Why PETA shouldn't colour our views on Jallikattu

Murali Shanmugavelan
Murali ShanmugavelanJan 20, 2017 | 13:45

Why PETA shouldn't colour our views on Jallikattu

 “I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realised that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to another area, and you multiply, and you multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus…”

—Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)

The dust refuses to settle down in Tamil Nadu as pro-Jallikattu protesters lock horns with the animal lovers.

The pro-ban group includes the US-based global charity called People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animal Welfare Board of India, Humane Society International, People for Animals, Blue Cross and NGO activists from Tamil Nadu such as Nanditha Krishnan, president of a family-owned foundation and many more.

Tamils, on the other hand, are making emotionally charged appeals to preserve their centuries-old tradition.

The media narrative further escalated the situation by raising one fundamental question: Could we allow this barbaric or gladiator-style sport in the name of tradition and culture?

Can't Jallikattu be continued, if some of the cruel practices are addressed?

Curiously, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, also an animal rights activist and chairperson of People for Animals, dropped a gem. “Jallikattu tradition is part of western culture and the BJP is against it. The Supreme Court’s decision to ban it is a welcome step,” she said.

Emotionally charged Tamils, as usual, have responded with sentimental appeals and some even linked the ban with a conspiracy by multinational companies taking over indigenous cattle breeding (personally I am yet to come across any valid argument to establish the connection between Jallikattu and preserving native cattle breeds).

To make matters worse for pro-Jallikattu protestors, Tamil film stars have, once again, come out to parade in public as the custodians of Tamil culture. They even gave unsolicited speeches at the spontaneous protest by students and youths from various sectors at Chennai's Marina Beach. While such protests help generate unending feeds for media houses, they also create a narrative — can Tamils be allowed to be barbaric in the name of culture?

But the question should be — can't Jallikattu be continued, if some of the cruel practices are addressed? Or is Jallikkattu inherently violent to the animals involved?

This is because videos produced by the Animal Welfare Board of India with support from PETA show clear evidence of malpractices by bull owners that result in torture. And these terrible practices should, of course, be banned. Therefore, it is important to discuss what would Jallikattu look like, if such malpractices come to an end.

The more intriguing aspect of this whole debate is the political narrative (including PETA's) of violence inflicted upon animals.

Civilisation is the first sign of our continuous and sustained violence on this planet, clearly marked by our existence. Civilisation and violence, are not necessarily placed in antagonistic terms as some of us might desire. They are, in fact, intertwined through the democratic political process, transactions of private property, introductions of new technologies, to name a few.

At the risk of stating the obvious, violence by humans on other species on planet earth is inevitable if we want to remain on top of the food chain. The idea of inflicting violence on animals is purely subjective and the "noble thought" has no strict definition and seems to be evolving all the time.

PETA’s founder-leader Ingrid Newkirk believes “all species — including humans — are equal,” and she aims for “total animal liberation". This is indeed an excellent thought. But our civilisation does not allow this to happen.

PETA, here again, has a great example that can be morally shattering.

The rights organisation actively advocates neutering animals. “Spay or neuter dogs and cats, including stray animals,” PETA website says. This is because, “One unspayed female cat and her offspring can create a whopping 420,000 cats in just seven years, and one unneutered male dog can father countless litters.” PETA argues, on its website, that “the single most important” thing one can do is “to save cats and dogs from all the suffering and the death that their overpopulation causes are to spay and neuter them.” PETA has lined up a series of porn stars and promiscuous men (Tiger Woods and Silvio Berlusconi) to promote this tagline.

Just to be clear, this is not to say I advocate a world that is full of unneutered animals (I have no opinion). But the intent is to uncover the prejudice. What constitutes animal cruelty when the sources of violence are inextricably linked with human survival and civilisation?

PETA, however, is careful about the politics of human procreation. Though an organisation dedicated to alleviating the suffering inflicted on nonhumans, PETA made a voluntary statement on its position on abortion in order, apparently not to antagonise its supporters.

It says it does not have a position on abortion as "...(T)here are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, neither does the animal rights movement have an official position on abortion.”

The point is, as Bruno Latour succinctly puts, we are not separated from our past by epistemological breaks but we now (like then) live in collectives that are neither entirely social nor absolutely natural.

In other words, animal or human sacrifices, for example, cannot be dismissed as an embarrassment from the past for its continuation in the name of military projects (or ethnic cleansing) in the modern world.

And global charities will dare not extend their "decaf animal love" (borrowed from Ilan Kapoor) to challenge such organised violence by nation-states. Because most western charities can only exist as long as they legitimise and benefit from certain neoliberal order and without being a hostile force to nation-states or finance capitalism.

PETA’s campaigns and its intervention strategies, for example, are heavily reliant on celebrities and their market values. Their strategy — and of many other global charities —can only exist along the sides of liberal order of market and consumption. And we all know market and consumption are two phenomena in today’s globalised order that contribute to depletion of all forms of natural resources, including forests, thereby heating the planet and pumping up violence at all levels by accelerating inequalities.

All these don’t go on to support Jallikattu in its present form. Not all its traditions are respectable to all Tamils. It continues to remain an unequal space that excludes and humiliates Dalits. This needs to change if Tamils want to be part of a tradition that is common to all and only privileged to non-Dalits.

It is very clear, from videos posted online by groups who demand an end to Jallikkattu, that the torture of bulls seems to be real and those practices should come to an end.

Pro-Jallikattu fighters (and protestors) who are mostly non-Dalits, should come forward with a commitment to host an all-inclusive Jallikattu that doesn't involve torture of bulls.

Last updated: January 20, 2017 | 16:48
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