widespread protests among Tamil-speaking people forced the Government to rescind on its previous decision and allow English and Hindi to continue functioning as official languages.

In the subsequent elections to the state assembly in 1967, DMK was voted into power on the popularity of the anti-Hindi movement and Arignar Anna was elected as Chief Minister. Upon forming the Government, a resolution was passed renaming the state as Tamil Nadu. Another major achievement of Arignar Anna’s government was to introduce a two-language policy over the Union Government-endorsed three language formula that required students to study their regional language, Hindi and English. Notwithstanding pressures from the Union Government of India, Arignar Anna articulated the two-language policy thus:  “The Government of Tamil Nadu has stated in unmistakable terms that Tamil and English can serve all our purposes, the former as the Official Language of this State and the latter as the link language. If it is accepted and the most emphatic of Hindi protagonists do accept that-if it is accepted that English can serve admirably as a link between our State and the outside world, why plead for Hindi to be the link language here? What serves to link us with the outside world is certainly capable of rendering the same service inside India as well. To plead for two link languages is like boring a smaller hole in a wall for the kitten while there is a bigger one for the cat. What suits the cat will suit the kitten as well.”

The Dravidian Language Movement thus progressed as an integral part of the Dravidian Socio-Political Movement, which fought for the emancipation of women, upliftment of backward classes and equal opportunities for all. Numerous other linguistic movements have since gained prominence, but for the wrong reasons. The agendas put forth today by the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navanirman Sena are examples of linguistic chauvinism which alienate and attack the ‘other’. In contrast, the entire Dravidian Movement, as envisaged by Arignar Anna, always sought to reiterate self-determination and equality as the fundamental qualities of a successful, pluralistic democracy. The Government of India recognizes Sanskrit and Tamil as the classical languages of the country due to the efforts of the DMK led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi.

This year – 2010 – will witness Coimbatore (the second largest city in Tamil Nadu) hosting the World Classical Tamil Conference with renowned scholars and expert linguists taking part under the guidance of ‘Kalaignar’ Karunanidhi (Kalaignar in Tamil means artiste). The theme of the Conference borrows from an ancient Tamil saying: “Pirapokkum Ella Uyirukkum” which means “All are Born Equal”. The Dravidian Movement is at the vanguard of social reform movement and continues to fight against discrimination based on caste or creed. The year 2010 is also significant as it marks the centenary of Arignar Anna’s birth. It is only fitting that the enduring legacy of Arignar Anna continues to live through the Dravidian movement which stands for casteless and classless society.


1. Dev Kumar Dutta - February 26, 2010

“The agenda put forward by the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are examples of linguistic chauvinism which alienate and attack the ‘other’”, eh? And the agenda put forward by the Dravidian movement is inclusive and promotes brotherhood, right? I won’t call it your audacity to bring up the comparison and colour it to your convenience but I must say that I’m amazed at the sheer hypocrisy and shamelessness of your position. I’m based in Mumbai and I’m not a Maharashtrian and I just about speak a smattering of Marathi but I never faced any problem in Mumbai, Pune or even in small towns like Baramati or Shirdi. Do you know why? It’s because even the remotest Maharashtrian villager, although proud of his heritage and language, responds helpfully when spoken to in Hindi. And Hindi isn’t my native language either, it’s Bangla. I could also say that Bangla and English are fine for me to get along with anyone, anywhere in India. But I have better common sense than your hydra-headed Dravidian heroes to realize that a villager in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra, Kerala or any other state of India will at least understand me if spoken to in Hindi rather than in English. Your Dravidian project is not going to succeed just as the appeal of Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is going to be limited to a tiny Maharashtrian fringe unless the migrant population of Mumbai overreacts and goes ballistic. Let me also remind you that there are millions of Tamil folks both within and outside Tamil Nadu, who happily speak in Hindi following their interaction with the rest of India. As for the term Dravidian, well it’s headed for the dustbin of history as modern historical research is proving it beyond doubt that this whole Aryan-Dravidian nonsense was a British colonial con story to divide Indian society. It’s unfortunate though that, Tamil leaders of the time and some armchair commie “intellectuals” chose to bite that con, hook, line and sinker.

2. Paniayadi Kuppan - June 30, 2010

Dev Kumar Dutta,

I don’t about you guys, but we Tamils believe that one day Tamil will be accepted by every one in India, and Tamil will become a language spoken by the majority in India for business, entertainment, and scientific research applications. ( English, Spanish, Hindi etc. became popular because they were forced/pushed on other people. I see that you have no such plans for your own language. )

3. Raj - July 2, 2010


Let me clear this point ? How can a remote maharashtrian knows Hindi provided the condition hindi was not his mother language, he would have learnt hindi.. right??hmm…

So, if a foreigner comes to remote maharashtrian village… and he wants to speak with him..what he will do… would he learn english???

This is what anna asked why do you like to have two doors for two different cats….

I want to make this point clear…

Is not possible to have a conversation between bangla and a maharashtrian in english?

anyway, maharashtrian should have learned hindi in his early career..as it was not his native language..i once again make this clear…so why he once again wants to learn another one to communicate with the world.