On Tamil 'regionalism'

Context (you can skip it):
Sometime last year an acquaintance had asked my opinion on this piece: http://www.popmatters.com/column/from-yugoslavia-to-south-india-the-rise-of-tamil-turbo-folk/

I had known this guy (Kumuthan Maderya) before through another friend who mentioned a shitty book chapter he had written. He just came across as a complete idiot with an attitude of a dickhead. Fret not, it was all a coincidence, this guy is not all that widely known. He's just eking out a living dishing out niche sub-par academic garbage that people wouldn't find worthwhile to contest -- as many arts and humanities PhDs without a tenured position do.

Anyway, I wanted to leave a comment countering some of the asinine conclusions he had arrived at -- on the Dravidian movement and Tamil nationalism -- while trying to make a claim that was even more so. He promptly got my comment removed and I forgot about it. But the whole reason I wrote that comment was so I could use that as a placeholder for my views on the topic. So republishing here.

On Tamil Chauvnism or Regionalism

“Among the most prominent in the Indian body politic, Tamil language zealots mobilized public support for self-determination through exaggerated fears of cultural genocide under North Indian hegemony.”

I don’t care much for the article except for this ridiculous, ill-informed, prejudicial statement. It’s as if the author didn’t learn anything from MSS Pandian or Ashish Rajadhyaksha, except that quoting these names would render a faux scholarliness to an article that is mostly bullshit.

It is as tiring as it is common to come across writings that are devoid of any socio-historical understanding of the political demography of the subcontinent. It’s also equally frustrating to see people parade simplistic majoritarian views of a (united) nation and its purported virtues juxtaposed against the ills of ‘regionalism’. The author conveniently forgets the fact that the state of Tamil Nadu – a state with its own unique history and language not unlike any major European country – was de facto ruled as ‘India’ by the British empire and the independent ‘India’ wanted to whitewash it by imposing homogenized identities on it primarily through the agenda of a ‘National Language’ in the form of Hindi. The so called chauvinism was an organic opposition to an undemocratic, authoritarian decree by the ruling Congress government post-independence.

The above scenario was no different from this: Germany wins world war-2. A century passes, Nazis get diluted and gradually disappear (or there’s Gandhi 2.0 to make it happen). They’re replaced by a government that’s ‘voted in’ by all of Europe but run mostly by Germans, and one fine day they figure it’d be easier to run the ‘country’ of Germope (well, the Germans renamed Europe) if it had one national language of, guess what, German! If the English or the Spaniards protested against this, they’ll be dutifully labelled ‘language zealots’, ‘chauvinists’ and ‘separatists’. Because, you see, Europe was mostly Christian, there are old books and shit that make references to parts different parts of Europe as if it were a singular nation etc. Besides, united is always better than separated. No exceptions. Status quo is always better. Also, bigger is better.

Only bigots and nationalists (btw, if nationalist doesn’t sound insulting, how about fascist?) would even try to slander any campaign for self-determination. It’s amazing how some of these people casually categorize calls for self-determination as guided by “exaggerated fears of cultural genocide” while the status quo would be anything but.

It’s the worst kind of farce when insular status-quoists try to masquerade themselves as progressives or worse, revolutionaries.

People eat people world

Been trying to catchup on some of the docs from 2016. I used to be religious about it until 2011 or so. Same with electro songs too. Laziness and general dissociation from many things set in around that time and I haven’t ‘recovered’ from it since. What I’m doing now is just a consciously driven exercise to re-establish that life bit by bit, although I’m aware that it’s futile.

Anyway, random docs have started to show up in my recommended list in Youtube and among them was one on Mao Zedong (Tse Tung as many of us were taught in school, in India). I had seen this documentary when it was on TV several years ago.

It didn’t strike me as an objective or particularly coherent documentary then. Nevertheless it had some chilling details that I was able to verify to an extent from other sources. One such detail was about the ‘wide spread’ cannibalism during the Great Chinese Famine.

A few months later I brought it up in a casual conversation with my grad school colleague from China. I have to admit that I showed no seriousness or sensitivity when I mentioned it; in a manner of talking about something that’s supposed to have a happened a long time ago and that is common knowledge. Ok, I might have joked about it: “we may have to eat one another like the Chinese did during the famine, haha!”. I’m not sure (I’m not sure because I’ve joked about it several times without the Chinese famine part). But she was completely taken aback. I don’t think she called me a racist but she was visibly offended and very upset, and said something like “we’re colleagues here, it’s important that we be respectful towards our cultures and not throw such preposterous allegations and that too so casually.”

She stopped talking to me for a few weeks but I wasn’t too bothered by it. I knew what I said would have shaken her up and driven to do her own research. Being the scholar she was, she did. She spoke to me after a month or so and expressed her regret. I did too.

We spoke for long time that day. She spoke about how she felt ashamed for not knowing her own country’s history and how these revelations have got her completely confused about her identity etc. I said I sympathized with her and gave a long list of examples that applied to me vis-à-vis my right wing past. But I also reminded her that I was only 24 and she was 31.

She didn’t talk to me for a few weeks, again.

On Jallikattu protests

Wanted to do a podcast on it last week. It may or may not happen, but I'll record my general views here.

The protesters: 

They are mostly young men and driven by their own sense of victimization as Tamils in the hands of an indifferent system - represented by the governments in the State and the Centre, and the Supreme Court. Jallikattu might just be the face of many grievances that belie their motivations. I see many strands in the protests that I agree and sympathize with, but there are also others that make me uncomfortable. Especially the many claimants -- mostly Hindus -- who surface every now and then.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that they chose to subject themselves to all the discomforts inherent to protesting in the street in blistering sunlight (as opposed to sitting at home or worse a 'peaceful' candlelight vigil for an hour at night) and that in itself begs a measured assessment. It doesn't matter that some of them might be completely clueless. It's true of any protest. Isn't this what the colonial masters told every indigenous freedom movement: that they do now know what they really want; that they cannot run their own country? The small truth in it is completely outweighed by the big ethical claim against it.

The cause:

Enough has been written about the 'Arab spring' and numerous other 'post-social media' uprisings on how various events come together. Protests like this are discursive even if they start with a singular, easily identifiable goal. It is as critical, if not more important, than having a goal that is superior in other ways but strategically unwieldy.

The desire to be a part of something that earns some activist cred is in there too, but again, it's ok. To those questioning the legitimacy of these protests citing 'their' -- because a good number of them were in their early teens then -- inaction during genocide of Eelam Tamils in 2009, the conflicts around Cauvery water sharing,  or the more recent spate of farmer suicides and the like: this is the cause and this is the moment they've chosen. Or this when the stars have aligned. Either you see this as an opening that your favourite cause could exploit in the future or lament those lost opportunities. Regardless, this cause isn't so perverted to deserve delegitimization at the hands of self-identifying progressive Tamils. I would suggest keeping your snide cynicism muted for now.

The effect:

It's undeniable that we are witnessing a defining moment in modern Tamil history that no one wants to be in the wrong side of, at least in Tamil Nadu. Given the sheer number of protesters (and the trade organizations that have pledged support), this can no longer be dismissed with the usual North Indian condescension.

Elected governments to judges of the supreme court, everyone plays to the gallery if not by their ugly prejudices. One went so far as to say that "the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender." One might think this is what the leader of  a khap panchayat said before he hanged someone in the village square, but no, it was a supreme court judge. (You're also welcome to remind yourself of the ruling on the national anthem to be played in all cinemas.)

And how about this gem?
"Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva…Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practiced now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu.
As early as 1500-1600 BC in the Isha Upanishad, it is professed as follows: 'The universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species."
Yes, this too is from the supreme court judge, in the ruling made in 2014 that effectively banned jallikattu in all forms. The brahmin judge actually employs some bullshit upanishad to date and validate Tamils' claim. (It's important to read this in the context of the archeological findings in Keeladi and how the BJP government is trying its best to scuttle the project.)

Speaking of justice, there's a simple rule that underwrites justice: it must be applicable for all applicable cases. So yes, Tamils would shut up and walk away if you banned all forms of animal cruelty, all over the country.

The protestors have articulated these views consistently and vociferously in the last two weeks in English media in spite of the aforementioned condescension and in some cases blatant hostility. I would be surprised if the upcoming ruling does not reflect any of these developments.

About jallikattu:  

As I mentioned elsewhere, I personally do not care about jallikattu. In fact, I agree with some of the arguments against it; I'm not stating my views on it further. I do, at this juncture, want to emphasize that if I were to accept the notions of animal cruelty, I want the Tamil people to take a call on that. This is the fundamental argument against 'civilizing missions' by alien powers.

To make my position clearer: I'll support Jallikattu because the ban is imposed on Tamils by entities that I detest -- the Indian govt and the brahmin judges of the supreme court. If Tamil Nadu managed to secede at some point, I'll probably be on the other side. I'd also rush to add that this would not serve as a universal model (nothing would).

Final thoughts:

I don't know what the immediate outcome is going to be. What I am excited about, though, is that these protests have signaled a clear warning to the assholes who are relentless with their projects of homogenization. Tamils were only a fabled monolith until yesterday (1965 was a long time ago). Today they have again demonstrated that they could really be that if the calling was 'right'. And honestly, I don't care whether its non-violent or otherwise.

Tamil youth have broken the habit of not giving enough of a damn about anything. This is the first step that was long overdue. Never mind the virtues of the reasons behind, the step is virtuous in itself. They may not stand up for cauvery, for dying farmers, against dalit atrocities or against corporate plundering. But when they do, even if it's half assed, and not outright abominable, let them be. Let's not rush to poke holes and undermine it.

The Tamil may not remain conscious and steadfast against globalization and other mechanisms of modernity that'd invariably subsume his/her identity into a bossu, or worse an Indian ji, but s/he would have been a willing participant in it. And that is what matters here.

©2009 english-tamil