Saturday, 3 February 2018

Jallikattu - Sr. PLT Girija

(This is one of the incisive articles about Jallikattu, going into the essential issues of idenity and alienation and protest. I would request that it be read in entireity.)
Dr. P.L.T. Girija
Enough has been written in print and social media about the Tamil Tradition of “Jallikattu”, the practice of embracing the hump of a bull, during the harvest festival of Pongal. In short it is an agrarian religious and cultural sport of Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, which transcends caste, class and religion.
The origin of this sport is traced to the ancient Sangam literature. The special breeds of bulls and the men who venture to win/tame them, both trained in the game, enter the ritualistic sport annually, in full view of the entire community. Minor cuts and bruises men may suffer are borne with utmost happiness and occasionally there may be a genuine accident, as it happened a few days ago. And surely there lurks a danger behind every adventurous sport, whether modern or traditional.
There exists an intrinsic connect between agricultural practices, nurturing and propagation of special breeds of bulls, commerce, valour and social relations of a functioning agrarian society. The ban imposed on Jallikattu by the Supreme court of India and the recent protest of the Tamil society against the Supreme court ban, have however opened up a large debate which goes far beyond just the issue of Jallikattu.
Some of the important issues raised in this context are :
Does a sport such as Jallikattu have a rightful place in society today?
Secondly , is there a conflict between the State and the society ?
What are the implications of a civil disobedience / satyagraha type of movement which opposes a law which is perceived to be not in the interest of the people concerned?
What is the nature of the conflict between modern Western thought and tradition?
And finally and most importantly, what is the type of state structure which allows for a dialogue with the aggrieved and which exists solely for the welfare of the society?
Civil disobedience and satyagraha as a protest against injustice or callousness by rajas/ governments, is essentially Indian in its form and content. One such instance of civil disobedience is a series of protests against house tax levied by the British in 1810-11 starting from Banaras which spread to Patna, Sarun, Moorshidabad and Bhagalpur ( “Civil disobedience and Indian tradition”, Dharampal, 1971). Here, people of all description shut their shops and abandoned their work and continuously assembled in multitudes for many days (an assembly of more than 2,00,000 at Banaras) demanding the repeal of the tax. For the British they were just ‘mobs’ forming an unlawful assembly of a seditious nature challenging their authority. In 1920-30s there were several movements of non-cooperation and civil disobedience under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi which culminated in “Quit India“. In independent India however, where the state and society are supposed to share common socio-political and cultural values, we cannot regard the people’s agitation against the ban on Jallikattu as “barbaric mob hysteria ”, unless our ruling elites continue to be faithful to the British colonial notions and attitudes which view their native subjects as barbaric.
The Tamil people’s struggle to resist the ban also brings into sharp focus the deep and underlying divide between modern/Western thinking and tradition. This dichotomy in Indian society is also the hangover from the colonial era.
The English-educated elite of India, like the British intellectuals of a couple of centuries ago, (like William Wilberforce, T.B. Macaulay and James Mill etc.) do not concede any wisdom or richness in the lives and ways of rural India. In 1813, William Wilberforce depicts India as being “deeply sunk, and by their religious superstitions fast bound, in the lowest depths of moral and social wretchedness”. According to Macaulay, the totality of Indian knowledge and scholarship did not even equal the contents “of a single shelf of a good European Library” and that all the historical information contained in books written in Sanskrit was “less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England”. The British went about systematically uprooting all Indian indigenous institutions to promote “religious and moral improvement ”in India.
In independent India, our ruling elite, “educated” only in English language and culture finds no commonality or identity with the large masses of India. They have been sadly deprived of even a superficial knowledge of the richness of the two oldest languages of the world Tamil and Sanskrit. All this has eventually divided our society causing the dichotomy and schisms polarizing our people.
For a healthy functioning of the Indian society, its various communities, groups, guilds etc. should be allowed to determine their own social and cultural practices and the State under no pretext can sit above them and legislate. Traditionally, Indian society has been driven by regional and local practices which have evolved over a long period, which protected their animals and their environment and the State cannot legislate and deny them their rights. The British banned fire walking but the people continued to walk the fire. Over a period of time, people may change some of their old practices, but such change has to come from within.
Now it is upto us to reflect seriously on these issues which are pulling our society apart. Any cohesive and functioning society cannot exist with the conflicting interests between the State and the society and deep schisms within the society. And instances such as the spontaneous protest of the Tamils against the ban on Jallikattu should be considered as an opportunity offered to the State and society to take corrective measures. Above all, it has raised the issue of creating appropriate State structures that represent the collective conscience of our people and their interest and allow the people to fully participate in decision making and the running of the society at all levels.
- Dr. P.L.T. Girija

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