Friday, January 20, 2017

V.Krishna Ananth (Inventing Traditions and Orchestrating ‘Protests’)


                The mobilisation in the streets now witnessed in Chennai and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu demanding that the Supreme Court’s interim order against conduct of jallikattu is anything but ‘protest’. The ‘crowds’ are orchestrated by the ‘leaders’ (some of them pulling strings from behind the scenes) is happening when the agrarian crisis is claiming lives across the state. That the regime in Tamil Nadu is behind this orchestration is something that needs very little evidence. And in the event, the record of the state administration in dealing with protest demonstrations against its indifference to the farm crisis, where protesters are detained in a routine fashion while letting disruptions in arterial roads in the state capital is proof that the demonstrations are not spontaneous in any sense.

                One is reminded of the manner in which elected representatives and public servants let people immolate themselves after the then Chief Minister, late J.Jayalalithaa, was sent to jail some months ago. This is also no different from the pogroms that were allowed by the police in Delhi and other towns in October-November 1984 or across Gujarat in February-March 2002. The point is that such vulgar display of arrogance and murderous streak by mobs are inimical to democracy and history is replete with experience where the rulers plan and orchestrate such expressions where it suits them.

                The street shows across Tamil Nadu now are also inimical to democracy for another reason; that this is done in defence of tradition and culture. The business of jallikattu, which is known to have its sponsors from among the thevar community (to which the Chief Minister O.Panneerselvam and the ruling AIADMK general secretary V.K.Sasikala belong to), is not too different from the vulgar games that were played in the amphitheater in ancient Rome. It used to be where well-bred slaves were thrown into the arena to fight with each other and the victor was ordered by the nobles to kill the one whom he overpowered in the fight; legend has it that Spartacus was not killed by his fellow slave who was then killed by the nobles in the arena. The episode is symbolic of the earliest of the revolts against slavery and Spartacus the earliest rebel.

                The Roman ‘tradition’ where slaves were denied of human rights is indeed what makes historians challenge the notion that Rome was a Republic. The French Revolution of 1789 and its call for liberty, equality and fraternity, that led the path to modernity was not condemned by sensible men and women of having been against tradition. Indeed, it made the world a better place where people challenged such brutalities peddled in the name of tradition as inhuman and barbaric. This indeed is what ought to be done with jallikattu as well. Instead, those who owe their allegiance to the Constitution (particularly the leaders of the various political parties, both elected and the losers in the various elections) are now engaged in inventing traditions rather than interrogating them.

                Condoning such acts amounts to the same as such perversion as celebrating sati (that barbarous practice of throwing the widow into the funeral pyre of her dead husband) or infant marriage or  untouchability in the name of tradition.

                Meanwhile, the point at issue here is not merely about animal rights, which for some reason is that being articulated in the discourse now. Jallikattu involves the rights of human beings, sometimes well-bred by the elite in our times to fight and tame the bulls and in that sense as it was done by the nobles in the Roman amphitheaters. Ernest Hemmingway brings this out in his passionate narrative of the bull fight ‘tradition’ in Spain in his ‘Death in the Afternoon’ where matadors and bulls are bred to die and make others happy! It is time that the vulgarity in the name of protest in Chennai and elsewhere is brought to an end and the Constitutional scheme is preserved. And if the State Government drags its feet here, Article 356 of the Constitution is indeed meant to be invoked in such occasions and contexts.



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