As the protesters had a sniff of victory on Saturday night, with the State passing an ordinance to allow the recommencement of jallikattu, the movement to reclaim the sport as the symbol of Tamil pride never looked bigger. But it still surprised everyone by the rather easy way in which people from different walks of life came together for a cause that on the surface seemed so distant from their lives.
But then jallikattu was only an excuse. The invocation of Tamil pride and culture seemed to resonate very well among the people of Tamil Nadu. In this call to the people, and in their energetic response, the people of the State possibly found a vent for a hundred resentments fulminating for years.
Underlying their overwhelming response to the jallikattu call was probably their discontent with the political establishment, latent anger against the recent demonetisation drive, resentment against perceived slights for the State from the Centre against the non-release of Cauvery water, their unhappiness over the treatment of fishermen in the seas across the Bay of Bengal, their ire against ‘westernisation’ demonstrated with the random act of destroying soft drink bottles, their unhappiness that Tamil was not the language of courts. A hundred, nay, a thousand resentments stirred in the pot, and jallikattu was merely the skim.
While posters and placard spelt out these small and large grievances, all with predictable or even contrived association with the ‘Tamizhan’ persona, people however, only acknowledged the surface. Why are you protesting? “For jallikattu and Tamil culture and heritage”, was the easy answer that people gave, rather spontaneously.
At the Marina, for instance, impromptu speeches by middle-aged men claiming to have taken part in jallikattu and youngsters demanding a permanent legislation in favour of the sport kept the visitors engaged through the day. For Mohammed Arafat Ali and his wife it was about Tamil culture. “Tamil Nadu has let live all those who sought to stay here. We support our culture,” he said.
A group of homemakers from Royapuram, who brought their children, said they wanted to show their wards the protest. “The government should have acted much earlier. We will not vote for this government again,” said R. Usha, a homemaker.
The story was repetitive, but also quite astounding in the way it showed the heft that ‘Tamil culture’ possessed. Quite a few visually challenged persons were at the protest venue. Among them, T. Revathy and R. Sivakami saw it as an opportunity to assert Tamil pride. S.Sivagnanam of Perungaluthur is so inspired by the protest that he now planned to raise a bull in his home town in Tiruchi, believing that his physical disability would not be a hindrance.
“We are not here sitting on the railway track seeking assistance for our creature comforts. My son, studying Plus Two, has been running to Tamukkam and Sellur bridge (across Vaigai river) for the last three days. This is all for upholding Tamil pride,” said a woman protester on the public address system on the southern end of Madurai railway junction.
“Do you know how dirty the railway tracks are?” asked a young man of a policeman trying to get them to move, at Madurai. “If we are still sitting on the rails despite rain or shine, it is only to retrieve our Tamil culture and tradition.”
At Coimbatore, P.V.Jobin is one of the many demonstrators at VOC Grounds. But he has a unique story: he says he lost his new job with a private company as he was at the protest all five days running. As partial victory came on Saturday, he said: “We only wish and resolve that the unity remains forever in ensuring a permanent solution to the ban on our traditional sport and also for all other issues that concern the race."
Clearly, it’s not just the bull race that united them, though it undeniably was the unsuspecting catalyst.
(Inputs from S. Poorvaja, Sunitha Sekar, R. Sujatha, and Deepa H. Ramakrishnan, Wilson Thomas, S. Sundar)