When something as fervent as the pan-Tamil Nadu zeal for the restoration of Jallikattu erupts as a spontaneous and contagious expression of youth resistance, we have two options open to us. We can take a partisan stand with an array of justifications. Or, we can make an effort to understand its larger significance.
Jallikattu is a rural sport. It bristles with rural symbolism: bulls, amateur athletes, improvised infrastructure, a sport integrated with local economy and life, religio-cultural overtones, and so on. It is, in Tamil Nadu, the most popular, evocative rural sport. It is to rural Tamil Makkal (the children of Tamil Nadu) what boxing is to the Yankees, or football to the Brazilians, or cricket to urban Indians, or wrestling is to the Arabs. In point of fact, Jallikattu means more to the rural Tamil youth than the sports mentioned above for their corresponding groups. The reason is that Jallikattu is the only sporting excitement that they have, besides what the idiot box provides by way of visual, vicarious entertainment, which is hardly a substitute.
Jallikattu, it is claimed, has five thousands years of unbroken history as a religio-cultural sport. What it means is that rural life is stuck even today in the distant past. India is rushing away into the 21st century, but Bharat is left far behind. More than anything else, Jallikattu is a pointer to the callous neglect in which rural India is languishing. This is a serious matter and it needs to be faced.
Sport has had a special place in the life of people. It is a symbol. What does it symbolize?
Sport is one of the ways in which we celebrate being human. In its physical dimension, it showcases individual prowess.
In its psychological aspect, sport is a protest against the dull routinization of life. Professional sport is an urban phenomenon. It is an anomaly; for the very idea of sport excludes mercenary considerations. It is like organizing a dinner at home and selling tickets for it.
In its social sense, sport is a ritual. It brings people together and enables them to transcend divisive barriers.
In its spiritual sense, sport is a quest for perfection. The purpose of spirituality is not to sell tickets to heaven. It is to aid and equip our species to seek perfection in our humanness. Sport is one of the avenues through which we seek perfection. We talk, for instance, of a springer ‘flying’. A high jumper sails over the cross bar. A football player dances his way to the goalmouth. What an athlete does on field is similar to what a creative genius does in the furnace of his solitude: both push limits of human possibilities.
All of the above are basic human needs. They are not exclusive to urban dwellers. If anything, the rural youth is in greater need of such customs and provisions.
The urban youth are privileged. They have much at their disposal. What about the rural and tribal youth? We have provided nothing for them. All they can do is to hold on to what little they have by way of inheritance from the distant past. Jallikattu stands foremost among them for the rural youth of Tamil Nadu.
We provide nothing to meet their human needs. But we take away what little they have in spite of us! That there are legal and ethical justifications for doing so cannot mitigate the sense of injustice and outrage its ban provokes.
The resentment, thus created, has two aspects. It embodies the angst of hurt Tamil pride. But, even more crucially, it is a protest against the step-motherly treatment given to rural and tribal lives: a national scandal to which we choose to remain blind.
The way tribal lives are meddled with from a distance through legislative and executive fiats and their economy despoiled by sharks in collusion with local administration, how they are uprooted and cast out from their habitats in the name of development without providing for their rehabilitation, how we have neglected the development of rural infrastructure and social facilities like rural sports, are all echoed in the unfolding scenario of Jallikattu Tamil Spring. And it needs to be hailed and managed especially in this light.
This is NOT, in any sense, a challenge to the authority of the Supreme Court, and it should not be so mistaken. The Apex Court is a collateral in this face-off between the people and the system. Politicians, being smart by instinct, will only wash off their hands and make the Court the villain of the piece.
It will behove the Court, on its part to adopt a proactive role in this case. The Jallikattu matter, we plead, should be adjudicated in a comprehensive light. Rather than ban the sport, the democratic thing to do is to offer the youth concerned attractive alternatives so that they opt out of Jallikattu and choose safer sports on their own.
Neglect of rural life in all respects –education, health, infrastructure, employment, livelihood, the basic needs of the youth- is systemic cruelty to human beings. Jallikattu, no matter how hard it is argued otherwise, involves cruelty to bulls. It is dishonest to say that Jallikattu is only a romantic embracement of bulls! This cruelty to bulls stands rooted in the cruelty-by-neglect to the rural, tribal youth of India. Killing a bull by starvation is as cruel as cutting its throat. We practice the cruelty of deprivation on the youth, and they pass it on to bulls. What they do is more defensible than what we do to them.
Consider the sacred domain of education, especially higher education. Don’t we treat the youth of India –rural and urban alike- worse than bulls in Jallikattu? We torment them by denying adequate educational infrastructure to meet their needs and aspirations. Cut-offs go sky high. Tens and thousands of talented ones don’t make the grade. Some commit suicide. The solution to this cruelty is not banning education, but developing a modicum of responsibility towards the youth of India. It is not they, but we, who have to change.
To the protesters all over Tamil Nadu, and to the media in particular, I’d appeal that the issue be seen in this wider context. The ultimate agenda must be the development of adequate educational and sports infrastructure in our five lakh villages that are today languishing in gross and inexcusable neglect.