Nirupama Subramanian


Protests are continuing in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu for a “permanent solution” to the demand that Jallikattu be allowed even after the quick, synchronised surrender of the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government through the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Ordinance followed by a bill. The permanent solution that the protestors want is the removal of the bull from the list of animals restricted from performing and exhibition in Section 22 of the Act through a constitutional amendment.


After more than a week of peaceful protests, there has been violence in and around the Marina as police began evicting the protestors.


After believing that the government was ready to surrender on every demand, the Jallikattu protestors have realised that they cannot have their way all the time. Once that realisation set it, there had to be a bad ending.


All through the events of the last week, commentators waxed eloquent about the “beauty of democracy” unfolding on the sands of the Marina, where a leaderless gathering made its demands peacefully, no women or children were groped, no political leader was allowed to hijack the protest, and protestors picked up their rubbish after them.


The protestors declared this to be a victory of “right “over “wrong”, that it was because of the “rightness” of their demand that the government had no choice but to engage, at long last, with the popular sentiment on the ground for saving a cherished 2,000-year-old cultural practice.


Across the country, there are several such age-old customs and practices that have been outlawed even though they were practiced by large sections. Popular support for a cultural practice, or any cause, does not prove its “rightness”.


What really happened at the Marina over the last few days is that a dangerous new precedent has been set for the whole country, in which a large enough gathering of people is sufficient to “scare” a willing government into doing what “the people” want it to do. Of course, books and films have been banned after protests by far fewer people with “hurt sentiments”, but the protests in Chennai have shown how to demonstrate such injured pride more effectively, in a way that all sections of the polity — right, left and centre, and the media including film stars — want a piece of it.


So much so that even the Supreme Court, which was set to deliver its verdict on the legality of a notification by the Centre allowing Jallikattu to take place in 2016 over the court’s 2014 ban on the sport, was readily persuaded by the Centre to delay the judgement in view of the “prevailing cultural passion among people of Tamil Nadu in support of Jallikattu”.


But it was always clear, even before Monday’s violent meltdown, that not all protests, even peaceful ones, would get the indulgence that the protestors at the Marina got for more than a week. It’s kosher only as long as the government is on the same page. So all you young people in Kashmir, there’s no need to get all excited about the possibilities.


The protestors made a virtue of their rejection of politics, political parties and politicians, but somewhat contradictorily, also described the protests as a “revolution” — an out and out political act — and even drew comparisons with Gandhi’s satyagraha against the British, one of the biggest political movements of the 20th century.


They appeared not to realise that engagement with the state in a democracy takes place through elected representatives. If protestors such as the ones in Chennai think they have a better idea, the implementation of that idea has to take place via a political process. Call it a revolution, or an election, all such processes need leaders and political engagement. Declaring there are no leaders, and basking in the glory of “facelessness” is not saying much for the “revolution” itself, even if it is for “Tamil pride”. Is the holding of Jallikattu the ultimate goal of Tamil pride? If not, what else is on the plate? Why should PETA be banned for the sake of Tamil pride? What next for Tamil pride if the Supreme Court throws out the 2016 notification, as it is likely to do? Supporters of the protest should want to know. Unfortunately, no one is asking. In any case, who to ask?


Commentators struggling to understand what brought so many people together described it as a gathering of the “underclass” unhappy with the Modi government at the Centre and the AIADMK government in the state for various reasons. The disregard for federalism, resentment against demonetisation, against north India, against Hindi, against Hindutva (even though the RSS was also a supporter), globalisation and corporatisation, a fight for fishermen’s rights, all were cited as elements in the protest.


It is strange that these issues by themselves never agitated people before, enough for a radio jockey looking for content to start asking people to gather at the Marina for one or the other of them. Why is it that this underclass — of software techies and engineering college students — could be brought together only with an appeal to identity, ethnic pride and nationalism? Will they gather at the Marina for queer pride, against atrocities on Dalits, against honour killings, for the safety of women, for best practices in the use of water, for peace with our neighbours?


While the gathering showed the power of social media, and to the great glee of trolls, the “powerlessness” of MSM (mainstream media), it was also a demonstration of appalling ignorance. By all means, don’t believe everything you read in newspapers, but please believe what you see on social media even less.


Whatsapp messages warned people about how multinationals want to take over India — as if they have not already — with an illustration about two kinds of protein in milk, and how the native breeds of cows give milk with the more superior protein, while the ones with exotic foreign breeds give the inferior protein. No social media users in the protests seem to have had time for the fact that native breeds do not give milk adequate even for local demand, or that as a nation we are self-sufficient in milk. Unlike in the rest of Asia, the one kind of multi-nationals that we are not dependent on are the milk ones.


As for the demand for a “permanent solution” by way of an amendment in Parliament, someone please forward over Whatsapp that there is no such thing. Ultimately, the Supreme Court can review amendments, and it is the judges who will frame the permanent solution.


Lawless on the shore

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