Numerous occasions changing the fortune of Tamil Nadu and its neighbours took place during September: Here are some examples.

Remember remember September Why Dravidian History Month should be observed
news Opinion Monday, September 03, 2018 - 15:37

Remember, remember, the fifth of November. A statement whose origin is closely linked with the treason committed by Guy Fawkes and his Catholic associates against the English Crown and Parliament, is now a clamour widely associated with questioning the status quo across the globe. The human urge to search for pattern amidst the chaos – the need to weave myths to conserve the unspoken history and lived experiences via metaphors – has led to numerous key days we remember by heart.

We, the people of the Dravidian stock, now have a phrase to remember, to inherit, to disseminate far and wide, and that is, “Remember, remember, the month of September.”

Among the various thinkers and ideologues this world has seen, EVR Periyar occupies a unique position, as he not only established the contours of his ideology, but also took the ideology to people and allowed the ideology to evolve. Along the same lines, there are no parallels for CN Annadurai, who contradicted the founder of the ideology, while scripting a journey, which led to the same ideology ascending to the higher echelons of power politics.

The month of September here assumes paramount importance for being the birth month of both Periyar and Anna.

Birth of the Justice Party

Oppression of the highest order has always been the seed for revolution in any form. It was the omnipresent Brahminism that fuelled oppression, exclusion and appropriation of power structures, which then assumed the form of the Home Rule Movement under the leadership of Annie Besant.

Dr C Natesa Mudaliar, who was then organizing non-Brahmins witnessed this mobilization, understood the long-term implications of this emerging circumstances, which would lead to institutionalized Brahmanism. He, in turn, engineered a series of meetings, that led to the emergence of South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), also known as ‘Justice Party’.

The seed for SILF, the Home Rule Movement, was founded on 1916, on the 12th day of September.

September was the month when Justice Party completed its first full term as the ruling party of Madras Province. Justice Party, which was founded opposing the asphyxiating Brahmin dominance, had elected representatives from non-Brahmin castes, Christian and Muslim communities. At a time when Brahmin domination was overwhelmingly felt in employment and university education, Justice Party attempted to bring representation in employment in accordance with the proportion of the communities in the population.

The right to vote for women in Madras Province was made possible by the Justice Party, from which even Brahmin women benefitted. The first Government, led by the Justice Party, abolished the usage of the term ‘Panchamas’ (outcast) and introduced the term Adi Dravidas (the first Dravidians), created the Hindu Religious Endowment Board, which questioned the monopoly held by Brahmins in temple affairs.

Read: Karunanidhi and MGR: A checkered friendship, and a lesson in civility and empathy

Though the first Justice Party Government ended its rule in September, it marked the start of the glorious history of the Dravidian Movement, which sought to ensure the creation of a ‘New Deal’ for the millions of people who were oppressed under the weight of Brahmanism.

The pioneering social engineering attempts by the first Justice Party government led to their victory in 1923, but they lost the 1926 election due to a rift which emerged in the party. The political backflips later led to the emergence of a government led by Subbarayan, with support of Justice Party. Under Periyar’s guidance, his long-term demand for a functioning Communal G.O. saw light during Subbarayan’s time, which ended in September, 1930.

This marked the month when Justice Party came back to power with a single majority again.

Periyar and Justice Party

In 1934, with the repeal of Non-Cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi, Congress decided to contest the elections. This changed circumstances led Justice Party to embrace Periyar. Though Periyar was against the Indian National Congress of that time, he didn’t accept the invitation from the Justice Party immediately. He forwarded a Work Plan to the Congress and Justice Party, which was structured along socialist and Dravidian ideals. While the Brahmin-dominated Congress rejected the work plan, the non-Brahmin-led Justice Party accepted it. This was the first step taken by the Justice Party to fit itself within the Dravidian framework structured by Periyar in 1934, on the 24th day of September.

During the year 1938, an Anti-Hindi imposition brigade was assembled and they undertook a historic march from Uraiyur in Tiruchirappalli. The day, when this 42-day long march ground to a stop, was 11th of September. On the same day, Periyar addressed a public meeting, and rallied the cry, “Tamil Nadu for Tamils”, a slogan which still can be heard in some parts of Tamil Nadu until this very day.

Institutions reflect the nature of the majority of its constituents, in spite of the existence of a history and a narrative in place. Though Justice Party accepted the leadership of Periyar, its key leaders, in spite of being non-Brahmins, were not keen on abolishing the power structures propped up by caste, and were relentlessly chasing government titles and positions.

In order to weed out out such interests, Periyar, through Annadurai, passed certain progressive resolutions. This angered certain Justice Party stalwarts and led them to strategize to out-manoeuvre Periyar by gaining the support of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was then waging a struggle against Brahmanism – a struggle entrenched in the Indian subcontinent’s history.

In 1944, a meeting was arranged by Sunday Observer’s P Balasubramaniam in Connemara Hotel, in which Babasaheb Ambedkar gave a speech. To their agony, Ambedkar pronounced in his speech, the need for a leader like Periyar to dismantle the ossified structures of Brahmanism and the need for clear work plans like those proposed by Periyar.

The day when Babasaheb Ambedkar lent his word of credence to Periyar and his Dravidian ideology was September 24.

Annadurai and Periyar

September assumes paramount importance as the key ideals of the Dravidar Kazhagam were drawn on this month. The idea of ‘Dravida Nadu’ assumed its final form in the conference that happened on 29 September, 1945, in Tiruchirappalli. In addition to that, the institutional framework of the Dravidar Kazhagam was also finalized then. The ubiquitous black shirt, which impacted the cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu, broke into the scene, with the formation of the Black Shirt Brigade in this conference. It is also to be noted that the friction between Periyar and Annadurai came to the fore with regards to the question of wearing black shirts, as Annadurai didn’t subscribe to the idea for he associated fascism with uniformed outfits.

The seeds of friction, which were sown in September of 1945, began to germinate by September 1947 with regard to August 15, India’s Independence day. Under these circumstances, a conference on ‘Separation of Dravida Nadu from Indian Union’ was arranged by Periyar on 14 September, 1947, which was boycotted by Annadurai and his coterie of supporters.

But later, Annadurai and Periyar joined hands when then Chief Minister Omandur P Ramasamy banned the Black Shirts Brigade.

Formation of DMK

Periyar decided to marry Maniammai, who was much younger than him as the Hindu Civil Law did not allow women to adopt nor to get adopted. Annadurai and his supporters vehemently opposed his decision. On 10 September, 1949, Kudiyarasu carried a news item which announced the change of name of KA Maniammai to EVR Maniammai, which was the final straw for Annadurai’s group in Dravidar Kazhagam.

The incensed group met in a house in Chennai to pass a no-confidence resolution against Periyar, which led to the formation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under the leadership of Annadurai on 17 September, the birthday of Periyar.

The formation of DMK created waves in the politics of Tamil Nadu, and in turn India, as it emerged as the first non-national party to form a majority government in a state, in 1967. Anyone who browsed through the pages of newspapers after the demise of Kalaignar Muthuvel Karunanidhi would now be acquainted with the countless social justice schemes introduced by the party.

Why else is September important?

September is a big month not only for Tamil Nadu, but other societies too that realize the danger of losing federalism.

In a reality that we are living in, where the rights of the states in the Indian Union is routinely encroached by the Central Government, the Rajamannar Committee constituted by the First Government of M Karunanidhi assumes paramount importance.

Questioning the status quo of Central Government having a final call on Centre-state relations, the Rajamannar Committee was constituted to examine the asymmetric power relations, which had started to manifest even then.

The outcome of the committee was a 383-page report, which not only emerged as the key document on Centre-state relations for Indian Union, but also for Sri Lanka. When the question of Eelam Tamils emerged due to the asymmetric race relations in Sri Lanka,the report assumed importance in reimagining the future of the island, during the Thimpu Peace Talks as well as during the later day peace talks brokered by Norway. In the Indian Union, Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu sent a White Paper to the Central government demanding the need to devolve power to states, as stated in the Rajamannar Committee report, the outcome of another committee which was constituted on 22 September 1969.

September is also known for historic moments which failed to happen. A historical attempt to unify AIADMK and DMK was indeed undertaken and it was spearheaded by Biju Patnaik of the Janata Dal.

Actor-politician MG Ramachandran and Karunanidhi, who were then engaging in vicious attacks via meetings and newspaper interviews, were called for a meeting in private and the date was 12 September, 1979. While the meeting ended on a positive note, Karunanidhi and DMK were viciously attacked in the presence of MGR the very next day in a public meeting of AIADMK, which in turn led to the unification attempts flounder.

Read: How Biju Patnaik nearly pulled off a DMK and AIADMK merger

If and if the unification had seen the light of day, the classic Dravidian party versus Dravidian party clash that we see in Tamil Nadu, until this very day, might not have happened.

Along the lines of the legacy of Karunanidhi and MGR, September occupies a key moment in the legacy of Jayalalithaa as well. With the involvement of Jayalalithaa in AIADMK, her ascendance to the key position of Propaganda Secretary was quick. But soon the position was taken away from her and she was sidelined.

When political pundits decided to write a post-mortem report about her political career, she was reinstated as Propaganda Secretary of AIADMK on the month of September, in 1986. If not, she would have carried the tag of a leader who was sidelined by MGR before his demise, which in turn would have impacted her later day political fortunes. The pattern takes a sad turn, as it was in September that Jayalalithaa, who carried forward the unique legacy of MGR for scripting two consecutive Legislative Assembly victories, was admitted in hospital. She passed away in December 2016.

In addition to that, interesting events like MGR releasing his 29-page ideological manifesto by name ‘Annaism’, the appointment of present-day Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam as Chief Minister in 2001 by Jayalalitha, that signalled his entry into the upper echelons of power, also happened in the month of September.

September: With numerous events to draw inspiration from, the countless brothers and sisters of Dravidian stock, not only from Tamil Nadu or the ones who speak one of the Dravidian family of languages, but also the ones from backward class and oppressed sections (Bahujans) across the Indian subcontinent, now have a phrase to remember, to inherit, to disseminate far and wide, and that is, “Remember, remember, the month of September.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed are the authors' own.