Tamil nationalism

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Distribution of Tamil speakers in South India and Sri Lanka (1961).

Tamil nationalism expresses itself in the form of linguistic purism ("Pure Tamil"), of nationalism and irredentism ("Dravida Nadu"), and of Anti-Casteism ("Self-Respect Movement").

Tamils ruled over Tamilakam ("Home of the Tamils") during the pre-colonial era. After the colonial era, they became a part of India and Sri Lanka. Modern-day approach refers to the affection of Tamils towards Tamil language.

Sri Lanka[edit]

Since the Anti Tamil pogroms of 1983, known as Black July, Tamil nationalists in Sri Lanka attempted to create an independent state (Tamil Eelam) amid the increasing political and physical violence against ordinary Tamils by the Sri Lankan government which was dominated by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. After the island's independence from Britain, the Sri Lankan government passed the Citizenship Act of 1948, which made more than a million Tamils of Indian origin stateless. The government also passed a Sinhala Only Act, which severely threatens the natural presence of minority language as well as damaging their social mobility.[1].

In addition, the government also initiated Sinhalese colonisation scheme which is targeted to dilute the numerical presence of the minorities as well as to occupy the traditional economics such as agriculture and fisheries which is held by Tamils since immemorial times. In response an armed group known as the LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam emerged to safeguard the interest and rights of Tamils in their own land. Their violence and assassinations led them to be declared as terrorist by Malaysia, European Union and the USA. The resulting civil war has taken the lives of more than 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils since 1983 alone.[1]

Linguistic purism[edit]

Main article: Pure Tamil


The anti-Hindi agitation was a peaceful opposition to Hindi-extremism, a forceful imposition of Hindi language throughout India. Hindi-extremism was often supported by Political leaders who viewed it as a tool to spread casteism by re-instating Sanskrit en route Hindi.[2] C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), who wanted to reinstate “Varna system” in India, tried to forcefully impose the usage of Hindi as the national language, which mandates teaching of Hindi in all Indian schools. This move was immediately opposed by Periyar, who started an agitation that lasted for about three years. The agitation was multifaceted involving fasts, conferences, marches, picketing and protests. The government responded with a crackdown resulting in the death of two protesters and the arrest of 1,198 persons including women and children. The Congress Government of the Madras State, called in paramilitary forces to quell the agitation; their involvement resulted in the deaths of about seventy persons (by official estimates) including two policemen. Several Tamil leaders supported the continuation of the usage of English as the official language of India. To calm the situation, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long the non-Hindi speaking states wanted. The riots subsided after Shastri's assurance, as did the student agitation.

Four states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan[3]- have been granted the right to conduct proceedings in their High Courts in their official language, which, for all of them, was Hindi. However, the only non-Hindi state to seek a similar power - Tamil Nadu, which sought the right to conduct proceedings in Tamil in its High Court - had its application rejected by the central government earlier, which said it was advised to do so by the Supreme Court.[4] In 2006, the law ministry said that it would not object to Tamil Nadu state's desire to conduct Madras High Court proceedings in Tamil.[5][6][7][8][9] In 2010, the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court allowed lawyers to argue cases in Tamil...[10]

Basis in pre-modern literature[edit]

Although nationalism itself is a modern phenomenon, the expression of linguistic identity found in the modern Pure Tamil movement has pre-modern antecedents, in a "loyalty to Tamil" (as opposed to Sanskrit) visible in ancient Sangam literature.[11] The poems of Sangam literature imply a consciousness of independence or separateness from neighbouring regions.[12] Similarly, Silappadhikaaram, a post-Sangam epic, posits a cultural integrity for the entire Tamil region[13] and has been interpreted by Parthasarathy as presenting "an expansive vision of the Tamil imperium" which "speaks for all Tamils."[14] Subrahmanian sees in the epic the first expression of Tamil nationalism,[13] while Parthasarathy says that the epic shows "the beginnings of Tamil separatism."[15]

Medieval Tamil texts also demonstrate features of modern Tamil linguistic purism, most notably the claim of parity of status with Sanskrit which was traditionally seen in the rest of the Indian subcontinent as being a prestigious, trans-local language. Texts on prosody and poetics such as the 10th century Yaapparungalakkaarihai and the 11th century Veerasoazhiyam, for example, treat Tamil as the equal of Sanskrit in terms of literary prestige, and use the rhetorical device of describing Tamil as a beautiful young lady and as a pure, divine language[16] both of which are also central in modern Tamil nationalism.[17] Vaishnavite[18] and Shaivite[19] commentators took the claim of divinity one step further, claiming for Tamil a liturgical status, and seeking to endow Tamil texts with the status of a "fifth Veda."[20] Vaishnavite commentators such as Nanjiyar went one step further, declaring that people who were not Tamil lamented the fact that they were not born in a place where such a wonderful language was spoken.[21] This trend was not universal, and there were also authors who sought to argue and work against Tamil distinctiveness through, amongst other things, Sanskritisation.[22]

Dravidian identity[edit]

An official signboard in Tamil Nadu, which praises the Tamil language

Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu developed a Dravidian identity (as opposed to a Tamil identity distinct from other Dravidian-speaking peoples). "Dravidian nationalism" in this sense comprises the four major ethno-linguistic groups in South India. This idea was popularized during the 1930s to 1950s by a series of small movements and organizations that contended that the South Indians (Dravidians) formed a racial and a cultural entity that was different from the north Indians.

This particular moment claimed that the Brahmins were originally from the north and they imposed their language, Sanskrit, religion and heritage on the southern people. A new morphed ideology of the Dravidian nationalism gained momentum within the Tamil speakers during the 1930 and 1950.

Tamil Nationalism was thus based on three ideologies: dismantling of Brahmin hegemony; revitalization of the "Pure Tamil Language" and social reform by abolition of existing caste systems, religious practices and recasting women's equal position in the society.

By the late 1960s, the political parties who were espousing Dravidian ideologies gained power within the state of Tamil Nadu.[23] Subsequently the Nationalist ideologies lead to the argument by Tamil leaders that, at minimal, that Tamils must have self-determination or, at maximum, secession from India[24]

Dravidian nationalism has given rise to various doctrines of national mysticism and fanciful anachronism, such as Thaevanaeyap Paavaanar's Kumari Kandam, a continent spanning the Indian Ocean, submerged in 16,000 BC, or an "original Veda" composed by Mamuni Mayan some 10,000 years ago, Devaneya Pavanar's Homo Dravida of 200,000 BC, his Kumari Kandam civilization of 50,000 BC, his "Second Tamil Sangam" under a Pandyan king in 6097 BC, etc.

Political parties[edit]

Main article: Dravidian parties
Further information: Politics of Tamil Nadu

Since the 1969 election victory of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) under C. N. Annadurai, Tamil nationalism has been a permanent feature of the government of Tamil Nadu. After the Tamil people achieved self-determination the claim for secession became weaker with most mainstream political parties, except a fringe few, are committed to development of Tamil Nadu within a united India. Most major Tamil Nadu regional parties such as DMK, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) frequently participate as coalition partners of other pan-Indian parties in the Union Government of India at New Delhi. The inability of the national parties of India to comprehend and capitalize on Tamil nationalism is one of the main reasons for the lack of presence in Modern Tamil Nadu. The modern-day Tamil Nationalism have actually contributed to a more flaccid celebration of Tamil identity and the ‘uplift’ of the poor.[25]

Cross-straits nationalism[edit]

A lightboard that readsLong Live Tamil outside a public building in Tamil Nadu.

In October 2008, amongst an alleged build up in shelling into the Tamil civilian areas by the Lankan military, with the army moving in on the LTTE and the navy battling the latter's sea patrol, Indian Tamil MP's, including those supporting the Singh government in the DMK and PMK, threatened to resign en masse if the Indian government did not pressure the Lankan government to cease firing on civilians. In response, to this strain of nationalistic pressure, the Indian government reported it had upped the ante on the Lankan government to ease tensions.[26]

Tamil nationalists turn out in support of the Eelam rebels when Chennai-based The Hindu was alleged to have been supporting the Government of Sri Lanka. Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N. Ram named members of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, Thamizh Thesa Pothuvudaimai Katchi,[27] some lawyers, and law college students as responsible for incidents of vandalism at their offices.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FBI — Taming the Tamil Tigers". FBI. 
  2. ^ *Irschick, Eugene F. (1986). Tamil revivalism in the 1930s. Madras: Cre-A. OCLC 15015416
  3. ^ "Bar & Bench". Bar & Bench. 
  4. ^ Special Correspondent (12 March 2007), "Karunanidhi stands firm on Tamil in High Court", The Hindu (Chennai, India): 1 .
  5. ^ "No objection to Tamil as court language: A.P. Shah". The Hindu. 
  6. ^ Silobreaker: Make Tamil the language of Madras High Court: Karu
  7. ^ "Karunanidhi hopeful of Centre’s announcement". The Hindu. 
  8. ^ indianexpress.com
  9. ^ "Government of Tamil Nadu : Archives of Press Releases - Tamil Nadu Government Portal" (PDF). tn.gov.in. 
  10. ^ "Advocate argues in Tamil in High Court". The New Indian Express. 23 June 2010. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  11. ^ Steever 1987, p. 355
  12. ^ Abraham 2003, pp. 211, 217
  13. ^ a b Subrahmanian 1981, pp. 23–24
  14. ^ Parthasarathy 1993, pp. 1–2
  15. ^ Parthasarathy 1993, p. 344
  16. ^ Monius 2000, pp. 12–13
  17. ^ Ramaswamy 1993, pp. 690–698
  18. ^ Narayanan 1994, p. 26
  19. ^ Peterson 1982, p. 77
  20. ^ Cutler 1991, p. 770.
  21. ^ Clooney 1992, pp. 205–206
  22. ^ Pandian 1994, p. 87; Kailasapathy 1979, p. 32
  23. ^ Moorti 2004, p. 549
  24. ^ Kohli 2004, pp. 285–299
  25. ^ Palanithurai 1989
  26. ^ "India asks Lanka to protect civilians". The Times Of India. 18 October 2008. 
  27. ^ "தமிழ்த் தேசியப் பேரியக்கம்". tamizhdesiyam.blogspot.com. 


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  • Clooney, Francis X. (1992), "Extending the Canon: Some Implications of a Hindu Argument about Scripture", The Harvard Theological Review 85 (2): 197–215 
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