Wanted to do a podcast on it last week. It may or may not happen, but I'll record my general views here.
They are mostly young men and driven by their own sense of victimization as Tamils in the hands of an indifferent system - represented by the governments in the State and the Centre, and the Supreme Court. Jallikattu might just be the face of many grievances that belie their motivations. I see many strands in the protests that I agree and sympathize with, but there are also others that make me uncomfortable. Especially the many claimants -- mostly Hindus -- who surface every now and then.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that they chose to subject themselves to all the discomforts inherent to protesting in the street in blistering sunlight (as opposed to sitting at home or worse a 'peaceful' candlelight vigil for an hour at night) and that in itself begs a measured assessment. It doesn't matter that some of them might be completely clueless. It's true of any protest. Isn't this what the colonial masters told every indigenous freedom movement: that they do now know what they really want; that they cannot run their own country? The small truth in it is completely outweighed by the big ethical claim against it.
Enough has been written about the 'Arab spring' and numerous other 'post-social media' uprisings on how various events come together. Protests like this are discursive even if they start with a singular, easily identifiable goal. It is as critical, if not more important, than having a goal that is superior in other ways but strategically unwieldy.
The desire to be a part of something that earns some activist cred is in there too, but again, it's ok. To those questioning the legitimacy of these protests citing 'their' -- because a good number of them were in their early teens then -- inaction during genocide of Eelam Tamils in 2009, the conflicts around Cauvery water sharing, or the more recent spate of farmer suicides and the like: this is the cause and this is the moment they've chosen. Or this when the stars have aligned. Either you see this as an opening that your favourite cause could exploit in the future or lament those lost opportunities. Regardless, this cause isn't so perverted to deserve delegitimization at the hands of self-identifying progressive Tamils. I would suggest keeping your snide cynicism muted for now.
It's undeniable that we are witnessing a defining moment in modern Tamil history that no one wants to be in the wrong side of, at least in Tamil Nadu. Given the sheer number of protesters (and the trade organizations that have pledged support), this can no longer be dismissed with the usual North Indian condescension.
Elected governments to judges of the supreme court, everyone plays to the gallery if not by their ugly prejudices. One went so far as to say that "the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender." One might think this is what the leader of a khap panchayat said before he hanged someone in the village square, but no, it was a supreme court judge. (You're also welcome to remind yourself of the ruling on the national anthem to be played in all cinemas.)
And how about this gem?
"Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva…Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practiced now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu.
As early as 1500-1600 BC in the Isha Upanishad, it is professed as follows: 'The universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species."
Yes, this too is from the supreme court judge, in the ruling made in 2014 that effectively banned jallikattu in all forms. The brahmin judge actually employs some bullshit upanishad to date and validate Tamils' claim. (It's important to read this in the context of the archeological findings in Keeladi and how the BJP government is trying its best to scuttle the project.)
Speaking of justice, there's a simple rule that underwrites justice: it must be applicable for all applicable cases. So yes, Tamils would shut up and walk away if you banned all forms of animal cruelty, all over the country.
The protestors have articulated these views consistently and vociferously in the last two weeks in English media in spite of the aforementioned condescension and in some cases blatant hostility. I would be surprised if the upcoming ruling does not reflect any of these developments.
As I mentioned elsewhere, I personally do not care about jallikattu. In fact, I agree with some of the arguments against it; I'm not stating my views on it further. I do, at this juncture, want to emphasize that if I were to accept the notions of animal cruelty, I want the Tamil people to take a call on that. This is the fundamental argument against 'civilizing missions' by alien powers.
To make my position clearer: I'll support Jallikattu because the ban is imposed on Tamils by entities that I detest -- the Indian govt and the brahmin judges of the supreme court. If Tamil Nadu managed to secede at some point, I'll probably be on the other side. I'd also rush to add that this would not serve as a universal model (nothing would).
I don't know what the immediate outcome is going to be. What I am excited about, though, is that these protests have signaled a clear warning to the assholes who are relentless with their projects of homogenization. Tamils were only a fabled monolith until yesterday (1965 was a long time ago). Today they have again demonstrated that they could really be that if the calling was 'right'. And honestly, I don't care whether its non-violent or otherwise.
Tamil youth have broken the habit of not giving enough of a damn about anything. This is the first step that was long overdue. Never mind the virtues of the reasons behind, the step is virtuous in itself. They may not stand up for cauvery, for dying farmers, against dalit atrocities or against corporate plundering. But when they do, even if it's half assed, and not outright abominable, let them be. Let's not rush to poke holes and undermine it.
The Tamil may not remain conscious and steadfast against globalization and other mechanisms of modernity that'd invariably subsume his/her identity into a bossu, or worse an Indian ji, but s/he would have been a willing participant in it. And that is what matters here.