Jallikattu debate: 'Not about Tamil pride anymore, it's now a fight between state and Supreme Court'

Ever since protesters demanding a lift on jallikattu ban — a bull-taming sport — started gathering at the Marina Beach, the focus has always been on how the people of Tamil Nadu rose against the law attempting to define its culture. For some time, it has become a matter of Tamil pride and a way to establish a Tamil identity. Everyone from actors to politicians have spoken in support of the movement. But while people were gathering at Marina Beach, many seem to have forgotten the real reasons that prompted the Supreme Court to ban the sport in the first place.

Manoj Oswal, an animal rights activist who was appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the sport of jallikattu between 2010 and 2012. Oswal is currently in New Delhi and part of a group of at least 50 animal rights activists, lovers and organisations who are challenging the government of Tamil Nadu's bill that allows conducting of the jallikattu. Firstpost caught up with the activist to give the other side of the story. And ignoring Tamil Nadu's behaviour in the name of appeasing the masses could set the precedent for many problems for the Indian Union.

 Jallikattu debate: Not about Tamil pride anymore, its now a fight between state and Supreme Court

Animal rights activist Manoj Oswal (centre)

We hear you are moving to the Supreme Court to challenge the government ordinance allowing jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. Are you planning to challenge both central government withdrawing the ordinance and the Tamil Nadu ordinance?

We are going to challenge Tamil Nadu state's ordinance that allows conduct of jallikattu in the state. I am right now in Delhi in the process of filing my challenge to the bill. Its not me alone. There are around 50 of us — individuals and organisations — who have decided to move the Supreme Court against the bill. It's a lot of people with similar mindset who have come together. Each of us are giving our inputs, and we will be filing multiple notifications that will challenge the Tamil Nadu state's ordinance with the apex court.

What are your main problems with the Tamil Nadu government's bill?

Already the fine for cruelty to animals is set at Rs 50, but the Tamil Nadu ordinance has done away with that as well.  So, if anyone is guilty, no court will be able to punish them. This is the first such law without any fine. We will make sure that the Suprme Court order is implemented. The biggest grievance we have is it has exempted animals from being treated like animals. This is not regulation. This is bypassing the law. We are very hopeful that the SC won't accept the new bill.

Protests supporting jallikattu are more or less over. And the Tamil Nadu state ordinance was cleared on Saturday whereas the pro-jallikattu protests have been going on since 8 January. Why did you wait to speak up against it? Do you think that animal rights groups didn't come out in support of Peta, which was termed as the villain in the entire movement?

Every one of us were continously talking about it in the media. The unfortunate part was that we got drowned in the emotion that captured the mindset of the Indian media. I have been working on this for 11 years. We were not silent at all. Somehow, in India, it's okay to abuse an animal if it's part of the religion or culture. The entire media got carried away by the protest, as well.

There are talks that jallikattu could be regulated to ensure that bulls are not tortured or affected. Would you support jallikattu if stricter regulations are imposed?

If there is a law it should be implemented irrespective of people's opinion about it. It's either neglected or have not read the Supreme Court verdict. Jallikattu was not banned of what happens in the arena, but the cruelty that is inflicted before the animal is released into the arena, and after it escapes the arena.

You studied the festival of jallikattu in Tamil Nadu between 2009 and 2012 with your colleague Prakash Sasha. What kind of abuse are we talking about?

The torture starts the moment a bull is loaded into a van to be carried to the venue. They are tied very tightly and transported in a very crude manner for 8-9 hours. But that's quite little as compared to what happens when they arrive at the venue. Since there are lots of bulls, they began arriving early around 1 am in the night and start waiting. So, by 5 am all the lanes are filled with bulls. They are forced to stand in the same position for 8-9 hours, neck to neck with no place to sit. Then there's urine and cow dung everywhere, which also prevents them from sleeping.

BJP promised the return of Jallikattu. AFP

BJP promised the return of jallikattu. AFP

From there they are taken to vadi vassal, which is a tiny space of 3000x200sq feet of area. This is the heart of the cruelty that happens to a bull during jallikattu. The bull is held very tightly. At this point, the vadi vassal is a safe space for the bull — an animal's brain is like that of a 2-3-years old— as compared to the thousands of people waiting outside. The only way to get him out of the vadi vassal is is to torture him so much that he sees the arena as a safer place than the vadi vassal. They twist their tales, bite their tears, pull the rope around their sensitive nose. A little friction of the rope causes immense pain. They also puncture their skin causing little wounds that are enough to aggravate the bull. And somehow, he is forced into the arena. They then cut the rope.

There are 50-60 people waiting, ready to pounce on him. Usually, of every ten bulls, people manage to catch only 1-2 bulls, the rest just run away. But an escape from the arena brings greater torture. Outside the arena, it is not just a tussle between the bull and man like you see in the arena. Outside the arena, there are no rules. The moment a bull runs out of the arena, the crowd runs out for it. When the crowd of that size (4,000 to 5,000 people) runs behind the bulls, no one can prevent anyone from attacking the bull.

And when a bull is irritated, he is very nervous and threatened. Did you know that most of the injuries take place to the spectators and not to the participants? If you look at sports, the injury is to the participants, but here, the spectators are injured. The spectators harass and torture the bull when it goes out of the arena. And that's actually the fun part of the festival for the crowd. And that's why the Supreme Court banned the festival.

So, suppose they regularise the sport, put up rules and regulations to prevent this abuse and torture, would animal rights activists support jallikattu?

The court had considered the nature of the bull. A lot of scientific data was made available by the Animal Welfare Board of India. The court considered the nature of the bull, as in how it lives, etc. The Supreme Court tried many options to allow the conduct of jallikattu in the state of Tamil Nadu. It organised nearly 100-120 events between 2010 to 2014 under its supervision. Stricter rules and regulations to conduct jallikattu is not a new idea and everyone was aware of it. They knew that if they followed those measures, the SC won't ban jallikattu. But they still didn't follow it. The thing is if they follow the rules, jallikattu is not fun. If the bull was not tortured and treated with cruelty, it would be very docile, he would just evade the participants. People want to see cruelty, and that's why they do not want a ban on jallikattu. But the problem is there's a conflict on what people expect from jallikattu and what is permitted.

Youngsters and students during a protest to lift the ban on Jallikattu. PTI

Do you think our approach to jallikattu may reignite old sports that involve animals and inflicting torture on them? There are already talks about organising Bulbuli fights in Assam and Bull Cart race in Maharashtra?

Culture and religion is an issue and people do not apply their mind on it. If jallikattu is allowed, it will create new issues. Already, we are seeing every state and region starting their own mass movement to restart their cultural and religious practices. There are so many festivals and practices that were outlawed but now there is a clamour to legalise them. There's Nag Panchami where snakes are hunted, Bulbuli fights where nightingales are made to fight, etc. This will bring complete anarchy. But that's not all. If this is allowed, the states will find themselves more powerful than the Supreme Court. This act of defiance of SC will defy everything. You have to also understand how things work in the country. The court is your last resort in many things. And here, we are challenging the highest court of the order by people. If this is allowed, its orders will have no impact. A democracy would be following procedure laid down by the democracy.
Never ever have the people gone against an SC order, and got through with it. The honour of the SC is challenged.

Report on Jalikattu by Firstpost on Scribd

In one end, India holds cow at such high regards equivalent to a mother, but time pays no attention to the tortures inflicted on the bull. What is your opinion of this double standard? 

We may hold cows as equivalent to a mother, but cows are often abused — whether it's on a dairy farm or any other commercial industry. While we have an emotional attachment with cows, few cows get immense respect, but those who are part of an industry are abused.  There's a lot of respect on paper, but the industry treats it like a machine. There's a very strange behaviour as well. We only treat Indian cows and mother but not foreign breeds. So, we are racist towards animals as well.

Do you see the view that "culture is more superior than anything else" an indirect effect of the growing right-wing nationalism in India? Do you think, there is a bigger game in play here?

To a large extent, yes. Religious groups have always been vocal, but they had never found support of the government. For three years there was no agitation the kind of grip that Jayalalithaa had is not there with the current Tamil Nadu government. I think, there is a bigger growing influence of people with eccentric views in the government. People with hidden agendas are able to get in and get their job done. When a court of the country passes an order, the govt ensures that it's followed. I agree with you, there is a bigger game in play here. The government in Tamil Nadu wanted to ensure that jallikattu is allowed.

What is your next step as an activist as far as jallikattu is concerned?

We are going to fight with tooth and nail. There are many other wrong practices that have been outlawed will become legal. If this is not stopped, just a few MLAs get together can do that. That is the bigger threat.

Pro-jallikattu protesters made abusive calls and even threatened to rape a Peta official. Are you prepared for the fallout that your decision to challenge the ordinance may bring?

I have been listening to 20 threatening calls. It has been happening for years. This is something we are used to. Some jallikattu supporters even said that they will come and burn our houses. This is for the actions we take against illegalities, be it the abuse of pigs or bulls. It's about threatening an honest officer, that's the way of life in our.

Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja by Firstpost on Scribd

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 18:37:40 IST