Tamil Nadu agitators reject Jallikattu ordinance, demand 'permanent solution'
Lakhs of mostly young people who have been agitating for Jallikattu for the past four days on Saturday rejected the ordinance promulgated by the Tamil Nadu governor to temporarily permit the festival and vowed to continue their fight until a "permanent solution" is found.
Vadi vassals, the gates from which bulls are let out into the arena, "aren't kirana shops you open and shut every now and then", thundered an angry woman in Tiruchi, echoing the sentiment of agitators everywhere.
"A permanent solution would be to take the bull off the list of performing animals," suggested another activist Purushotham, unaware that's what the ordinance aims to do by amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Indeed, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had told reporters, before leaving for Madurai to flag off the first Jallikattu event in Alanganallur, that "this is the permanent solution".
The ordinance seeks a state-specific amendment to the 1960 law and comes with safeguards against any harm to the bulls, spectators and tamers. The aim is to ensure it doesn't go the way of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act, 2009, which was struck down as overriding the central law.
Panneerselvam said the bill replacing the ordinance would be brought in the next session of the Tamil Nadu Assembly which begins 23 January. Thanking the students for keeping the agitation peaceful, he urged them to heed his appeal and call it off.
The agitation, racing towards the climax, drew nearly 10 lakh people to the Marina Beach, which has become its focal point, Saturday. It all started here as a protest against the police's lathicharge on residents of Alanganallur for trying to stage an impromptu Jallikattu on Mattu Pongal Day.
As the sun set, the agitators switched on the torchlight of their mobile phones to hold an improvised candle light vigil.
Be it at Marina, in Tiruchi, Madurai, Erode or Puducherry, the message everywhere is the same, "We are not going until a permanent solution is found".
It was an expression of the anger pent up over the last three years since the Supreme Court banned the sport. The court, which allowed the sport after the state government enacted a law to regulate the event, banned it in 2014 on the basis of reports by the Animal Welfare Board of India that bulls were being subjected to cruelty in Palamedu, Alanganallur and Avaniapuram, which its team had visited.
The apex court stayed the state's law as well as the central notification of last January taking the bull off the list of performing animals, as being in conflict with the 1960 central law and reserved its orders last December on a batch of petitions filed by the Animal Welfare Board, PETA and other organisations.
This "on again, off again" approach has shaken the faith of the youth in the courts.
"What is the guarantee that this ordinance and the consequent law will not be struck down by the court as well," the agitating youth ask. They also question what the state government has done in the last three years. The government, on its part, has not detailed the measures taken to get the court to review the ban such as the petitions filed last November.
What began as a spontaneous upsurge led by students has moved beyond the immediate goal of saving a symbol of Tamil culture, to the question of Tamil identity. This has drawn Tamils from all over the world, many of whom have connected with the agitators through Skype and other online networks.
Rajmohan, who identified himself as a coordinator of the agitation, said, "It's a struggle to regain the Tamil identity which we lost in Mullaivakkkal." This is an allusion to the last battle of V Prabhakaran, founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, with the Sri Lankan military in May 2009. He was killed in the battle.
Attempts by Tamil nationalists to revive the sentiment in Tamil Nadu so far have failed. They have now seized this chance to latch on to this movement led by young professionals who have come together under a common Tamil identity.
While the Tamils of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, whom LTTE claimed to represent, are known for their organisational efficiency and hardline position on Tamil question, the position taken by the agitators shows that the leadership may go the way of the Tamil nationalists.
The agitation, however, is too widespread to be hijacked by any group, be it Tamil nationalists or the politicians. A clue that it has local-level coordinators was evident from the statement of a young girl in Alanganallur that the stir would call it off only if the village committee gives the nod.
The state government reckons the anger will subside once Jallikattu is held, even if only symbolically in Alanganallur. The respective district collectors and the police have finalised arrangements - erecting barricades, deploying vets and doctors to examine the bulls and tamers - to ensure peaceful conduct of the event.
The government will surely present video evidence of the "peaceful events" should its ordinance be challenged in the Supreme Court when it reopens on Monday.
Once the court is presented with a fait accompli and the government proves that the bulls are not harmed in any way, challenge from the detractors can be met. The ordinance, already vetted by central ministries of law, environment and forests, and other agencies, and cleared by the President, will be able to stand judicial scrutiny since animal welfare is in the concurrent list and the state is well within its rights to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, as it applies to Tamil Nadu.
The state can also claim power to enact a law under Article 29 of the Indian Constitution, which grants protection to the distinct language and culture of any citizen.
Of course, the last word will still be pronounced by the apex court when it delivers its verdict, likely soon. Since it had earlier allowed Jallikattu to be held with regulation, and banned it only on the basis of what the protesters call "unfounded allegations" made by animal activists.
In any case, organising the event successfully after three years can in itself be claimed as a victory for youth power.