Tamil Muslims and the Dravidian Movement: Alliance and Contradictions
On December 15, 1995, 24-year-old Abdul Ravoof working in a computer fi rm, covered himself in a gunny sack, wrapping it tightly around his body and tying it with fi rm knots, set himself ablaze and ran from his offi ce towards the statue of Periyar (E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker), near the old bus stand in Perambalur, a town close to Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. In his dying declaration to the police, he told them that it was his way of protesting against the offi cial apathy to the Eelam issue in Tamil Nadu. Even today, prominent poets like Inquilab and Muhammad Mehtha (Mu Mehtha) are supporters of Tamil Eelam. So what is strange one may ask? These Tamil Muslims’ support of Eelam has to be viewed in the context of the Sri Lankan scenario, where the Tamil-speaking Muslims refuse to identify themselves with either Eelam or its chief proponent LTTE. With the memory of the LTTE gunning down Muslims inside the Kattankudy mosque during a Friday prayer, and then ordering them to leave Jaffna with less than twenty-four hours’ notice fresh in their minds, many of the Tamil-speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka have a very confused view about their Tamil identity. And when Prabahakaran, the leader of LTTE decided to go public and face the media in April 2002, he chose to give an interview to only one person among those assembled from the world media. It was Sattankulam Abdul Jabbar, a Tamil Muslim from Tamil Nadu, well-known for his radio compering skills. It was perhaps Prabahakaran’s symbolic way
of trying to reach out to the estranged Tamil-speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka. For, the day after the meeting with Abdul Jabbar, the LTTE chief met up with the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and senior cabinet minister, Rauff Hakeem, and gave an undertaking to the minister that the LTTE would stop the harassment of Muslims and invited back members of Sri Lanka’s second-largest minority. While the Tamil Muslims in Tamil Nadu view the support for the Eelam cause as an expression of Tamil nationalism, in spite of their own brethren of the same faith being butchered by the LTTE, the Tamil-speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka have gone to the extent of denying or even refusing to identify themselves as Tamils. If there is one major factor to explain this strange paradox, it could be none other than the Dravidian Movement, the socio-reform movement that began in Tamil Nadu in the early twentieth century, when identities were getting redefi ned among the people under the colonial rule.