But caste divisions and Brahminical disdain for the lower caste have not vanished, and have only resurfaced with a vengeance.
Dravidian protests in early years of the movement. Image: kveeramani.com

In the past couple of days, reports have emerged of at least four persons from the Brahmin community in Chennai being attacked by men belonging to the Dravida Viduthalai Kazhagam (Dradivian Freedom Federation), a little known group based in Tamil Nadu claiming to be followers of Dravidian stalwart EV Ramasamy Naicker, popularly known as Periyar and for his anti-Brahmin movement. Six men of DVK have been arrested, and it is unclear if these men had direct links with Dravidar Kazhagam, founded by Periyar in 1944.

Such attacks, targeting Brahmin priests specifically while exhorting Periyar’s ideology, are not new to Tamil Nadu. Throughout the Dravidian movement, there were sporadic incidents of Brahmins being attacked. In the DMK regime between 1989 and 1991, similar attacks were reported in Thanjavur where Brahmins, and even a journalist, were attacked by members of parties belonging to the Dravidian fold. You can read our interview with the journalist here. A symbolic attack on the Brahmins by politicians and ideologues goes back to the days of Periyar.

Periyar was an admirable iconoclast. His contribution to the social upheaval and political awakening of the Tamil society remains unparalleled. In words and actions, he was bold. But he was also open in his calls for attacks on Brahmins. The famous quote, “If you see a snake and a Brahmin, kill the Brahmin first” is attributed to him. He also destroyed idols of Hindu gods during his protests.

This symbolic attack on Brahmins as the perpetrators of the caste system has carried on till today. Two years back, when DMK Chief Karunanidhi was asked tough questions about the 2G spectrum scam, he responded by saying that it was a Brahminical conspiracy against A Raja, the then telecom minister who is a Dalit. In the past, DMK has accused the media of being too critical of the party on account of being dominated by Brahmins. In the days of Periyar, there was huge political capital in such demonstrations. Periyar believed in giving "shock treatment" to the society to create awareness and gain momentum for his movement.