The Importance Of Being Dr. Krishnasamy, In The Quest For A ‘Puthiya Thamizhagam’

The Importance Of Being Dr. Krishnasamy, In The Quest For A ‘Puthiya Thamizhagam’

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Wednesday, July 3, 2019 10:56 AM IST
The Importance Of Being Dr. Krishnasamy, In The Quest For A ‘Puthiya Thamizhagam’Dr Krishnasamy, founder of Puthiya Thamizhagam. 
  • Dr. Krishnasamy is one of those rare sane voices in Tamil Nadu who talks the language of dignity, backed by enterprise and action.

    He is most famous for his efforts to de-list his community of Devendra Kula Vellalars from the Scheduled Caste category.

    But the Dravidian, missionary and Islamist forces are in no mood to listen as it upsets their ‘Breaking India’ agenda.

On 19 February 1981, a small village in southern Tamil Nadu was preparing for a festival. The village, like any other Tamil Nadu village, was home to many Gods and Goddesses. And in its own calendar, there were quite a few number of local festivals - from harvest festivals to temple fairs. But this festival was different. On that day, 180 families out of 200, of a community designated as ‘Scheduled Community’, of that village had decided to convert to Islam.

Meenakshipuram would become the focus of national media attention and later Meenakshipuram, where the converts lived, would become Rahmath Nagar. The reaction of the press was typical: Caste Hindus versus the Dalits; caste discrimination inherent in Hinduism versus the egalitarian Islam et cetera.

The very same year, a few hundred kilometres away from Meenakshipuram, in Perur Coimbatore, invitations were getting sent to all communities in that village and vicinity for the annual chariot festival for Siva Pateeswara. The invitation proudly proclaimed the centrality of the very same community (whose members got converted in Meenakshipuram), to the festival through its own traditional monastery. The chords of the grand ceremonial chariot carrying Siva and Parvathi get first pulled by the community leaders of Devendrakula Vellalars and then the other communities follow their lead and the chariot is pulled.

That in a much more important Saivaite centre, the very same community called by the press as ‘Dalit’ or ‘broken community’ was getting accorded the highest sacred adoration by Hinduism was completely missed by the media - both national and local.

1981 invitation for the Chariot festival at Porur Siva Temple: Devendrakula Vellalar community gets the primary respect. [courtesy: Dr. Gnanasekaran]
1981 invitation for the Chariot festival at Porur Siva Temple: Devendrakula Vellalar community gets the primary respect. [courtesy: Dr. Gnanasekaran]

They went on describing the conversion, which happened more because of alleged police harassment owing to strained Devar and Devendrar community relations. The two communities were engaged in a conflict, vying for limited resources and power. Vote-bank politics also played its part. The police was harassing a youth belonging to the SC community in a murder case and to escape harassment, the villagers decided to use conversion as a shield. Communal organisations like the Jammat-e-Islami and the role of petro-dollars for conversion could not be discounted.

It should be noted that it was the British who played on inter-community rivalry by cunningly increasing the number of monotheists in the police force in specific villages. The DMK, which ruled Tamil Nadu previously, had further announced such communal appointments in the police force as one of its achievements.

This harassment and marginalisation of the Devendrakula Vellalar in Meenakshipuram in the 1970s and 1981 were more due to a local inter-caste conflict. The police played a partisan role and the general narrative of associating caste problems with Hinduism made a section of the villagers opt for conversion to Islam, which was also used by pan-Islamist forces inside and outside India.

Still the myth persists that the converted members did so because they were the oppressed Dalits - discriminated by the Hindu religion and society for millennia. In reality, the victim narrative was perpetuated by a combined vicious cycle of vote-bank and reservation politics. Ultimately, it resulted in the community being lured by non-Hindu proselytizers, thus threatening to cut them off completely from their ancestral culture.

It is in this situation that Dr. Krishnasamy, a medical doctor, who has for decades fought for the rights and economic uplift of this community against all odds started pointing out these ancient roots of his community - the respectful position it commanded in pre-colonial Tamil society.

A brilliant surgeon: In 1988, Dr. Krishnasamy made it to the newspapers when he saved a woman by removing a 4-kilo tumour from her stomach.
A brilliant surgeon: In 1988, Dr. Krishnasamy made it to the newspapers when he saved a woman by removing a 4-kilo tumour from her stomach.

Unfortunately, no proper study has been done on the way the good doctor has worked systematically for the betterment of his community. For example, two decades ago, he started his fight for the land rights of his people who were made landless labourers in tea estates. At that time, it was unthinkable. But today, his continued fight through his party ‘Puthiya Tamizhagam’ (New Tamil Nadu) has had a significant victory. In 1999 Dr. Krishnasamy organised a great agitation for the workers in the ‘Mancholai estate’ - their demand was increased daily wage and maternity leave.

The path of fire: Dr. Krishnasamy fighting for the rights of landless labourers in tea estates.
The path of fire: Dr. Krishnasamy fighting for the rights of landless labourers in tea estates.

The police under the DMK government opened fire and pushed the people in the rally including women and children into the Thamiraparani river of Tirunelveli. When everything was over, 17 persons - all the agitators including women and children carried by women in their hands had died - through downing and police attacks. Today in 2019, Tamil Nadu government has cancelled the lease contract with the BBTC company. This is a significant victory and the landless labourers are now in a position to claim their right to the land that they had created with generations of underpaid labour.

Along with such an uncompromising fight for rights, Dr. Krishnasamy has also taken up the much important fight of reclaiming the heritage of his community. And both land rights as well as cultural rights are highly inter-connected. The cultural and spiritual roots of the Devendrakula Vellalar community clearly shows their land rights in Tamil Nadu.

No more victimhood narrative. 
No more victimhood narrative. 

Naturally, the voice of Dr. Krishnasamy is feared today by proselytizing forces in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Krishnasamy, has been uncompromisingly vocal in supporting the central schemes in Tamil Nadu which have been opposed by the radical communist pseudo liberals, Tamil separatists and other ‘Breaking India’ forces. He supports NEET exams as well as the eight-lane Salem highway. He has constantly raised his voice in favour of cow protection too. He openly declared that he would take up a propaganda campaign in support of learning Hindi in Tamil Nadu. All these open challenges to the Dravidian and pseudo-Dalit narrative have however, made the separatist forces queasy.

His demand to take the community out of the Scheduled Community list and change its name to its original traditional name - Devendrakula Vellalar has come as a great show of strength for Hindu unity. The enlightened Hindu society in Tamil Nadu, irrespective of caste affiliations, has welcomed this social renaissance. However, there is a powerful ‘Break Hindu Society’ mafia trying to scuttle his efforts. They have been opposing this demand saying the claim of the ‘Vellala’ title by the Devendrakula Vellalars is “inappropriate”.

Devendrakula Vellalas or Mallars were derisively called Pallar by socially stagnant sections of society. It should be remembered that during the pre-colonial period in Tamil Nadu, the Devendrakula Vellalar community managed and administered one of the most precious resources needed for agriculture - water. The traditional literary genre of the community called ‘Pallu’ is known for its melody and poetic richness, not to mention the spiritual values and historical data embedded and enshrined in them.

The central and highly regarded social status of this community can be gauged by the fact that they were honoured during the temple tank festival in Madurai. Sri. Ma. Thangaraj in his book Thevendrakula Vellalar : Spiritual Heritage notes the following:

Devendrakula Vellalars getting ceremonial respect in the temple tank festival of Madurai: image courtesy: ‘Thevendrakula Vellalar: Spiritual Heritage’
Devendrakula Vellalars getting ceremonial respect in the temple tank festival of Madurai: image courtesy: ‘Thevendrakula Vellalar: Spiritual Heritage’
In Madurai, the temple city of Tamil Nadu, a pond was created by Thirumalai Naikkar at Anuppanadi. From that time every year during Thai Poosam (in January), pond festival is conducted. On the first day, Goddess Meenakshi comes there for the harvesting of the fields, which get irrigation from the first channel of the irrigation network of the Kirudumal river near Chinthamani. These first fields are given by the traditional authority of Meenakshi Amman temple to ‘Madai Kudumar’ clan of Thevendrakula Vellalar. The name means that they are the family managing the inlet and outlet of the irrigation network and hence masters in integrated water management. Next day during the sacred raft festival in the temple tank , Thevendrakula Vellalar community family of ‘Oor Kudumban’ is ceremonially invited by traditional temple authorities. The Thevendrakula Vellalar family patriarch gets the traditional crowning with sacred silk-white yellow cloth - Parivattam.

Among the Vellala communities of Tamil Nadu, there is a famous Purana detailing their Puranic history called ‘Marabala Purana or Vellala Purana’. Though written in 1907 by Mahavidwan Kandaswamy Kavirayar, it contains valuable historic information which has come down from previous centuries.

Here, the poet describes the Puranic forefather of Vellalas or the farming communities in Tamil Nadu as having arisen from the Jada-makuda or the matted hair-crown of Siva. This patriarch hero seeks the hand of the daughter of Devendra. However, to prove his Deva nature, Marabalan had to take a bath in the fire, which he does. Then Indra gives the title of ‘Deva’ to his heirs. The Purana says that Marabala married both the daughters of Devendra and Kubera.

One can decode the Puranic language here easily and map it to historical processes. Devendra controls the water through rain. Kubera is identified with accumulation of wealth. While there are many Vellala sub groups with names like Kongu Vellala, Nanchil Vellala (identifying with the region) or Saiva Vellala (identifying with spiritual tradition) or Karkatha Vellalar and Isai Vellalar (identifying with profession - the last name was a good social unification move by late CM Karunanidhi, was perhaps his only positive act), the word ‘Deva’ is used only by Devendrakula Vellalar and in terms of their occupation too they are related to water management and hence rains, thus validating the Puranic information by their presence. In many of their ‘Pallus’, whenever there was a need for rain, the Devendrakula Vellalar could communicate with Devendra and bring rain.

Devendrakula Vellalars ceremoniously honoured as Siva and Parvathi in Perur: [courtesy Dr. The.Gnanasekaran]
Devendrakula Vellalars ceremoniously honoured as Siva and Parvathi in Perur: [courtesy Dr. The.Gnanasekaran]

The association of Mallar or Devendrakula Vellalar with agriculture is also expressed in the various Puranic narratives of Tamil Nadu. According to tradition, when Sundarar one of the four Nayanmars, came to Perur, Siva appeared in the form of a Mallar-farmer and Parvathi was transplanting a rice sapling helping Her husband, while Murugan and Ganesha were playing as Mallar-children. To this day, this vision given to Sundarar is re-enacted in Perur Pateeswara temple. A couple of Devendrakula Vellalas are venerated as Siva and Parvathi and they do the ritual reenactment of the Sundarar episode.

Now, the question arises as to how then did they become suppressed and even branded as ‘Dalits’ etc. against which they are right now fighting? Prof. Mike Davis in his in-depth and exhaustive study Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, 2001), points out how the colonial administrators and policy makers systematically destroyed the irrigation infrastructure of Hindustan. Under British administration, the well-being of traditional water bodies and irrigation system was ignored and they were progressively replaced by a canal system.

Prof. Davis writes:

Finally, in most of India, water had always been a communally managed common resource. Generally, there was no notion of selling titles to land and its water resources. In British common law as witlessly applied to India, however, water rights went along with land titles as private property. “In effect,” as David Hardiman emphasizes, this meant that only those who owned land had a right to the water on it. In this way, all those who did not hold colonial land-deeds were excluded from access to water ... [leading to] the collapse of traditional water management structures.”

On the authority of David Mosse and Ludden, Davis explains further:

Likewise, in the districts of the Madras Deccan, the “development of private property rights and the dissolution of landowning collectivities ... destroyed the investment capacity of mirasidar assemblies altogether. British rule, in various ways, emancipated local political chiefs and big men from the obligation to invest in community resources and public institutions such as tank systems. The shortfall was not made good by the government’s own public works.

The meteoric fall of Devendrakula Vellalas should be traced to this period. Along with their fall came the famines that killed millions of Indians. Traditional Dharmic system of reciprocal relations and responsibilities gave way to the rise of land-owning castes who stood to gain not only social status as feudal land owners but also freedom from the responsibilities to fellow communities. Those communities who proudly call themselves ‘Vellala’ today have to look into this colonial baggage,that their assumed and perceived privileged position in today’s society carries.

It is indeed ironic if one looks at the way we have been taught history: A caste-ridden Hindu society dictated by Brahminical Hindu religion, kept the Scheduled Communities or Dalits oppressed. The enlightened British rule and those Indians enlightened by the British democratic value system started liberating the oppressed Dalits. It is this false narrative that has shaped many young minds of today.

 After Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr. Krishnasamy became the next prominent Tamil personality to pay his respects to Dr. Hedgewar.
After Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr. Krishnasamy became the next prominent Tamil personality to pay his respects to Dr. Hedgewar.

In reality, what history really reveals is that the so-called ‘Dalits’ (broken-people’) were not broken at all, but have been proud contributors to the material, cultural as well as spiritual prosperity and heritage of this nation. It was the colonial administration and our own narrow vested interests colluding with the colonial regime, which created the Scheduled Communities and the blame was unethically and comfortably shifted to Hinduism and the ever evasive ‘Brahminism’. Today, these communities which had been deprived of their rightful place are rejecting the victim narrative imposed on them and reasserting their rights in our cultural, social and economic domains.

The voice of the Devendrakula Vellalars then is the voice of Sanatana Dharma in its very true form and essence.

Dr. Krishnasamy with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat
Dr. Krishnasamy with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

This is what makes Dr. Krishnasamy very relevant and very important. Beyond political calculations, his voice today represents the victory of Dharma over colonial propaganda. When he stood in ‘Prarthana Sthithi’ at the Sangh camp as a special and honoured invitee, the vitality of that Dharma was vindicated for all to see. Today, Chennai is facing a grave water crisis. It will be a great victory for the forces of Dharma in Tamil Nadu if Dr. Krishnasamy is made the member of Rajya Sabha and a minister for the integrated water management.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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