Embracing the bull has been a topic of fiery debate in Tamil Nadu for quite some time now. “ Jallikattu ” or “Eru Thazhuvuthal” (literally, embrace the bull) is a traditional bull taming sport and is part of Pongal celebrations dating back to the Tamil Classic Period (400-100B.C.). But, today, has the sport become a rallying cry for Tamil identity or is it a culmination of recent events in Chennai?
What about Jallikattu threatened the Tamil’s identity? Are they playing out the abandoned victimhood card, in the garb of being reformists? The massive mass gathering at Marina Beach on jan 17. without the overt intervention of any political outfit led to many revelations: People of Tamil Nadu raised their voices in unison. Strangely, most were clueless about the Jallikattu ban – and as it later emerged the most active participants didn’t have the slightest clue about about why Jallikattu should be held. For many it was about showcasing the valour of men and pride of Tamil. What was significant however, was that the people has united in a peaceful show of strength.
Was Jallikattu the last straw in triggering this massive mobilization? Since, apart from the demand for the sport, the Cauvery water issue was also a dominant theme, an all pervasive sense of neglect by the central Government was unmistakable.
In a conversation with GnY, Historian and Tamil Writer A.R. Venkatachalapathy said, “Jallikattu is a powerful enough symbol to rally around and people are gravely underestimating the power of a cultural symbol. Jallikattu is practised in around 125 places in Tamil Nadu. But the only place where it drew large crowds was at Alanganallur, near Madurai, where it is promoted as a tourist sport. Otherwise traditionally, villagers do not travel from one village to another and the bulls aren’t taken from one village to another”
The professor at the Department of Tamil language of Madras University said, “Owners of the bull take great care of their animals and on average spend 500 to 600 rupees per day which is quite a lot for them but significantly less than what people spend on fancy breeds.”
He called for regulation of the sport in 2008. “There is no doubt that it should be regulated. But cruelty is not central to the sport” he said.
In an interview with the Hindu, Communist party’s state secretary G. Ramakrishnan said, “What manifested in the protest was a pent-up anger against the BJP and the AIADMK governments in the Centre and the State respectively, over a slew of issues including the failure of the Centre to ensure implementation of the order of the Cauvery Water Tribunal, the State government’s indifference to farmers’ suicides and unemployment”
A Tamil Nadu Government Gazette dated July 21, 2009 defines Jallikattu as a function that consists of taming of bulls as a part of ancient culture and tradition of the Tamils. The said tradition is in vogue for more than 400 years. “Jallikattu” includes “manjuvirattu”, “oormaadu”, “vadamadu”, “erudhu vidumvizha” and all such events involving taming of bulls.
A Hindu report titled Jallikattu dated January 24, 2016 claims that Jallikattu veterans can provide grotesque details of the inhumane nature of the sport that existed before the gazette came into existence in 2009.
In 2011, “bull” was included in the list of animals that were banned for use in training or exhibition under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. In May 2014 again, the court ruled that jallikattu, bull-racing and other such activities were indeed cruel to animals and upheld the notification banning the “sport”.
But animal activists claim that there is bare respect for the rules and the bulls suffer from severe forms of physical and mental abuse often resulting in their death. Chennai based animal activist, Shravan Krishnan said, “There is no doubt about the animal cruelty. A bull being chased by 30-40 people isn’t a happy bull. Also, look at the number of people dying. Back then, the strongest bull who couldn’t be tamed was discovered by the sport but now we do not require Jallikattu to find the best bull. Also it is small pocket of people who still practise Jallikattu”
He added, “We have bigger causes to fight for before us. I personally feel, the protest was a breaking point for the people of Chennai. They were so frustrated with recent happenings. For me, Jalikkattu and animal cruelty go hand in hand”
Everyone in the world of Jallikattu have emotional relationships with their bull. But it is the same bullying that has led to tragedy, including over 5,000 injuries and 43 deaths to humans in Jallikattu events between 2008 and 2014. In the first officially permitted Jallikattu at Karungulam village in Tiruchi since the Assembly passed a bill for the conduct of the sport, over 35 people, including many spectators, were injured on Sunday.
Perhaps it is not really so much about Jallikattu as it is about a sense of foreboding that Tamil Nadu is signalling. With a series of misfortunes followed by a barely stabilized political equation in the State, more turmoil seems to be perceivable is the near future.