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Jallikattu is unacceptable: Argument that it’s Tamil culture doesn’t hold up

The scope to push for other regressive traditions will gain pace if the sport is allowed.

editorials Updated: Jan 19, 2017 16:02 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Poulomi Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Jallikattu,Jallikattu protests,Marina Beach protests
Protesters flock to Chennai’s Marina Beach to demand that the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu be revoked.(V Srinivasulu/ HT Photo)

As far as protests go, the one at Chennai’s Marina Beach can serve as a role model for many. It continues to be a peaceful gathering of people united against the 2014 Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu, the traditional bull-taming sport that is a part of Pongal celebrations in parts of Tamil Nadu. No law has broken; protestors are even picking up water bottles, cups and plates used to serve refreshments. And yet they have managed to make their point loud and clear: don’t mess with our culture.

Therein is the catch: the citing of culture or the branding of a practice as such, to challenge change, and the decisions of the law. Senior lawyer Anand Grover sees nothing wrong in the protest. “Anybody can air their views. We have freedom of expression in the country. It is for the Parliament to make a law in keeping with the constitutional provisions,” he says.

In 2014, the Supreme Court banned Jallikattu while upholding the concerns of animal rights activists that the sport was cruel to bulls. Sociologists have also spoken of the inherent display of casteism in the sport: it is mostly popular among upper castes and Dalits are discouraged from participating and have a separated area marked for them to view the sport. But the demand for the Supreme Court to review its ban ahead of Pongal has received support from political leaders in the state.

READ: The repeated neglect of Tamil identity is the rallying point for Jallikattu protests

“The problem with the word culture is that the idea of culture is often confused in daily use,” says social scientist Shiv Visvanathan. “What is the culture that we are talking about here? A sport that is anyway in decline in most parts of the state--a masculine, casteist sport at that. So what are we fighting for here? Are we fighting for something that is part of the agrarian society, a show of masculinity or is it just a case of identity politics?

The law anyway has an element of culture embedded in it. Its decisions do take into consideration and reflects living conditions, lifestyles etc, which are all a part of culture. But it is not meant to be based on identity politics,” he says.

The past few years have seen progressive discourse on many issues that have for years been put out of the reach of debate in the name of culture and tradition. Women have moved court against the system of triple talaq and polygamy. The Centre is pushing for a Uniform Civil Law--a move which has again been opposed in the name of religion and tradition. In October last year, the Supreme Court allowed women entry into the Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai. The fight for women to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, where entry is banned for women, has also reached the courts.

All these movements are indicative of a society poised for change--a society where reason and basic rights are respected more than traditional practices that might be rooted in ignorance, blind faith and inequality. To give in to the demand to reinstate any one of these practices, will not only weaken the rule of law in the country, but will also give others the scope to push for other such regressive traditions. And then, where does one stop the slide back in time?

First Published: Jan 19, 2017 12:24 IST