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Jallikattu brings back age-old thorns

Jallikattu brings back age-old thorns
Jallikattu’, a rural sport popular in Tamil Nadu, is in the news again. Only this time, the reasons are political. The flood-ravaged state, even as it is battling to get back to normal is now fighting for the resumption of Jallikattu, an Indian version of the Spanish bullfight. With the Assembly elections round the corner, it is only natural that political parties in the state are eyeing vote banks.

The sport, particularly popular in Tamil Nadu’s southern districts and banned by the apex court last year, is now being used as a political tool. Coming under pressure from the Dravidian parties, the Centre too is planning to pave the way for the resumption of this sport in 2016. It is significant that this week, the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has hinted at some resolution saying, “Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, bullock cart race in Maharashtra, Kambala in Karnataka and some sort of race using bullocks in Punjab has been traditionally and culturally practised for centuries. We want to respect that but also ensure that there should be no cruelty.”

The BJP seems to be doing some political calculation on the Jallikattu issue. The party believes that by promoting the sport, it can establish a foothold in the state. Tamil Nadu has been under the sway of the Dravidian parties since 1967 and they have projected Jallikattu as a distinct element of Tamil culture and not a Hindu religious festival.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa prepared the ground in August when she requested the Prime Minister to lift the ban on Jallikattu. She kept up the pressure during the Winter Session asking her party members to raise it in the Parliament. The DMK and other parties also raised it. In a letter to Prime Minister Modi last week she wrote, “... the Government of India may consider promulgating an ordinance enabling the conduct of Jallikattu during Pongal. On behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu, I urge you to have the ordinance promulgated expeditiously.” She has called for suitable amendments in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 specifically exempting Jallikattu along with other exemptions.

The DMK too did not lag behind. In a Facebook post on December 17,  party treasurer M.K. Stalin, wrote, “If the Centre and state don’t take steps for removing the ban and hold Jallikattu during the coming Pongal festival, I myself will lead a struggle against this after seeking approval from (DMK President) Kalaignar (Karunanidhi).”

PMK founder S. Ramadoss too has urged the Centre to pass an ordinance allowing Jallikattu to be conducted during next month’s Pongal festival while his son Anbumani Ramadoss had met Modi and stressed on the issue. Other Dravidian parties like the MDMK and DMDK have also been demanding the resumption of the sport. Members of the People’s Welfare Front -Vaiko’s MDMK, CPM, CPI and Thirumavalavan-led Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi - have planned a protest in Madurai while the Congress has also joined the others. The chorus is mainly due to the vote-bank politics.

What is Jallikattu? It is similar to the famous bullfight in Spain, which is watched by thousands of people cheering the man who tames the bull. Unlike Spanish bullfights, the Jallikattu seeks only to tame them and take away the prize money tied to their horns. Animal welfare activists in India since 2007 have demanded the sport to be banned for what they describe as massive cruelties to animals. The issue was taken to the Supreme Court, which held on May 7, 2014, “Forcing and pulling the bull by a nose rope into the narrow, closed enclosure or ‘vadi vassal’ (entry point), subjecting it to all forms of torture, fear, pain and suffering by forcing it to go into the arena and also over-powering it in the arena by bull tamers, are not for the well-being of the animal.” The verdict explains in a nutshell what Jallikattu means.

The Animal Welfare Board of India had argued in the apex court about the cruel manner in which the bullfights were conducted across the state. The court also struck down a 2011 Tamil Nadu law regulating the conduct of Jallikattu. Recently, scores of celebrities, including the award-winning film star Vidya Balan and Indian Test captain Virat Kohli, had signed a petition supporting the animal rights advocacy group seeking upholding of the ban.

The Jallikattu supporters argue that there is evidence of it in the Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Puranam. Over the centuries, the village landlords converted this into a gallery sport and also grew sturdy bulls to participate in the sport. It is also claimed to be a distinct part of Tamil culture.

The poll scene in the state is still hazy. The DMK has already sent hints to the Congress and the DMDK chief Vijayakant, a one-time ally of the AIADMK and IUML may also join this alliance. As for AIADMK, it is likely to align with AIFB-AISMK (Actor Sarath Kumar’s party). The BJP is also wooing DMDK. It is too early to predict the final picture but all of them will make use of the Jallikattu issue because the Dravidian parties have always used emotional issues to get votes. 

(The author is a senior political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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