Contentious Jallikattu - rural sport of Tamil Nadu!!

Indian bull. Tufing
jallikattu protest on the Marina beach, Chennai.
 Jallikattu has been a pretty old communitarian bull-taming sport with deep cultural roots in Tamil Nadu.  This rural sport, held during the Pongal holidays (harvest festivals; mid-January) and up to April / May in some places, involves a group of young men (not more than 8 at a time) embracing or holding on to the hump of bulls. The person who deftly manages to stay put even after the animal makes three wild jumps is declared a winner. It is, indeed, a tough job as the bull-tamer has to subdue the raging bull. At times, the participants are thrown off the back of bulls and may get gored by the animal, if they are not cautious, be quick enough to get up and keep a safe distance.  One jallikattu organizer says a person must be daring besides having the consummate skill to tame a bull in rage or in a state of excitement. It does not happen overnight as you learn to ride a bicycle or mo bike. To learn the nuances of bull taming, a tamer has to grow with the bull from his childhood. Knowing the behaviour of the bull is a good bet.
Times of India
It was a traditional rural sport in Tamil Desam centuries ago and, it is reported, that jallikattu is more than 2000 years old. The ban
on the age-old sport by the Supreme Court, New Delhi on a filmy ground under the pretext of Animal Rights has become a battle ground and a bone of contention between the Apex court, New Delhi  and the State of Tamil Nadu. Now at stack is the Tamil pride, Tamil culture  and Parampariyam. The Supreme Court had held jallikattu as violative of the PCA Act (sections 3, 11, and 22) and reiterated that bulls cannot be used as performing animals including in bullock cart races.

The legal battle ensued in the wake of SC ruling, and the pending final ruling against the appeal in the last 2 years has transformed it into a matter of debate on the age-old tradition pitted against court ruling. The crux of the matter is those who challenged in the apex court - the Animal Welfare Board of India, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, an animal rights NGO and others who moved the SC for a ban are not in a mood to listen to  the social and cultural arguments raised in its support. Nor do they understand the communitarian sentiments of Tamils -  roughly 60 million people, especially those living in rural  South Tamil Nadu. Across Tamil Nadu, the urban elites have joined the bandwagon to support the village people as the legal grounds brought before the court do not make a case for ill-treatment of animals. Their passion for Jallikattu has roots in the latest rural distress over poor monsoon,  shortage of water for farming works and other serious issues on the agricultural fronts.The unhealthy rural / agrarian economy will positively impact the people in the urban areas as well. The ban questions the viability of judicial diktat in reforming traditional practises and customs that have been in vogue for centuries. The centuries-long-tradition vs Judiciary has become a core issue.
Times of India
Positively, no ill-treatment of the bulls is involved, however, there could be some stray events related to cruelty to the bulls such as twisting the tail, hitting them with sharp instruments, etc. In one visual, a nasty man is biting the bull's tail to provoke it.These, it is believed, are done by some greedy people (so called bad apples) who make money by betting on the bulls. It is true that a bull, unlike a pet dog or cat is a large domesticated ungulate and is not designed to run.  A simple provocation is needed to make it run. A total ban on the rural sport is going to take the protest to a higher level unless it is removed and in its place, strict reforms could be enforced and the law-abiding people as they are will certainly follow them. When a few, glaring elements of cruelty to the bulls are kept showing as visuals before the Judicial body, ignoring the places where such jallikattu events are held peacefully without any major accidents, obviously a wrong fact is conveyed to the court and to the public.

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, a legal luminary is of the opinion (22 January 2017; Sunday) about the apprehensions of sections of protesters seeking a “permanent solution” were unfounded. The ordinance to allow Jallikattu will be replaced by an Act of the Tamil Nadu legislature which will be “permanent.” As for the "temporary" nature of the Jallikattu ordinance, he said,  "It is true that an ordinance issued by the Governor is only temporary, vide Article 213(2) of the Constitution of India”.

However, the “Tamil Nadu legislature is meeting tomorrow and will replace the Ordinance by an Act, which will be permanent,” he stated in his blog post today. “It is true that this Act may be challenged in the court, but this challenge is unlikely to succeed since the assent of the President has been obtained under Article 254(2). So the apprehensions of some people are really unfounded,” he said.

jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. The Indian Expres
More than a lakh of people mostly, both male and female school and college students, women, men from many walks of life, IT employees, and others have been silently protesting day and night on the miles-long stretch of the Marina Beach, Chennai, barring the cold weather against the ban on Jallikattu. No violence, no untoward incidents. There is no littering around and no garbage heaps.What has surprised me is that they have kept the selfish politicians at bay and requested the movie stars to express their solidarity and protest from some other place. Their contention is they do not want to share the film stars' name and limelight. They cooperate with the cops and the emergency vehicles like ambulances that go past them. Their peaceful protests, in a Gandhian way, had made the rest of India look upon them as role models for other student communities and the society to register their strong protest against the government. Violence will not yield any result and the wily politicians will add fuel to the fire and enjoy warmth in the glow. Such resolute and peaceful protests, in a democratic way, will get the nation behind them, support their reasonable cause and achieve positive results.  

 Yesterday morning, when the students were ready to call off the strike once the ordinance was made into a permanent one through legislation, unfortunately,  some rowdy, gooda  and anti- social elements got mingled with the students'  protest groups and started throwing stones on the police and misbehaving and arguing with the police in an indecent manner This instigated the police who had been  quite sympathetic with the student protestors to take action against the thousands of peaceful people gathered there to flush out the hooligans. It is reported in the newspapers that this was done  with blessings from a few low-level dishonest politicians to tarnish student's name. The students - most them kept aloof, but the general public got angry and soon there was a pitched battle between the police and people not only in Chennai but also across Tamil Nadu. Only in the late evening on the same day, the situation became normal.

The reason for the  Central government's  apparent hesitation to meet the Tamil Nadu government’s demand for an ordinance to allow the conduct of Jallikattu events is a verdict in the case is due from the Supreme Court of India. The issue being Sub Judice, in a piquant situation such as this one, for the executive to intervene at this stage and promulgate an ordinance under pressure could amount to disrespect to the judiciary and ultra vires.

The Bill defines jallikattu as an event involving bulls conducted with a view to following tradition and culture from January to May and it includes similar events like ‘manjuviratu’, ‘vadamadu’ and ‘erudhuvidum’ festivals. The bill noted that the Supreme Court had held jallikattu as violative of the PCA Act ( saying that bulls cannot be used as performing animals including in bullock cart races;   sections 3, 11, and 22). The bill includes additional safeguards and regulations to protect the bulls as well as the participants. It also emphasises the facts that jallikattu plays an essential role in rural areas, preserving and promoting tradition and culture among Tamil people. Further, it ensures the survival and continuance of native breeds of bulls.  Once, the native breed used to be more than 27, but now only we have only 7 breeds. Native breeds of India and, in particular,  of  Tamil Nadu have been taken away by foreign cattle breeders to get A2 milk which is good for health. Jersey breeds produce inferior A1 milk and that is what Indians get in the past decades or so. Numerous bulls are sent to the slaughter houses in India by the villagers because of financial constraints. Jallicuttu is one of the ways to help the small farmers of Tamil Nadu.

Presently, after necessary parliament procedures - amendments acts by the central government to remove the bull from the list of performing animals in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, approaching the Supreme court would be the right democratic procedures.

As a matter of fact, Jallikattu is not a contentious or a violent sport. I am at my wit's end to understand why there is so much hue and cry.  A 2000 plus-year-old traditional sports associated with rural Tamil Nadu is not the business of some international animal protection group. If the sport is really violent, and the animal are subjected to persistent acts of cruelty, then there is every reason to ban it. Bull are revered in India, in particular, Tamil Nadu. Every Shiva temple has a huge stone bull facing the shrine and the Hindus pray to the bull, before entering the shrine. True sentiments of the Tamil people and their culture should be sacrificed in the name of animal rights when the sports does not involve violence and is conducted once a year. However, we have to follow certain strict regulations and norms, as some groups, conducting the Jallicattu have become money-minded and overstep on animal's freedom and cause pain to them. Likewise,  safe injury-proof barricades should be provided all around the jallicuttu make-shift arena to safeguard the interest of spectators, players and the raging bulls. Body protection must be made compulsory for the players to avoid getting hurt in the case of wrong handling of bulls.

The anger against PETA is the most intense in Tamil Nadu and many want the group banned in India because what they say is its opposition to Indian culture and tradition must be resisted. PETA India CEO, Poorva Joshipura  has vowed to continue their fight to protect bulls from cruelty. They ought to know they are playing with the pride of Tamil culture and age-old traditions. They can recommend additional safeguards; but, if they overstep, it means, they are hurting the sentiments of 60 million Indians who are the proud followers of the age-old Tamil culture.