Blame for sowing the first seeds of the Occupy Marina protests in favour of jallikattu must be laid squarely at the doors of three senior leaders of the Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party. But the crowning glory of nullifying the visionary May 7, 2014 Supreme Court order banning jallikattu – reducing to dust 40 years of effort to petition the legislature to ban all sports using bulls as objects of entertainment and hammering the last nail in the coffin of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 by rushing through an amendment to facilitate jallikattu – rightfully belongs to the BJP government at the centre. Given that 10 people, including a policeman on duty, have died, that several bulls have been injured while one terrified bull running for its life died after falling into a quarry following the resumption of jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, that two bulls died during jallikattu in Andhra Pradesh, and that hundreds of spectators have been injured, questions are now being raised about why well-known people like Sri Sri Ravishankar, Jaggi Vasudev, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy and journalist S. Gurumurthy are vocal in their support for this bloodsport.
Political observers understood the significance of students entering the fray in favour of jallikattu, which overnight became an issue of ‘Tamil pride’. Even if on day one the campaign could be projected as a revolutionary student movement for jallikattu, by day two it was no longer about the ‘sport’ but about Tamil identity politics.
BJP leaders in the state said that if the people of Tamil Nadu chose to disregard the May 2014 Supreme Court order banning jallikattu, the party would stand firmly with the people; one of them even let loose the bulls on his farm in what he proclaimed was a traditional bull-run. Not to be left behind, and taking their cue from the ruling party at the centre, the two major Dravidian political parties and several Tamil-chauvinist political groups jumped into the fray, also extending support to people if they chose to defy the Supreme Court order. What the BJP should have foreseen but did not, or what the BJP saw but did not comprehend, was that within 48 hours of the Occupy Marina campaign, the mass mobilisation allegedly for jallikattu became a massive show of strength to bring the state and central government to their knees; it succeeded even beyond their wildest expectations. The BJP government in Delhi and the state unit of the ‘party with a difference’ came to their senses when posters of Prabhakaran of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and posters with secessionist slogans (besides slogans and posters against Modi) began to be openly flaunted on Marina beach.
It was too late by then for any political party to disown the movement without burning their fingers. Neither the central government nor the state government, much less the state unit of the BJP, were in any position to douse the fire they had lit with such cynical disdain for the law and rule of law.
When the president of India, on advice from the BJP central government, gave his assent to the Tamil Nadu amendment to the PCA Act, he was only defusing an out of control crisis threatening to explode on the people of Tamil Nadu. But the question is, at what cost? The Modi sarkar, by advising the president to give assent to the amendment, has further weakened an already weak law – the only law in this country to protect animals from human depredation.
The end result of Occupy Marina
In the wake of Sasikala’s conviction by the Supreme Court, Subramanian Swamy has been exulting in the judgment pronounced by Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Amitava Roy. On one channel, he observed with satisfaction that the order proved that not all judges are corrupt. He added that the February 14, 2017 judgment was brilliantly articulated and would henceforth be considered a landmark judgment against corruption in public life. The irony of it! Swamy and friends are oblivious or impervious to the fact that by expressing public support for jallikattu and lobbying for it with the central government, they demolished another brilliantly and sensitively articulated judgment delivered by the same Justice Ghosh with Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan on May 7, 2014.
When the true face of Occupy Marina could no longer be kept under wraps or swept under the carpet, the state government and BJP central government adopted the carrot and stick method to end it: the state government tasked the police to vacate the occupiers of the beach in readiness for Republic Day while the BJP central government used the office of the president to facilitate what the Tamil Nadu Government Gazette Extraordinary describes as “An Act to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 so as to preserve the cultural heritage of the State of Tamil Nadu and to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the native breeds of bulls.”
The Tamil Nadu amendment to the PCA says:
28-A. Saving in respect of ‘Jallikattu’ — Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to ‘Jallikattu’ conducted to follow and promote tradition and culture and such conduct of ‘Jallikattu’ shall not be an offence under this Act.
- (1) The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 is hereby repealed.
(2) Notwithstanding such repeal, anything done or any action taken under the principal Act, as amended by the said Ordinance, shall be deemed to have been done or taken under the principal Act, as amended by this Act.
This is precisely what politicians and spiritual gurus have said in support of jallikattu, citing examples which insult our intelligence.
Untenable arguments to support Jallikattu
Argument #1: Jallikattu is Tamil pride, Tamil culture and the cultural heritage of the state of Tamil Nadu
Not long ago (and practiced even now in certain parts of Tamil Nadu), widows had to shave their heads, give up coloured clothes, not participate in celebratory functions and rituals, and live the rest of their lives in seclusion. Girl children were married before puberty, before they could understand the institution of marriage and motherhood, and before their bodies were ready for childbearing. Women were forced to commit sati, pay dowry and submit to being “inspected” by the potential groom and his family. Not long ago, we did many things, good, bad and ugly. The bad and ugly have been given up altogether or are dying a slow death. Jallikattu, which traumatises animals and kills and maims both animals and humans, even if it is culture, tradition and heritage, must be given up like we gave up child marriage, sati and perpetual widowhood.
Argument #2: To ensure the survival and well-being of native breeds of bulls
Bulls running away in terror and jumping into wells and quarries, being knocked to death by speeding trains or fracturing their limbs is hardly well-being, much less survival. Let us return to spiritual leaders Sri Sri Ravishankar and Jaggi Vasudev, and to Swamy and journalist Gurumurthy. These four individuals have their own spheres of influence in society and may possibly have some influence with the BJP central government. They all know that not just Tamil Nadu but all of India is rich in native breeds of cattle. They also know that native cattle breeds differ from one another in various ways. If we accept the argument that jallikattu is the only way to ensure the well-being and survival of native breeds of cattle, then what is the fate of those native breeds which are unfit for jallikattu? And significantly, how will the BJP central government ensure the survival of native breeds in north India, where there is no jallikattu at all? In Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, there is no tradition of jallikattu or anything even remotely resembling it.
There are some individuals, jallikattu supporters, who run animal farms exclusively for Kangeyam bulls. Ravishankar also has several well-kept native breed cattle in his ashram. His Art of Living Foundation and Vasudev’s Isha Foundation must now invest in setting up similar animal farms across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to encourage the survival of Bargur, Umblachery, Pulikulam and Alambadi breeds of native cattle, at least two farms for every breed. If Swamy would see the wisdom of persuading his fans spread across the country and outside to come to India and invest in animal farms to breed and protect native breeds, if journalist Gurumurthy could invest time to write consistently and persistently about the need to set up animal farms and his influence with Hindu spiritual leaders, there would be no need for the jallikattu fig-leaf argument to ensure their survival.
In the north we have the Red Sindhi, Gir, Tharparkar, Hariana and Sahiwal to name just five native breeds. How are spiritual leaders and the BJP government in the Centre going to ensure their well-being and survival, considering there is no jallikattu in the north of India except for buffalo fights in Assam?
I will conclude by dealing with two examples cited by Swamy and Jagi Vasudev for why jallikattu should not be banned. Swamy has been saying (and he smiled when he said it) that people die and are maimed for life or injured in road accidents and by speeding vehicles. Even Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said the same thing in the Supreme Court. If we do not ban vehicles, why ban jallikattu? When people die in road, rail, water and airplane accident, reckless driving and human negligence is punished by our courts and victims get compensation. Can Swamy and friends dismiss just as lightly the death of a policeman on duty who was killed by a bull fleeing in fear and terror? And how is the bull that is maimed or killed during jallikattu to be compensated?
Vasudev cited the example of cricket. The spiritual leader is supposed to have remarked that players are often injured and sometimes even killed when playing cricket. But we do not ban cricket. Not just cricket, players are killed or are injured in any contact sport – football, soccer or boxing. The critical difference being, these are humans who know what they are doing and also know the risks involved in the sport. They nevertheless choose to do what they are doing. Bulls do not choose. Animals are not obliged to uphold human culture, tradition or heritage. Bulls do not choose to be terrorised and abused.
Activists and spiritual leaders should use their influence and resources to look for more sensible and compassionate ways to protect native breeds of cattle, and educate society to give up practices which are not just contretemps but cruel and discriminatory.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based animal rights activist.