During the last few days I have made some startling discoveries about myself – that I am not a true Tamil and neither am I a Dravidian! I have no pride in my sub national / racial identify!
Why you ask me?
Well I do not support a sport called “Jallikattu”! To the uninformed , non social media users, Jallikattu is an ancient sport in Tamil Nadu that is held during the month of January where men try to “tame” a bull and collect the prize money attached to its horns ( in cases where a prize money is involved).
As a person who is a book worm and a couch potato, I have always been non passionate about sports in general. So what is so special about supporting Jallikattu? Apparently it is something that is deeply rooted and linked to Tamil culture and identity and as my friends on social media inform me as a true Tamil I am expected to oppose the Supreme court ban on this sport !!!
Okay may be I do not get it!! What is Tamil culture all about? I refuse to believe that it is just about taming bulls. My ‘limited’ knowledge about this culture ( informed by a non state board secondary school history curriculum and non Tamil publications like the Amar Chitra Katha comics) says it is about great writers, rulers and thinkers. It is about a system of governance that fostered peace and justice. So why have we begun to suddenly equate this with animal husbandry ?
To me it seems like something totally different! Bull taming and bull fighting in this context is seen as an assertion of a sub national identity in a national context which is north centric . Let us look at the semiotics of this entire thing. Bull taming –Brave men overcoming a violent male animal! A celebration of masculine strength and virility! One can recall Tamil movies where the heroes are seen enacting exactly these scenes of valor! I feel like asking “Excuse me, where are the women here ?” . Well, I suppose they are in the audience clapping their hands in excitement, encouraging these men to take on the bull ( at least that is what one sees in the movies)!
But what puzzles me is why educated and smart Tamil women professing to be feminists are also taken in by this symbolism? Is the quest for a Tamil identity so strong for them that they are willing to overlook the gender stereotyping here?
The urban, techie character of this protest is also surprising. I wonder how many of these men who are protesting about this in Chennai have ever visited a village, leave aside approached a bull! Yet we see them posting articles on social media about how this will endanger natural breeds of bulls in the region. I was also amused by the conspiracy theory that this was some sly way by which foreign breeds of cattle were sought to be introduced into Tamil country!!!
There was also a saffron tinge to this where someone posted a slogan on social media saying that if cruelty to animals is to be banned then bakrid should be banned in India!
I would like to ask these “proud Tamil” people (who have denounced me by now ) where was their exhibition of valor when a young girl was brutally slaughtered on Nungambakkam station by a stalker on her way to work? Where is their sense of chivalry when Tamil pulp magazines posted slyly taken pictures of unsuspecting women wearing leggings?
I have worked in the villages of Tamil Nadu and I have worked on animal husbandry projects too. With increasing mechanization the number of breeding bulls are coming down. Most of the cows / buffaloes are fertilized through artificial insemination. All of this is part of the larger change that has come about in our dairy sector thanks to Operation flood! It would be good if people understand the development context of the state especially where animal husbandry practices are concerned. Reading chauvinistic posts on face book is not information enough to understand the context.
A flush of chauvinistic pride trigged by some social media instigated posts is about as short lived as the profile picture of the Indus Valley seal with the bull that some of my good Tamil friends have put up on their face book profile !
I am also sure that once that “off site” assignment is sanctioned by a foreign company my techie friends from the Marina would quietly get their passports out and push off to the US or some other country to earn their dollars and Euros.
So let us get this Tamil identity business out of the picture shall we? This cultural, national chauvinism is what makes us prey to all kinds of negativity and prejudices. If we care so much about bulls let us quit our plush jobs in the offices in the OMR and move to Madurai or Sivagangai to start a cattle farm!!! It will not be long before the real farmers in the region start an agitation to get the urban colonizers out of their area so they can live and practice their livelihoods in peace!