“The sight of brave men bringing down a bull is an elevated state of art, as the warriors put their lives on the line of spectacle”

An ancient sport which was traced back to the roots of Dravidian culture, is now struggling to survive in today’s modern time and age. Bull fighting which is depicted in the seals of Indus Valley civilisation and has special references in the Tamil Sangam literature (2nd BCE – 2nd CE) is facing a cynical future. Yaeru thazhuvuthal (Embracing the bull) is practiced since time immemorial and is intertwined in the Tamil heritage in many ways, than what meets the eye.

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In ancient times, the farmers usually let loose their animals after the harvest season. When the farmers intend to get them back on fields, the animals usually resist and become extremely aggressive as there’s no noose to control them. Brave men of the village with no fear of death, run and lunge forward and hold onto the hump of the bull and manage to bring it back home. Since the entire event requires extreme courage and grit, the owners put bounties on the heads of bulls to capture them. And the one managing to win the bull takes the bounties who is then glorified as a warrior. This is how the practice of Jalli (cash coins) Kattu (pouch) (Jallikattu) came into existence.

Extinction of Indigenous Cattle

A government reports states that, the country has over 190 million cattle which is more than that of United States & European Union put together. But since 2007, the cattle numbers have fallen by 4%. While the population of the indigenous Indian cows dipped by 9%, the number of indigenous bulls and bullocks have fallen by a sharp 19%. And as an irony, the only numbers to increase were that of the exotic cattle and cross-breeds from the european descent like Jersey and Holstein Friesian cows. Increasingly the cross-breed cows are becoming more popular primarily for ‘Milk’ as they can produce dozen litres of milk per day.

Out of the six native cattle breeds Kangayam, Pulikulam, Umbalachery, Barugur, Malai Maadu and Alambadi, the last variety is almost extinct. And the plight of the remaining breeds are awful as they are on the verge of extinction. There were over 130 cattle breeds in the country a century ago but that has come down to a paltry 37 now. Native breeds have evolved over millennials adopting themselves to the local conditions and have been an integral part of the farmer’s life. But now they are under a colossal threat due to a bruised legal and political landscape which is failing to save the centuries old practice. Unless we engage in serious activities to safeguard the future of the remaining breeds, its just a matter of time, until they end up in slaughter houses of Kerala and become a matter of the past.

Vested Interests

Keeping the Jallikattu tradition alive is a big obstacle for the billion dollar Multinational Companies (MNC) which tries to make humongous profits through the sale of western breeds, bull semen, medicine etc; For the last decade or so, the extensive use of motor pumps, tractors have almost eradicated the usage of bulls to plough the fields and for other agri purposes. Now Jallikattu will be the last hurdle on MNC’s way to take over the complete dairy industry, as it throws a spanner on their plans to create commercial dairy farms by importing breeds from the West.

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Importantly the beef exporters also benefit largely from the ban on bull fighting. As there won’t be any hardcore jallikattu enthusiasts after the ban, the need for bulls will completely fall into the hands of beef traders. There is a huge demand for our variety of bulls in Middle East, Malaysia and Western countries. Eventually, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) the country’s animal rights organisation which demands an outright ban will hammer the final nail in the coffin for the native breeds. And the Western dairy lobbies will succeed in wiping out the homegrown cattle with the help of PETA and AWBA (Animal Welfare Board of India). If ban on the sport continues, it would be the death knell to the indigenous breeds of Tamilnadu.

Arguing in a lost cause

Cruelty against animals, incidents of biting tail, twisting, poking with stick, irritants, smearing lemon, giving liquor are the charges that have been made by PETA & AWBA. What these straw men fail to understand is that, men and animals have had an intricate relationship for generations in this country. Urban lads who head these welfare organisations like PETA & AWBA and desperate for the ban against this event are in complete ignorance of many facts.

  1. It’s not in the state’s custom or in the event proceedings where the tail is bitten or twisted or poked with stick. There will always be few such rare occurrences from disgraceful crowd like those of who speak for PETA & AWBA, defying the logics of human nature which is unavoidable. Case in point, on new-year’s eve a large mob entered and molested a group of women at night clubs in Bangalore. Will the Supreme Court now ban all the night clubs and pubs in the country owing to violence against women?
  2. Men who take part in the event are more prone to injuries and death than the bulls. The actual time a bull spends in the event is less than 30 seconds and for such a short duration, the bulls are nurtured and treasured by the owners throughout the year like family. Animal husbandry has been part of our tradition for centuries now, unlike the western nations where animals are completely treated by robots for milking and feeding them.
  3. Srinivas Ratnasami a practising lawyer in Chennai, says that the government has always argued, ”for retaining jallikattu as a tradition and culture” instead of stating that “this is a traditional event that is intelligent with an intersection of biological and cultural criterion”.
  4. In recent times, there has been a trend in the country towards banning, from currency notes to jallikattu, but Indians fail to analyse the implications and aftermath of an event in the start. Why does the Super Court urge for measures to protect the biological diversity by supporting and conserving the indigenous breeds?Can the Supreme Court ban cow slaughter? Can they arrange for retirement facilities for the bulls? Can they prevent the native breeds from going extinct? They have not devised a single mechanism to keep the traditional practices but are over enthused only in banning them.
  5. The urbanised Indians don’t connect with the rural masses. In a Tamil festival “Mattu Pongal”, it’s a tradition to first feed the cattle and only then the members of the family consume their meal. Such is the significance of cattle in the lives of the rural population. And on the other hand we have PETA & AWBA arguing for the ban on cruelty against animals. Irony at its best though.

Injustice Prevails

When our own people were being shot and were killed mercilessly in a country down south, we Tamilians managed to stay quiet, indifferent to some extent.

When our neighbours called for a state wide ban owing to Cauvery water crisis, burning down dozens of buses and beating up thousands of innocent Tamil people we were still quiet. And when the lakes and ponds of Chennai were destroyed to build residential and commercial complexes, we were tight lipped thinking this is how development looks like. Needless to say we paid a heavy price during the rains in December 2015. I am both surprised and anguished looking at this tranquil nature of us- Tamilians

A practice which has been the pride of rural people and source of livelihood for masses is now staring at an uncertain future. What is the point of education, the understanding of public policies, administration and being a literate, if there is no application of it, at all? It’s not in the article’s interest to make the young population rebel against the government but atleast we as the future of the nation should understand that it is imperative to raise against oppression and injustice. Today it can be just a sport and tomorrow it might be the language which defined you.

“It’s unbelievable to see people’s lack of support for a sport which defined their traditional ethos and giving up their hope without even an effort in the current legal and political impasse”

I Support Jallikattu

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