Jallikattu and the Pink Revolution

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A  recurrent theme during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s marathon  election campaign was the Pink Revolution and the depletion of the  cattle wealth of villages due to subsidised meat exports. Cattle are  intrinsic to agriculture and provide a secondary lifeline to marginal  farmers, especially in times of distress. Yet the meat industry has  created such a momentum in favour of animal slaughter that entire  villages in many parts of the country have been denuded of cattle.  This naturally impacts organic farming as well, due to the  proportional loss of manure.

Although  Mr Modi spoke of milch animals (cows and buffaloes), members of one  community felt they were being unsubtly targetted. In a sharp  interrogatory interview with a television channel, the BJP leader  sought to allay these suspicions by saying that he took up the issue  in response to strong appeals from the public; that he had not  impugned any community, and that members of the Jain community were  also found in this trade.

Actually,  the burgeoning meat trade – driven by the leather mafia – has  reduced the buffalo population to unsustainable levels all over the  world. The survival rate for milk-yielding cows is better due to a  civilisational reverence and cultural preference for cow’s milk.  But buffalos are higher yielding; their decimation will impact the  milk and dairy products industry and undermine traditional nutrition,  especially for vegetarians.

Agriculture  Minister Radha Mohan Singh, who faces the challenge of a possibly  below-normal southwest monsoon, which may inter alia affect the  availability of fodder, has promised to protect native cow breeds.  Many breeds are endangered, partly due to exports to countries that  are cross-breeding them to improve their own breeds, partly because  farmers cannot maintain them. The Centre must protect native species  of both cow and buffalo since it intends to expand the milk industry;  the meat subsidy must end without delay.

The  problems of Indian agriculture are complex. For decades the Centre  has promoted mechanisation through intense propaganda about the  inefficiency of traditional farming. The tractor has spread  nationwide and created the problem of surplus bulls that small  farmers cannot maintain, particularly as Government schemes have  wiped out village pastures.

The  sale of bulls to the slaughter house is the dirty secret Indian  civilisation can no longer hide. Far from directing Governments to  protect the animals in the spirit of the Directive Principles, courts  have favoured urban activists and protected stray dogs to the extent  that they have become a public danger in several cities. The high  decibel animal rights NGOs fail to sterilize the dogs, which  proliferate instead of declining, while cows and buffalos that have  long sustained the rural economy are left high and dry.

The  Supreme Court’s May 7, 2014 decision to ban Jallikattu, a  traditional bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu, is unfortunate on many  counts, the most tragic of which is an exodus of prized animals to  the slaughter-house. In 2006, the court banned bullock cart racing.  This popular rural sport fascinated Alexander’s army and was  recorded by his historians; it was a staple element in early Hindi  movies that vanished with the decline of cattle wealth. My  great-grandfather favoured bullocks that could keep pace with horses  (family legend); such was the passion associated with the sport.

The  court decisions are an attack on rural manhood sports that go back  centuries; they conform to the rising intolerance of urban elites  towards rural lifestyles and to ‘free’ sporting activities, even  in cities. Older citizens may recall the easy availability of open  grounds where youth across class lines could run or play football or  other sports freely. Much of this has been lost to mindless  urbanisation.

But  an unmistakable trend is to cut the less privileged out of open  spaces. Slum children have no places to play. In middle class  colonies, grounds have been gobbled up by ugly contractor-driven  ‘art’ or turned into ornamental gardens where children cannot  play. Larger playgrounds have been split into designated arenas for  specific sports with the best time slots reserved for those who  practice with coaches.

The  ban on traditional village sports will produce effete rural youth at  par with our feeble urban youth. Olympic gold medalist Abhinav  Bindra’s father built him a dedicated range to practice shooting; a  13-year-old girl from Andhra Pradesh recently scaled the Everest  after being selected for training by a welfare body. If sports are  thus confined to those who can pay or manage sponsorship, we are  heading towards a serious civilisational decline because we are  callously breaking the mind-body-spirit link recognised in our yogic  tradition.

Jallikattu  is intimately linked to the harvest and has a hoary tradition at  least 4000 years old, which has saved the native breeds from  abattoirs. Indeed, the bulls are worshipped, fed pistachios,  cottonseed, coconut, brinjal, dates, and lavished with care. There is  a belief that if there is no jallikattu, the rains won’t come.  Sadly, following a sustained campaign by urban activists, the Courts  intruded to regulate and eventually ban rural sports.

Prior  to the ban, each bull entering a tournament was given a registration  number and inspected for abuse and performance-boosting drugs by  government-appointed doctors, before and after the game.  Eight-feet-high double barricades protected the spectators as tamers  attempted to tackle a bull by its hump (tackling by the tail, neck or  horns entails disqualification), and somehow hang on for about 50  feet or till the bull crosses the finish line. The actual event lasts  only a few minutes, but generates excitement across weeks, and  stimulates the local economy through betting and tourism. As bull  owners converge on hosting villages, cultural ties are built across  communities.

Since  the ban, several dozen jallikattu bulls have been sold for less than  Rs 18,000 each as against the princely sum of Rs 1.5 lakh per star  animal. No animal rights body or activist has stepped forward to care  for the redundant animals. The fear that native cattle breeds that  are hardy and drought-resistant will die out is very real.

The  need of the hour is to preserve the still living Hindu tradition of  reverence for sentient beings. For a start, the Government must ban  (and not encourage) artificial insemination as birth is sacred and  should not be defiled by human interference. This will protect the  bulls and preserve the country’s genetic diversity, as there will  be at least one bull in each village. India must move to adopt  minimum standards for the humane treatment of domesticated animals in  tune with her civilisational heritage.

The  Pioneer, June 3, 2014 [Title:  An obscenity called the Pink Revolution]

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