The harsh remarks made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin’s son and Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin in one of his speeches regarding Sanatana Dharma have been the established line not only of his party DMK but of the entire Dravidian movement. Listing the name of Sanatan Dharma along with Corona virus and some other infectious diseases, he said that they should not be opposed but should be eradicated. In the political atmosphere gradually heating up for the next general elections, BJP, instead of limiting the matter to DMK, turned it against the opposition’s INDIA alliance, which was natural. But many non-BJP politicians and serious Congress leaders like Karan Singh have also politely objected to Udhayanidhi’s statement.
Before going into the depth of Dravidian ideology and its viewpoint regarding Sanatan Dharma, let us also take a look at the clarification of youth leader Udhayanidhi that by talking about the abolition of Sanatan Dharma, he has not given any call against any community. However, this explanation does not clear some things. For example, if something is said about Sanatan Dharma or any other religion, there are many aspects associated with it. Firstly, those who believe in it can be children or elderly, rich or poor, men or women and their level of connection with the religion can also be different. Second, the structure of that religion, which includes the interpreters and worshipers of the religion, the scriptures and the religious places, along with the conflicting streams of that religion. Udhayanidhi has definitely presented a clarification regarding the followers of the religion, but has not said anything about the rest of the things.
The atheistic ideology of the Dravidian movement and its founder EV Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’ has from the beginning rejected Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma in all its aspects including all its philosophical debates. Be it the Arya Samaj movement, Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna Mission, or Gandhi’s liberal Sanatani thought, Periyar went ahead and attacked each one and exposed the other side of it all. Moreover, when Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar accepted Buddhism along with millions of his followers, Periyar did not consider this initiative of his too right. Later on, he was proved right that Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism would not have any permanent impact on the society, on the contrary, it would help India’s Sanatani mainstream to limit the impact of his movement.
It is really interesting that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement, two streams in India that had conflicting views on Sanatan Dharma, were founded a little later in 1925-26. Certainly, Periyar’s tradition of thought had deep roots in Tamil history, otherwise it would have been almost impossible for a political ideology with a strong atheistic mindset to survive for so long in India. Another aspect to be noted here is that in spite of all his flamboyance, Periyar had become irrelevant to his stream in the last twenty years of his life. The main reason for this was his demand to create a separate Dravidian nation by merging the Tamil parts of South India and Sri Lanka, which was not allowing his politics to progress. Then one day Annadurai broke away from Periyar and formed DMK and his stature in this stream became much higher.
The purpose of remembering this episode in connection with Udhayanidhi’s statement is that in democratic politics, excessive talk definitely benefits, but only one who reaches a level and balances it with practicality can go far in this. The revolutionary currents in North India did not adopt the path of ending Sanatan Dharma or rejecting it outright. Periyar’s intellectual influence was visible here as well, but it was confined to a few individuals or small circles. The names of Jagdev Prasad in Bihar and Lalai Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh are taken with respect even today in this connection. But the leadership of the backward movement remained largely in the hands of socialists in North India, whose ideological leader Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia had a vision of reforming Sanatan Dharma. Accordingly, he created an organization of sadhus and gave new meaning to mythological and epic characters through essays like ‘Ram, Krishna and Shiva’ and ‘Sita and Draupadi’.
Unfortunately, this reform agenda was also abandoned not only by the socialists but by all political streams in North India after the formation of contract governments in the 1960s. What’s more, issues like dowry deaths and burning of Dalit villages have been out of the agenda of the Indian political mainstream for a long time. From this, what Periyar had said seems to be true that some people with vested interests talk about reform within Sanatan Dharma only to serve some purpose, because its foundation is based on injustice and inequality on both the questions of caste and gender. . Gandhi spent decades trying to change this understanding, but how much he was able to change remains to be seen.
DMK will get instructions!
India’s opposition parties are saying that the ruling BJP is fanning the issue only to hide its failures. In her next meeting, she may ask DMK leaders to speak cautiously on religious matters, as Muslim opposition leaders have been asked till now. But in a country like India, no grassroots politics of the opposition can go far by completely ignoring cultural issues. Udhayanidhi’s description of Sanatan Dharma as an infectious disease hurts the sentiments of a large number of people. But a just language must be found to raise the issue of those people who are victims of caste, gender and sect based oppression on a larger political level.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.