Jallikattu and Beyond

A Anwar Hussain

TAMIL NADU witnessed the mammoth struggle for Jallikattu which was not only spontaneous but also attracted each and every section of the people of the state. Never before in the recent memory there was such a massive struggle. The depth of the struggle can be gauged from some interesting manifestations. The Muslims and Christians also took part in large number giving the clear message that Jallikattu and Pongal festival belongs to all irrespective of religions. A young police man in his uniform took the mike and not only supported the struggle openly at Marina Beach but also criticised Modi for not allowing the Jallikattu. He was unmindful of the consequences of such an act. The Tamil diaspora in far away countries like Norway, US etc also demonstrated for this cause. In Gulf countries where open demonstrations are not allowed, people gathered inside the houses demonstrating and the photos went viral in social media. There was not a single city in the state – big or small – where the struggle did not take place. Such was the massiveness of the struggle. But still it was only a spontaneous struggle having its plus and minus aspects.


Many people outside Tamil Nadu think that Jallikattu is bull taming sport and in the process the animal is harmed. It is a wrong concept. Jallikattu is organised as an inseparable part of the harvest festival Pongal. During Jallikattu the specially trained bull comes out of the entrance constructed for this event. The youths have to grip the hump (no other part of the bull like horns or tail). Whoever grips the hump without falling for certain distances of few meters which will take half to one minute is a winner. After regulations by the Supreme Court regarding safety of the animal as well as the humans, people adhered to them. For example the hump should be gripped by only one person at a time; the doctors should be present on the site; the ambulance should be ready in big events etc were followed by the people.

In 2011, during the UPA regime, the bull was added in the list of performing animals. Based on this change, the organisations like PETA, Animal Welfare board etc went to Supreme Court. The apex court banned the Jallikattu. In spite of many representations the court refused to lift the ban. Hence the only way out was to take the bull from the list of performing animals. This has to be done by the central government.  The BJP which was looking to create a strong presence in the state made this issue as its important agenda. In the run up to the 2014 elections, BJP high pitched that in the event of victory the ban on Jallikattu would be lifted.

The BJP won the 2014 elections. But in Tamil Nadu only one MP of the BJP was elected and he became a minister in the Modi government. He and the BJP leaders of Tamil Nadu repeatedly stated that in 2015 the Jallikattu would happen. But it was not to be. They again shouted from the roof tops that in 2016 and again in 2017 it would definitely happen. Till the last minute people thought somehow the Modi government would do something. The TV channels even telecasted that a central ordinance was being prepared. But nothing happened.

The disappointment of the people converted into anger. The anger was so deep that the central minister from TN had to tender public apology. The BJP became a big villain in the eyes of people. The AIADMK government under O Panneer Selvam also was not serious except shooting of some letters to Modi government. The protest first exploded in Alanganallur in Madurai district which may be called as Mecca of Jallikattu. The police foiled this protest. The high handedness of the police prompted few hundreds of the youths to assemble in Marina beach. Everybody including OPS government thought it would melt away soon. But the number of protesters started to swell. Within few hours more than a lakh people assembled. The next day it became a mammoth gathering. Marina Beach became the sea of humans. This spread to all the big cities like Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem etc. Soon each and every corner of the state became a battle ground.

Many observers were stunned to see the discipline of the young crowd. There were thousands of young girls. Many of them stayed overnight. But not a single case of eve teasing or molestation took place. It prompted the NDTV anchor to comment that the Delhi and Bengaluru youth should learn from Chennai youth. The parents did not hesitate to send their girls to the protest arena. The huge garbage that gathered in the places was promptly cleaned by the youth themselves. In spite of such a big gathering no traffic jam took place because the youth were regulating the traffic. The food and water poured in to the protest arena.

The nearby fishing colonies readily allowed girls to use their bath rooms without hesitation. Some families made it a point to take tea and other snacks daily to help the youth. Some women even fed food with their own hands to the youth which only mothers would do to their children. One person brought back-up batteries daily for the youth to charge their smart phones as social media played a big part in the whole of protests.  On Friday when the Muslims among the protesters wanted to do Namaz, the whole crowd allowed them by stopping the slogans for the prayer. This went viral in the social media. But it also terribly irritated the BJP. They openly questioned this. But the youth stuck to their ground. The BJP was collapsing fast ideologically and politically. They sensed it.


One may wonder whether the single issue of Jallikattu could lead to such huge mobilisation. Obviously the answer is “no”. There seemed to be convergence of many discontents from Cauvery issue to demonetisation. What manifested in the protest, as was stated by CPI(M) state secretary G Ramakrishnan, was a pent-up anger against the BJP and the AIADMK governments in the centre and the state respectively over a slew of issues including the failure of the centre to ensure implementation of the order of the Cauvery Water Tribunal, the state government’s indifference to farmers’ suicides and unemployment. But both the local media and the national media did not highlight the anti-Modi slogans of the struggle. Underpinning these issues was also the “Tamil Pride” which was latent but now, came into open.


The statewide struggle compelled the chief minister to visit Delhi and meet Modi requesting him to bring an amendment in the concerned Act. But Modi refused to act. He threw the ball into the state government’s court asking them to bring an exemption legislation. The AIADMK government agreed to play this ball game. As a result, the ordinance was promulgated on January 21, 2017. Both the central and state governments thought this would satisfy the protesters. The CM triumphantly went to Alanganallur to inaugurate the Jallikattu. But the ground reality was different. The people of Alanganallur did not allow the CM to enter the village. The protesters all over the state wanted a permanent solution. The anger increased manifold against Modi and AIADMK governments.

The intelligence agencies sent scores of reports to the centre that anti-Modi slogans were rising. How could the emperor tolerate it? So the pressure was exerted on the state government to act tough. The OPS government also feared that if the protests continued for long, more issues like drought, farmers suicide etc would come to fore. At this point of time on January 23 early morning the police started to forcibly clear the protestors. This happened simultaneously all over the state. The students in Marina asked for two hours time to get clarifications from their lawyers regarding the ordinance. Moreover on the same day the TN legislature was likely to pass the act replacing the ordinance. But the police refused any time and acted brutally.

What followed was unprecedented attack by the police on the protesters. Women, young girls and even children were not spared. A woman was said to be injured which resulted in her abortion. Hundreds of protesters were mercilessly beaten. The nearby fishing localities became the main target as they had helped the protesters.  The police themselves lit fire on vehicles and even huts with phosphorous powder. The fishing market was completely burnt down by the police. The policemen wantonly destroyed many two wheelers. These acts were caught by cameras in cell phones. The images of such incidents went viral like a forest fire. The students at one stage entered the sea water and threatened to impose death upon themselves if police touched them.

The students demanded that the renowned legal luminaries should tell them about the nature of the act passed by the TN assembly. Accordingly retired Judge Hari Paranathaman spoke to the students about the various aspects of the act. He also clarified that any act was challengeable in the apex court. After this the students and other protesters decided to call off their struggle.


Police said they resorted to brutal attack as anti-social and fundamentalist elements had entered the crowd and tried to hijack the protest. This was far from the truth. The protest was orderly and disciplined. Whenever the undesirable slogans or activities surfaced, the students themselves prevented it. But such incidents were very rare and inevitable given the nature of a huge spontaneous struggle. It was clearly an afterthought of the police to justify their brutal attack. While the police acted brutally in all the places, the attack in Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore was very severe and barbarian in nature.

The police officer at Coimbatore went to the absurd extent of branding DYFI and SFI as anti-national. He also stated that the word “Comrade” was anti-national. Perhaps he was so overwhelmed by the brutal sense of the police that he would have forgotten that his own father was saved by SFI “Comrades” in Kanyakumari few years back when he was attacked in a mindless violence.

The DYFI and SFI cadre fully participated in the struggle. The CPI(M) was the only all India political party to express support to this struggle. Party general secretary, Sitaram Yechury appreciated the struggle and its discipline. Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat was the first to visit the fishermen colony in Chennai where the brutal attack of the police was very severe. He not only condemned the police but also demanded immediate and long term relief to fishermen. He also demanded immediate release of all those arrested by the police.

The timely and immediate act of the Party put great pressure on the state government. A judicial commission under a retired judge has been constituted. The students among those arrested have been released. The reconstruction of a temporary fish market had started. But the Party demanded that all those arrested be released; the police officers in Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore be transferred to facilitate impartial enquiry. The Party also demanded a court-monitored enquiry.

The trauma generated by the police was a deliberate one to prevent the youth and others from protesting in future. But the youth would not succumb to this. Many of the protesters expressed their desire that they wanted to also protest against farmers issues, Cauvery issue etc. One hopes that such a clarity and purpose in action will dawn on the youth of the state. And one thing is certain. The credibility and faith on the BJP and AIADMK governments has fallen miserably in the eyes of the people of Tamil Nadu.



Newsletter category: