On the Recent Jallikattu Protest in Tamil Nadu

By M Meenakshisundaram, Tiruchy, Tamil Nadu, India

e-mail:  mmsbaskar@yahoo.co.in

Pongal, a harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, usually falls on January 13 or 14.  This marks the beginning of the transit of Sun’s northward travel — uttaraayanam.  This festival goes by other names, Sankranti, Lowry and others in other parts of India.

The events around this years’ Pongal in Tamil Nadu  is a precursor to what I would call as an event of the century, in any case in the Indian context.  These events were around the Jallikattu game, a rural pastoral game deeply rooted in the cultural landscape of agricultural population in the southern part of the Tamil Nadu state.  For thousands of years, neutered bulls have been used for tilling the soil.  Only in recent decades, mechines are being used for tilling the land.  So, cows and bulls have been an integral part of farming in Southern India.   Jallikattu is an old agrarian game with youngsters trying to tame a well-groomed and well-fed bull, traditionally used to mate with cows. Young men show their skills in taming an aggressive bull.  In YouTube, you can see many clips of the Jallikattu game.  The bull is not killed or hurt in this contest.  But sometimes, not only the bulls, but also the young men trying to tame them, get hurt, even killed.  Here is a video clip of the real Jallikattu event.   Evidently, this high-adrenaline game is not for the faint-hearted.  Prize money and the chance to display one’s raw courage and skills are strong attractions for young men to participate in this game.

The Jakkikattu Vendum (“We Want Jallikkattu”) movement started off in distant Alanganallur, Madurai with about 300 or 400 villagers participating.

The protests happened just after Pongal, when it was clear that there was no possibility for the Jallikattu game to take place.  The Indian federal government has banned it a few years ago .  There was also a small number of supporters joinrf the Alanganallur crowd, not a sizable crowd at all. The Police, as is their usual wont, arrested the demonstrators when there was no provocation.

The Jakkikattu Vendum (We Want Jallikkattu)  movement started off in distant Alanganallur, Madurai with about 300 or 400 villagers participating. This happened just after Pongal, when it was clear that there was no possibility at all. There was also a small section of supporters joining the Alanganallur crowd, not a sizable crowd at all. The Police, as is their usual wont, arrested the demonstrators when there was no provocation.

The highhandedness of the police prompted a discussion in the social media with the suggestion that they converge at the Marina, demand scrapping of the ban on Jallikattu and release of the arrested. This was on 17th January, two days after Pongal.

The crowd that gathered at Vivekananda House along the Madras Beach, was a mere 500. However, with the phones in almost everybody’s hand, the social media was abuzz and in a matter of two hours the crowd increased to a few thousands. As the day wore on, more and more converged, and by evening the crowd was around 10,000. The students there then decided not to leave the scene until the ban was revoked and Jallikattu could be held.

The other demand was to release those arrested in Madurai. There was a steady stream of protesters making a beeline to the Marina. The dawn of 18th January saw an outpouring of girls and boys and girls to the spot. The numbers swelled to beyond 50,000 and by that evening it was beyond 75,000. After that there was a deluge. It went beyond counting with a continuous inflow and at no stage there was any sign of the flow stopping. The third day saw homemakers, middle aged and even senior citizens joining the protests. All through this the sense of discipline exhibited by the youngsters was incredibly stunning!

  • Have you ever witnessed agitators helping the law-enforcing folks in directing traffic so that the flow is smooth? Have you ever seen agitators, forming rings around the young girls so that they can sleep without danger of any threat from antisocials? Have you ever seen agitators ensuring smooth supply of food packets, tea, coffee to all?
  • There were quite a few philanthropists in the crowd and outside as well, who, moved by the sincerity and plight of the youth wholeheartedly pooled in their mite. Ragava Lawrence, a dance master and an actor of sorts, had the presence of mind to provide mobile eco toilets to the girls at the Marina (protest sites all over TN had these toilets).
  • Have you ever observed agitators removing all garbage at the site and keep the surroundings clean? Have you ever witnessed parents bringing their daughters to the protest area and leaving them to stay overnight?
  • Have you ever seen infants (3, 4, 5 month old) with their mothers using the pallu as a shield from sunlight sitting for 5 , 6, 7 hours on the sands? There were several pregnant women as well.
  • Have you ever witnessed an agitation where the numbers were about 300,000 to 400,000 and on some days beyond 700,000, gather peacefully, dignified, without ANY stone throwing, bus burning, arson etc in independent India?
  • Have you seen a protest, where in the multitude of people, ambulances were able to pass through quickl the agitators who took extra effort to ensure quick passage?
  • Have you ever seen a protest held for seven days where politicians of all colors, were effectively kept away from participating in the agitation. No politician was allowed anywhere near the scene. Even film personalities were not welcome.
  • Lastly have you ever read in history any agitation that sprang out of spontaneity, yet had no leader at all?

Well all these happened here at that Marina for six days six nights, back-to-back. But wait! This was not restricted to the Marina. It was so in many second- and third-tier towns such as Trichy, Coimbatore, Madurai, Salem Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Erode, Tanjore, Vellore, Pondy, Pudukottai, Dharmapuri, Namakkal,Dindigul, Karur, and many others. Not just the cities, it was also held in innumerable villages. Everywhere it was the youth, boys and girls who stayed put day AND night,

This is the stuff of fairy tales and the youngsters were the heroes of this unbelievable Utopian like protest. Tamil heritage took center stage among jeans-clad churidar-wearing youth of TN.

What a heartening exhibition of civic sense, cultured behaviour, and concern for preservation of heritage!

Naturally, the central and state Governments had to oblige. The Chief Minister went to Delhi on Thuirsday night, met the PM on Friday morning,  stayed back finalised the draft bill, got it vetted by the law, home and environment ministries, obtained president’s consent and caused the ordinance to be issued on Saturday evening. The assembly convened on Monday for its regular opening in the new year, where after the Governor’s customary address, the assembly reconvened and the ordinance bill was passed and it becam a law last evening.

I am sure that this nonviolent protest would have warmed the mahatma’s heart.

I am very very proud to salute the youth here for having conducted what I would term as the best protest in independent India since 1947.    ♣



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