Since the large-scale protests at Marina beach started on Tuesday night, initially as a response to the ban on Jallikattu, it has been made clear that more than a traditional sport is at stake.
“We are here fighting for our cultural rights because no one else will stand for us,” says S Balaji, a Chennai college student who has been at the Tamil Nadu capital’s iconic seafront since the demonstrations started.
For Balaji, Jallikattu has come to symbolise the frustrations of a generation of Tamils who feel they have been overlooked and betrayed on many occasions by an indifferent Centre. “GST, NEET, no water from the Cauvery, no help with the drought and no real solutions offered when our farmers kill themselves, either from Delhi or from our own government,” he continues. “We have had enough.”
It’s a sentiment that is clearly not confined to a particular generation. The 10,000 strong crowds that have thronged Marina beach, and crowds seen across the city and state span all ages and religions. Both men and women have articulated their frustrations of the general discontent felt by Tamils.
Placards calling for Tamil Eelam, demanding Cauvery water, and highlighting the plight of the state’s farmers have intermingled with the occasional picture of slain LTTE chief V Prabhakaran, making it very clear that the protests are no longer about the traditional bull-taming sport.
“Do you know how many of our fishermen are arrested and killed by Sri Lanka every year?” asks P Selvaraj, a 17-year-old boy from the nearby fishing hamlet of Nochi Kuppam. “This is about the injustices we historically have faced as Tamils,” he adds angrily.
No political leader has escaped the Marina crowd’s scorn. Chief minister O Panneerselvam has been mocked mercilessly, along with AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala.
“Vyavasayi kannu la kanneer, enga ponaa Paneer? (There are tears in the eyes of our farmers, where has Panneerselvam gone?)” chants a crowd of college students, disenchanted with the perceived inaction of the government in “protecting their rights”.
Many barbs are also directed at the Centre. “When has any Hindiwallah ever given a damn about us?” snarls P Gurumoorthy, an IT worker originally from Trichy. Tamil Nadu, many of the protesters maintain, has always had to fight the Centre’s attempts to impose itself upon them.
“The BJP needs to understand that we are Tamils beyond any religious divide like they’re trying to create,” says Hanif Mohammed, a 23-year-old student from Chennai, referring to a recent tweet made by BJP leader H Raja which attracted widespread scorn.
Student Vignesh vasudevan was brutally attacked by muslims participating in Jallikattu agitation for holding National flag. I condemn this .— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) January 20, 2017
The complexities of the protesters are many: one voice cries out for justice for what happened in the Sri Lankan war, another for Cauvery waters, a third against GST and NEET, and a fourth against PETA. But what unites them, the protesters insist, is a consensus that Tamils have not been taken seriously by New Delhi for too long, and enough is enough.