Jaya’s ‘Dhoti Law’ To Save Tamil Culture!
“Dhoti Law” cried the headlines of newspapers in Tamil Nadu! Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced in the assembly on 16 July that she would table a law for the recognition of Dhoti in British style clubs, so that the Tamil culture would be saved from insult. All political parties unanimously welcomed her announcement and the enactment of the law remains only as a formality now.
When Hnourable Justice Hari Paranthaman of Madras High Court and Senior Advocates R.Gandhi and GR Swaminathan visited the Madras Cricket Club (TNCA) to attend a book release function on 11th of July, they were denied entry for they were wearing dhoti, which violated the TNCA dress code. Incidentally the book was authored by a retired Judge Honourable Justice T.S.Arunachalam, who was former acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court. It was mentioned in the invitation that former Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court PR Gokulakrishnan would release the book and former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court V. Ratnam would receive the first copy. It seemed all the other dignitaries, except the said three gentlemen, have followed the dress code without any inhibition.
The club, established by the British in 1846, has its own “Dress Code” being in practice since its inception. Similarly, the same dress code is in practice in two other clubs namely the Madras Gymkhana Club and the Madras Club, both established by the British. All these clubs were established to fulfill the English man’s need for a home away from home.
This British established club culture has been continuing even after independence, and over the years, the number of such clubs has increased not only in metropolitan cities but also in cosmopolitan cities leading to the spread of “Club Culture” among the public. The clubs, which have come up after independence, have relaxed the dress code allowing dhotis. However, the three British established clubs continued with their strict dress code, and the rich and elite of Chennai including the members of the judiciary and bureaucracy have always vied for membership in those clubs.
As the strict dress code in practice in those three clubs is an open secret, the three gentlemen cannot claim ignorance. They cannot also claim that the organizers haven’t informed them, for the other dignitaries have followed the proper dress code. However, it was not clear if their act was a deliberate one.
As the ‘victims’ happened to be a sitting HC judge and two senior popular lawyers, the issue created a sort of storm, particularly in the political arena and legal circles. All political party leaders including, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, DMK patriarch Karunanidhi, Congress President Gnanadesikan, MDMK President Vaiko, PMK Leader Dr.Ramadoss, VCK president Thirumavalavan and Communist leaders, condemned the TNCA and demanded for the strongest of punishment and revocation of its license.
As a result, when the Tamil Nadu State Assembly was convened for a discussion on grants as part of the budget session, all parties unanimously took up the issue as an affront to ‘Tamil Culture’. Several members spoke on the issue condemning the TNCA. Reportedly, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has directed the Registrar of Societies to send a showcause notice to the TNCA Club. Describing the incident as ‘sartorial despotism’, the Chief Minister had said, “The denial of entry for Justice D Hariparanthaman has belittled Tamil culture and civilisation. Indeed, it went against the rules of the TNCA itself as the by-laws of the club have nothing against wearing dhoti.” Later Jayalalithaa announced that, legislation would be enacted during the ongoing session to put a full stop to this “unconstitutional” practice.
In course of the debate, the Chief Minister had quoted an incident involving the late Sir P Thyagaraya, who as President of Chennai Corporation resisted a direction not to wear dhoti when he was to receive the Prince of Wales. In another incident in the eighties, former Supreme Court Judge VR Krishna Iyer was denied entry into the Madras Gymkhana Club. He however, wrote a protest note in the guest book.
All the former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, from Rajaji to MGR including Kamaraj, Annadurai and Karunanidhi, who were aware of the functioning of these British style clubs, never felt the need for enacting a law to change their dress codes. Even the leaders like Sir Thyagaraya and Justice Krishna Iyer, who were personal victims of such a dress code, did not demand a change in the dress code practiced by these clubs. That is because, all these leaders were clear in their opinion that these British style clubs are totally alien to Indian culture and that it is not worth spending government’s time in changing their customs and practices.
Especially when the members have no issues about the dress code prescribed by these clubs, why should non-members and occasional visitors make an issue out of it? What is their locus standi?
While the Chief Minister has termed the act of TNCA as “unconstitutional”, the honourable High Court has opined otherwise. When a public interest litigation filed by a former advocate praying for a direction to the Tamil Nadu Government to formulate regulations in the functioning of clubs in the state and take appropriate legal action against various clubs in the city, including suspension of licence, the bench of acting Chief Justice SK Agnihotri and Justice MM Sundresh which heard the petition on 16th said that, the PIL cannot be entertained as no constitutional provision had been violated.
Wondering how the Court could force a private club to change their rules, the bench also made a telling remark that, the said event was only a private book release function and not a public function and the judge was there as an invitee and not as a judge. This observation by the bench must be seen against the statement made by Justice Hari Paranthaman earlier saying, “I went there in my official car at 5.25 p.m. and got shocked when the club staff refused to allow me inside because I was wearing a ‘veshti’. I tried to reason out that I had not come to attend a private function of the club. Yet, I was turned away”.
Though the bench expressed its opinion to dismiss the PIL, it refrained from doing so and posted it for further hearing by a different bench. Meanwhile, it was hilarious to watch the legal fraternity of Tamil Nadu making protest demonstrations in their respective court premises wearing dhotis and black coats raising their voice for protection of Tamil culture. One wonders whether “Coat and Neck Tie” belong to Tamil Culture! Even after 64 years of independence there are many “British” formalities (right from the usage of ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Honour’ to judges moving between chamber and court hall led by a Dawali) being used in the Court, but no honourable judge had so far asked for stopping such irrelevant and outdated practices. Do such practices have anything to do with Tamil culture?
While legal Pandits are of the opinion that dress codes are a fundamental right of private clubs and a legislation against them may not pass the court’s scrutiny, the general public are of the firm opinion that the government and the political parties are making much ado about nothing and that precious time of the assembly is being wasted on a non-issue.
Why should one organize a book release function in a British style club, unless the organizer is a member of the club or he has a friend who is a member there? Judges and lawyers are not new to such club culture. So, the blame squarely lies on those who went there wearing a dhoti. What is more amusing in this whole issue is the entire political class including the Chief Minister getting worked up over its ‘cultural’ aspect, which doesn’t exist at all. They failed to understand the fact that insulting Tamil culture was not at all the intention of the said club. Otherwise why should they allow sarees in the first place? Dhoti is not there in the list of allowable dresses; plain and simple. One can neither play cricket, golf, tennis or billiards wearing veshti, nor one can let loose on the dance floor wearing it, especially after a couple whiskey or vodka. In fact, dhoti will be out of place in such an environment. So, there is absolutely nothing wrong in the dress code prescribed by the club, whose activities have nothing to do with Tamil culture.
In yet another move to safeguard “Tamil culture”, close on the heels of proclaiming ‘Dhoti Law’ to save the same, Jayalalithaa strongly opposed the Union HRD Ministry’s move to celebrate Sanskrit Week in all CBSE Schools across the country. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jayalalithaa stated, “Tamil Nadu has a rich cultural heritage based on the ancient Tamil language. There has also been a strong social justice and language movement in the state. Hence, any official celebration of ‘Sanskrit week’ in Tamil Nadu is highly inappropriate. It would have been much more appropriate to have organised a Classical Language Week in each state based on the linguistic heritage. This would be in keeping with the cultural and linguistic sensitivities in a diverse country like ours”. She also requested the Prime Minister to advise officials to suitably modify the directive to enable each state, including the CBSE schools, to organise celebrations in tune with the language and culture of the state.
This is nothing but a brazen exhibition of politics of chauvinism. The HRD Ministry’s directive was only to the schools under the purview of CBSE and it has got nothing to do with State Board schools. Therefore, the Chief Minister’s chauvinistic stand is unwarranted. Being a seasoned and well informed politician, she must be aware of the significance of Sanskrit and the classicism it shares with Tamil for ages. Both Tamil and Sanskrit are inseparable, as evidenced by the customs and rituals associated with various festivals traditionally for centuries.
Moreover, Sanskrit is a language that symbolizes the civilisational ethos of this great nation. The great scriptures of this land like the Vedas, Itihasas, Puranas and other classics were first written in Sanskrit. Hence it is the duty and responsibility of the central government to promote this language which serves as a factor uniting the various communities of this diverse land.
In her letter to the PM, she has talked about “cultural and linguistic sensitivities in a diverse country like India”, which is nothing but a farce. No other state in India has shown so much of hatred for Sanskrit and no other Chief Minister has opposed the Union HRD Ministry’s circular. All other states respect the fact that Sanskrit facilitates the cultural unity of the people of India. Only in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian racist politicians are chauvinistic showing scant regards to unity and integrity of the people of this country.
Ironically, “Sanskrit Week” has been celebrated since 2001 and “Sanskrit Day” has been celebrated since 1969. Chennai-based senior journalist of Prime Point, Srinivasan says, “This celebration was started in 1969 by the then Congress Government. Shravana Poornima Day was celebrated as ‘Sanskrit Day’. All State Governments/Vice Chancellors of Universities and Institutions engaged in the propagation of Sanskrit were requested to celebrate the Day in a befitting manner by organizing public meetings, meetings of Sanskrit scholars, staging of Sanskrit dramas, etc., within their own budgetary provisions. The notifications were issued by Central Government. Later in 2001, the one day celebration was made as a weeklong celebration. (3 days before Shravna Poornima and 3 days later) during Vajpayee regime. This Sanskrit Day/Week celebration has been going on for the past 45 years. Modi Government has just followed the same tradition.”
Saying that the UPA Government led by Dr Man Mohan Singh and ably supported by Kalaignar Karunanidhi also celebrated this Sanskrit Week for the past 10 years, he asks, “Why the Congress leaders are also suddenly jumping as if a serious crime has been committed and why our TV anchors of Tamil Nadu also jump to the sky? Why the Congress leaders and DMK leaders who are now opposing have not prevented the UPA government from celebrating the Sanskrit Week when they were ruling? Do these politicians and media know that all government offices and undertakings every year celebrate ‘Hindi Diwas’, even in Tamil Nadu for more than 40 years, started by Congress government?”
Nobody would believe that a well informed CM like Jayalalithaa would not know all these facts. So, it is clear that she is just indulging in brazen politics. The generation next in Tamil Nadu is growing beyond the politics of racism and chauvinism. The youths love to learn more and more languages. They love to travel outside and mingle with the youth of other states. Organisations like Samskritha Bharati are doing wonders in each and every district of the state and their Sanskrit classes are growing by the day. Youngsters are showing interests in other foreign languages such as French and German too. The parents are also willing to send their wards to such classes.
If the Chief Minister is really worried about the cultural heritage based on Tamil language, she must focus on improving the language at the primary and secondary levels in schools. On the contrary, her government has introduced English also as medium of education in schools, which is bound to have its toll on the language of Tamil.
The other area, where the Chief Minister has not bothered to focus is the “Vernacular Media”, both print and electronic, which vie with each other to destroy the language of Tamil. This includes the AIADMK’s Jaya TV too! They destroy not only the language but also the culture, as evidenced by the filth presented in the name of serials and reality programs. Any sensible government will focus only on improving Tamil, not on opposing Sanskrit. As the Chief Minsiter is so worried and concerned about Cultural Heritage, it becomes imperative for us to analyse how her government performs with regards to protection of Tamil culture. It is enough to take just one department, the HR & CE Department, to understand the “care and concern” of this government in protecting Tamil culture.
The Temples are a great symbol of our Cultural Heritage. Particularly in Tamil Nadu, the ancient Tamil Kings of Chera, Chola Pandya, Pallava and many other dynasties have built thousands of temples which are more than a thousand years old. The government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department (HR & CE) controls around 36,000 temples across the state. The HR&CE Department’s management of these temples smacks of irresponsibility and unaccountability. While there are umpteen incidents to prove the financial misappropriation and mismanagement of temples by the HR & CE Department, the scant regard shown by the department to preserve and protect the ancient Murals and Inscription is enough to showcase its “care & concern” on Tamil culture.
While the law of the land demands to treat any structure which is more than 100 years old as a Heritage Structure, the recklessness with which the HR & CE officials treat the ancient temples is a classic example for governmental apathy. While budgetary provisions are made for the restoration and preservation of temples, their structures, murals, paintings, sculptures and inscriptions, by both the center and state, the officials are minting money through corruption in the name of renovation instead of restoration and preservation, and in the process, ancient Sculptures, Murals and Inscriptions are being destroyed. The procedures and guidelines as mandated are not at all followed.
Recently, the historians, archaeologists and devotees were all outraged at site of reckless renovations undertaken by the department at Tyagarajaswamy temple, popularly known as Sri Vadivudai Amman temple, in Tiruvottiyur, Chennai, as it is one of the temples which contains the most number of inscriptions in Tamil Nadu. As per Dr.R. Nagaswamy, former director of the Tamil Nadu archaeology department, the temple could have originally been a brick structure that existed around the 7th century AD. He said, “Around 1020 AD, Rajendra Chola rebuilt it.
The stones have been there for over 1,000 years. The expert appointed by the government for restoring the temples has not been consulted for the renovation”. However the department didn’t bother about the objections raised by scholars and went ahead with its horrendous job.
The very recent example is the 1000 years old Murugan Temple in Chennaimalai at Erode District, where the entire temple was brought down and re constructed with cement and concrete in the name of renovation. Even the centuries old Stala Viruksham was not spared by these arrogant officials.
Similarly, another symbol of our ancient tradition, the Cow, is also not taken care with concern and passion. Every temple is supposed to maintain a ‘goshala’ and all the temples are getting more than the required money for the purpose from the general public. However, the maintenance of the temple goshalas by the department is appalling. The cows donated by the devotees are allowed to starve and die. Recently, more than two dozen cows were allowed to die in a huge temple like Thiruvannamalai, which produces crores of rupees as revenue. In Srirangam Temple, cows were sold out to butchers who run slaughter houses. A couple of years ago, more than 5000 cows were found ‘missing’ in the famous Thiruchendur Temple!
The unscrupulous HR & CE Department has made the temples, which are symbols of cultural heritage, stand as symbols of crime and corruption. So much for the Chief Minister’s interest in protecting Tamil culture by opposing the celebration of Sanskrit Week!
The disgraceful Dravidian racist politics has attained a new low by the Chief Minister’s “Dhoti Law” and “Anti-Sanskrit Stand”.
By BR Haran from Chennai