The most recent issue to capture the attention of the Tamil polity is of Pongal being ‘declared’ a Restricted Holiday by the Union government for its employees. To be sure, it is a non-issue. Whether Pongal is a Restricted Holiday (RH) or a Compulsory Holiday (CH), people in Tamil Nadu do have the option of taking the day off. Last year, because one of the other CHs fell on a Sunday, and because 14 days of CHs a year are mandatory, Pongal was bumped up to the CH list. This year, it has been relegated to the RH list once again.
Amidst this, in a small corner of the wide spectrum of whacky ideas that is the social media, an AIADMK IT wing member lamented, perhaps casually, that it is about time TN is declared a separate country. He has since been threatened with sedition cases.
The IT wing worker’s comment is not a real call for secessionism, and it need not be blown up into a controversy – but those who have grown up with Tamil politics will know that laments of ‘why doesn’t Tamil Nadu just be another country’ are common in tea-shop and dinner-table banter. Nobody means it, our heart beats for the nation – but Tamil secessionism will never be an alien idea to us.
Look at some of the recent events. Tamil farmers are suffering from one of the worst droughts ever in the history of the state, and one of the main reasons for it is Karnataka’s refusal to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu in spite of a Supreme Court order.
On the other hand, come this Pongal, farmers will spend a day of gloom since their individual freedom to conduct and participate in the cultural tradition of Jallikattu has been snatched away from them by the Supreme Court.
A common question posed to the media and politicians by farmers is this, “Karnataka won’t release water in spite of a SC verdict. But we cannot hold Jallikattu because we have to go by the SC verdict? Aren’t Tamilians Indians?”
This duplicity, which is in fact an inherent part of the Indian state, is nothing new. Be it education policy, foreign policy or economic policy, the idea of the Indian nation-state always supersedes the federal freedoms of the states, and there is nothing really ‘Indian’ about the popular form of Indian nationalism, it is an extension of Hindi-heartland politics.
Which is why, when Hindi Diwas is forced on central government employees in Tirunelveli, the new BHIM app has only Hindi and English as language options, the new Rs 2000 note is in Devanagari script or the national anthem in Bangla is shoved down our throats, there is a random thought which comes and goes at the back of our head – why not just have a separate country?
The way ahead, clearly, is NOT secession. It would prove to be disastrous to all stakeholders. But when will the Delhi-driven ‘national’ politics of the country realize that federal freedoms of states and linguistic identities have to be protected against the chauvinism of the Hindi-English-speaking lot? Yes, the regional politics of linguistic chauvinism can also turn against the individual freedoms of the people, but history is proof that they are reactionary in nature.
In our minds, the reasons for supporting Jallikattu are very obvious. But we struggle to make people from other parts of the country understand their duplicity in being against Jallikattu, when for several other forms of animal killing or torture none of us bat an eyelid. It is not our job to make them understand, it is our right to do what we want within the boundaries of the Indian Constitution.