Jallikattu And Humanity’s Petty Ethics

Vithal Rajan

Vithal Rajan

North Indians, and the rest of the world that heard, have been amazed at the 75-million strong Tamil reaction to the ban on ‘jallikattu,’ a harvest event in which village young men try to snatch the purse of money tied to the horns of a trained bull. Tamilians from all over south India, and wherever they are settled, in London, New York or Melbourne, have come together to defy the orders of the Supreme Court of India, the Central government, and police forces on this surprising issue. But it should not have surprised anyone. From even before India became independent, Dravidian Tamils have been resentful of the pretence of superiority of the ‘Aryan’ north, suspicious of laws enacted in Delhi, and very jealous of their own identities. Jawaharlal Nehru in an ill-considered ‘nationalist’ moment declared in the 1960s that Hindi would become the sole national language of communication. He quickly recanted when Tamil Nadu rose in revolt and dozens of students immolated themselves. Unfortunately, a heedless Bandaranayake in Colombo declared that Sinhalese would be the only national language in Ceylon [later renamed Sri Lanka], the consequence of which was a long, tragic, and inconclusive civil war with the Tamils of that country.

But this time it was a facile compassion for bulls based on complete ignorance that brought about a massive political standoff between north and south India. ‘Jallikattu’, which occasionally turns dangerous for man and animal, is similar to the running of the bulls in Portugal, where the animals are not hurt, and are as well taken care of as in Tamil Nadu. This is clearly a prehistoric ‘sport’, perhaps, celebrating the domestication of cattle, for there are 3000-year old frescoes in Crete, from the Minoan era, showing girls leaping over charging bulls!

Many of human beings’ proclaimed virtues are patently hypocritical – perhaps the worst is their show of compassion for animals, many species of which they breed, capture, slaughter, and devour in millions every year. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature produces every year long tragic lists of species that have become endangered because of human depredations, from the beautiful black buck of central India to the vast herds of the North American bison, now typically bred for the tables of the wealthy. Frenchmen must have their frogs legs, Chinese, fresh monkey brains, Japanese, the meat of inoffensive whales, and impotent men, rhino horn or tiger balls.

Among our most grotesque is the pretension that we are protector of all creation. This pretension is fascist in principle, and at the basis of the heavily-funded ‘environment’ movement that has grown up in recent times, with organisations like the WWF leading a pack of others with the covert focus of preserving the playgrounds of aristocrats and plutocrats. A genuine regard for Mother Nature, and her beautifully diverse life forms would have translated itself into empathy for indigenous tribal peoples, and sought to assist them in saving the environment, their homeland since prehistoric times. All we have seen is a great extension of the colonial policy of tribal eviction and genocide, many times in the name of protecting the environment.

Indian rulers today have easily slipped into the stance of the Victorian memsahib who would snatch the whip of her Indian groom and whip him for whipping the horse, forgetting how she herself had ridden recklessly to the hounds with the Quorn or the Meerut hunt. Authoritarianism comes easily to the Indian ruling class, which believes like the English memsahib that poor Indians are stupid, thieving, liars. Any activity of ordinary poor communities, for which the rulers have little knowledge or taste, must somehow be reprehensible and must be controlled or stopped all together. Delhi is a place where the highest echelons of the bureaucracy, trained to be princeling mandarins, rejoicing in their power, relate of an evening how they stopped something or other from happening. Rarely, if ever, do we hear in their circles that they made something happen. And lower down the rungs of power, one can hear many a tragic story from an experienced engineer, doctor, or teacher, how a plan that might have helped the poor was brushed into the bin by a whim or sheer ignorance of the mighty. There is even a well-known account how a mighty lady from a great family, who took upon herself the right to protect animals, once abused a respected, knowledgeable and dedicated conservationist on the question of turtle nesting beaches, because she naturally imagined he being lower than her in rank must be both ignorant and corrupt. In such an elite atmosphere it was easy and natural in Delhi circles to believe that dark-skinned poor Tamil farmers would be cruel to their bulls during jallikattu.

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