“Tribal leaders are mere pawns in politics”

"Tribal leaders are mere pawns in politics"

Issue: Jul 31, 2003

Tribal activist C K Janu speaks on adivasi issues and the Muthanga controversy


Dalit Conversion and Social Protest in Travancore, 1854-1890

Dalit Conversion and Social Protest in Travancore, 1854-1890

by George Oommen

The Rev. George Oommen, Ph.D., received his doctorate at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is Chairperson and Professor of History of Christianity and Dean of Graduate Studies at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. This paper originally appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. XXVII, Nos. 3 & 4, Sept – Dec. 1996, pp. 69-84.

THE SACRED SHIT: A response to Dr. Anand teltumbde’s writing on scavenging

THE SACRED SHIT: A response to Dr. Anand teltumbde’s writing on scavenging

I am tired of reading articles written on scavenging. Usually everyone starts with giving a glamour’s title or sub-title to their article by saying “India Stinking”, “India Untouched” , etc and end up discussing elaborately on shit, which never smells bad while discussing it. The recent article written “hypocracy thy name India” by Anand Teltumbde goes ahead from the normal once to hit the core idea of Dalit movement based on, saying they should think of changing its idea from caste to class.
Overview of Dr. Anand Teltumbde’s writings on Scavenging
Anand teltumdbe has recently wrote articles on the “Savanur “incident (Tehelka, Dalit strategy for respect has failed, Vol 7, Issue 39, Dated October 02, 2010. His writing was published in Tehelka, Countercurrents.org etc. I hope the article gave a wider publicity. And for the same reason I am responding to his writings.
Before going further I would like to summarize the article. The article begins with an elaborative information of the protest and the response after it. Then he talks of the failure of the government mechanisms to implement the 1993 law on Manual scavenging. And he also says about how the Hindu forces were trying to hijack the savanur vote bank through this incident. Later he argues about the dalit movements failure in eradicating the caste system. And the reason he give is that caste cannot unite people rather class.
What stricken me was what was the author’s intention on writing the scavenging issue? Was he concerned of the scavenging people? If so when he speaks of the failure of government laws to ban the profession, why didn’t he research the reason for failure (we cannot just reject by saying there is no commitment for the government authority)? (We should also remember Acts enacted in parliament for SC/ST are not implemented properly. What is the reason behind it).And when he says that the Hindu Sammy and BJP poured into the area, then why didn’t he analyze the reason behind these sammys going to these places.
The issue of scavenging still exists in India because people do not go further the ‘shit’ argument. Either they romanticize or sympathize the scavenging community rather politizing the issue. After so many decades for once Scavengers protested in their usual way (I say usual because most of the Dalit movements took their hereditary job as a weapon or a symbol of their protest.) The protest which should have awakened the Dalit writers to rethink their strategy, but it seems they are adamant in rethinking their stand on the same issue, and rejecting the caste factor involved in it.
I would like to take few of his point and discuss.
1. ……. Ambedkar exhorted his followers to give up clearing and scavenging dead animals, eating their meat and urged them to discard ornaments indicating their caste. Strangely, the Savanur Dalits used the very marker of their dehumanisation as the medium of their protest…..
If we look the protest from the scavengers angle, the protest will not seem to be strange. The shit they clean every day was transformed into a political weapon, as any dalit movement did. For example pariyars taking their work as their weapon. Hence, it is not strange protest, rather it was a shocking protest shown by the scavenging community to the outsiders, who never expected such a protest.

2. ….This fractal, recursive, discrimination speaks of a gross malady within the Dalit movement, a movement which supposedly aims at the annihilation of caste, but paradoxically, uses caste as its cementing force. It has failed to realise that despite sustained failure over six decades to keep Dalits united, caste is not and cannot be a force of unity; it is, instead, a divisive force that splinters…….
First of all let us understand what Dalit movement means. Dalit is not a homogeneous entity anytime, it was never a unified movement. Every sub-caste movement within Dalit community is called as Dalit movement. But all are called Dalit movements for the simple reason they read the issue on caste lines.

3. …….It is high time that Dalits realised that their caste-centric outlook when opposing caste is not only theoretically unsound and morally bankrupt, but is also strategically and empirically wrong. It is high time they shunned the caste idiom and regrouped themselves as a class…….

Let us not underestimate the caste function in India, the Mandal commission would prove the same. Every leaders vote bank in India is caste based.
The issue of Scavenging cannot be bought to class. Most often surprises me is that everyone who speaks on scavenging do agree that the profession is a Caste profession and also agree that the scavenging caste also has non-scavenging community in its caste and they too live backward as equal to the scavenging people. But the writers suddenly shift their argument towards class. Even if they think it is a class problem they why are the Scavenging people who are working in government sector live the same life. Though they are economically powerful. Therefore it is the Caste. 1,86,776(Bangi population)
4. “Living on a prayer Saints and ministers queued up to meet the Bhangis”
This was a caption given in his article, but why this is not to research more. If we look on scavenging the spear headed movement was from the RSS in Gujarat. This is an area were people should look why scavenging is always attracted by the Hindu forces.
For the same reason I would say human excreta or the shit is a ‘scared’ for these people. The Government’s stand and the Dalits stand I want to clarify here on the scavenging issue. For government it is a Scared job, The government never sincerely tried in anyway to eradicate the scavenging profession but rather they wanted to modernize the profession. I perceive the point as if the shit is a scared for the Indian rulers therefore they don’t want the people to touch it in bare hands so they wanted them to were glouses, mask, etc. For NGO’s and dalits it is a evil practice. Hence they try to eradicate the ‘scared’ profession. When Dr. Ambedkar addressed the untouchables he asked for implementation of poona act and a reservation policy. But now people who address the scavenging issue they just wanted them to forcefully leave their jobs without an alternative government mechanism to offer them.

Pandithar Ayothiya Dass


Pandit Ayothidasar in the last decade of the 19th Century was a Writer, Journalist, Social reformer, Siddha Physician, Tamil and Buddhist Scholar. He edited and published THAMIZHAN a journal devoted to social reform for eight years. He opposed Brahminism Vedic rituals, untouchability. He championed communal representation, Women’s Rights, self-respect, Rationalism etc., unfortunately the world of Tamil scholar purposely ignored contribution to Tamil Life and Thought.

Only AD suffered this ignoring. Subramania Bharathiyar, V.O.Chimdambaram Pillai, Singaravelach Chettiar, Pandit U.V. Saminatha Iyer, Thiru.V.Kalyanasundara Madaliar, Pandithurai Thevar, Mahavidwan Raghava Iyengar who lived during the same period in the Madras Presidency were hounoured for theirs scholarship and patriotism. Ayothidasar’s many field contributions did not receive due recognition because he belonged to the Paraiyan caste.

The neglect Ayothidasar suffered was worse than physical violence. The higher-caste intellectuals in Tamil Nadu were adopt in practicing this variety of concealed violence.

We are presenting before you the history of Tamil Nadu 100 years ago which was ignored by this casteist intellectuals of Tamil Nadu European merchants came to India in the later half of the 17th century. They began as Traders but in course of time conquered and ruled large parts of the country including Madras State

During 1870’s Englishmen came to India in large numbers to construct roads and bridges. Railway lines were laid and new departments like post and telegraph, police, military etc were created.

They lived in colonies and with their families they required the services of interpreters, gardeners, servants, cooks and watchmen. They also required grooms for their horses. Because the post required physical labour people belonging to the dominant castes did not offer their services. Englishmen ate beef and that was an important reason why people from the dominant castes. Kept away from such services.

The depressed classes of TN the sons of the soil who were ignored by the caste ridden society were selected to do these jobs. The men who lived in the slums in and around Madras were selected to lay railway lines, run postal services and construct buildings. This resulted in the growth of big slums in Egmore, Chetput, Teynampet, Althottam etc.

The depressed classes who lived in these slums organized associations like Panchamar Maha Jana Sabhas to forge unity among themselves and improve their living conditions. They demanded facilities for education for their children and employment for themselves. They also requested the Govt. to allot lands to the Depressed classes for cultivation.

The British Govt. accepted their demands and either directly or through Christian Missionaries implemented them. On behalf of the DC’s many journals were published in the Madras Presidency.

When Sir Thomsa Munro was Governor of Madras Mr. george Harrington was led under him as the Heal of the state Construction Dept. Thiru. Kandappan served under him. He was a Tamil Scholar and also Siddha Physician. He possessed a plam-leaf copy of the great Tamil work, TIRUKKURAL. He understood its importance as a classic of world literature and so he carefully preserved the copy.

Kandappan’s son Kandasamy who lived in the Thousand Lights area in Madras was also a Siddha Physician. His wife gave birth to a male child on 20.05.1845 and the child was named Kathavarayan. He was also initiated into the hereditary profession Siddha Medicine. Later he joined Ayothidasar Pandit’s Village School. He developed great respect for his teacher and adopted his name.

English officials used to go to Nilgiris Hills during summer George Harrington took his Butler Kaudappan and his family members with him to Ooty Ayothidasar married Dhanalakshmi sister of Rettamalai, Srinivasan who was his relation.
Ayothidasar started Advaita Philosophy during his stay at Ooty and formed the Advaithanandha Sabha to propogate Advaita Philosophy Col. H.S. Olcott, President of the International Theosophical society had started 5 free schools for Panchama children in the centre of Madras. He also became acquainted with Rev. John Rathinam who started a school for the oppressed in Madras. He formed Dravidar Kazhagam in 1882 and started the journal ‘Dravida Pandian’ in 1885. Ayothidasar’s friendship with the two persons mentioned above introduced for reaching changes in his thinking.

St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai

When the Mahajana Sabha (Madras) conducted its General Body Meeting. Ayothidasar moved a resolution containing some demands. The opposition to his demands opened his eyes.
Did he make revolutionary demands? No, he requested that Pariahs may be allowed entry into Siva and Vishnu Temples. He also sought facilities for educating pariah children. These were ordinary demands but a 100 years ago they met with stiff opposition. Entrenched casteism opposed his very ordinary demands.

“You may call yourself a HINDU. But Siva and Vishnu are not your deities. Karuppasamy and Sudalamadan are your deities. Be satisfied with worshipping them” said caste Hindus. It was a defining moment in his life.

The palm leaf manuscript Naradiya Sangs Thelivu” narrates the history of Buddhism and how it was destroyed in the land of its birth. When he studied of his outlook changed.
In 1890’s he accepted Buddhist teachings. In 1898 July he went to Colombo with company of Col.Olcott and became a Buddhist.
“Buddhism was the religion of my concestors and I here returned to it”, wrote Ayothidasar.
He returned to Madras and founded the “south Indian Sakkiya Buddhist Sangh” at Royappettah (Madras). Its branches were started at Tiruppathur, Thangavayal, Marikuppam, Bangalore, Rangoon (Burma) etc.
Meetings were held every Sunday. Singaravelar, Prof. Lakshmi Narasu, A.P. Periyasamy Pulavar, Appaduraiar and Swapna Sundari spoke in these meetings. They exposed Vedic religion and Brahminism and supported rationalist ideas. He rewrote the history of the oppressed classes when Brahminism had subjugated in a stealthy manner.
Ayothidasar lived a life of struggle with Buddhism as parallel religion he countered Brahminism orthodoky.
When he said that Brahmin are steeped in casteism and non-Brahmins are victims of casteism, he was not indulging in speculation – he was speaking the TRUTH. He said on the basis of strong evidence that the untouchables were once followers of Buddhism. Brahminism punished recalcitrant individuals and denounced them as casteless persons and people of low birth. Thevaram, the Tamil Saivite hymn described fighters against Brahminism as “people of low birth”.
When one fights Brahminism he is immediately branded as a person of low birth. When an army cannot do Brahminism can achieve easily and quickly. Just as a virus kills a person Brahminism. Annihislates whole society, the sons of the soil. Ayothidasar understood this and opposed it.
Editor, Resurgence, Chennai
Ayothidasar came to the conclusion that Hinduism is the source of casteism and its attendant evils. He searched for a counter culture and discovered Buddhism. He para pharased the teachings of Buddhism and wrote insightful commentaries. He not only pointed out the short comings of Hindhuism, but also explained how Buddhism was supers on Hinduism .
Ayothidasar did not search for Buddhism in Buddhist Viharas and mutts. He searched for it among the people. He found out two sources of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu.
1) The oral traditions, customs and usage prevalent among the Tamils.
2) The songs and Tales of Buddhism were recorded in palm-leaf manuscripts and preserved palm-leaf by the lower mungs of the people. He studied the collections of Tamil ethical poems (THIRUKKURAL) and came to the conclusion that these represented ‘Tamil Buddhism’. Ancient Siddha texts proved to be sources of Buddhism.


Whenever Ayothidasar wrote about Buddhism he always referred to it as Tamil Buddhism because Buddhism is our State has a deep history behind it. Dr. Romila Thapar who has studied Buddhism in India has said that Tamil Buddhism is still an open field and it has to be thoroughly studied and researched.

Buddha’s spoke about Love, Tolerance, Equality, Rationalism etc which were concepts meant for the liberation of the oppressed people. He sowed the seeds of liberation theology; but it was not harvested by the suppressed people.
He founded a journal, oru paisa Tamilan and the first issued was published on 19.6.1907 from Royapettah. The journal was expected to provide a link with all the branches of Sakkya Buddhist Sangh and explain the principles and practices of Buddhism to its followers.
There are persons who cannot differentiate among the higher casts, the middle castes and the lower castes. Some philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and writers joined together to educate the people about the Right path, Honesty etc and they co-operated in the publication of oru paisa Tamilan Articles on Buddhist principles and practices along with news reports on events effecting the lives of the people were published in the journal. Current events were analysed and discussed. Articles on Women’s Education Prices of Essential Commodities and Book Reviews were published.

The journal worked tirelessly for the empowerment of the DC’s. It was popular with Tamilians living in the Madras Presidency and also outside the state.
It was during this period that ideas like Anti-Brahminism, Dravidian Ideology, Rationalism etc were discussed by all sections of the people in the Presidency. The Dravidian Movement gathered the stands and united them into a full fledged political ideology.

Leader, VC, Chennai.

“The DC’s are the sons of the soil they are the original inhabitants of this hoary land” declared Pandit Ayothidasar when the British Govt included DC’s in the religious category of the HINDUS he objected strongly and declared that they are not Hindus. They are the original inhabitants and they should be designated as Adhi Tamilan.

Tamils today are known for their passionate adherence to Tamil (language), Tamil Nationality and Tamil Nationalism. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the foundation for the fierce nationalism of the Tamil people was laid by Pandit Ayothidasar.
Research Worker,
I felt deeply thrilled when I read Ayothidasar’s book Aathivedham. Though Ayothidasar studied and wrote continuously his book (Aathivedham) reveals his total personality. He wrote the life of Buddha in a special manner.

He included Buddha’s teachings and thoughts in his narrative of Buddha life he maisted the question Why Pariah’s were suppressed at many places in the book. Who are the true Brahmins and who are the false Brahmins? Who are the real Brahmins and who act as Brahmins? Ayothidasar asked these questions frequently and gave the answers he instructs us as to how to read the Indian History. He writes about the history and identity of the Parisahs. He explains how the word Pariah has become a term of abuse in the present day. He writes about Human Rights. His book AATHIVEDHAM is a stupendous achievements.

Buddhism belongs to Tamil soil, Tamil Nadu. You cannot write Tamil history without discussing the part played by Buddhism in the history of the Tamils. He says Buddha’s Life is Buddhism. Buddha wanted people to live a life of dignity and honour. For that they should enjoy human mights which is the same thing as DALIT rights. He also thought about how to create the environment for the empowerment of the Dalits.

How to live without caste pride or humiliating the so-called lower castes? How to create an inclusive society based on Equality, Tolerance and Humanism? He mentions some incidents from the life of Buddha and exhorts us to create a Humanistic Society.
Pandit Ayothidasar and Dr. Ambedkar studied the Life of Buddha written by Aswagosh. Both studied books written in the Pali language. Ayothidasar’s writings stand testimony to the fact that he did not base himself on Tamil writings alone.

Ayothidasar always emphasized labour. It was an integral part of his campaign to eradicate caste. The so-called higher castes do not work and do not respect those who do physical work. He has written in many places that labour created knowledge. In his book Aathivedham he emphasizes the importance of labour. He associate labour with values. He asks: Do you work honestly and efficiently? Dr. Ambedkar also emphasized the importance of labour.
Scholar and Writes, Erode
Before Ayothidasar started writing there were not history books. But he wrote extensively about Aryans and Dravaidians Researches in the Indus Valley Civilization started only afterwards. He pointed out that Aryans came from outside and so they are ‘foreigners’. Other scholars who wrote about Buddhism based themselves on books written in the English Language. But Ayothidasar who knew Pali and Prakrit languages studied original Buddhist sources and wrote his books.
(Ex-Minister, GOI)
“Ayothidasar’s writings contributed to revival of Buddhism in the Madras Presidency. Dr. Ambedkar understood this and began from where he left. There are many instances to prove the above statement. He visited Madras on three occasions and also visited the Madras Christian College where Ayothidasar student, Lakshmi Narash taught. Ayothidasar had proved that the DC’s were originally Buddhists. Dr. Ambedkar accepted it and decided to embrace Buddhism.
Ayothidasar was an outstanding Rationalist Scholar and Writer. He wrote 37 books. He belonged to the SC and caste it forces in the state suppressed his books. His name was not mentioned. He quoted from books which were no longer available to modern scholars. In any case they could not fault his arguments.
“Dalits are not HINDUS. They are Ancient Tamils. They have the ability to rule the country and they must rule” said Ayothidasar. “Immigrants have seized power and they should be driven out. Sons of the soil should rule the country” said Ayothidasar.

He recorded these thoughts before Periyar EVR, before the great revolutionary leader Dr. Ambedkar. He was a great pioneering leader”.

Ayothidasar’s importance lies in the realm of culture. He wrote accurately about the history of the so called SC’s. He wrote again and again that untouchability came to be practices only a few centuries ago in Tamilnadu. This has been proved.
Adivasigal Seva Sangam, Ootty
These lands belonged to Ayothidasar. They destroyed his mutt. Two statues of Buddha were installed there. After Ayothidasar’s death there was nobody to look after the statues. We removed the statues and kept them in the Tulsimadam. Even now you can see them in the Tulsimadam.
Ayothidasar used the Tulsimadam as a place of meditation. Sometimes he conducted free Siddha Medical Camps there. Toda hill tribes used to meet him and get medical treatment.
Ayothidasar’s Tulasimadam has been captured by the followers of HINDUTVA and his name has been suppressed. A manimandapam should be constructed in his memory in NILGIRIS – OOTY. His statue should be installed and the Govt. college in Ooty should be named after him. We appeal to the Hon. Chief Minister of TN to do the needful.

“We shall revive Tamil Buddhism is the light of Ayothidasar’s Teachings and liberate the suppressed
people of TAMILNADU.

Pandithar Ayothyadass


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