The moment I posted that I checked into Marina #JallikkattuProtest on Facebook, my messenger started pinging with loads of questions. One of my journalist friends wondered if I had become a populist. Another Marxist poet quickly judged that I am getting disillusioned. My timeline was full of tweets mocking the protests as some circus of jobless youths. I am a pure non-vegetarian but still, the constant sloganeering by the protesters to ban PETA that’s been broadcast in all the channels in a repeat loop, was making me very uncomfortable.
How can we protest against a ban demanding another ban? And words like “culture”, “ethnic pride” and “bravery” glaring from banners all around were making me taste sand in my mouth. In our society, all we do in the name of culture is to subdue women, oppress dalits, cast out sexual and gender minorities and continue the cruel practice of untouchability. “Valour” in Tamil legacy since 2000 years of traceable history just means feudalism and machismo. Another hyped idea is “Love” and all it stands for now in the current sociopolitical situation in Tamilnadu is honour killings.
I am a native of a small village down the slopes of the Western Ghats and grew up with six cows in the backyard. But I detest glorifying nostalgia because I always have felt ashamed of the caste system that characterised Tamil villages. As an artist, I have been sharply critical of any kind of anthropocentricism, parochialism and chauvinism and abstained from symbols promoting politics of exclusion. I was even targeted and name-called as a traitor for being vocally anti-nationalist. Hence, though awed by the ground swell in the past few days, I was honestly at a loss for words to understand and articulate what was happening in the name of jallikkattu.
But when I personally witnessed the protest that is now being described as #ThaiPuratchi and #TamilSpring, I realised that it is just not about bullfight or its ban. It is just a signifier. When someone says #IdoJallikkattu, it means she or he does resistance.
From my childhood I have been part of rallies and mass protests conducted by the Left parties. I have myself organised campaigns and street meetings as a youth leader and writer. But I promise, in all my life, I haven’t seen families, women, children and youth rallying like this on streets irrespective of caste, gender and creed. Not one face is a usual suspect I normally encounter in progressive spaces. They are not politicised in an organised manner but they are not just a "crowd". They are angry. They are fearless. They are united. They are non-violent. They form human chains to regulate traffic. They kiss the hands of the police. They clean their own trash. They are not gender biased. They are compassionate. Anti-
Of course, there is no ideological backing and the wrath in display cannot be phrased in political correctness. The dissent is neither appropriated by the black of Dravidian political lineage nor by the red of the Marxists. Not by the blue of dalit movements either. But, the collective spirit of resistance is so compelling and it embraces you. It is absolute chaos and erratic. But its rawness overwhelms you. Ideological puritans can reject this whole outburst as some tamasha because it doesn’t fall under any category of protests that we are used to. It is more of a “thiruvizha”(celebration). Nobody is calculating steps but they are dancing. Who am I to evaluate this, is the question that struck me hard.
All I could reflect is, jallikkattu is just the mascot for all the pent-up rage in people’s minds. Modi is paraded dead with the youth dancing for parai drums. Demonetisation has finally made him emerge as a demon. Panneerselvam and Sasikala are hanged as mannequin sacks and beaten with chappals. The rulers are given gaalis in the language used by the so-called underclass and not the political class. Anti globalisation is finally the subject of the real masses. LTTE and Prabhakaran are not yet in the past. Eelam is still a reality in people’s minds.There is a strong sense of betrayal regarding the central government on key matters like the Cauvery water issue, farmer suicides and fishermen’s rights.
People finally have become bulls to reaffirm their self-respect, determination and identity. I, too, could not escape becoming a bull. I happily lost my “self”, felt less important and became one among them. Leader-less, ideology-less and agenda-less and where “cause” is everything.
This is the lesson I learnt from the youth who jumped out of the mobile screens, selfie sticks and malls to make this Tamil Spring or say, Thai Puratchi possible. It cannot be singled out. The youth who came out in large numbers as volunteers for flood relief last year, played a key role in mobilising more youth in the initial days of the jallikkattu movement. Now it is a state-wide movement. Looks like they are practicing resistance on a large scale. Resistance is addictive and I want to believe that it is a multiple beginning.
Leena Manimekalai is a poet and filmmaker