A lot has been written and debated about Jallikattu over the past month. Demonstrations in Tamil Nadu in favour of the sport attracted not just national but international attention. However, most of the media and press compared Jallikattu with the Spanish bullfight, which is not true. The objective of Spanish bullfighting is to kill the bull. It is dangerous for the matadors, but more likely fatal for the bull.
Jallikattu, unlike Spanish bull-fighting, was initially a spectacle and not intended to be a sport. Jallikattu happens just after harvesting and before the start of the next farming season, which is the period when the bulls mate. The purpose is never to kill the bull, but to identify strong bulls. The objective of this spectacle is for the bull to be released from a narrow gate and pass from a ground or a designated path to reach the marked destination. During this bull run, players attempt to slow down and overpower the bull by getting hold of the bull’s hump. This is also called embracing the bull. The victorious bulls are then sought to service the cows. These strong and virile bulls are also paraded and bought by villagers. The offspring from these bulls are also in demand.
The stud bulls need to be active, virile and strong during the mating season. They should secrete the required male hormones and for this they are made to experience an adrenalin rush and high heart beat because of the run during Jallikattu. This should be seen more as an activity to enhance the mating performance to specifically improve the breeding.
The modernisation of agricultural practices and the introduction of tractors and electric motor pumps have made bulls mostly redundant. This has reduced their physical activity and strength of the bulls, which are now required primarily for mating, and hence expensive for the owner to maintain. A cow yields milk and is profitable for the owners whereas a bull is seen as a burden. This peculiar situation has caused a reverse gender bias, which is a cause for concern and is causing a shortage of bulls. Local and natural breeding is the only way to maintain the genetic pool of these native bulls. The native breeds are not suitable for artificial insemination. Banning Jallikattu would disturb natural evolution and eventually lead towards the extinction of the native species.
Jallikattu has been depicted in inscriptions dating from the Indus Valley civilisation and have been part of our national heritage. The Article 48 of the Constitution specifically directs the State to preserve and improve the breeds of cows and calves and prevent their slaughter. Why then did certain people, media and social and animal rights organisations oppose Jallikattu?
The first of the arguments for ban was the comparison between Jallikattu and bullfighting as a sport, popular in some parts of the world. Unlike bullfighting, which is a sport to prove a man’s valour by overpowering and killing the bull, Jallikattu is an exercise to enhance the performance of the bull for a specific purpose. In no way is there an intention to kill or even hurt an animal. Rather the strength of the bull is lauded and the bull is paraded throughout the village, making him a sought after one.
Second was the evidence of cruelty to the animal by forcing him to drink alcohol, rubbing chilli in the eyes and other such means to make him aggressive. These might have been isolated and mischievous exceptions, but not a regular practice as it might have seemed to be. Third is the lack of connect with our ancient and rural practises of our urbanised and western educated society encompass-ing our media, law makers and enforcers. There is enough data and facts which would enumerate the miniscule number of bulls that were subjected to harm and pain as well as the number of players who were hurt fatally.
DOES the banning of Jallikattu satisfy the vested interests of any particular group? Dairy producers are aware that native cows yield an A2 type of milk which is more nutritious than the artificially inseminated jersey cows, which yield an A1 type of milk with comparatively lower nutrition and also known to cause allergies. Meat exporters will gain if native bulls are not required anymore, as their cost will go down and they can be profitably exported to countries where their meat is a delicacy. Companies in artificial insemination foresee a huge opportunity when the natural mating of native breeds comes to an end.
The ban on Jallikattu will discourage villagers to foster native cattle, which will eventually lead to the loss of the breed. The ban will also take away an important link in the organic agricultural chain. We are an agricultural economy and the need of the hour is to look at this with a wider perspective. This is not an issue concerning Tamils alone. The youth of Tamil Nadu have successfully and peacefully demonstrated to the country and the world that Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa can still catch the eye of the law and policymakers and influence them to listen to the voice of the people. Also, the local authorities should closely monitor and conduct the event in an orderly manner with proper enforcement of rules and parameters. The local bodies could, in fact, popularise the event and draw spectators from outside.