Jallikattu: Beyond what meets the eye – II
by Balakumar Somu on 06 Dec 2016 6 Comments

Undoubtedly a Hindu tradition


Jallikattu has been a part and parcel of the Hindu traditional practices of Tamils for thousands of years. It is conducted as a thanks-giving to the local village deity to which the village bulls are betrothed. The occasion is used to honour bulls belonging to the temple and the village.


The ‘Vadi’ (start-gates) for Jallikattu are constructed within temple premises and Jallikattu usually takes place on temple grounds. Each village has evolved its own traditional practice and conducts the village temple festival every year on an auspicious day handed down by our forefathers.


If you travel around Tamilnadu, you can see statues of Jallikattu bulls and Temple bulls, erected inside temples. Pujas are performed for the bulls along with the puja for the deity. In fact, the statues of the Temple bulls sport the real horn of the bull. The temple bull services the village cows during its youth and when it is old, the village lovingly cares for the bull till its last breath. When a temple or Jallikattu bull passes away, it is given a grand ceremonial burial after performing its last rites similar to that of the village head. It is usually buried in the temple grounds or farm of the owner. After one year, the horns are exhumed and placed on the statue built in the village Temple. The Temple bull is considered sacred during its lifetime and considered as a village Guardian God (grama devata) after its death. Daily pujas are conducted for the Temple bull statue along with the puja for the deity.


The people of the region believe that Jallikattu should be conducted during the annual temple festival; that if not conducted during the festival, then great hardship, like famine or epidemic, could befall the village. Others may call it superstition, but it is their faith. As a result of the Jallikattu ban, thousands of temples have gone without their annual temple festivals. The village temples usually receive a major part of their donations during the Annual Temple Festival and are usually refurbished, renovated, whitewashed and repaired during this time only. Because people fear that great hardship will befall them if they conduct the temple festival sans Jallikattu, they have chosen to postpone the temple festival rather than face divine wrath; as a result, thousands of Hindu temples are lying in ruins.


As per tradition, the village temple festival will take place according to practices handed down in that village from time immemorial. After the Tamilnadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act 2009 was passed, the right to conduct Jallikattu was taken away from the Village Council and given to the District Collector, a government official in no way connected to the village.


The District collector was declared the sole authority to ‘sanction’ Jallikattu and an authority not less than a sub-collector had to oversee the event. The TNRJA also vested additional powers with the District Collector to allow conduct of Jallikattu on a date of his choice, venue of his choice, and for ‘as much time as he deems fit’, literally putting the rural masses at the mercy of one dis-connected bureaucrat. The law also stated that the District Collector prepare a list of villages where Jallikattu was traditionally conducted continuously for the past five years.


Thus, government officials already burdened with regular work had to take up the additional burden of regulating Jallikattu. For instance, Pudukottai district has over 750 villages on the gazetted list of approved villages that can conduct Jallikattu. If all of these villages decide to conduct Jallikattu, then the district Collector, sub-collector, Superintendent of Police, Fire Service personnel and other authorities would have to oversee two Jallikattus every day, 365 days a year! How would they execute their regular duties? Being bureaucrats, they came up with an innovative way to stop Jallikattu. All they had to do was to prevent Jallikattu from being conducted in a village for one year, and as per law, that village would lose the right to conduct Jallikattu forever.


The villagers stuck to their traditional practice of conducting Jallikattu on the day deemed auspicious, on the temple grounds and at the auspicious time. Hence the District Collectors denied permission to the village on flimsy grounds, or would deny permission on the auspicious day, or would insist that the village should change the venue etc. Once denied permission for a year, the village would be removed from the gazetted list and hence would lose its right to conduct Jallikattu forever.


Using these techniques, the authorities managed to reduce the number of Jallikattu events from over 3000 before 2009, to just 24 events in 2014. Since the temple festivals were also stopped, the district authorities were relieved of that work too. The government authorities were not concerned that they were striking at the very heart of Hinduism. These very same government officials were expected to fight for the restoration of Jallikattu on behalf of Tamils in the Supreme Court!  


Over the past few centuries, even as people embraced other religions, they continued with several cultural traditions of their mother-religion, Hinduism. Jallikattu is one of them. It is not uncommon to see Christians sporting ‘kumkum’ on their foreheads, tying the knot with a traditional Tamil Hindu ‘thali’ chain along with exchange of rings etc., and Muslims following certain traditions. Also, Jainism was a major religion of Tamils for several centuries in the past. There are churches in Tamilnadu that have designated ‘temple bulls’. Just because converts to Christianity tie the knot and wear ‘thali’ chains, does it mean that the ‘thali’ would not be considered a Hindu tradition anymore? A number of churches used to conduct Jallikattu. Irrespective of caste, creed or religion, every stud bull and its owner is invited, all villagers participate in the event, and even the organising committee is formed with members of all castes and religion, making Jallikattu a shining example of what traditional Indian coexistence. Whether a temple, church or madrasa conducts it, Jallikattu will always remain a Hindu tradition. 


No wonder Tamils feel slighted and hurt by the observations of the honourable judge when he refused to accept that Jallikattu is a part of Hindu traditional practice.  


Role of Jallikattu in saving Native Cattle


While the people of Tamilnadu, rural and urban, educated and uneducated are seized of the importance of Jallikattu and its vitality to save the region’s Indian Native Cattle, the rest of India finds it difficult to understand the facts behind it. This is because the uniqueness of the cattle of Tamilnadu sets it apart from cattle of the rest of India.


Every region’s cattle has evolved with adaptations that best suit the environment. The terrain, climate, flora and fauna and human requirement together play a role in their evolution. For example, cattle of Kongunadu region of Tamilnadu, the Kangeyam, are huge in size compared to other breeds of Tamilnadu owing to the fact that Kongunadu region has a special type of grass called ‘Kozhukkattai pul’ which is rich in calcium.


Indian cattle can be broadly classified into three types based on their utility or purpose:


1)      Milch Animals: These animals are valued for the quantity of milk they can produce. However, the male animals are slow, poor work animals. The cows produce about 10-15 litres of milk per day on an average. Most of the cattle breeds of North India are milch animals and include breeds like Gir, Deoni, Sahiwal, Red Sindhi.


2)    Dual Purpose Animals: Cows of this category produce a decent quantity of milk and the male animals are good work animals. The cows produce about 5-10 litres of milk on an average daily. Most cattle breeds of the central India, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh are dual purpose animals; they include breeds like Ongole, Krishna Valley, Rathi.


3)     Draught Animals: Cows of this category are very poor milk yielders, producing only 1-4 liters of milk/day. However, the male and even female animals are excellent workers. A pair of bullocks can easily haul a load of 1-1.5 tons walking at an average speed of about 5-7 kms and can cover about 30-40 km/day. They can haul double the load with pneumatic rubber-tube tyres. All cattle breeds of Tamilnadu and some breeds of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are pure draught animals, such as Kangeyam, Pulikulam, Umbalacherry, Halikar, Amrit Mahal etc.


Cattle have served humans primarily for these two purposes only, apart from a small population that took to consuming beef. The Western world may be obsessed with beef, but even today the beef eating population in India, especially Tamilnadu, is very small. For thousands of years, the male and female animals were treated with equal respect as the female produced milk while the male helped the farmer with his work, including ploughing the fields, hauling loads etc.


In 1970, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) launched Operation Flood which transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the World’s largest producer of milk. The White Revolution laid emphasis on production of milk; hence milch cattle received all the attention, neglecting male animals and draught animal breeds. With the advent of tractors, the draught animals lost a sizeable chunk of their job of ploughing, but were still valued for their ability to pull loads in the range of 1-1.5 tons. But with the introduction of mini-trucks that carried the same load of 1-1.5 tons, the male animals lost that purpose too. The only purpose they still had was in rural sports like rekla, bullock cart races, etc., and for religious events like Jallikattu.


With the blanket ban on all these events by the Supreme Court, the male animals lost all purposes for which they were kept. While cattle from the rest of India managed to survive because of their milk-producing capabilities, the cattle of Tamilnadu which were reared only for their capability to produce a male offspring lost out totally.


Tamilnadu is home to six major breeds of cattle – Kangeyam, Bargur, Alambadi, Theni Marai Madu, Pulikulam and Umbalacherry. Because of the ban on Jallikattu, Alambadi, an excellent draught animal breed is now extinct. Two more breeds, Bargur and Pulikulam, which is primarily used in Jallikattu, are now endangered. Of the Kangeyam cattle which numbered over a million about a decade ago, only about 90,000 survive today. One wonders why the AWBI and the foreign-based, foreign-funded organisations like PETA, PFA, HSI,  etc., which have purportedly spent crores of rupees on legal fees and advertisements to get Jallikattu banned, have not taken any steps to save these valuable Indian Cattle. In fact, they do not seem to have any understanding of any of these facts. 


From Jallikattu to slaughter houses and farmer suicides


“If the farmers take care of the Jallikattu bulls as their own children, then why are sending it for slaughter (after the ban)?” - animal rights activists


This is question often raised in various forums by the so-called animal rights activists. To understand the dynamics of how Jallikattu plays a vital role in preserving Native Cattle and why the ban is having disastrous effect on the bull population, one has to understand the social and economic setup of rural Tamilnadu.


Jallikattu is not a mere sport. It is the glue that binds the rural fabric of Tamilnadu. In most rural sports, the sporting animals/birds, be it bulls, rams (goat), buffaloes or cocks, are usually owned by the rich. But in Jallikattu that is not the case. The people who rear Jallikattu bulls can be broadly classified into three categories:


1)    Poor/Landless Farmers:

A majority of the bulls are raised by poor, landless farmers and farm labourers. These people retain a cow for the sole purpose that it may produce a male calf. With regard to Tamilnadu breeds, the female calf does not carry as much value as a male. The family brings up the male calf grazing it on the roadside and sufficiently provides for it to grow into a healthy adult. When the calf is around 18 to 24 months of age, the adolescent calf would start playing. During this time, if it manages to catch the eye of a rich Jallikattu bull-rearer, he would pick it up for a premium price. The calves, depending on their breed, purity, strength and character, used to fetch anywhere between Rs 1 to 4+ lakh.


For a small/landless farmer or farm labourer, this is a jackpot. If he manages to sell one calf a year, the income would go a long way in his family’s survival. A considerable number of these poor farmers have given up rearing cattle as there are no takers due to the Jallikattu ban. Cattle that used to fetch a handsome sum of Rs 1-4 lakh, now fetch only about Rs 20,000 to 50,000 as the demand has nosedived.


The poor animals are being sold by weight as the only buyers are butchers! A small number of people are still holding on to their cattle hoping to see light at the end of the tunnel someday. But it gets more and more difficult to hold on to cattle which require considerable manpower and feed, as days stretch to months and  months to years. Do the so-called animal rights activists working in cubicles in air-conditioned rooms, far removed from this reality, even realise that they have effectively cut off a vital lifeline of the poor farmer?


2)   Traders:

This is a unique category of people with an eye to pick up potential calves. They visit cattle shandies and pick up one or more male calves and take care of them till about the calves are 18-24 months and would be picked up for a premium price, depending on the quality of the calf. As soon as the ban came into effect, they were the first category of people who gave up the Jallikattu bulls (adolescent calves). Who would invest in a stock with no selling value?


3)   Affluent Jallikattu Bull Owners:

This category of affluent farmers rear one or more stud bulls. They would be willing to buy a young calf at a premium price and maintain it, pampering the bulls with protein-rich food etc. They take pride in providing free stud services to the village cows and are in turn honoured by the village for their selfless service. The bulls are not reared for the prizes that they might win in a Jallikattu. The prizes are usually a small stainless steel pot or bicycle! It is the pride that they own the best bull of the region that motivates them.


The bulls owned by this category of people are usually betrothed to their family/village deity, taken care of till their natural death and temples are built for famous bulls. These people are holding on to the bulls they already have, but see no purpose in buying new ones. Hence the demand for calves has literally vapourised.


As a result of the ban, there are no takers for bulls and calves. For poor farmers, it becomes very prohibitive to maintain calves beyond two years due to the high cost involved and labour required. They have to let go of it. The cows of Tamilnadu breeds produce negligible quantity of milk and are reared only to produce male calves. Having already lost out to tractors and mini-trucks, the male animals were picked up only by affluent Jallikattu Bull owners. So now, the cows have also lost their purpose and are flooding the cattle shandies. Here, the only buyers are traders who buy cattle for the slaughter houses of Kerala. A farmer would be very lucky if he can find another farmer to buy his calf. If not, he is forced to sell his dear bull, cow or calf to a trader and return with a heavy heart.


Why have foreign-funded animal welfare groups like PETA, HSI, PFA, FIAPO, AWBI, etc., with their deep pockets not come forward to save these cattle? Why do they blame the poor farmer for selling his cattle?


Before passing the judgement, did the Hon’ble Supreme Court consider any of these facts? Even if the esteemed court wished to ignore the culture aspect, did it evaluate the loss of livelihood of farmers? Did it evaluate the thousands of jobs that would be lost, forcing the poor labourers, who lived a dignified life in the village with clean water and unpolluted air, to migrate to urban towns and cities only to find themselves being forced to live in unhygienic slums on the banks of Cooum only to be washed away in floods the following year? 


Tamilnadu is a water-starved, arid zone. We do not have water even for drinking purposes, let alone farming. Yet, Tamilnadu has so far reported one of the lowest rates of farmer suicides among all the States. It is because farmers of Tamilnadu are predominantly live-stock keepers. The Jallikattu ban strikes at the heart of live-stock keeping. If the ban continues, the day is not far off when farmer suicides become a daily occurrence in Tamilnadu too. Would a Jallikattu video game save them, Your Honour?


For Tamils, Jallikattu is a symbol of the wisdom of their civilization; an inseparable part of their culture. Tamil civilization is the world’s oldest surviving civilization and that survival is by design, not fluke. Irrespective of the ban, Tamils would not give up their traditional practice of Jallikattu. Tamils living in other countries have also been conducting Jallikattu, although in small numbers. Today Tamils all over the world have taken up Jallikattu and it is being conducted as per Tamil tradition in several countries. Ban or not, the Jallikattu tradition will continue.



User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top