How many animals and people must die, one wonders, before Tamil Nadu gets over its obsession with toxic masculinity and testosterone?Testosterone is the driving force behind the bloodsport that is jallikattu. A man is deemed man enough to marry and protect a family when he is strong enough to tame a bull. A bull is deemed male enough to mate and sire a child when he is stubborn enough to escape being tamed. Somehow, the semen of native bulls and resentment against Jersey cows fuelled a large public protest in Madras in 2017, where thousands of people coincidentally turned up at the Marina Beach wearing identical T-shirts. A people’s movement, with no political motivation, they claimed, and this “people’s movement” was praised for not turning violent.
It did turn violent. Also read: How Kollywood casteism shaped the jallikattu protests It led to the state of Tamil Nadu amending a federal law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, to allow a loophole that would overrule the Supreme Court’s 2014 ban on the bloodsport. The same Supreme Court order had also banned bullock cart racing in Maharashtra, which the state circumvented with an amendment. According to statistics provided by the Animal Welfare Board of India, more than 5000 participants and spectators have been wounded in jallikattu events held between 2008 and 2014, with 43 human deaths and 4 animal deaths. There is no record of the number of animals wounded or maimed.
Last year alone, more than 15 humans and 3 bulls died, according to reports in the media. This year, the official death count of humans is 9, but animal rights activists believe there are several unreported deaths. And on one weekend in February, a bull died of cardiac arrest, two bulls were seriously wounded, and a 19-year-old human was gored to death. A bull in the Allur jallikattu collapsed as it was being shepherded back into its enclosure after finishing its run. Veterinarians diagnosed the cause of death as cardiac arrest. A bull at the Manjampatti jallikattu was hit by a train. In pictures of the wounded bull, one can see rope marks as well as the impression of the track on its skin. It had been hit by the Guruvayur Express, after running on to the railway track – six kilometres away from the jallikattu venue – in its panic. Another terrified bull fell into a 23-foot deep well near the arena and had to be rescued by the fire department. Every year, the Tamil Nadu government issues guidelines for the treatment of bulls and conduct of jallikattu. Police manpower is wasted on the event. And yet the savages who mount bulls – and more importantly, the bulls who have no say in this – die. In petitions by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal rights organisations pending before the Supreme Court, it is alleged – with video evidence – that animals are subjected to extreme cruelty and ill-treatment during the bloodsport. Also read: Were the Jallikattu protests really about Tamil pride? On February 2, a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R F Nariman referred a batch of pleas challenging the actions of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to a five-judge Constitution bench, and framed five questions to be adjudicated by them. Referring to Article 25 (right to freedom of religion) and Article 29(1) (protection of cultural and educational rights) of the Constitution, the bench said they may not enable states to circumvent the existing law. The Tamil Nadu government had entered a plea seeking a review of the 2014 ban in the Supreme Court, and this plea has been promptly dismissed. When the highest court in the country, when the laws that govern the nation, and anecdotal evidence all indicate that jallikattu is horrifyingly cruel and extremely dangerous to both bulls and humans, why does the state continue to fight for permission to send boys and animals to their deaths? Testosterone. Traditionally, a man could claim a bride if he could tame a bull. That practice appeared to have made a comeback when, on January 16, a video clip began to do the rounds on social media. It showed a jallikattu announcer offering a 21-year-old virgin as prize for the Periya Anaikaraipatti jallikattu event, along with gold coins and veshtis. The announcer, 70-year-old Palanisamy, who goes on to say that only one man will take home the girl irrespective of how many pounce on the bull, was reportedly taken to the Vaiyampatti police station by the organisers for spreading false information. Bride or not, the word used for the savages who clamber on to the bulls is “veeran” – hero, braveheart, warrior. And the savages allowing the bulls they own into the arena claim they treat them like their own sons. If their own sons were subjected to the same treatment as the bulls, it would violate every international human rights treaty ever signed, to say nothing of a bunch of Indian laws. How many lives is this pride in testosterone worth?