India and Tamil Nadu Clash over Jallikattu, Tamil Identity, Tamil Pride and Tamil Nationalism

Part I:

The Ancient Tamil Sport of Jallikattu Banned in India: Protests and Reversal

Arumugam Kumaraswamy and Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2018 (ID. 2018-03-01)

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This is Part I of a two-parts article.

Part I

1. Introduction

2. Etymology or Origin of the Name Jallikattu

3. Antiquity of Jallikattu

4. Are Bulls Harmed? Why the Opposition from Critics?

5. The Supreme Court Ban and Tamil Nadu Wants it Removed by Law

6. Indian Government Charade and Duplicity

7. The 2017 Jallikattu Protests

8. Who was Responsible for Starting the Violence in Chennai?

9. The 2017 Protests End in Success

10. Is it Only a Temporary Success?

11. Who is Responsible for All the Hardships from the Protests?


Part II (link given at the end of this article):

12. Irritation over Ignorant Hindi Politicians Interfering in Tamil Life

13. Tamil Pride, Tamil Nationalism and Frustrations Over Discrimination of Tamils by Indian Government Overflow at Jallikattu Protests

14. Fringe Elements or Main Stream Tamil Nationalism

15. Decisions on Culture, Traditions and Heritage Should be Made by State Governments and State High Courts

16. Amend the Indian Constitution and Devolve Power to States

17. Devolution or Division


AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MLA - Member of (state) Legislative Assembly

1. Introduction

"Eruthazhuvuthal" (ஏறுதழுவுதல்) or "eru thazhuval" (ஏறுதழுவல்) is an ancient sports event in Tamil Nadu involving specially bred bulls; it is also known as "manju virattu" (மஞ்சு விரட்டு); nowadays is often called "jalli kattu" or jallikattu (சல்லிகட்டு, சல்லிக்கட்டு, ஜல்லிகட்டு, ஜல்லிக்கட்டு).

Jallikattu is a popular, annual event in mid-January, on the day after Pongal, the Tamil harvest festival. This day is called “maatu pongal” (maadu means cattle, especially bulls). Although the event is held in a number of Tamil Nadu villages, a few villages are especially known for it. People from all over Tamil Nadu and even a few foreigners come to see it.

Jallikattu is not bull fighting. It is bull cuddling or bull holding or bull taming (eruthazhuvuthal means bull cuddling or embracing the bull). Specially bred bulls are released into an arena. In one form of jallikattu unarmed men try to hold onto the bull as long as they can. In another form unarmed men try to take garlands or chains tied to the bull's horns or around the neck. In olden days, sometimes the bull owner gave his daughter in marriage to the winner of the sport.

2. Etymology or Origin of the Name Jallikattu

"Eruthazhuvuthal" (ஏறுதழுவுதல்) or "eru thazhuval" (ஏறுதழுவல்) and "manju virattu" (மஞ்சு விரட்டு) are the ancient original names of this sport. "jalli kattu" or jallikattu (சல்லிகட்டு, சல்லிக்கட்டு, ஜல்லிகட்டு, ஜல்லிக்கட்டு) is a more recent name. Some wrongly think that the origin of the name is in Sanskrit because of the letter “ja” in it. Actually “jallikattu” is a distortion of the pure Tamil name “sallikattu (challikattu)”. It is combination of two Tamil words “salli (challi)” and “kattu”. Salli means coin, especially small coins (small change) but also used in a broader sense as coin. Kattu means tie (verb). In some jallikattu events, owner of the bull or organizer of the event ties a chain of coins around the bull’s neck and men try to get the chain off the neck. The one who takes the chain gets to keep it and may also get other prizes. Thus the name salli kattu; and it distorted to jalli kattu.

3. Antiquity of Jallikattu

Jallikattu has a long history in Tamil Nadu. It dates back to the days of the Third Tamil Academy (Third Tamil Sangam) that was some 2000 years ago. A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization depicting the sport is preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi. A painting, estimated to be about 1,500 years old, discovered in a cave near Madurai, shows a man trying to control a bull. (This paragraph is based on Wikipedia and more information may be found in Wikipedia.)

4. Are Bulls Harmed? Why the Opposition from Critics?

The fact of the matter is that bulls are not harmed in jallikattu unlike in Spanish bull fighting. In fact bulls are very seldom, if ever injured. Occasional, unintended, accidental injuries do happen. Occasionally horses fall during horse races and break their legs. No one has banned horse racing. Then why pick on jallikattu?

The unarmed men at times get injured trying to hold on to the bulls. They went into the arena knowing the risks as in wrestling or boxing or auto racing. India has not banned any of these sports. Why ban jallikattu?

There are critics who say that the sport should be banned because bulls were given alcohol or sprayed with chili powder before the event. This is not the tradition and it is illegal to do so. There are laws in place and the bulls are inspected by veterinarians. If there is occasional violations of the law in specific cases, bring them to the attention of police and have the criminals prosecuted. There are a few instances of illegal use of performance enhancing drugs among Olympic athletes. Culprits are banned from Olympics but Olympics go on. No one ever demanded that Olympics be banned. Then why is India banning jallikattu?Another reason cited by critics of jalllikattu is that sometimes spectators are injured by bulls getting out of the arena. This is not the fault of the sports but that of the organizers not providing adequate security. Spectators have been occasionally injured in auto-racing, air shows and in fact in some music concerts when people get trampled. These events were never

Yet jallikattu, the ancient cultural event of TamilNadu was banned by decision makers a thousand miles away. Matters relating to Tamil culture and language should be decided by a court in TamilNadu consisting of judges from Tamil Nadu. If anyone has valid evidence that bulls are harmed, they should bring that to the attention of the state government for resolution, and accept the decision of state government and state high court.

5. The Supreme Court Ban and Tamil Nadu Wants it Removed by Law

Supreme Court of India banned jallikattu in May 2014 under India’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960), citing “supposed” animal cruelty. The next jallikattu events would have been in January 2015. Tamil Nadu State Government, that has already implemented procedures to protect the bulls and the people, appealed to the Government of India to enact laws that would legally overcome the Supreme Court ban and jallikattu could be held in January 2015. (DNA News website; January 16, 2015).

Indian government refused to act to restore the millennia old sports. This resulted in public protests in Tamil Nadu. Local stores closed and people raised black flags.

Jallikattu remained banned in 2016 also, with some public protests and a few events held in defiance.

6. Indian Government Charade and Duplicity

Indian government played a charade with Tamil Nadu. It issued an executive order in January 2016 allowing jallikattu, instead of passing a proper law or ordinance that could legally overcome the Supreme Court ban. Supreme Court put on hold the executive order thus continuing the ban on jallikattu. This should not come as a surprise to Indian government because legal experts publicly warned that the executive might not be enough to overcome the 2014 Supreme Court ban (The Hindu; January 9, 2016). Indian government ruling party was not particularly interested in allowing jallikattu, An Indian government minister, Ms. Menaka Gandhi from a northern state, publicly opposed it. She said that the ruling party BJP was against Jallikattu (The Hindu; January 17, 2015). Neither Prime Minister Modi nor party officials called her to withdraw the statement.

In our opinion, Indian government issued the executive order just to assuage the opposition in Tamil Nadu but not particularly interested in lifting the ban. This did not go unnoticed in Tamil Nadu. Indian government and Prime Minister Modi came under criticism during the massive 2017 protests. The News Minute.com wrote on January 19, 2017, “But the worst of the sloganeering, caustic remarks and unpublishable expletives were directed at [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi."

7. The 2017 Jallikattu Protests

Then came 2017 and the ban was still in effect. Tamil Nadu erupted in protests. The 2017 protests were more widespread and more intense than the 2015 and 2016 protests.

There were protest marches and demonstrations in many villages, towns and cities. Some towns and villages also went into full shutdown with shops and services closed. Because of space limitations it is not possible for us to go into details of protests at each and every place although every one of these demonstrations is important and contributed to the eventual success in lifting the ban. We limit ourselves to just two places: Alanganallur, known globally for its jallikattu events, and Chennai, the state capital.

7.1 Alanganallur Protests 2017

Alanganallur is a village in Madurai District of Tamil Nadu with a population of under 12,000. It is just 18 kilometers from Madurai City, the ancient citadel of Tamil. It is famous for its jallikattu events. It is only natural that this village became the focal point of protests against jallikattu ban. People from a number of Tamil Nadu districts, all the way from Chennai District in the north to Kanyakumari District in the south, were coming to Alanganallur to demonstrate. So large numbers of police were posted there. Government cancelled all bus services to the village and erected check posts and barricades in all the five mains routes to the village, to prevent the thousands of oncoming protesters from reaching the village. At least 50 people were arrested and 20 injured in police lathi charge (lathi – baton). There was also camaraderie between protesters and police; protesters brought food to the police because the police had not arranged food for themselves.

7.2 Chennai City Protests 2017

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the largest city in the state and also its capital. So it became another major centre for protests. People from in and around Chennai came to the famous Marina Beach (Chennai Marina or Madras Marina) for demonstrations. Business Standard (January 20, 2017) wrote, “Protesters, said to number almost 30,000, have been sleeping and eating on the beach and their numbers have grown steadily". Protesters included large numbers of male and female students, Information Technology (IT) professionals, housewives (some with children) and even some visually challenged people. Truckers, transport unions (bus drivers, etc,) and merchants joined the protest and called a one-day shutdown.

Protesters kept politicians off the protests for the most part; any visit by politicians to Marina protests were kept short. The opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) stopped trains in a few places and some students joined them but it was the apolitical protests that were huge and attracted people and press. Almost all political parties in the state opposed the jallikattu ban. State’s ruling party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) strongly opposed the ban but it cannot do anything without Indian government approval. State leaders of India’s ruling party Bhjaratiya Janata Party (BJP) expressed opposition to the ban; obviously they could not convince party leaders in the north. BJP government had the power to remove the ban (as we would see later) but gave excuses.

Lakshmi Saravanakumar, returned his Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puraskar award for his novel “Kaanakan” to protest the ban.

Protests went beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu and even beyond India. Tamils living in America, Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United Kingdom and some middle-eastern countries organized public protests. Within India, protests were reported in Bengaluru (Bangalore), Hydrabad and New Delhi.

What started and remained peaceful for the first several days turned violent in the last few days. Whether police attempts to disband the demonstrators started the violence or some demonstrators started the violence and police responded with tear gas and lathi charge (baton charge) is not clear. Stones and water bottled were thrown at police. A police station, police jeep, police motorcycles and some private cars were damaged or burned.

Protests around the state ended only after the Indian government approved Tamil Nadu’s law allowing jallikattu.

According to Indian Express (January 21, 2017), "As thousands of transport workers, traders, drivers, students, officials of many private firms and the film fraternity, among others, joined the agitation on the fourth day, an estimated 20 lakh people [2 million people] were out on streets across Tamil Nadu on Friday [January 20, 201] demanding removal of the ban on Jallikattu.”

8. Who was Responsible for Starting the Violence in Chennai?

We repeat this paragraph from Section 7, to put things in proper perspective: “What started and remained peaceful for the first several days turned violent in the last few days. Whether police attempts to disband the demonstrators started the violence or some demonstrators started the violence and police responded with tear gas and lathi charge (baton charge) is not clear. Stones and water bottled were thrown at police. A police station, police jeep, police motorcycles and some private cars were damaged or burned.”

Additional Commissioner of Police (Chennai), S. N. Seshasai, said that it was not the students but some anti-social groups that started the violence. A video came out showing a lady police setting fire to an auto; television channels broadcasted the video. Did she do it on her own or was she an agent provocateur? If the latter, who was behind it? Additional Commissioner of Police, S. N. Seshasai, said that the video was fake (Thinathanthi-Tamil newspaper with the largest circulation among Tamil newspapers, January 26, 2017). To our knowledge, he had not provided any evidence that the video was fake. We would have liked to see an independent investigation by a retired judge to investigate this matter.

9. The 2017 Protests End in Success

As the protests intensified, finally Indian government agreed to approve Tamil Nadu state law allowing jallikattu. Tamil Nadu legislative assembly unanimously passed a law for removal of the jallikattu ban (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Tamil Nadu Amendment) - 2017). Indian government approved it. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Tamil Nadu governor (un-elected by people; appointed by Indian government) C. Vidyasagar Rao signed it. Supreme Court did not interfere. It was legal to hold jallikattu. Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam opened a major jallikattu event. Jallikattu events went on in several places in Tamil Nadu. There were no problems in January 2018 also.

10. Is it Only a Temporary Success?

Some legal experts believe that Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Tamil Nadu Amendment) – 2017 by Tamil Nadu legislature is only a temporary solution and may not withstand future legal challenges before the Supreme Court. They think that Indian parliament (not Tamil Nadu legislative assembly) should amend The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act - 1960 (PCA Act of 1960) in order for jallikattu to continue permanently without future legal challenges. Yet the Indian government has not yet brought forth such an amendment before the parliament. India’s ruling party BJP has the majority in parliament and it could pass the amendment if it wants. This shows Indian government paying lip service to lifting the ban but not passing parliamentary legislation that could withstand any future legal challenge before the Supreme Court.

11. Who is Responsible for All the Hardships from the Protests?

Large-scale protests are not fun for protesters or people living in those areas. Protesters are away from their jobs, schools and colleges. Collectively tens of thousands of working hours were lost affecting the economy. Tens of thousand of hours of education were lost. It was an enormous loss for the people of Tamil Nadu. Protesters were injured in police lathi-charges (baton charges). Properties were damaged. Local people underwent unnecessary hardship because shops were closed and buses did not run in several places on one or more days. Yet it seems to be the only way to get our grievances addressed.

Who is to blame for the jallikattu protests and the accompanying hardships on people? Is it the protesters? No, it seems to be the only way to get attention to our just demands. Is it the Supreme Court? No, it interprets the laws; it does not make laws. Is it the state government? No. It can pass laws but needs Indian government approval before they take effect. Responsibility for the jallikattu protests and the accompanying economic losses and hardship rests on the shoulders of the Indian government.

People, politicians and government of Tamil Nadu had asked Indian government to help lift the ban. It did not do anything effective (see Section 8). Only after massive protests did the Indian government acted effectively. It could have done what it did in late January 2017 in mid-January to avert the massive protests. Indian government did not act but gave excuses. As late as January 20, 2027, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was giving excuses for not acting to lift the ban. “After a short meeting between the Prime Minister and [Tamil Nadu] Chief Minister in New Delhi on January 20, 2017, Prime Minister's Office tweeted that it cannot intervene as the matter is being heard by the Supreme Court ". (Business Standard; January 20, 2017) Yet shortly after this statement, the same Indian government approved the state law allowing jallikattu. What happened in the brief period? Did the Supreme Court say something? No. There was no comment from it. Only thing that happened was that protests were intensifying and no end in sight.

That seems to be the only reason for the Indian government to agree to approve the state law passed by state legislative assembly. Thus the prolonged protests and the associated hardships rest solely on the Indian government.

This is the reason we want the Indian constitution amended such that culture and traditions are under the sole jurisdiction of state governments and high courts. No approval from the Indian government should be required.

Continued in Part II 

India and Tamil Nadu Clash over Jallikattu, Tamil Identity, Tamil Pride and Tamil Nationalism (Part II) (by Arumugam Kumaraswamy and Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2018 (20 KB) (tn)


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Arumugam Kumaraswamy and Thanjai Nalangkilli

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