“Vendum vendum Jallikattu vendum!”
We want Jallikattu!
“Maramattom maramttom! Kalai adakum varai oya mattom...”
We won’t change! We won’t change! We will not stop until we tame the bull.
“Tamilan endru solla da, thalai nimirthu nilla da!”
Say you are a Tamilian, stand with your head held high!
At noon in Chennai, the chants of young jallikattu supporters on Marina beach were growing stronger. Thousands of people had gathered along the beach to protest against the Supreme Court’s decision last January to ban the Tamil bull-taming sport jallikattu.
The sport is traditionally practiced around the Pongal festival, which was celebrated last week.
Along a 3 km stretch of beach, college students, school students and office-goers waved placards and posters supporting the sport. The protest had gathered momentum on Tuesday evening, and many had stayed overnight on the beach, refusing to move until the ban was revoked. Even though it was more than 36 hours since the protest began, hundreds were continuing to throng at the beach.
“Only now the protest is gathering momentum,” said V Balaji, a college student.
The clamour in support of the sport has been growing louder across the state over the past month. The Supreme Court has been hearing several petitions on the sport since it was banned on 2014. After upholding the ban last January, the Supreme Court bench in November referred to jallikattu as a “gladiator-type sport” and said that it was a Constitutional obligation to show compassion to animals.
As sporadic protests erupted in parts of the Tamil Nadu, several political leaders made promises to the public that jallikattu could be conducted during Pongal 2017. Last week, Chief Minsiter O Panneerselvam wrote a letter to Modi urging the centre to quickly pass an ordinance to allow jallikattu bouts to be organised. But the Supreme Court refused to pass a judgement before Pongal.
Ignoring the ban, jallikattu bouts were reportedly organised in several villages near Madurai and Sivaganga towns in Tamil Nadu. In Alanganallur near Madurai, more than 500 supporters were detained by the police.
On Wednesday, supporters at Marina beach were calling out to political leaders demanding that their promises be fulfilled. They shouted slogans naming chief minister Panneerselvam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief N Sasikala, who is also known as Chinamma or Little Mother.
“Ringa ringa roses, enga ponaan OPS?”
Where did O Paneerselvam go?
“Chinamma Chinamma, OPS enga ma?”
Chinamma, where is OPS
“Vyavasayi kana la kaneer, enga ponaan Panneer?”
Farmers have tears in their eyes, where did Paneerselvam go?
Social media mobilisation
Around midday, busloads of students were constantly pouring into Kamarajar Salai, the road along Marina Beach, joining the chorus of slogans supporting jallikattu.
“We got messages from different groups on WhatsApp and Facebook,” said L Shruthi, a student of Ambedkar Law College. “We were told that if all college students bunk class and gather here, the national media will come.”
M Manimaran, a third-year law student, had been at the Marina beach since Tuesday morning, tossing bottles of water and food packets to all those gathered. A first-generation high-school graduate, Manimaran’s family was dependent on agriculture until his father moved to the city when Manimaran was a child. But he often visited his grandparents’ home in their native village of Ramanathapuram in Sivaganga district, where jallikattu was practiced until three years ago. “My father and grandfather have all played jallikattu in their youth. We want to preserve that tradition,” he said.
Manimaran had been at the beach since Tuesday morning. “My father too encouraged me to come here and protest,” he said.
A few hundred people had been protesting on the beach since Sunday, after jallikattu supporters in Madurai district had been detained by the police, said Manimaran. As word about the demonstrations spread on social media, thousands more joined in.
On Tuesday, the street lights along an entire section of the footpath where the protestors stood were switched off. “The police used that tactic hoping that we would all clear off,” said Manimaran. “But instead it triggered off a lot more anger. People started waving their phone torches in protest.”
Along with the slogans protesting against the jallikattu ban were calls to ban the NGO People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, the animal welfare organisation that had expressed its support for the court-imposed restriction on the sport.
According to V Balaji, a student of Alpha Arts and Science College, the organisation did not understand the nuances of the sport. “Farmers spend so much of their money to rear their cattle,” he said. “Why would they want to hurt them?”
Balaji said that jallikattu itself had many rules that prevented the animals from suffering harm. He said that a participant in the sport could be disqualified if more than one person caught the neck of the bull or the hump.
“Everybody here knows that big multinational dairy companies are backing PETA,” said V Balaji. “They want to destroy our native breed of cattle and bring in jersey cows.”
The view that western corporations were behind the ban was shared by several other at the rally.
“If we don’t conduct jallikattu, the purpose of breeding bulls will be lost,” said R Palani, an IT employee. “Foreign MNCs want us to consume the milk provided by foreign varieties of cattle. This kind of milk can gave us diabetes and even cancer. Then they want to sell us their medicine for cure. That is the truth.”
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