When Periyar’s ideology and imagery get threatened, Periyar’s followers take it out on the weak, i.e., Brahmins.
The provocation now is probably linked to a function organized by Dravidar Kazhagam to demonstrate removal of ‘thaali’ (mangala sutra) and eating beef, and the all around opposition to that event by Hindus in general.
It all started with a programme in Puthiya Thalaimurai TV. Promos started appearing for a show that was to debate whether married women should continue to wear mangala sutra. Hindutva groups protested vociferously and the programme was dropped from the schedule. During the protest a camera person of the TV station was attacked, and the attackers were detained by the police.
Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), an outfit started by Periyar and currently run by K. Veeramani announced that they will organize a function in their Periyar Ground on the day of the Tamil New Year where women will voluntarily remove their mangala sutra. To add more spice to the function DK also announced that they will consume beef to protest against Maharashtra BJP government’s ban on beef.
Hindu organizations protested vehemently. Even the DMK partymen who generally work in tandem with DK felt uncomfortable as the assembly election is around the corner in 2016. Chennai Police banned the event. DK went to High Court and got a stay. Police approached a High Court bench to reinstate the ban. In the gap between the two judgments, DK hastily organized the function where many women volunteers removed their mangala sutra, and the crowd celebrated the event with a beef banquet. DMK’s Karunanidhi was cautious and said he did not support managala sutra removal events.
Shiv Sena which has a minor presence in the state staged a protest near DK’s office and this resulted in both sides physically attacking each other. Police intervened and had to resort to lathi charge.
It is in this backdrop that we have to look at the attack on the Brahmin priests.
Periyar’s DK movement is clearly anti-Hindu. It is against the Hindu gods, Hindu puranas, Hindu rituals and Hindu practices. It is therefore natural to expect devout Hindus to be against Periyar’s movement. Hindutva organizations are bound to demonstrate against DK and vice versa. But DK has also been vehemently anti-Brahmin. Its magazines are used to not only denigrate Hinduism in general but also specifically to attack only the Brahmins, leaving out every other caste.
Brahmins are, according to DK and Periyar, the root of all evil in Hinduism. Periyar repeatedly and wrongly used to propagate that the word ‘Sudra’ meant people born of illegitimate relationship. To this day, Periyarists state this without any proof and instigate hatred against the Brahmins. Their perverse logic goes this way. Brahmins with their tuft of hair and sacred thread remind the rest of the state’s population that they are Sudras and thus their parental background is questioned. That is, the very sporting of tuft and sacred thread by the Brahmins is insulting to the rest.
Thus, the goons cutting the sacred thread is not committing a crime. He is only wiping away the insult heaped on him by the Brahmin.
Another aspect has to be noted as well. Over the last few years, Hindu consolidation is happening in Tamil Nadu. People across the castes are coming together under various Hindutva organizations and the support for BJP has surged.
In response to the mangala sutra removal and beef eating event, photographs were circulated in social media of some women beating Periyar’s photo with footwear and some men urinating on Periyar’s photo. One can very clearly see that the people performing these acts not Brahmins but those belonging to other castes. But Brahmins are easily identifiable. Even within Brahmins, the orthodox Temple Priests are the easiest to spot and more importantly, the easiest to attack.
Hate crimes have no place in a modern society. I have argued elsewhere that Periyar’s movement, variously known as non-Brahmin movement, self-respect movement or Dravidian movement wanted to establish non-Brahmin, non-Dalit stranglehold over the political and administrative establishment in Tamil Nadu and successfully achieved the same. But there are fault lines in the Dravidian movement and the movement is disintegrating from within. The die-hard Periyarists cannot accept this and they would like to bring the non-Brahmin, non-Dalit forces together once again.
They cannot understand the fury of non-Brahminical Hindus attacking Periyar’s image. In their ignorance, all they can do is attack hapless Brahmin temple priests, who according to them signify the essence of Brahminical superiority in matters spiritual. The reality is far from that. Temple priests, both Brahmin and non-Brahmin are the poorest lot in the state, tied strongly to their daily rituals, earning a small fraction of what a full-time temple administrative employee gets paid every month. The temple priests are the ones in need of financial help and schemes for social uplifting.
The Periyarists, self-styles champions of social justice in Tamil Nadu, do have a perverse sense of what social justice is.