Tamil Nadu’s traditional and popular bull-taming sport will be held in three places near Madurai on Sunday morning — without the fear of a Supreme Court ban.
The state government promulgated an ordinance, which has governor C Vidyasagar Rao’s approval, on Saturday evening to circumvent the 2014 court ban on Jallikattu that has galvanised millions of people and morphed into a symbol of Tamil pride.
“The bulls, which have been locked up, will come so that the Jallikattu warriors can embrace them,” said chief minister O Panneerselvam before leaving for the temple town of Madurai.
But thousands of protesters camping on Chennai’s landmark Marina beach for the past five days thought the ordinance was a half-measure.
They remained circumspect because that’s not the permanent solution they were fighting for.
“It doesn’t guarantee that the sport won’t be banned again,” said M Gurumurthy, a 48-year-old chartered accountant.
The government appears to have kept this in mind. In addition to announcing the ordinance and the details of the Jallikattu bouts that will be held on Sunday, the ruling AIADMK said a bill to replace the ordinance will be tabled in the assembly, which sits from January 23.
“If they pass a bill and make sure no foreign NGO will ever dictate to us what is and isn’t our culture, then I will be happy,” said Ganesh R, an IT worker who has been at the seafront protest site since Wednesday morning.
Alongside their demand to allow Jallikattu, the protesters were seeking a ban on PETA, the global animal rights group that had actively campaigned for restrictions against the sport.
People also called for amendments in the prevention of cruelty to animals act, especially in light of the top court’s pending decision on Jallikattu.
“The bull must be removed from the list of performing animals,” said Shanthi Moorthy, another protester. “Our protest will continue until that happens.”
The ordinance was promulgated to amend the 57-year-old act, the law the top court cited to ban Jallikattu two years ago, 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.
The ordinance didn’t need President Pranab Mukherji’s assent since states can make small changes to the law in accordance with their needs without changing its essence completely.
Home ministry officials said the amendment didn’t contravene the central legislation.
The decks were cleared for a decree after Panneerselvam dashed to New Delhi on Thursday amid growing anger and protests in the state over ban on Jallikattu, which is traditionally held during Pongal festivities in mid-January.
“For sure, Jallikattu will be held in Tamil Nadu,” he promised on Friday after lobbying with the Centre for an ordinance, including a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He flew back to Chennai after the Union home ministry as well as the law and environment ministries cleared the draft ordinance sent by the state government.
Jallikattu is legal again but it opened many wounds in Tamil Nadu, though protesters swore that politics has little to do with their demonstration. 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.
“What this peaceful revolution has shown the world is how proud we Tamils are of our culture. We will not end the fight until that heritage is secured,” said P Rajasekaran, president of the Jallikattu Peravai, as he summed up the mood.
(With inputs from HTC New Delhi)