Gazing at the crowd of 5,000 protesters at Marina beach, Saravanan, a student from Chennai, said, “We are here to protest peacefully.”
“Jallikattu is not just a sport. It’s our heritage. That’s why we’ve come here to fight against the ban,” he said. While protests held over the weekend were in predominantly rural areas, and saw a high turnout of villagers and people who practise Jallikattu, the protests which began on Tuesday comprised younger people, especially from urban areas, but equally committed to overturning the ban.
The largely student-led protest had a different energy, and it became quickly apparent that for many of the participants, some of whom had relatives who used to play Jallikattu in their youths, the battle was not about a sport or a particular festival, but instead about their culture.
“Tamil Nadu has always been discriminated against because of our distinct culture,” argued Bhavya S, a second-year law student. “My grandparents stood against the imposition of Hindi in the ‘60s. Similarly, we are protesting against this new imposition on our identities as Tamils.”
Largely organised via social media, the demonstrations on Wednesday had three clear demands — allow Jallikattu to be held, ban PETA, the organisation seen as responsible for the 2014 Supreme Court ruling against the sport, and for chief minister O Panneerselvam to come and speak to them.
“We were told that if we all came, the national media would have to cover us,” said Preethi S, before wryly adding “Looks like we were right.”
“The protests are and definitely will remain peaceful,” says P Balaji, a college student who was helping to distribute water to the demonstrators.