Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tamil Politics

Politics all over India is generally dysfunctional. But in Tamil Nadu (TN), they take it to the next level. The picture to the left is of present chief minister M.Karunanidhi (centre) with ex-chief ministers C. N. Annadurai (left) and M. G. Ramachandran (right) (courtesy of Wikipedia). Why an article on Tamil politics? Well, because if it weren't for Tamil politics, I would have seen more of TN, including places like Cuddalore and Pondicherry. But, as I mentioned in my last blog, the 'bandh' or gov't protest stranded me in Chennai for all 4 days.

Okay, let's have some background on the (latest) problem right now in TN. All the fuss is over the Sethusamudram project. According to one article "The Sethusamudram Ship Canal project aims at creating an artificial canal in the shallow ocean, by dredging parts of Ram Sethu, to enable vessels to save time taken to circumnavigate the Sri Lankan island while going from west to east."

Makes sense, right? Ships should be able to go through the water between Sri Lanka and India, instead of going around Sri Lanka to get the east coast of India. This should save them a lot of time.

But, here's the problem. According to that same article, "According to the epic Ramayana, Ram Sethu is a bridge constructed by Lord Ram connecting the Indian peninsula with mainland Sri Lanka."

Wikipedia adds "Hindus believe that this bridge was built by Rama incarnation of Lord Vishnu to rescue his consort Sita who was abducted to Lanka by Ravana, as mentioned in the Ramayana. Many historical inscriptions, coins, old travel guides, old dictionary references, old religious maps indicate that this structure is considered sacred by Hindus.[2][3] Geological evidence indicates that this bridge acted as former land connection between India and Sri Lanka.[4]"

Hard line Hindus of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and others concerned about the bridge's 'destruction' oppose this project on religious grounds. So, there have been riots and protests against this project.

But, not everyone in India is a hard line Hindu. There are many who are not religious at all and just want India's infrastructure to improve. That's what the folks at the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam - literally "Dravidian Progress Conference") believe. The DMK is the current ruling party in TN. Their leader is M. Karunanidhi.

There are other objections to the project, on environmental, political, and economic grounds. I won't go into these - the most juicy objection is on religious grounds.

Karunanidhi had this to say about protesters:

"Some say there was a person over 17 lakh years ago. His name was Ram. Do not touch the bridge (Ram Sethu) constructed by him... From which engineering college did he graduate? Is there any proof of this?" Karunanidhi asked. "Only to prevent the good scheme, they got hold of the name of a person who was supposed to have lived 17 lakh years ago," he said.

Now, apparently, Karunanidhi made some other comments about Ram being a drunkard and Sita being a woman of loose morals, etc.

So, of course, that further inflamed Hindus, hard line and non-hard line Hindus alike. This whole back and forth between the DMK and the protesters got me interested in Tamil politics. Who are the DMK? What's the platform?

The DMK is a party to support Dravidian rights. Here is a VERY simplified version of racial theories, as best as I understand them. According to many historians / anthropologists, Indian society is comprised of two races: Aryans and Dravidians. Aryans migrated to India from places like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, maybe Europe too. They primarily settled in Northern India. Dravidians, instead are 'native' to South India. Their languages are not derived from Sanskrit. And, they are are generally darker and smaller in appearance.

The DMK was formed to promote Dravidian rights. Dravidians, the DMK asserted, were being discriminated against by the Aryans and by the Brahmins. They felt that it was time to take back their land, and they did so in forming this party. Their founder (Periyar) also started the 'Self-Respect' movement and supported the British colonization of India (this doesn't make sense - can someone why he supported this?). Other positions of Periyar and early DMK:

  • Anti Hindi (opposed the imposition of Hindi in TN)

  • Anti-Brahmin

  • Anti 'Aryan'

  • Once advocated secession of Tami Nadu from the rest of India

  • Sympathetic to the independence struggle for Tamils in Sri Lanka

Among the laws that Periyar fought was the "Heriditary Education" policy, proposed by Rajaji (a Tamil Brahmin politician), in which "schools will work in the morning and students had to compulsorily learn the family vocation in the afternoon. A Carpenter’s son would learn Carpentry, a priest's son chanting hymns and a barber’s son hair cutting and shaving after school in the afternoon.[13]" (Wikipedia). Periyar felt that this policy reinforced the caste system, where children did the same work as their parents. Under this policy, how could a person advance his position in life?

The only other party to hold power in TN is the AIADMK - or All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagam. The party was founded by an actor, MG Ramachandran. Here are some interesting facts about MGR:

  • His death sparked mass riots in TN

  • Refused to accept an award from the government because it was written in Hindi

  • 30 followers committed suicide after his death and 100 people tried to commit suicide via immolation

What's the ideological difference between the AIADMK and the DMK? For the life of me, I can't answer the question. Is there even one?


So what are my views? First, I would like to see a compromise solution on the bridge. Build the bridge but cause the least destruction to the natural bridge - not for religious reasons, but for environmental reasons. Second, SOME of the things that the DMK fought for make sense. Greater rights for non-Brahmins, for example. But the reverse discrimination of Brahmins is wrong. TN would benefit from a true multi-party political system. I don't feel that the AIADMK and DMK is that.

This blog was brought to you from Wikipedia - one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century.

Tamil Politics.

Go figure.


Anonymous said...

Ravi, I suppoe you mean Brahmin and not Brahman. Brahmin is caste related while Brahman is a spiritual term and refers to the universal soul.

USD change said...

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rpolitte said...

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Ravi Ragahvan said...

From Raj:

As usual the ricketyrickshaw driver keeps pedalling and we
enjoy the ride! Amazing how Ravi throws light on some things
that we never spent time figuring! Let us all pool in and
give him a WD40 so he will keep his rickshaw oiled and
wheeling to amuse us!

Pass along my comments to Ravi's and let me know his
email address as I din't find it on his blog.


Ravi Ragahvan said...

Yes, it should be Brahmin. I ran spell check, and spell check didn't like Brahmin, and changed it to Brahman.

Thanks for pointing this out!


Ravi Ragahvan said...

From Malathy Aunty and Dr. Uncle:

"Read your blog. Uncle did not know how to write in your blog, he was saying that if Karunadhi had not bad mouthed the Hindu religion and Rama it would not have been so bad because the idea of the canal is actually good."

Ravi Ragahvan said...

From Vyju:

"i can't imagine that indians - hindus- will allow that bridge to be destructed if they truly believe it was from the Ramayana. let's see what happens. these situations are frustrating but i think changing the minds of people who are devoutly religious -hindu, muslim or whatever - is almost impossible. look at the devoutly christian people here, they are making this election about being 'pro life' when there are so many more pressing issues that need to be resolved. hope you guys are doing well. vyju"