Will the power of the masses bring back a game banned for its cruelty against animals? Hopefully not.

The Supreme Court banned it in 2014 but the centre, under pressure from the TN government promulgated an ordinance in 2015 to allow the practice of Jallikattu, or bull fight. However, the apex court again stepped in and slapped a stay on the move.

Again this year the drama is repeating with the State of Tamil Nadu urging the Centre to bring in an ordinance and revoke the ban. Joining the clamour for bringing back the traditional practice are celebrities and educated lot who have been taking out rallies demanding the same. And on Monday, Kollywood star Kamal Hassan joined the cry, noting that it was part of the Tamil tradition he was proud of.

The superstar went on to say that if the ban was for animal cruelty, then the activists should ban biriyani too! Noting that he was perhaps the only star who has actually played the sport, Hassan stressed that there was no harm to the bull nor was there any aspect of who wins (bull or man) but it was about staying for longest on the ground.

The sport played in many rural parts of Tamil Nadu usually sees the participant trying to reach the bundle of money placed between the horns of the animal. But often there are more than one man against the bull. Three or four or more men join arms in ‘subduing’ the bull amidst the loud clamour from the crowds.

Those rooting for the game say there is no harm to either man or animal during the game. But the animal welfare activists, Peta and Animal Welfare Board documents from earlier events insist the sport deliberately provokes the animal and makes it nervous and frightened by the mob “so that they (bulls) slip, fall, run into barriers and traffic, and even jump off cliffs, so desperate are they to escape.”

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Those who have watched the sport have reported the inherent cruelty in the game. Even before entering the corral, the bulls are driven into a frenzy by prodding them with spiked sticks and rubbing chilli powder into their eyes, said a witness to Down to Earth magazine. The animal which is already terrified by the yelling crowds is further driven into a panic by men yanking its tail!

Interestingly, the locals say that the ban could see many of the native bull species go extinct, reported BBC. Citing the huge costs of maintaining the breed, they claim that the population of the Kangayam breed used extensively in Jallikattu has dropped from a million in 1990 to 15,000!

The animal rights activists argue that this decline began much before the 2014 ban and is due to other economic factors. The question they pose is if the price for survival for a species is that it bears cruelty.

Whether the bull suffers or not, whether humans are hurt or not, there can be no denying the fact that an animal and a human are pitted into an unnatural situation for the sake of entertainment. The man is willing but are we sure so is the bull? As per the Article 51 A (g) of our Constitution, it is the duty of all citizens to protect the environment and also have compassion for all living creatures.

This has been further strengthened in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 which accords rights to animals and protects them from ‘unnecessary’ pain and suffering. In its 2014 ruling, the Supreme Court said that cruelty is inherent in the sport, “as bulls are not anatomically suited for such activities and making them participate is subjecting them to unnecessary pain and suffering”.

It all boils down to a how necessary is the pain in this tug of war between traditions and cruelty. It is indeed surprising that a person like Kamal Hassan who has not been exactly a votary of traditions, especially religious, is now talking of upholding traditions!

Does upholding tradition mean continuing with all the ancient rituals and practices? Going way back to the Bhagavad Gita, there are references to Krishna chiding Arjuna for blindly following traditions and advises him to move with changing times.

Traditions are part of a society at a particular period in its evolution. As civilisations grow, presumably wiser, it is important that some traditions be weeded out. Does a practice like Jallikattu which is more than 2000 years old have any relevance today?

Back then it was a way of separating the wild bulls, hence strong ones, for breeding while the weaker ones were kept for agriculture and other domestic works. Today the superiority can easily be determined by means of genes. That is, IF that is the reason to play this cruel, blood-thirsty game. Back then, bravery and entertainment had fewer outlets than today.

Can we say there is no difference in humans 2000 years ago and now? Haven’t we made any progress in our thinking and behaviour? If so, how can we uphold today a cruel game from back then?

We as a nation must be proud of laws like PCA which show we are a cultured and compassionate society. Not proud of traditions that reveal the gross, cruel side of humanity. Hopefully the centre will not succumb to vote pressure. That would be a slap on our Constitution and the laws.

If as Hassan says, it is all about proving one’s bravery by holding on to the bull, one is most welcome to prove the same with a willing opponent. Perhaps another brave man. Not a bull.

featured image source : Flicker

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