CHENNAI: Tamils rose as one during the massive January 2017 protests against the Supreme Court ban on jallikattu. Passions run high among people in the state — across classes and communities — when it comes to the traditional rural sport. And it was this passion for jallikattu that kept under wraps the apparent divide among some communities in several villages in the conduct of the event.
With caste friction clouding the conduct of jallikattu at Avaniapuram, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court has ordered that a committee constituted by the court would conduct the event.
In many places, members of the organizing committee are non-Dalits, mostly thevars. They bar people from the scheduled castes as the sport is organized as part of festivals in temples belonging to people from non-Dalit communities where Dalits are not welcome. Such divisions are played down. So is the fact that it is money that decides representation. These narratives are, however, denied by organizers of the event. “There is no denying that only a certain backward caste community is part of the organizing committee. This is because they are in a majority in the village,” says S Sundararajan, a bull owner from Ponnamaravathi of Pudukottai district.
Backward class communities come together to organize jallikattu at Ponnamaravathi. Dalits are excluded not just in the sport, but in village temple festivals too, he says. Owner of five bulls, G R Siva from Suriyur village says: “Organizing jallikattu involves spending lakhs of rupees. Those who spend more get better representation. The community that is in a majority pumps in more money, taking away the responsibilities from those who are less in number. This has been the case for generations,” he says.
“We have been opposing jallikattu because discrimination exists just as in entry to temples,” says S Manivannan, state vice-president of the Bahujan Samaj Party. In most cases, people from the scheduled castes keep away from the event to avoid getting insulted, he says.
Jallikattu organizers brush away such allegations. State secretary of the Tamilar Veera Vilayattu Pathukappu Peravai T Ondiraj said that apart from the scheduled castes, Muslims also take part in jallikattu. “In villages, it is the temple committee that holds jallikattu. People from the backward classes have been doing this for generations as part of the rituals associated with the temple,” said state president of Veera Vilayattu Meetpu Kazhagam T Rajesh.
At Pothametuppatty in Manapparai and Mettuirungalur village near Manachanallur in Trichy district, Christians from the scheduled caste community conduct jallikattu. In some places, people from the backward castes and the scheduled castes together conduct the event, he said.
Just because the scheduled castes are represented less in organizing jallikattu, it may appear there is discrimination. That’s not true, says coordinator for Anbil region in Trichy for the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai Udaya Kumar. In the present scenario, those who have money get more representation as the event is conducted by villagers and the administration is a mere facilitator. “It’s the government that monitors the proceedings and community certificates are not part of the selection process. It is the physical fitness and age of men and animals which are considered. This is enough to disprove any theory of caste domination,” said P Rajasekhar, president of the Jallikattu Peravai.
Jallikattu, or Manjavirattu, is held in 18 villages in April and May every year across the Madurai region, a thevar dominated area. “For more than two centuries, it is a person from the naavidhan community who is given the first right (mudhalmariyadhai) and to inaugurate the game,” he said.
In the Mukkampatti jallikattu, near Thiruvathavur in Madurai, which is held on the Mahashivaratri day every year, people must wait for the temple priest, a Dalit, to kick off the game. People enter the arena only after he applies holy ash on their forehead, said Rajasekhar.
An organizer of the Alanganallur game insists caste is very much a part of the game, and there are instances in the past where Dalits have been punished or attacked for taming bulls of non-Dalit communities. Such instances have come down in the past three years since the united struggle to conduct the game,” he said.
Date: 14 Jan 2019