"The poonool turns a Parappan into a Brahmin and a Tamilian into a Shudhran" - This startling message is embossed on a poster that carries the image of a pig wearing the ‘sacred thread’, or poonool (or poonal) as it is called by Tamil brahmins. Circulated by the Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK), the poster is an invite to an event where pigs will be adorned with the poonool, in a symbol of protest against Brahminism.
The poster for the protest put out by TPDK.
'Panrikku Poonool podum porattum', a protest where pigs will be made to wear the holy thread, is set to be held at the Sanskrit College in Chennai on August 7. The day marks Avani Avittam, which is a sacred day for Brahmins in Tamil Nadu. It is on this day that they change their sacred threads in a yearly ceremony. According to the TPDK, holding a protest on this day, will create shockwaves amongst the Brahmin community.
"Brahmins wear the poonool because they want to differentiate themselves from other castes and make themselves seem superior," says S Kumaran, Chennai President of the TPDK. "By default, the society views being compared to a pig as an insult and so we decided to use the animal," he explain.
According to this Dravidian fringe group, resentment towards Brahmins has seen a dip over the last decade but they are hoping to revive the sentiment in the state.
So, why plan this provocative protest now?
"With BJP in power at the Centre, the RSS which is basically a Brahmin outfit has gained too much power. This is aimed at countering any effort to suppress the lower castes," says Kumaran. When asked about the attacks of the intermediate castes on Dalits, he said, "Yes, Gounders and Vanniyars discriminate and incite violence against Dalits. But why do they do it? It is because centuries back, Brahmins created the four varnas and a hierarchy of superiority.”
Last year, the TPDK tried to burn effigies of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to symbolically show opposition to ‘Aryan invasion’, a theory which has since been discredited. Now, walls across the city are painted with invitations to this anti-Brahmin protest.
The Tamil Nadu BJP is, unsurprisingly, not impressed by this.
"How can you ridicule something that is very personal to a community? If they think the sacred thread doesn't make anyone superior, why even protest against it?" ask BJP youth wing President for Tamil Nadu, SG Suryah. "They are also forgetting that it is not just Brahmins who wear this thread," he adds.
Aravindan Neelakandan, writing for the right-wing magazine Swarajya, argues that many communities like potters, carpenters and goldsmiths also don the sacred thread. Valluvars, Purohits and astronomers of Parayar community are also known to wear the sacred thread, he says, adding that wearing the sacred thread is not exclusive to one set of people.
"But this is not socially accepted," says Kumaran. "Nowhere in the Vedas does it say that nobody but Brahmins can wear this thread," he claims.
What’s more, the Dravidian outfit is aware that they will not receive police permission to conduct this event. "But we will manage to carry this out without approval from the police," says Kumaran.
Note: The TDPK has since changed their poster, which has been reflected here. An error in the name of the TDPK spokesperson has also been rectified.