The caste identity of U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, known as Tamil thatha (grand old man of Tamil), has never come in the way of the recognition he gained through his immense contribution to Tamil. However, the Tamil Nadu Textbook Corporation has dropped the part of his name denoting his caste, perhaps thinking it is wrong to use the caste identity.
In the Tamil textbook for Class XII students, there is a lesson titled ‘ Pandaiya kalathu pallikoodangal’ (Schools of ancient times) by Swaminatha Iyer. He has been referred to as U.Ve. Swaminathar instead.
Sources said the name was changed in line with an order issued by the State government years ago to dispense with caste names in streets and other references.
In 1978, while addressing the centenary celebrations of Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran announced that his government would take steps to remove caste references from the names of streets and roads. Subsequently, a government order was issued for the same. In 1997, following communal riots in southern districts, then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi removed the names of leaders given to various districts. Even transport corporations had to give up names like Pallavan, Pandian, Cheran, Chozhan and Pattukottai Alagiri.
The Tamil Nadu Textbook Corporation did not stop with Swaminatha Iyer. His teacher, Meenakshisundaram Pillai, is identified as Meenakshisundaranar.
Mayavaram Vedanayagam Pillai, author of the first Tamil novel, is referred to as just Vedanayagam; Sri Lankan Tamil scholar C.W. Thamotharampillai is now Damodaranar; and poet Namakkal Kavignar Ramalingam Pillai has become Ramalinganar. However, titles like Dikshitar and Desikar remain unchanged.
When asked for his opinion, V. Arasu, former head of the Department of Tamil, University of Madras, said the scholars whose caste identity was part of their personality could be given an exemption.