COLUMN: The success of Jallikattu protests is a triumph of the privileged
Chennai: Exactly a year ago, students across India protested demanding justice for Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide after being allegedly harassed by authorities of the University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, where he was pursuing his higher education.
The protest to end caste-based discrimination in higher educational institutions, starting from mid-January till end-of-February, was hosted in almost every city of the country. From Delhi, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram to Guwahati, protests demanding justice for Rohith soon became a pan-India movement.
However, all efforts of the youngsters proved futile. Till date, Rohith has not received justice and the main demand of the protesters for a Rohith Vemula Act to push back against the discrimination that Dalit students face is far from reality.
A year later, when the youth brigade in Chennai backed by film and cricket stars, rose in rebellion at Marina Beach, in the heart of the city, to allow them to hold Jallikattu, the traditional bull-taming sport, within seven days both the Centre and the state government bowed down to the dissenters.
Jallikattu, which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014, citing cruelty against the animal, is once again legalised by an ordinance, making a mockery of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
The pro-Jallikattu demonstrators are mostly 'provincial' in nature, people belonging to one state and speak a common language. This was not a national subject. The love for the sport will not find any resonance with youths from Assam or Jammu and Kashmir. But plight of Rohith's family and friends brought tears into the eyes of many, because caste-based discrimination is a country-wide malaise.
The legendary Manipuri activist and poet Irom Chanu Sharmila had extended her solidarity to the progressive movement started by friends of Rohith and demanded justice for the deceased Dalit research scholar.
So, what explains the success of the pro-Jallikattu outcry and failure of the pro-Dalit movement?
The answer is not hard to find. The pro-Jallikattu agitation was primarily led by upper-caste and powerful OBC community men. In fact, Dalits in Tamil Nadu are usually not allowed to participate in the sport. In the last few days, as pro-Jallikattu sentiments swept across the state, citing the need to save Tamil identity and pride by revoking the ban on bull-taming sport, many Dalit leaders called Jallikattu as feudal and regressive.
The Jallikattu revolt was initially ignited by techies, who made good use of internet penetration across Chennai. It was because of the extensive use of social media which helped drum up support for Jallikattu among the youth.
Remember, these men, with money at their disposal, did not even think twice before flying down to Chennai from Singapore to be part of the crowd in Marina Beach. Such show-off of 'money power' in any people-led movement in the country is a rarity, previously unheard of.
The pro-Jallikattu brigade has always maintained that it was a non-political agitation. However, as soon as young men started their march to the Marina Beach in the initial days of the protests, politicians from All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to Bharatiya Janata Party, all in unison supported the rights of Tamil men to tame bulls.
The chief minister of the state, O Panneerselvam, went to Delhi immediately to request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring an ordinance to pave way for the sport in the state. The CM did not show such quickness to reach out to the Centre when more than 140 farmers committed suicide due to drought in the state.
One 'positive' aspect constantly being highlighted by the media about the Jallikattu protests is its peaceful nature. However, there is nothing 'peace'ful about the sport itself. It is a violent and dangerous sport which puts to risk the lives of both men and bulls. On Monday, the day the TN government legalised Jallikattu, the capital city witnessed large-scale violence, which the protesters blamed on 'anti-social' elements. Thus, violence and Jallikattu literally complement each other.
Last, but not the least, the days when Jallikattu agitation was at its peak and TV crews from across the country camped at the Marina Beach, women in 30 cities across India marched as a part of the - I Will Go Out - campaign on January 21.
The women-centric event demanded the rights of females to reclaim the streets of the country which are traditionally unsafe for them. The campaign did not trigger any debate. It passed-off without any notice.
This makes one thing clear: No agitation in a country of 'million mutinies' will ever be noticed until it has the backing of the socially, economically and politically privileged.