Friday, December 30, 2011

Inventing the Dravidian Race Part - 1, Breaking India

Colonial administrators and evangelists were able to divide and rule the peoples of the Indian subcontinent, based on imaginary histories and racial myths - to the extent of inventing an entire race called 'Dravidians'. Evangelical and colonial interest worked in tandem with ethno-linguistic scholars to fabricate the Dravidian identity. British administrator Brian Hodgson* invented the term 'Tamulian' to refer to what he considered to be non-Aryan indigenous population of India.

The catalyst who is credited with the construction of the 'Dravidian race' was a British missionary named Bishop Robert Caldwell (1814-91) from the Anglican church. He used linguistic theories to create a racial theory. In his papers and books presented to his peers he proposed that Dravidians were in India before the arrival of the Aryans, were cheated and kept in shackles by the Brahmin's through exploitation of religion. He demanded a complete removal of Sanskrit from Tamil, and once the Dravidian mind was free of the Brahmin Aryan influence, Christian evangelisation would reap the souls of the Dravidians.

Contrary to claims by other missionary scholars like William Carey, who supported the thesis that all Indian languages are derived from Sanskrit, a critical role was played by Alexander Campbell and Francis Ellis, collectors of Madras who broke rank and claimed that south Indian languages were not derived from Sanskrit which laid the foundation for later intervention. No Indian scholar or Pandit has made such a claim before.

A lie took to the absurd when Ellis claimed that Tamil and Dravidians are connected to Hebrew and also with Arabic. Their logic was based on some convoluted biblical theory of skin colour, all dark skinned people were children of Ham - the cursed one.

Caldwell transformed Linguistics into Ethnology which had far reaching consequences. He established the theological foundation for Dravidian separatism from Hinduism backed by the church. What this means simply is separating south India from north India by raising false boogies of Aryanism and Brahmanism supported by 'Atrocity Literature'**, disassociating Tamil from Hindu spirituality and giving it a independent origin which instills temporary pride before church usurps the classical art-forms of South India***. For all the degradation and insults heaped on Tamil culture and Hinduism a statue of Robert Caldwell and G.U. Pope another missionary has been erected on Marina beach in Chennai by the local state government. It is a major landmark in that city today.

Missionary strategy was two pronged. First, intensely study the devotional and spiritual literature and praise it in glowing terms to Tamil scholars. Second, they projected Tamil culture as being very different and totally independent from the rest of India. To support their argument they would provide spurious works created by the church to support this view. This body of work then went on to provide ideological underpinnings of later racist politics. Chandra Mallampalli, a christian scholar, explains:

South Indian political culture of non-Brahmanism drew its inspiration from the Dravidian ideology: this ideology posited a distinct linguistic and racial identity for south Indians. Non Brahmin agitators pitted Dravidian culture, which most often championed the Tamil language, against Hindu, Aryan or Sanskritic cultures from the North. Champions of Dravidianism and non-Brahmanism drew upon the cultural and linguistic resources provided by missionaries such as Robert Caldwell and G.U. Pope.

Missionary scholarship created a false local ethnic identity and Tamils were instructed to reject its Hindu nature. It became strategic to show that Tamil religion had strong ethical underpinnings on par with civilised world and this meant monotheistic Christianity. What these theorist failed to say and the people who fell for the Dravidian race theory and religion failed to ask was what is Tamil religion they talk of? But what was provided were quasi Christian traits retrofitted into Tamil devotional works to prove its similarity with Christianity. In fact the propaganda went to the extent of claiming that the Thirukural was influenced by St. Thomas and Thiruvalluvar the great Tamil Hindu saint was his disciple.

The second part of the strategy kicked in now. To show the proximity of Christianity with the spuriously created Tamil race-religion identity the missionaries chose the Kural - a non sectarian humanistic body of work and Saiva Siddhanta - corpus of scriptures seen as representing a native monotheistic counterpart to Christianity. Brook and Schmid identify two steps in the way these Tamil clsssics were used: first, separating Brahmins and non-Brahmins using the Kural; and second, linking Dravidian ideology with Saiva Siddhanta as an interim step towards further linking it with Christianity.

Robert Caldwell characterised the Brahmins as the racial others of the Dravidians, the Aryan colonisers^ who speak and read Sanskrit. Through this manipulation the Brahmins were made out to be colonisers and the actual colonisers the British and their Christian mission were projected as saviors of the Tamils.

Blogger Notes:
* Civil administrators and arm chair historians created race theories and similar such farcical concepts with absolutely no scientific rigour.
** Atrocity literature is a technical term referring to literature generated by a Western interest, with the explicit goal to show that the target non-Western culture is committing atrocities in its own people and hence need of Western intervention.
*** Recently attempts are being made to absorb Bharatnatyam, lamp lighting and many other Hindu art-form and traditions into Christianity. 
^ Missionaries dub Sanskrit speaking Aryan Brahmins as colonisers and oppressors of the Dravidians in the south but elsewhere in the north missionaries claim common ancestry with Aryans and attempt to usurping of Sanskrit and the Vedas.

Breaking India by Rajiv Malhotra and Arvindan Neelakandan

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