The remarks that the Governor of Tamil Nadu, R.N. Ravi, made last week, on Aryan-Dravidian differences being geographical and not racial, offer remarkable insights into the contemporary political state-of-affairs. In stark contrast to other Governors in non-Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States, Mr. Ravi has walked into the ideological thicket. The linkages Tamil Nadu has to the Dravidian political ideology are inalienable and the remarks made by Mr. Ravi must be viewed with some concern. While such interventions by unelected Governors in non-BJP ruled States have become par for the course, it is imperative to look closely into the merits and veracity of the claims raised by Mr. Ravi, for these go to revising the well-established idea of India itself.
Linguistics and race
The statements made by the Governor, initially at a function to commemorate the Vellore Sepoy Mutiny and then repeated at a function at Madurai Kamaraj University, can only be described as historical negationism. In the past, various leaders have strongly contested the Aryan Migration theory and have attributed the emergence and the evolution of the Aryan-Dravidian distinction to the British. By wading into this hotly contested ideological battle, Mr. Ravi has attempted to shake up the political discourse in Tamil Nadu.
What is notable, however, is that Mr. Ravi is not the first to make such claims. In fact, in his book, Bunch of Thoughts, the second chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, M.S. Golwalkar, viewed the Aryan-Dravidian distinction as a territorial denomination. By doing so, Golwalkar attempted to position Aryans as natives of the Indian subcontinent in the ‘Out of India Theory’ — which has now been widely discredited by academics. Nevertheless, the issues raised by Golwalkar, and now Mr. Ravi, must be taken seriously not because they are backed by academic rigour but because they challenge the idea of India itself. The Indian subcontinent boasts of a rich and diverse history involving multi-ethnic origins, and this has been established by in-depth scholarship on linguistics, mythology, folklore and anthropology, archaeology, geology, big-history and genetics. It was based on these academic pursuits that linguistic studies have established the uniqueness of the Dravidian language family (Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu, Tamil and so on).
Robert Caldwell, in his seminal work, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (published in 1856), has offered empirical evidence of the non-Sanskrit origins of Dravidian languages. The breakthrough in understanding linguistics was not an isolated event. It was accompanied by the emergence of a Tamil Renaissance movement that enabled a culture of political consciousness founded upon rationalism and spurred by social justice. Ideologues such as Ayotheethasa Pandithar, Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai and M.S. Purnalingam Pillai as well as latter day ‘Justice Party’ leaders such as Dr. T.M. Nair, P. Theagaraya Chetty and Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar championed the socio-political call for the emancipation of non-Brahmins. As such, these circumstances collectively seeded the idea of what was to become the Dravidian Movement — that took shape formally on November 20, 1916 at a meeting in Victoria Public Hall in then Madras city. In the book, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture (published in 1985), P.T. Srinivasa Aiyangar establishes the existence of Dravidian culture using Sangam-era literature.
The existence of a unique, pre-Aryan populace with a distinct cultural heritage and evolved literary traits has been fortified by archaeological evidence collected from the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the early 1920s, and further substantiated by the ongoing Keezhadi excavations in Tamil Nadu. With modern day advancements in handling fragile biodegradable material from excavation sites and also high-throughput genomic sequencing, we now understand how the Indian subcontinent was populated through waves of migration.
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These studies confirm the historical facts that have seeped into common understanding in Tamil Nadu over the course of the century-old Dravidian Movement. In 2018, the paper titled ‘The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia’ (co-authored by 92 scientists across a range of disciplines), further confirmed that Aryan migration into the subcontinent between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE. Published scientific work that followed also established that the Harappans of the Indus Valley Civilisation created an agricultural revolution in the subcontinent and narrowed the period of Aryan migration to 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE.
A theory debunked
Recent scientific findings have conclusively debunked the ‘Out of India Theory’, which is part of the larger narrative suggesting that Dravidians and Aryans are ethnically similar but geographically divided. This has posed serious problems to the supporters of Golwalkar who have recently set out to discover the lost, mystic river Saraswati and to repackage the Indus Valley Civilization as the ‘Saraswati Civilization’ without taking into account research which suggests that the language of Harappans could have been Dravidian/Proto-Dravidian. As such, C.N. Annadurai (Anna), a stalwart of the Dravidian Movement and a former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, had anticipated such baseless positioning in his book, Arya Mayai (Aryan Illusion).
Anna, building on Periyar E.V. Ramasami’s teachings, structured a socio-political discourse against superstitions, false beliefs and fake histories. Dravidian leaders including Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi supplemented their social policies with academic rigour, scientific temper and rational thinking — these became the benchmark of Dravidian politics. Even when political differences cropped up between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, its leaders did not make compromises on their steadfast beliefs in the core values of the Dravidian Movement and their opposition to caste-based social structures.
The ‘Dravidian model’
Therefore, it is not surprising that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin, has championed the cause of state interventions to root out inequalities and to create a fair ecosystem for everyone to thrive; he has called this the ‘Dravidian Model’. It is also a fact that the Chief Minister presented a book, titled Dravidian Model, to the Governor. This book, authored by economists Kalaiyarasan A. and Vijayabaskar M., provides a detailed, empirical interpretation of the modern-day political economy of Tamil Nadu.
In the remainder of his tenure in Tamil Nadu, Mr. Ravi may come across various such books, in addition to those cited here, that record meticulous evidence on how languages of India were shaped by waves of migration; and how streams of social movements took birth to speak emancipatory ideologies in different languages to make India a multi-source civilisation. Any other theory that the Governor may encounter needs to be viewed with suspicion in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the migration of Indo-European speakers, who were called Aryans, to India almost 4,000 years ago.
Manuraj Shunmugasundaram is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court and Spokesperson of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)