Bring the curtains down on Indian bull show

November 04, 2011

Jallikattu’s economic potential has been the primary reason for this supposed symbol of bravery to be milked by one and all

If Catalonia can, what prevents Indian lawmakers from constitutionally outlawing Jallikattu – the Indian version of Spanish corrida ? This has been the call of animal rights activists in India now that the Catalonian Parliament has taken the extreme step of imposing a ban on bullfighting. Prompted by a spontaneous disapproval of this maddening event that involves the snatching of trinkets from the body of a bewildered bull, the government formally stepped in to prohibit the use of bulls as a performing animal along with five other species. However, it remains to be seen whether the crusaders can indeed have the last laugh as efforts are on to ensure that this violent entertainment is continued with adequate restrictions in place.


During Jallikattu , the traditional southern Indian event of taming the unfettered animal without using any weaponry as a mark of masculine strength, the large creatures have their horns sharpened for the occasion as competitors virtually put their lives at stake for paltry incentives. Youths suffer from fatal injuries and often land up in hospital while trying their utmost to wrest the bundles containing prize money hanging from the bulls’ horns. Unfortunately, this centuries old tradition, which is also an integral part of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s Pongal harvest festival celebrations, remains the catalyst of friction between animal welfare organisations and followers of the event. With symbolic protests failing to evoke sensitivity either among the observant or the administration, People for Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) activists went to the extent of blindfolding a bust of Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi as a gesture of shielding him from the pathetic sight of cruelty to animals which he had denounced. After all, Gandhi had been a preacher of forbearance towards both animal and mankind throughout his life. Though this ‘adventure sport’ conducted in the rural hinterlands has degenerated into an ugly confrontation between fiercely unruly mobs and frightened and tortured animals, the organisers are assiduously carrying on with this form of entertainment in the garb of preserving cultural uniqueness.


This despite a Supreme Court ruling that clearly lays down guidelines for conducting the event in consonance with animal welfare laws. For over 4,000 years, Jallikattu has been encouraged by village chieftains to ascertain the valour and dignity of the participants – even honouring them with brides and land. It is widely considered as an art form closely entwined with the history, culture and religious beliefs of most Tamilians. This is exactly where politics creeps in with some overzealous leaders making it a point to patronise such events for bolstering their respective vote banks. Even though the ‘matadors’ confronting the agitated ox - called Murattu Kaalai in Tamil - are debarred from carrying spears and other sharpened instruments, there is no reason for condoning such meaningless forms of violence that converts cruelty into a spectacle.


It is therefore intriguing that the official tourism body of the Tamil Nadu state government continues to exploit the business potential of this anachronistic pastime by conducting sightseeing tours and promoting the event as an equivalent to the Spanish extravaganza. Not surprisingly, local cinemas too capture the machismo associated with Jallikattu to portray a larger than life image of film heroes, resulting in wide publicity for a dangerous show that has rendered hundreds of people physically disabled. Perhaps, it is high time that the elders of the society are involved in the process of bringing the curtains down on this medieval practice. Let us not forget that there are innumerable sporting activities capable of boosting adrenaline without animals suffering. The administration, having previously played a constructive role in forbidding animal sacrifices in temples, should make a move towards strictly enforcing an official diktat, rising above petty politics. The judiciary too must realise that encouraging partial interdiction instead of a blanket ban will only embolden some desperate organisers to carry on with the game clandestinely. At the end of the day, more than its religiosity, Jallikattu ’s economic potential has been the primary reason for this supposed symbol of bravery to be milked by one and all. [Seema Sengupta is a journalist based in Kolkata, India]