A close watch would reveal that jallikattu is caste-driven — a bull belonging to an upper caste household cannot be tamed by a member of the lower caste.
This leaves us with the question, if jallikattu is indeed a sport of all Tamils as it is championed.
Two days ago (16 January 2019), a communal clash took place near Trichy in Tamil Nadu as a fallout of a jallikattu event. The clash was over a youth belonging to Devendra Kula Vellalar caste taming a bull belonging to a person of Mutharaiyar caste.
The Devendra Kula Vellalar, a peasant community, has been notified as a Scheduled Caste community. The Mutharaiyar community, though classed under Other Backward Class (OBC), considers itself as one that had ruled southern Tamil Nadu at one point of time. Thus, according to a local, a Devendra Kula Vellalar youth is not supposed to touch anything that belongs to the Mutharaiyar.
A section of the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, led by former Tamil Nadu Assembly member and Puthiya Tamizhagam party founder Dr K Krishnasamy, has been demanding that the caste be excluded from the SC list.
Krishnasamy claims that the Devendra Kula Vellalars have been wetland farmers and hence need to be listed among OBCs. This has led to a controversy, though Puthiya Tamizhagam has been pushing for this with all seriousness.
Be that as it may be, when protests were staged in 2016 demanding that a ban imposed on jallikattu be removed, the bull event was championed as an event of the Tamil community. But that campaign of jallikattu being an event that united Tamils is far from reality.
People who are in the business of rearing bulls for jallikattu and those who try to tame these animals know which cattle is reared by who. Therefore, there are some unwritten rules on tackling these bulls.
Krishnasamy says, jallikattu is not a symbol of Tamil equality or communal harmony. In 1980 at Avaniyapuram in the Madurai district, a Devendra Kula Vellalar youth was murdered since he tamed a bull belonging to the Thevar caste, another OBC.
Even 39 years after the incident, the situation is the same. “It could have changed a little, though,” says Krishnasamy.
The protests for holding jallikattu in Tamil Nadu has forced the organisers of the events to do things such as keeping out the lower castes through other means.
If any person wants to take part in jallikattu, he should register himself. Then, the person has to undergo medical tests, while other scrutiny like if he is inebriated or not, are also done.
These can always be used to ensure that the bulls of Thevars, in particular, in southern Tamil Nadu districts like Madurai are not tamed by youth of other or lower castes. “It is there. When you watch it closely, you will know how they go about this quietly,” says an observer.
At the jallikattu event in Palamedu during the weekend, the state government had deployed 1,500 policemen for security, besides various officials. The district administration spent crores of rupees and went all out to ensure a smooth conduct of the event.
But the question that is being asked is: “Should Tamil Nadu government spend crores for events that don’t ensure equality of castes?”
The ugly side of jallikattu, then, is that it doesn’t promote communal harmony. Nor is it an event of all Tamils, as its proponents claim.