Thousands of people staged demonstrations at Chennai’s iconic Marina Beach on Wednesday as a against a ban on the bull-taming sport Jallikattu gathered momentum in Tamil Nadu.
In a related development, the Madras high court refused to “interfere” in the protests, saying the matter is being heard in the Supreme Court which last week refused to pass an order before the Pongal celebrations and allow the popular sport.
Thousands of people also joined in on social media platforms in signs of growing anger over the 2014 ban by the apex court 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. The protests began on Tuesday and the numbers have swelled over the past few days.
“If the situation continues, students like us who have been patient will be tested, and then both Tamil Nadu and India will have to deal with the dire consequences.”
Though political parties – including the opposition DMK – had staged protests earlier, the agitation at Marina Beach appeared to be a spontaneous show of defiance, especially by youngsters. The ruling AIADMK has also expressed displeasure over the apex court’s ban.
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 the people sought the presence of the chief minister and the AIADMK chief.
Fisheries minister D Jayakumar and cabinet colleague K Pandiarajan held talks with the protesters in the wee hours and said the 50 AIADMK Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs will “exert required pressure on the Centre” for lifting the ban.
“Not just that, this government will also take steps to meet the President to seek an ordinance,” Jayakumar said.
Police installed jammers to block mobile phone signals, fearing that 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.”
Many IT professionals also joined the protests as the agitation showed increasing signs of turning into an urban movement.
“We want Jallikattu to be held, we want PETA to be banned, and we want the chief minister to come speak to us,” said Anand Ravishankar, a 31-year-old IT professional from Chennai.
“Our culture is being trampled on by the Centre and the BJP. This is unacceptable,” he added articulating anger at the ruling party at the Centre.
The protesters distributed food and water to all participants and collected garbage to keep the beach litter-free.
Advocate K Balu raised the issue in the high court and highlighted disconnection of power supply in the area during a “peaceful demonstration” on Tuesday.
“First of all, the apex court is seized of the matter. When it is so, even the high court and Tamil Nadu government cannot do anything and moreover, Marina Road is not a place for any demonstrations. The court does not want to interfere at this stage,” a bench led by chief justice SK Kaul said.
(With agency inputs)