There were no celebrities or stars here. Nor did the pro-jallikattu protest in Coimbatore get the national media attention that Chennai did. Yet, the tempo has only been rising and from a few thousands on day one, it peaked on Friday to close to half a lakh with a vast cross-section of the public lending their presence.
The student protestors have not been too gung-ho about involving movie stars, politicians, religious or community heads. And, if one thought that the morning announcement about the ordinance would kind of reduce the pace of the protest, it only turned out to be otherwise.
Students had arrived early and by 10 a.m., they had organised themselves on sheets, spread out into zones with a walking path in between to mobilise easy distribution of food / water and collection of garbage. They were sitting quietly in the spirit of a silent protest that they have been following since Thursday. But it was after that the public started arriving in huge numbers – families with young and old, representatives from the Rajasthani Sangh, Punjabi, and Gujarati Samaj, visually challenged, transgender people....
It took the students by surprise, and though the food, water and other supplies were not in shortage, thanks to numerous sponsors, space became a constraint. As time passed, people from nearby districts arrived in mini vans and buses. Those from Gandhipuram bus stand braved the intense heat and walked to the venue. As could be made possible, the women and children were made to sit.
Even in that huge crowd, it was difficult to miss turbaned 59-year-old Tony Singh flitting around, handing out supplies or collecting garbage in a big black plastic bag. He says he has been part of the protest from day one, helping in whichever way possible.
“My life is steeped in Tamil culture. I came here from Ludhiana when I was four and have lived here for 55 years. I love jallikattu and consider it as a sport of valour. I have seen it in Madurai and it was an amazing experience. You should never bow down to forces that try to disrupt your cultural and traditional practices. Today PETA will oppose something in Tamil Nadu, tomorrow they will do so in some other State and this will go on. Even if it takes weeks, we will fight,” said this founder and proprietor of a well-known lamps and lights’ shop in the city.
Since it was shutdown day for the shops, many Rajasthani shopkeepers and owners sat at the venue to mark their support. Many of them were fourth or fifth generation Rajasthanis who had migrated to Coimbatore and felt they belonged here.
D. Sadasivam, Co-ordinator of the National Federation of the Blind, Tamil Nadu West, had brought along 60 visually impaired members to show his support. They, along with some 20 visually impaired students from Coimbatore and nearby colleges, were taking part in the protest on all days. They were given bright yellow caps and student volunteers ensured that they were taken good care of.
Transgender person N. Subha was there along with more than 100 of her friends. “We joined the protest from Thursday. We see jallikattu as the identity of Tamil culture and since we are all Tamilians, we are here to support the cause,” she said.
Clad in white cassock, Reverend Ramesh was quietly seated among the protestors. He, along with a large number of representatives from his congregation of the C.S.I. Immanuel Church, have been participating in the protest since two days. “People have started thinking and this non-violent silent protest is a sign of that. We are here to support the cause as we believe jallikattu is the identity of Tamil Nadu”.
Since it was a holiday for schools, a large number of children had accompanied their parents and sat along with them in the blazing heat. Volunteers ensured that they got their dose of glucose from time to time.
All of them believe that the ordinance is the beginning of a permanent solution to ensure that jallikattu becomes a regular annual event. And, they vowed to continue the “peaceful protest” till that happened.