The student movement in Tamil Nadu for jallikattu which just ended has many parallels with the 1965 agitation against imposition of Hindi.
The 1965 agitation was the culmination of a long struggle against making Hindi the sole official language that, students, felt would give an inherent advantage to native speakers of Hindi over others in all-India competitive examinations like the UPSC.
The students who fought for jallikattu came together to reassert the Tamil identity, which was sought to be trampled upon by the court-imposed ban on jallikattu, a traditional sport integral to Tamil culture.
The 1965 agitation was inspired by the DMK. The jallikattu agitators kept their agitation apolitical from beginning to the end.
The earlier agitation was marked by violence. The present one was peaceful throughout.
The Congress government in the state unleashed police on the protesters in 1965. The present state governments as well as the police were supportive of the jallikattu agitators and violence broke out only after police, acting on the orders of the Panneerselvam government used force to break up the peaceful agitators.
Despite the police action, students and people supporting them, be it in Marina or in Alanganallur, Tiruchi, Madurai, Erode and Coimbatore, offered only passive resistance. Violence at least in Chennai erupted after supporters from fishermen colony were prevented from marching on the Marina to show the solidarity with the beleaguered students on the beach.
It was brought to an end before Jan 26, for holding Republic Day parades on the Marina. The 1965 agitation started on Jan 26. It soon went out of control and led to violent clashes between the police and students in Madurai in which an inspector was brutally murdered.
The present-day students, though leaderless, were able to coordinate their movement through social media. When we as students joined the protest in 1965 had not even telephones, leave mobile phones.
There was no television in 1965. We had only the All India Radio, though ironically the Centre’s attempt to rename it as Akashvani gave an impetus to the struggle.
The Google generation has information on its finger tips. And yet it was not unaware of the legal intricacies of the issue. So much so, the implications of the ordinance and the law that replaced it to make jallikattu legal were lost on them.
Despite limited access to information, our generation was well informed.
We were aware that it was the attempt by Rajaji to make Hindi compulsory in 1938 which led to the struggle by Dravidar Kazhagam patriarch “Periyar” Ramaswamy, which continued through the 1940s and intensified when the Constitution, adopted on Jan 26, 1950 sought to give primacy to Hindi as the official language of the union.
It was the sustained effort by the DMK, an offshoot of the DK, which led to Nehru’s assurance in 1959 that English would continue as associate language until the non-Hindi speaking people were willing to accept to it.
We were aware that Rajaji changed his position in 1960 and called a conference of speakers of the four Dravidian languages to make English the link language.
In the 1960s, the DMK expanded its base among college students, and so they were aware of the earlier agitation like renaming Dalmiyapuram as Kallakudi and were stirred into action by tall leaders like C N Annadurai and M Karunanidhi.
By the mid-1960s, government colleges like Pachayapas, Arts College, Presidency and Law, as well as American College in Madurai had become bastions of the DMK. The 1965 agitation was led by pro-DMK student leaders like P Sreenivasan, Durai Murugan and Raja Mohammed.
I was in the final year degree course in the Presidency College when the agitation erupted, and we were among the first victims of police excesses as there was lathicharge right outside the college on the very same Marina. In Madurai, when it went out of control, police opened fire, leading to several deaths.
In Presidency College, the protest was led by Raja Mohamed and Vaiko. While Raja Mohammed was my contemporary, Vaiko was my senior.
When Annadurai gave a call to observe the Republic Day as a black day, the then Congress regime called him anti-national and threatened action, though the DMK gave up its separate Dravida Nadu demand in 1963 after the Centre sought to outlaw secessionists. At the height of the agitation, the then Chief Minister M Bhaktavatsalam belittled it by saying that students were organised by offering them biriyani packets.
The agitation spilled into February. Colleges were closed and examinations were postponed by the Madras and Annamalai Universities. Though the agitation abated after the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave an assurance that Nehru’s promise to non-Hindi speaking people would be kept.
The agitation as well as the rice scarcity catapulted the DMK into power, marking the end of Congress rule in Tamil Nadu in 1967.
P Sreenivasan of Dindigul who defeated Kamaraj in Virudhanagar was made Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. Annadurai felt Kamaraj should not have been defeated. And that eclipsed the political career of giant killer Srinivasan who ended up in the AIADMK.
Raja Mohammed was given a minor portfolio when MGR came power in 1977 and eventually dropped. He eventually faded into oblivion.
I personally benefited from the 1965 agitation as I did not have even minimum attendance to sit for the examination. Following closure of the colleges, this requirement was waived. The postponement of the examination also gave me just about time to study and scrape through. After graduation, I joined the Law College and in 1967 took the law degree.
The takeaway from this was a stirring speech in English by Annadurai in Law College. He was given the topic on the spot and yet he spoke effortlessly, quoting Adam Smith and other authorities.
Karunanidhi’s efforts to revive the 1965 spirit in 1986, by symbolically burning the Constitution to demand all the 14 national languages be given official language status, did not click. It was marked by violence, inviting a crackdown by the MGR government. He was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. Using his executive power, MGR ordered his release.
Emerging from jail, Karunanidhi said caustically, “In this Tughlak durbar anything can happen. I don’t know why I was jailed and why I have been released.”