With the Supreme Court set to hear a fresh plea challenging the NDA government’s conditional lifting of a four-year-old ban on Jallikattu, the controversy over Tamil Nadu’s bull-taming sport refuses to die.
The state’s regional parties known to confront each other on nearly every issue have come out against the ban in a chorus in an assembly election year, indicating the degree of cultural sensitivity attached to it.
The BJP, from all indications, appears to be inclined to garner some political points in the state where its base is weak because it needs every seat or ally it can muster in the Rajya Sabha. It might even try to find its own way in a third front that might steer clear of both the DMK and the AIADMK, traditional rivals in the state.
Pro-Jallikattu activists are citing everything from protecting local breeds of bulls from extinction to the fact that the Pongal-week sport only involves taming the bull and not inflicting any injury on the animals let loose amid a crowd of eager men trying to grab the animal’s horns from the front to win prizes and attain local hero status. But the Indian unit of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is championing a movement against the sport, says bulls have been deliberately provoked, stabbed or punched, and offers video evidence. Some reports say as many as 17 deaths and more than 1,100 human injuries have resulted from Jallikattu-type events over a five-year period until 2014.
An irony lies in the fact that Tamil Nadu is debating the nuances of a rural sport in the backdrop of devastating floods that crippled its capital and submerged substantial portions of the state. Perhaps it is time to put its environmental crisis higher on the agenda over cultural pride. Culture is best rooted in human values, which of late includes concern for animals, than a blind adherence to tradition. It should certainly not glorify misplaced machismo. Relying on humanism rather than short-term political gains is something we should expect from enlightened politicians. But in vote-hungry politics, that might involve taking the bull of populism by its proverbial horns.