With the Madras High Court lifting the ban on Jallikattu, the Indian equivalent of the Spanish bullfight, the Pongal festival in southern districts of Tamil Nadu will yet again see the adrenalin-high rage between bulls and men.
Without the scary spectacle of roaring bulls, which tear through a sizeable band of youth, Pongal is incomplete in the southern districts. It also brings hundreds of local people and foreign tourists to places such as Madurai, Pudukkottai and Ramanathapuram.
The most famous of them all is the Aranganallur Jallikattu, which is legendary in terms of its following and stature. The winners, both the bulls and the men, win fabulous prices and become part of the local folklore, at least for a year. Hundreds get hurt and some even killed.
For the same reasons, the Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday had informed the Madras High Court, at its bench in Madurai, that if it is not permitted there will be violence in the state.
Yet again, animal activists including Bollywood actor John Abraham are let down and the local organisers have won, deepening the debate between tradition and law on unacceptable social practices.
For the supporters of Jallikattu, it is an essential part of their centuries old culture and rural social life. It is also their way of paying obeisance to the bulls, which are integral to their life as farmers. They say all the allegations by the activists are baseless and that the bulls are reared at great cost and care, and revered through the sport.
Although the advocates of the practice say the bulls are not harmed, the way they are intoxicated and driven into a desperate rage by applying chilli powder or sniff powder in their eyes inflict tremendous pain on them. In addition, the men who try to tame them mount on them, sometimes several of them at a time, which also hurt them.
The tamers also get seriously hurt. Every year, several casualties, sometimes even deaths, are reported. The horns of the bulls are so sharpened that even a mild brush with them can cause grievous hurt. In the last two decades, about 200 people have been reportedly killed.
With animal activists crying hoarse, the organisers and local people taking it as an issue of cultural pride, and the helpless state governments taking a populist stand year after year, this brutal sport, which is inconsistent with the times we live in, is likely to continue. The ban by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the feeble attempts by the state government, the relentless campaign by animal activists or the interventions of the courts do not seem to address the tricky cultural argument. If one agrees for the sport because it had been practised for hundreds of years, many barbaric traditional practices, such as child marriage, that have been outlawed in the country can be justified as well.
The only welcome relief is that of late, there are stringent conditions imposed on the oraganisers of the event and the district collectors are held responsible. Unlike in the past, only those cleared by the authorities can jump into the "ring" of loose soil to tame the bulls. Medical examinations, close scrutiny of the preparations of the event and the on-site behaviour are also closely monitored. Similarly, the bulls cannot be intoxicated or tortured to run amuck. The collectors also have to file an affidavit after the events. But animal rights activists say there is still a lot that goes unnoticed and only an outright ban can stop the barbarism.
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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2012 22:37:51 IST