Jallikattu on, but without joy. And Panneerselvam is to blame
What should have been a victory for Jallikattu has turned sour thanks to the state government's crackdown on peaceful protestors all over Tamil Nadu, leading to violence and police excesses.
Despite legalising the traditional sport through a law, the government has taken the joy out of the event. The takeaway is rivetting images of mob violence and the police's use of excessive force.
Student protestors, not only at Chennai's Marina Beach but also in other places like Alanganallur, Madurai, Coimbatore and Erode, who won universal support, did not know when to exit.
As a result, militant Tamil nationalists misdirected the agitation by taking it beyond Tamil identity and culture and tradition, towards separatism.
The agitators had no clue as to what they meant by a 'permanent solution' to the issue. It betrayed a mindset that whoever opposed Jallikattu was against Tamils
The villain of the piece is Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who failed to connect with the agitators, despite enacting a law with double quick speed.
Now, DMK working president MK Stalin, the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, who was unable to politicise the issue, has petitioned the Governor, calling for a judicial inquiry into the police excesses.
Decade-long legal tangles
The enactment by itself was no mean achievement, given the long court battle dating back to 2006. Of course, the law could also be challenged in the Supreme Court. But that would be another phase of the struggle.
Initially, the government had to battle with the Madras High Court way back in 2006. It was Justice R Bhanumathi, now elevated to the Supreme Court, on 29 March 2006, who held that the bull cart race was against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Disagreeing with the view of Justice FMI Kalifulla, later also a Supreme Court judge, who allowed the sport in 2004, Justice Bhanumathi held that "Jallikattu is no more fun or veera vilayattu (a brave sport)", but a clear violation of animal rights as bulls were subjected to cruelty.
To overcome this judgment, the then-DMK government enacted the Jallikattu Regulation Act of 2009, with elaborate safety measures and with more stringent punishment than provided for in the PCA Act. In November 2010, the Supreme Court allowed the Tamil Nadu government to conduct Jallikattu for five months a year, subject to conditions.
On 11 July 2011, then-Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, through a notification, included bulls in the list of performing animals under the PCA Act. This meant that bulls could not be trained and exhibited.
Because of this, the Supreme Court, on 7 May 2014, struck down the state law as repugnant to the PCA Act, and banned Jallikattu altogether, upholding the view of animal welfare activists that the sport was 'inherently cruel'.
To circumvent the ban, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, thorugh a notification on 8 January 2016, allowed for the conduct of Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and traditional bullock cart racing in Maharashtra.
The Supreme Court, however, stayed the notification, observing that every bulls also have the right to a life of dignity, and no cruelty could be permitted in the name of traditional sport.
The court has since concluded the hearing last December, and a final verdict is expected any time.
It was because of the pendency of this case that the Modi government asked the Tamil Nadu government to take the ordinance route. It then got the draft vetted by the Union ministries of law and environment and forests, and also the President's clearance.
To avoid pitfalls, the ordinance issued on Saturday made state-specific amendments to the PCA Act, including Section 2, 3, 11, 22 and 27, so that it would not be in conflict with the Central law.
Such being the case, Panneerselvam should have taken the agitators into confidence, to allay their misapprehensions. Instead, he showed undue haste in presenting the apex court with a fait accompli, and rushed to Madurai to flag off the first such event in Alanganallur on Sunday morning. He also kept the ordinance under the wraps, fearing if it issued a GO, it would be open to challenge in court.
When the agitators refused to allow the event, he returned to Chennai. Even so, he could have gone on the air and explained the legal intricacies. Instead, he ignored the protestors.
He did not even introduce the Bill to replace the ordinance on Monday morning, when the Assembly began its session with the Governor's address.
Instead, he let out the details only when tabling the Bill in the house on Monday evening.
Naturally, the agitators were not ready to take his word that the law was the final solution.
In pique, he ordered a crackdown on protestors all over the state, leading to disastrous consequences.
Police was largely restrained
The excuse that the Marina Beach had to be cleared of protestors ahead of Republic Day will not wash. If that indeed be the case, where was the need to use brute force on peaceful agitators in Alanganallur and other places?
With all the flak that the police is getting, at least the Chennai police was sympathetic to the cause, and provided day-and-night security to thousands of boys and girls, who sat on the beach for four days in a row.
Even when the crackdown was ordered, policemen entered the beach in large numbers, but left their lathis behind in a nearby college. They were only going to talk to the peaceful agitators.
They only forcefully evicted them from the beach, and most of the boys and girls offered no resistance, as they did not want any harm to come to women and children. Only the hardliners stayed on.
As a young lady with a baby on her arm told a TV channel, the protestors would have dispersed after the enactment of the law, but the police would have none of it. "We pleaded for half a day to see the law before calling off the protest. But the police was firm on removing us immediately," she said.
The violence in Chennai and elsewhere was a reaction to this crackdown. In Chennai, youth from the fishermen community battled it out with the police.
But despite the widespread violence, there was no lathi-charge. Not even teargassing.
However, away from the public gaze, the riot police raided the fishermen colonies, vandalised their vehicles and beat up women and children. Some even smashed bikes on the beach road.
Meanwhile, in Alanganallur, Coimbatore and Erode, despite lathi-charge, agitators offered only passive resistance. The Madurai police did not force them away - instead, the commissioner persuaded the large gathering on the Tamukkam Maidan to disperse, even if it took all day.
Now the government plans to go ahead with Jallikattu in Alanganallur, Pelamdu and Avaniapuram between 1 and 3 February.
But the joy has gone out of the event.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma