17/01/2017 6:22 PM IST | Updated 20/01/2017 4:55 PM IST

Why The Jallikattu Debate Smacks Of Hypocrisy

Paddy Photography

Let's make this clear: jallikattu is animal abuse. No reasonable person who is able to step outside their cultural biases would be able to deny this. But the problem surrounding the banning of jallikattu during the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal is precisely that biases are found on both sides of the debate. Although their motives are questionable and they too are guilty of bias, right-wing nationalists may have a legitimate point when they ask why such scrutiny isn't applied to animal cruelty in the name of culture or religion when carried out by minorities.

The problem perhaps lies in the left wing's encouragement of Indian reform to the exclusion of certain minorities.

Orthodox Islam commands the practice of qurbani, or slaughtering animals during Eid al-Adha to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son for the sake of God. Yet the voices that refer to this practice seem to be predominantly right-wing, in a childish play of tit-for-tat, due to the left-wing's unwillingness to equally condemn the practice. From a logical perspective, what is more harmful— a practice that results in harm and occasional death of a single species, or one that results in the slaughter of lakhs of animals? Both of these are unquestionably wrong, but taking life is arguably worse.

The problem perhaps lies in the left wing's encouragement of Indian reform to the exclusion of certain minorities. Implicit in these debates seems to be an assumption that certain minorities are entitled to barbarism, as if we can't expect anything better from them. This makes it more difficult for reformers within these minority communities to challenge orthodoxy and backward practices. Perhaps the elephant in the room, however, is the way in which debates like this are symbolic of the tensions and political leanings that divide India. After all, if these debates were rooted truly in a concern for animal welfare, killing an animal would not be justified as any better than animal abuse, irrespective of the cultural or religious rationale given.

The symbolism of this debate and its role in satisfying egos is unhelpful to the animals concerned. Any true concern for animals might mean re-looking at the meat, leather, egg and dairy industries to start with. I make no apologies for this pro-veganism bias. If the starting claim for any of these debates is concern for animal welfare, ask yourself: which bias is the most rational of all three?

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