Jallikattu uprising indicates failure of political class in understanding the Tamil sentiment

For a protest, Tamil Nadu could not have asked for a better theatre. Marina Beach, the second longest urban beach in the world was filled with people, protesting for lifting the ban on jallikattu. A little more than one thousand of them spent the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday under the stars, with the sand for a mattress.

By Wednesday afternoon, the number had swollen to about 50,000, with non-conservative estimates pegging the crowd at a lakh. Without a doubt, the turnout at the Marina Beach has been extremely impressive, especially given that there is no political hand behind organising it. It is not the Tasmac liquor seduced crowd, the kind one sees at political rallies. Tamil Nadu police officials admit the turnout is because the youth feel an emotional connect with the jallikattu issue. Many of the cops, especially those with roots outside of Chennai, admit in private that they too identify with the sentiment.

 Jallikattu uprising indicates failure of political class in understanding the Tamil sentiment

Youths protesting on Marina Beach in Chennai on Wednesday. PTI

Over the past 48 hours, the jallikattu uprising has brought this part of Chennai, abutting the beach, to a standstill. It is as if Tamil Nadu wants to tell the rest of mainland India that its feelings matter.

How did this sea of people get mobilised? Mainly through social media. A majority of these are college students, making a connect to the argument that Tamil culture is being subjugated by a foreign entity called PETA. Many of them are youth who have migrated to Chennai who yearn for their roots and feel victimised by the Supreme Court and the central government. Even many of those settled in Chennai for long, fear their identity as proud Tamilians is being threatened and feel the need to stand together. Marina is witnessing an outpouring of that anger and anguish.

For those who pitch this as an animal lover vs the rest issue, many of the protesters point out that they are animal lovers too and want jallikattu to be allowed with reasonable and strict rules instead of an outright ban. They point to the need to preserve native breeds of bulls instead of leaving them at the mercy of abattoirs. Almost as coincidence, 60 Jersey bulls from Denmark landed at Chennai airport on Wednesday. The news only angered the crowd more.

But the 'Occupy Marina' drive is not just about jallikattu. The Pongal event is only the manifestation of anger and resentment that has been brewing for some time now. It has become a flashpoint because it is yet another issue on which they feel the political class has failed them. Just a few months back, it was the Cauvery issue where Tamil Nadu buckled in front of an aggressive and hostile upper riparian Karnataka. The severe drought, following the denial of Cauvery water and the worst north-east monsoon in 140 years, has led to over one hundred farmers dying or killing themselves in the last three months. Banners talking of agrarian distress dot the Marina protest site, making a link between the farm crisis and jallikattu.

This apolitical and leaderless agitation displays a contempt for politicians, who they feel have failed them in adequately representing the jallikattu case in court. Which is why this impromptu decision to make Tamil Nadu appeal to New Delhi.

What this mobilisation has done is to give Chennai's civil society a voice, some rational, some discordant. Some youths want the Government of India and the national media to get out of its 'New Delhi is India' mindset. Some shrill voices irresponsibly talk of secession. Many talk of an international conspiracy to harm Tamilians.

But even allowing for some fancy kite-flying theories, what the congregation has done is to remove the assumption that the support for jallikattu is primarily restricted to the Madurai belt of southern Tamil Nadu. The ground zero of jallikattu is witnessing protests as well but making Marina the canvas of protest has captured the nation's imagination.

What has also fueled this protest is the open support extended by Tamil television channels. Pretty much on the lines of how the Kannada news channels during the Cauvery agitation took a shrill pro-Karnataka position, vernacular channels in Tamil Nadu have campaigned aggressively for protecting Tamil culture. Read jallikattu.

While politicians have not been allowed on to the protest site, film stars have been more than welcome. Superstars like Suriya and Vijay and other actors like Vishal and Lawrence have extended support by releasing video messages. Vishal has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pleading for an ordinance on jallikattu.

The protesters want chief minister O Panneerselvam to say he will allow jallikattu, something he is loathe to, given the Supreme Court ban on the bull-taming sport. The angry youth ask when Karnataka assembly can pass a resolution refusing to release water and defying the apex court order on Cauvery, what prevents Tamil Nadu from standing up to the court. They say when cockfights take place despite a ban in Andhra, why can't the Tamil Nadu police look the other way while jallikattu is conducted. The argument is not entirely rooted in logic, but it finds many takers at the Marina.

The jury is out on how long the Marina can be occupied. The social activists associated with the agitation say the youth-driven agitation is a rolling stone which won't stop. But even if it does, the show of strength has managed to send across a message to the judiciary and the governments in Chennai and New Delhi that emotions on the ground need to be understood and respected. But given the Supreme Court's past judgements on jallikattu, it is highly unlikely to sway its verdict which is due any time on jallikattu.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 18:28:33 IST