By Sabah Kochhar:
For two years, India’s rare bull-fighting sport, Jallikattu, remained banned since the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 managed to uphold a central notification prohibiting the use of bulls as performing animals. In doing so, their actions were not without consequence, they ruled against the traditional practices and beliefs of many Tamilians. It was thus in January 2016 that the government decided to reinstate the practice – around the same time as the state was poll-bound.
The arguments against the sport have mainly advocated the ban as a way to prevent cruelty to the animals. Many in favour of the ban have also highlighted how Section 22(ii) of the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 states that “Bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls are prohibited from being trained and used for entertainment purposes, either in circuses or streets.” I personally can’t understand that if India is to ban beef as food to protect its cows, then why should it not extend the gesture for its bulls?
While these are valid arguments, there are many on the other side who say that a ban doesn’t safeguard the bulls as they will continue to be killed and used as livestock instead of entertainment. As Chennai-based organic farmer and entrepreneur Himakiran Anugula argues: Farmers bring their cattle to be sold in shandies. Brokers take the cattle from the farmers and display them to prospective buyers. These buyers fall into 3-4 categories: (1) The Jallikattu enthusiast who will buy the bulls and male calves mostly; (2) buyers of oxen for farming/transport; (3) Buyers of cows for breeding and household usage and (4) Beef traders who are mostly if not all agents of export companies and slaughterhouses based in Kerala.
Once a ban on Jallikattu is enforced, those belonging to the first category would be non-existent, and instead, the supply of bulls would most likely be pushed into the fourth category. Naturally, beef traders would purchase all cattle as they are only interested in meat and not really the physical or other potentials of the animal.
Legally speaking, while organisations such as PeTA have voiced their concern regarding the treatment of bulls in the sport, others such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and heritage status practices worldwide stated that Jallikattu is customary and a part of an Indian community’s ancient traditional practices which are best left intact, but with rules to organise and regulate them to reduce cruelty and hazards.
Another crucial component in favour of the tradition is the fact that it provides a means of income and livelihood for those involved in supplying the bulls. Anugula writes: If Jallikattu is banned, livestock keepers will be forced to abandon the raising of native livestock, which already stands threatened due to the extensive use of motor pumps, tractors and mechanised agriculture. If the sport is banned, it would be the death knell of native cattle species in Tamil Nadu.
Clearly, some significant concerns have been raised against the practice of Jallikattu. However, it’s imperative that those voicing out concerns against cruelty to bulls realise that the animals would probably end up in a slaughterhouse anyway, so why should we consider doing away with the tradition of an Indian community in the name of saving animals that will ultimately not be saved? Moreover, just as a ban on beef had adverse effects on minority communities in the country, it’s only likely that a ban on an indigenous sporting practice among Tamils would not just have setbacks against tradition but will have more complex and long-lasting implications. Lastly, given the nature of prohibitionism in India, I think it makes more sense for the activists to devise cruelty-minimizing methods to playing the sport, rather than banning something altogether if it wants immediate and feasible change.