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Jallikattu protests: Not new for Tamils to stand united for something they believe in

In Tamil Nadu, admiration or respect for something – whether it's a centuries-old cultural practice, a cinematic demigod, or a political icon – has always been accompanied by heightened emotions. Be it Jallikattu, the conflict over the Cauvery river, the unbounded reverence for Tamil superstar Rajnikanth

Written by Radhika Iyengar |
January 23, 2017 5:16:47 pm
Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu protests, tamil nadu government, madras high court, madras HC Jallikattu, Jallikattu news, india news, indian expresss news Chennai: Youngsters and students participate in a protest to lift the ban on Jallikattu and impose ban on PETA, at Kamarajar Salai, Marina Beach in Chennai. PTI Photo by R Senthil Kumar

For those who are unfamiliar with Tamil Nadu’s culture and tradition, the mass protests and the fierceness to protect Jallikattu (the sport of bull taming) may seem alarming, and to a certain degree, absurd. The beauty about Tamil Nadu however is that if there is a cultural practice that is a significant part of the Tamil identity, the people will do everything in their power to come together as a unified whole to protect it.

And understandably so. In India, tradition steeped in culture and religion is what defines us. It’s melded into our identity. In fact, tradition delineates our understanding of ourselves – and to many, it’s what makes them whole. Therefore, if we are robbed of that one facet which is intrinsic to us or plays an important role in our lives, we are bound to feel unhinged; we are bound to grapple with our sense of identity. In a similar vein, for the people of Tamil Nadu, banning of Jallikattu is akin to challenging the Tamil identity, which is rooted in tradition.

WATCH VIDEO | Centre Seeks To Withdraw January 16 Notification On Jallikattu Days Before Supreme Court Judgment

If you look at history, Tamil Nadu has always been vocal and emotionally charged about homegrown cultural and political matters, for these matters are inextricably linked and rooted in its identity. The people have a fervent determination to ensure that their Tamil identity (which for many is synonymous with Tamil pride) is preserved and kept intact. The moment there is threat of a potential paradigm shift, they unify as a whole, articulating their discomfort in the form of protest. In fact, while Jallikattu protests turned violent at Marina Beach on Monday, a brigade of Tamil actors including Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth have gone on record to exhibit their solidarity for the pro-Jallikattu protests.

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In Tamil Nadu, admiration or respect for something – whether it’s a centuries-old cultural practice, a cinematic demigod, or a political icon – has always been accompanied by heightened emotions. Be it Jallikattu, the conflict over the Cauvery river, the unbounded reverence for Tamil superstar Rajnikanth, or the passing of political behemoths like MG Ramachandran (MGR) and J Jayalaithaa – Tamil Nadu’s display of emotions has always been extreme, often bordering on the theatrical and sometimes, arguably, neurotic. When MGR passed away for example, the grieving state broke into mass riots. When Jayalalithaa passed away, reports surfaced of people committing suicide, setting themselves ablaze and of others dying in shock.

This is a phenomenon that is idiosyncratic to Tamil Nadu. It’s something that is perhaps not seen in any other Indian state.

Chennai: Supporters of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa cry in front of Apollo hospital after Jayalalithaa suffered a cardiac arrest in Chennai on Monday. PTI Photo R Senthil Kumar (PTI12_5_2016_000089A) Chennai: Mourning, chest-beating supporters of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who pitched themselves in front of Apollo hospital where Jayalalithaa was admitted days before her death. PTI Photo R Senthil Kumar

Interestingly, one of the overarching threads that tie Jallikattu and Tamil Nadu’s explicit, fanatical devotion to certain political icons is – Tamil cinema. Right from C.N. Annadurai (founder of the Dravidian party, DMK) to MGR, Jayalalithaa, and even M. Karunanidhi – these individuals have been able to wield inimitable clout due to their pre-established cinematic identities. Like that, Jallikattu too has played an integral role in the Tamil cinema.

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From Murattu Kalai (1980), a film that depicts a young Rajnikanth taming a wild bull, to Cheran Pandian (1991) which depicts the hero locking horns with a bull at a Jallikattu contest; from Virumandi (2004) that features Kamal Haasan taming the bull, to Ilami (2016) which is a tribute to the sport of Jallikattu – Tamil cinema is peppered with films that celebrate Jallikattu and understand the gravitational pull it has for the audience. So, while many may argue that Jallikattu is a valorous sport played by peasantry in rural South India alone, its portrayal in Tamil cinema (popular culture) could also be one of the reasons why the state fervently defends it.

From a sport Jallikattu may have transformed into a symbol of Tamil pride, but experts claim that the emotional response to the banning of Jallikattu, is part of a larger movement  — which umbrellas the fight against issues like lack of rural employment, farmers’ crisis, drought and rural poverty. Protecting Jallikattu therefore, is not a cultural assertion alone. It’s much more than that.

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First published on: 23-01-2017 at 05:16:47 pm
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