T-shirt sloganeering counters ‘Hindi imposition’ in Tamil Nadu

Over the weekend, social media has been raging with photos of youth in T-shirts carrying anti-'Hindi imposition' slogans

Shirish and Raja
Shirish and Yuvan Shankar Raja wearing T-shirts carrying anti-Hindi and pro-Tamil slogans | Photo: Twitter

T-shirts reading “Hindi Theriyaadhu Poda (I don’t know Hindi)” have added to a major sloganeering exercise for language activists in the social media circles of Tamil Nadu, adding chorus to the voices against “Hindi imposition.”

Over the weekend, social media in this southern state has been raging with photos of youth in T-shirts carrying slogans against “Hindi imposition.”

Among the slogans that have captivated the digital space were “I am a Tamil-speaking Indian” and “Hindi Theriyaadhu Poda”, which doubled as trending hashtags.

The beginning of this latest edition of T-shirt sloganeering can be traced back to Saturday (September 5) when popular Tamil musician Yuvan Shankar Raja retweeted actor Shirish’s photo post of them wearing T-shirts that carried anti-Hindi and pro-Tamil slogans.

It went viral after DMK MP Kanimozhi retweeted Raja’s post. Within hours, DMK cadre and politicians across party lines, actors, and language activists started making similar posts.

This T-shirt sloganeering incident gained importance at a time when filmmaker Vetri Maran and Kanimozhi have questioned airport authorities over its personnel allegedly asking passengers to speak in Hindi.

It is also being claimed that the T-shirts were designed by Kanimozhi herself.

“A spark is enough to ignite a sentiment. When we printed Tshirts, in the era of blatant Hindi imposition, we didn’t know that the youngsters would respond passionately like our forefathers in fighting discriminatory practices” she said in a tweet.

A form of protest

This is not the first time that T-shirt sloganeering is attracting the masses.

During the 2017 Jallikattu protests, demonstrators used T-shirts carrying images of activist Periyar and poets like Bharathiyar and Thiruvalluvar with well-toned muscles and angry eyes, instead of the usual calm look and the normal physique.

However, this is the first time the slogans have become hard-hitting due to the use of the word ‘poda’ which is not used in common parlance or public as it is considered as a disrespectful salutation.

“When I was a school student, during the anti-Hindi agitations, people used placards. No one thought of printing slogans on their shirts then. But in the 80s, when I entered writing, artist Jeyaraj used to caricature girls wearing T-shirts printed with mischievous slogans. He is the inspiration for me,” said Tamil writer Pattukkottai Prabhakar, whose heroine Suseela used to wear slogan T-shirts that became a rage among the youth then.

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Earlier, people used to print Tamil proverbs and poems extracts on T-shirts and there were exclusive shops for such printing works. It was done purely for the love of the language. However, T-Shirt sloganeering became a way of protest during the Jallikkattu uproar, he added.

“Words like ‘poda’ are mild expressions. As long as they don’t use cuss words, these initiatives will be received well,” Prabhakar said.

Changing dimensions of struggle

T-shirt sloganeering is the latest form of opposing Hindi imposition, thinks writer Senthalai N Gowthaman who has authored a book about protesters who sacrificed their lives during the anti-Hindi agitations.

The agitations against Hindi imposition were carried out in three phases, the first during 1937-1940, second in 1946-1950, and the third 1965.

In 1937, when the then C. Rajagopalachari government in Madras Presidency introduced Hindi in middle school, people used public meetings as a form of protest. The protesters came under a movement called ‘Tamilar Padai’ that organised 87 public meetings across the state. During the agitations, a lot of people were arrested and two protesters died in prison.

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“This first phase of protest became victorious. On February 21, 1940, the government repealed the order for Hindi education. It was because of this protest, every year February 21 is being celebrated as International Mother Language Day. But history has been distorted and the credit has gone to Bangladesh,” said Gowthaman.

In the second phase of the protests, people painted the Hindi texts used in railway stations with tar. In the third phase, setting oneself ablaze became a protest form.

“As the first and second phase of protests were related to students, Periyar had ordered them to stay in school and the public to throng the streets. The third phase was about making Hindi an administrative language. Protesters Tiruchi Chinnasamy and Viralimalai Shanmugam self-immolated in 1964 and 1965 respectively. In many places, police opened fire and nearly 400 people died,” he added.

Related news: CISF officer asked me if I was Indian as I didn’t speak Hindi: Kanimozhi

In those days, slogans against Hindi imposition were written only on a few walls, but today the youth have become moving walls, sporting T-shirts, he said, adding that the anger must be regulated in a positive way.

“People should demand the state government to implement the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution. If it is implemented, we will have administrative language, exam language, teaching language, and communication language in Tamil,” Gowthaman added.

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