Thousands of protesters thronged Marina Beach here on Wednesday against a court ban on Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s popular but controversial bull-taming sport played during Pongal festivities in mid-January.
They demanded lifting of restrictions on the sport, a ban on animal rights campaign group PETA, and an audience with chief minister O Panneerselvam.
The chief minister didn’t go to Marina, but promised in a statement that he would request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pass an emergency ordinance to allow the sport. Also, he implored the protesters to end their demonstration.
The protests began on Tuesday and the numbers swelled each passing hour.
Shouts of “Chinnamma Chinamma, OPS enge ma?” (Where is Sasikala Natarajan and O Panneerselvam?” and “PETA varigai, Jallikattu vendum” (Ban PETA, we want Jallikattu) rent the air as people sought the presence of the chief minister and the AIADMK chief.
Thousands vented their anger on social media platforms against the Supreme Court’s 2014 ban, which upheld concerns by animal rights activists that the sport amounted to cruelty to the bull.
“This isn’t about just a sport, but about Tamil culture,” said Saravanan, a student from Chennai who joined 5,000-odd protesters at the seafront.
Panneerselvam said he would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday and urge him to issue an ordinance allowing Jallikattu.
AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala also trained her guns on People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has come under severe criticism from Jallikattu supporters for its opposition to the bull-taming sport.
“We will make legal efforts to prevent PETA, a foreign organisation, from involving in activities inimical to the cultural pride of Tamil Nadu,” she added.
Observers fear the protests could snowball into a bigger movement on the lines of the anti-Hindi, pro-Dravidian agitation of the 1970s. Police sources said views expressed at these protests are against the Union government and are being fuelled by fringe groups.
Reports of protests poured in from Salem, Nagapattinam, Namakkal, Madurai, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli and several towns, where people from neighbouring villages congregated.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in the past few days across the state as die-hard supporters defied the court ban and held Jallikattu.
In a related development, the Madras high court refused to “interfere” in the protests, saying the matter is being heard in the top court, which last week refused to pass an order before Pongal and allow the popular sport.
A host of Tamil celebrities such as actors Vijay, Nayanthara, Suriya, Dhanush and cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin backed the protests. Ashwin tweeted: “...peace and resolve will show our plea in the right light”.
Political parties, including the opposition DMK, had staged protests earlier, but the seaside rally appeared to be a spontaneous show of defiance, especially by youngsters.
DMK working president MK Stalin called PETA an “anti-national organisation”, supporting the demand for its ban. “The Centre and state government must realise the impact of having failed to protect the heritage and identity of the Tamil culture,” he said.
The ruling AIADMK has also expressed displeasure over the top court’s ban.
Fisheries minister D Jayakumar and cabinet colleague K Pandiarajan held talks with the protesters and said AIADMK parliamentarians will “exert pressure on the Centre” for lifting the ban.
“If the situation continues and our patience is tested, both Tamil Nadu and India will have to deal with the consequences,” Saravanan warned, echoing the views of fellow protesters around him, shouting slogans and waving placards.
Police installed jammers near Marina Beach to block mobile phone signals, fearing social media posts could add to the anger and bring in more protesters.
“We’re receiving coordination and new information on Facebook and WhatsApp,” said Arul Ravichandran, a 17-year-old student who joined the protests with his classmates. “You can’t stop us. We will be here for however long it takes until the ban is lifted.”
IT professionals also joined in as the agitation showed increasing signs of turning into an urban movement. “Our culture is being trampled by the Centre and the BJP. This is unacceptable,” said Anand Ravishankar, a 31-year-old IT professional.