Top Tamil Nadu celebrities Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, AR Rahman and Viswanathan Anand came out in support of Jallikattu on Thursday, as protests against a court ban on the traditional and popular bull-taming sport continued to rock the southern state.
Oscar-winning music composer Rahman tweeted he would fast on Friday to “support the spirit” of Tamil Nadu.
“Bring in whatever rules but Jallikattu must be held to keep up the traditions of our Tamil culture,” superstar Rajinikanth said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ban on Jallikattu, played during the Pongal festival in mid-January.
Watch: PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss detained for Jallikattu protest
Chess champion Anand called the ancient sport a cultural symbol. “Im all for animal rights but here that is not the point.tradition & livelihood are,” he tweeted.
Their support lifted the spirits of thousands of protesters on Chennai’s signature Marina Beach, and cities and towns across the state. The crowd was disappointed over the Centre dodging Tamil Nadu’s appeal for an ordinance to skirt the court ban.
Besides, they wanted a ban on PETA, the animal rights group campaigning against Jallikattu. PETA said it would explore legal options if the Centre tried to reverse the ban.
The protests spread beyond India, with the large Tamil diaspora in Sri Lanka, Britain and Australia holding demonstrations. Tamil groups in neighbouring Karnataka organised rallies too.
On Marina Beach, the stir’s ground zero, protesters vowed to continue their stir till the ban is lifted.
“We are not politicians,” said Haseem, a college student at the seafront site.
“Our movement is not going stop because of our leaders’ failures. Our movement began as a response to their repeated failures.”
The fresh wave of protests was triggered by the Supreme Court’s refusal last week to pass an order before the Pongal celebrations.
Experts fear the apolitical Jallikattu protests could morph into a bigger uprising such as the anti-Hindi 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.
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?”
The nearly 200,000 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)