For someone sitting in Delhi and observing the developments on the Jallikattu protests, it is baffling to see how a sport that seemingly inflicts pain on animals has got the young, old, the middle-aged, the rich, the poor, the filmmakers, the housewives out on the streets of Tamil Nadu. What makes the bigwigs of South cinema from Kamal Hassan to Dhanush to come out in support of it? What makes music composer AR Rahman to go on a fast for it? To understand the whole issue of anger of Tamilians and this constant repetition of the phrase Tamil pride one needs to go half a century back in history – the last time when Tamilians hit the streets, braved bullets and when colleges erupted in violent protests.
In fact, we can go back further to the times of Periyar to understand the entire issue of Tamil pride, Dravidian movement, and Tamil nationalism. But for want of time and our aversion for reading long articles, restricting ourselves to the anti-Hindi movement of 1965 will suffice.
What united Tamilians back then is the imposition of Hindi by the Central Government on the southern states. As some accounts suggest, the imposition was quite brutal by the party machinery in the state. Congress workers clashed with anti-Hindi student protesters.
While all the southern language speaking provinces were against such an imposition, Tamil Nadu was the hotbed of this movement. In February 1965, police had open fired at several places killing protesters. On the other hand, there were angry mobs lynching policemen, destroying public property. Students resorted to self-immolation, ending their lives with the slogan,”Long live Tamil”. When the election happened in 1967, DMK came to power on the promise of ending the three-language rule. Congress was wiped off the face of Tamil politics forever. The anti-Hindi agitation was also for the Tamil pride and autonomy, their fierce resistance against the “North-Indians” dictating terms for them.
Funnily enough, today we see VHP, RSS, which maintains ‘Hindi can unite India, chase away English’ are backing the sport in the name of Tamil culture and tradition. The narrative on the social media have made Jallikattu look like a Hindu sport.
They apply the same sense of disgruntlement on Jallikattu as they apply on demands for cracker ban on Diwali, calls for waterless Holi or caution on Dahi handi in Maharashtra. Such humongous support for Jallikattu from the flagbearers of rightwing political discourse in India won’t change what the collective Tamil pride stands for.