Jallikattu appears set to become legal again, with the Centre and Tamil Nadu government working in tandem to bring a state ordinance to circumvent a Supreme Court ban on the traditional and popular bull-taming sport.
A draft ordinance that the state government sent to the Union home ministry on Friday was cleared by the law and environment ministries.
The decks were cleared for a decree after two days of hyperactive government consultations, amid growing anger and protests in the southern state over restrictions to hold the sport that has morphed into a symbol of Tamil pride.
Chief minister O Panneerselvan said in Chennai on Friday that the state’s governor would promulgate an ordinance to skirt the ban on Jallikattu after President Pranab Mukherjee gives his assent to it. The promulgation is expected in the next 24 hours.
A home ministry spokesman, however, said governor C Vidyasagar Rao could promulgate the ordinance even without the President’s approval.
“Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, the joyous news will come. For sure, Jallikattu will be held in Tamil Nadu,” said Panneerselvam, who had dashed to New Delhi after promising protesters back home that he would persuade the Centre for an ordinance. He met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.
The ban on Jallikattu triggered mass protests across the state while thousands congregated on Marina beach, the Chennai landmark, in support of Jallikattu. The protests spread abroad too, with the Tamil diaspora holding rallies in Sri Lanka, Britain and Australia.
Protesters at the signature seafront site — the ground zero of anti-ban demonstrations for the past four days — greeted the chief minister’s announcement on the ordinance with loud cheers and claps. But declared that they won’t budge until a formal order is out and court lifted the ban.
“We will not withdraw unless Jallikattu is held and PETA is banned,” said a protester, articulating the anger against the animal rights group that had actively campaigned for the ban.
The Centre made an “unusual” appeal in the Supreme Court on Friday, with attorney general Mukul Rohatgi requesting a bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishra not to deliver its verdict for a week on the validity of a government notification that allowed Jallikattu. The top court agreed.
“Passions are very high right now. People of Tamil Nadu are passionate about Jallikattu … It has nothing to do with the court. It is a societal unrest … My request is the judgment may be delayed for some time,” the attorney general said.
The ordinance will be promulgated to amend the 57-year-old Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the law the Supreme Court cited to ban Jallikattu in 2014, saying it amounted to cruelty to the bulls.
Section 28 of this law allows killing of any animal in a manner required by a community’s religion. Official sources said this section could be tweaked to allow bull-taming for cultural reasons. Home ministry officials argued that since the proposed amendment was not in contravention of the central legislation, it might not require prior consent of the President.
The chief minister, however, said the governor would promulgate it after the President’s approval.
The ordinance might be subject to legal scrutiny and that could keep tensions simmering.
The protests have moved beyond a court ban on a sport. The outpouring of support for Jallikattu is a reflection of many wrongs — perceived and real — that “Delhi” or the Centre has done to the “Tamil people”.
The sport has become a catalyst to ventilate a host of grievances such as the killing of Tamil fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy, the Tamil Eelam and the Cauvery river water dispute.
Jallikattu is likely to have a long-term impact on state politics, though protesters swore that politics has little to do with their demonstration.
“The fight is much larger, and the Jallikattu struggle is the expression of people’s anger over the Centre’s step-motherly treatment to Tamil Nadu,” said Mridula Srinivasan, a college student camping on Marina beach for the past two days.
The stir intensified on Friday with most of the trade unions, business associations, transport unions, taxi and auto unions, and bank employees’ unions calling a bandh in the state capital. Schools suspended classes for the day in support of the sport.
The opposition DMK and performing artistes launched separate protests, including a fast by Oscar-winning music composer AR Rahman. The DMK announced its leaders and workers will block trains.
Police said the growing number of protesters had become a matter of concern.