E V Ramasamy (right) and C N Annadurai (left), founders of the Dravidian movement. In view of the Hindu Right’s assertive presence in Indian public life, ideas from the movement have acquired a new lease on life – but it remains to be seen how much they resonate with the citizenry at large. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
E V Ramasamy (right) and C N Annadurai (left), founders of the Dravidian movement. In view of the Hindu Right’s assertive presence in Indian public life, ideas from the movement have acquired a new lease on life – but it remains to be seen how much they resonate with the citizenry at large. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The limitations of the Dravidian model

Two recent books conjure up a society and polity in Tamil Nadu bound by a Dravidian consensus, but they fail to explore the economic and social contexts behind fissures in the Dravidian compact – especially when it comes to the Dalit question

On 6 March 2024, Justice Anita Sumanth, officiating at the Madras High Court, delivered a judgment in what has come to be known as the Sanatana Dharma case. In September 2023, Udhayanidhi Stalin, the minister for sports in the Tamil Nadu state government under the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, had spoken at a conference on abolishing Sanatana Dharma, convened by the Tamil Progressive Writers and Artists Association. He noted that any dharma that proclaimed itself as having existed forever, as Sanatana Dharma does, was bound to turn moribund and rigid. In this particular instance, it had become just that, and so had helped legitimise the caste system and foment hatred and violence. It therefore needed to be eradicated, he argued, as one would eradicate dread diseases. In contrast to those who abide by Sanatan Dharma’s “eternal” values, Udhayanidhi declared, Dravidian and communist ideologues favour a critique of all that existed earlier and set store by such change. He also pointed to the achievements of the “Dravidian” government ruling the state in sustaining a culture of peace and fraternity unlike the atmosphere of hatred and hurt fostered by those who claim to adhere to Sanatana Dharma.   

A writ petition was filed in the Madras High Court objecting to the minister’s remarks. The petitioner asked that a writ of quo warranto be issued against Udhayanidhi, and that he should show cause as to under what authority of law he could continue to hold his post. The petitioner’s lawyer argued that the minister had deliberately or otherwise misconstrued the meaning of Sanatana Dharma, which was not the same as varna dharma, which prescribes caste duties and ordains caste-based vocations. Rather, the petitioner held, Sanatan Dharma was another name for Hinduism. In other words, the minister had sought to malign Hinduism. 

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