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Jallikattu ban: Why the demand for revival of a blood sport does not indicate people’s freedom

The spontaneous outpouring on Marina beach these last few weeks against the Jallikattu ban, has been likened to the Arab Spring and even called the #TamilSpring. Perhaps, because not only did the Marina protests quickly spread across Tamil Nadu, leading to the state government passing an ordinance allowing the animal sport - it also has had a cascading effect on other states.

In Karnataka, politicians and farmer groups have asked the Centre to lift the ban on the traditional Kambala buffalo race, held in the marshy fields of coastal Karnataka. For once, both the ruling Congress and opposition BJP are on the same side. The reason, of course, is not far to seek. With the 2018 Assembly elections around the corner, Kambala has given Karnataka politicians an opportunity to stir popular discontent and play vote bank politics.

 Jallikattu ban: Why the demand for revival of a blood sport does not indicate people’s freedom

Representational image. AP

On Sunday (22 January), the Kambala Samiti held a meeting in Mangaluru and organisers filed petitions in the high court, asking for the stay to be vacated. The high court had banned Kambala in November last year, after animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had approached the court, citing cruelty to animals. Farmers have planned protests in Moodbidri on 28 January and also plan to hold a Kambala event in Mangaluru.

Online campaigns and actors tweeting their support to Kambala has also begun. Actor Jaggesh also lent his voice for Kambala, tweeting, “Let there not be a divide — Uttara Karnataka or Dakshina Karnataka. Let us all stand united.” Now, whether Karnataka too will promulgate an Ordinance to allow Kambala will depend on how strong the demand is.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra too has called for lifting of the ban on its traditional bullock-cart-race, held during Ganesh Chaturthi, which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014.

Given, that these animal sports have their cultural and historical heritage, these protests demanding the lifting of bans against the sports are guaranteed to raise machismo and regional jingoism. For instance, jallikattu can trace its history to the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC) and grew to become a platform for display of bravery and winning prize money. Kambala too can trace its history to 1,000 years back and to the Hoysala kings. It was a royal sport which was later passed on to commoners. Many of these animal sports from different regions in the country are linked to harvest festivals and celebrated to appease the gods for a good harvest.
But, is it correct to liken the jallikattu movement to the #ArabSpring?

The #ArabSpring was an uprising in 2011, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the Arab world, demanding an end to decades of oppression and harsh authoritarian rule. These popular protests began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, when authoritarian leaders like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia were swept from power.

But, looking back on the uprising five years on, Amnesty International states, “Many hoped that this “Arab Spring” would bring in new governments that would deliver political reform and social justice. But the reality is more war and violence, and a crackdown on people who dare to speak out for a fairer, more open society.”

Firstly, what makes the Marina uprising different from the #ArabSpring is that jallikattu supporters were not fighting for people’s freedom, but were instead demanding the revival of a blood sport. The cascading effect of other states demanding the lifting of bans on their own animal sports are also doing the same. What then, is to prevent people from demanding the lifting of bans on hunting of animals next - including endangered species like the black buck or the tiger?

The Hindustan Times, quoted PETA India CEO Poorva Joshipura as saying, ‘cruelty to animals, children, the elderly, and others is morally repugnant. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What, then, do images of men pouncing on a frightened bull and bulls – sometimes liquored up, their tails deliberately broken and their eyes full of chilli peppers – trying to flee their tormentors say about our nation?’

While, PETA has said it would study the ordinance that the Tamil Nadu government had promulgated to circumvent the 2014 Supreme Court ban on the traditional and popular bull-taming sport, in reality, the Tamil Nadu ordinance has come as a major setback to animal activists. An animal activist friend, sent me a frustrated message as soon as the ordinance was promulgated, “they have undone all the work we animal activists accomplished over the years.”

PETA India has called for India’s own laws to be upheld and making Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution mandatory for every Indian citizen, “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.

But, as social activists before them have found, legal recourse alone is not often enough. Take for instance, dowry, child marriages or even the devadasi cult. All these have laws banning them, but we all know that these social evils continue to exist under the radar of the law. Social activists have always known that implementation of the laws take years of on-ground work to change mind-sets.

Animal welfare organisations like PETA, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) have now a long haul ahead of them. Even, as they set to work on formulating guidelines and monitor their implementation to ensure that animals are treated fairly in jallikattu, Kambala and other animal sports, they also need to now allocate resources and time to changing mindsets.

For, the demand for jallikattu or Kambala is not about an urban-rural divide, as protestors and farmers have taken pains to point out, but a divide between those fighting for the voiceless animals and those fighting for state pride and upholding of traditions. As long as tradition and culture deifies these animal sports, it’s going to be an uphill task for animal activists. Animal activists have to look at other methods to turn popular opinion against these blood sports. Just as the jallikattu uprising got its support from powerful voices within the film industry, animal activists too need to garner equally powerful voices to their fold.

That PETA India believes that one day, all blood sports worldwide “will be relegated to the history books, even if that day is not today,” animal activists know that the journey is going to be a long and arduous one.

For a vegetarian like me, killing an animal to eat biryani is equally cruel. So then, who is to decide, what is morally right or wrong? Is this the job of the judiciary, the legislative or people themselves?

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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 22:33:48 IST