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Selective greetings from a ‘secular’ movement: Dravidian practise of issuing ‘Holiday Greetings’ for Hindu festivals

The Dravidian movement, now in its third generation, is at a crossroads where the balance between their public atheism and the pull of an increasingly assertive Tamil Hindu population is no longer as easy as it was in the past.

While citizens of the Indian Republic greeted each other this year for a Ganesha Chaturthi, the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit cryptically tweeting ‘Holiday Greetings’ to the official handles of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Mr M K Stalin, President of the DMK and Leader of the Opposition, Tamil Nadu Assembly.

As is the wont with much of the happenings in Tamil Social Media, this piece of light-hearted trolling was greeted with humour in Tamil Twitter and befuddlement and incomprehension in the rest of Twitterverse.

To make sense of this, we need to travel back in time to the 50s and 60s, when the ideological parent of the DMK, the Dravidar Kazhagam, was at its most active. The patriarch, E V Ramasamy, an upper-caste landlord, had split away from the Justice Party, a movement composed of fellow landed elites, to carve his own path.

The Dravidar Kazhagam had at its root a narrative of Tamil exceptionalism, as a unique civilization of Dravidians overrun by invading Aryans and whose original culture and religion were suppressed, subsumed or appropriated by the invaders. His brand of agitprop included shocking antics like removing women’s thali (mangalsutra) on stages and breaking idols of Hindu gods, most notably Vinayaka.

Their agenda included a Tani Tamizh (Pure Tamizh) movement aimed at recreating a glorious language purged free of all foreign borrowings, Scientific Rationalist Atheism and a separate Dravida Nadu, a land for the Dravidian race free from the Aryan yoke. Brahmins, in particular, were singled out for demonization, and the Kshatriya Rama was, in Dravidian mythology, an Aryan conqueror usurping the rule of the Dravidian Ravana, a Brahmin incidentally.

The DMK made a few compromises, such as allowing Brahmins to be members of the party, and dropping their demand for a separate state, to enter electoral politics.

They, however, never discarded the original premise of a victim Dravidian race. There were a set of ‘accepted’ festivals such as Pongal, Christmas and Bakr-Eid, which were deemed Dravidian enough, and festivals which were impositions of the Aryans, such as Vinayaka Chaturthi, Dussehra.

Even the traditional Tamil New Year, timed to coincide with the vernal equinox, was deemed an Aryan conspiracy against the more natural and native New Year, which was the first of the Tamil month Thai, roughly at the time of the winter solstice.

In the meantime, the movement grew and so did its leaders. They were now able to run their own movie companies, newspapers, magazines and television channels.

As the Dravidian movement grew, so did the size and scale of public Hindu religious observances. With increasing prosperity, public Vinayaka Chaturthi festivities gained in importance and grandeur. As an effect, in order to lose the TRPs and the associated advertising money, Dravidian TV channels started showing special programs for Hindu festivals. In a curious balance struck between ideology and commerce, they began announcing special programs for ‘Holidays’ and greetings for Holidays.

Here is the Sun TV tweet announcing a slew of programmes for the April 14th ‘holiday’, ie Tamil New Year that fell on the first of the Chittirai month this year.

The Kalaignar TV promotion for ‘Holiday Special’ programming for Vinayaka Chaturthi

In an interesting development, Mr Stalin greeted Tamil people on the occasion of Vinayaka Chaturthi in 2014.

The greeting messages were deleted and the party issued a clarification that the greetings message was a ‘mistake’ Media carried stories of the deletion and subsequent clarification being issued to soothe ‘ruffled feathers’

It may be noted that when the rivalry between the immediate family of Mr Karunanidhi and his grandnephews, the Maran Brothers, reached ahead, a separate Kalaignar Group of television channels was started on the same Vinayaka Chaturthi day.

The Dravidian movement, now in its third generation, is at a crossroads where the balance between their public atheism and the pull of an increasingly assertive Tamil Hindu population is no longer as easy as it was in the past.

(This article has been co-authored by @zeneraalstuff and @SaffronDalit

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