Tasneem Kutubuddin Kutubuddin
Writer, Reader, Fighter. Eater. Also chronically ill, but I don't let that define me! I fight it out and live it up each day. Because in the end, its just me against me.
Pongal, the annual harvesting festival of Tamil Nadu bore a forlorn look this year. With the recent demise of the state’s Chief Minister, J Jayalalitha and the destructive cyclone Vardah, people of Tamil Nadu have been battling one struggle after the other. Pongal is the one festival that the state looks forward to every year with many events lined up as part of the three-day celebration.
One such event which is held this time of the year was the sport of Jallikattu or Bull taming held on Mattu Pongal. But to the dismay of the people, the sport got banned by the Supreme Court on 26 July 2016 as a result of Peta India protesting against it, thus affecting the festivities this year. This resulted in a statewide protest by the people of Tamil Nadu.
On 8 January 2017, students and youngsters gathered at Chennai Marina and conducted a rally opposing the ban of Jallikattu. The participants walked from the lighthouse to labour statue bearing posters saying ‘save Jallikattu’. It is reported that there were 20,000 participants in the rally, which was organised by a group of non-political and youth organisations. Following the Chennai protests, many youngsters and students started demonstrations in many other towns of Tamil Nadu.
On January 16th places like Alanganallur in Madurai saw an all-night protest by men, women and children alike, raising slogans and holding placards requesting to lift the ban on the sport. 200 youths were arrested. Tamil outfits have called for dawn to dusk bandh on January 20. Schools and colleges to remain closed on Friday.
Further protests continued at the Chennai Marina on January 17th, 8 am onwards seeing more and more people gather to show their support with the numbers touching 8000 towards the evening. Withholding electricity supply or mobile network in the area did not deter the protesters who continued to sit there, some without food and water. Even with such a huge turnout, not a single untoward incident was reported by anyone – no news of violence, riots, eve teasing even though the police were present in full force and with full preparation and riot control vehicles. More so, people even accumulated the litter made during the protest and collected it in garbage bags. This speaks volumes about the sentiments of the citizens towards preserving their identity and cultural heritage. The peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out is commendable. Some good Samaritans also distributed water, biscuits and food packets to the protesters, showing their support.
With hardly any mainstream media coverage and the Tamil Nadu government turning a blind eye and focussing their attention to their ex-Chief Minister MGR’s 100th death anniversary, the people’s fury mounted. And what the police thought would subside eventually, the protest has only gathered momentum with not only students but also IT employees and some celebrities coming over to show their support. This shows that the people are not going to give up easily and the government should now intervene and show scope for some discussion for a common ground to settle on. One may wonder as to what makes the people of Tamil Nadu show so much solidarity for a sport which requires hurting an animal? Before this question is answered, we need to understand some facts.
During this sport, a running bull is released into a crowd. The participants try to ride the bull for as long as possible while attempting to make it stop. In some cases, they must ride to remove the flags affixed to the bull’s horns. To encourage more youngsters to participate, there are prizes for the event. At the end of it, the tamed and weak bulls are used for agriculture and other domestic activities whereas the untameable bulls are used for breeding purposes.
Jallikattu was practised during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC). It was common among the ancient people Ayars who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country. Bos indicus bulls are bred specifically for the event and attended mainly by many villages’ temple bulls. A temple bull is like the head of all cattle in a village; special rituals will be performed for this temple bull during important days.
A human tragedy triggered the questioning of the legality of this game. Recalls D. Rajasekar, secretary of the Animal Welfare Board of India in Chennai, “It all started in 2006 when a youngster watching Jallikattu was killed by an enraged bull that landed amidst the spectators.” Subsequently, the father of the victim filed a petition and the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court banned Jallikattu in March 2006.
Jallikattu exploits 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 perceive as predators. Using bulls as performance animals is illegal as per a 7 July 2011 notification in The Gazette of India. This applies to other events like kambala, bull races, and other similar events too. These events also violate the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.
Supreme Court judgement upheld the notification dated 11.7.2011 issued by the Central Government in the State of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.
PETA India has also documented that during races, participants and spectators are also at risk. From 2010 to 2014, media outlets reported that there were some 1,100 human injuries and 17 deaths caused by jallikattu-style events, including the death of a child. The actual number is probably higher since many injuries likely weren’t reported in the news.
In its 7 May 2014 judgement, the Honourable Supreme Court confirmed this ban on the use of bulls for performances. The court also ruled that cruelty is inherent in these events, as bulls are not anatomically suited to them. It observed that forcing bulls to participate subjects them to unnecessary pain and suffering, so it ruled that such races are not permitted by law.
The bulls that do not get tamed during Jallikattu are used for breeding. This is to ensure the use of the strongest and the most virile bulls, thereby making the offspring also stronger, more resistant to diseases, and able to produce higher quality milk. This is the traditional and only practical way that the farmers in the state see to be able to preserve the genetic strength of indigenous cattle breeds. The bulls which can perform well also fetch the farmers higher prices in markets. This makes the event even more valuable for them.
There are two types of beta-casein protein which are the dominant casein proteins in cow’s milk: A1 and A2 protein. Majority views at the moment is that A2 milk is more beneficial than A1 milk. In India, there are 37 native breeds (there were 150 a century ago), and of these, 36 have the A2 protein gene in them. A1 protein is said to result in many chronic illnesses. Jallikattu helps in preserving native breed if all these native breeds become extinct. We will then have to interbreed and rely heavily on artificial insemination. Artificial insemination is an expensive process, and we rely on semen imported from countries like the US, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand from Holstein and Friesian bulls and other such breeds known to have A1 protein as the dominant gene. This essentially means that our generation and future generation will then have to live with milk rich in A1 protein and also the associated problems like Type1- diabetes, autism and so on. It will also lack the genes that are required for it to adapt to the climate and local changes which a native breed has in higher proportion.
“In TamilNadu, breeders rear bulls with the intention of showcasing them in Jallikattu. Most of the farmers can’t afford to raise these bulls and are hence reliant on these breeders or on the common temple bull which is reared by the entire village rather than a single breeder. The bulls that fare well in the Jallikattu arena are in constant demand for servicing the cows. So we can think of Jallikattu as a marketplace for these bulls.” says Madhusudhan Srikkanth, a converted supporter of Jallikattu. Madhusudhan was once a vociferous supporter of the ban and felt PETA was right. But, after researching and reading more about the situation, he felt that the people were right in their way to want to continue the tradition.
“This brings into picture an MNC, A2 Milk Company with a presence in US, Australia and New Zealand. This company holds patents for trivial things like genetically testing whether a cow has an A1 gene or A2 gene. But what is disturbing is that they own the patent for artificial insemination of A2 gene bull’s semen. They hold the patent for this method which causes A2 gene to become the dominant gene as opposed to A1 which happens naturally. It suppresses the dominant tendency of A1 gene. Now if all native breeds in India were destroyed, then we may have to either make do with A1 milk or we may have to pay a hefty royalty to A2 Milk company for using its patented technique to produce cows rich in A2 gene. This is what is bothering most of these cattle breeders in TamilNadu. The question that is being raised is that when our breeds are perfectly capable of producing A2 milk, why must we force ourselves to be a slave to some other MNC company holding a patent for this. They also accuse this MNC of funding PETA which is unsubstantiated. But this organisation has been donating generously to PETA in US, Australia and New Zealand which is suspicious but doesn’t establish that they are behind the protest in India”, says Srikkanth.
“The Animal Welfare organisations are like critics or speed breakers and must be there to ensure the safety of the animals when the event is conducted”, says Bharani Sivakumar, a supporter. “When it comes to critical events that stand between the biodiversity of the country and culture of the people, do make the demands fair for both the animals and humans. Let there be more strict regulations, heavy monitoring and keep as many CCTV cameras in all corners. Penalise or ban those who break the rules. But do not demand the prohibition of the entire event. Please come out of the anatomy of an animal that you already know and walk into the ecosystem of a village where everything is mutually dependent and stay with them for few months if needed, to understand their culture and the lifestyle of the bull in the remaining 364 days.”
All said and done, what we see in Chennai today is not a protest, but an uprising of sorts. It is the third day of protests and there seems to be no slowing down. The coming together of masses non-politically and in an organised manner with the help of social media for a common cause is noteworthy.
Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met Prime Minister Narendra Modi today and requested an ordinance or special order to bypass the ban, but he was told that the case is in court.
Mr Panneerselvam later said that his government would soon take steps along with the centre on how to bring back Jallikattu. “You will soon see steps. Wait, good will happen,” he told reporters.
PM Modi shared in tweets that he had told the Chief Minister he appreciated the cultural significance of Jallikattu, but the case is in the Supreme Court. “The Centre would be supportive of steps taken by the State Government,” the Prime Minister assured.
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