Chennai, Jan. 19: No list of the best-behaved boys will be complete in India if it does not feature Viswanathan Anand, A.R. Rahman and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Yet, all three – the gentle chess giant, the harmonious harmony legend and the affable off-spinner – have expressed solidarity with the boys and girls who have been camping on Marina Beach for the past few days.
Which wind is blowing in the south of the Vindhyas that makes law-abiding role models wade into what essentially is a sub judice matter?
The one-lakh-strong throng on the beach wants an ordinance to legalise jallikattu, the bull-taming sport, with checks and balances in place to prevent cruelty to the animals. The Tamil Nadu government may promulgate one soon on its own with the Centre preferring to wait.
All citizens are within their rights to make such a demand in the peaceful manner in which the students have conducted themselves on the beach so far.
But the Supreme Court is right now writing the judgment on the legality of jallikattu. Any pressure tactic – even if it is not directly aimed at the court – while an issue is pending in court is not seen as a good portent for jurisprudence.
Against this backdrop, what Anand, Rahman and Ashwin have done stands out.
“Proud to be a #tamizhanda (Tamil),” Anand tweeted.
“Jallikattu a cultural symbol. I’m all for animal rights but it’s about tradition, livelihood. State rises again. In unison. In peace,” the resident of Spain, home of bullfighting, signed off.
A day earlier, Ashwin had lauded the protesters. “Scenes of peaceful protest all around TN. Unity, peace and resolve will show our plea in the right light,” he tweeted.
Oscar winner Rahman tweeted today: “I’m fasting tomorrow to support the spirit of Tamilnadu!”
A ready explanation for such an outspoken stand is that the bull-taming sport is a matter of pan-Tamil heritage and pride.
If proof is sought of jallikattu’s importance to Tamil culture, one can point as easily to “Sangam” literature from 2,000 years ago as to modern-day films by M.G. Ramachandran, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Each of them gave jallikattu a puff of stardust by taming bulls on celluloid.
“A Tamil hero’s filmography is incomplete if he has not featured in a jallikattu scene,” Kamal Haasan said recently while supporting the sport.
The Tamil literary work Kalithogai, an anthology of 150 poems dating between 6 BC and AD 2, mentions how women used to train bulls as a test for their suitors.
“The portion under the Mullai section is replete with references to ‘eru thazhuvudhal’ (embracing the bull), showing the sport has been practised for centuries,” “It was part of the tradition of those ages that a young woman would seek out only that young man who had successfully embraced the bull. It worked the other way too – a youth who had ‘tamed’ a bull could seek the hand of the bull owner’s daughter,” Tamil professor S. Raghuraman said.
Originally, the sport involved embracing the bull by its hump and running along with it for as long as one could. In a later version, a few coins would be tied to the bull’s horns with a towel ( salli kattu), and the player would try to grab the prize before releasing the animal.
The other variation is the manju virattu, literally “bull-chasing”, where the contestants race the bull and try to overtake it. “Bull rings began to be built to avert injuries to spectators, turning jallikattu into an arena sport,” filmmaker Thankarpachan said.
But some challenge the notions of “culture” and “pride”, suggesting these are easy labels that mask alleged casteist undertones that accompany the sport. They cite how the powerful OBC Thevars dominate the sport while Dalits are largely kept away.
“The bulls are owned by Thevars (the community to which chief minister O. Panneerselvam and AIADMK chief Sasikala belong), and the sport is played only by Thevar men in most places,” said Krishnaswamy, leader of the Dalit party Puthiya Thamizhagam. “It’s rare to find a Dalit bull-tamer since he cannot be seen taming a bull owned by a Thevar.”
C. Narayanaswamy, panchayat president of Palamedu, traditional venue for one of the three biggest jallikattu events, said: “That may be true of other villages but in Palamedu, even Dalits participate and the first bull let out usually belongs to a Dalit.”
He, however, conceded that the Thevar community, to which he belongs, dominates the sport, usually held in about 20 villages in five districts during the mid-January Pongal season and the Tamil New Year in April.
The students at Marina Beach denied that caste had anything to do with the sport. “We are 30 students from Presidency College, and 12 of our mates here today are Dalits. Is that not proof that Tamil pride has overcome caste divisions?” asked P. Arul, a history student.
But Vanni Arasu, spokesperson for Dalit party VCK, contended that while caste identities tend to take a back seat during mass movements in urban centres, they have a habit of dominating rural life.
“Go to Alanganallur (the largest village that hosts jallikattu events) and you will find that the bull owners and participants belong only to the Thevar community,” he said. “They sometimes let youths from other OBC groups participate but not Dalits. With so much built-in discrimination, how can jallikattu be called the symbol of Tamil pride and culture?”
Some speculated that the celebrities were insuring themselves against criticism from pro-jallikattu groups, fearing that any silence on their part could be mistaken for support for the ban.
Days ago, Tamil actress Trisha was bullied on the social media for her association with animal rights group Peta, whose petition had brought the ban.
“Trisha had merely supported Peta’s campaign for the adoption of stray dogs and was unjustly targeted,” said Nikhil Murugan, a film PRO. “Actor Vishal, who had also supported a drive for stray dogs, got trolled too. So everyone wants to make their position clear.”
But Thuglak editor S. Gurumurthy suggested that “neutral” people like Rahman, Ashwin and Anand had joined in only because the protests had remained “apolitical till now”. “It’s good to identify with the popular mood when there’s a genuine grievance and no politics behind it,” he said. Gurumurthy said such support from celebrities could help prevent fringe groups and pro-LTTE lobbies from hijacking the protests.
Does this mean that everyone south of the Vindhyas is sold on the sport?
No, not if the voice from Mount Road is heard.
“We want a country where it is not possible to make a public spectacle of death and suffering to an animal,” N. Ram of The Hindu, the newspaper known as the Mahavishnu of Mount Road, tweeted, quoting from Catalan minister Joseph Rull’s reaction to the Spanish constitutional court overturning Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting last year.
“Tamil Nadu is a progressive state. Its rural youth play volleyball, cricket, football, kabaddi…. They are fine without jallikattu,” Ram added.
Courtesy : Telegraph