Chennai, January 19: The ban on Jallikattu has turned into an issue of identity for residents of Tamil Nadu. With mass protests staged across Tamil Nadu and many other parts of the world (even as far away as Australia), the issue has become a matter of burning national importance.

As thousands continue to gather at Marina beach in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam is set to meet the Chief Minister today to request an ordinance against the ban placed on the sport. So what exactly is the controversy all about and why are Tamilians protesting so widely.

What is Jallitkattu?

Jallikattu is a traditional sport involving the taming of bulls. It is usually conducted with pomp during the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal. Locally called Eruthazhuvuthal or Manju virattu, the sport involves instigating a bull and letting it loose in an arena. Healthy adults, usually young men in their twenties, tame the wild bull within the arena.

The bull-taming is usually done by latching onto the bull’s back or it’s horns, thereby making it submissive. The bulls that are used are specially built for the purpose by specified breeders. While the sport sounds aggressive, it has become an integral part of the Tamilian culture. Dating back to thousands of centuries, its reference can be found in ancient Dravian literature more than 2000 years old.

Why are Tamilians protesting the Jallikattu ban?

Citing animal cruelty, animal rights activists backed by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lobbied for the ban on the sport. The UPA-led government in 2011 implemented the ban by adding bulls to the 1991 notification banning the training and exhibition of bears, monkeys, tigers and panthers among other animals.

The NDA government, keeping with its promise to the people of Tamil Nadu, proclaimed that the sport could continue despite the ban placed on it. The government’s move was challenged in the Apex Court by PETA. The court issued a stay order on the move.

Meanwhile, the political leadership of Tamil Nadu led by the AIADMK and DMK parties blame each other for the current ban on the sport. However, it must be noted that people from all walks of Tamil society including actors, activists, politicians and members of the civil society are against the ban on the sport. The Jallikattu protests are fuelled by the fact that the ban impinges on the cultural identity of a people.