The first 50 protesters reached the Marina Beach here on Tuesday morning, at around 8 am. By midnight, the crowd had swelled to about 6,000. Students, software professionals, playback singers, filmmakers, bank employees — all gathered to protest against the ban on Jallikattu, the traditional bull-taming sport.
The arrest of 200-odd protesters in Alaganallur, a village near Madurai which is famous for Jallikattu, on Monday night acted as the catalyst. The mass movement, although leaderless and largely peaceful, spread across Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, with an estimated four lakh people gathering in at least 100 locations spread across Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem and Madurai.
WATCH VIDEO | Jallikattu Row Intensifies, Tamil Nadu CM O Panneerselvam Wants Presidential Ordinance
As the protest stretched into Wednesday night, with about 15,000 people gathering at the Marina Beach, top politicians were kept away — DMK leader M K Stalin and Tamil nationalist leader Seeman were among those who were asked to leave. Instead, 10 representatives were selected from among the protesters to hold talks with the state government.
The primary demand is for the Centre to bring in an amendment to Section 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, to include Jallikattu bulls in the category of trained animals used in the military, police, exhibitions, zoos or for educational and scientific purposes.
But R J Hasini, a playback singer in her early 30s who was picked as one of the 10 representatives, said they are also fighting for the cause of farmers. “We want the government to immediately release compensation for the drought-hit farmers. At a time when the Centre and judiciary are taking away our identity and rights, Jallikattu acted as the trigger,” said Hasini, who is the niece of musician Ilayaraja.
Stating that there was no communication between the people and government, she said, “the rulers have reached a point where they think that they can do anything without accountability.”
Others agreed that the ban on Jallikattu was just the trigger behind the spontaneous protests. “The frustration among people was building for some time,” said Chandra Mohan, a filmmaker-turned-anti corruption activist. “Our main focus is to lift the ban on Jallikattu and send a message to the people at the helm that you cannot snatch away certain rights that are a part and parcel of farmers,” he said.
“Dissent was building against the Centre, ever since it rolled out many anti-people policies and decisions — from the Kudankulam nuclear plant to demonetisation. We all have a primary identity as an Indian. But now, many have started talking about a Tamil identity, as the Centre is showing disrespect to our regional identity,” said Mohan.
While some posters targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the state government was not spared too, with posters asking Chinnamma (AIADMK chief Sasikala) where OPS (Chief Minister O Panneerselvam) was amid all the clamour in the state.
S N Jinnah, a deputy manager with a private sector bank, was among the first 50 people who gathered at the Marina Beach on Tuesday morning. He was also one of the 10 representatives selected. “There was no coordination or publicity, but news about the protest spread like wildfire,” said Jinnah, who brought 60 of his colleagues to the beach.
Hailing from diverse backgrounds, they all found common cause — Soundar, a character actor, Rajesh, a playback singer, Sabari, a businessman, and Thanveer, who is self-employed, were among the others managing the crowd on Tuesday night.
The call to rally spread through social media, including WhatsApp groups and popular Facebook pages like Chennai Memes which has over 6 lakh followers, Smile Settai and Tamizhan Memes.
“I don’t believe in Tamil nationalism. But many people have decided to come here as they feel their Tamil identity has been threatened. When they impose nationalism, they shouldn’t forget that Tamils have a strong regional identity too, which makes us really proud,” said Sudhakaran, a doctor. He and his friends distributed bananas and milk to the protesters.
WATCH | ‘Jallikattu’ Stir Continues To Spread As Thousands Protest Against Ban
“Without issuing an ordinance, (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi sent us Happy Pongal wishes. We celebrated a Karuppu (Black) Pongal here. Tamilians shouldn’t take this anymore,” said M Radhakrishnan, 23, an assistant film director. “I came with eight of my friends in the afternoon. I am not leaving this place until they lift the ban,” he said, at around 2 am on Wednesday.
Satheesh Kumar, a chef with a five-star hotel, headed to the beach with six of his colleagues after work. “I need to report for work in the morning. By then, four of my colleagues will replace me here after their night shift,” he said.
Software professionals also made their way to the beach after their shift, forming a huge part of the crowd. As did college students, with reinforcements arriving as early as 6 am on Wednesday.
“The Centre has been cheating Tamilians for long. PETA awarded ‘Man of the Year Award’ to a judge who banned our traditional art form. The recent developments, including the order to stand up during the national anthem in cinema halls, are frustrating. Does the government think that people are fools to obey all their orders,” said A Pravin, a software professional-cum-civil service aspirant from Trichy who had a tattoo of the Indian flag on his right hand. He said his village celebrated Jallikattu with over 50 bulls.
WATCH VIDEO | Protests Intensify In Tamil Nadu Against Ban On Jallikattu
B Suganya, a dubbing artist in her 20s, said they would win the battle. “(But) it doesn’t matter even if they (Centre) defeat Tamils again. It is all about expressing our anger… we have to express it,” she said. “Our CM should have been more active… I have come here for farmers too, not just for Jallikattu, and to take part in a protest to sustain and protect our farmers and their traditions,” she said.
Refusing to call off their protest until they get an assurance from the Centre and state government, the crowd prepared for another night-long vigil at the beach on Wednesday.