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CHENNAI: Chennai’s Marina beach became the epicentre of protests against the ban on Jallikattu statewide in Tamil Nadu with thousands of youngsters stomping about in the sands overnight to register their support to the traditional bull-taming spots. And as the protest grew into an Arab Spring of sorts, film stars joined the bandwagon, actors Suriya and Vijay being the latest, to support the protesters.
As an alarmed administration called in some of the disparate protesters to negotiate, the Madras High Court refused to interfere on the issue as the Supreme Court “is seized of the matter”.
The spontaneous protests which began Tuesday morning with a small crowd gathering opposite the Vivekananda Illam around 6 am, swelled through the evening and the night as youngsters streamed into the seafront all night after coming to know of the protest through social media.
A power cut last evening and the presence of a large number of policemen at the site failed to stop people from coming. As the protesters stayed put on the beach this morning, the matter was raised in the Madras High Court by an advocate, K Balu, but the first bench, comprising chief justice S K Kaul and justice M Sundar, declined to "interfere in the matter at this stage."
"First of all, the apex court is seized of the matter. When it is so, even the High Court and the Tamil Nadu government cannot do anything and moreover, Marina Road is not a place for demonstrations. The court does not want to interfere at this stage," the judges said.
Protests erupted in support of Jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming sport popular all over Tamil Nadu, after the Supreme Court on January 12 refused to pass an order allowing the sport before the Pongal festival. The apex court had outlawed Jallikattu in 2014 and the state government's review petition was dismissed last December.
Pongal has passed but the protests have continued in various parts of rural Tamil Nadu with defiant Jallikattu enthusiasts organizing the sport at several places in the past few days.
The protests moved to Marina beach Tuesday morning as youngsters were drawn to the iconic seafront through social media campaigns. The crowds stayed on overnight despite senior police officers and ministers holding talks with "representatives" of the protestors. After two rounds of talks failed, they were taken to Tami Nadu fisheries minister D Jayakumar's residence in Santhome where sports and youth welfare minister Ma Foi K Pandiarajan joined them for the negotiation.
One of the protesters, Nazir Khan who administers a social media site (Tamizhan Memes) which galvanised support for the protest said he put four demands to the ministers: conduct Jallikattu without any delay, amend Sections 22 and 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, scrap FIRs filed against protestors in Alanganallur and ban the animal welfare organisation PETA in Tamil Nadu.
"The ministers replied that the demands were beyond their powers to enforce as the ban on Jallikattu was decreed by the Supreme Court and only the Centre had the powers to issue an ordinance allowing the sport," said R K Vilasini, a playback singer and relative of music composer Ilayaraja who was also a part of the negotiating team.
However, she added that the ministers spoke to chief minister O Pannerselvam around 2 am Wednesday and following an assurance that an official statement would be released supporting the protests, they returned to the protesting arena.
Meanwhile, people organising the crowd at Marina had no clue about these talks being held and engaged in a verbal argument with reporters for broadcasting 'false' news about the protests. "The media and government are hand in glove on this issue and are playing cheap tricks to disperse us," said R Jagan, an IT employee.
There was chaos on Marina beach as soapbox orators expressed separate demands on portable public addressing systems. They ranged from resignation of all Tamil Nadu MPs to an “unconditional apology” from the state.
Though a 10-member team from among the unorganised protesters including activist M S Chandramohan from Arappor Iyakkam which held negotiations with the administration tried to explain what had happened in their talks, the crowd was not ready to listen and continued to raise anti-PETA and anti-central government slogans.
Food, beverages, water and other refreshments were organised through WhatsApp and other social media sites. A group from Ice House led by a private bank employee A Zinna gathered 20 people to clean up the litter.
Refusing to disperse, hundreds were seen sleeping on the lawns adjacent to the beach. Several film stars and TV celebrities including hip hop star Tamizha Aadi, RJ Balaji, G V Prakash Kumar and Neeya NaanaGopinath turned up to express their support.
At 4 am, additional commissioner of police K Shankar and Mylapore deputy commissioner of police V Balakrishnan spoke to the crowd through loud speakers reiterating the support from them on behalf of the state. However, the crowd disregarded them and continued their protests.
On Wednesday morning, as TV channels covered the protests live, actors Suriya and Vijay expressed their support to Jallikattu. Suriya said the protest by young volunteers at the Chennai seafront is reflective of the mood of the people of Tamil Nadu while Vijay said Jallikattu is part of the identity of the Tamil people.
Suriya, star of the Singam franchise, criticized the animal rights group PETA India for opposing Jallikattu, saying it was "paradoxical to see those aiding the extinction of native breeds talk about cruelty to animals". He alleged that PETA was carrying out a "campaign of lies" that Jallikattu was inimical to bulls. He added that the people of Tamil Nadu should resist any move that would endanger "our heritage and identity."
Vijay, in a video message, welcomed the protests, saying they were agitating "across political differences." He too attacked PETA, saying "Tamil Nadu will rejoice if it is sent back," apparently calling for a ban against the NGO.
Superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan had also extended their support to the bull-taming sport.