Jan 24, 2017

The Jallikattu Uprising...

Tamil Nadu saw the biggest people's uprising after the Anti-Hindi uprising of the 1960s. The uprising was largely led by the youth and was spontaneous, fired by the social media. The spark for the movement was the ban on 'Jallikattu'.
Indus Seal depicting Jallikattu 
Jallikattu - a rare clip from the British era
Jallikattu , the traditional bull baiting sport of the Tamils is an annual event during the Pongal (harvest) festival. Believed to be a sporting culture of Tamils for thousands of years, Jallikattu  is perceived by many people as a symbol of Tamil pride and valor. A decade ago,
I had lamented here (Jallikattu 2005) and here (Jallikattu banned 2006) on the Jallikattu ban and the way the sport had deteriorated after the 1990s. But things looked promising after the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act was passed in 2009 and the sport was held under strict regulations. But Animal welfare organizations and the PeTA lobby had not given up. The Supreme Court withheld the ban and the next three years passed without the event.

Meanwhile awareness on the 'socio-cultural' importance of Jallikattu, the need to preserve native cattle breed, the "hidden agenda" of the anti Jallikattu lobby soon started spreading in the social media. This awareness combined with a seething anger on many social issues over the years, a feeling of second hand treatment of the Tamil state by successive Union governments, the political vacuum left by Amma's demise and the political tamasha that followed, the recent Demonetization turbulence, the farmer and fishermen plights, etc, was burning like a magma inside. The Jallikattu issue I feel was only a spark that ignited the fire.

Tamil Pride flying high @ Chennai Marina

The night when the Stars came down
The youth movement gained traction as a matter of Hurt Tamil Pride, slowly pulling in Tamils of all age group. People came as families to an agitation for the first time in our history. The protest set high moral standards as a bench mark for future people's movements. The Marina beach in Chennai soon became the ground zero and the crowd swelled to a million.

The most beautiful moment for me was when the lights were switched off by the police at the Marina and the protesters switched on their mobile torches and held ground. As the entire beach glittered like a starry sky, it was goosebumps for people who were glued to the TV sets !
There will be many who may have disagreement with the cause of this movement, but everyone will surely admire the democratic way the protest was held. The way the students behaved with responsibility and maturity even in the absence of a leader. The way people stood united above caste and religion.

Protest in Madurai - my friend CT's family

age no bar...
The way politicians were denied entry to the protest venues. The way public came forward to distribute food and water to the protesters . The way some schools and colleges arranged their buses for transportation to protest sites. The way social networking sites were positively used to garner support and coordinate the movement on the ground.The way Tamils from around the world stood united. This was a historic time in Tamil history.

Finally the system budged. The victory came when an ordinance was passed by the state and the ban temporarily lifted. A first but sure step towards saving Jallikattu. A great victory for the youth who have given a ray of hope for all Tamils. The world saw once again what people power is and why Gandhi ji's 'ahimsa' can still be relevant and potent today.

But it was a sad last day yesterday when police let lose their brute force to disperse the protesters. As per media reports, the last couple of days saw a slow infiltration of anti-national and fringe radical elements into the protest crowd, trying to hijack the cause and move it into dangerous directions. This gave the police enough justification to use force. What should have been a victory celebration, turned into a chaotic riot like situation. Anti social elements instigated more violence around the Chennai city and police too responded in the way they know so well. Some men in uniform themselves went the extra mile by resorting to arson and violence. It was a day of shame.
Anyway, the last day events are to be ignored in the larger significance of the movement. What has stood out is a Victory led by the generation-next. A victory that reinforced our belief in the future , a victory that upheld the power of non violence taught by the Father of our Nation and a victory for Tamil Pride!

What next ?

The Big question is 'what next'?  Of course , Jallikattu will be held in a few days. People will be happy and soon all forgiven and forgotten. But I feel its time for deeper introspection. The sport should under go fundamental reforms. It can happen only with all stake holders coming together, from bull owners, village organizers to the government.

The most fundamental change I suggest is for the Sports ministry to build Jallikattu Stadiums. State of the art Stadiums that can seat spectators safely and comfortably. Stadiums with proper accommodation for bulls with Veterinary/medical team and facilities for participants. Make sure the rules and guidelines of Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu is enforced and followed strictly. Have a team of professional referees and Punish violators of rules with red card and bar them like any other sport. May be even create a Jallikattu league like the Kabbadi league.
Its time to declare it a Heritage sport and move on...

[Note : Click on red italicized words for relevant links ] 


  1. I agree with your last paragraph! This sport should be given proper guidelines. A stadium should be better.

    Hope our govt. will take action.

  2. If only there could be one issue that everyone could agree on.

  3. absolutely with you on this. we have a similar issue in Coastal Karnataka where Kambala (bull race) suffers the same fate.
    Hats off to the people of Chennai. And that too without "a leader" that's noteworthy.

  4. Very interesting post and thanks for sharing !!!

  5. interesting article.
    the voice of the masses cannot be ignored.

  6. Such an interesting post - thank you for your insight into this fascinating tradition.

  7. Totally greed and well covered the details! Youth revolution has showcased the power of democracy and i wish it uprises whenever things turn against the social interest.