A non-brahmin millenium

Samya, Kolkata, bring out a revised edition of Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar this month. The book is by V Geetha who writes in Tamil and in English on contemporary Tamil history, culture and society and gender, and S V Rajadurai a well-known Tamil writer and translator who has long been involved with the radical Left and the civil liberties movement.

The book traces the history of "non-brahmin assertion to brahmin hegemony in the old Madras Presidency and 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. The book offers a textured history of a crucial decade – the 1920s to the 1930s – which witnessed important attempts and 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, the authors point out can be ‘exciting as well as sobering’.

Under the Samya titles in our Dalit Studies section. hardcover, 546pages. Rs 650, ISBN 9788185604374

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