The Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea for allowing the bull-taming (Jallikattu) festivities in rural areas on occasion of Makar Sankranti. The ongoing debate on rural sports involving cart race, bull taming, bulbul fights, and the like are getting louder day by day. There are strong arguments for and against this decision. In this context, I am narrating the following incident.
A few years ago, a farmer brought a sick racing bullock for treatment at the veterinary hospital of Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Ludhiana. As the animal was suffering from a serious infectious disease, its condition deteriorated rapidly and it could not be saved.
I vividly remember the stunned face of the old farmer who was trying to hold his tears. Two days after this incident, the farmer composed himself, came to me and requested for a photo of his bullock, which I had clicked to be used as an educational material. He told me that he is going to have an “akhand path” in the memory of his bullock in his village and this photograph is required for making a poster. After the ceremony, there was a “langar” for the whole village.
The point that I want to emphasise is that he performed all the rituals that one normally do for family members. Owners of these types of animal have a great love and affection for their animals. Another owner who came for the treatment of his racing bullock told me that he had no idea about the education of his two school-going children, but could explain minute-by-minute routine of his animals.
At the Kila Raipur rural games, more than 10 persons are directly involved with a pair of bullocks, just before they are released for the race. One can clearly assess the enthusiasm of the people as there are nearly 100 entries and thousands come from far-off places to cheer them up.
The people are emotionally attached to their animals and treat them as family members. They cannot harm their animals intentionally. Accidental injuries do occur, but it may take place in any game.
It is true that due to greed of winning attractive prizes and the absence of any stringent checks in rural games, unfair means like doping or use of spiked rods were common some years ago. Greater awareness and the fear of ban, however, have brought such practices under control. Sports involving humans also suffer from similar malpractices. Interestingly, horse race, a multi-million dollar industry, has prescribed rules, standardised protocols and put into effect stringent laws for defaulters.
There is no second thought on the fact that there should be no cruelty towards animals. The need of the hour is not to ban rural sports, but to prevent cruelty to animals by making standardised protocols, conducting dope tests and putting in place mandatory official supervision. In this way, age-old customs and traditions of the country can be preserved by removing the deficiencies, rather than killing the rural sports.
(The writer is a professor at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana)