WHY THE DISQUIET
It was a human tsunami on Marina Beach in Chennai, the likes of which have not been seen in Tamil Nadu in recent times. What started as a student protest had, by evening, swelled to hundreds of thousands of slogan-shouting, if peaceful, youngsters demanding that the government lift the ban on Jallikattu. It soon spread, and an estimated 15 million—one in every five residents of Tamil Nadu—were on the streets protesting.
The feud, which has been raging for over a decade, is now a bone of contention between animal lovers and farmers. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) activists say the bulls are subjected to cruelty, force-fed with liquor and have chilli powder thrown into their eyes. Those who rear the bulls say they are looked after as well as their own children and if they are harmed during the sport, the event is called off. Tamils have long held that the sport has cultural and religious significance.
After several court battles between animal lovers and jallikattu organisers, the Supreme Court banned it in 2014, saying the prevention of cruelty to animals was the final straw.
Politically, the loudest message came from Panneerselvam. A man seen to be keeping the seat warm for Jayalalithaa has finally signalled his arrival. It is not good news for the newly anointed AIADMK general secretary, V.K. Sasikala.
Politics in Tamil Nadu is clearly changing. People have been unhappy with state governments for their failure to stop land and mining mafias from plundering riverbeds and agricultural fields. Though Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanised states, it has a strong rural connect.
For the past few decades, the administration in Tamil Nadu has been oppressive, leaving little space for dissent. It is, therefore, unsurprising that, with a weak government at the helm, the students on Marina and elsewhere voiced their new-found freedom. overrides the protection of culture and tradition. On January 8 last year, the Centre issued a notification lifting the ban in Tamil Nadu with certain restrictions, which was challenged in the apex court. The court reserved its judgment. Stunned by the protests, the state government, aided by PM Narendra Modi, enacted a state law lifting the ban.
The agitation may have ebbed, but the fire is unlikely to die soon. There are many reasons why Tamil subnationalism has come to the fore. The death of J. Jayalalithaa, and the indifferent health of her arch-rival, the aging former chief minister M. Karunanidhi of the DMK, have left a void in Tamil Nadu politics. The perception that chief minister O. Panneerselvam is not quite his own man strengthened the belief that the Centre could ride roughshod over the state. The Centre’s inability to force Karnataka to release Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu, despite a Supreme Court order, only added to the grist. Jallikattu
The surge in Tamil nationalism is owed partly to the current political vacuum
ANGRY PROTESTS (Clockwise from left) A car set on fire by protesters, Tamil Nadu CM O. Panneerselvam, students protesting the ban at Marina Beach JAISON G.