Thursday, March 14, 2013

Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar

Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium
From Iyothee Thass to Periyar
V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai
demy octavo hb 538pp ISBN 81-85604-37-1 Rs 650 rev ed with Afterword 2008

'The manner in which we read a book like this exposes our own cultural locations..'
--- The Indian Review of Books
The revised edition of the history of non-brahmin assertion to brahmin hegemony in the old Madras Presidency argues that this complex and layered past has to be critically re-claimed for our times. An analytical study of the gestation of the movement, of its forebears like Iyothee Thass and his contemporaries, the book also provides an incisive discussion on the contributions of Periyar E. V. Ramasami, the path-breaking founder of the Self-Respect movement and offers a textured history of a crucial decade – the 1920s to the 1930s – which witnessed important achievements at building a historic bloc that knit together the interests of non-brahmins and dalits. It goes on to analyse the Justice Party, the first non-brahmin political initiative in government, revealing its successes and significant limitations, and where the interests of the non-brahmins and that of the adi dravidas diverged.
The Self-Respect movement is discussed in detail, and translations from the writings of Periyar give readers in English a glimpse of his humour and scathing insights. The book demonstrates how the movement ‘conceptualized the relationship between caste, gender and sexuality’ and includes the wonderfully carnivalesque denunciations of caste, brahmin priesthood and the nation by youthful Self-Respecters. It ends with a critical account of the anti-Hindi agitations that inaugurated a new era of Dravidian nationalism.
The Afterword discusses various reactions to the book as well as current political developments that have influenced the way some critics have viewed the Non-Brahmin movement. Revisiting the debates of the 1930s can be ‘exciting as well as sobering’.

V. Geetha writes in Tamil and in English on contemporary Tamil history, culture and society and on gender. Among her books published by Stree-Samya are Gender ; and Patriarchy. S. V. Rajadurai (pseudonym for K. Manoharan) is a well-known Tamil writer and translator who has long been involved with the radical Left and the civil liberties movement.

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