CHENNAI: A lesson on Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar being published in a Hindi textbook prescribed to CBSE schools around the country should have been a great model for linguistic pluralism. Unfortunately, the way the poet was portrayed and what about him was discussed in the book has triggered a huge controversy.
To begin with, the book, published by Macmillan Publishers, does not carry the traditional rendition of Thiruvalluvar in white robes. Instead, in an illustration made in the book, he is shown to be wearing saffron robes, has holy ash smeared across the forehead, a tuft of hair atop his head, and Rudraksha beads on his neck and arms. This has triggered a political controversy in the State.
Most Tamil books use an image of Thiruvalluvar created by Venugopala Sharma, in which the poet is dressed in white without any religious markings or accessories. The image created by Sharma was first used on a stamp released by former Union Minister K Subbarayan. Since then, the poet’s identity in illustrations have stayed the same until recently, when a few right-wing outfits started portraying him as dressed in saffron.
On Friday, the contents of the CBSE Hindi textbook became viral on social media following a post by Tamil writer Umanath Vizhiyan. The issue was soon picked up by DMK president MK Stalin. Calling the image as an “Aryan disguise” for the Tamil poet, Stalin blamed the “BJP government for allowing it, and AIADMK for being a mute spectator.” He said, “Tamil Nadu will not accept this Aryan gimmick.”
In 2019, BJP Tamil Nadu’s official Twitter handle posted a tweet with Thiruvalluvar in orange robes and holy ash smeared on his forehead, sparking outrage across the political spectrum. DMK, MDMK, and AMMK hit out at the picture.
A lesson in patriarchy?
The costume apart, what troubled academics and experts more was the lesson’s take on the poet’s wife, Vasuki. The book glorifies Vasuki for being an “obedient” and domestic wife, felt many. “Children! You are all well familiar with Thiruvallur. But have you ever read about his wife?” reads the text.
“Thiruvalluvar was a world-famous Tamil-speaking poet and philosopher. Thiruvalluvar’s wife’s name was Vasuki. She was a woman raised in the domestic manners and mien of a Tamil household. She always obeyed her husband’s injunctions and was in service to him and engaged in household chores through day and through night. Vasuki fulfilled her duties throughout her life,” said the text.
PK Ilamaran, the leader of the Tamil Nadu Teachers’ Association (TNTA) called the incident ‘atrocious’ and said that the image insulted Tamil people. He demanded that the image be replaced and republished. Twitteratis have also slammed the text that depicts her as just a wife who did her “duties to her husband”. Former Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu asked, “Is he Vasuki’s husband?” Express could not reach the publisher for comments.