Jallikattu puts BJP govt. in Catch-22

TALKING POINT

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Madhusudhana Rao S

Neither the political class nor the judiciary has expected the kind of opposition to the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. In the last few days, the South Indian State has virtually come to a standstill as the masses joined students, political leaders, intellectuals, film fraternity to protest against the traditional bull sport.

Marina Beach in Chennai and Tamil Nadu’s cultural capital Madurai have turned epicenters of mass rallies to demand revocation of the apex court ban through a Central ordinance. O Pannerselvam, who is facing a major test after becoming the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu following the death of his mentor and popular leader J Jayalalithaa last month, has rushed to New Delhi to impress upon the BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to void the Jallikattu ban. These developments indicate how serious the situation is in Tamil Nadu.

If for outsiders, the issue of fighting bulls in open areas of villages is outright silly, it’s outrageous for animal activists and lovers. For some others, it is Jallikattu jingoism as Tamils are emotional and need a rallying point from time to time to attract national attention. All these views and different opinions proffered by self-styled experts and a hyper media do not explain why Tamils in their own State and living in other States and abroad are agitated over Jallikattu ban. From Sri Lanka, where Tamil population is  considerable, to the UK and the US, the Tamil-origin people have opposed the ban in unison. They have even made representations to Indian missions demanding revocation of the ban.

If Jallikattu is just a traditional sport practiced like cock fights in neighbouring   Andhra Pradesh and played with heavy betting during the three days of Sankranthi or Pongal festival, there would not have been waves of protests. (Incidentally, cock fights too have been banned in AP. But the ban was observed more in breach than in practice during last week’s festival.)

Jallikattu, for Tamils, is more than a traditional sport. If we go into its history, we understand that the bull-run or bull fight redefines the bond between rural population and its livestock, particularly the stud bull.

Unfortunately, without  understanding the intricate relationship between man and animal, a practice that has been in vogue since Vedic times in India – and elsewhere – Jallikattu has been popularized and misinterpreted as a blood sport like Spanish bull fights. In fact, when images of villagers trying to ‘tame’ the bull are flashed in front of us what comes to our minds is matadors spilling blood in bull rings.

Jallikattu protagonists stress that it is not a bloody sport but showing love and affection to the animal that is let loose without harming it. South Indian actor   

Vishal, who is an animal lover, has dispelled misunderstandings about the ancient sport in an interview.  Speaking to iFlickz.com, the actor, an ardent supporter of animal welfare activities, said, “Jallikattu has not been widely and properly understood by the national media and others in the country. They need to understand how the bull is loved and revered by the village families all the year round and is treated like a family member. Only one day of the year during the Pongal festivities, Jallikattu is practised. It’s a centuries old tradition and part of our culture. On one day of the year, the bull is revered at the temple and then through a special vadi vaasal near the temple, is released for the sport. Youngsters have to only hang on to its hump for 30 seconds and it’s over. The entire run lasts for a few minutes. The bull is then taken back to the farmer’s family and looked after lovingly and used as a stud bull for breeding the species, the rest of the year. The people love and respect their cattle and there is no intention to harm it.”

According to Wikipedia, Jallikattu is also known as Sallikattu and a couple of other names. Apparently, Jallikattu comes from Salli (coins) + Kattu (package). In ancient times, a small sack of coins (presumably gold or silver) were tied to the bull’s horns and the participants in the game used to chase the bull to snatch some coins from the bag. It was an arduous task, demanding strength, skill to chase the bull without being trampled and above all valour to face the ferocious animal. So, most of the Tamil names associated with the sport were derived from actions and activities linked to the game.

While tracing Jallikattu origins, Wikipedia says it is said to have been practiced during the Tamil Classical Period (400-100 BC). The National Museum in New Delhi has a seal from the Indus Valley Civilization showing a form of Jallikattu and a 2500-year-old cave painting found near Madurai has a lone man trying to control a bull.

From historical and archeological perspective, it’s beyond a shadow of doubt that Jallikattu has been ancient and its practice dates back to millennia. Then why is this controversy now, with the judiciary taking an active role and politics playing its part?

For over a decade, animal activists in the country have been demanding a ban on Jallikattu, citing cruelty to bulls by a raucous crowd to derive fleeting pleasure out of petrified animals. Protests were common against the bullrun just before Pongal but no concrete action had been taken until the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA -India) jumped into the ring, literally. To cut the long run of legal battles to ban Jallikattu short, several cases had been filed and instructions and guidelines given and rules framed to check cruelty to the bulls used in the run and control the traditional festive game in as many ways as possible by the Tamil Nadu Government and courts. Whenever new rules and regulations were introduced, people saw them as interfering in their customs and traditions and the way rural people celebrate and continue thir age-old practices.

The current agitation was stoked by decisions by government and their reversal by the Supreme Court in the last two years. For instance, in May 2014, the apex court banned Jallikattu, citing animal welfare issues. But on January 8, 2016, the Central government issued a reversal order, circumventing the court ban, in time to organize Jallikattu. But six days later, on January 14, the Supreme Court upheld its ban, triggering protests all over Tamil Nadu.

Once the Pongal was over, the protests had died down but they raised their head just before the festival last week as if to remind the people about the ban and to put pressure on Chief Minister Panneerselvam to find a permanent solution to organizing the quintessentially traditional rural event. The rally at Marina Beach in Chennai on that day and the following day was massive and shook the establishment. As of Friday, the protests were still continuing. In fact, they gained more traction.

They were in response to apex court’s order on January 12, 2017, ordering a stay on Central government’s notification on Jallikattu and issued notices to Tamil Nadu and Central governments.

Now, the question is, would the BJP government take to ordinance route to nullify apex court order. Amidst hectic parleys between various ministries at the Centre, it has to find a way out. It’s Catch-22 situation for BJP.

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