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Why Jallikattu should be legalised in India

Bull-taming or Jallikattu was banned in 2014 by the Supreme Court, but protests in Tamil Nadu could see the sport return this year.

Feature 18 Jan 2017, 18:54 IST
Jallikattu is a wild bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebration

On 8 January 2016, the decision to reinstate an age-old Tamil Nadu tradition was taken by the central government. The government declared that the practice of Jallikattu, one of the many bull-baiting sports that have developed worldwide, would be allowed once again, possibly to earn some political points in the poll-bound state. However, six days later, on 14 January 2016, the government upheld its ban, leading to widespread protests all over Tamil Nadu.

What is Jallikattu? – A Backgrounder

Jallikattu is not a bull taming sport. In fact, it is a bull control sport. For the layman, Spanish bullfight would look like a Bollywood dance number in comparison to Jallikattu.

The bulls, here, are bigger, the horns are sharpened and are definitely more powerful. In Spanish bullfighting, the bulls are softened by damaging their bodies prior to the fight. On contrary, here the bulls are, in fact, worked up while the fighters are completely unarmed as well.

Jallikattu is like freestyle rodeo more than a man-vs-bull till death match. And unlike Spanish bullfighting, here the bull lives to see another day, he is indeed the hero.

The sport, itself, is ancient with the proof of its existence found in the seals of the Indus Valley civilisation. Detailed references to Eru Thazhuvuthal (hugging the bull), the precursor to the modern version of the sport, can be found in ancient Tamil poetry, which is known as Sangam literature. Even the English colonial administrators wrote about Jallikattu, which tells us that the sport was played continuously down the ages.

The persistence of certain social institutions is one of the strong characteristics of life in India. And although the profile of these practices might change, the essential features are mostly retained. One such precious practice that has been a part of the long heritage of the country is Jallikattu.

The sport has been preserved over millennia and it is our duty to take it forward. Given the danger involved in the sport, of course, we should take proper measures and have rules and restrictions for the conduct of the event, but the sport should not be banned, it should go on.

May 2014, Supreme Court bans the sport

On 7 May 2014, a two-judge panel of the Supreme Court of India essentially declared the practice of Jallikattu to be illegal. A great example of legal activism gone awry.

Egged on by juvenile animal rights activists (read PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), whose enthusiasm had been captured and curated by vested interests, and finally condemned by enshrouded vision, strange reasoning and an incoherent judgment, the magnificent and indigenous bulls had no reason to live. The raison d'être of the bulls, who have been the most pampered animal in India for over 1000 years, was snatched away mercilessly.

The exact legalese is not of much significance, but here are some of the key points from the judgment:

#1. Jallikattu had been allowed under the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act (TNRJ) since 2009. However, the act set up as a conflict was the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 1982 (PCA) which essentially proscribes “kicking, beating…” and fighting for entertainment.

#2. The judgment expressively said that the PCA when it came to the sport was of such absolute nature that no amount of regulation (read TNRJ) could assuage it. Hence, TNRJ had to be annulled and the widest possible reading of PCA had to be applied to Jallikattu.

The argument, in itself, is incoherent, with the multiple of lines of attack unable to stand on its own. The two standout charges are:

#1. The sport has absolutely no cultural or historical significance to Tamils.

#2. The bulls in the sport are subjected to inhuman torture and massive physical injury,

Nevertheless, these charges were just distractions. Even if you prove the first point as wrong it does not matter because PCA being a welfare legislation by the parliament, can squish any cultural or religious tradition. And proving the second point to be false was also fruitless as the objection was largely on the basis of ‘Speciesism’.

What exactly is Speciesism and why is it too extreme a standard to be applied on Jallikattu

Now, Wikipedia describes speciesism as: Speciesism involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership.

It can also be essentially described as the widespread discrimination practised against the other species by man. The concept is comparable to Racism or Sexism, but only in a larger sense, on the ground, all three refer to discrimination which tends to encourage domination and exploitation of members of one group by another.

What is astounding is that this extreme standard was sought to be applied on Jallikattu. Non-slaughter is one of the corner-stones of speciesism and obviously, the main proponents are vegan activists. Under the Doctrine of Necessity, the only exception for killing an animal is in self-defence, the same as in the case of humans.

Taking a bull in the back of a packed truck and slitting its throat to consume beef fry is necessary to live, right? So, working through the arguments, one would find an incoherent position that is at odds with most laws and practices.

An anomalous situation exists where there is a mixture of standards. The same body which tolerates extreme cruelty, trumpets ‘speciesism’ as the standard for some other activities.

Breaking some myths – just for the record

It is not just for a sport for entertainment

As has already been stated above, debating the ‘facts’ of PETA and Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is useless. But, just for the sake of completeness, here are some facts that will break some of the existing myths about the sport.

#1 Jallikattu is just a sport for entertainment

No, it is not! Here, the story of the origin of the sport must be told. Of course, there are many origin stories, but this one has the right feel about it.

So, before technology came and messed up the fields, bulls were used to plough the land. However, before the season starts, the bulls are allowed to mate with cows so that they would be docile enough to work hard on ploughing the land.

After the ploughing is done, the cattle were no longer needed in the farm. Thus, the cattle are left loose to graze lands, roaming freely. This is also the time when the cattle gives birth to the young ones. But after the harvest, the cattle were needed back on the farm.

Now, when the cattle are left loose, the nose rings and ropes are removed to prevent the animals being abducted. The cows and calves are docile, and because the relationships with their masters they return without any fuss. However, the bulls are less likely to give up on their freedom without any resistance.

So all the young men of the village would get together to bring back the bulls. Without the nose rope or ring, they have to catch the bulls by clinging on to their humps and also use their legs to stop the bulls from running. It is a very risky exercise and the bull owners sometimes announced a bounty called ‘Jallikattu’ or cash coins. This is how it all began.

There are no cruel intentions. No weapon, no blood. But with the arrival of technology, this activity was interrupted. And to make matters worse, the bulls started to go extinct. Consequently, this tradition was transformed into a sport to save both bulls and the art from going extinct.

#2 Cruelty to animals 

There exists an intricate and diverse relationship between man and animal, especially in rural India. An urban westernised Indian would never understand what it is to rub your face against the head of your beloved bull. Yes, pinching, poking, etc. can appear to be offensive, even physically hurting. But it is not the whole picture. A bull, from his birth to the magnanimous day, is treated and prepared for this.

Put together all the charges of biting, pulling, twisting, putting liquor, etc. and put them in a box. Now let the bulls enter this box. The box, keep in mind, is covered and you cannot see what happens inside. Now, if the bulls emerge out of the box bloodied and tattered, with missing horns and broken hooves, then we have a case to delve deeper.

But you will observe the bulls coming out in all glory, shining in their victory. In fact, a majority of them, the most aggressive and powerful of the pack, will literally come out untouched. The plausible conclusion of analysing by using such an empirical hypothesis is there is no evidence of physical harm. And you cannot measure mental agony in humans, let alone bovines.

Now, the AWBI had stated some facts which should be looked into.

Incidents of biting tails, twisting, poking with sticks, irritants: Yes, these are used but only to incite the bull and get it out into the arena. But exactly how many bulls were subjected to this? And is it because it is a custom or because they refrain from entering the arena? How deep exactly are the bites? These facts were not presented and instead, a documentation of these practices was presented.

Death and injury to bulls: Only two, yes two, bulls out of over 500 bulls were said to have sustained injuries and that too by falling against an agricultural well. There is only ONE documented incident of the death of a bull. However, details revealed that after the event the bull had run through the town and collided with a bus which resulted in his death.

None of the offences is integral to the event itself.

Resting the case

The bull, here, emerges in all its glory

Not a single cow or bull in the Western developed countries will ever know a single moment of human affection in the entirety of its life. In India, on the other hand, especially in the case of Jallikattu, every single bull have individual names. They respond to their owners when called upon, they know that the owners love them and they love the owners back.

The owners provide the bulls with the best food, work them up, very much like their own children. However, a weak jurisprudence has been taken advantage by this pop activism and resulted in tremendous damage, unknowingly or knowingly.

Why should slaughter be regulated and speciesism not applied to it?

How come it is okay to kill animals for food for mankind whereas a sport is banned in the name of speciesism?

It appears that this talk of speciesism just applies to one specific cultural tradition. For certain other communities, an animal can be tied by its four limbs and have its throat slit as it twitches to death. Certainly, it is not the doctrine of necessity, is it?

Finally, the case is rested by quoting Ms. Temple Grandin – the famous American factory farm slaughterhouse designer.

“The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it is worse than pain. I always get surprised looks when I say this. If you gave most people a choice between intense pain and intense fear, they’d probably pick fear.”

And Jallikattu, if anything, provides the bull to rise above its fears at least once in its lifetime.

Read a counterview here: How political hyporcrisy could legalise the brutal sport of bull-fighting in India

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