Rajaji's Caste-Based Education

14. Agitations Against Rajaji's Caste-Based Education Policy

(Rajaji's Modified Scheme of Elementary Education - 1953)

Chapter 14
"Political History of the Rise and Fall of Dravidian Parties in Tamil Nadu (South India)"

Thanjai Nalankilli, Ph.D.

TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2007 (ID. 2007-11-02); Minor Update: August 2012
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Table of Contents of the book "Political History of the Rise and Fall of Dravidian Parties in Tamil Nadu (South India)"and links to other chapters


1. Background

2. Protest Demonstrations

3. Defeat of Rajaji's Education Scheme

4. Rajaji's Resignation and Kamaraj Rule


DK - Dravidar Kazhagam

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

[Note: Official name of Rajaji's education system was "Modified Scheme of Elementary Education". Very few people used this name except in official documents. Hereditary education policy, hereditary/caste education scheme, family vocation based education and Rajaji's education scheme are some of the other names people used. The Tamil name "kula vazhi kalvi thittam" (loosely translated as "caste-based education scheme") is the one used by many of the opponents of the scheme. DMK's English language website also uses the name "caste-based education policy" (seen in August 2012).]

1. Background

Madras State Chief Minister Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) brought forth a new educational scheme in 1953. According to this scheme, students went to school only for half-a-day and the rest of the day they learned what their parents did. It came as a shock to many non-Brahmin leaders. There were disproportionately far too many Brahmins in white-collar jobs from clerks to chief executive officers to judges to teachers to professors. In contrast there were far more farmers and low-wage blue-collar workers among non-Brahmin castes. According to Rajaji's scheme, most non-Brahmin students would learn such skills as farming, barbering, laundering, shoemaking and other low-wage skills for half-a-day while most Brahmin students would spend half the day on "white collar skills" leading to higher paying white collar jobs which were already dominated by Brahmins for years. Non-Brahmin leaders feared that this would perpetuate the status qua, thus benefiting the Brahmin caste. (Rajaji was a Brahmin.) Some of the critics called the new education scheme "caste-based education" (in Tamil they called it kula vazhi kalvi thittam or kulaththozhil kalvi thittam or kula kalvi thittam). Many non-Brahmin leaders believed that only a full-day education would bring more non-Brahmins into higher-level jobs and uplift their lives. Opposition to Rajaji's caste-based education scheme grew. Many non-Brahmin leaders and organizations vocally opposed it. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) played active roles in the opposition. 

2. Protest Demonstrations

DMK assigned E. V. K. Sampath to head the agitations against Rajaji's caste-based education scheme. He and a group of volunteers were to hold demonstrations in front of Chief Minister Rajaji's house on July 14, 1953. Police lathi-charged  (baton charge) the demonstrators to disburse them. They also arrested 20 people that day. One of those arrested was Sathyavani Muthu who was pregnant at that time. (A few years from then she would be elected to Madras State Legislative Assembly.)

Another group of DMK volunteers demonstrated the next day and fourteen were arrested. Demonstrations continued for 15 days, and most days there were arrests. Maximum arrest during a single day during this agitation was 44. Police also lathi-charged to disburse the demonstrators on 4 of the 15 days. Police also tear-gassed the demonstrators couple of days.

DMK suspended the agitation after 15 days as per its decision to hold these demonstrations only on days the state legislative assembly was in session. DK and some other organizations also held their own demonstrations against the caste-based education scheme.

3. Defeat of Rajaji's Education Scheme

Madras State legislative assembly discussed the proposed education scheme on July 29, 1953. Two amendments were brought against the scheme. K. R. Viswanathan's amendment wanted the scheme to be postponed until an expert committee studied the scheme and presented its recommendations. K. P. Gopalan's amendment wanted the scheme scrapped. Minister C. Subramaniam opposed the introduction of these amendments but the speaker allowed them to be discussed and voted. There was opposition to the Rajaji scheme within the Congress Party itself. Vote on Gopalan's amendment was a 138-138 tie. Speaker Siva Shanmugam broke the tie by voting against the amendment. Viswanathan's amendment won with a 139-137 vote. Although Rajaji did not resign at the defeat of his proposal, with mounting opposition to him within the Congress Party itself, he resigned his chief minister position in 1954. Kamaraj (a non-Brahmin from the so-called backward caste of Nadar) became chief minister.  Rajaji's "caste-based" education scheme died.

Defeat of Rajaji's caste based education is of great importance in the history of Tamilnadu (Madras State). Had it been introduced and continued, it would have seriously impaired the upward mobility of non-Brahmins in the state. DK-DMK agitations educated and mobilized Tamil public against the scheme; this gave momentum and courage to many Congress Party members in the legislative assembly to rebel against the scheme brought by their own chief minister.

4. Rajaji's Resignation and Kamaraj Rule

Kamaraj who replaced Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) became a widely respected chief minister (1954 - 1963). He was not a polarizing figure. Even those who opposed his policies or voted against him seldom hated him. Even today, many in the Congress Party talk of bringing back "Kamaraj rule"; what they really mean is bringing back Congress Party rule. Such is the respect he still has among the Tamil populace.

Kamaraj is known as kalvi vallal (loosely translated as "benevolent educator") because he made school education completely free. This led to poorer segments of society, especially from rural areas, sending their children to school and entering the white-collar job market. He reopened 6000 schools that Rajaji closed and opened about twice as many new ones, many of them in rural areas. He also introduced free lunch program for poor students (mid-day meals scheme). Today Tamil Nadu is in the forefront of technology jobs within India. Some of the credit should go to Kamaraj because he sowed the seeds for educational advancement of the masses. Without it Tamilnadu might not have the educated workforce essential for attracting technology firms.

Although Kamaraj was never a member of a Dravidian party, he received support from Dravidar Kazhagam (DK). He was a friend of DK leader Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy (EVR). Periyar was a staunch supporter of Kamaraj's policies towards the uplift of non-Brahmins. While DK's offspring DMK opposed Congress Party and contested elections against Congress, DK opposed DMK and supported Congress in the 1957, 1962 and 1967 elections primarily because of Kamaraj.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The name "Sathyavani Muthu" is sometimes spelled as "Satyavani Muthu".

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