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Jallikattu Protests - ‘Bliss was to be alive, to be young was heaven’

Friday January 20, 2017 3:17 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

Jallikattu Protest
[Jallikattu protests: Over 5,000 protesters vowed to continue their agitation through the night. (Indian Express Photo by Arun Janardhan)]

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” What William Wordsworth said in 1888 about French Revolution can aptly describe the mood of the protest against ‘Jallikattu’ ban at the Marina beach in Chennai.

Chennai’s Marina beach has become the epicentre of protests against the Supreme Court’s ban on ‘Jallikattu’, a traditional bull-taming sport popular all over Tamil Nadu conducted during ‘Pongal’ harvest festivities annually in mid-January.

Thousands of youngsters are squatting on the Marina sands, defying Supreme Court’s order to register their support to the traditional bull-taming sports that represents Tamil Cultural identity.

Protests erupted in support of ‘Jallikattu’, after the Supreme Court on January 12 refused to pass an order allowing the sport to conduct before the ‘Pongal’ festival. The apex court had outlawed ‘Jallikattu’ in 2014 and the state government's review petition was dismissed last December.

The spontaneous protest has shades of Arab Spring, where all sorts, of people have joined the bandwagon at the seafront. After a pall of gloom that was set in the city due to ‘Vardha’ cyclone, it’s a season of protest festivity in Chennai. There is defiance in the air and arguments are flying thick and fast in its support.

The ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition case is cited as the most recent example of the defiance of court order supporting the traditional sports having emotive significance in the history culture and tradition belief of the Tamil society.

While talking to a few ‘Jallikattu’ protesters at Marina who has turned out in massive numbers coming to know about it through the social media to get the Supreme Court ban lifted, one can get a sense of their anger.

“When the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and the BJP can defy court order, then why can’t others do the same? Can there be two parameters; one for the North Indians other for the South Indians, one for the Aryans and other for the Dravidians, one for the Fair Skins and other for the darker ones,” said a belligerent protester, holding a torch light vigil on the breezy at Marina on Thursday, January 19, 2017.

The charged souls further argued; “Even as the cases were pending before the Allahabad High Court, the ‘Sangh’ outfits had defied all bans, and demolished the contested mosque, without caring about its consequences.”

“What is the result of that defiance of the court ban, one asked and answered, even 25 years has elapsed, nothing has happened so far and the cases are still pending before the court.”

“Perhaps same will be the case in Tamil Nadu too for defying the court ban. Who will be there to see what happens after 25 years from now,” this never ending argument stopped for a pause.

Here is a case where a huge section of people want to defy the court order and organise their cultural event that has a larger traditional, cultural and emotional significance.

The protesters want a clear-cut assurance from the government to hold their traditional sports as before. Their core demand is to conduct ‘Jallikattu’ without any delay, amend Sections 22 and 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, scrap FIRs filed against protesters and ban the animal welfare organisation PETA in Tamil Nadu.

The situation on the ground suggest that any attempt by the government to carry out the court order, ignoring the public sentiment will only lead to worsening of the law and order situation.

In such case the challenge before the government is how to defuse the situation and placate the protesters to call off the protests.

The only option before the state government is to come out with a special resolution to lift the Supreme Court ban. This can be introduced in the Assembly session that is to begin on January 23.

The special resolution can be couched with wording of precautions against any cruelty towards animals and allow the traditional sports to continue as per the wishes of the people.

‘After all, our laws are meant for the people to address their genuine aspirations and sentiments. If the court can give primacy to the animal’s welfare, the government of the day can make laws for the popular sentiments. This kind of special resolution can provide a huge relief to the people, and the current band of protesters can be placated and the situation could be defused without the use of any force,” goes another argument in support of ‘Jallikatu.’

However, this resolution is likely to be challenged and again could be stayed by the Supreme Court. In such a case the state government will be heavily reprimanded for defying the court’s orders and should be ready for the maximum punishment.

As the pressure is mounting, the government has no other option than to take this calculated risk. Right now the priority before it is to resolve the law and order situation, it can face the contempt of court later. Perhaps one day Jail for OPS, like it was for Kalyan Singh!

Meanwhile, the crowd at Marina is not ready to listen to anyone and they are in a defiant mood to resist any move that would endanger their heritage and identity.

It is happening elsewhere in the state too. Students and youngsters are seen on the roads and public places demanding the conduct of ‘Jallikattu.’

After the Anna Hazare protest touted as second freedom struggle in 2012 in New Delhi, this is the most significant protest movement that has happened in the country.

The notable feature is the democratic nature of the protest movement and the spontaneous nature of people mobilization. Apparently there is consensus among the protesters to stay away from all known political forces and there is complete absence of any charismatic leader to lead the protest.

The protesters are adhering to the principals of ‘non-violence’ and ‘satyagrah’, and there are no hoodlums and rowdies among the protesters. The protest is by and large peaceful and there is no eve teasing activities, even though there are large numbers of female participants.

The capacity of the protesters to self-motivate and self-organize reminds of 2015 Chennai floods, where standing together for a cause was much evident.

The most interesting part of this protest is even though the Supreme Court order does not impact normal life of any individual, this issue has caught the imagination of the people and they have come out in large numbers to defy the ban.

Even though this protest is not being articulated or dictated by any political mandate or through written campaign material, there is a human emotional appeal in this protest that is beyond the established political and ideological narrative.

This is reflected from almost the entire participant's banners and placards and speeches. This narrative is defying the human-animal relationship within the cultural matrix of Tamil Nadu. This is the most unifying element of the protest.

The role of social media in coxing the youngsters to come out of their homes and offices, schools and colleges to join the protest is commendable.

The emergence of such massive movement in a city like Chennai that goes by the adage; ‘mind your own business’ is astonishing. Here the free spirits are quite excited about this struggling while others like me are anxiously struggling to comprehend its complexities and its future trajectories.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at]


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