Basis for the love of language among Tamils today
In the 19th century, an Irish missionary Robert Caldwell’s book showed that the Dravidian family of languages was unique and distinct from Sanskrit, and Tamil was the mother language of Dravidians. At around the same time, a scholar U Ve Swaminatha Iyer toured all of Tamil country to collect ancient manuscripts containing inscriptions. He compiled the corpus of Sangam literature that was shown to be at least as old as the Upanishads if not older.
Origins of Dravidian movement
In 1915, Justice Party was founded by C Natesan, a Tamil, Pitti Thyagaraya, a Telugu, and T M Nair, a Malayali. It sought to promote the interests of Dravidians, essentially non-brahmins, at a time when brahmins dominated education and employment in the British government service and discriminated against others socially. Justice party formed the government in Madras presidency that included parts from other southern states. Periyar quit the Congress in protest against caste discrimination practiced there and joined Justice Party. Brahmins were portrayed as Sanskritic-Aryans and Dravidians true Tamils.
First Anti-Hindi agitation
When the newly formed Congress ministry in Madras Presidency headed by Rajaji made Hindi compulsory in education, anti-Hindi protests broke out in 1937. Periyar joined hands with Tamil nationalists who had been a separate force until then. After three years of agitation, the government withdrew the move. Language, caste and ethnicity were fused to make one powerful political philosophy.
Congress with its narrative of nationalism, multi-religious society promoted Hindi as the language of Indians but the counter-narrative of Dravidian land as a south Indian entity with its own languages had some appeal in Madras Presidency. Congress swept the polls elsewhere but failed to get a majority in Madras Presidency. Rajaji engineered a Congress government by manufacturing a majority.
In 1952, freedom fighter Potti Sreeramulu went on a fast in Madras demanding the formation of an Andhra state that would be home to Telugu speakers. His death sparked an agitation and forced Jawaharlal Nehru to announce the formation of Andhra State comprising Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra taken from Madras Presidency.
In 1956, as part of the linguistic reorganization of states Kannada and Malayalam speaking areas were hived off from Madras to become part of Mysore state and Kerala. Madras state became solely Tamil. The Dravidian movement had to underplay its claims of being pan-south Indian but it strengthened language politics
Second anti-Hindi agitation
Justice Party dominated by the very wealthy had lost strength and DMK was founded in 1949 with a mass base. As the Constituent Assembly was debating the language issue and Hindi was eventually declared as the official language of India, anti-Hindi agitations continued in Madras state. English was continuing as the associate official language for 15 years. To allay fears, Nehru assured that English will continue to be used as long as non-Hindi speaking states wanted it. As 1965 approached and with Nehru’s death, anti-Hindi agitations spearheaded by DMK started again. Seven people burned themselves in protest, inspired by how a Buddhist monk had torched himself in Vietnam in 1963. Defacing of Hindi letters in official buildings happened. There was arson and riots. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri promised to honour Nehru’s assurances. But the agitations served to bring DMK to power in 1967.
Two-language formula in Tamil Nadu
Since then, there have been various attempts to promote Hindi by the Centre in its institutions and government agencies in Tamil Nadu. And there have been sporadic agitations against Hindi imposition. From time to time, the issue raises its head in the state whenever the centre is seen to take up learning Hindi in Tamil Nadu. A more recent controversy was over people from Hindi speaking states getting bulk employment in central agencies and units in the state though they did not know Tamil. Jobs in postal service and railways was under scrutiny.
The state government whether led by AIADMK or DMK has refused to implement the three language formula promoted by the Centre, unlike other southern states. In Tamil Nadu, students learn English and Tamil, by and large. Students whose mother tongue is different can take theirs as second language including Hindi.
Did Tamils miss out by not learning Hindi
Quite often, critics of two language policy say that Tamils have missed out on employability in northern states by not learning Hindi. This has been rebutted in more recent times that the IT revolution has made Hindi redundant and the championing of English has actually Tamil students from districts.