Jallikattu: Suffocation by Law

by Balakumar Somu on 12 Jan 2015

Animal Rights Activists are celebrating the Supreme Court of India’s recent ban on Jallikattu as if it is their greatest achievement. But the reality is Jallikattu was already dying a natural death and the ban was just the last nail in the coffin.

People of Tamil Nadu had already lost all hope and were reconciled to the fact that Jallikattu is set to die. The tradition had lost all its religious fervour, colour, pomp, ceremony and had been turned into a nightmare of sorts for farmers, bull owners, sportsmen, spectators and the bulls these activists want to ‘protect’. The number of events had dropped from over 3000 before 2006 to just about 24 in 2014. The number of pure-breed native stud bulls had dropped to less than 1000. The expenses to organise an event had shot up from almost nothing to anywhere between Rs 15 to 40 lakhs and was beyond the reach of most villages. The worst of all was the harassment by the authorities – police and bureaucrats.

This decimation was orchestrated by cunning manipulation by animal rights activists and executed by the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act (TNRJA) 2009. The very law enacted by the State government to protect its culture turned out to be its bane. Most of the regulations stipulated in the law were based on guidelines set by the Supreme Court at the instance of the animal rights activists. This law was suffocating Jallikattu to a slow death till the Supreme Court put it under the guillotine.

Section 3 of TNRJA 2009 endows almost all the powers relating to permission for organising an event to the District Collector.

What was essentially a village temple festival was turned into a bureaucratic circus placing the organisers and villagers at the mercy of the District Collector. Since the presence of at least a deputy collector and ALL the other authorities stipulated in the law is mandatory, most authorities viewed the event as an additional burden on their duties and tried to avoid giving permission to conduct the event, citing one reason or the other. Most villages organise the event only on one auspicious day during the year and hence if the authorities do not give permission for the event on that specific date, the villages cannot organise the event for that year. Moreover if 100 villages wish to organise the event, how can the authorities spare so many days to oversee the event? Hence the easiest way out for them was to deny permission.

Section 3-(2)-(1) restricts the events to be held only from January to May of each year.

Jallikattu was usually conducted only during auspicious temple festivals. It is not an entertainment activity and cannot be scheduled like a sport calendar. Most villages in Theni, Trichy, Pudukkottai and other adjoining districts conduct their temple festivals during the Tamil month Margazhi which falls in December. Many a village temple festival falls after May, automatically being rejected for conduct of the event. As a result, most villages stopped organising Jallikattu.

 

Section 3-(2) further states that:

(iii) the event should have been conducted during the past five years continuously;

(iv) the event shall be held at a place notified by the Collector in the District Gazette.

This means that only those villages mentioned in the district Gazette, by the Collector, can organise an event and that too if a Jallikattu event was held continuously during the past five years! So if a village is denied permission for a period of five years, that village loses its right to conduct the event, forever!

Restrictions on Time, number of events and related issues

Section 3-(3) states thus:

A permission granted under sub-section (1) shall be—

(a) valid for such area, for such period and for such purposes, as may be specified therein;

(b) subject to such conditions and restrictions as may be specified therein.

This section clearly puts the event under the mercy of the District Collector. The time permitted for the event depends on the District Collector! At most places it was from 8 am to 2 pm. However it is at the discretion of the authorities to stop the event at any time they please! There have been instances where a Collector started the event at 10 am and ended it at 12 pm, despite pleading by the organisers to let the remaining bulls participate!

Starting the event as early as 8 am led to the following new issues for sportsmen and bulls:

Problems introduced for sportsmen

  1. The sportsmen had to queue up as early as 6.30 am as they had to be screened for physical fitness, blood pressure, use of liquor etc.
  2. Once screened, the sportsmen were provided uniforms and not allowed to venture out. Thus they had no access to food till the end of the event at 2 pm. Only water was provided at most venues. Their relatives were banned by the authorities from providing them food or energy drink during the event for fear of malpractice.
  3. If the sportsman had to attend nature’s call, he had to remove his uniform t-shirt and give it to a policeman and was at the mercy of the policeman on return.
  4. Fearing harassment by the police, most sportsmen did not return once they left the arena.

Problems introduced for bulls

Since the number of events dwindled from over 3000 before 2006 to about 24 in 2014, an unusually large number of bulls were brought to these events for participation. This gave rise to a number of new issues for the organisers.

 

  1. The bulls were forced to stand in a long queue for health screening, putting unnecessary stress on the animals. Before this law came into effect, the bull would be relaxing at home and would be brought to the venue only when it was time to release it. This meant the bull was not stressed.
  2. Before 2006, numerous events were held and so mainly bulls from the village and nearby villages only participated. So most bulls were brought on foot for the event. The event would last for a few minutes in smaller villages and a few hours in larger ones. A few famous bulls, called ‘star’ bulls might be invited from other villages as an honour.
  3. Drastic reduction in the number of events meant that bulls had minimum opportunity to participate in the event. Hence bull owners had to transport the bulls to far away villages in the hope of getting admitted. A team of at least 7 to 10 persons had to accompany the bull. This put a strain on the bull owner as he had to shell out considerable money to bring the bull to the event. With no great prizes given out, and the pride being lost due to all the haggling, uncertainty of the event as well as admission, bull owners lost interest and just gave up rearing bulls.

 

Problems introduced for the Organisers

 

  1. Since there was a spurt in the number of bulls and restricted time, bulls were allowed on a first-come-first-serve basis called ‘token system’.
  2. A token was issued by the organisers to the bulls coming first which meant that one had to beat the queue. Hence bull owners had to queue up to get tokens. This led to issues of favoritism and resultant bad-blood between the organisers and bull owners.
  3. Although the TNJRA 2009 permits the District collector to provide sufficient time for the event, the authorities restricted the time for the event. This meant that all the bulls brought to the event could not participate, leading to haggling for admission ‘tokens’.
  4. In order to allow maximum number of bulls to participate, each bull was allotted an average of 30 seconds to 1 minute! This resulted in most bulls just entering the arena and running out without even being touched, spoiling the nature and spirit of the sport and transforming Jallikattu into not-so-interesting affair.
  5. Queuing up led to an outcry from the animal rights activists that there was a lot of stress on the animal and that the animal had to stand in dung and urine! Hence the queues were reduced to a maximum of 50 animals while the rest would be tied in stables around the village.

 

Section 4 of TNJRA 2009 caused spiralling costs

 Section 4-(ii) states that permission has to be sought 30 days prior to the event

 

Generally all arrangements stated in Section 4 have to be made before seeking permission. Hence the venue was prepared and sometimes it took months to get permission. So the mandatory and expensive 8-feet high double barricades with spectator galleries, river sand flooring with coir-pith spread, comfort-stations et al had to be in place for that period of time. This meant that the cost of organising the event spiraled and in most cases the barricades and other facilities could not be reused at another village since the first one was still waiting for permission.

 

Additionally, the organisers had to remit a deposit of minimum Rs 2 lakh for a small village to Rs. 5 lakh for a bigger event, to be disbursed to the injured as compensation. The cost of organising a Jallikattu event stood at anywhere between Rs 15 to 40 lakh. How many villages in India can afford such a cost and that too for a non-revenue generating religious tradition? People simply gave up!

 

Problems due to tampering with the arena

 

  1. The bulls are used to walking on firm ground! But authorities demanded that the arena be spread with sand and a layer of coir pith citing sportsmen safety. This was meant to provide cushioning effect for the sportsmen during a fall. But sometimes bulls would slip and fall due to the sand. This also added to the cost.
  2. Jallikattu was never meant to be a spectator sport. The TNRJA 2009 stipulates that double barricades and spectator galleries be provided. This rule led to the ill-designed arena seen today. The arena is supposed to be an ‘improvement’ over the traditional one. However the arena is designed with only one vadivasalrelease gate. With double barricades on both sides. The finish line that bulls have to cross is just 15 metres away, leaving a very small window of opportunity for sportsmen to embrace the bull. A typical bull crosses this distance in an average of 30 seconds! This meant that all the action took place only in the first 15 metres. The authorities, accompanied by their families, and the organisers occupied the best seats, followed by the press gallery and VIP gallery – for families and friends of the who’s who of the locality, leaving little room for the other spectators. This resulted in spectators losing interest in the sport, as most of them could not see the action taking place – those beyond 50 feet ended up seeing bulls being herded away only! Even if they were lucky to get a seat with a view, the sport turned boring as most bulls just ran away without being embraced.
  3. The sportsmen too, deprived of food and energy supplements, became tired after the first one or two hours and did not show much prowess later on.
  4. In most events, after the first two hours, most spectators were only bull owners and their families eagerly waiting to see their bull emerge out of the vadivasal and the mini truck drivers eagerly waiting to go home!

 

Blow to the ‘Kovil Kaalai’ system

 

The greatest damage that the TNJRA 2009 did was to the thousands of years old ‘Kovil Kaalai’ tradition of Tamil culture.

 

Most villagers due to their economic status were not able to afford a stud bull. Hence the whole village adopted a bull and designated it as the village temple ‘Kovil Kaalai’ (Temple bull). The whole purpose of this free ranging bull is to provide stud services to the village cows. The ‘kovil kaalai’ is never roped and is free to roam around the village. The villagers permitted the bull to graze from any field and provided water. In fact, they believe that they will get a bumper crop if the ‘Kovil Kaalai’ grazed from their field!

 

It was deemed a collective responsibility of the village to take care of the bull, and the bull was considered the holy representative of the temple deity. Every three years, the village would exchange the designated ‘kovil kaalai’ with a nearby village. Once old, the bull will be adopted by a village and looked after till its last. The last rites for a village bull are done as if for a fellow human being. After one year, the body will be exhumed and its horns removed. A statue honouring the ‘Kovil Kaalai’ will be built in its designated temple and the bull’s real horns placed as the horns of its statue.

 

The ‘Kovil Kaalai’ enjoyed the top most honour of entering the Jallikattu arena first. A special puja was done to the bull and sent into the arena. No spectator is allowed to ‘embrace’ the ‘Kovil Kaalai’ and they usually pay obeisance to the holy bull.

 

Blow to the Religious Festivities

 

Another great victim of this law was the religious festivities of the village. Jallikattu was never and is still not a competitive sport. Jallikattu was meant to honour the villagers who were willing to rear a stud bull which was used for mating purposes, usually free, of the village cattle. So bull owners were honoured with a traditional‘tambalam’ – consisting of a dhoti, towel, betel leaves, a bunch of bananas and sometimes token cash, say Rs.101. To accord top honours to the village bull keepers, Jallikattu was organised as the first event of the village temple festival.

 

The bulls were adorned with garlands, towels and jewels, if the owner could afford, and paraded with full honours to the temple. The festivities started with the performance of a special puja for the bulls and then the bulls were released into the arena. Since this is not a competitive sport, there were no winners or runners-up. All bulls were considered winners and awarded the same prize. Participating in a Jallikattu is considered the greatest honour accorded to a bull owner.

 

Registration of Bull as a performing animal and restriction on movement of bulls

 

All the bulls had to be registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India by paying a fee of Rs. 500 at least one month before the event and a veterinarian has to certify that the bull is free from communicable diseases.

 

The harassment of the mostly illiterate bull owners starts at the hands of the policemen who demand to ‘check’ the AWBI registration, veterinarian certificate and coin their own rules about transportation. The vehicle is allowed to pass through only after they are properly ‘satisfied’.

 

The day the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act 2009 was passed, Jallikattu was doomed. The authorities were determined to ensure that lesser number of events were conducted each following year and that nobody – the bulls, bull owners, sportsmen, organisers or the spectators – relished Jallikattu. Bull owners and sportsmen lost all the associated honour, the game turned into a boring event, spectators lost interest and religious leaders were ignored as the religious aspect was totally lost in the bureaucratic quagmire.

 

The biggest losers of all are the bulls, which the Animal Rights Activists purportedly wanted to save – they turned from royalty to pariah status. More and more of these majestic, loving animals had been sold off, ending up in slaughter houses of Kerala. After the animal rights activists entered the scene in 2006, the population of native cattle breeds of Tamil Nadu reduced steeply. Several breeds are facing extinction and the famous ‘Alambadi’ breed is considered extinct now.

 

With such a draconian law, Jallikattu was being suffocated to a slow death already. There was no need for a ban after all.

This news article has been reproduced from “Vijayvaani.com” (Online edition) – dated  12 January 2015 .
The original article can be accessed at : http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=3457

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