20/01/2017 1:46 PM IST | Updated 23/01/2017 12:29 PM IST

Understanding The Whats And Whys Of Jallikattu—Part 1

We should know what we're fighting for or against...

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Co-authored with Ajay Chandra Vasagam, independent researcher.

The Centre has given its nod to an ordinance in favour of jallikattu (a sport which is considered to be an integral part of the festival of Pongal) in response to the phenomenal movement led by the people of Tamil Nadu, and the Supreme Court has agreed to delay its verdict. At this juncture, a debate on jallikattu is more relevant than ever to ensure that a permanent solution for the issue is arrived at. In the analysis of what is right or wrong about the sport, we need to also know what jallikattu is and what it means to the people supporting it. Here we will focus on how things are rather than how things ought to be and understand the reasons for the same.

If the problem is arising from violations of rules, the struggle should be for stricter enforcement of the law instead of a ban.

Eru Thazhuvuthal, meaning "embracing a bull", is the traditional sport of holding the hump of a bull. This is an ancient sport—there are seals dating back to the Indus Valley depicting it!—with multiple variants. The term "jallikattu" is an amalgamation of "salli" meaning coins and "kattu" meaning tie. It refers to the bag of coins that was tied to the horns of a bull. The victor was the one who could grab the coins off of the horns while embracing the hump.

There are three different variants of the sport of Jallikattu. At this stage, the government of Tamil Nadu is seeking to lift the ban on the first variant i.e. Vaadi Manu Virattu, which is the safest and most popular of all. In addition, the sport will involve the bull crossing the 15 feet mark or held for a period of 30 seconds—whichever is longer. The rules say that only one player will be allowed to hold onto the bull at a time. Also, he must hold on only to the hump and not the horns, neck or tail; doing so will lead to disqualification.

Are the rules the problem, or the rules being broken?

A major improvement in the tradition of Jallikattu came with The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009. It authorised the collector of a district to ensure that events were conducted in accordance with the law and in a fair and safe manner.

The organiser of the event is to take precautionary steps such as double barricading. It is also their duty to ensure that the bulls were subjected to proper testing by the authorities of the Animal Husbandry Department in order to screen for performance-enhancing drugs. In addition to this, every participant is required to wear particular attire and carry an ID card; they also must undergo a thorough medical check-up by a team constituted by the collector. The organiser must also deposit a sum of not less than ₹2 lakhs to the collector—in case of an accident or an injury during the event, this sum will go to the victim or his family. A penalty is also put in place under this act to avoid malpractices and violations. The collector also arranges for adequate police protection, provision of medical facilities, drinking water and sanitation facilities.

We believe that the element of "pride" in the context of jallikattu is somewhat demonised and not seen in the right light.

In addition, the collector must publicise the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and arrange for signboards signifying risks involved in participating in the event. Most importantly, the collector ensures the presence of activists representing the Animal Welfare Board and arranges for a visual recording of the entire event. If the problem is arising from violations of these rules, the struggle should be for stricter enforcement of the law instead of a ban.

Tamil pride and the jallikattu business model

Much has been said about jallikattu being little more than an expression of "Tamil pride" (read ego) and this accusation has always intrigued us. We believe that the element of "pride" is somewhat demonised and not seen in the right light. Any occupation that a person indulges in satisfies him or her on various dimensions. Let us stick to two— economic and social rewards. The two are equally important for a prolonged engagement in an activity. Here is an illustration to help us bring out the effectiveness of the Jallikattu business model.

An ordinary farmer usually has limited funds, engages in barter transactions and is involved in not just farming but allied activities. He invests his money on inputs and depends on his bull and cows for labour. The cost of maintaining a bull is always on the higher side. Thus, he needs to earn a little more on the side to sustain himself and the human ecosystem around him. He trains his bull and brings it up in the best possible way; around the harvest season, he participates in the sport, which is an opportunity to stabilise his income. Jallikattu is a sport where there can be more than one winner. In the case of a win, he can send the bull to the village temple. The bull is taken care of and the farmer is promised milk from the cows that his bull mates with, thereby stabilising his profits. More often than not, these are barter transactions that do not involve any money, saving the farmers from borrowing a lot. The native breeds are a lot more effective for an ordinary farmer owing to lower costs and easier maintenance. Owing to fewer cash transactions, there is more safety than in money-oriented fluctuations.

To this model, let's introduce an HF or an exotic breed. The immediate benefit that the farmer sees is the quantity of milk that the cow gives. However, his borrowings go up owing to costs in the form of fodder and artificial insemination. This means, more interest has to be paid to the moneylender. This brings down the profits and disallows barter transactions, which would have helped him realise more revenues. The system of high revenues and high costs isn't really healthy because the payments are to be made irrespective of the revenues, which again depend on demand and supply. Any crisis could set the farmer on a downward spiral, with no cushion to fall back on.

In the next part of this article, we will discuss questions concerning the merits of alternatives of Jallikattu, if any, the choice between A1 and A2 milk and the idea of coexistence of competing interests within society.

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