After a morning of violent protests, the Tamil Nadu state Assembly on Monday passed a bill legalising Jallikattu, replacing the ordinance promulgated on Saturday. The latest development comes at a time when peaceful protests over the issue turned violent. Reports indicate that the violence began after local police started forcibly evicting pro-Jallikattu protesters on Monday morning using batons to disperse the crowds. As people ran from the beach and gathered on the streets, there was more violence. Nonetheless, there are some, who argue that acts of vandalism, destruction of property and attacks on police personnel were the work of some anti-social elements. Some have even claimed that hardline Tamil nationalist elements have used the protest platform to vent their anger against the Union government in an attempt to ensure that the agitation proceeds further. Despite these claims, many have condemned the actions of the police and asked protesters to ease off. Incidents of police excesses should be subject to an impartial investigation and those found violating the law punished. Whatever the reasons for the violence, the goal of the pro-Jallikattu protests has been fulfilled. For the millions who had protested against the Apex Court's decision, Monday's developments in the state Assembly should bring some joy. Unlike the claims of some critics, the bill passed through the Assembly ensures a permanent law that is likely to protect the traditional sport from any further legal challenges. It would be interesting to see how the Apex Court reacts to these developments.
It is also imperative to understand the context within which these protests emanated. Some of the messages coming out of the agitation should hold pointers for future governments at the Centre and the Apex Court. In the protests, a recurring theme is that Tamil interests are being subject to marginalisation in the Indian Union. There is now a reaffirmation of Tamil identity and the federal spirit. For example, any move to promote Hindi as a unilingual language in educational and administrative fields will come into conflict with a stream of cultural interests and political pressure. Many in the state view the Centre's push for Hindi and Sanskrit as a direct challenge to Tamil. Meanwhile, the State is also undergoing one its worst droughts in recent memory, coinciding with the harvest season. The current agrarian crisis claimed the lives of over 140 people in the last three months of 2016. Vast sections of the rural populace remain bitter towards Karnataka for refusing to implement the Supreme Court's orders directing it to release Tamil Nadu's rightful share of the Cauvery water. The projection of Jallikattu as an event integral to Tamil culture has seemingly become a rallying point for such grievances. Matters haven't been helped by the perception of a weak State-level leadership, which some observers believe, are not strong enough to challenge the Centre and protect Tamil interests after the demise of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
In a recent column for this newspaper, columnist Garga Chatterjee argues that "Whether Jallikattu is right or wrong, should it be discontinued or continued or continued with modifications, is an out and out Tamil affair. That the Animal Welfare Board of India, which doesn't accurately reflect Tamil opinion, gets to decide on this shows how Tamils are infantilised as being incapable of determining their affairs, including their cultural practices or for that matter, animal welfare issues. This stems from the two long lists called the Union and Concurrent lists of the Constitution of India that gives almost unfettered right to distant people from Union government agencies over the lives and issues of people of various states. It is this false federalism, in which state rights have been completely disrespected, are the source of most of the problems and solutions to this are achievable within the ambit of the Indian Constitution."