From Dalitiyam to Tamil Nationalism among the Discriminated in Tamil Nadu

6 min readFeb 7, 2024

Mu. Kalañchiyam

In the evolution of man the greatest breakthrough was his ability to use his forelegs as hands, as instruments of production, his throat as means of speaking. Then came gradually the division of labour among people all over the world. That became then his family occupation and later as the job assigned to his tribe.

At the same time there was a stage when all people can do all works. All the means of production were in common possession. So when the varna system (caste) arose, it did not change into inimical varnas. The conflicts arose in production and claiming of rights over the products. Varna system created gradually contradictory varnas. Then the varna system assumes its origin by birth.

We might think that the castes (varnas) were practiced in the same way all over India. The creation of social hierarchy in North India is different form from the way it took shape in Tamilnadu. But it took roots all over India, while the Aryas created a structure with its rules and regulations. Eventually casteism grew with caste frenzy and hatred towards the others.

The Sangam Literature shows how the respected communities of higher social rank became the discriminated lot. One of the hymns of Puranānūru refers to the Tutiyan, Pānan, Paraiyan and Katampan as the basic tribes. But today the Tamil society is so much divided with innumerable castes and sub-castes.

Among the language based tribes Tamil Nationalism stands first. They are divided into dalits and non-dalits. This is a painful state of affairs. Now the question arises whether dalitiyam and Tamil Nationalism are different. But what is Tamil Nationalism? It is not properly understood by many. Each one talks of it according to his/her own caste understanding.

In fact Tamil Nationalism is formed naturally based on language spoken by the people. Thus we are Tamils. We have a mother tongue. Whether we are united or we quarrel among ourselves, Tamil is the means of communication. It was not thrust upon us, but it arose naturally.

That is why the anthropologists all over the world divided the people into two groups — group based on a tradition (marap-inam) and group based on nationalism (teciya inam). Tradition is based on physical structure and features and national tribe is based on the language spoken. In that sense those who spoke Tamil are Tamil Nationalists. This relationship is created based on language, land, culture and meaning system. That becomes a land where a particular language is spoken. The region of land where the Tamils inhabit, becomes a nation and their politics is Tamil nationalistic politics.

Nation itself is a society characterized by a common language, culture, contiguous landscape. In that nation arise caste divisions and sectarians groups. Then we have to realize that dalitiyam or dalit is based on castes, the conflicts arising from caste contradictions prevailing in Tamil nationalism.

To create Tamil Nationalism the first pre-requisite is unity among Tamil people without any social divisions. Among the caste-ridden Tamil people, a race or group refers to caste. So it is difficult to create an ethnic group unity beyond caste divisions.

The hurdle is the caste structure. After dividing the people of natural formation into caste groups, how can one unite the Tamils?

So the caste notion must be annihilated root and branch. This concern is of all Tamil people. There are dalits among Tamils. That is the problem. As far as Tamilakam is concerned, dalit people are the Tamils.

Dalit means oppressed or broken people. The ruling caste sanātanis have divided people by birth –pancamar, low people, untouchables, harijans etc. Dalit ideal totally rejects these terminologies. There are humiliating words used by the ruling caste. So untouchability is the dividing line between dalits and non-dalits.

Dalit revolution arose in the recent past in the prevailing Indian socio-cultural context. That has spread across the nation, deeply rooted among people, speaks loud idealizing itself. ‘Dalit’ is taken from Marathi language meaning suppressed or broken. That does not refer to caste, but to the discriminated people. Now in practice the discriminated people, pañcamas, scheduled castes, ādi-dravidas are identified as dalits.

Even though dalit refers to a low caste group, it becomes a platform, where the social activists rally around to protest, in order to bring about social awareness among the oppressed class. But to accept dalitiyam as indianness, accepting Indian nation, etc. amounts to giving up identity marks of Tamil Nationalism.

Opposition to Tamil Nationalism comes from dalitiyam. This is born out of Indian nationalism. Hindutvam and Indian nationalism are opposed to Tamil nationalism. This must be clearly understood. It is dalit concept and caste associations make the Tamil nationalism unacceptable and untrustworthy. But there is a difference in this. Dalitiyam opposes castes and protests to eliminate it. But the caste associations encourage caste groups, makes their caste people fanatics. Here those who oppose caste and those who encourage castes associations fanatically oppose Tamil nationalism.

It is true the dalits are Tamils. Even if we say they are Tamil nationalists, the Tamil nationalism will be unreachable for them as they will be absorbed into the non-dalit people’s lifestyle by living together. They will be diluted as marginal groups.

Why do they mix shit in the drinking water tank meant for the dalits? Why do they need separate water tanks for the dalits and non-dalits? What is the point of abusing the dalit boy for entering the temple? What rationale is there for beating up a clever dalit boy and butchering him to death at home? In places like Kīlvenmani, Mēlavalavu, Kotiyankulam, Tāmiraparani, Tindivanam, Viluppuram, Uraiyūr and in hundreds of villages the Dalits are butchered inhumanly. How does one understand this phenomenon?

Change of religion does not seem to be a solution. In the Christian churches the caste humiliation does not disappear. In the churches they are not seen equal as God’s children, but as dalit children. If anyone questions this, violence erupts there too. Why this hatred against the dalit people.?

This is what stands against Tamil Nationalism. Conceptually the other Tamils call dalits as Tamils. But heart of heart they prefer to stand apart. Untouchability prevails in drinking water, in burial grounds and places of worship. Caste feeling is so rooted in them, but they do not acknowledge it.

Non-brahmins who accept untouchability and act with such mentality must be called Brahmins. In supporting dalit Tamil, the non-dalit Tamils are not less aggressive in social area. In other words, in the social arena of the Tamils, the first contradiction is enmity between dalits and non-dalits.

So they are sidetracked from the Tamil Nationalism and they continue to stand as dalits. Hence from Dalitiyam to Tamil Nationalism means dalits and non-dalits ruling castes must understand that Tamil Naionalism does not accept caste and to join Tamil nationalism is to root out caste divisions, because liberation of dalits and of Tamil Nationalism are not different. Unlike the ethnic struggles all over the world, ethnic nationalism in India cannot succeed without destroying caste structure and untouchability. That is the greatest challenge for Tamil Nationalism.

So the “Tamil Nationalism which does not accept Dalitiyam is a plant without seed. Dalitiyam that does not grow in Tamil Nationalism is the plant without roots.” Marching towards Tamil Nationalism is decisive, if its forces win over dalit people. That is the duty of tamil Nartionalism. Annihilation of caste is the liberation of Tamil Nationalism. This must be understood by both the groups.

(Mu. Kalanchiyam is a versatile Director/Actor who works predominantly in the Tamil film Industry and Directed seven films so far. Apart from this he has undergone a screenwriting course in Australia. He is serving as a politician and currently involved in active Politics in Tamil Nadu. Before entering the Film Industry, he has worked in the navy. Now that he is working on a full-time film Director who wants to take good and valuable movies.)