Mr Guha has for long been one of my favourite Indian writers/historians. He combines the romanticism of a bygone era with a simple, lucid style of writing.
His work always has a strong underpinning of fact and logic, which is why I refuse to believe that he wrote this article about Jallikattu.
Let’s run through the points he makes.
Here he is telling us about his research on the subject he is writing about:
Unlike some other Indians, I did not need the Supreme Court to inform me about the practice which many Tamils now sought to uphold. Two decades ago, I compiled an anthology of the writings of the great Tamil naturalist M Krishnan, which included a fine, sharply observed essay written in 1951 on what Krishnan (since he was writing for an English-owned paper), called ‘The Jellicut’. ‘A Jellicut is a major event in rural areas’, wrote Krishnan, addressing his Bengali and North Indian audience, adding: ‘Men and beasts come to it from all around, sometimes from considerable distances’.
THAT'S IT. No really.
I searched the article for atleast some anecdotal evidence of him being in a Jallikattu or even talking to someone who had but no, that nearly 70-year-old compilation is his only frame of reference!
Let's move on.
But the claims being made for it by the ideologists supporting the protests were far greater; that it was, in effect, the essence and embodiment of Tamil culture. The Supreme Court ban was thus being seen as a direct, dangerous and possibly mortal threat to the identity and survival of the Tamil people.
Who? Which ideologists? I didn't hear or read any such deranged claims. Did you?
There was most definitely not enough of such laughable hyperbole to credit them as the very voice of the protest.
Largely the protesters were saying that Jallikattu needed to happen as it was an important Tamil cultural-symbol and that the whole cruelty-to-animals argument was exaggerated.
Anyway, you would expect the author to provide some examples of those voices that he decries, wouldn't you?
You would be disappointed.
The hyperbole was particularly rife in social media. Here, there was a noticeable attempt to cloak the Tamil cause with the colours of Hindutva.
And here he presents the evidence…
It was being said that Western-funded NGOs had coerced the Court to ban the practice; and that this would aid multinational corporations to sell foreign breeds of cows here (since the survival of native breeds allegedly depended on their being bashed and bruised during Jallikattu)
See any connection? Me neither.
The narrative is clearly economic in nature and what he says about the bulls being bashed and bruised is further testament to his lack of research. If the writer had even seen a Kaangeyam bull he would have been disabused of this fancy notion.
And then comes an outright falsehood.
Other enthusiasts were comparing the leaders of the protest on Marina Beach to Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh.
Mr Guha, the very beauty of the Marina Uprising was that there was no leader. It was a spontaneous and democratic uprising of young Tamilians made possible by the very social media that you seem to hold in so much disdain.
That said, the extreme claims made on behalf of the agitation are untenable.
It was certainly not an uprising of the Tamil people.
It was active only in a few districts,
It was not.
and here, too, dominated by men,
often of particular castes.
Dalit intellectuals had spoken out against Jallikattu, since the practice tied Dalits down to the rearing of animals, closing down their avenues to a dignified livelihood.
*Sigh* No sir, in fact such arguments are for the livelihood of those intellectuals.
And as some Tamil feminists pertinently asked, why were there no such ‘mass protests’ against the widespread attacks on women?
I really would not have credited an eminent historian to resort to this “where were you when..>insert favourite cause<...? argument favoured by internet trolls. Nothing good would ever happen if we went by that.
Untenable, too, is the attempt to make Jallikattu a signifier of the authentic or true Tamil identity. Surely aesthestically-minded Tamils should be far prouder of their great heritage of art, architecture, literature and music. Surely socially conscious Tamils should and would be prouder of the great traditions of progressive social reform represented by, among others, Iyothee Thass and Periyar.
Surely we do not have to choose. Why wouldn't we be proud of both?
In a state still rife with caste and gender discrimination, a state reeling under the impact of a severe drought, did this defence of an archaic and sometimes oppressive practice merit such massive and disproportionate attention, so much passion and energy?
An emphatic YES.
Especially for those reasons.
This cause that has captured the imagination of the Tamil people has brought us together, taught us the power of unity and determination, has been at least for the young, the first stone thrown on the facade of the caste and gender-discrimination you speak of and has awoken them to a sense of belonging and pride. Many of us hope with bated breath that it will lead on to better things.
So Mr Guha, as a fan I would regretfully tell you in the words of Jack Nicholson:
“Go sell crazy someplace else.”
(The writer is the director of ‘Tamizh Padam’ and the to-be-released ‘Rendavathu Padam’)