I could not help bursting into laughter when someone linked in Twitter, with evident glee, an YouTube video of me handing over a ‘thali’ at a self-respect marriage. That someone found something serendipitous in the video, which was uploaded by the groom himself three years ago, goes only to prove that misconceptions are galore about self-respect marriages that Dravidar Kazhagam members and followers normally go for.
Though I am not suggesting that each and every one who retweeted or commented on the video are really ignorant of self-respect marriages or the Dravidian principles or the actual reasons that prompted the calling for the recent ‘thali-removal and beef feast’ event in Periyar Thidal, there is no doubt that the video was shared in social networking sites with a sole purpose of constructing a dichotomy or contradiction in DK’s philosophy vis a vis the use of ‘thali’ in marriages.
Before going into that, let me explain why I wanted to write this article as editorial. The recent ‘thali-removal and beef feast’ event suddenly brought the focus on our movement with religious bigots spreading canards against us and setting on us ordinary people belonging to the subaltern classes. They also embarked on a campaign to depict us as a fringe group, looking for cheap publicity through the event. It was in fact, people of that ilk who found in the self-respect marriage video their ‘Eureka’ moment, without realising that they stood very much like Archimedes himself on the streets of Syracuse – bereft of any basic knowledge cover.
So let me elucidate or rather recall why the event was called in the first place. It was a democratic reaction to the attack on a Tamil television news channel, which proposed to telecast a debate on the need for wearing the thali. When the so-called supporters of thali clambered on to a highground of religion and tradition to shout down the channel’s freedom of expression and also hurled a crude and damp squib of a bomb at the channel’s office premises, the DK’s Womens’ Wing wished to take a clear stand. So, adhering to the democratic traditions of the nation, in concurrence with the rights enshrined in the Constitution, we called for the ‘thali-removal’ event. It was only to tell those crying hoarse over a discussion on the woman’s right to wear a thali or not that there are women who are not keen on having the thali around their necks, indeed.
Since the Maharastra Government’s blanket ban on beef in that State was also an issue of discussion in various fora at that time, we decided to express our solidarity with all those who were affected by the ban by wrapping up the event with a beef feast. After all, beef is very much part of the poor working class culinary culture and has been a dish relished by ancient Indians from time immemorial. In protesting against the beef ban in many other states of India by eating beef in a state where it is not banned, we were not doing anything against the law.
Yet, ludicrously, some forces voiced their protest against the event as though we were infringing on their right to wear a thali and their right not to eat beef. But what was surprising was the middle class and the modern youth, keeping aside their avowed support for freedom of expression and women’s liberation otherwise, fell for the false propaganda of fundamentalist elements that the thali removal by couples in the DK fold and our supporters partaking of beef biriyani within the confines of our compound hurt their sentiments.
Honestly, I fail to understand how the removal of thali by some women from the families that believe in DK ideals can offend others. Why should a group of persons partaking of a feast, in which beef is served, offend the sensibilities of vegetarians and those do not consume beef for whatever reasons? Could someone please explain as to why religion and tradition were invoked to put up a vehement opposition to our event, which was primarily against the infringement of right to freedom of expression and right to culinary choice. Well, the fundamentalist forces are well aware that the mindless invocation of religion and tradition is the easiest way to mobilise frenzied mobs that can be unleashed to go on rampages irrationally. But the tragedy of our times is that those crowds are also going berserk on the internet, particularly the social networking sites. For them, words like rationalism, freedom of expression or right to choice have become ‘anathema’.
I know that we cannot expect proper reasoning from a crowd that fell head over heels for a multi-crore, multi-pronged, multi-media PR exercises that projected an individual, discredited by history and truth, as a panachea for India’s woes and as the lone hope for ‘development’ or ‘stability’. But what is disturbing is the herd mentality that impels many, mostly the youth, to take irrational decisions without proper application of mind, falling prey to the mechanisation of crafty campaigners dishing out lies and untruths through the media. It is to guide the modern youth break free of the herd mentality and help them think for themselves that we organised the event that the media described as controversial and fundamentalist forces as offensive.
So these forces rushed to the police and government with pleas to prevent the DK’s women wing from exercising their democratic rights. Sadly, the police refused permission for the event saying that they envisaged a law and order problem, which was an admission of their own incapability in facing Hindutva forces. Though the Madras High Court asked the police to provide adequate protection for the event, subsequently, a division bench of the court sat on Babasaheb Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s Birthday, a court holiday, to overturn the single judge’s order after we had actually started the event. As a law abiding organisation, we called off the event immediately after the court order was conveyed to us. However, 21 couples had removed their thali by then. Among them was a couple, whose marriage was solemnised by me, Which means I was the one who personally handed over to the groom the thali that was removed on April 14. Yes, the DK, being a democratic organisation, does not insist on couples refraining from tying the thali if they want to with a view to pleasing their parents or the society at large. But many couples, including the one in the video that was shared in social media to show me as double tongued, have realised, in due course, the irrelevance of the thali around the woman’s neck with love and mutual understanding cementing their togetherness. As the youth in the video had clarified, his wife removed the thali, made of gold, after they moved to London and it was later donated to VCK leader Thol.Thirumavalavan.
Many of our followers had seen the thali redundant and as a needless sign of bondage after years of marital bliss and had openly or quietly removed them. I am sure many other couples, who have nothing to do with DK’s distinct ideological moorings, too might have felt the same way and stopped wearing the thali. It is indeed the woman’s right to wear or not wear the thali. So, it was the fear that more women could talk about their rights, not necessarily only the right to wear thali or not, that provoked regressive elements to launch a broadside against us. Because they knew that we were trying to kickstart a nationwide healthy intellectual debate, an essential element of a democracy, through the event. We only focused on issues like rights of women and culinary choices. We were only countering the growing influence of fundamentalism in society. Why the people did not see in the event a platform for democratic and progressive forces to fight intolerance and infringement of others’ basic rights is your guess.