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Understanding the anti-Hindi rhetoric of Tamil politics: how it started, and why it sells

In June 2011, the ninth report of the Committee of Parliament on Official Language was forwarded to the President. Chidambaram, as the then Home Minister, had signed the report. The Committee was formed under the Official Language Act of 1963 in 1965, to realise Article 351 of the Indian Constitution, which calls for the promotion of Hindi.

The decades-old issue of anti-Hindi and anti-‘North Indian’ politics that dominates Tamil Nadu has been in the news again recently. Over the grievances raised by migrant Bihari labourers who say they have been facing harassment and constant misbehaviour at the hands of local Tamilians.

The anti-Hindi rhetoric has been looming over Tamil politics since pre-Indenpendece years. Fanned by ambitious politicians who were desperate for a foothold, and eventually mainstreamed into the public discourse by the DMK, the roots of this general aversion were sowed by the British when they introduced the Aryan Invasion Theory, now profoundly rescinded by modern science.

The Aryan Invasion Theory, which never had any factual basis, declared North Indians as ‘foreign settlers or invaders’ and South Indians as the Dravidians, the ‘original’ inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. There is no surprise that the British used it as an assassin’s blade to divide India.

The AIT formed the ideological basis for the ‘Justice Party’ in Tamil Nadu back in 1916 which termed Tamil Brahmins as outsiders and asked ‘Dravidians’ (non-Brahmins) to abandon the “superstitious” Vedic culture practised by these “North Indian outsiders” and embrace the ‘rational’ Dravidian thought.

The Justice Party ideologues pretended to adopt atheism as their central theme. As happens with the politics of hate and negativity, this ideology started taking root fast. By 1937, when the Congress government tried to introduce the Hindi language, the Dravidian ideologues got the perfect political tool to gain power, by spreading hate against “Aryan colonialists”.

EV Ramaswamy or Periyar, the chief proponent of Dravidian identity politics even went so far as to seek help from Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to establish a separate Dravidian nation. Though Jinnah had little to give him other than supportive words.

In 1937, when the Justice Party lost power to Congress, the Dravidian politicians started courting chaos, desperate to snatch power, they harped upon the politics of hate and anti-Brahminism. In 1938, when the Rajagopalachari-led Congress government’s order to introduce the Hindi language in education, protests sparked across the state, led by Justice Party. Two backward caste brothers died in police custody, fuelling the violence and political unrest all across the Madras Presidency.

The initial anti-Hindi protests dwindled out by 1939 when World War II started. But after the Indian Independence in 1948-50, another attempt by the Congress government to introduce the Hindi language in schools sparked protests again.

All 5 of the violent anti-Hindi protests have happened in Tamil Nadu

As narrated by an earlier article by S Sudhir Kumar, it is only in Tamil Nadu that multiple riots against Hindi have happened. The point to be noted here is that no government ever has tried to “replace” Tamil, but attempts have been to introduce Hindi as an additional language. However, the Periyarists in earlier decades and the DMK in the later decades, have based their entire political relevance on the idea of vague Dravidian supremacy as opposed to the larger Indian identity and the hatred against the Hindi language, branded as the language of ‘Aryan north Indians’, has been the tool to propagate that supremacy.

Anti-Hindi protests catapulted DMK to power in the 1960s

It is notable here that the idea of a separate Dravidian identity, (as opposed to the larger Indian identity), the so-called victimhood carefully built upon decades of fanning of false claims of the Aryan Invasion Theory, a general hatred against the Hindi language and by extensions, North Indians, and Brahmins who are associated with that language (again falsely) provide the foundation on which the earlier Justice Party and the present DMK have built their political relevance.

The politics of hate has been propagated so widely and for so long that it has now become mainstream in Tamil political discourse. Regionalism as a political tool is not limited to Tamil Nadu alone and there have been many examples of similar politics of hate over the spectrum of Indian politics. But in Tamil Nadu, it just takes a whole different shape and texture.

No other Indian state has been so averse to the Hindi language, the propagation and adaptation of which is etched in our Constitution. Even in South India, other states have accepted Hindi as an additional language in schools. In Tamil Nadu, the aversion has been so vehement that there are no Navodaya Vidyalayas to date, because they mandate the study of the Hindi language.

DMK and its politics of Dravidian supremacy

As stated earlier, the vague and baseless ideas of the so-called Dravidian identity, as opposed to the larger Indian identity, has been the basis of the Periyarist movement and its offspring, the DMK. DMK’s brand of politics is based on the very same superfluous ideas.

1. The South Indian states are the ‘Dravidians’ the “original” inhabitants of India.

2. The Indian nation survives on the revenues generated and taxes paid by the South Indian states

No matter the sheer absurdity of these ideas, the politics of them somehow drives the discourse in Tamil Nadu and even provides relevance to the DMK.

In recent years, especially after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, other parties, even the Congress has tried to lean on the same Dravidian political ideology to gain some foothold, and to paint the Modi government as ‘bad’.

Such is the extent of duplicity expressed by the Congress that they had contradicted the 2011 report by their own government, undersigned by their leader and then Home Minister P Chidambaram, to propagate the Hindi language all over India.

In June 2011, the ninth report of the Committee of Parliament on Official Language was forwarded to the President. Chidambaram, as the then Home Minister, had signed the report. The Committee was formed under the Official Language Act of 1963 in 1965, to realise Article 351 of the Indian Constitution, which calls for the promotion of Hindi.

But when the Modi government after 2014 worked on implementing the points recommended in the same report, Congress and its leaders were one of the loudest of detractors.

Such is the desperation of political relevance that the Congress and many other opposition parties have been turning a blind eye to the narrow, and unscientific idea of the DMK’s politics of hatred against Hindi and ‘North Indians’.

Regional conflict, chaos in the population and the act of pointing out an “enemy” community on a linguistic, cultural and geographical basis have been one of the oldest political tools to climb the ladder of power. When Mamata Banerjee tells the people of Bengal that “Gujaratis are trying to snatch power in Bengal by using goons from UP and Bihar”, she is using the same tool. When Rahul Gandhi screams that “non-locals are snatching businesses in Jammu and Kashmir”, When Priyanka Gandhi calls Modi an “outsider” in UP, it is the same politics in play, again and again.

When political leaders have no foundations to stand on and no work to show after years in power, they latch on to hatred and divisiveness, diverting attention from their failures and shedding accountability by giving the masses a common enemy to direct their frustrations at. This is the politics that drives the anti-Hindi political discourse in Tamil Nadu, the broad Khalistan ideology in Punjab and the Guajrati-Marwari hate in Bengal. The scale and penetration of the rhetoric may be different in each region, the tools may be language or religion or a narrow cultural identity, but the basic ideas are the same.

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Sneha
Sneha
Just a girl next door. Movies, books and a little bit of politics. India first, always.

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