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Dravidistan, Dravidasthan, or Dravida Nadu was the name of a proposed sovereign state for all non-Brahmin speakers of Dravidian languages in South Asia. Initially, the demand of Dravida Nadu proponents was limited to Tamil-speaking region, but later, it was expanded to include other states with Dravidian speakers in majority (Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka.[1]) Some of the proponents also included parts of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)[2], Orissa and Maharashtra.[3] Other names for the proposed sovereign state include "South India", "Deccan Federation" and "Dakshinapath".[4][5]

The movement for Dravidistan was at its height from 1940s to 1960s, but failed to find any support outside Tamil Nadu.[6][7] Even in Tamil Nadu, where the anti-Hindi agitations attracted many supporters, there was no serious demand on the part of the common people for a sovereign Dravidian state.[8][9]

The reorganization of the Indian states along linguistic lines through the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 weakened the separatist movement.[10], and the prominent Tamil leader E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker gave up the demand for Dravidistan in 1956.[11]. The movement was continued by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which formally gave up its demand for a separate sovereign state in 1963.


The concept of Dravidistan had its root in the anti-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu, whose aim was to end the alleged Brahmin dominance in the Tamil society and government. The early demands of this movement were social equality, and greater power and control.[12] However, over the time, it came to include a separatist movement, demanding a sovereign state for the Tamil people. The major political party backing this movement was the Justice Party, which came to power in the Madras Presidency in 1921.

Since the late 19th century, the anti-Brahmin Tamil leaders stated that the non-Brahmin Tamils were the original inhabitants of the Tamil-speaking region.[13] The Brahmins, on the other hand, were described not only as oppressors, but even as a foreign power, on par with the British colonial rulers.[14].

The prominent Tamil leader, E. V. Ramasami Naicker (popularly known as "Periyar") stated that the Tamil society was free of any societal divisions before the arrival of Brahmins, whom he described as Aryan invaders. Periyar was an atheist, and considered the Indian nationalism as "an atavistic desire to endow the Hindu past on a more durable and contemporary basis".[15]

The proponents of Dravidistan constructed elaborate historical anthropologies to support their theory that the Dravidian-speaking areas once had a great non-Brahmin polity and civilization, which had been destroyed by the Aryan conquest and Brahmin hegemony. This led to an idealization of the ancient Tamil society before its contact with the "Aryan race", and led to a surge in the Tamil Nationalism.[13] Periyar expounded the Hindu epic Ramayana as a disguised historical account of how the Aryans subjugated the Tamils ruled by Ravana.[16] Some of the separatists also posed Saivism as an indigenous, even non-Hindu religion.

The Indian National Congress, a majority of whose leaders were Brahmins, came to be identified as Brahmin party.[12] Periyar, who had joined Congress in 1919, became disillusioned with what he considered as the Brahminic leadership of the party.[13] The link between Brahmins and Congress became a target of the growing Tamil nationalism.

In 1925, Periyar launched the Self-respect movement, and by 1930, he was formulating the most radical "anti-Aryanism".[14] The rapport between the Justice Party and the Self-Respect movement of Naicker (who joined the party in 1935) strengthen the anti-Brahmin, anti-North sentiment. In 1937-38, Hindi and Hindustani were introduced as new subjects in the schools, when C. Rajagopalachari of Congress became the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency. This led to widespread protests in the Tamil-speaking region, which had a strong independent linguistic identity. Periyar saw the Congress imposition of Hindi in government schools as further proof of an Aryan conspiracy.[15]

In December 1938, the Justice Party Convention passed a resolution stressing Tamil people's right to a separate sovereign state, under the direct control of the Secretary of State for India in London.[17]

In 1939, Periyar organized the Dravida Nadu Conference for the advocacy of a separate, sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu.[18] In a speech on December 17, 1939, he raised the slogan "Dravida Nadu for Dravidians", which replaced the earlier slogan "Tamil Nadu for Tamils". In 1940, the South Indian Liberal Federation (Justice Party) passed a resolution demanding a sovereign state of Dravidistan.[19]

In July 1940, a secession committee was formed at the Dravida Nadu Secession Conference held in Kanchipuram. On August 24, 1940, the Tiruvarur Provincial Conference resolved that Dravda Nadu should be an independent state (thani-naadu).[20] The proponents of Dravidistan also sought to associate and amalgamate Tamil Islam within a supposedly more ancient Dravidian religion, which threatened the Islamic identity of Tamil Muslims, some of whom had earlier supported the demand for a sovereign Dravidistan movement.[21]

By 1940s, Periyar supported Muslim League's claim for a separate Pakistan, and expected its support in return.[22] In an interview with the Governor of Madras, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main proponent of Pakistan, said that India should be divided into four regions: Dravidistan, Hindustan, Bengalistan and Pakistan; Dravidistan would approximately consist of the area under the Madras Presidency.[23] Jinnah stated "I have every sympathy and shall do all to help, and you establish Dravidistan where the 7 per cent Muslim population will stretch its hands of friendship and live with you on lines of security, justice and fairplay."[24]

In August 1944, Periyar carved a new party called Dravidar Kazhagam out of the Justice Party, at the Salem Provincial Conference. The creation of a separate non-Brahmin Dravidian nation was a central aim of the party.[15] In 1944, when Periyar met the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar to discuss join initiatives, Ambedkar stated that the idea of Dravidistan was applicable to entire India, since "Brahminism" was "a problem for the entire subcontinent".[15]

At the Dravidar Kazhagam State Conference in Tiruchi in the 1940s, prominent Tamil leader C. N. Annadurai stated that it was necessary to divide India racially to prevent "violent revolutions" in future, that according to him, had been prevented due to the British occupation of India.[25]

On July 1, 1947, the separatist Tamil leaders celebrated the "Dravida Nadu Secession Day".[20] On July 13, 1947, they passed a resolution in Tiruchirapalli demanding an independent Dravidistan. On July 16, Mahatma Gandhi expressed his opposition to the demand.[26] Also in 1947, Jinnah refused to help Naicker to help create a Dravidastan.[27]

When India achieved Independence in August 1947, Periyar saw it as a sad event that marked the transfer of power to "Aryans", while Annadurai considered as a step towards an independent Dravida Nadu, and celebrated it. Over the time, disputes arose between the two leaders. They fell out after Periyar anointed his young wife to as his successor to lead the party, superseding senior party leaders.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

In 1949, Annadurai and other leaders split up and established Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Annadurai was initially more radical than Naicker in his demand for a separate Dravidistan.[28]

In 1950, Naicker stated that Dravidistan, if it comes into being, will be a friendly and helpful state to India.[29] When the political power in Tamil Nadu shifted to the non-Brahmin K. Kamaraj in the 1950s, Naicker's DK supported the Congress ministry.[30] In late 1950s and early 1960s, the Dravida Nadu proponents changed their demand for an independent Dravida Nadu to an independent Tamil Nadu, as they didn't receive any support from the non-Tamil Dravidian-speaking states.[31] Periyar changed the banner in his magazine Viduthalai from "Dravida Nadu for Dravidians" to "Tamil Nadu for Tamils".

The reorganization of the Indian states along linguistic lines through the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 weakened the separatist movement.[10] In June-July 1956, the founder of Kazhagam, E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, declared that he had given up the goal of Dravidistan.[11]

However, by this time, DMK had taken over from DK as the main bearer of the separatist theme.[32] Unlike Khalistan and other separatists movements, DMK never considered violence as a serious option to achieve a separate Dravidistan.[14]

DMK's slogan of Dravidistan found no support in any state of India other than Tamil Nadu.[6][7] The non-Tamil Dravidian speakers perceived the ambitions of the Tamil politicians as hegemonic, ultimately leading to the failure of the Dravidistan concept.[33] Even in Tamil Nadu, the common people did not seriously support the idea of a separate Dravidian state.[8] C. Rajagopalachari, the former Chief Minister of Madras State, stated that the DMK plea for Dravidistan should not be taken seriously.[34]


The decline in support for the Dravida Nadu within the DMK can be traced back to as early as the Tiruchi party conference in 1956, when the party decided to compete in the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections of 1957.[14] E.V.K. Sampath, who was leading a faction within DMK, argued that Dravida Nadu was "not feasible".[14] However, the party did state Dravida Nadu a "long-range goal" during the elections.[35] The political observers doubted the seriousness of their demand for a sovereign state, and stated that the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu was just a side issue, and a slogan to catch the imagination of an emotional public.[14][36] In the 1957 elections, DMK managed to win only 15 of the 205 seats in the state assembly.[32]

In 1958, V. P. Raman, a Brahmin leader, joined the party and became a strong opponent of the Dravida Nadu concept. In November 1960, the DMK leaders, including Raman, decided to delete the demand of Dravida Nadu from the party programme at a meeting held in absence of Annadurai. Political scientist Sten Widmalm writes, "It seems that the more the party distanced itself from the demand for Dravida Nadu, the more it was supported."[14] In the 1962 election, DMK more than tripled its seats, winning 50 seats to the State Legislative Assembly, but still could not displace the Congress from power.

On September 17, 1960, a "Dravida Nadu Separation Day" was observed, which resulted in arrests of Annadurai and his associates.[37] The demand for a sovereign Tamil state was considered as a threat of Balkanization to India[38], and also raised concerns among the Sinhalese politicians in Sri Lanka. In 1962, a Sinhalese M.P. stated in the Parliament: "The Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidistan. We are carrying on a struggle for our national existence against the Dravidistan majority."[39]

Annadurai, who had been elected to the upper house of Indian parliament (Rajya Sabha) in 1962, reiterated DMK's demand for independence for Dravida Nadu in his maiden speech on May 1, 1962. However, at the time of Sino-Indian War of 1962, he proclaimed that his party would stand up for the integrity and unity of India.[8] A faction of DMK contended that the party should publicly abandon the demand for Dravida Nadu.[40]

In 1963, on the recommendation of the Committee on National Integration and Regionalism of the National Integration Council, the Indian parliament unanimously passed the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which sought to "prevent the fissiparous, secessionist tendency in the country engendered by regional and linguistic loyalties and to preserve the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity" of India. This was essentially in response to the separatist movement demanding a sovereign Dravidistan.[41][30]

At a party conference in 1963, DMK formally dropped the secessionist demand[42], but also asserted that it will continue to address the issues that led it frame its demand for separation earlier.[43] The Sino-Indian war doesn't seem to be a decisive factor in dropping the demand for Dravida Nadu; prominient DMK leaders Era Sezhiyan and Murasoli Maran have stated that the demand for Dravida Nadu had been dropped in practice before 1962.[14] Maran explained that the there was not really enough support for Dravida Nadu in Tamil Nadu at the time, and it was concluded that there was no use pursuing the demand.[14] He declared "I am Tamil first but I am also an Indian. Both can exist together provided there is space for cultural nationalism."[14] Era Sezhiyan declared that it was impossible to continue to demand Dravida Nadu when the policy lacked support even in the Tamil-speaking areas, let alone Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada-speaking areas.[14] Sezhiyan was a member of the committee that wrote the new party programme, which omitted the demand for Dravida Nadu. Sezhiyan stated that it was more practical to demand a higher degree of autonomy for Tamil Nadu instead.

After DMK decided to relinquish its demand for Dravida Nadu, it devoted more attention to the language issue (anti-Hindi agitations), and the 1962 election figures were almost exactly reversed in the subsequent 1967 elections.[14] In 1962, the Congress had won the majority of seats, while DMK managed to win only 50 seats. In 1967, DMK won a clear majority of 138 seats, while Congress won only 50 seats. DMK came to power with Annadurai as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu Liberation Army

In the 1980s, when the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka, a small separatist group called Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) appeared. It had its roots in the Naxalite movement, and was headed by Thamizharasan, an engineering student from Ponparappi village.[44] TNLA was involved in minor bomb blasts, murders and looting banks. On September 1, 1987, the people of Ponparappi village lynched Thamizharasan and four of his associates, when they attempted to rob a bank.[44] After his death, the group is believed to have splintered into factions. TNLA was banned by the Tamil Nadu State Government[45], and also by the Union Government on the recommendation of the State Government. It has been declared a terrorist organization by the government of India.[46]


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