The ruling group of people in the country at the center, which imagines that they represent the overall socio-cultural aspiration of the ‘nation’, seem to have a perception that Tamil people have only emotional attachment with language, literature, performance arts, Jallikattu and religion. There are other dimensions that deserve close observation. The purposive negation of understanding and recognizing those dimensions has led the ruling class to miss out some of the wonderful dimensions of the cultural ethos of Tamil Nadu.

Their love and attachment with their language is not emotional. Rather it is organic and conscious. Emotional attachment always leads to blind pride and develops hatred sometimes. But their love towards their language has infused them with a strong sense of regard and respect for other languages. That is why their affection and love towards national leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Subash Chandra Bose and Dr. Ambedkar is strong and genuine. They entrusted many celebrities of non-Tamil origin with their sovereignty for ruling their state.

Similarly, they are very objective in literary aspects too. As they respect and admire Thirukkural, they also welcome and enjoy the works of not only different quarters but also from contradicting sources. While they sincerely ponder over the thoughts of Periyar who was a strong advocate against religion, they also equally enjoy Kamba Ramayanam.

Jallikkattu is not simply an adventurous aspect of their culture but it is also the culture of sustainability. It is a culturally imbibed social tool for endogenous conservation of indigenous cattle species.

Thirukkural – the ancient book of literally sacred verses that teach rigorousness and love, has strongly molded their socio-spiritual ethos. This has enabled them to inculcate the wisdom of differentiating faith from religion.  They have thwarted many invasive attempts that aimed at containing their spirituality within an institutionalized religion. However, recently there is a perilous trend of using political institutional powers, towards shattering the legacy of the dynamic free-faith so that a hierarchical, patriarchal and misogynic structure of religion is constructed.

In 2015, a team of archeologists from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), a body under the culture ministry in the central government, began excavations at Keeladi, near Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu. The findings of the team are so vital in challenging the views and propaganda of the right wing religious fundamental outfits of the country. While the investigations established that water management, ocean navigation and urban civilization are some of the important aspects of ancient Tamil civilization, significant evidence surfaced out at Keeladi:  the stronger evidence of secular culture of the Tamil civilization. “The materials found in Keeladi provide undeniable evidence of secular culture in South India. This is in odds with the BJP government’s Hindutva agenda and they will take every measure to ensure further research is not done in these sites,” alleges V Arasu, former HOD of Tamil Literature at the University of Madras.  The ASI transferred the superintendent of the archeological site. Then ASI stopped the funding for the third phase excavation work.   Members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam raised the issue in parliament, and G Ramakrishnan, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the state, alleged that the move was a result of “political design”—that it was in the interest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and favorable to the ideology it espouses to prevent details of an independent Tamil culture from surfacing. The excavation was subsequently given the green light in February 2017[1].

The current state assembly election of 2021 needs to be viewed in the above contexts. The dangerous blend of the ideology of communal polarization, tricks of crony capitalism and right wing fascism is all out in rounds in shaping the future of the country. Secular ethos, rational thinking, the spirit of inclusive faith traditions and anti- centralization fervor – whether it is in religion or politics – are the nightmares for the proponents of the ‘one-India’ (which is to be understood as ‘one as centralized power but divided with discriminations’).

The South has always been a hurdle in pursuing their agenda. And particularly Tamil Nadu has played a historical role in culturally countering this design of dominance. Unless the inclusive secular culture is damaged, the vested interests couldn’t be achieved. In order to blur the rich independent and vibrant culture already attempts have been made one by one. Jallikkattu is the visible example for this. The symbols of secular cultures are subtly and violently turned into symbols of hatred and divisions. If not they are destroyed or insulted.  The dangers that have loomed over Tamil Nadu may not be cleared only by winning this election. The danger has already deepened its roots. They know very well that they would lose the election. Their success is not measured by the assembly seats they may win, but by the number of people and groups they would be able to put up for reversing the peaceful coexistence amidst diversities not only in Tamil Nadu but strategically in the southern region both as their base and target.

It is as crucial to build a regional progressive solidarity alliance among the southern states in the current election scenario and then later consolidate their strengths in the post-election phase as well. The alliance should make sincere efforts in fulfilling their promises of their respective election manifestos. The parties should also realize that the declared schemes assured in the manifestoes are not ‘freebies’ as the mainstream media are labeling, but the essential entitlements of the people of the country. What the corporate sectors are being ‘gifted’ in lakhs of crores of money by the present government is the real unjustifiable freebies made out of people’s money!

To sum up: the combat of the looming dangers need to be taken forward beyond ‘election-2021’, but keeping it as an entry point. Restoration of secular ethos, fighting against the attempts of blocking objective research and ensuring transparent and scientific  archeological excavation works, fostering a participatory pan-Indian mechanism for monitoring, investigating and reporting of human rights violations, revival of cultural action  as a tool for critical-thinking, people-based regional conflict resolution system to counter the vested interest forces – are some of the important areas the entire south needs to be think of in a proactive way.   The ground is rich with enough resources. Given the positive thinking and culturally vibrant people, let us not only hope for the best but act for a better future.

Rajkumar is a political commentator

raj2014siva@gmail.com

[1] https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/keezhadi-archaeologist-amarnath-ramakrishna-transfer-sangam


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