The Dravidian Model Book Cover

The Dravidian Model: Interpreting the Political Economy of Tamil Nadu

Name of the Book: The Dravidian Model: Interpreting the Political Economy of Tamil Nadu
Author: Kalaiyarasan A. & Vijaryabaskar M
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Place of Publication: New Delhi
Year of Publication: 2021
Reviewed by: Dr. JN Manokaran

Tamil Nadu politics has been unique, and state’s Progress has been different. The indicators of parameters of growth are spectacular at par with some of Asian tigers. Authors Kalaiyarasan A. and Vijaryabaskar M, have done a incisive study and interpreted the growth and development as The Dravidian Model.

  1. The Dravidian Model
    Tamil Nadu state combines high levels of economic growth with human development, particularly in the domains of education and healthcare. This is also termed as ‘subnational development.’ Three aspects of subnational development: shifts in economic process and accumulation dynamics; political imperative to govern the process and political mobilization.
    Political mobilization resulted in delivery of services and authors identify two specific reasons. First, the entry of lower-caste members into the bureaucracy, and second, the mediation of party cadres between citizens and the bureaucracy ensured better delivery of public services.
    Tamil Nadu was one of the poorer states in India with 51.7 percent in 1960-61, after 50 years it was reduced to 6.5 percent. Dravidian model has addressed the issue of poverty well. Tamil Nadu literacy rate from 21 percent in 1951 to 80 percent 2011.
  2. Conceptualizing power in caste society
    Dravidian mobilization was vision of social justice against upper-caste hegemony. Obviously, the root was from the Christian worldview the Justice Party borrowed. Non-Brahmin manifesto of Justice Party led by Theogaraja Chetty demanded justice and equality of opportunity as enshrined in British Law. “They passed some landmark pieces of legislation such as on communal representation in employment, supply of noon meals to children in government schools in Madras city and government control of temple funds…such legislation emphasizing primary education, health and communal representation resonated strongly with subsequent developmental interventions.” A Madras Dravidian Association was formed in 1912 by C. Natesa Mudaliar, who built Dravidian Home for non-Brahmin students to avail modern education.
    Periyar who took the legacy of Justic party “conceptualized caste-based power to be more systemic than that of economic class in the Indian context. This in turn translated into an imagination of social justice that saw abolishing caste-based hierarchies and injustice as fundamental to building an egalitarian socioeconomic system.” Dravidian – Tamil – non-Brahmin identity articulated demand for ‘self-respect’ and ‘social justice.’ The thought leaders understood: “Social justice was to be secured through a process of inclusive modernization that will undermine the caste-based division of labour.” Self-Respect Movement – “‘distinguished the ‘productive’ ‘non-Brahmins’ castes from those who survived off renterism and or through labour that did not contribute to the well-being of the region.” Dravidian common sense: “comprised of securing justice through caste-based reservation, faith in a productivist ethos, need for greater state autonomy and forging an inclusive modernity.”
    Tamil language and other south Indian languages have independent existence apart from Sanskrit. Justice party understood that the knowledge of English is essential as it kindled the spirit of freedom and language of modernity. In later stages agitations against Hindi was the natural outcome of the worldview.
    Periyar opposed Gandhi, arguing that it is a political strategy to arrest the masses within traditional, caste-bound geographical spaces. “Social justice was therefore tied to spatial mobility as well.” Periyar advocated modern production technologies can render menial, ritually marked labour, redundant.
    Periyar makes a distinction between the ‘caste-labourer’ and the ‘wage-labourer’. Education and employment will undermine caste relations and provide mobility. Assets without self-respect was rejected by Periyar. Giving them knowledge and education is better than giving them a piece of land.
    Authors bring out two aspects: Social popular: “We define the social popular as a distinct set of policy interventions that are rights-based interventions such as ensuring inclusive access to modern sectors and public goods such as health and education, the bureaucracy and organized-sector employment.” Economic popular: It is more about patronage like providing scholarships, gold for marriage, laptops, cycles, mixies…etc.
  3. Democratizing Education
    “We must also mention here the role played by Christian missionaries in introducing education in the Presidency.” Capacity to aspire as the cultural capacity of the poor to find the resources required to contest and alter or improve the course of their destiny. “First, it requires removal of material deprivation rooted in backwardness in education and poverty. The second involves securing dignity and respect that are denied by low status aspirations vis a vis the elites.”
    “Dravidian demand for self-respect through access to modern education was critical in generating such capacities to aspire.” Creating school infrastructure and initiatives to retain students in school. State used caste-based reservation to democratize education. In Tamil Nadu, 68 per cent of school education happen in government schools. 50 per cent of youth finishing school go into tertiary education, a considerable number from rural areas. Schools were located where all castes have access; have drinking water, separate toilets for girls, noon meals scheme, slates, notebooks, text books, stationery and electricity… available. Idea of hostels for lower castes also goes back to Justice Party days and followed by DMK government. “Lower-caste groups saw reservation policies as their entitlement and forced institutions to respond to their demands unlike the most parts of the country.” Caste gap in educational attainment in Tamil Nadu is almost zero. The lower castes to not only aspire but also equips them with the means to meet their aspirations.
    “While the Left movement which saw land reform as key to redistributive justice, Dravidian common-sense privileged access to education and job as important pathways to social justice in India.”
  4. Democratizing Care
    India compares poorly on health parameters. It is the highest out-of-pocket expenses. “The Indian health system is biased in favour of elites as it focused on curative health more than public health.” Tamil Nadu built a robust public health infrastructure. “If social popular policies helped build public health infrastructure and democratized health governance, economic popular policies enhanced its coverage and added new schemes to its content.” Attention to primary health care, effective preventive care rather than curative hospital. Health indictors for SC groups in Tamil Nadu are better than the all-India average. 50% of state building are associated with health and education. Every 12 villages have a PHC; 89% of PHC functions 24/7; 72 % has lady doctor; 95% has labour room. Tamil Nadu has 45 medical colleges at least one for each district against recommended norm of 14. Though Karnataka produces more medical professional, unable to retain in Public health system. Tamil Nadu is second but retains the professionals in the system. “The success of the programme has been attributed to pressure from both above and below. A political will and well-functioning bureaucracy from above ensure the required budgetary support while the pressure from below makes official accountable.” Tamil identity and social justice produced horizontal solidarities and generated awareness among people of their entitlements, which in turn made institutions accountable and ensured effective delivery of certain public services.
  5. Broadening growth and Democratizing capital
    “The absence of a dominant trading community (Vaishya) in the south allowed for entrepreneurs from lower castes to emerge, bringing about a process of ‘democratization of capital.’” Caste system made born capitalists and born labourers; Dravidian ideology developed infrastructure for modernization and industrialization. Tamil Nadu is most industrialized state with labour intensive sectors and distributed in whole state. Service led economy also is dynamic,
    “Though the share of Dalits among entrepreneurs continues be low, Tamil Nadu has seen a relatively higher degree of entry of lower castes in business.” In 1995 there were about 200 millionaires very few were from landholding families. Mostly it is rag from riches story. Large number of small and middle size enterprises are owned by backward castes.
    Educated people became professional entering business and trade. While Christianity and early investments in education allowed them to enter into modern professions such as IT and medicine, other could transit from toddy tappers to merchants by trading in palm gur, dried fish, salt and assorted produce. “Better road and energy infrastructure has allowed firms to also move further away from towns to take advantage of lower land costs as well as access to labour.”
  6. Transforming rural relations
    In rural intervention, people have to move from agriculture to secure livelihoods that will undermine caste hierarchies. Second, intervention should also secure place-based-livelihoods and income security. Tenants could not give evidence in the court hence the Law was changed that oral evidence and statements by neighbouring households were deemed sufficient. 700000 acres were registered under about 500000 tenants.
    Elite power in rural Tamil Nadu was abolition of traditional village heads. “The rural is no longer synonymous with agrarian life in Tamil Nadu.”
    “PDS not only offered freedom from hunger, but also substantially weakened relations of dependence and hierarchy. Access to food was a significant factor that tied labour to land and the landlord’s family. The PDS contributed in good measure to break such ties of economic coercion.” PDS is tied to the history of Dravidian movement. DMK came to power with a promise to supply three measures of rice per rupee. It established Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation in 1972. TNCSC procured paddy directly from farmers and distributed it to various parts. No PDS beneficiary should travel more than 2 kilometers to access a shop. Now PDS also provide another items like urabd dal, palmolein oil, fortified wheat flour, rava, maida and even LPG connections. PDS delivered Dalits from food related servitude. MNREGA in Tamil Nadu roped in women as well as Dalits. Political will and effective bureaucratic administration could implement such welfare schemes well.
  7. Popular interventions and urban labour
    “Identity-based mobilization was not merely about a politics of recognition but also a politics of redistribution that ensured a degree of material improvement in rural Tamil Nadu.” Wages, working conditions, and social protection for labour is relatively better in Tamil Nadu. “Affirmative action policies have made the organized labour market socially more inclusive despite persistent caste differences.” Urban casual workers get second highest wages and are closer to those of regular workers. Highest share of workers in manufacture and also highest share in service sector. “The state’s premium labour market, OBCs and SCs in Tamil Nadu are relatively better off across all these parameters – nature of jobs, educational level of workers and skill-based occupations – compared to the all-India level.” The caste hierarchies in rural Tamil Nadu still exists even after increased access to higher education. Social exclusion plagues the IT labour market. They deploy narrative of ‘merit’ to generate such exclusivity. First generation graduates often talk about how but for Periyar and the Dravidian movement, they wouldn’t have got this opportunity. Software sector continues to erect higher barriers to entry through its emphasis of consistent performance from 10th or 12th grade onwards. Thanks to the Dravidian movement, Tamil Nadu is one of the most socially progressive states offering a higher degree of mobility to the lower castes.
    There are seventeen welfare boards to protect unorganized workers. Ensure minimum wage and better conditions for work. Amman unavagam is comparable to soup kitches in UK or USA. Now implemented in Karnataka, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
    In North India Mandal commission was opposed. “In Tamil Nadu on the other hand, merit was seen as a means to secure elite privilege and hence caste-based reservation has become an accepted means to ensure socioeconomic mobility and importantly, social justice.”
  8. Fissures, limits and possible futures
    Freedom and equality are the ideas of democracy. In Tamil Nadu: ‘populist mobilization around a non-essentialised Dravidian-Tamil identity and a demand for ‘social justice’ has indeed worked to expand freedom and reduce inequities across castes.” Poor learning outcome is a matter of concern. Obstacles like NEET could be setback for many aspiring students. Caste differences are there in spite of higher degree of social inclusion. “Opportunity Hoarding’ by elites through caste networks cannot be dismissed.
    Backward caste new elite no longer identify their stakes with Dravidian common-sense. There are also efforts to confine Tamil identity within the Hindu fold thereby marginalizing the positions of Tamil Christians and Muslims who were key constituents of the subaltern that the Dravidian movement mobilized.
    This is a remarkable book that should be studied by all who are interested in the progress and welfare of nation, society, and community. Pastors, bible teachers and mission leaders should read for their own education.

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