Tamil Nadu government promises steps to allow Jallikattu as protest mounts against ban

Jan 20, 2017
Thousands held protest in Chennai against ban on Tamil ancient sport, Jallikattu.
Thousands held protest in Chennai against ban on Tamil ancient sport, Jallikattu.

As the protests against the ban on Jallikattu escalated across Tamil Nadu, India on Thursday, Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the capital, declared that his government would “take steps with the backing of the centre” to hold the traditional bull-taming sport.

While the state government sought an ordinance “to remove the legal impediments”, Modi expressed his government’s inability to intervene since it is a “sub-judice” matter, but assured his support to steps by the state.

Although Panneerselvam did not elaborate on the “steps” that would be taken, top government sources told The Indian Express in Chennai that the state may pass a law on Friday evening or Saturday, following which the sport could be held in Alanganallur near Madurai – the usual hub of the Jallikattu event – and other villages on Sunday.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) tweeted that “while appreciating the cultural significance of Jallikattu, the Prime Minister observed that the matter is presently sub-judice”.

However, it added that “the Centre would be supportive of steps taken by the state government.”

Panneerselvam quoted Modi as saying that he was “aware of the feelings of the people of Tamil Nadu on the issue”.

Youths held protest against ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.
Youths held protest against ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.

Top government sources in Chennai said they were considering legal options to issue a special notification to allow Jallikattu this year.

“Even if we can lift the ban temporarily, it is worth a try as nothing else can stop the protests. Using force may be disastrous as thousands of people have joined the protests across the state,” said an official.

A senior AIADMK leader said if the government faces legal hurdles, the party will help the public to organise the event.

“If not OPS (Panneerselvam), Chinnamma (party chief V.K. Sasikala) will do it. Don’t forget that the BJP and Sangh Parivar demolished Babri Masjid despite a pending case in the Allahabad court… People of Tamil Nadu are demanding their basic right to organise a traditional event. If the people’s wishes go against the law and they defy the ban, the government will act accordingly,” said the ruling party leader.

Meanwhile, as the protests continued for the third day, the crowd at the Marina Beach in Chennai swelled to tens of thousands by Thursday night.

An estimated seven lakh people joined the protests in about 142 places across the state.

Dozens of families headed to the Marina Beach with supplies of bread, biscuits and water for the protesters, who have been camping at the site since Tuesday night.

Leading actors Karthi and Sathyaraj were among those who joined the protesters.

The Nadigar Sangam, a Tamil cine actors’ organisation, has called a fast on Friday, in which leading actors are expected to participate.

Oscar-winning musician A R Rahman and world chess champion Viswanathan Anand were among the celebrities who extended their support to the protests.

“I am fasting tomorrow to support the spirit of Tamil Nadu,” tweeted Rahman on Thursday.

“Jallikattu is a cultural symbol. Respect it. I’m all for animal rights but here that is not the point. Tradition & livelihood are,” tweeted Anand.

Several trains were stopped by protesters in Coimbatore, Madurai and Salem.

According to reports, over 20,000 people joined the protests near the Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore, while over 10,000 gathered at the MGR statue near Trichy.

With auto, taxi and van drivers calling a strike on Friday, almost all the private schools in the state are likely to be closed.

Most of the schools in Madurai and Dindigul districts have already declared a holiday.

Traders have also given a strike call, supported by the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce.

Cinema halls in Chennai will also be shut on Friday.

With students and young professionals taking part in the protests, sources said over 200 colleges across the state were closed on Thursday while others reported less than 20% attendance of students and staff.

The University of Madras is among the several educational institutions that will remain closed on Friday.

Tamil ancient sport Jallikattu.
Tamil ancient sport Jallikattu.

In a five-page memorandum to Modi, Panneerselvam said Jallikattu was “deeply ingrained” in the cultural tradition of Tamil Nadu “as a sport popular among warriors since the Sangam era, and this 2000-year-old traditional sport finds mention in the ancient Tamil text Silapathigaram.”

He said the sport is “intertwined with the religious and social cultural ethos of Tamil society.”

“There is a huge groundswell of sentiment and emotion all over Tamil Nadu demanding that Jallikattu must be permitted to be conducted… The Government of India should consider promulgating an ordinance immediately to remove the legal impediments… so that it can be held during this Pongal festival season,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court ban “has caused widespread resentment and general disappointment” among the people of Tamil Nadu.

While Panneerselvam met Modi, PMK leader and former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss staged a protest outside the prime minister’s residence.

The Lok Sabha MP asked the Centre to promulgate an ordinance to “avoid law and order issues” in the state. – The Indian Express