Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) Vol. Vol. XVIII No. 16, december 1-15, 2008
The Doctor who sought justice
(By Randor Guy)

During the early decades of the 20th Century, when the Indian freedom movement was fast spreading across the country, another movement began to make itself felt in the Madras Presidency. Supporting the ruling British more than somewhat, this movement was more caste- and community-based. The party which was born out of it was popularly called the Justice Party, of which the Dravidian parties of today, whatever their hues, are the descendants and of that movement.

Dr. Natesa Mudaliar

Basically, the movement was directed against the Brahmin community in the Presidency and, frankly stated, the Justice Party had no other policy than anti-Brahminism. Indeed, before the Party was founded, the movement was called the Non-Brahmin Movement. The person who sowed the seeds for the formation of the Party was Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, the Brahmins dominated in many spheres. With a mere 3 per cent of the population, they dominated the government service and Brahmins held high and responsible positions in the Government of Madras Presidency. Anti-Brahmin feeling was given a push by the writings of a protestant missionary, the Rev. Robert Caldwell, whose teachings were read with great interest by Non-Brahmins. Not many are aware that even as early as 1895 two monographs were published highlighting the dominance of the Brahmin community. They were, in fact, Open Letters to the Governor, Lord Wenlock, and were signed 'Fairplay.' The person behind this pseudonym is unknown to this day.

In 1909, two well-to-do lawyers M. Purushotham Naidu and P. Subramaniam established 'The Madras Non-Brahmins Association', but for many reasons it did not take root. In support of this association, another association comprising Non-Brahmin officials of the Government formed the Madras United League. The founders were Saravana Pillai, Veeraswamy Naidu and Duraiswamy Mudaliar, but the brain behind the League was Natesa Mudaliar. He was a successful medical practitioner who lived in Triplicane. The League drew many noted Non-Brahmin citizens of Madras into its fold and they included the Raja of Paanagal and the well-known journalist of the day, C. Karuna­kara Menon, the editor of an English daily, Indian Patriot.

By 1912 the Madras United League came to be known as the Madras Dravidian Association. It was the first time the word Dravidian was used for a political entity. Natesa Mudaliar was the Secretary of the new Association and a well-known barrister, S. G. Rangaramanujam, was his Man Friday. A leading Muslim Original Side lawyer, Mohamed Ibrahim, also supported Natesan. (Interestingly the two juniors of Mohamed Ibrahim, G. Rama­krishnayer and C. Srinivasachari, were Brahmins who both rose high in the profession.)

During this period, there was an unhealthy tradition practised by some restaurants in the city and elsewhere restricting admission only to Brahmins; Non-Brahmins were denied entry. Such restaurants came to be known as 'Brahmnaal Hotel' and this expression was in vogue for many years. Murali's Café in Triplicane was one. Another was Kasipati Hotel in Mint Street. Here, even Brahmins could not enter unless they proved their caste identity. Showing the 'punool' was not enough; the prospective customer had to perform the religious ritual, sandhya vandhanam, in front of the restaurant. Indeed, that Grand Old Man of Tamil Literature, U. Ve. Swami­natha Iyer, had to perform this ritual before entering this restaurant, even though he was a familiar face in the city!

Natesa Mudaliar led a movement against the treatment of Non-Brahmins in restaurants and established a restaurant in Akbar Sahib Street in Tripli­cane. He called it the Non-Brahmin Hostel where food was supplied to Non-Brahmin students and others. Many of them who stayed in it became famous in later years, like educationist T. M. Narayanaswami Pillai.

Natesa Mudaliar conducted many activities in this hostel, like holding debates and discussions on socially relevant issues. One of the speakers at a meeting here was Annie Besant who attracted large crowds.

The Madras Dravidian Association published two books in 1912. One of them, Dravidian Worthies, was written by famous city lawyer, later High Court judge and Congress leader, Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair. The other, Dravidian Non-Brahmin Letters, created a sensation in the city, but the name of the writer was not known. The letters urged all Non-Brahmins from the Reddi, Naidu, Pillai, Muda­liar and other such communities to unite under one umbrella to fight Brahmin domination.

At the time, there were two groups in the Madras Corporation Council. The Non-Brahmin group was led by the legendary Sir Pitti Theagaroya Chetti. The other group was led by a well-known medical practitioner and social activist T.M. Nair. The two leaders often clashed at Council meetings even though both were non-Brahmins. Natesa Mudaliar realised that if these two leaders could be brought together it would give the Non-Brahmin movement a fast forward push. He regularly invited Dr. Nair and the Raja of Paanagal to address his Asso­ciation's meetings. Whenever he met Sir Pitti, he would bring to his notice the need for the two top leaders to come together.

In December 1917, the then Viceroy Lord Chelmsford and the Secretary of State for India, a member of the British Cabinet, Lord Montague, visited Madras as part of an official enquiry commission. They met several leaders in the city and one of them was Natesa Mudaliar. Around this time, Sir A. Rama­swami Mudaliar addressed a meeting of British Parliament members in London and spoke about the Non-Brahmin movement and its objectives and eulogised the services of Natesa Mudaliar.

Natesa Mudaliar sent lengthy telegrams on the Movement to the London newspapers at great cost. The Times London published the 'Letters to the Editor' verbatim, creating quite a stir in Britain and India.

Thanks to the efforts of Mudaliar, Sir Pitti and Dr. Nair joined hands and a new party, the South Indian Liberal Federation, was founded, a major event in the political history of Madras Presidency. To propagate their views and ideals, there was founded a journal which they named Justice. Soon, the party came to be known as the Justice Party. Many maharajas, zamindars, landed gentry, lawyers, doctors and merchants belonging to Non-Brahmin community joined the new party. Its first annual General Body Meeting was held in the then popular cinema hall on Mount Road, the Wellington.

Thanks to political changes initiated by the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, elections were held in the Madras Presidency in November 1920 and the Justice Party won with a considerable majority when the Congress Party boycotted the elections. The Justice Party formed the government and A. Subbarayulu Reddiar, an advocate, became the First Minister. He had two Cabinet members, the Raja of Paanagal and Sir Kurma Venkatareddi Naidu.

Natesa Mudaliar, like most leaders of the day, did not seek power. Indeed, when the Governor asked Sir Pitti to be the First Minister, he refused stating he was not after power but wanted only social reforms.

Natesa Mudaliar lived for his ideals and social reforms and in his honour a road in Triplicane was named after him. A park in Thyagaroya Nagar is also named after Mudaliar.

In this issue

Two more corporations...
National Art Gallery...
Reporting on Heritage...
How I miss...
The doctor who sought...
Historic residences...
Other stories in this issue...

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


Back to current issue...