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Perspective correction

The city of Chennai is out in full force against the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the traditional bull-embracing/taming sport of Jallikattu. Reports indicate that students from various colleges are leading the protests. In fact, since Tuesday morning, demonstrations have sparked across different parts of Tamil Nadu, calling for an end to the ban on Jallikattu. They have, instead, sought a ban on the NGO, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for their role in petitioning the court against the traditional sport, which is played every year during the harvest festival of Pongal. More than 5000 peaceful agitators spent the intervening night of 17 and 18 January at Chennai’s famous Marina beach, fighting for the cause. Their overwhelming message to the Centre and Apex Court is that Jallikattu is an integral part of Tamil tradition, and should be accorded the necessary respect and not be portrayed as a sport cruel to animals. 

Even the entire spectrum of Tamil Nadu’s political class, allied by celebrities of all shades, has come out in support of the protests. To the uninitiated, Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014 after animal rights activists moved court against it, citing cruelty and danger to public safety. The Supreme Court had last week rejected a plea urging it to pass early verdict on a petition on Jallikattu before Pongal, which began on January 14 this year. Going by reports in the media, it has been rather disappointing to note that the political class and a segment of protesters have chosen to target PETA, instead of focusing on what can give them the outcome they desire. As an animal rights organisation, which has run global campaigns against a whole host of animal products, including leather, their goals are rather well defined. It is to fight for animal rights, and not disrespect the “sentiments” of people, which they believe harms animals. Admittedly, the methods they use to spread awareness about animal cruelty are somewhat extreme, but they are well within their rights to approach the court and demand a ban on any practice they deem to be cruel to animals.

 Instead of expending their energies in seeking a prohibition on PETA, protesters and the political class would do well to approach the Centre and courts to look for a change in the law.  The problem is not PETA, but the manner in which the Apex Court decided to issue a ban in the first place. It is the job of governments and courts to act in the interests of public, and only these institutions can affect any particular change. Legal experts argue that if the people of Tamil Nadu seek to reverse the ban, a delegation representing the State government should lobby the Centre, asking them to recommend the President of India into issuing an Ordinance amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, whereby Jallikattu will be permitted with the restriction that bulls should not be subjected to excessive cruelty. On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam said that he would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today to ask for a special order allowing Jallikattu. Will the Centre defy the Apex Court’s order? There are various reasons why a complete ban on the traditional sport seems a little misplaced. Besides an infringement on traditional practices, there are some fundamental ecological and economic reasons that the court appears to have overlooked when issuing its ban. “If Jallikattu is prohibited, 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. We will lose not only our breeds but also our self-sufficiency in milk production as well as the promotion of organic farming. If we lose our breeds and import foreign breeds, multinational commercial companies will dominate the dairy industry in India. 

The livelihood of millions in rural India is at stake here. People who want a ban on Jallikattu are far removed from village life and do not know how this chain works,” writes Himakiran Anugula, an organic farmer and entrepreneur, based in Chennai. If there are instances of animal cruelty, tighter regulations should be introduced and enforced. Authorities could also implement rules to enhance public safety, as well. Attacks against PETA at this juncture are useless and counterproductive, and seeking a ban against them is as misplaced as the Supreme Court’s decision to prohibit Jallikattu.

 Meanwhile, what has largely escaped the attention of the media is the severe drought that has afflicted Tamil Nadu. Following the worst North-East monsoon in 140 years, all districts in the state have been declared drought hit. Reports indicate that at least 140 farmers have committed suicide during the drought between October and December. In the run-up to the harvest festival of Pongal, it seems painfully ironic that all the focus has been on a bull-taming sport and Tamil pride instead of the state’s worst agricultural crisis in years. Questions should be asked of the Tamil Nadu government. Are they doing enough to alleviate the pain of their farmers?
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