The Tamil Nadu government has itself to blame for the violence unleashed by pro-Jallikattu protestors in Chennai on Monday. The government had, in effect, prepared the ground for the protestors to break the law when it ignored the fact that the matter was sub judice and promulgated an ordinance to circumvent the existing ban on Jallikattu. The government’s bowing to popular will at the expense of the judicial process — an order is due from the Supreme Court on the matter — undermined the majesty of the law. Can it now blame the protestors for disrupting public order? It could even be said that the mob took the cue from the state government, which endorsed the calls to risk contempt of court in the name of tradition and cultural pride and used its might to push through first an ordinance and then a bill to facilitate Jallikattu.
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The protestors at Marina were an inchoate group of young people without any leadership when protests began last Tuesday. They raised a slew of issues including drought and rural distress even though the focal point was the ban on Jallikattu, a sport identified with peasant communities in the state. As the crowds swelled and protests spread, the government agreed with the argument that the Centre, which had amended the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, that led to the ban on Jallikattu, and the higher judiciary, were ignorant of, if not disrespectful to, Tamil cultural values. The state administration could have, instead, engaged with the protestors and impressed on them the importance of respecting the legal process. It could have challenged the narrative that attempted to reduce Tamil culture to Jallikattu and announced initiatives to address and alleviate rural distress. Most importantly, the government could have been firm about waiting for due process to be completed before promising executive action enabling the conduct of Jallikattu. These failures have now come back to haunt the state government as protestors, surprised by the sudden turnaround in the government’s approach to them, wreaked havoc on Chennai streets.
The events at Marina must also bring a moment of reflection for the judiciary. The Supreme Court, which observed that society must move from an anthropocentric worldview to a biocentric ethics when it ruled against the conduct of Jallikattu on the ground that it involved cruelty to animals, could ponder the question: Wouldn’t regulation offer a better prospect than an outright ban in enforcing its own guideline?
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