Jallikattu and a clash of views in Tamil Nadu

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 13, 2017 10:47 hrs
Jallikattu and a clash of views in Tamil Nadu

The traditional bull taming sport in Tamil Nadu, jallikattu, continues to be a contentious issue. Despite all efforts by the state government, the Supreme Court bench has refused to pass interim orders even though Pongal is just a day away.

Here is a timeline of the twists and turns in this issue by News 18. It all began in 2011 when bulls when added to the list of animals banned from being used for training, performance or exhibition. In 2014 the central government removed bulls from this list given that the sport was part of the culture in Tamil Nadu. However, animal welfare organisations, including PETA, have consistently taken the issue to court since then, with rulings being in their favour. Despite the Supreme Court ordering a ban in May 2014, the Centre went ahead in January last year, to revoke the ban and order that the sport can be continued as long as the bulls were treated properly. Once again the Supreme Court upheld the earlier ban and said that the government notification would be void given the earlier ruling.

The legal tussle aside, supporting jallikattu has become a pet cause for actors in the film industry. Top heroes including Kamal Hassan, Vijay Sethupathi and Simbu have fervently come out against the ban.

There have even been music videos on the issue, including one by Hip Hop Tamizha last year and most recently by music director and actor G.V Prakash.

There is an overwhelming sentiment in the state that the ban is part of a concerted move to destroy traditional practices that form a part of the tamil cultural identity. This article by Himakuran Angula in The Wire traces the native practice of Eru Thazhuvuthal or Embracing the Bull back to Indus Valley civilisation.

During the rule of the Nayak kings, gold coins, wrapped in a piece of cloth were tied to the horns, and the tackler hung on to the hump of the bull and untied the knot to get at the prize. Jalli/salli means ‘coins’, and kattu is ‘tied’. A small bag of coins was tied to the horns of the bulls, which the players claimed as a prize. The only way you could do that was to embrace the hump of the bull long enough to grab the bag without getting hit.

The article also lays out the importance of the sport to farmers who breed native cattle which are on the decline. Apparently of 130 cattle breeds in India, only 37 are still around today. The stud bulls which are reared by people for the event are used to breed with native cows.

The intricate connect between these events and farming can be seen from the chronological order in which showcase events like jallikattu happen first, then the shandies and then the main farming season starts. Once harvest is done, farmers take their bulls to participate in such events over the next few months; spectators and visitors make a note of the top bulls and seek them out in sandhais (cattle shandies/markets) which happen from December till April all over Tamil Nadu.

Niranjan Shanmuganathan, a supporter of PETA says that pro-jallikattu activists are misleading the public and that the sport is organised cruelty against the bulls. According to him, it is the dairy industry which often dictates the breeding. In his article in The Huffington Post, he writes -

Jallikattu takes advantage of bulls' natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they are forced to run away from those they rightly perceive as dangerous. Inspectors authorised by the statutory body, the Animal Welfare Board of India, have documented that bulls become so frightened by the menacing mob that they slip, fall, run into barriers and traffic, and even jump off cliffs in desperate attempts to escape. This often leads to severe injuries and even death.

Shanmuganathan also says that youngsters who have come out in favour of the sport calling it an attack on tamil identity are misguided.

Culture jallikattu is certainly not. The purpose of Pongal, when jallikattu is normally conducted, is to give thanks to nature and celebrate life—which isn't something that can be achieved through a violent event such as this. Besides, what's so cultured about grown men deliberately taunting animals who become so frightened that they often sustain broken bones in their attempts to escape?

This Indian Express article published last year can also provide insight into this complex issue.

There is a clash of worldviews, and the disagreement reflects the absence of an inclusive approach to the problem. The Jallikattu belt — mainly the districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul — still breeds pure native studs, and Jallikattu was always more a way to honour bull owners than a competitive sport. Jallikattu events do not offer any major monetary benefits, and prizes are mostly a dhoti, towel, betel leaves, bananas and token cash — that is rarely more than Rs 101 — on a silver plate. Mixer-grinders, refrigerators and furniture have been added to the list of prizes at some events over the last few years.

In Tamil Nadu however, there is an overwhelming voice of support for the sport. And this year too protests have been held in several parts of the state. In Madurai, police resorted to latthi charge on students who were protesting against the ban for the third day reported Daily Thanti. Responding to a call on social media, students had gathered in front of a ground and had planned to take out a rally to the collector’s office in order to submit a petition. They held several placards denouncing PETA and began to walk on the main road towards the Collectorate. However, they were stopped by the police at the Thiruvalluvar statue where the lathi charge took place. Law college students also protested in front of the district courts. Similar protests were also held in Goripalayam by students at the main bus stand, but after assurances from police, the crowd dispersed.

The same report also carried the response by Police Commissioner Shailendra Kumar Yadav who said that students were being instigated by some rogue elements and that it must be remembered that it was the Supreme Court that banned jallikattu. He also said that protests must take place with prior permission from the police and only organised at the permitted place.

Ippodu.com reported that DMK’s Working President Stalin participated in a protest organised by student of New College in Chennai and had strong words on the matter.

A special law must be enacted to allow the jallikattu to take place. If the centre or the state is careless on this issue, students’ protests will blow up. Be it the government at the centre or the state, it will result in their downfall. No one can touch, let alone destroy dravidian culture.

For its part the Tamil Nadu government has been consistent in its efforts to ensure that the ban is lifted.

Prior to Supreme Court’s refusal to deliver its judgement before pongal, Chief Minister O.Paneerselvam wrote to Prime Minister and requested that an ordinance be passed to circumvent the ban. –

Considering the groundswell of sentiment and support for the conduct of Jallikattu all over Tamil Nadu, this is an issue on which the Government of India must act with maximum despatch. May I kindly request you to direct the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to take necessary action to promulgate the requisite Ordinance Immediately?

The CPI(M) also passed a resolution calling for an ordinance to be issued on the matter at their state committee meeting.

Subramaniam Swamy, taking an extreme view, said that President’s rule must be implemented in the state if the ban is not enforced.

With the DMK calling for a protest, the issue is not likely to die down in the next few days. But it remains to be seen if it will still hold the attention of people and the media in the coming months.

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