Reform Jallikattu, don’t ban it

Bans are counter-productive to Hinduism’s myriad traditions and festivals.

 |  5-minute read |   19-01-2017
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Hinduism is probably the only open source religion in the world and it has been steadily evolving. In many ways, it no longer resembles what it was thousands of years ago. From animal sacrifice, it switched to vegetarianism in the BC era. It did away with Sati more recently and officially abolished untouchability in 1947.

Such reform continues to this present day even for little things. More and more people are adopting natural colours on Holi. Diwali enthusiasts have boycotted industries that employ child-labour to make crackers.

When plaster of Paris idol immersion became a problem during various festivals, special eco-friendly ones were made with natural colours that would dissolve in water. In fact, someone even came out with a Ganesh idol with a platform of seed and soil that could be converted to a plant after immersion at home!

It is in the backdrop of this rich tradition in Hinduism that the outright ban on Jallikattu by the Supreme Court comes across as a really harsh decision for the people of Tamil Nadu.

But, first of all, what is Jallikattu?

It is a mass event especially celebrated during Pongal where participants try to catch hold of a bull’s hump in an effort to ride it or even bring it to a complete halt. Some form of Jallikattu has been around for more than 2,000 years.

Backers of Jallikattu claim that the animals are worshipped by the people and the bulls are essential for the breeding process in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the event is carried out under controlled supervision. However, of late, there have been more and more controversies around it.

PETA India and the Federation of India Animal Protection Agencies have led a successful campaign against it. For animal activists, it is a simple case of cruelty against bulls, which has to be done away with.

This even as a reform of Jallikattu has already begun. The contests have been reduced to five months a year and it was decreed that all participating bulls had to be specifically registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India. Moreover, a representative of the same board would supervise all events.

Veterinary doctors also have to be present to tend to the bulls in case they get injured and organisers have to deposit Rs 2 lakh to take care of any untoward incident. Testing of bulls, double barricading for safety, video-recording the event for later review etc. were all introduced.

But there is also a political angle to it. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is a US-based group and some people are wondering why a foreign NGO is interfering in Indian culture. In 2008, PETA chief Ingrid Newkirk was arrested for blindfolding a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, her form of protest against Jallikattu.

Moreover, it was the UPA’s Jairam Ramesh environment ministry that issued a notification in 2011 that brought Jallikattu under the ambit of the Act that the SC ultimately used to ban it. Such moves don’t alleviate the anti-Hindu tag that the Congress party is getting. This observation was made by former Union minister AK Anthony after the 2014 poll debacle.

Others have pointed out that even perceived harmless events like horse-riding and religious events like Bakrid could come under cruelty to animals.

Whatever the case, for many Jallikattu enthusiasts, the ban is just another case of judicial overreach and the SC seems to be totally aloof from ground realities across India, especially something as “far away” as south India.

jallikattu-embed_011917060539.jpg Backers of Jallikattu claim the animals are worshipped by the people and the bulls are essential for the breeding process in Tamil Nadu. (Photo: India Today)

Even when the SC set the height of dahi handis in Mumbai, a lot of people wondered why the highest court in the land was getting bogged down by such things when there were many other pressing issues.

It was but natural that the people of Tamil Nadu would not take it lying down. That’s exactly what happened as protesters have been camping at Marina Beach by thousands this month.

It has led to protests across the state and this doesn’t look like an issue which will go away any time soon. It is probably the first big test for new chief minister O Panneerselvam.

Articles written against Jallikattu allege that protesters beat the bulls, goad them with sticks and even poke their eyes. All that should be investigated and done away with. That would form part of the continuous reform process for Jallikattu.

The Tamil Nadu government had brought out the Regulation of Jallikattu Act in 2009. If need be, we could have another such Act in 2017 to iron out whatever deficiencies remained in the previous one.

While there are things like Sati and untouchability that had to be done away with outright, bans are counter-productive to Hinduism’s myriad traditions and festivals.

Reform, don’t ban!

This motto has served Hinduism well for thousands of years and the Supreme Court can’t do away with that with one ruling. Next time one hopes that the apex court of the land gives the government a chance to reform before it gives a harsh ruling of banning something.

Meanwhile, it is still possible that if the state and central governments get together, then the Jallikattu ban could still be circumvented, especially since some have decided to defy the apex court and go ahead with their celebrations.

Also read: Jallikattu shouldn't be a choice between Tamil cultural pride and rule of law

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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