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Protestors now disrupt Jallikattu; two men gored to death in Pudukottai

S Murari | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:46 IST

The Tamil Nadu government finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place on the issue of Jallikattu.

On the one hand, unrelenting protestors have rejected the government's recent ordinance, labelling it a temporary solution to the on-and-off ban. On the other, the Supreme Court is unyielding in its stand that the sport itself is cruel.

The government's attempts to go ahead with the event have backfired, with locals disrupting it on Sunday. And on Monday, it has to explain to the apex court why it has promulgated an ordinance on the eve of the Assembly session, unless its ulterior motive was to circumvent the court's 2014 ban.

To add to the question marks over the traditional Tamil sport, two men were gored to death and 57 people injured at an event at Rapoosal village in Pudukottai. The event had been hastily organised by state health minister Vijayabhaskar, and over 150 bulls were involved in it.

Meanwhile, the students' agitation against the ban on Jallikattu went on for the fifth day in a row, and Chennai's Marina Beach remained its focal point, as thousands of college boys and girls continued their sit-in. The agitation was peaceful all over the state, except in Salem, where a group of youth kept a train in detention for the third day running.

CM witness to public ire

Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had planned to flag off the main event in Alanganallur near Madurai. But he rushed back to Chennai after locals tore down the barricades and stopped district officials from visiting the village.

Natham Viswanathan, another minister who hails from Dindigul district, also returned to Chennai in the face of stiff resistance from locals.

Barricaded vaadi vassals (entrance gates) became the target of public ire, and in several villages, the locals smashed them.

Panneerselvam told reporters that the decks had been cleared for conducting Jallikattu, and that the district administration was geared to host it. He added that the peiple of Alanganallur were free to conduct the event any time they wanted.

He also said that the government would take on any legal challenge to the ordinance, which has amended the relevant section of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The government filed a caveat in the Supreme Court, that it should be heard if anyone challenged the ordinance.

Panneerselvam did not think it necessary to go on the air or talk to the concerned people to assuage their fears. Instead, the government declared that schools and colleges would reopen from Monday, hoping that this would end the student-led agitation.

Is the ordinance what protestors were demanding?

This was the precisely the fear in the minds of the protestors - that the government somehow wanted to break up this unity through patchwork solutions. As a young girl at Marina Beach told a local TV channel, her voice hoarse from exposure to elements: "We won't budge until the PCA Act is amended."

The government insisted that the ordinance had amended the PCA Act, exempting Jallikattu from its provisions, and imposed stringent safety measures to ensure that bulls were not subjected to any cruelty, and that the tamers and spectators were also saved from harm.

It said the event should be organised only with the prior permission of the local administration, and that the bulls should be examined by veterinarians. No performance enhance drugs should be given to them, nor should irritants like chilli powder be used to goad them into action. The area should be barricaded to separate the spectators from the sportsmen.

Unmindful of the continuing agitation, the government plans to bring in draft Bill to replace the ordinance when the state Assembly meets on Monday.

The biggest test

Even so, the government's biggest test will be before the Supreme Court, which has refused to lift the ban imposed on the sport on 2014, and struck down the Tamil Nadu government's earlier Act as violative of the PCA Act. It had also stayed the Central notification of 8 January 2016, which exempted bulls from the 'performing animals' list, in order to enable Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and cart races in Maharashtra.

Even while granting an interim stay, the court said the sport was inherently cruel. It was not impressed by the Centre's contention that it had to strike a balance between local culture and cruelty to animals, and the safety provisions in the notification would take care of the concerns of animal activists.

The enabling legislation to replace the ordinance will also face the same hurdle.

The government reckons that the court has reserved its order on the conclusion of the 7 December 2016 hearing, and the final order may allow Jallikattu to go ahead with built-in safeguards.

A voice of dissent

Meantime, for the first time, a dissenting voice has been heard in the midst of the agitation.

Tamil film music director Aadhi, who took part in the agitation at Marina Beach and in Coimbatore, has announced that he is dissociating himself from the student-led movement.

He fears it has been hijacked by militant Tamil nationalists, who are insulting the national flag, raising 'separate Tamil Nadu' slogans, and venting their ire on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 22 January 2017, 10:09 IST