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Abstract 87

Intellectual Praxis of Iyothee Thass: Revisiting the Construction of Anti-Caste Discourse in Colonial Tamil Nadu

Mr P. Sadasivam, Assistant Professor of History, Madras Christian College (Autonomous), Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Mr Yogesh Mani D., Postgraduate Student, Department of History, Madras Christian College (Autonomous), Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Caste and Anti-Caste discourses have been anchored in two opposite vis-à-vis competing rationales that have been discordant within the South Asian scholarship. Since the colonial times, the former being rooted in the dialogue between the conventional orthodoxy and colonial modernity, while the latter being rooted in the dialogue between the heterodoxy and colonial modernity. The repercussions of various intellectuals, both from the elite as well as the subaltern sections have been engaging in caste and colonial modernity diversely articulated the languages and vantage points within the framework of the colonial public sphere, some trying to legitimise and rationale caste while the other critiquing it. In this backdrop, the colonial Tamil society was one among the earliest to discourse caste intellectually. An ardent study of extensive Tamil literature produced during the colonial times would illustrate the diverse perceptions catered about caste by intellectuals from varied background of the Tamil society. One such earliest organic intellectual to critically engage caste during the colonial times was Iyothee Thass. His engagement with caste in the colonial Tamil public sphere is remarkable not merely because he was the first to critically engage caste, rather it is his intellectual articulation of a praxis of an anti-caste discourse alongside crafting of an alternative casteless identity with the historical aid of the native heterodoxic legacy. Often, the history of Dalits and their historical engagement with caste is objectified with ontological broken-ness characterized with agony, misery and trauma deprived of any positive Dalit memory. It was only after the emergence of print media that gave access to various subaltern groups to the then bourgeoning colonial public sphere. Various Dalit intellectuals used this historical moment to existentially discourse caste from different perspectives. Similarly, this historic opportunity was well utilised by Iyothee Thass to formulate a heterodoxic Tamil Buddhist memory out of Tamil literature and folklores characterised by rationalism, civilizational qualities and intellectuality through print media. The role of Iyothee Thass as a subaltern organic intellectual in the long-drawn discourse of caste as a legitimate socio-cultural and political identity cannot be negated. These aspects of Iyothee Thass’s ideology and praxis makes it a vital area of study which requires a historical revisiting to analyse how he constructed an anti-caste discourse in colonial Tamil public sphere through his philosophical critique of caste employing heterodoxic Tamil Buddhist ideology. In addition, corelating his intellectual praxis foregrounded in utilizing Tamil Buddhist religion as a civilizational intervention through the emerging medium of print media to understand the effective formulation of a casteless identity within the colonial Tamil public sphere.

Keywords: Dalit Intellectuality, Iyothee Thass, Tamil Buddhism and Liberation Theology

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