Head of southern India state urges calm as Jallikattu protests intensify

Indian protesters demonstrate against the ban on the Jallikattu bull taming ritual at Marina Beach at Chennai on January 18. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Jan 18, 2017, 10.05 AM (IST)

The head of India's southern state of Tamil Nadu has pledged to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow (January 19) to urge him to overturn the ban on the traditional bull-taming sport called Jallikattu, as protests against the current embargo intensified in the last 48 hours.

O Panneerselvam, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, assured the agitators that the state government "is on the same page" with the people while he appealed to all to stop the demonstrations that have rocked the region.

"Tomorrow morning I will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urge him to promulgate an ordinance to conduct Jallikattu. Hence, I appeal to all protesters to give up their agitations," Panneerselvam said.

"The democratic protests by students and people to uphold our rights and guard our culture are expressive of our feelings (on Jallikattu)," he said. However, to conduct Jallikattu, the Supreme Court should give a favourable verdict, he said.

Jallikattu is a centuries-old sport that is played across Tamil Nadu, but was banned by India's highest court last year after animal advocacy group PETA said the sport of bull-taming is cruel as the animals are drugged and are then subdued by young men with their bare hands.

The restriction on playing Jallikattu, which is considered to be an intrinsic part of the region's cultural identity, sparked statewide demonstrations in the run-up to Pongal (January 14), a harvest festival during which the sport is played.

But protests gathered steam when a bunch of 50 people, mostly students, thronged the Marina Beach on Tuesday (January 17) after more than 200 supporters of the sport were detained in a Tamil Nadu district named Madurai. Though the protest at the beach started off slowly, the demonstration soon snowballed into a large mass movement of about 5,000 people demanding the ban to be lifted and action to be taken against PETA India.

Thousands protest at Chennai's Marina Beach

Police have been deployed across Chennai as the protests continued unabated.

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Crowds continued to swell at Alanganallur and Tamukkam grounds in Madurai as well. The two grounds are the traditional base for the sport.

Protests and rallies were also taken out across the rest of Tamil Nadu including the districts of Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli, Ariyalur, Cuddalore, Salem and Kanyakumari. 

Protesters, including students and IT employees, blocked roads in various locations, chanting slogans like "We want jallikattu" and "Ban anti-Tamil PETA". 

Farmers Joint Action Council President Deivasigamani threatened to organise a state-wide agitation on January 20 if the federal government did not announce its decision on 'Jallikattu' within 48 hours.

More than 20 traders organisations in Madurai and its neighbouring regions also announced closure of shops on January 20 if the ban on the sport was not lifted.

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Overwhelming support

Movie stars in the region also voiced their support with the agitators.

Popular movie star Vijay sent a video message, condemning the arrests of those detained on Monday night and "bowing down (in respect) to each and every one of them (agitators)" for trying to "protect" Jallikattu, which is "every Tamilian's identity". Tamil actor Vishal wrote to PM Narendra Modi, seeking an ordinance facilitating the conduct of jallikattu.

Suriya, another popular cinestar in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu -- where the protest is being staged, excoriated PETA for its protracted campaign against Jallikattu.

The actors' body, the South Indian Artistes' Association, has announced a hunger strike on January 20.

General secretary of Tamil Nadu's ruling party AIADMK V K Sasikala said her party will move and adopt a resolution in the ensuing assembly session of the lower house of the state for removal of ban on the festival.

AIADMK organisational secretary C Ponnaiyan blamed the federal government on the matter. "The Centre (federal government) is inordinately delaying or avoiding issuance of an ordinance which is well within their hands," he told PTI.

Judiciary opts to stay away

The judiciary, meanwhile, said Wednesday it will not "interfere" on the issue of protests in Chennai since India's top court was already seized of the matter, PTI reported.

The court made this observation after an advocate made a mention of the protests at Marina Beach before the court.

The first bench, comprising Chief Justice S K Kaul and Justice M Sundar, declined to "interfere in the matter at this stage."

"First of all, the apex court is seized of the matter. When it is so, even the High Court and Tamil Nadu government cannot do anything and moreover, Marina Road is not a place for any demonstrations. The court does not want to interfere at this stage," the bench said.

India's highest court had banned the sport in 2014 and two years later, the federal government followed suit.

Animal rights activists cite animal cruelty because the bulls are deliberately placed in a terrifying situation and young men use their strength to tame them.

But people of Tamil Nadu say the sport is an intrinsic part of their cultural identity as it has been played for more than an estimated 2,000 years.

(WION)