Overcoming the Aryan-Dravidian divide

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Source: This post is based on the article “Overcoming the Aryan-Dravidian divide” published in The Hindu on 30th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 1 – Indian culture: salient aspects of Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Relevance: About the Aryans and Dravidians.

News: Recently the Governor of Tamil Nadu has been criticised for his views on the Aryan-Dravidian divide. This is unfair as expressing one’s views on a sensitive issue cannot be construed as political interference.

About the cultural difference between Aryans and Dravidians

The eminent historian, P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar maintained that cultural differences existed between the Vedic and non-Vedic people. He also said that the Vedic culture is so reminiscent of the Indian soil and of the Indian atmosphere and the idea of its non-Indian origin is absurd.

What was the contribution of Caldwell to Dravidian languages?

Caldwell is one of the key early proponents of the idea of the Dravidian language family as a scientific entity. Caldwell’s work was published in 1856. But 40 years before Caldwell, Francis Whyte Ellis, the Collector of Madras, had laid the foundation for Caldwell’s theories through his writings.

Just a decade after Caldwell’s work, Charles E. Grover of the Royal Asiatic Society wrote in his famous work on Tamil folk songs wrote about the true character of the language and linguistic progress made since the publication of Dr. Caldwell’s book.

In that, he wrote, Caldwell “gives an appendix containing a considerable number of Dravidian words which he asserts to be Scythian… It is now known that every word in this list is distinctly Aryan.

Read more: An ancient Dravidian language link with the Indus Valley civilisation
How did the policy of divide and rule impacted Dravidian movements?

Many eminent scholars, both local and international, have written about the Dravidian movement’s colonial origins.

The eminent Cambridge historian, David Washbrook, identified the roots of Dravidian or non-Brahmin politics. He did this not in historic fault lines but in “the novel types of government and politics”  He also mentioned the British’s ‘divide and rule’ policy in “caste cliques”.

Washbrook gave concrete examples of that policy and concluded as follows: “In his manual on Coimbatore district… F. A. Nicholson freely admitted his inability to separate ‘true’ Gounder Vellalas from the hosts of rich peasants who had adopted or were adopting Gounder ceremonies, dress and customs. In the census of 1891, Sir Harold Stuart noted the ability of the Nairs of Malabar to absorb immigrants… in a single generation without apparent friction.”

The American historian Thomas Trautmann writes about the languages-and-race project of British. He describes the project as, “European view of race as a fundamental force of history and had a deep effect on the interpretation of Indian history.”

Read more: Endangered Languages in India – Explained, pointwise
What were the later debates on Aryans and Dravidians?

Scholars like Ashis Nandy have for long highlighted the importance of unclear and overlapping identities in pre-modern India as sources of tolerance.

Many neutral observers have noticed parallels between Dravidian politics and other chauvinistic ideologies. But one does not see the criticism of Aryans in mainstream intellectual circles as it is normally reserved for other nationalist ideologies.


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