Last week, I couldn’t help voicing concerns about the nature in which Jallikattu was restrained by the centre, even as I advocated for kindness to animals. In the meantime, across various states, including Tamil Nadu, the cry for being allowed to exert a regional identity is getting stronger. The protestors mostly want to assert this identity by unrestrained celebration of traditions.
But here’s the thing. Jallikattu, (hopefully modified by public assent to be much kinder to the bulls), is not the only widespread tradition we should be discussing. Tamil Nadu has been sustained by the brilliant system of irrigation tanks, prevalent right from at least the 10th century- i.e., 11 centuries ago!
Called eris, these tanks, many of which were river-fed, sustained agriculture and hence, prosperity for that state for centuries. Not anymore. According to the India Water Portal, quoting the agriculture ministry, in the 1970s, the three southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, tanks contributed about 92% of the total irrigation. Two decades later, it was about 53%. In 2001, the total contribution of tank irrigation across India was just around 5.18%. Meanwhile, precious groundwater exploitation has increased.
Given the severe water crisis India is facing-and one that will only get exacerbated with climate change - is it too much to also consider how these traditions can be upheld and re-vitalized with the same pride as for Jallikattu?
I believe that if such tanks were revived on a large scale, it would be a great learning from Tamil Nadu’s ancient culture for the rest of India.
(The writer is director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)