Reducing national icons to caste leaders

Tamil Nadu can boast of an array of freedom fighters, both in the early years when local rulers took on the East India Company, and in the modern era of political activism against the British empire. There were regional chieftains like the Marudhu brothers and Veerapandiya Kattabomman, but their forces were decimated in the fight against the Company’s army. The British later had to face the likes of V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, who ran a Swadeshi shipping company, poet Subramania Bharathi and Vanchinathan, a youth who assassinated Tirunelveli Collector Ashe.

However, today, most of these leaders seem to have lost their identity as freedom fighters, and their stature has been diminished to those of caste representatives. Chidambaram Pillai and even Communist leader B. Jeevanandam have become mascots of Vellala organisations across the State.

“When I started my research on VOC in the 1980s, it was not the case. The trend began only in the 1990s in the wake of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Caste assertion led to the appropriation of freedom fighters,” said A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies.

The same fate befell kingmaker and freedom fighter Kamaraj after his image was overshadowed by political developments and the Congress weakened. Nadars began to project him as their leader.

An example of political leaders being discovered from history for a sectarian agenda is freedom fighter and songster Viswanatha Das, whose name is now sought to be associated with the Maruthuvar community.

“I can understand the need for a marginalised community like Maruthuvar to project a hero, but what is the need for a community that has already gained status politically and economically in the society to do so,” Mr. Venkatachalapathy asked.

Whether it is the Marudhu brothers or Theeran Chinnamalai or Veeran Azhagumuthu Kon or Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar or Sankaralingam, all of them have been reduced to caste leaders by their communities.

Writer S.V. Rajadurai said pre-colonial warriors were appropriated by caste outfits because every community was keen on claiming a role for itself in the freedom movement. “It is a very dangerous trend. Instead of inculcating national feelings among the people, the names of these leaders are invoked to express caste pride and create a divide in society,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 3:44:42 AM |

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