Sati was an ancient Indian custom but it was abolished. Widow remarriage was banned among upper-caste Hindus but it was later legalised. Child marriages in north India were rampant once but were later outlawed. Purdah was once considered a symbol of honour of Indian women but it was gradually lifted.
The arc of humanity has always moved from the retrograde to modern. The endeavour of humanity has been to discard what is cruel, unethical and repressive to the universally accepted code of equality of rights and a society based on love and kindness.
So, why should Jallikattu stay? Just because the blood sport has been in vogue for ages — some claim it is 2500 years old — it doesn't entitle Tamilians to a lifetime of torturing bulls for a public spectacle. Festivals are meant to be a celebration of life, an ode to nature and God. If a practice that is cruel to animals — as much part of the nature and deserving of god's love — has devoured the original identity of a festival, it must go.
Tradition, hypocritical definitions of pride and honour could not ensure perpetuation of Sati, purdah, child marriage and many other social evils that were justified in the name custom of custom. The Supreme Court has taken the right decision by outlawing jallikattu. It should stay firm and not give in to arm-twisting and emotional blackmail by people who want to torture a herbivore to prove their machismo, cultural identity or satiate their blood lust.
In fact, it is time the Supreme Court nailed the bogus argument of customs and traditions being cast in stone with strict guidelines across India. What passes off as custom is generally a distortion — or improvisation — of our ancient rituals and traditions. Any act that violates the original spirit of a festival or celebration to the detriment of environment, endangers every variety of flora and fauna should be immediately outlawed.
Diwali, for instance, was just a festival of lights. But it has been turned into an orgy of noise and pollution by mindless bursting of crackers. Every year, people die because of blasts in factories where crackers are manufactured illegally. Hundreds get burn injuries on the night of Diwali. The air is polluted beyond repair and people with impaired respiration are made to go through hell.
Yet, people start screaming when a ban is sought on crackers in the name of custom and Hindu identity.
Makar Sakranti was a harvest festival, a day marked for spiritual and physical ablution. But in several parts of north India, it has turned into a kite festival, where sharp-edged threads are strung like guillotines in the sky to butcher hundreds of birds, maiming thousands. Yet, revellers do not desist from buying the sharpest of threads, lined with shards of glass, that not just kill birds but sharp slice the necks of dozens of people.
It would be, in fact, interesting to track the origin of Jallikattu. Was it always a festival where bulls were tortured, poked with sharp objects, fed alcohol and blinded with red chilli powder in a bid to tame them, entertain crowds? Some historians argue that its etymology — it is derived from salli (coins) and kattu (package) — suggests it was originally a game where people retrieved coins tied to a bull's horn. The cruel practices that mark modern Jallikattu appear to be later additions.
In a modern progressive society, codes of kindness and equality should be imbibed naturally. It is, in fact, a damning indictment of human nature when courts have to intervene and outlaw the torture of animals for sport and entertainment. Demands for cessation of such barbaric practices should ideally have risen from within, through introspection and understanding of the laws of nature.
But, since this doesn't seem to happening, the constitution and laws should get primacy, implemented in word and spirit. In its order banning jallikattu, the Supreme Court had identified five freedoms for animals. These included freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, from fear and distress, from physical and thermal discomfort, from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. It asked the Parliament to "elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, as done by many of the countries around the world, so as to protect their dignity and honour."
In the past, the law has intervened on several occasions to protect the rights of animals. Several years ago, circuses were allowed to capture and train animals for entertainment. But, that was banned (circuses didn't die). The court deprived many street performers of their livelihood by denying them the right to capture bears, monkeys and snakes for holding tamashas in the streets.
The courts have always come to the rescue of the species at the mercy of homo-sapiens. It has strived to turn nature into a level-playing field for every species that exists, without giving anybody the right to exploit the other. The ban on jallikattu is one such initiative, it should stay.
Those who advocate the torture of animals for public spectacles, call animal-rights activists anti-national (is it better to be anti-nature, anti-god?) should remember that real bravery lies in protecting those at your mercy, real honor lies in respecting laws of nature and those enshrined in the constitution.
And the only tradition worth standing up for is that of a civilisation built around equality of rights, kindness and individual freedoms. If all this hurt's somebody pride, humiliates people, let's hang Raja Ram Mohan Roy right now and go back to Sati, child marriage and purdah.
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 12:20 PM