Chennai: At sunset, thousands of young people remained camped on Chennai’s Marina Beach, refusing to end their demonstration demanding that Jallikattu, a festival that sees young men wrestling with bulls, be allowed in Tamil Nadu once again.
Rallied by students, the crowd along the shoreline includes lawyers, actors, artists, and IT professionals. Since Tuesday night, their numbers have grown, the result of the skillful leveraging of social media and the concern that despite the pressure, the centre will not use an ordinance or executive order to over-turn the Supreme Court’s three-year-old ban on Jallikattu.
The students that form the heart of the protest, and the artists and celebrities who have lent their support, say that those who declare the sport cruel to animals have no understanding of how it is handled, or of Tamil Nadu’s culture. Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman has said that he will fast tomorrow in solidarity with the cause. Superstar Rajinikanth, who provokes a religious-like fervor among his fans, is expected among top film industry talent who will gather tomorrow in silence to demand the ban be lifted. Kamal Haasan, another immensely popular actor, has declared his support for Jallikattu. Public transport is expected to strike tomorrow.
Critics of Jallikattu say the festival is cruel and that organisers lace the bulls’ feed with liquor to make them less steady on their feet and throw chilli powder into their faces to send them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from a holding pen. The bull taming is performed in accordance with the harvest festival of Pongal, which was celebrated last week. Tension escalated after hundreds were detained for defying the Supreme Court’s ban and organising local Jallikattu contests in different parts of the state.
Spiritual gurus Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva who command lakhs of followers have said the ban must be withdrawn. Those pushing for a middle ground say the sport could be allowed with modifications and rules to ensure the bulls are not abused. “I support Jallikattu & request that the movement remains peaceful. Let’s have patience while a fresh appeal is made in SC (Supreme Court) with correct facts,” tweeted Sri Sri. “This is a celebratory kind of festival dedicated to animals. You should not take away the cultural strength of people, especially in rural areas,” said Sadhguru.
Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister O Pannerselvam met this morning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose office said that “While appreciating the cultural significance of Jallikattu, the Prime Minister observed that the matter is presently sub judice.” The reference was to a final ruling awaited from the Supreme Court on the centre’s move last year to allow the sport.
“People who have never been to Tamil Nadu are telling us about about culture and calling it barbaric. The farmers treat these bulls like their children and no parent can be cruel to their child. Through Jallikattu the farmers are able to find the best bulls, which helps in breeding of native species,” said Manikanda Venkatesh, a student from Tamil Nadu, who participated in protests in Delhi today.
Unlike in traditional Spanish bullfighting, the animals are let loose into open fields and young men then compete to subdue them bare-handed. Organisers insist the animals suffer no harm and Jallikattu is an established part of Tamil culture.