Feature Article

New Delhis' suppression of Tamil Nadu equally detrimental as geopolitics of West

[TamilNet, Saturday, 11 August 2018, 23:34 GMT]
The latest happenings in the quasi-federal state of Tamil Nadu in India, need to be perused in a broader historical context, grasping the ever-raging conflict between the Centre being the dominating New Delhi Establishment and Tamil Nadu. The oppressed people of Tamil Nadu have been unable to strike power of balance with it, argues Norway-based Eezham Tamil anthropology academic Athithan Jayapalan in a recent paper. The underlying hegemony has also been one of the significant impediments to finding a confederal or, at the least a federal, solution to the national question of Eezham Tamils in the island situated along the southern tip of India. The New Delhi Establishment is adamantly upholding the unitary character of the genocidal state of Sri Lanka, even at the cost of its national security, and it has no qualms in sacrificing the self-determination and sovereignty of Eezham Tamils.

Ultimately, New Delhi wants to keep Eezham Tamils subdued towards accepting the 13th Amendment-based meaningless devolution through the unitary constitution of genocidal Sri Lanka, which is a devolution below its non-sovereign and quasi-federalist model, bereft of power-sharing on crucial matters.

As a consequence of New Delhi’s drive to keep Tamil Nadu subdued, Eezham Tamils in the island are left in limbo to succumb to the structural genocide in the hands of Sinhala Theravada Buddhist rulers of the island.

Regardless of BJP or Congress rule in the Centre, the New Delhi Establishment is persistent in upholding its foreign policy outlook, which stems from Mauryan emperoric paradigms of the past. It has always been prepared to abandon the nation of Eezham Tamils for its Establishment-centric relations with the genocidal state of Sri Lanka, experienced political observers in Jaffna, who didn't wish to be named, commented to TamilNet.

Similarly, the Geneva-based ‘US-Sri Lanka’ consensus paradigm, which is backed by the European countries, also deceives Eezham Tamils to accelerated structural genocide in their homeland.

The argument coming from specific pro-Establishment media in India that the global geopolitical paradigms were more detrimental to Eezham Tamils than the Indian factor, is a total fallacy.

Both, the Indian factor, which also includes the failure or the inability of Tamil Nadu polity as a whole, and the global factors of geopolitical nature, have been working at tandem, sustaining the genocidal paradigm in the island.

None is worse or better than the other in any way, the political observers in Jaffna said.

Instead of getting carried away by mischievous micro-level post-mortem analyses on the late DMK Chief Kalaignar Karunanidhi on the topic of Eezham Tamils, which intends to pass the buck, it is time for Tamils in Tamil Nadu to look at their discourse in a broader, historical context, understanding the macro-level phenomena, the political observers further commented.

It is under these circumstances, the latest study by Eezham Tamil diaspora academic Aathithan Jayapalan, titled "The dialectics of Tamil Nadu’s peoples’ struggles and Indian state repression," gains significance, particularly to the young generation of the readership.

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Athithan Jayapalan
Athithan Jayapalan
Aathithan, in his study, observers that “[t]he crux of the matter is obfuscated in dominant discourses, and there is a side-lining of the historical context, and mystification of the material and aspirational aspects of democratic will and grievances of the protesting Tamil-Nadu masses.”

“Similarly, one fails to understand the logic of the protest in Tamil Nadu if one does not grasp the implications of centre - state dynamic and its historical trajectory, as well as that of Hindi- Brahmanical hegemony, and the imposition and infringement of political rights and cultural constellations of the people of Tamil Nadu who have historically been a base for resistance against the external and imperial threats.”

Following is the conclusion of his paper, the full text of the paper follows after the conclusion:

The cultural basis and the constellations of practice and beliefs, i.e. the folk stratum of what is considered Tamil Nadu’s ancient cultural and cosmological traditions, has for centuries harboured an organic faculty to engender resistance against external imposition of various kinds and in particular external dictations which infringe upon Tamil Nadu peoples’ organic basis of democratic aspirations and self-determination; implies the exploitation of its soil.

It is these egalitarian based secular folk elements, which despite centuries of threat from foreign over- lordship, Brahmanical traditions and the practices of caste integral to it, have retained an organic bulk of non-Vedic/Brahmanical traditions, cosmology, and rituals albeit with some transformations.

A Dravidian platform of social, cultural, and economic patterns of life and cosmology has been actively preserved, which provided the material and ideational basis upon which resistance movements native to the land grounded their opposition to New Delhi as well as to foreign imperialism.

History attests that sovereignty rests among the people, and not the state, and it is upon the legitimacy granted by the people and their national democratic mandate that a state is to be constituted, a wisdom shared by Joseph Sykes of the French revolution to a practice instituted by revolutionary national liberation movements throughout the ‘third world’ and Asia, including Eelam.

The Indian union, which is in effect a unitary quasi-federation, with origins in Mughal imperialism and British colonialism has ingeniously subverted the sovereignty and the right to self-determination of Tamil Nadu and its people, within an asymmetrical administrative framework, while upholding the guise of federalism and symbolic representation.

Despite symbolic powers and some territorial rights, the cultural, linguistic, economic, and external affairs of the state are subjected to the fancies and dictates of New Delhi. The revenues collected from the state, as the case with other state units, is pooled into a common reserve in New Delhi, which is then incorporated into a ‘national budget’ and central expenditures, and is then accordingly re-delegated. It can be compared to a semi-feudal capitalist construct, with rhetoric of federalism. It is the Centre which then effectively controls revenues made in a state, and determines inter-state negotiation on resource management, such as water-sharing.

For a people unrepresented by the state formation they are entrapped within, it is inevitable that contradictions will emerge under given conditions and in due time. Since the logic of the established structure of governance is non-organic, non-democratic, and thus incapacitated to represent the dynamics of a peoples’ democratic aspirations and grievances.

The numerous and accumulative effects of New Delhi, and the Hindi speaking elites’ marginalisation, repression, and curtailing of Tamil Nadu’s right to self-determination has ushered forth a process of critical analysis among the Tamil ideological traditions.

Hence what the Centre is confronted with today is not an emotional, irrational, or parochial mass which is seemingly a Freudian projection of the ruling elites. It is rather a nationally conscious, egalitarian oriented, and mobilized Tamil popular mass which is taking to the streets in both urban and rural centres, and is now once more espousing their unity in discontent towards the modus operandi of the Centre and the ruling elites.

Continuous apathy from the north, and continued discriminatory discourses against Tamil Nadu’s people and their assertion of political power coupled with marginalizing policies from the Centre and its state apparatuses, will hasten the polarization process between Tamil Nadu and the Indian framework, and there will then be only one logical outcome.

Self-rule and self-governance rests upon self-mobilization and self-respect, and political clarity on behalf of the broad national masses of a people as well as among those who are their vanguards. Such paths for political power are opted for when the masses collectively realise, compelled by a historical reality, that a people without sovereignty means subjection to external interests which are not organically aligned to the welfare of their national masses.

Hence, more than the question to preserve the form of Jallikattu or not, it is the self-determination of the people of Tamil Nadu at risk, and it is within their purview to decide the mode and means through which they deem fit to shape and practice their future, including their ancient cultural tradition. It is not to be bargained with disconnected external power structures.

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Full text of the paper follows:

The dialectics of Tamil Nadu’s peoples’ struggles and Indian state repression

Athithan Jayapalan

The recent death of DMK supremo Karunanidhi, coupled with the demise of ADMK matriarch Jayalitha last year, has widened the political vaccum in Tamil Nadu. Many have also identified this as the end of the Dravidian or Tamil Nadu based control over Tamil Nadu's state machinery and its people’s affairs.

This has also emboldened the centre and BJP to field candidates of their liking and co-optation, to steer the state towards the orbit of New Delhi. It is in this light the people of Tamil Nadu should view the attempts by film actors like Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth, who through the Tamil film industry have secured large fan-bases across the state and its diaspora over their decades of performances, now attempt to transform this into political capital and opt for the chief minister post. It becomes evident that the strings of such characters are attached to puppet masters ensconced in New Delhi.

Whilst such schemes are hatched, the police authorities of Tamil Nadu state are also increasingly being deployed in the service of New Delhi in order to stifle any protesting voices on behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu. Such moves which have incremented since the incipiency of 2017, are aimed at dismantling the popular grass-root based social movements in Tamil Nadu which have gained unprecedented support among the masses since the genocidal end of the Eezham war in mid-2009. They have also been the vanguards of the Tamil Nadu peoples’ sentiments and democratic will, which often is juxtaposed to that of New Delhi and Indian 'national 'interests as stipulated by the union government in power.

Thirumurgan Gandhi, the co-cordinator of the May-17 movement, was detained by the Bengaluru Airport police and Indian immigration authorities at the Bengaluru airport on 09.08.2018, following his return from Europe, where he attended the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. He was handed over to a special police team from Chennai who brought him to the city. A case has been filed against him by the Chennai police under the Indian Penalty Code section 124 A, which is for sedition, 153 a (1) and 153 (b) accusing him of ‘promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race’.

These incidents merit a detailed perusal of the recent events and processes which have unfolded in the state of Tamil Nadu, and demands a historical contextualization, which is omitted in popular discourse as well as Indian national media coverage.

Resistance against Delhi and actors of the global economy
On 22.05.2018, in the coastal town of Tuticorin in the Southern Tamil Nadu district of Thoothukudi, the state police began a violent clamp-down on a popular protest movement locally organized against a copper smelting plant operated by Sterlite Copper and their plans to expand their production in Thoothukudi (1). The police opened fire targeting the protestors, killing at least thirteen civilians, and injuring scores over the following three days. Around 20 000 people gathered to protest the pollution and environmental hazards as well the economic exploitation of Tamil Nadu by Sterlite Copper. Reports from the region also point out that there were a series of sweeping operations carried out over three days by the police against the youth in the region, and around 200 are believed to have been unlawfully detained during this period.

This has led to the people of Thoothukudi distrusting the police accounts of deaths and injuries, as well as suspecting a cover up of the real extent of the violence unleashed by the Tamil Nadu police forces against the people of the state, in order to protect the interests of a U.K. based multi-national company (MNC) sanctioned by New Delhi.

From the day of the massacre, internet services were blocked suspended for at least three days in three southern districts of Tamil Nadu, Tuticorin, Nagercoil, and Thirunelveli as state authorities attempted to control the dissemination of information regarding the violence and deaths. However, relatives of the killed are resolved in their demand of the state authorities to close down the Sterlite Copper smelting plant, and to bring to accountability those responsible for the killings. Video accounts featuring the relatives of the killed have surfaced, where they recount how they have refused to comply with police authorities who demanded them to sign reports for post-mortem and place their signatures accordingly in order to receive the bodies of their dead relatives. They have also reiterated that they will not cease their struggle unless their demands to permanently close down the polluting industrial plant are met. The Tamil Nadu masses are consolidating their struggle for their land and resources as well as towards the question of Tamil Nadu’s peoples will and self-determination despite the mounting violence unleashed by the Indian state apparatuses.

Eyewitness accounts have emphasized how the peaceful struggle was waged with the participation of women, elderly, and children. It was a struggle of communities of the masses against the polluting and exploitative activities of the Sterlite Copper plant. They underline that the police accounts of the riot are false and in fact are reminiscent of what was witnesed during the Jallikuttu police violence incident earlier last year. Police instigated fires and damage to public property to fabricate grounds to use violence to quell civil protests of the people. Traditionally, such violent and manipulative tactics by authorities are seen as incipient phases of protracted schemes of counter-insurgency against peoples’ resistances.

Some of the killed were leaders of the protests movements and included women. The manner of the violence also indicates the targeted nature of the extra judicial executions. Hence such methods are being deployed as a strategy to crush the brewing Tamil Nadu’s people struggles. Snowlin, a 17 year old protestor was apprehended by the police and later executed by being shot in the mouth. Her murder as well as that of the others has caused outrage among the Tamil Nadu public as well enraging the Eezham Tamil diaspora and those in the homeland.

The copper smelting plant complex in Tuticorin was established in 1996 and is operated by Sterlite Copper, a unit under Vedanta Ltd which is in turn a subsidiary of the U.K. MNC and business conglomerate Vedanta Resource Plc, owned by Anil Agarwal, of Marwadi origin (2).

The controversial smelting operation complex of Vedanta has caused severe water and air pollution in the region since its founding. It has also caused illness and deaths of numerous workers at the plant as well as causing health hazards to residents of the Thoothukudi district. Ever since the beginning of its operation it has been resisted by the people of the district and by activists of the state. The pollution is also recognized as hazardous to the Gulf of Mannar biosphere, afflicting the maritime regions of Eezham’s north-western coast.

The current phase of the protests against Vedanta and Sterlite Copper has been waged for over three months by the people of the district, many who belong to Dalit and fishing communities as well the Christian minorities of the Tamil polity. The success of the mobilization was also due to the support shown by local trade associations and unions, as well as that from social and environmentalist movements around the state. It was mobilized following attempts by the Vedanta and Sterlite Copper to expand their smelting complex plant by adding a factory which could double their current productive capabilities by smelting 1,200 tonne of copper per day, which would significantly increase the pace of pollution. The protests against the plant have been stepping up since 2009, reaching its peak during the past three months.

Indian media reports that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has passed orders to temporary close down the Sterlite Copper unit. Activists say that the ordering of closure and the subsequent opening of the plant have been going on for years following protests by the locals, and believe this time the MNC will yet again bribe its way to secure permission to operate by ensuring the repealing of orders of closure.

On May 28th, the Tamil Nadu state government issued an order to close down the Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin (3). On May 29th, The Vedanta PLC announced that it had received an order from the Tamil Nadu government to permanently close the plant. P. Ramnath, the Chief Executive of Sterlite Copper expressed in press briefings to Indian media that the MNC has no intention to move its plant anywhere and wish to continue with its plans of expansion. Mr. Ramnath has further claimed that the local populations’ protests based on environmental hazards and socio-economic disadvantage is propaganda (4). Indian national media also reports that President Narendra Modi has expressed displeasure over the move to close the copper-smelting plants. The Indian media further emphasizes that the plant is one in two copper-smelting plants in operation in India, and is crucial to meet the Indian growing demand for copper and for its export industry. The closure of the plant will adversely affect Sterlite Copper’s productive capacities and Vedanta’s profiteering possibilities.

Across the Palk Straits, Vedanta is also collaborating with the genocidal state of Sri Lanka, in exploring and facilitating exploitation of oil in the Gulf of Mannar which is occupied by the SL armed forces. The Vedanta operation in Sri Lanka is carried out through their subsidiary Cairn Sri Lanka (5). The Vedanta enterprise as well as other MNCs operate their activities through the structures of global economy and imperialist powers, in liaison with agent states in different regions of the world. Such a modus operandi proves that in South Asia the working ties between Vedanta and its subsidiaries with state authorities of New Delhi and Colombo facilitate the implementation of such coordinated economic exploitative and extractive operations in the territory and amongst the masses of Tamil Nadu and Eezham. Given the historical trajectory of the state and commercial institutions involved in the perpetuation and the material effect of such schemes of economic exploitation and environmental degradation, they are identified as detrimental to the well-being and national interests of both Tamil nations across the Palk straights.

Furthermore, Vedanta, as well as its parent company the Vedanta Resource Plc, are known to enjoy cordial relations with the Indian Central State bureaucracy and governments. Initially this was apparent with the Congress party but since 2014 their canvassing has shifted towards the BJP and incumbent Indian president Narendra Modi. This was reflected in April this year during the U.K. – India CEO summit hosted in the U.K. with Prime minister Theresa May and President Narendra Modi attending, as Vedanta was amongst the central facilitators of the summit.Vedanta has also launched campaigns which are complementary to Modi governments’ economic programs and policies. Consequently there are mutual interests between the MNC and New Delhi to enhance the consolidation of central state control over the state units, particularly Tamil Nadu.

Since the unexpected death of previous chief minister Jayalalitha, the Tamil Nadu police have been carrying out a series of grave atrocities against the various struggles waged by the people and social movements of Tamil Nadu. The consolidation of popular people’s protests concerning various socio-economic and territorial issues in Tamil Nadu as well as in solidarity for Eelam has been progressing in an unprecedented manner since the Mulli’vay’kaal genocide in 2009. This has upset the Indian central government and state, as Tamil Nadu has complicated the consolidation of New Delhi’s policies of hegemony within the union, engendered through the culture of protests associated with the interests of the Tamil masses.

Jallikattu and the will of the Tamil Nadu masses
In January 2017, Tamil Nadu was the seat of a historic peoples’ upheaval drawing hundreds of thousands of participants to the streets in protest of the Indian central government and the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu, a sport that is customarily conducted during a secular Tamil harvest festival (Pongal) in Tamil Nadu (6) (7). Jallikattu is a bull-taming sport carried down from ancient times- a fact that has been attested by references in Sangam literature. It was formerly known as Eru Thazhuvuttal which translates as bull-embracing. Thus it is a historically attested ancient folk practice and customary sport among the Tamil people. In its current form the sport has been shaped by various historical stages which have affected Tamil Nadu since the Sangam era, including dimensions of caste.

At first sight, the demonstrations appeared to be singularly oriented towards lifting the ban on Jallikattu (8). There was also discourse in international and Indian national media presenting it merely as a popular assertion of cultural right under threat (9). Although the popular and non-parliamentary nature of the protest was noted, the overall narrative pertaining to the events mystified the role of revolutionary Tamil nationalist sentiments and consciousness behind the popular upsurge of protest (10). Consequently the scale of national mobilization and the political character of the peoples’ movement was glossed over.

The social basis of the protests merits closer analysis: the popular upheaval was constituted by the Tamil masses- activists, farmers, fisher-folk, workers, small shop owners, trade union members, professionals, elders, school children and students, from rural and urban centres (11). The demonstrations were an outward manifestation and a democratic expression of a historical dialectic and process which has shaped the modern composition of Tamil polity in South India. It was neither a spontaneous nor an emotional reaction to a ban ordered by the Supreme Court of India that sought implementation by the central-state apparatuses. The Tamil Nadu peoples’ movement witnessed in January 2017 had developed gradually over the recent past, a past which is marred with manifold injustices being levied against them in Tamil Nadu as well as the Eelam Tamil nation.

The Tamil uprising for the cultural-political right of conducting Jallikattu, is a component of a historical development among the Tamil Nadu people. Even though the Jallikattu struggle, which was won by the masses has passed, Tamil Nadu is undoubtedly entering another historical moment (12). The Jallikattu struggle, the anti-Sterlite resistance, and dozens of other peoples’ protest campaigns across the state are all material indicators of such a historical juncture. It further consolidates the ideals and practices of egalitarian national mobilization and the radical political literacy associated with it, sharpening political clarity among Tamil Nadu Tamils. The twin processes of radical national mobilization and political consciousness were markedly engendered as mentioned by the solidarity movement for Eelam. The campaign for Eelam was mobilized in Tamil Nadu in response to the genocidal massacres conducted by the Sri Lankan state with Indian, U.S., and international backing against the Eelam Tamil nation and their revolutionary vanguard organisation in 2009. However such a historical trajectory is either distorted or silenced by the so-called national media in India as well international corporate media.

On a general account, opposition from New Delhi towards Tamil national democratic will and Tamil resistance towards the former are well known. A glance at the overall political trajectory of the Indian national movement headed by the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Indian union is sufficient to attest to long historical tensions between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, i.e. the seat of central-state power. Such a history is principally comprised of the central government, its state apparatuses, and the various coalitions of Hindi speaking elites (both the English educated and the Hindi-medium educated) ensconced in New Delhi and Bombay, and their incessant attempts in enforcing cultural and linguistic impositions, engineering political containment, and attempting to consolidate the hegemony of the Indian union and its ruling elites upon the Tamil country. Such a pattern of imposing engagement is also evident in the interaction of the central-state with other peripheral people and their lands whether it is in the North-East or Kashmir.

Contextualising the present
The present has been and remains as one of marked uncertainty for Tamil Nadu. In addition to what has been discussed, the Kaveri water crisis macro-managed by New Delhi is adversely affecting the agricultural livelihood of the people of the region and produce within the Kaveri delta. Moreover the Kaveri river is the lifeline of millions of people in Tamil Nadu, and is near complete depletion (13). It has crippled the welfare of the state in general and in particular the lives of small scale Tamil speaking agriculturalists and agrarian workers, with hundreds of farmers reported to having committed suicide during 2017 (14). Tamil farmers commit suicides as they are indebted and unable to secure a livelihood. In the end of 2016 December, small scale peasants from in and around the Kaveri delta staged a symbolic protest in Delhi, holding dead rats in their mouth (15). The protests reflected the severe difficulties brought upon peasants of Tamil Nadu due to the refusal of the Karnataka state authorities to release an adequate amount of water into Tamil Nadu. The crisis is further aggravated by the manipulations of the Supreme Court of India and New Delhi. Recent reports suggest that Tamil Nadu is the most adversely affected state in India due to the lack of water supply in its reservoirs. According to data obtained by the Central Water Commission the water level in Tamil Nadu reservoirs are less than 81 percentages of its 10 year average (16).

Hence there is a severe agrarian crisis unfolding wherein the productive forces ensuring Tamil Nadu’s food sovereignty or self-sustenance is being crippled and further targeted for destitution. Tamil Nadu activists have pointed out how such processes (Kaveri crisis and Jallikattu-ban) aimed at weakening Tamil Nadu’s food sovereignty, agrarian values, and social basis as well as the pool of native breeds. This seems to be aligned with free market regimes pushed by the U.S. and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - conditions the Indian central government and its ruling elites have agreed to operate and partake in (17). Such an alignment with international interests of MNCs, the U.S. state establishment, and New Delhi are also reflected in the larger geo-political strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi. This partnership has worked against the interests of the Eelam Tamil people and has manifested in the integral support given to the unitary state of Sri Lanka in opting for a genocidal solution to the Tamil national question.

Noteworthy is also that the concept of Tamil food sovereignty, that is for the Tamil Nadu people to control and determine the means and modes of their production, distribution, and consumption of their staples, has been a powerful force in uniting agrarian movements and urban student and social movements under the banner of Tamil egalitarian nationalism. The agrarian crisis, and the grievances and aspirations of the mass of Tamil peasants, is connected to the inability of the Tamil people and/or their representatives to exercise self-determination and decide their collective development according to Tamil democratic will. This has manifested in unhindered processes of natural resource exploitation dictated by New Delhi and India’s ruling elites whom are also in the service of MNCs tied to the matrix of U.S.-U.K axis of imperialism, which has contributed to the dispossession and worsening of livelihood for the agrarian masses of Tamil Nadu.

Some examples of such externally determined processes of exploitation of Tamil Nadu’s natural wealth is evident in the prospectus and preparations being made for methane-gas fracking in the Kaveri delta region, ilmenite mining in the coastal stretches of Tamil Nadu, mining for natural resources by Sterlite industries in south Tamil Nadu, sand mining in southern and central Tamil Nadu, bauxite and magnesite exploitation in Salem region in north-west Tamil Nadu and the nuclear power Plant in Koodankulam in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu.

Furthermore, the present period has also been marked by a political vacuum left by the unexpected death of former CM of the state, J. Jayalalitha. She was the head of Tamil Nadu in a namesake Indian union, who, despite her history of working against the larger interests of the masses in Tamil Nadu and Tamil nationalist aspirations, has since 2011 been on the forefront of challenging the Centre vis a vis popular demands on the streets of Tamil Nadu.

A number of confrontations with the Centre, have been codified in unanimous resolutions passed at the state legislative assembly demanding; the release of the seven Tamils imprisoned in 1991 under the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, justice for the genocide in Eelam, referendum on Tamil Eelam to be held in Sri Lanka and among the diaspora, retrieval of Katchatheeivu from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu, and in protesting against the coordinated attack and murder of Tamil Nadu’s fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.

It is notable that the Tamil Nadu assembly resolutions reflect the demands made on the streets by the people of Tamil Nadu. The popular protests which manifested in Tamil Nadu against the war in Eelam in 2009 brought about a change in popular trends of political culture where political parties and state assembly politicians were compelled to cater to the demands made by the people on the streets to maintain legitimacy of rule. This was historic since until then it was often the electoral interests of political parties through deployment of their political patron-client relations among the people, who orchestrated demonstrations on the streets. In contrast, the popular democratic will and aspirations of the people of Tamil Nadu have been continuously expressed through grass-root mobilization since the end of the last war in Eelam in 2009. Political power has moved more toward the streets and the people.

However, in the aftermath of Jayalaitha demise and the popular Jallikattu struggle, New Delhi has intensified its interventions in the affairs of Tamil Nadu (18). The ruling ADMK, has effectively been split, and the fraction in power and the one in opposition are both heralding to the fancies and manipulations of the Indian central state establishment. Both factions are opting to please the dictates of New Delhi in a bid to secure or hold onto state power in Tamil Nadu. Hence the their backtracking and clamp down against the radical political culture cultivated amongst the masses in Tamil Nadu, reflected in the fact that since 2010 ruling political elites in Tamil Nadu seldom dared not to confront or oppose Tamil sentiments and popular struggles on the street.

In late May 2017, following an annually held candle light vigil to commemorate the Eelam Tamil genocide at Mullivaikal in 2009 at Marina beach, in Chennai, the state police clamped down on the peaceful gathering detaining over 200 participants (19). While most protestors were released, the police remanded four leaders of popular Tamil people’s movements, who were also central in the Jallikattu struggle. The four activists were unlawfully detained for over three months under the notorious ‘goonda act’. Thirumurugan Ghandi, the convenor of May 17 movement, and Daison the leader of the Tamil Vidiyal Katchi (TVK) alongside two of its members were detained at Puzhal Jail in Chennai (20). On the 2nd of June, the state police arrested over eleven veteran leaders belonging Tamil nationalist social movements in the Thanjavur-Kauvery region including T.Seyaraman who were in the forefront protesting methane fracking in the area and in advocating the rights of Tamil farmers. On July 12, a Tamil woman activist Valarmathi, studying journalism in Salem led the struggle against the Indian MNC Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC) exploration processes for mineral extraction in Neduvasal and Kathiramangalam (21). She too was unlawfully arrested by the police and charged under the ‘goondas act’. Although, she was released later, these ongoing unlawful arrest and persecution of Tamil grass-root activists discern the coordinated efforts from a feeble state government and its masters in the central state to silence Tamil Nadu’s people-centric activism.

The efforts by the central-state authorities to dismantle the Tamil Nadu’s states educational system or in particular the 2006 ban on entry entrance tests for medical and dental education, through the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) are also such an effort. The ban was passed by the state’s legislative assembly in order to prevent disadvantaged sections of the state’s population and the rural populace with the additional economic hardship which these pre-admission exams entailed. Attempts at dismantling democratic aspiration encoded in the state’s rudimentary welfare-administrative system which serves the greater mass of the Tamil Nadu people indicates the non-democratic and the external interests basis of New Delhi, vis a vis the Tamil Nadu people. By seeking to privatize or dismantle the existing subsidized health, transport and educational mechanism, e.g. through attempting to impose the NEET scheme, New Delhi’s interests as being oriented towards the pauperization of the masses in Tamil Nadu have been exposed. Hence it is a systemic encroachment upon the Tamil Nadu people’s political rights and sovereignty as well their collective well-being and aspirations.

The dialectics of history: Lessons for Tamil Nadu
It is neither the first time both Tamil Nadu and its people face a political vacuum nor is it the last time it will face the prospect of an uncertain future. Such events can be traced back to the decisive loss of organic sovereignty marked by the fall of the indigenous Pandya and Chola polity in the 13th and 14th centuries respectively. Since then Tamil Nadu has been subjected to the non-organic suzerainty of alien rulers who effectively shunned and closed the prospective spaces for any indigenously mobilized (radical) democratization and egalitarian processes. The demise of these indigenous polities have resulted in centuries of political dispossession and alien domination ranging from being briefly subjected to the Delhi sultanate as well as for over three centuries ruled by the Brahmanical Vijayanagara Empire and their successors the Nayaks.

It was not until the weakening of the Nayak overlordship that Tamil aspirations for sovereignty and militancy were presented with the spaces to mobilize on a more popular basis. The threshold of the 18th and 19th centuries also marked an increase in attempts by the British to expand their imperial interests, colonial control and monopoly over the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding maritime trading lanes.

Their attempts to secure the strategic littoral region and the entirety of southern India were however met with unparalleled resistance from Tamil Nadu, its chieftains, petty lords, and their general populace. The Tamil country thus pioneered in mobilizing stiff resistance to the British East Indian Company and their collaborators during the late 18th century and early 19th century in the form of the Palaikarar’s war of independence (Polygyar wars). These series of guerrilla wars waged by the Tamil populace against the British empire was under the commanded and leadership of popular leaders such as Queen Velu Nachiyar Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Ondiveeran, Puli Thevar, Oomaithurai, Dheeran Chinnamani, Marudhu brothers, and others. The legacy of their heroic fight against colonial expansionism and imperial interest is embedded in popular folklore, oral and ritual traditions of the Tamil country. There are worship sites for many of these heroes, in village festivals and in traditional patterns of hero-stone (Veera-kal) worship. Some of theese historic freedom fighters are seen as local guardian deities.

It to be reminded that it was also in Tamil Nadu that sustained intellectual and popular resistance was organized in response to the Brahmanism and Hindi-centrism evolved in the Delhi-centred Indian nationalist movements presided by the INC or proto-Hindutva movements such as the Arya Samaj.

The Tamil linguistic movement reprinted and republished ancient Tamil Sangam literature, making it available to the Tamil vernacular readers of the future; the Tamil language purist movement purged Sanskrit influences from the language; and the critical analysis of Dalit leaders and intellectuals such as Iyothee Thass, Rettimalai Srinivasan, and others paved the way for radical and mass based Dravidian and Tamil nationalist movements and orientations in the 20th century.

Hence, facilitating the birth of Periyar, the Dravida Kazhagam, and its offshoot the DMK under C.N. Annadurai, who relentlessly mobilized the masses materially and intellectually with self-respect, and a spirit of resistance in protecting their linguistic, cultural, and political rights against the hegemony of New Delhi, Brahmanical ruling elites, and the Vedic-Sanskrit culture they espoused.

The period also saw the popular and radical anti-Hindi agitations during the 1930s, 40s and 50s , which culminated in the unprecedented 1965 state wide anti-Hindi agitation, in which presidents rule was imposed upon Tamil Nadu and the central authorities unleashed a violent clamp down. The 1965 events and the state clam down resulted in the deaths of over 300 Tamil activists. Yet it was this tradition of resistance against Hindi imposition from New Delhi, which compelled the linguistic reintegration of the states and the abandonment of imposing Hindi language as official on state units throughout the Indian union.

Then it was done under the aegis of the INC. Today the other dominant ‘national party’ representing the conservative Brahmanical elites organized into the echelons of the BJP whilst solidifying Hindutva and Brahmanical hegemony, is also leading the efforts of the New Delhi establishment in service of U.S and multi-nationals companies’ corporate and strategic interests, against the peoples of Tamil Nadu.

The present: Tamil Nadu’s national consciousness and grass-root movements
However, it is the first time in decades that public upheaval and discontent against the centre and the Indian union has occurred in the aftermath of a broad yet revolutionary nationalist mobilization, conscious of the radical and egalitarian basis of revolutionary Tamil Nadu nationalism, and the question of direct democracy and self-determination.

At the crux of the struggle are the social and ideological forces of the present movement. These are articulated and deployed as tools of mobilization in a revolutionary and national democratic manner, valuing the egalitarian basis of national mobilization and self-respect, valorising Tamil culture and history in a manner which emphasises the folk and organic basis while denouncing Brahmanism-casteism and religious divides. Hence when activists speak of Sangam and the Tamil culture, it is deliberately stated in a manner shunning caste, Brahmanism and Sanskrit - Vedic authority which ritually presides over the workings of casteism.

Hence the movement is characterized by the practice in which Tamils of all walks of life shunning caste, class, religious and parochial differences, aligned with the ideals of revolutionary Tamil nationalism take to the streets, asserting their democratic will to exercise their self-determination and sovereignty. They take it to the streets and not the parliamentary democratic channels as they realise the circumcision from the central state and the structural limitation placed on the people of Tamil Nadu and their democratic expression within the current framework of the Indian union.

The discourses, legislative moves, and actions issued by a range of institutional interests including the central Indian state against the democratic aspirations and grievances of the Tamil Nadu people, were manifest in the Jallikattu ban. Yet as history is witness, the Tamil masses tend to resist such imposition and incrimination of their self-determination.

Consequently protests unfolded in Tamil Nadu against the Jallikattu ban, the PETA which initially urged it, the Supreme Court which passed it, and the central-government which sanctioned it. The protest continued even when the central-government passed an ordinance to allow Jallikattu to be conducted on a conditional basis. Yet opposition to these legislations is not the ideological or material force moving the street based national democratic and revolutionary mobilization.

The constellation of oppositional forces should draw attention to whose power basis is threatened by extra-parliamentary Tamil Nadu national-based street mobilization. Against it one observes the mobilization of pan-Indian or Brahamanical animal rights discourse and rhetoric by a variety of actors. They ranged from the English-Hindi speaking elites ensconced in Delhi and Bombay, Indian national cricketers, Bollywood personalities, central state officials, Indian branches of U.S. based NGOs such as PETA and Blue Cross, and a range of regionally located brahmanised and Brahmin elites, whether of the parliamentary liberal-left, centrist, or Hindutva predilection. They all converged to consolidate a bulk of institutional interests in opposition to a Tamil cultural practice. These axis of power innovatively deploy everything in their arsenal to divert the crux of the issue and malign the people struggle in Tamil Nadu.

Regardless of the rhetoric, these institutional interests represent the established order and status quo which spells disempowerment for many. Similarly, these institutions are also working against one phenomenon: the Tamil protest movement. It is dishearteningly that the same resources or symbolic, social, cultural, and political capital mobilized and deployed to malign, divert, distort, or silence the mobilization in Tamil Nadu, have never been directed towards articulating humanitarian concerns associated with national oppression or genocide in the region, whether in Kashmir, the North-East, in the red jungles of India or in Eelam.

The crux of the matter is obfuscated in dominant discourses, and there is a side-lining of the historical context, and mystification of the material and aspirational aspects of democratic will and grievances of the protesting Tamil-Nadu masses. Similarly, one fails to understand the logic of the protest in Tamil Nadu if one does not grasp the implications of centre - state dynamic and its historical trajectory, as well as that of Hindi- Brahmanical hegemony, and the imposition and infringement of political rights and cultural constellations of the people of Tamil Nadu who have historically been a base for resistance against the external and imperial threats.

The maligning of the present mobilization of Tamil Nadu’s national character is through several means. This includes rhetoric particularising the caste dimension involved in agrarian regions, and the subsequent discrimination involved in specific aspects of a cultural practice such as Jallikattu whilst wittingly eschewing analysis of the structural basis of caste oppression and its persistence today. The structural basis of caste oppression and discrimination is located within the core workings of Brahmanism, tenor system and state structures. However a fragmented approach is preferred where the analysis of caste is done and utilised without contextualisation in order to divert focus away from a more fruitful perspective illuminating larger entanglements of such oppressive system. This is reminiscent of how certain Brahmanical liberal left individuals, have in the past, limited their analysis of caste to temples and to its manifestations via micro case studies; how so called middle or lower castes deny Dalits or other lower castes entry into temples, without aligning such material manifestations of oppression to the historical and epistemological processes which sustain it. Who are the social groups who exclusively prescribe and dynamically maintain the purity -impurity mechanism and articulate the rewards and sanctions of Brahmanised religion? Who are the ‘sanctified’ guardians of the Varna-Asrama-Dharma?

Through a closer look at the trajectory of the 20th and 21st century, albeit a historical frame of similar tendency can be traced back from even earlier, it becomes evident that it is Tamil Nadu with its organic social and intellectual movements, which on the basis of representing Tamil national interests have historically constituted the most organized, popular, and sustained forms of resistance against the hegemony of Brahminism (Hindutva), the Indian central state, and it ruling elites.. These movements are represented by the Tamil literary renaissance, the Tamil linguistic movement, the Dravidian and self-respect movements or Tamil nationalist and revolutionary traditions. Prominent has also Tamil Nadu been alongside Eelam Tamils, Kandyan Sinhala and Veddahs in mobilizing resistance against European colonial imperialism

Both historical reality and contemporary moments establish the fact that Tamil national interests that reverberate among the popular masses will be considered and approached as a threat to the status quo and stability of the established order, and of external powers vying for exploitation of the strategic-territorial, natural, and human resources of the Tamil country or Tamilakam.

Conclusion
The cultural basis and the constellations of practice and beliefs, i.e. the folk stratum of what is considered Tamil Nadu’s ancient cultural and cosmological traditions, has for centuries harboured an organic faculty to engender resistance against external imposition of various kinds and in particular external dictations which infringe upon Tamil Nadu peoples’ organic basis of democratic aspirations and self-determination; implies the exploitation of its soil.

It is these egalitarian based secular folk elements, which despite centuries of threat from foreign over- lordship, Brahmanical traditions and the practices of caste integral to it, have retained an organic bulk of non-Vedic/Brahmanical traditions, cosmology, and rituals albeit with some transformations. A Dravidian platform of social, cultural, and economic patterns of life and cosmology has been actively preserved, which provided the material and ideational basis upon which resistance movements native to the land grounded their opposition to New Delhi as well as to foreign imperialism.

History attests that sovereignty rests among the people, and not the state, and it is upon the legitimacy granted by the people and their national democratic mandate that a state is to be constituted, a wisdom shared by Joseph Sykes of the French revolution to a practice instituted by revolutionary national liberation movements throughout the ‘third world’ and Asia, including Eelam.

The Indian union, which is in effect a unitary quasi-federation, with origins in Mughal imperialism and British colonialism has ingeniously subverted the sovereignty and the right to self-determination of Tamil Nadu and its people, within an asymmetrical administrative framework, while upholding the guise of federalism and symbolic representation. Despite symbolic powers and some territorial rights, the cultural, linguistic, economic, and external affairs of the state are subjected to the fancies and dictates of New Delhi. The revenues collected from the state, as the case with other state units, is pooled into a common reserve in New Delhi, which is then incorporated into a ‘national budget’ and central expenditures, and is then accordingly re-delegated. It can be compared to a semi-feudal capitalist construct, with rhetoric of federalism. It is the Centre which then effectively controls revenues made in a state, and determines inter-state negotiation on resource management, such as water-sharing.

For a people unrepresented by the state formation they are entrapped within, it is inevitable that contradictions will emerge under given conditions and in due time. Since the logic of the established structure of governance is non-organic, non-democratic, and thus incapacitated to represent the dynamics of a peoples’ democratic aspirations and grievances.

The numerous and accumulative effects of New Delhi, and the Hindi speaking elites’ marginalisation, repression, and curtailing of Tamil Nadu’s right to self-determination has ushered forth a process of critical analysis among the Tamil ideological traditions. Hence what the Centre is confronted with today is not an emotional, irrational, or parochial mass which is seemingly a Freudian projection of the ruling elites. It is rather a nationally conscious, egalitarian oriented, and mobilized Tamil popular mass which is taking to the streets in both urban and rural centres, and is now once more espousing their unity in discontent towards the modus operandi of the Centre and the ruling elites.

Continuous apathy from the north, and continued discriminatory discourses against Tamil Nadu’s people and their assertion of political power coupled with marginalizing policies from the Centre and its state apparatuses, will hasten the polarization process between Tamil Nadu and the Indian framework, and there will then be only one logical outcome.

Self-rule and self-governance rests upon self-mobilization and self-respect, and political clarity on behalf of the broad national masses of a people as well as among those who are their vanguards. Such paths for political power are opted for when the masses collectively realise, compelled by a historical reality, that a people without sovereignty means subjection to external interests which are not organically aligned to the welfare of their national masses.

Hence, more than the question to preserve the form of Jallikattu or not, it is the self-determination of the people of Tamil Nadu at risk, and it is within their purview to decide the mode and means through which they deem fit to shape and practice their future, including their ancient cultural tradition. It is not to be bargained with disconnected external power structures.

References:

  1. The Times of India: Anti-Sterlite protest: Top developments
  2. NDTV: 9 Dead As Police Fire During Anti-Sterlite Protest In Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin
  3. The Times of India: Anti-Sterlite protest: Top developments
  4. The Economic Times: In Tuticorin, false propaganda dominated over truth: Sterlite Copper CEO
  5. foilvedanta.org: Vedanta’s oil in Sri Lanka
  6. FIRSTPOST: Narendra Modi govt's stand on jallikattu re-establishes bias towards Tamil interests
  7. The Hindu: Jallikattu ban: SC dismisses T.N. plea
  8. maalaimalar.com: மெரீனாவை ஒருங்கிணைத்த 12 குழுக்கள்: 136 பேரின் பங்கு வெற்றிக்கு அடித்தளமிட்டது
  9. Vikatan.com: ’மெரினாவில் மாணவர்கள் திரண்டது எப்படி?’ மத்திய அரசை அதிரச் செய்த உளவுத்துறை ரிப்போர்ட்
  10. FIRSTPOST: Jallikattu uprising indicates failure of political class in understanding the Tamil sentiment
  11. Scroll.in: Campaign against jallikattu is a case of outsiders passing a judgement without knowing ground truths
  12. rediff.com: Jallikattu movement is bigger than 1965 anti-Hindi agitation
  13. scroll.in: This map shows just how alarming Tamil Nadu’s water crisis is
  14. Channel NewsAsia: As a river dies: India could be facing its ‘greatest human catastrophe’ ever
  15. FIRSTPOST: Tamil Nadu farmers protest in Delhi: Desperate to be heard, agitators turn to the macabre
  16. The Times of India: Southern India reels under drought, Tamil Nadu worst hit
  17. The Wire: Banning Jallikattu Will Undermine Tamil Nadu's Indigenous Cattle Breeds
  18. The Hindu: AIADMK responsible for jallikattu ban
  19. TamilNet: Tamil Nadu activists warn New Delhi for proxy meddling with Tamils’ affairs
  20. TamilNet: Draconian laws used to suppress key grassroots activists in Tamil Nadu
  21. The New Indian Express: Goondas Act slapped on TN student protesting against Neduvasal hydrocarbon project



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