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Exploring an Alternate Historiography: Dr Mangai on Dravidian Nationalism

As a part of the open lecture series “What the Nation Really Needs to Know?” Dr A. Mangai delivered a lecture on ‘Dravidan Nationalism and Indian Nationalism—A Historical Perspective’ at 5:30 PM on 01 March 2016 at the Admin Block. She was introduced by Professor Mallarika Sinha Roy (CWS) as a theatre artist and activist. Mangai is a pseudonym that Dr. V Padma deploys as a theatre director. Professor Padma teaches English literature at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Currently, she is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Law and Governance, JNU.

Mangai traced the historical trajectory of the Dravidian movement in her lecture. She briefly discussed the two nodal categories of language and caste which were central to Tamil nationalism at a point. She problematised the colonial mind-set and oriental outlook of early Indologists who assumed Sanskrit to be a Pan-Indian language which was not the case. “By the 20th century, there was an awareness of a language as classical as Sanskrit, but a living language unlike Sanskrit,” said Dr Mangai; saying so she pitted the ‘high-brow’ Dravidian tradition against the seemingly ‘populist’ Aryan tradition. 

Later, in her lecture, she also highlighted the legacies of social reformers like Periyar and Iyothee Thass. Her lecture delved into Periyar’s politics and his break-away from the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle. She also made a passing reference to Periyar’s ‘self-respect marriages.’ The chronological linearity of her argumentation led her to discuss various post-independence developments—resistance to the three-language formula, DMK’s assumption of power and pre-dominance in electoral politics of Tamil Nadu.  Her lecture emphasised the ‘anti-Hindu, anti-Hindi and anti-patriarchy’ character of the movement.

Her lecture succinctly traced the multiple modes of resistance offered against forces of hegemony and homogenization, while some took the form of resistance through identifying alternative linguistic traditions, others were more directly involved in disrupting and critiquing dominant modes of cultural and social practices. Thus, she was able to highlight the plenitude and diversity in Indian culture that can challenge any nominal notion of unitary ‘nationalism.’

“These three weeks were intense and anxious, but highly inspiring. They showed us that we’re capable of resistance and counter-resistance. We see the hope for the future in you. I am happy to witness the youth taking their responsibilities seriously.”— were Dr A. Mangai’s remarks on the students-led agitation against the growing ‘saffronisation of education.’

Aakanksha D’Cruz is an MA student at CPS and works for The Informer.

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