This Republic Day week, I disappointed some dear and lovely friends by supporting (very strictly regulated) jallikattu. But it’s not sheer contrarianism.
Do we ban an Olympic sport because some countries chasing gold were found to have doped their athletes? As a meat-eater and milk-drinker, I know we have very selectively transactional relationships with the animal world, with in-built denials. So I cannot honestly claim that I have any moral ground to inhabit here. Nor, were I vegetarian or vegan, do I think I’d have the right to impose animal dietary bans on others.
In my gradually evolving view, the uprising in Tamil Nadu last week is not so much about cattle, which rural communities understand better than urban English commentators. It’s not even about Hindi. The common people of Tamil Nadu see themselves as an integral part of the Indian Union. They voted against secessionists in favour of the DMK when it was allied with the UPA at the Centre. The late chief minister J Jayalilthaa took an implacable nationalist stand against the LTTE. So it’s not that.
As my two paisa, from my experience of the state and after hearing various friends out in the nadu (pradesh), I see it as the outpouring of accumulated despair about the health of Tamil Nadu.
Despite progress on various fronts, both the DMK and AIADMK are seen as having let the state down in allowing sand mafias, granite mafias, builder mafias and education and health mafias have a free run. These issues have added weight to the complete despair about water.
India’s farthest state — a loyal, contributing state — faces the second-worst drought in its history because the Kaveri is being illegally held back in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders on fair water-sharing. Jallikattu became a symbolic tipping point in all this, given its cultural location in the heart of the harvest festival, Pongal (which, incidentally, coincides with Lohri in Uttar Bharat).
At a personal level, Tamil Nadu is hard not to love, although my ancestors were from the north. My father’s family went to Arcot (Kanchipuram) via Bihar (Gaya Shirsha) and my mother belonged to the ‘Aravali gumbal’, a group of North Indians who made their way long ago from the Aravalis to the banks of the Kaveri. My ancestral cultural home is therefore solidly planted in Devnagari.
However, possibly because I feel attached to South Indian culture by this history, I find I am as dismayed as any ‘true Tamil’ if jallikattu is inappropriately compared to sati. That is because Tamil men are known to burn themselves, they don’t burn women. Interestingly, rural north Indians now seem to have a new understanding of rural Tamils. I think they appreciate, as no city person may, the raw courage it takes to hurl oneself at a charging bull weighing the better part of a half-ton.
Tamils also celebrate ancient King Paari, who gave his chariot as a prop to a fallen creeper – ‘Mullaikku theyr kudutthaan Paari’. That’s 78 million fellow Indians in despair. But it’s very likely that ‘paani aur pyaar’ can do much to restore them to sound democratic health.
The views expressed are personal