By Damini Lalchand
The whole Jallikattu protest in India, and international cities like London, has taken over the internet, and frankly speaking any new trend by the Kardashians might not blow the internet in the midst of the tension in India, particularly for the Tamilians (native people of Tamil Nadu). I remember my newsfeed on various social media platforms (i.e., Twitter and Facebook) were filled with posts about the effects of Brexit, or Donald Trump’s presidency, on the economy in the UK and the US respectively, not until the Jallikattu protest in Tamil Nadu became the highlight of the moment to thousands of Indians like me living in India or abroad.
So, what’s Jallikattu?
Jallikattu is a game of bull taming which is practised in Tamil Nadu as a part of the Pongal celebrations (a harvest festival in January).
Jallikattu is derived from two Tamil words, Salli (coins) and Kattu (package), this means a prize of coins, which is tied to the bulls’ horns, and as a result of which the man who tames the bull wins the coins (can be gold or silver). On the other hand, the bull that wins is used for breeding purposes to preserve the native Indian cattle variant . This game has been practised since the classical era of Tamil Sangam (around 400-100 BC) and by those who lived around the Tamil areas during the ancient times. This sport later became a means to exhibit valour and strength, which was one of the reasons monetary prizes were given as a form of encouragement to participate in this sport.
Why is Jallikattu beneficial?
To answer this question we need to agree on the fact that ancient India was a Hindu country, and most rituals or customs practised in India has its own scientific basis to it. Most Hindu traditions may sound irrational or bizarre for the way it has been told to us by our ancestors, but if you consider the scientific basis in this case then, they sound rational and supports the reason for such practises. For example, wearing a Sindoor (Vermilion powder) is usually seen as a mean to identify a married lady; but in reality it helps trigger a sexual drive for women to reproduce, and that is why unmarried women or widows cannot wear it.
Coming back to the question, obviously Jallikattu has its own rational reasons too, and that is why it is a part of the Hindu culture. Bos Indicus (vernacular name- Zebu), a variant of bulls that are native to India are used for Jallikattu. As mentioned above, monetary prizes are used to encourage young people for taking part in the game. After the event, the bull who has been tamed are used for agricultural work (e.g., ploughing the fields), while the untamed ones are used for breeding cows as they are considered strong. Untamed bulls are used because preferably farmers would love to have the wild nature of these strong bulls passed down to the next generation even though the animal is referred to as a ‘domestic animal.’
Think about this as selecting a suitable sperm donor or finding a suitable marriage partner for a healthy offspring, that is basically the reason behind Jallikattu. It is important to know that, the Indian variant of bulls is the strongest among the other humped cattle varieties and are the most expensive variant in the world.
What’s the sudden outrage about?
So, for a very long time the Indian government had decided to ban the sport due to the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claiming it to be harmful, and due to which the Supreme court of India had to pass the order of banning it. It is quite obvious from the organisation’s name that they are concerned about how animals are being treated and their opinion about Jallikattu has been negative, as it is regarded as a bullfight than a game of bull taming. Their point to the argument has been backed by a research conducted by investigators of the organisation, which claims that the bulls were being harmed and that the bulls’ tail were allegedly twisted, or the bull was either punched on the ground, etc…
The PETA has been supported by many influential figures, but the organisation needs to consider the fact that cows are sacred to Hindu culture and that we do not have the guts to harm a cow or a bull. For a country with a majority who don’t eat cows, then harming a cow cannot be questioned.
On January 2016, the Central Government of India lifted the ban on the request of the Tamil Nadu state government for a brief period of time, and again this was challenged by the PETA, which insisted that animals are not used for entertainment. If animals aren’t used for entertainment they why do we have shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos with cats or dogs performing dangerous stunts, and Facebook newsfeeds full of these videos; aren’t those videos considered entertaining? PETA should challenge those pet owners, who make their pets do silly things on the Internet. Dog shows are another silly form of entertainment, PETA should ban that too because these dogs have to undergo vigorous practices just to win them.
Well, how about bullfights in Spain? Thousands of people travel to Spain to witness this sport and consider it to be aesthetic; has PETA done anything about it? PETA is originally from North America, have they considered to do anything about their very own freestyle bullfights performed by rodeo clowns? I think sitting on the bull or hanging on the bulls’ horn to tame it, is way more brutal than Jallikattu. Why haven’t PETA taken any legal actions against Lady Gaga when she flaunted her outfit made of raw beef meat at the MTV VMA ceremony? Why did PETA not take any action on those who eat meat? Why did PETA not challenge the country where they are originated from, for being one of the highest meat consumers in the world?
Too many questions unanswered!
The PETA once stated that it is the duty of every Indian citizen to be compassionate towards our animals. India is a country where more than half the population are vegetarians, and these people do not kill an animal for their meal. It is a country known for its Hindu traditions, and in Hinduism we worship almost everything that exists in this universe. Above all it is necessary for them to understand that the Zebu (Bos Indicus) variant of humped cattle represents the sacred bull (Nandi) of the Hindu god (Lord Shiva), which is worshiped by the Hindus. This makes us the only few people in this whole wide world who actually worship cows and not give them up for a sacrifice or relish them for a meal (in terms of the country’s majority).
Why are Tamilians protesting on the ban of Jallikattu in 2017?
This game is a symbol of Tamilian pride and a part of the ancient tradition that’s still practiced till date, just like how bullfight is respected or appreciated by the Spaniards. To give the real answer to this, as someone born in the glorious state of Tamil Nadu; it is important to understand that my people or my friends are not protesting for preserving Tamil culture. But, they are out there protesting for how it’s affecting the Indian cattle breed because of the ban imposed for this game, and for the Indian government who are allegedly importing Jersey cows from Denmark, and exporting our native Indian bulls for an exorbitant price.
My friends are out there in the hot sun at the Marina beach in Chennai (the capital city of Tamil Nadu state) fighting for our farmers to preserve traditional farming techniques, and to ensure that our future generation do not have to suffer from various health conditions (i.e., milk indigestion, diabetes, autism or schizophrenia) because the best quality of milk (A2 milk) are being imported to the first world countries, and India is just left with the secondary or tertiary quality product. My friends are out there fighting for the future of our children who would be fortunate by default to be nourished as a survival norm, but may have to pay the price of these health complications which will be accompanied as a result of banning traditional practices, and getting the Indian variant of cattle being extinct in no time. It means in ten years time, I am better off in mixing chalk powder with water as a substitute for milk to keep my children alive.
Young people protesting about this are not any rogues or jobless, but on the contrary are highly educated people fighting for the country apart from preserving the rich Tamil heritage. People need to understand that modern science is not the solution to everything and that is why switching back to traditional methods can assure a better future for all.
People need to understand that Jallikattu has been a part of the Indian culture for a very long time, and this traditional practice is not meant for human entertainment but for preserving the Indian cattle breed, unlike posting silly videos of cats or dogs performing stunts on Facebook. My message to PETA is to stop intervening with traditions and tackle with violence related to animals that have no cultural or scientific basis. This statement of mine does not elicit that I am in support of using animals for drug testing and scientific experiments; instead I am just trying to express that my ancestors never came up with this traditional practice to harm an animal which helped them to sustain their household by nourishing their children with the milk it gave them, and helping them make a living out of it by ploughing their farmlands.
There is a protest on the 21st January from 11am at Wembley Stadium in London. This has been coordinated by one of our students Simran Srinivasan, who is pursuing her degree in law.
I would like to conclude this by claiming that I am proud to be born in Tamil Nadu to a Tamil mother (regardless of being half North Indian), and I appreciate the efforts taken by thousands of Tamil people all over the world in supporting our traditional practices which has better scientific values than scientific modernizations which are affecting our people and animals. This battle is not for the Tamil people alone, but for everyone who are not Tamilians because of the support we are getting from different parts of the world.
The opinions in this article reflect the opinions of the writer and this story is part of series of views we are carrying on the issue. Author is a Psychology student at the University of Hertfordshire