Updated: February 13, 2017 11:53:12 am
The effects of the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu have now spilled over to Delhi as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the capital on Thursday seeking an ordinance allowing the traditional bull-taming report. As a response to the chief minister’s request, PM Modi said the matter was sub-judice. The prime minister also appreciated the cultural significance of Jallikattu.
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During the UPA rule in 2011, the environment ministry had added bulls to its 1991 notification banning the training and exhibition of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and dogs. The notification was challenged in the Supreme Court and was upheld in 2014. Protesters across Tamil Nadu have been demanding lifting of the ban imposed on Jallikattu by the apex court. Here’s all you need to know on the Jallikattu ban and more:
What is Jallikattu ?
Also known as Eruthazhuvuthal or Manju virattu, Jallikattu is a traditional bull-taming sport organised in Tamil Nadu during Pongal. According to some historical accounts, the practice dates back to as far as 2000 years ago. The sport involves a natively reared stud that is set free inside an arena filled with young participants(mostly men in their 20s). The challenge lies in taming the bull with bare hands. Participants often try to grab the bull by its horns or tail and wrestle it into submission. A few also tend to latch on to the bull by clinging to the hump at the back of its neck. Jallikattu events do not offer any major monetary benefits, and prizes are mostly a dhoti, towel, betel leaves, bananas and token cash — that is rarely more than Rs 101 — on a silver plate. Mixer-grinders, refrigerators and furniture have been added to the list of prizes at some events over the last few years.
Jallikattu had always been more a way to honour bull-owners than a competitive sport. It mainly was active in the districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul of Tamil Nadu until its ban in 2011. Organisers of the event argue that it is closely associated with village life and the bulls are specially reared for this purpose. Breeders often claim they treat the bulls like their own children and spend large sums of money towards their upkeep. Many participants, however, are either fatally gored, trampled or mauled by the bull.
Why did the Supreme Court ban Jallikattu?
The 2011 notification by the then Environment Ministry was challenged in the Supreme Court and was upheld in 2014. The court said “bulls cannot be allowed as performing animals, either for Jallikattu events or bullock-cart races in the state of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.” The SC order also identified “the five freedoms” of animals, including freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. It asked Parliament to “elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, as done by many of the countries around the world, so as to protect their dignity and honour”.
Okay, so why the outrage now?
In 2016, the Environment Ministry modified its earlier notification (issued by UPA in 2011) and declared that the sport could continue despite the existing ban. This was in direct contravention with the top court order, and was duly challenged by animal welfare organisation such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Subsequently, a stay order was issued by the court.
Questioning the “necessity of such festivals”, the Supreme Court bench had restrained the Tamil Nadu government from conducting Jallikattu. “What is the necessity of such festivals… like Jallikattu? There was no festival for four years… as an interim measure, we direct that there shall be stay of notification dated January 7, 2016 issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, until further orders,” the court had said in its interim order.
Political reasons may dominate the NDA government’s 2016 move. The Jallikattu belt is dominated by the politically powerful OBC Thevar community which has politicians and considerable clout in several parties. It was important for BJP to be seen as being with the “people” ahead of the Assembly elections in April. Tamilisai Soundararajan, state president of the BJP, had said lifting of the ban would help the party in the polls. Soundararajan said party chief Amit Shah had had several meetings with Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to ensure the ban was lifted. All parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Centre’s decision.
Apart from this, the newly anointed AIADMK general secretary, Sasikala Natarajan was embroiled in a war of words with DMK working-president M K Stalin over the traditional sport. Stalin accused the AIADMK government of doing little to overturn the Jallikattu ban. In return, Sasikala pointed out that it was under the UPA rule, of which DMK was a key alliance partner, that the ban was first imposed.
So what is the extent of the recent Jallikattu protests?
While the protests began in Madurai, Sivaganga, and Pattukottai, where Jallikattu events were reported despite the ban, the state capital became the hotbed after the arrest of 200 protesting youths in Alanganallur village proved to act as a catalyst. Chennai’s Marina beach saw an unexpected crowd of Jallikattu supporters who camped at the beach even during the night. The first 50 protesters reached the Marina Beach on Tuesday morning, at around 8 am. By midnight, the crowd had swelled to about 6,000. Students, software professionals, playback singers, filmmakers, bank employees — all gathered to protest against the ban on Jallikattu.
The mass movement, although leaderless and largely peaceful, spread across Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, with an estimated four lakh people gathering in at least 100 locations spread across Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem and Madurai. One significant part of the protests is their choice to stay away from the option of choosing a leader to lead the protests.
S N Jinnah, a deputy manager with a private sector bank, was among the first 50 people who gathered at the Marina Beach on Tuesday morning. He was also one of the 10 representatives selected. “There was no coordination or publicity, but news about the protest spread like wildfire,” said Jinnah, who brought 60 of his colleagues to the beach. The demands made by the protesters include lifting the ban on Jallikattu, banning PETA and relief for drought-affected Tamil Nadu farmers.
What have the state leaders done so far?
On Tuesday night, the state government spoke to the protesters and promised to take up the matter with Centre. State Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar and his cabinet colleague K Pandiarajan held talks with representatives of the protesting youth in Chennai saying the 50 AIADMK Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs will “exert required pressure on the Centre” for conduct of Jallikattu. “Not just that, this government will also take steps to meet the President to seek an ordinance,” Jayakumar said. As the police apprehended law and order problems if protesters continued to assemble at the Marina beach, the state government requested people to withdraw their agitation.
Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met the prime minister on Thursday to seek presidential ordinance allowing Jallikattu this year — which is traditionally held in the second week of January. The AIADMK also said that a resolution would be adopted in the Assembly seeking lifting of the ban. “While recognising the sentiments of students, youth and the people of Tamil Nadu, I firmly state that we will move and unanimously adopt a resolution seeking complete lifting of the ban on Jallikattu in the ensuing Assembly session,” Sasikala said in a statement. “We will make legal efforts to prevent PETA, a foreign organisation, from involving in activities inimical to the cultural pride of Tamil Nadu,” she said.
Why are the protesters demanding a ban on PETA?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been rallying hard against the sport citing animal rights abuse. PETA had also challenged the 2016 Environment Ministry notification by the NDA government. Through various reports, affidavits and photographs, The Animal Welfare Board of India(AWIB) has argued that Jallikattu bulls are physically and mentally tortured for the pleasure and enjoyment of human beings. They have also produced visual evidence for torture and cruelty to bullocks in Maharashtra’s bullock-cart races. According to AWBI, Jallikattu or bullock-cart races conducted in this way have no historical, cultural or religious significance in Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, and that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, must supersede any such practice.
B Raja of Madurai, who sold his Jallikattu bull after the SC ban, complained that the activists “who make brief visits to villages from the cities and allege cruelty to animals” have very little idea of how the animals are reared. “They are like our children. These critics have never seen that. It is not the same as having a pet dog at their apartments,” he said. AWBI and PETA pictures and video footage do clearly show the animals having their tails twisted or bitten, and being poked with spiked instruments as they are forced into the arena.
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