Jallikattu row: Shame on the state that abandoned rationality, caved to irrational mob demands

Tamil Nadu is my home state, and I have always felt immense pride in calling it one of the most progressive states in India. We tackle social issues head on instead of brushing them under the carpet.

I remember reading the works of Periyar when I was in college, and I was astounded that in India, there was a state that not just had a rationalist thinker like him, but also celebrated him. If you walk down Marina Beach, it's hard not to miss his statue there, standing as an edifice to rationality in the face of thousands of years of social oppression in the name of "culture".

Periyar, through his self-respect movement, challenged the cultural hegemony of caste and reformed the state. The AIADMK, the party in power today, and the opposition party DMK both owe their existence to this great rationalist thinker. One can almost go ahead and say that Tamil Nadu is founded on rationalist thought. Is it any wonder then that the state leads the country on social indicators?

 Jallikattu row: Shame on the state that abandoned rationality, caved to irrational mob demands

Protesters throned the Marina beach in Chennai for five straight days. PTI

It's not just Periyar; Tamil culture's greatest poetic work, the Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar, is a secular approach to ethics, talking about living ethically when alive rather than aiming for spiritual benefits in the afterlife. It is a work based on reason, not spirituality. A rational work. Rationalism is deeply rooted in our culture.

Tamil culture has been a progressive one, and has been evolving constantly. It's one that chooses science and modernity over past thinking. This has been reflected in its films, its politics and its music. For example, it was Tamil Nadu that started the Cradle Baby scheme, where women could abandon unwanted babies at government hospitals as a response to female infanticide. Something that has seen a near 14 percent reduction in the post-birth daughter deficit in the state. No other state was so bold in acknowledging the idea that in some cases a woman would need to abandon her baby to keep it safe. Except Tamil Nadu. Was it against the "culture" of the time? Of course it was. But was it a rational policy? Yes, it was. So Tamil Nadu did it anyway.

When it came to the mid-day meal programme, it was again Tamil Nadu that pioneered the scheme, linking education with nutritious lunch-time meals to increase school enrolment and to encourage parents to send all their children to school, boys and girls. Was it against prevailing social norms at the time to send girls to school? Yes, it was. But was it rational? Yes again. So Tamil Nadu did it anyway.

But what we've witnessed over the past few days at the Marina beach has been a mass rejection of rational thought in the name of "saving culture". Not one of the protestors, not even the government, was able to make the argument that bulls used in the sport of jallikattu would not undergo cruelty and suffering. Instead they argued that this cruelty was justified, in order for the culture to be protected. This goes against everything the last one hundred-odd years of Tamil culture has been about. Tamil culture has been about a forward thinking people, embracing science and progress. It has not been about blindly defending culture in the name of sentiment.

We saw celebrities like Vishwanathan Anand, Kamal Hassan and AR Rahman come out in support of jalikattu. Rahman even went on a day-long fast to back the fast, while Kamal Hassan said that if we can ban jalikattu, why not ban biryani?

They should all go hang their heads in shame. For they have lent their names to irrationality. Is it in our culture to torture animals before we kill them for food? Would Rahman kick a goat around an arena before putting it to death and eating it as biryani? Would Kamal Hassan take pet dogs, pull their tails to agitate them and race them around the Marina? The SC, in its judgement, says this about bulls and their behaviour:

Bulls usually stand to graze and the pattern of grazing behaviour of each herd member is relatively similar, which moves slowly across the pasture with the muzzle close to the ground and they ruminate resting. A bull is known to be having resting behaviour and will avoid source of noise and disturbance and choose non-habitual resting sites if the preferred ones are close to the noise or disturbance, which is the natural instinct of the bull.

The study conducted also disclosed that bulls have long memories. Factors mentioned above are the natural instincts of these bulls.

As already indicated, and also suggested by animal behaviour studies, the bulls accordingly adopt flight or fight response when they are frightened or threatened. This instinctual response to a perceived threat is what is being exploited in jallikattu or bullock-cart races. During jallikattu, many animals are observed to engage in a flight response, as they try to run away from the arena when they experience fear or pain, but cannot do this, since the area is completely enclosed. Jallikattu demonstrates a link between actions of humans and the fear, distress and pain experienced by bulls. Studies indicate that rough or abusive handling of bulls compromises welfare; and for increasing bulls' fear, they are often pushed, hit, prodded and abused, causing mental as well as physical harm." (At para 14 & 15)

Going by this, unless you threaten or scare the bull, you can't have the sport. A bull in a state of rest is docile. That's why they don't attack you when you pass them by on the road. So can you have the game without subjecting the animal to cruelty? No. Therefore, can the bull be used as a performing animal without it being subject to cruelty? No. It makes rational sense to say the bull cannot be used as a performing animal.

This has nothing to do with culture or religion.

If the law had to be changed, we should have waited for concrete evidence that the underlying facts had changed. There was none. But apparently, even in Tamil Nadu of today, culture triumphs reason. The youth of the state, through their protest in the name of culture, set back the last one hundred years of progress Tamil Nadu has made. They should erect a monument to irrationality on the Marina today, for irrationality alone has prevailed.

Shame on the state. Shame on the Centre. Shame on the youth. Shame on the politicians. Shame on the celebrities. Shame on everyone for failing to stand up and do what is right.

Updated Date: Jan 22, 2017 08:42:52 IST