As castes of Tamil Nadu, the Vellalas

As M.N. Srinivas has pointed out that such movement was inevitable in India where only one caste, the Brahmins, enjoyed preponderance in higher education, in professions, and government employ­ment. The cultural gulf between the Brahmins and others became very much pronounced now.

The characteristic feature of this movement is that it is caste based. In the Indian context, “backward classes” form an aggregate of ‘closed’ status groups or castes. Caste associations came into existence in different parts of the country to press their claims for new designations and occupa­tions. Many published journals devoted to caste welfare, collected funds for giving scholarships and building hostels for students from respective castes, and undertook reform of caste customs. The qualified youths of the lower castes soon realised that it was difficult to get admission in the profes­sional courses and in the post-graduate courses.

They could not compete with the upper caste youths such as Brahmins. They also failed to get jobs in the government services. They felt that they were discriminated against on the basis of caste. This led to anti-Brahmin feelings. The desire for mobility among the backward caste came from the census operations also.

The caste ‘sabhas’ represented to the census authorities the demand of individual castes to belong to a particular ‘ varna’ and not to a lower one. For example, the two peasant castes of Tamil Nadu, the Vellalas and Padaiyachis wanted to be recorded as ‘ Vaishyas’ and’ Vaniya Kula Kshatriyas’ respec­tively, and not as ‘Shudras’. Many such claims were made in 1931 census.

The ‘Sabhas’ also altered the styles of life of their castes in the direction of Sanskritisation. This included the giving up of forbidden meat (pork and carrion beef) and liquor, and the donning of the sacred thread, the shorten­ing of the mourning period like that of the Brahmins. In the case of very ‘low-castes’ it included non­performance of a traditional degrading duty such as ‘Carvee’ or other free labour or carrying palanquins, or beating the ‘tom-tom’ on ceremonial occasions. The upper caste people were mainly indifferent towards these trends. On some occasions, they used force to make the lower caste people to perform their traditional duties. The partition of Bengal in 1905 led to the intensification of nationalism, and also to the rise of communalism, casteism, linguism and regionalism. The Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 conceded separate electorates to Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.

Now, the lower castes also demanded separate electorate. Dr. Ambedkar fought for it. This made the back­ward class movement to become political. In South India, in Madras Presidency the Justice Party was formed to protect the interests of the Non-Brahmins ‘dominant castes’. It started newspapers in English and other languages to educate and to represent the case of the Non-Brahmins. Similarly, many periodicals were started by caste organisations in different parts of India. At the earlier stage ‘Backward Classes Movement’ meant’the non-Brahmin Movement’.

The non-Brahamin Movement had two aims: (i) demanding the sanction of more concessions and privi­leges (which would cause discrimination against the Brahmins) to surpass Brahmins in education and social status (ii) achieving “Swayam Maryada’ ox self respect. E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker started the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu. This movement was anti-Brahmin, anti-North, anti-Hindi, anti-Sanskrit and finally anti-God. Ramaswamy Naicker founded the Dravida Kazhagam—DK.

(Dravidian Federation) in 1945. In 1949, his disciple C. Annadurai founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-D.M.K (Dravidian Progressive Federation) which completely wiped out the domination of the Brahmins in the politics of Tamil Nadu. The D.K.

under the leadership of Naicker continued to pursue ariti-Brahminism in social and cultural fields. The D.M.K. and the Anna D.

M.K. (ADMK) continue their anti-Hindi and anti-Sanskrit attitude. But they are not very much anti-Brahmin now.

The DMK penetrated the Tamil film industry also. “Thus, the aim of the Backward Class Movement at this stage was to limit the Brahmin mo­nopoly in the two fields of education and appointment to government posts.” This movement was by no means a mass movement. The opposition to Brahmin dominance did not come from the low and the oppressed castes but from the leaders of the powerful, rural dominant castes such as Reddis and Kammas in Andhra, Vokkaligas and Lingayats in Karnataka, etc.

These were high caste groups with a social position next to the Brahmins. They included not only the Hindus but also the Muslims, Christians and other communities who also suffered from the same social disabilities. Hence it is relevant to use the term “Backward Classes”, and not ‘Backward Castes”.


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