“Mischievous attempt to divide the opposition to Brahminical hegemony”

The controversy over de-recognition of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras managed to unite political parties. With the exception of Hindutva parties, all of them have defended the rights of students to discuss the ideas of Ambedkar and Periyar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and other fringe outfits such as Hindu Makkal Katchi, on the other hand, did something ingenious: even as they supported de-recognition of the APSC, they sought to pit Dr. Ambedkar against Periyar, painting the latter as anti-Dalit and undemocratic while appropriating the legacy of the former, positing him as ‘Hindu’ reformer with views closer to the ones held by leaders of the Sangh Parivar.

Sullying Periyar’s legacy

The attempt to pit Periyar against Ambedkar, many Dalit and Peryarist intellectuals observe, is aimed to break the united opposition to the Brahminical caste system posed by both these icons, sully the legacy of Periyar in order to diminish the legacy of Dravidian movement and appropriate Ambedkar to the right wing cause.

 “Both Ambedkar and Periyar had same goals: they wanted to get rid of Hinduism from our society and dismantle the caste system. Of course, both may have had some differences and approaches, but emphasising those to create a rift between the followers of Periyar and Ambedkar is mischievous and an attempt to divide the opposition to Brahminical hegemony,” says Kali Poonkundran, deputy editor of Viduthalai, mouth-piece of Dravidar Kazhagam.

He said the real issue in IIT Madras was that the students began questioning total domination of upper castes in important positions. “What do you expect from an organisation, in which more than 95 per cent of the professors, associate professors and assistant professors are upper caste, when you start speaking of social justice and caste annihilation,” he asked.

With the elections a year away, attacks on Periyar’s legacy has increased from both the BJP and the Tamil nationalist parties, including Seeman-led Naam Tamilar Katchi.

D. Ravi Kumar, general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, who has been a critic of Periyar and Dravidian movement, agrees that it is time to ‘defend Periyar’ against Hindutva forces. “I criticised him to radicalise his ideas. I may have problem with Marxist economics, but that doesn’t mean I will accept right-wing economics,” he said. Despite the persistent efforts mounted by the Hindutva parties, Mr. Ravi Kumar stated that it cannot contain the radical views of Ambedkar about Hinduism and caste system.

 Many have observed that Sangh Parivar has embarked on a pan-India attempt to appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar with an eye on Dalit votes across India. Punitha Pandiyan, editor, Dalit Murasu, pointed out how the Sangh Parivar has consistently taken Dr. Ambedkar out of context and sometimes blatantly indulged in misinformation to paint him as ‘pro-Sanskrit’ and ‘pro-RSS’.

“If Dr. Ambedkar supported a strong India, it was to fight Brahminism. If Periyar called for separate Dravida Nadu, he sought to create a positive Tamil identity in opposition to Brahminism. Both the leaders have to be read in context,” he said, adding, “Those who appropriate Ambedkar and pit him against Periyar are only interested in perpetuating the caste system.”

Unhappy Dalit outfits

The attack on Periyar and appropriation of Ambedkar is happening at a time when Dalit outfits such as Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, unhappy with the two major Dravidian parties, are calling for a coalition government in the State.

 After the IIT Madras controversy, a number of APSCs have been formed in Tamil Nadu and throughout India. Speaking at one such launch of APSC, Thol. Thirumavalan, president of VCK, said that it is time for Periyarists, Ambedkarites and Marxists to unite under one banner against the common enemy. “We are all in the same team and we must fight this together,” he said.

“Sangh Parivar has embarked on a pan-India attempt to appropriate Ambedkar’s legacy with an eye on Dalit votes across India”