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Jallikattu in times of ‘cow-nationalism’

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Jallikattu in times of ‘cow-nationalism’
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Tamil Nadu is currently fuming with rage with mass protests against the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu escalating across the state.

The pro-Jallikattu protests against the Central and state governments demand revoking the ban on the traditional bull taming sport that has been practiced for decades. Thousands took to the streets in Chennai and other cities in the state demonstrating against the apex court’s move. The protests organized through social media campaigns, gained momentum with no apparent support of any religious or political outfits to gather and lead the people. Chennai had its ‘Arab Spring’ moment with the demonstrators in Marina beach calling it ‘Chennai Spring’ reminiscent of the uprisings across the Arab world. Members of the film fraternity, artists, political leaders, agricultural organisations and sports stars including Viswanathan Anand, the world chess champion, have come forward backing the protests against Jallikattu ban. Various programs expressing solidarity with the uprising are also being held in foreign countries where Tamilians reside. Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had on Thursday, in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sought an ordinance to overcome the ban on the sport. However, the PM expressed his government’s inability to intervene since the matter was ‘sub-judice’. This has escalated the fear of the uprising turning violent.

Jallikattu is an ancient traditional festival that has been practiced in Tamil Nadu since 400 BC. It is held as a part of mid-January harvest festival, Pongal, on its third day. In the event, a bull is released into a crowd, with the participants trying to grab its horns or humps and riding it as long as possible. Whoever tames the bull would be given the prize of gold or silver coins that would be tied to the bulls’ horns. Several versions of the sport exist in the state. The blood-sport often results in major injuries and even death. It was supposed to be held last Saturday. The Supreme Court in 2014 banned the event after animal rights activists filed a petition against it. The Tamilians since then has been making attempts to get the ban lifted. However, the failure to conduct Jallikattu even after three consecutive years has stirred the sentiments of the people. The pro-Jallikattu protests are reminiscent of the anti-Hindi agitations of the 1960s.

The SC banned the sport upholding the Prevention of Cruelty to the Animals Act. But Tamil oranisations argue that the sport doesn’t amount to cruelty as specially trained bulls are used for the event. Animals such as horses are being used for carrying out hefty works. But it isn’t seen as a cruelty towards them. Even the police force trains dogs for investigation purposes. Therefore Jallikattu should also be seen in a similar way. So goes the pro-Jallikattu arguments. They take instances of bull fights in Spain that are one of the main forms of entertainment in the country, saying that such sports, which harm the bulls, exist even in countries with contemporary legal systems. Therefore banning the ancient tradition that has been a part of Tamil identity is seen as a call for war against the Tamil culture.

It’s true that progressive societies that believe in the judiciary cannot accept the cruelty towards animals. However, the main question posed by the Jallikattu arguments is whether a tradition deeply rooted in the society could be abolished using only the legal techniques. It triggers several grave discourses related social culture and the judiciary. The present government is reluctant to permit the religious personal laws for the different social sections and vouches for the implementation of a uniform civil code. It’s when such a government remains in power, that they find it tough to implement even a law related to animals. It leads us to several intriguing realisations about the diversity of our country. It’s during a time, when a party that incites communal hatred among the people in the name of cows, rule the Centre that the mass protests related to bulls erupt across a state. Those who advocate integrated nationalism should notice the happenings. Ancient traditions deeply rooted in the society could not be eliminated by the enforcement of laws. A change in such matters could only be brought about through well-planned reforms by taking every concerned party into confidence.

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