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'What Tamil pride when close to 100 farmers have committed suicide?'

By Shobha Warrier
January 23, 2017 13:55 IST
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'What is Tamil pride?'
'Pride has to be over something substantial.'

IMAGE: The protest to lift the ban on Jallikattu and impose a ban on PETA at Kamarajar Salai, Marina beach, Chennai, January 20, 2017. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

Nityanand Jayaraman, a former journalist and visiting faculty at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, was at the forefront of the campaign against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in southern Tamil Nadu.

Jayaraman, left, speaks to Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier about the unprecedented agitation in Tamil Nadu over the ban on Jallikattu.

Do you feel Jallikattu was just a trigger that resulted for the mobilisation of people in such large numbers at Marina beach and other places in the state?

We see different people bringing different resentments and we feel this is the result of the deprivation on an identity because of the reintroduction of Hindi, the Hindutva overtones in the national discourse, the betrayal of the Dravidian parties and even small things like the Devanagiri script in the Rs 2,000 note.

All these things might have resulted in resentment over being denied a cultural identity.

Like many say, do you feel Tamil pride has been hurt?

Tamil sentiments have been hurt. That is very evident from the fact that people are out in large numbers.

We see different people bringing different resentments and we feel this is the result of the deprivation of an identity because of the reintroduction of Hindi, the Hindutva overtones in the national discourse, the betrayal of the Dravidian parties and even small things like the Devanagiri script in the Rs 2,000 note.

What is Tamil pride? Pride has to be over something substantial.

We have to be proud of our economy, our natural resources, our country side, our beautiful rivers.. but we are allowing all these to go waste.

If I have a state where water flowed clean in all the rivers, agriculture is healthy and alive and farmers are doing well, then I have something to be proud of.

What pride are you talking about when close to 100 farmers have committed suicide?

When there is a wholesale dacoity of sand-mining mafia taking over the state's resources, the city is heavily polluted, what is there to be proud of?

What do you think the people are angry about?

A lot of things are going bad in my homeland and I am angry.

Farmers are killing themselves.

Rivers are running dry.

The political establishment is looting the state.

These are the things that affect my homeland.

I would like to feel that all those coming together are those with similar sentiments, of being upset with the state of things.

The Centre also has a big part in it. So do the local Dravidian parties.

You must have noticed that the political parties were not allowed in.

In many earlier occasions also, they have shown that they don't trust politicians.

Without any leader, how do you think the people have come together?

The spontaneous uprising and coming together of people have always happened in history.

The youth are particularly inclined to such spontaneous coming together. So, it does not surprise me, but this could have happened for demonetisation, this could have happened for imposing Hindi.

It is very difficult to tell what could trigger an uprising of this sort.

In 2014 also, there was this ban, but nothing of this sort happened then.

What we see now is an anger against a system that does not acknowledge your identity.

Unfortunately, the movement has not articulated its vision.

Such a huge uprising should have broadened into a larger vision. That is a disappointment.

If Jallikattu is seen in its true light, it's not just about the desire of people to chase bulls, but about the culture where it is located, which is the agrarian culture.
That agrarian culture and agrarian economy is in a state of crisis.

Another criticism is that when so many farmers have committed suicide, this protest has been to reinstate a sport...

This has been my disappointment also.

If Jallikattu is seen in its true light, it's not just about the desire of people to chase bulls, but about the culture where it is located, which is the agrarian culture.

That agrarian culture and agrarian economy is in a state of crisis.

That is why I am disappointed that the movement has not broadened its demands.

Do you feel they think that Jallikattu is a part of their culture and identity, which is not understood by the rest of India?

That is what is being said, but a lot of people who are protesting have not seen Jallikattu. They are talking about a notion.

I think there are a lot of shallow arguments and very strident positions on both sides; the pro-Jallikattu group and the animal activists.

Both sides have no intent to accommodate different points of view.

Do you support Jallikattu?

When the answer is going to be a yes or no, I do not want to answer it.

I am against cruelty to animals.

I have a problem with Jallikattu primarily because it is exclusive and has not changed to the modern context.

How can a festival or celebration be exclusive and not accommodate all communities?

This one keeps certain communities out.

If the festival is going to reintroduce caste divisions, justify or celebrate caste discrimination and does not have a secular fabric, such a festival is not required.

Environmentally it might make sense, agrarian economy-wise it might make sense, but in terms of social relations, it extremely discriminatory.

I hear people at Marina and other places saying, remove the ban on Jallikattu. I don't hear them saying, remove the exclusion.

Maybe they are not aware...

In today's age when WhatsApp messages are passed every minute, it is not possible they are not aware.

There are many people who are aware and they are not doing a good job.

Do you see a new leader emerging out of this kind of mobilisation?

Not one leader, but I see leaders emerging.

There will be people who will position themselves as leaders.

With social movements, why they start and why they fizzle out will only be guessed or estimated post-facto.

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Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com
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