Protesters were disappointed on Thursday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained non-committal to Tamil Nadu’s forceful appeal for an ordinance to skirt a ban on Jallikattu, saying the matter was in the Supreme Court.
Chief minister O Panneerselvam rushed to the national capital for a meeting with Modi as a wave of protests rocked the southern state with anger rising over the top court’s 2014 ban on the traditional and popular bull-taming sport.
Thousands of people camping at Chennai’s landmark Marina Beach for the third consecutive day blamed politicians for not bringing in an emergency ordinance to override the court’s ban. Besides, they want a ban on PETA, the animal rights campaign group.
“We are not politicians,” said Haseem, a 19-year-old college student from Chennai who joined the protests on Wednesday morning. “Our movement is not going stop because of our leaders’ failures. Our movement began as a response to their repeated failures.”
In a series of tweets, the Prime Minister said the government acknowledged the “cultural significance” of Jallikattu but added the “matter is presently sub judice”.
“The Centre would be supportive of steps taken by the state government.”
For his part, Panneerselvam promised that the state government “will soon take steps along with (the) Centre on how to enable Jallikattu”.
“You will soon see steps. Wait, good will happen,” he said, a day after the ruling AIADMK’s general secretary VK Sasikala announced that the state government will adopt a resolution in the assembly for lifting the ban on Jallikattu.
Shortly before the chief minister’s comments, the Supreme Court refused to hear a plea over the protests at Marina, which has turned into the ground zero for the agitation against the ban.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar asked the petitioner, lawyer Raja Raman, to file a plea in the Madras high court for relief.
The fresh wave of protests was triggered by the Supreme Court’s refusal last week to pass an order before the Pongal celebrations in mid-January, the time when Jallikattu is held. Earlier, the top court had struck down of a central notification allowing the sport.
Experts fear the Jallikattu protests could turn into a bigger uprising like the anti-Hindi riots, which took place during the Dravidian movement.
Tamil Nadu witnessed large scale protests by students in the 1960s over the imposition of Hindi as the official language in the state, with the majority Dravidian community fiercely opposing it before the order was rolled back by the central government.
Those protests were led by Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam and later the DMK. But the current demonstrations are a reflection of people’s anger against political figures.
Sentiments expressed on the beach had strong anti-Centre overtones.
“Do you really think a BJP Hindi-wallah sitting in Delhi is interested in us Tamils?” asked Ganesh, a 40-year-old professional from Chennai. “He was silent when Karnataka defied the SC and didn’t release Cauvery water. So what is he going to do?”
Thousands of protesters across the state vowed that their apolitical demonstration will continue as long as the ban is not lifted.
Senthil Nayagan, a 40-year-old IT professional who helped coordinate logistics for the crowd at the seafront site, said the protests are about an integral piece of Tamil culture that has been throttled.
“No politician is behind this, it’s the people spontaneously coming forth to fight for their heritage in the face of opposition from the Centre and other groups.”
Reports said police caned some of the protesters on Wednesday night, although the protests have remained peaceful so far. Authorities also ordered over two dozen colleges Chennai to close down.
Tensions have been escalating for the last week after hundreds of people were detained by police for allegedly organising local Jallikattu contests in defiance of the court ban.
(With agency inputs in New Delhi)