Millennium Post

Preposterous pro-Jallikattu logic

By believing that Jallikattu saves native breeds, we are effectively ignoring the mass animal and human deaths caused by the festival

Preposterous pro-Jallikattu logic

You wouldn't know it from V Sundararaju's opinion piece titled 'Jallikattu emerges as saviour', but between the January 2017 passage of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, and the end of 2018, 2,795 humans and at least 10 bulls were injured and 25 humans and at least 10 bulls were killed as a result of Jallikattu. Bull deaths and injuries often go unrecorded, so the exact numbers are impossible to verify. One bull was so scared that he died of cardiac arrest, another perished after crashing into a train and a third fell into a well while trying to escape the melee. Just the other day, a bull called 'Villain' was killed after another bull, who was trying to escape a mob, collided with him head-on. Between 2008 and 2014, at least 43 humans and four bulls have died as a result of Jallikattu, and more than 5,000 humans were injured – 3,000 of them seriously. This means that, on an average, per year, there have been more injuries and deaths resulting from Jallikattu, since the new state legislation has been passed than there were between 2008 and 2014.

And yet, in seemingly glossing over the fatal goring of two men at the Jallikattu event held recently in Pudukkottai, V Sundararaju misleads readers into thinking that mass injuries, deaths and cruelty to bulls at such spectacles are a thing of the past. But hey, what are a few gaping wounds here and a few dozen deaths there when native bulls are being "conserved", right?

Let's ask Mary, whose husband, Sankar was injured during a Jallikattu event in Palinganatham and who said, "I pleaded with him this morning to not take part in Jallikattu, considering the risk associated with it. However, he did not listen to me. If Jallikattu was not allowed, he would not have been hurt. Now, I am looking for divine help to save him." Let's tell her that people like V Sundararaju think her husband's health is a small price to pay in order to "conserve" native bulls, shall we?

Common sense tells us that just as we don't conserve tigers by wielding bats and chasing them, neither are the grown men who deliberately taunt and terrify bulls – causing them to flee, smash into barriers, slam into spectators, and break their bones – carrying out conservation work. With friends like that, bulls don't need enemies. The truth is that Jallikattu is so violent and utterly impossible to justify through legitimate arguments that its advocates have had to concoct farfetched reasons as to why it should be allowed to continue. But nobody needs to inflict torture on bulls, tigers or other animals in order to protect them. In fact, cruelty and conservation are mutually exclusive.

And, really, justifying cruelty by pretending that it's for a greater good is the oldest trick in the book. When the world condemned Japan for slaughtering whales for meat, the Japanese whaling industry claimed it was actually killing them for "scientific research". Nobody bought it and the whale killers were ejected from the international conservation community. Similarly, when trophy hunters who kill African lions and other wildlife say they're shooting some animals in order to help others, they're condemned as frauds. So, when the Supreme Court of India banned Jallikattu, the spectacle's proponents predictably started to claim that it promotes native bull breeds and "healthy" milk – even though doctors increasingly tell us that cow's milk shouldn't be consumed by anyone but their calves.

Domesticated cattle breeds are human-made. Unlike their wild cousins, these cattle's bodies have been manipulated over generations to suit various human business purposes – such as increased milk production. So, the prevalence of various breeds of domesticated cattle in India is almost entirely determined by the choices of the country's dairy industry. Yet, tellingly, around the same time that mobs of misguided men were protesting in favour of Jallikattu, the Tamil Nadu animal husbandry department flew more than 60 Jersey cows into Chennai from Switzerland to be used for milk instead of native cattle breeds, and none of the Jallikattu advocates batted an eyelid. In any case, changes in the breed are just that – not the extinction of a whole species. As home to the world's largest cattle population, India is hardly at the risk of a dearth of cattle! Where there's an interest in maintaining the population of a native breed, animal husbandry departments have developed programmes that involve the use of scientific techniques to preserve the animals' embryos or other biological matter, not chasing bulls through the street.

No amount of regulation will ever make Jallikattu cruelty-free. That's because bulls, though strong, are prey animals, so they are naturally skittish. Jallikattu exploits this nervousness by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they are forced to run from those they perceive as predators. As PETA India has carefully documented, year after year, bulls become so upset by the menacing mob of men who are chasing them that they may even jump off cliffs or crash into buses in their desperate attempts to escape.

If the conservation of native breeds is truly important to Tamil Nadu, this can clearly be achieved by scientific and humane means, without putting any human or bull at the risk of broken bones or death.

(This article is a rebuttal to V Sundararaju's article titled Jallikattu emerges as saviour, published on this page on January 23, 2019. The author is expert cattle veterinarian and PETA India CEO. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Dr Manilal Valliyate

Dr Manilal Valliyate

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