Lest we Forget – Iyothee Thass

Iyothee Thass on Aryans

Iyothee Thass wrote extensively about Aryans and Dravidians, Researches in the Indus Valley Civilization started only afterwards. He pointed out that Aryans came from outside and so they are ‘foreigners’. Dravidians are sons of soil, mulnivasis. They have the ability to rule the country and they must rule” said Iyothee Thass. “Immigrants have seized power and they should be driven out. Sons of the soil should rule the country” said Iyothee Thass.
Iyothee Thass was in fact very similar to Phuley not only in his interpretation of Aryan conquest and the origin of the caste system, but in his critique of Brahman nationalism and his insistence on education, openesss (including in trade, exchange of goods and ideas.)
Iyothee Thass on Swadeshi movement
Like Phuley, Iyothee Thass was a fierce critic of the swadeshi movement, which took on a strong organised form in agitations in the early 20th century. The columns in the tamil journal of Iyothee Thass written by himself, were titled “swadeshi reform” and attacked the hypocrisy of Brahmans whose continual exclusion of untouchables and non-brahmans was in contrast to their claim to be leaders of nationalism. He argued that the inner spirit of swadeshi and swaraj ( a term popularized by Maharashtrian radical nationalist Lokmaya Tilak) was based on four sorts of pride. Caste pride, religious pride, knowledge pride and wealth pride. What needed to be boycotted was not foreign cloth, but caste hatred, prejudice that resulted in burning the houses of the poor and destroying their gods and rituals.
His primary objection to swadeshi and swaraj was directed against the conduct of the brahmin proponents of nationalism. He enumerated several instances of discrimination and prejudice exhibited, not only by the brahmin congressman, but by the largely brahmin owned press and the brahmin publicist who mediated and constructed public opinion. Adumbrating at length on the inner spirit of swadeshi and swaraj, Iyothee Thass observed that it was animated by four sorts of pride; caste pride, religious pride, the pride of knowledge, the pride of knowledge and pride that comes from wealth. Having thus identified the ‘brahminical’ core of swadeshi ideology, Iyothee Thass proceeded the idea of “Boycott”. What needed to be Boycott, he observed, was not the foreign cloth but caste hatred, the kind of prejudice that could burn the house of poor and damn and destroy their gods and rituals.
It must be pointed out that Iyothee Thass did not desist from seeking tp press his agenda with the swadeshis. As early as 1892, he and others of the Dravida Mahajan Sangam, of which he was the founder, had sent memorials to the congress on a number of issues pertinent to Paraiah welfare. The congress suggested to forward it to the Madras Mahajan Sabha that was a more appropriate forum to discuss. When Iyothee Thass approached the Sabha with diverse demands, the latter were accorded a mixed reception. His plea that panchamas be allowed to worship at caste hindu temples was cried down by the sabha as a whole. The sabha’s Thanjavur representative, Sivarama sharma argued that since panchamas had their own gods, their Madurai Veerans, Katterisamis and Karuppannasamis, they could not hope to nor needed to worship at the temples of Siva and Vishnu. Iyothee Thass let that pass but insisted that panchamas be allowed to study and go to school and that they be assigned poromboke (waste) lands. (Tamizahan 16.12.08).
Iyothee Thass on Brahmins
Iyothee Thass was among the earliest non-brahman, Adi Dravida intellectuals who presented a systematic and sharp critique of brahmanical power, the brahman’s role in the modern society and polity, and above all, the brahman’s espousal of a problematic nationalism. He drew attention to rampant civil injustices and various acts of social and ritual discrimination that ensured Brahman exclusivity. He cited several instances of prejudice and discrimination practiced by not only Brahman proponents of nationalism, but by the largely Brahman owned press and the Brahman publicists who mediated and engineered public opinion. It is remarkable that he located the power of the modern, secular Brahman in the control he excercised over the construction of public opinion. On many occasions, he pointed out the caste bias and rancour prevalent in the orientation and presentation of events or opinions in the brahman-dominated nationalist press.
In one of the issue of “Tamilan” in 1908, Iyothee Thass titled one of the article as, “Power of District Magistrates for Indian”. In it he wrote, “If we give power of District Magistrates to these people(Brahmins), They will employ the people of their caste and cheat common Hindus. There will be endless troubles if high positions are given to those who call themselves “higher castes”..They regard even the British as inferior to them. They don’t have intellectual, physical, economic or even numerical strength. They have only the strength that comes from calling themselves people of high caste. This statement of Thass demonstrates that hindu surely did not represent all the natives (sons of soil). During this time only British Citizens who clear the civil service examinations conducted in London were eligible to become to collectors and judges and occupy other administrative positions of national significance.
The Brahmins..threw overboard those Vedas, Puranas, Smritis and Bashyams they had evolved over the years to enable them make a living. Now they took to the learning of those Vedic hymns that would earn them posts in the high court; they mastered those Smritis that brought them appointments in the department of revenue, the Upanishads which would help them find a place in the Abkari department and Bashyams that would lead them to jobs in the municipal office.
Yet added, Iyothee Thass, the brahmins as in the days of old, continued to remain exclusive and quarrel over their caste symbols, their subsects, their distinctive modes of living and eating. While they did not consider it an embarrassment to travel, dine and interact with peoples of other races and nations, they persisted in their semantic and symbolic quibbles over questions of caste identity, if only to distinguish themselves constantly and systematically from their fellow men and women.
Apart from the lack of support, the wealth of knowledge of the untouchables was destroyed by the caste Hindus who envied and hated them. Talking about this Iyothee Thass said in the 2nd March 1913 issue of Tamilan :, “Besides encouraging casteism, these people earn spreading lies through the business of religion. When the Jain saints and Buddhists condemned their (Hindu) ritual of sacrificing the goats, horses and cows and drove them out, the enraged Brahmins won the support of the local Christians and a majority of the people, killed the Jain/Buddhists saints, destroyed their places and burnt the palm-leaf manuscripts preserved by them.
According to Iyothee Thass, the unscrupulous ‘pseudo-brahmins’ spread themselves all over the Tamil country and killed the Buddhist kings and monks by impalement and by crushing them in oil-pressers. They also captured the Buddhist monasteries, demeaned Buddhists as ‘parayas’ and concocted several stories about ‘paraya lowliness

For Iyothee Thass, this historical situation explains the irreconcilable enmity between the Brahmans and the Paraiyars
It can easily be seen that from the beginning until the present day there rules a sort of enmity between the Persians called Brahmans and the Buddhists called Paraiyars […] the Buddhists’ whole historical tradition was destroyed because the Persians at that time came here as enemies of the Buddhists, abused the Buddhists with ‘Paraiyar, Paraiyar’ and subjugated them so that they could not develop.
As per Iyothee Thass Brahmins were puveyors of leaning and wisdom in the Buddhist past and were known as “arhats”. Then they knew no divisions, harboured no notions, of high and low and it was for this reason that those latecomers of history, the arya mlechas, sought to silence them and excile them to eternal lowness (Tamizhan 3 and 10.07.07)

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