Over the past four days, if there is one organisation that has come under fire, it is the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). While posters targeting it can be found all over the Marina beach, the ground zero of the pro-jallikattu protest in Chennai, even political leaders like MK Stalin have called Peta anti-national. Many others have demanded that Peta should be thrown out of Tamil Nadu.
TS Sudhir spoke with Dr V Manilal, director, Peta who admitted to receiving several threats and abusive calls all through this week. But despite the opposition, Manilal says Peta will continue to be committed to the cause of educating people about compassion towards animals. Edited excerpts from the interview:
The govt is moving an emergency ordinance to allow Jallikattu on Sunday. Tamil Nadu Chief minister O Panneerselvam has promised to inaugurate it himself. Are you at Peta left with no options now?
We always have the legal option. We will consult our lawyers and we will proceed based on their advice.
But if the ordinance is promulgated on Saturday and Jallikattu happens on Sunday, that leaves you with hardly any time over the weekend to approach the court? All indications are that jallikattu will happen for sure on Sunday. Other animal rights activists seem resigned to it.
We will need to look at the possible legal remedies. Even if it goes ahead, our effort to educate and create awareness and tell people why we are opposed to Jallikattu will continue. The Supreme Court in its 2014 order has clearly mentioned that cruelty is inherent in jallikattu. Nothing stops us from educating people about it.
Peta has been made the villain in the protests in Tamil Nadu. There are posters and there is sloganeering against your organisation. Are you surprised by the hatred and the vehemence of the hate?
We are indeed surprised. We are a soft target. Everyone knows Peta is an NGO. We do not frame laws nor implement them. We only abide by the laws. By putting the blame on Peta, people are ignoring the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act of 1960, which was created when PETA did not even exist. The PCA Act clearly states that it is the duty of the owners to protect the animal and not indulge in any animal fighting.
Peta was not even in the picture when the petition against Jallikattu was filed by A Nagaraja, a father whose young son was gored to death by a bull in 2004. It was the Animal Welfare Board of India, a body formed by the Union Environment ministry that was involved in the litigation. It was the ministry that said bulls are not to be used for performance in 2011. Peta got into the case only in 2011 when despite regulations, abuse of bulls was taking place during Jallikattu.
That being the case, why do you think Peta has come under such sharp attack?
Peta has demonstrated about the cruelty to the bulls in jallikattu. We have conducted awareness programmes about it. It goes with the essence of the Supreme Court verdict which ruled that jallikattu is unnecessary suffering to bulls, that using bulls as a performing animal is not permitted under PCA act.
Tamil and Telugu actor Trisha came under attack because of her association with Peta. Were you disappointed that she backed down after the trolls came after her, subjecting her to a lot of abuse?
Trisha is not our brand ambassador. She had associated with us to talk about cruelty to dogs and to spread the message to adopt instead of shopping for pedigree dogs. We feel sorry about what Trisha had to go through. We intend to do good for animals and it put her in a difficult situation.
Now Trisha has said she supports Jallikattu. Do you see a contradiction there? On one hand, you campaign against cruelty to dogs but are okay with a sport that the Supreme Court has banned on grounds of cruelty to the bulls.
These are individuals. They have their own opinion. We provide them with the information but finally, it is their mind and choice.
We received many threat calls saying they will kill us at Peta. Callers abused in English and Tamil. Our CEO, Poorva Joshipura got threats of rape. We have not yet filed a complaint with the police because we have been rather busy fire-fighting as you can see.
You also have celebrities like AR Rahman and chess champion Vishwanathan Anand coming out in support of Jallikattu. Rahman observed a one-day fast on Friday. Are you suggested they are not informed as well?
As I said, everyone has the right to make choices. On our part, we reach out to all celebrities with information.
Would you reach out to Rahman and Anand as well?
Yes, we will and hope to change their perspective about jallikattu.
Do you suspect a conspiracy against Peta, in the manner in which people have gone after you?
There are people who are desperate to bring back jallikattu despite the SC ban. So they do it by targeting someone who is easily available and vocal. They used this opportunity.
Tamil Nadu's Leader of the Opposition and DMK's MK Stalin called Peta anti-national. What do you have to say about that?
Labelling Peta anti-national does not make sense because the Constitution of India says everyone should be kind and compassionate. We believe precisely in that. That makes us patriotic. If they say, let cruelty take place, are they nationalistic?
There are also calls to throw you out of Tamil Nadu.
We have no office in Chennai but through our office in Mumbai we have been reaching out to all states for the last 17 years in India.
With so much vitriol against you both in the real and the virtual space, do you fear that the Government of India will come after you?
We are clean. We abide by the law of the land. We have nothing to be worried about. Why should we fear if we fight for the rights of living beings?
Have you felt being under some kind of a siege in the last four days, ever since the Marina Beach was occupied by protesters?
Not really but it seems the challenge is bigger. We need to reach out to more people and create more awareness.
There is a lot of online abuse directed at Peta. Was there anything in person?
Yes, many threat calls saying they will kill us at Peta. Callers abused in English and Tamil. Our CEO, Poorva Joshipura got threats of rape. We have not yet filed a complaint with the police because we have been rather busy fire-fighting as you can see.
That is unfortunate and worrying and I wish you well. This entire protest has been billed as Tamil culture versus the ban and organisations like Peta. Do you think it was deliberate to pitch it like that to be able to appeal to the emotions of the average Tamilian?
Tamil culture is not anti-animal rights. Also, it is not Peta's battle alone. I believe there is no conflict between tradition and compassion.
It is quite possible that jallikattu could take place on Sunday, as the CM has promised. Do you still believe that jallikattu will cause harm? What if they ensure no bull is harmed and win the propaganda battle against animal rights activists like you?
The behavioural pattern of a bull is that it responds to an adverse situation by putting up a fight. Otherwise, when you see bulls in the middle of a road, they just stand still and won't charge at anyone. Now, when they prod the bull to go towards the vadivaasal (the entry point), it resists. The men are waiting to jump on it like predators attack a prey. It senses the threat perception and is reluctant to go. To force it to go, the men bite and bend its tail. They cut off the thick rope which passes through its nostrils. Can't we imagine the pain it goes through when the rope rubs against its soft nasal system at a speed? Then with the same knife, its body is poked. Basically, without agitating a bull, you cannot conduct jallikattu.
And nothing you think will be any different on Sunday when jallikattu could be possibly held?
No. The point is it is not the owner of the bull or the family that is going to embrace the bull when it comes out. Ten to fifteen strangers are jumping on it, trying to hold on to some part of its body. The bulls don't only suffer physical injury but mental trauma as well.
But the oft-repeated claim of the bull owners is that the animal is treated like a family member.
I agree. For 364 days, it is indeed treated like a child of the family. We appreciate it. But on one day, the family allows it to be manhandled. I ask, would we do that with our child? According to animal behavioural science, most animals like bulls and cows also act and respond like humans. They feel the pain, trauma, fear and affection.
Have the events of the last four days significantly set back animal welfare in India?
We believe every calamity is an opportunity. More people know about jallikattu now. The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi said, 'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.' Our lawmakers have to be made to understand this.
Updated Date: Jan 21, 2017 09:39 AM