Why no one had a problem with Jallikattu, Kambala until PETA-like outfits came along

Sandeep Balakrishna
Sandeep BalakrishnaFeb 15, 2017 | 16:36

Why no one had a problem with Jallikattu, Kambala until PETA-like outfits came along

On February 12, 2017, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, in a welcome move, passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2017, exempting Kambala and bullock-cart racing from the purview of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. This comes close on the heels of the Tamil Nadu government’s ordinance allowing Jallikattu, okayed by the Centre last month.  


When we glance at the timeline of the events that resulted in the Supreme Court’s ban of Jallikattu and Kambala, what stands out is this: to put it plainly, until PETA (and similar organisations) came along, there was really no problem with regard to Jallikattu, Kambala and similar events.

By its own admission on its website, PETA opened shop in India in 2000 and so it’s really astonishing that 14 years of incessant and loud activism and campaigning got it the Supreme Court’s attention and the consequent ban in May 2014.

But what has actually occurred as a social and cultural phenomenon is the fact that a new fault line has been created in an erstwhile harmonious society.  

At the risk of oversimplifying, this fault line can be defined as a clash between animal activists/sympathisers and those organising, participating, and patronising events like Kambala, etc. But more deeply, this can also be defined as a clash between the “urban” and the “rural.”

In other words, why is it that almost every anti-Kambala/Jallikattu activist predominantly hails from urban centres and regards these sports as inflicting cruelty to animals while those protesting against such activists regard it almost reverentially, as an integral cultural facet that needs to be protected, nurtured, and perpetuated? Even giving the benefit of doubt to PETA, if its intention behind getting these events banned was indeed noble, did it think about what all would be destroyed as a result as collateral damage?

It finally took the masses of protesters to wake the government up to the ongoing cultural destruction.

PETA’s own record of preventing and stopping cruelty to animals on the entire planet — its founding premise — hasn’t been exactly stellar as we shall see. Its 14 year-long and ongoing, targeted activism against Kambala, Jallikattu, etc, merits a fundamental question: are we to believe that Indians as a people had no concept of concern for animals in all their 5000-plus years of history until PETA came along and agitated? But the actual reason doesn’t seem to be PETA’s kindness towards animals, as David Frawley’s DailyO column puts it:

Colonial powers used to pontificate over non-western cultures, claiming to civilise them – even India and China that already had older complex civilisations…Beneath the veneer of multiculturalism the fact is that traditional cultures in the world are rapidly disappearing owing to their domination by the forces of globalism, which serve to undermine local cultures. Modern multiculturalism appears to consist of people of all cultures being westernised The current effort to ban Jallikattu is but part of the ongoing attack on Hindu culture. It is not about protecting animals but about eliminating competing cultures. [Emphasis added]

It’s this westernised aspect that I referred to above in the note on the clash between “urban” and “rural” India.


Besides, PETA is not a constitutional body that has any authority to interfere in and arrogate to itself the right to decide upon our festivals, traditions, and practices. It appears that PETA is accountable to none but has the mandate to create mischief. Yet, the unfortunate fact is that the “hollowed out” (to use Arun Shourie’s phrase) Indian state has allowed such organisations to use precisely our own legal and judicial machinery to wreak this sort of cultural havoc upon us.

For all its animal activism, here’s the record of PETA for 2011:

Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713… As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanised 1,198… PETA also took in 58 other companion animals - including rabbits. It killed 54 of them. it kills 84 percent of supposedly "unadoptable" animals within 24 hours of their arrival… testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA's hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster.

Indeed, there exists voluminous information about the murkier activities of organisations like PETA. Given this, it’s incredible that our governmental and judicial systems perhaps didn’t do due diligence on such organisations before taking their word at face value. Equally, when we notice a small selection of PETA’s activism in India, it becomes clear that the intent is to demonise and eventually eliminate valuable facets of Hindu cultural heritage:

1. It’s against the use of temple elephants in the Thrissur Pooram

2. It wants a snake-free Nag Panchami

3. It also wants a “vegan” Dahi Handi

In other words, it wants to remove the very ingredient that defines the festival or practice, akin to the clamour for “colourless/waterless Holi,” “cracker-less Diwali,” and so on.  

Indeed, as many have argued, if the ban on Jallikattu and Kambala is justified, so is a ban on derby and polo.

In reality, events like Jallikattu, Kambala, Rekhla, bullock-cart races (in Andhra Pradesh held during Sankranti), buffalo racing (Pothu poottu matsaram) in Kerala, the bull racing festival in Indonesia (Karapan Sapi), and the Yak racing in Mongolia, Tibet and China are dateless, so to say. If one traces the history of these sports, the common underlying factor is the fact that most of these are rooted in celebrating and honouring agriculture: as a festival of expressing gratitude to the various forces of nature that give us food. Purely within the context of India, these festivals are called by various names in various parts of the country, which is yet another instance showing our cultural unity rooted in and bound by Hinduism.

While there’s definite merit in the argument that sports like Jallikattu help preserve native cattle breeds, and sustains farming and cattle-rearing, there is also an economic angle to it. For instance, a good Kambala event is attended by 20,000 or more people during the season.

The event is also a massive fair with plenty of options for shopping, food, etc, which immensely boosts the local economies. This Deccan Herald report gives a flair of the typical scene at a Kambala event.

But at the most fundamental level of humanity, sports like these are great outlets for channelising energy, which is expressed in promoting competitive spirit and forging and strengthening community relationships.

Even a simple Kushti bout brings together entire villages like nothing else does. Indeed, like every other civilisation that has a long history, the bedrock of Indian civilisation still remains the community, most visible in small towns and villages. Indeed, to a great extent, the United States, which is the newest nation, was built upon the values of community living.

It’s not far from the truth to say that the anti-Kambala activists are largely experts in superficial theories and notions of what constitutes animal cruelty. If one actually spent time on the ground, a simple, verifiable truth would unravel: a village spends almost an entire year planning for say, Jallikattu, and the animals are carefully fed, tended, and the rest. The actual race is only a small part of an overall whole of a culture built upon nurturing and preserving cattle. I refer the interested reader to Padmashri Dr SL Bhyrappa’s acclaimed novel, Tabbaliyu neenaade magane (My Son, You’re Orphaned) which explains this culture in vivid detail.

While both the Tamil Nadu and the Karnataka government’s legislations on the matter is welcome, it’s actually an eye-opener: that it finally took the masses of pro-Kambala protesters to wake the government up to the ongoing cultural destruction.

But what would the governments have done if the masses hadn’t agitated? Therein lies the story that’s plagued much of post-Independence India’s history: of appalling cultural apathy by the ruling class.  

But the more worrying fact is that foreign-funded NGOs are using one of our own to agitate against various facets of the cultural heritage which continues to bind us together as one people. Or as David Frawley warns us:

"This cultural war is real and much of India’s westernised media is supporting it. If Indians do not stand up against it, their culture will be eliminated like many other traditional cultures of the world have been already."

Last updated: February 15, 2017 | 17:01
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy