If there is one thing to take away from the Jallikattu protests at the Marina beach, it is the power of social media and the ripples it can create in our daily lives.
After twenty years of living in Chennai, I must confess I have never seen Jallikattu being performed even once. Many protestors who are now passionately fighting for the sport might be in the same boat. So how did Jallikattu suddenly define Tamil identity for numerous city-bred youngsters?
The answer to that question is surprisingly simple: social media.
This is not the first time the city’s youth have actively taken to social media for a cause. The floods in December 2015 were a clear example and so was Cyclone Vardah. The trend resurfaced with the Jallikattu protests - only bigger and fiercer.
#WedoJallikattu was one of the first hashtags to pop up. The hashtag started getting traction even before Pongal, becoming a conduit to aggregate supporters. Several versions of the hashtag like #ISupportJallikattu, #WedoJallikattu, #AmendPCA, #JusticeforJallikattu started trending ferociously.
These posts did not stop at being mere expressions of solidarity. They went to explain why they were supporting the cause. Many widely-circulated posts claimed that the attack on Jallikattu was to enable vested foreign interests who wanted to eliminate competition by wiping out rural breeds. How valid these claims are, we do not know.
A music video that was posted in June 2016 by actor-musician Hip Hop Tamizha a.k.a Aadi, one of the faces of the protest, resurfaced on everyone’s news feeds with long statuses about the need to ‘preserve our identity’.
And then there was the whooper, the Marina beach protests. After the protestors at Alanganallur were forcibly removed, a few people gathered at Marina to show solidarity. With a solid social media conversation already in place, the initially small protest gathered huge traction on social media, drawing huge numbers to the beach.
Every development from there was widely shared using all forms of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Images of people sleeping at the Marina beach on the first night of the protest, and the now iconic image of youngsters flashing their phone lights, were shared and re-shared with religious reverence.
In an uncanny deja-vu moment from the floods, WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages once again became sources of information for food, blankets and other such amenities. Pages like Chennai Memes, Chennaites, Jallikattu veeravilayatu gathered followers overnight, becoming go-to places for information.
The issue has become part of common conversation. Karthikeya Senapathy, PR, Aadi, Balaji, became household names. People were flushed with a new found energy to fight for their identity, to an extent that the identity protest almost overshadowed the economic angle of it.
Faces of the protest also took to social media. Celebrities tweeted their support, there were videos of actors voicing their solidarity, again widely re-shared kept fuelling the energy these youth had.
Exhibit A would be a video of Tamil actor Vijay, which was posted online a couple of days ago. The actor’s clever pun on PETA was a massive hit on social media.
Exhibit B would be actor-radio jockey Balaji’s emotional video at the beach.
More such videos and posts of the protestors on the beach, made the entire city swell with a sense of community. As the clamour increased, the event drew more and more footfall, as now people wanted to be a part of it whether they support the cause or not.
After the protests took an unpleasant turn on Sunday, Aadi again took to Facebook to convey that he is distancing himself from them, because they had lost direction.
With the city embroiled in violence today morning, Balaji urged the students to stop the protest and return home again through a video on his Facebook page. Actor-Director Raghava Lawrence who was actively involved in the issue, posted a similar video on his Facebook wall.
The Jallikattu agitation has many takeaways. But the most important one is that the politicians and government have a new opponent and this one doesn’t need a microphone, only a Twitter account.