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Missing From Sterlite Protests: Thousands Of Students Who Marched For Jallikattu

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I’m a Tamil person who studied liberal arts in Delhi and is now working with an international NGO in Bangalore on youth leadership. Having lived in what are probably the two cities most hated by Tamil youth, I cannot possibly turn away from the SterliteProtest.

I am intrigued by the power of students in changing the course of history. It is not new for Tamil Nadu to have a student-led movement, but it is very new, and heartbreakingly so, for the police to open fire at protestors – killing at least 10 and injuring many more. I was not at the site and make no claims about the actual incident.

However, what I find more saddening than the police firing at protesters and the Chief Minister defending it (of course he did!), is that the thousands of students who marched to support Jallikattu are missing from the scene. When the Supreme Court outlawed Jallikattu on grounds of animal cruelty, thousands of students thronged public spaces across the state against the surgical removal of a two thousand year old element of the Tamil culture.

It was ‘weird’ for many of my friends in Delhi to see me defend the practice and the protest while I myself have never played Jallikattu. But then again, most students at the protest never played or had any intentions to play either. In all my discussions, I doubled down on the fact that the protests were non-violent and safe for women to participate in. It was voluntary and unanimously supported by all major parties. The protest in Marina was demonstrative of the capability of youth to self-organise in large groups for a cause that they may not be immediately affected by and change the political discourse and action around it.

But three days into an open fire, there is no news yet of a state-wide student protest. Am I to charge myself guilty for conflating an identity crisis for a greater social good will?

Does the Tamil youth concern itself only with perceived infringements of its identity? Not to undermine the power of an identity crisis to enrage the collective conscience, but is it not the business of this mass to rise up for the lives that constitute the collective?

Defending the mass at Marina beach to my North Indian classmates as a Tamil student in Delhi was not easy. The lack of an outcry of a similar magnitude, or any magnitude at all, for the farmers’ protest or the Sterlite protest make my defence weaker than the resolve of the Tamil Nadu government to end atrocities against our fishermen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not urging an uprising. Heck, I didn’t even take part in any of these protests, in person or online. All I ask for is cognition and acknowledgement of the flaws in our identity as Tamil Youth.

Sterlite and GAIL Pipeline protests have been going on for years on end. The farmers did not get the compensation they deserved. Mandya and Bangalore alone are wasting more than half the Kauvery water while the actor-politicians are busy shaming IPL fans. As per NCRB, there were 58 reported dowry deaths and 317 reported rapes (3 of which were gang rapes) in TN in 2016 alone. School fee is on the rise and government schools across the state are shutting down due to poor enrollment. Don’t even get me started on the bus fare hike.

And no this is not a rant about problems in the society. And this not about taking a jab at the despots at the centre and the dummies in the state. And I am sorry the post is in English, thanks to CBSE’s faltered logic of placing the mother tongue as 2nd language. And by no means do I claim even a sliver of knowledge of about any of the problems in the state. I am barely scratching the surface here. And please don’t commit the cruelty of reducing the complexity of these issues into punchline memes best suited for disguising emotion and opinion as facts.

All I know is that we the Tamil youth can change that, and we should. Which is why I want to start this challenge of collective introspection:

Identify an inconvenient truth about Tamil Nadu that the Tamil Youth can change and tag 3 of your friends to do the same with #TamilYouth. Let’s march, not just when our identity is infringed from outside, but also when it’s corroding on the inside!

For a start, here is my inconvenient truth:

Farmers in Kauvery delta are not very different from the farmers of Mandya. Most of them still rely on flood irrigation for growing paddy. The public conversation about Kavery is only about Karnataka and the centre, hardly ever about how we do little to nothing about conserving water. By the way, does anybody recall Jaya’s 2011 promise to give free drip irrigation systems to farmers or is it just me?

What is yours?

Photo courtesy: Nishanth Krish, The News Minute. Facebok image: Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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