Saturday turned out to be a very busy day for ten-year-old Princeton resident, Shreya Muthukumar. Early that morning, she had taken the train to Washington DC to stand alongside her mother in the women’s march (to protest against Trump inauguration ceremony).
And evening saw her with a group of protesters in East Windsor, New Jersey, raising slogans to save native cattle breeds in faraway Tamil Nadu. Shreya has never seen a Jallikattu spectacle, but she is determined to make her voice heard.
The gathering at East Windsor, in the heart of New Jersey’s Tamil hub, started out as a spontaneous gesture of solidarity with the Marina protests seeking a revoke the ban on Jallikkattu. In just two days, the groundswell of support was so intense that the Saturday gathering - organized jointly by the New Jersey Tamil Sangam, Ilangai Tamil Sangam and the International Movement for Tamil Culture - drew nearly 1,000 people.
Word spread mostly through dedicated WhatsApp groups and Facebook. Entire families turned up, many of them with infants!
Like the Marina protesters, the New Jersey supporters too said the Jallikkattu ban was only a tipping point, “the last straw on the bull’s back,” as Kalyan Muthusamy, president of New Jersey Tamil Sangam, put it.
“We see the Jallikkattu movement as a precursor to several other things. Anger and resentment has slowly been building up amongst the global Tamil diaspora at several over several wrongs done to the Tamil community as a whole: the genocide in Sri Lanka, the double standards in the Cauvery issue, the agrarian crisis, the destruction of local economies etc.
We needed a strong emotive issue to rally the Tamils together and the ban against Jallikkattu provided the platform. We are drawing up a constructive plan of action to take this forward on several other fronts,” Muthusamy said.
The ‘return to roots’ syndrome was starkly evident among the protesters, many of them IT professionals, hailing from agrarian communities themselves.
“Many of us have grown up seeing Jallikkattu. We are also aware that there are underlying issues like cruelty to the bulls. However, an outright ban is not the solution, there should have been an effort to reform the operation of the sport. We are here because we want to lay claim to our identity as Tamils,” said Kavitha Sundar, a native of Paramakudi.
The Tamil community in New Jersey, as elsewhere in the US, has lacked a distinct socio-political identity so far, remaining on the periphery of issues. The quest for identity had been relatively subdued too. A mobilization like this gives organisers hope that this can be turned around.