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Jallikattu: A Fight for Tamil Identity

National Media, in the last one week, has projected the protests in Tamil Nadu as one that is solely aimed at revoking the ban on Jallikattu. People across the country have voiced their approval and disapproval for the protest with convincing arguments. However, such dialogues have oft-centred around discussing the sport’s legitimacy.

The country needs to understand that such an inflexion point cannot happen because of one sport. It is the accumulated frustration and suppressed aspirations of the people that have come home to roost.

Read on to know more about the sport and its cultural significance.

An Ancient Sport

What beauty is to a woman, valour is to a man. Jallikattu is an ancient sport that has given the Tamil youth a platform to express their valour and competence in an organised fashion. The seals of the Indus Valley civilisation which depict Jallikattu is a testimony to the fact that this intensive sport was in vogue 5,000 years back. Ancient Tamil poetry, known as Sangam literature (2nd BCE – 2nd CE), has many detailed references to Eru Thazhuvuthal (hugging the bull).

The ancient cultural origins of Jalikattu (Image Courtesy: The Wire)

The Western Interpretation of Jallikattu

Various organisations, seeking to ban Jallikattu, have projected Jallikattu as a fight between bulls and humans, wherein bulls are subjected to abject cruelty. In stark contrast to this false yet widely accepted belief, Jallikattu is a game where players are required to embrace the running bulls by hanging onto their hump as far as possible.

The Western Media has often interpreted Jallikattu as the Eastern counterpart of Spanish bullfighting.  It is, at the very most, amusing when the act of ‘embracing a bull’ is likened to inserting a sword into the spine of the bull, inflicting a slow and painful death!

Every sport has rules. What about Jallikattu?

Jallikattu, contrary to popular belief, does have a clearly established set of rules that are governed by the Tamil Regulation of Jallikattu Act, which was passed in 2009. They are:

  1. The Bull will be released onto the arena through the entry gate called ‘Vadi Vaasal’.
  2. The bull tamer/contestant should try to ‘catch’ the bull by holding onto its hump only.
  3. The bull-tamer should hold onto the bull till it crosses the ‘finish’ line. (Usually it is about 50 feet, marked by hanging overhead marker flags along the line.)
  4. If the bull throws the tamer off before the line or if no-one manages to hold on to the bull, then the bull will be declared victorious.
  5. If the bull-tamer manages to hold on to the hump till it crosses the ‘finish line’, then the bull tamer is declared the winner.
  6. Only one bull tamer should hold on to the bull at one time. If more than one bull tamers hold on to the bull, then there is no winner.
  7. The bull tamer should ONLY hold on to the hump. He should NOT hold on to the neck or horns or tails of the bull. Such tamers will be disqualified.
  8. No bull tamer will hit or hurt the bull in any manner.

However, it would be unfair to say that the sport is free of limitations. Yes, there have been cases of bull agitation caused by alcohol consumption, biting of the tail and other disgraceful practices which have undermined the legacy of this millennia-old sport. But can citation of these abuses, which are in clear violation of the law, be recognized as a valid argument to ban Jallikattu? Certainly not. Just because non-compliance of traffic rules leads to accidents, we cannot ban vehicles from plying on the road. The focus should be on seeing to that the rules are enforced rather than making attempts to ban the entire sport.

Jalikattu- incomparable with Spanish bullfighting (Image Courtesy: The Jagran)

Jallikattu: A Discipline Check

In addition to being a physically demanding and intensive sport, Jallikattu is prided as a family legacy by the rural folk, who have continued this tradition for generations now. The sport which demands high agility, fitness and competence has kept the rural youth away from alcohol and other addictions. Furthermore, Jallikattu bulls are nurtured with utmost care from the time of their birth. Accusations that these breeds are injected with external substances to improve performance is a baseless proposition. Only indigenous breeds which are known for their strength and ferocious nature partake in the sport.

People who want a ban on Jallikattu are far removed from village life and do not know how this chain works. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) supports traditional practices to keep the chain intact and thus enable conservation of native breeds. While the country’s great riches were lost, and forgotten during the colonial period, traditions like Jallikattu that have borne the brunt of time serve as remainders of our glorious past.

The Economic Value of Jallikattu Bulls

The time a bull spends engaged in the sport is less than 30 seconds. Rules governed by the law to regulate the same exists. On the other hand, India has become the world’s largest exporter of beef, which is a shame. The animals which nurtured us, worked for us, enriched our soil on-a-daily-basis is being slaughtered not just for food, but to export and make money. Indigenous breeds, which provide us with nutrient-rich milk (A2), is being exported by the numbers to make way for incompetent foreign breeds that are flooding the market with unfit-for-consumption milk (A1). India has already lost many cattle breeds and it can’t afford to lose any more. Instead of fighting against this, taking away the simple joy and millennia-old tradition of the rural youth of Tamil Nadu is unfair.

A Jalikattu bull is bred from birth to be a fierce, merciless creature. (Source: Firstpost)

The Jallikattu Protest: A Misnomer

National Media, in the last one week, has projected the protests in Tamil Nadu as one that is solely aimed at revoking the ban on Jallikattu. People across the country have voiced their approval and disapproval for the protest with convincing arguments. However, such dialogues have oft-centred around discussing the sport’s legitimacy.

The country needs to understand that such an inflexion point cannot happen because of one sport. It is the accumulated frustration and suppressed aspirations of the people that have come home to roost.

We are currently witnessing the climax of events, whose starting-point can be traced back to the 2015 Chennai Floods. In a period of one year (December 2015- December 2016), TN has borne the combined brunt of a cyclone, flood, demonetisation and demise of its Chief Minister. At this crucial juncture, when the state requires utmost commitment from the government in addressing its concerns, it is riddled with a political establishment that is mired in its own politics.

Jallikattu Protests is the expression of an unflinching Tamil Spirit that refused to dampen even when its own leaders stood against them. It needs to be celebrated rather than criticised, even if the objectives of the protest don’t strike the right chord with you.

A country of India’s size and magnitude cannot do away with problems forever. They are certain to arise from time to time. But we can do away with governments that are incapable of handling such problems. India’s biggest protest since Independence, will be undermined, if the present state government is allowed to perpetuate till the end of its term in 2021.

It is time to liberate the state and its people from the clutches of Dravidian Parties!

The Marina Beach protests, 2017 that forced an ordinance to permit Jalikattu, but also woke up the establishment. (Image Courtesy: Indian Express)

By | 2017-05-04T19:03:54+00:00 January 25th, 2017|Categories: Cultural|Tags: , , |3 Comments

About the Author:

Ashwin Senthil Kumar is a first-year student of Economics at University of Warwick. The thing about the Chennai lad is that he certainly doesn’t look like much. However, once you get to know him, he still doesn’t seem like much and therein lies his power.

3 Comments

  1. Prashant January 26, 2017 at 02:16 - Reply

    Brilliant Analysis. Well researched article and completely agree.

  2. Smitha Matai January 26, 2017 at 20:12 - Reply

    Accurate account of origin, practice and current situation of the sport. Couldn’t agree more with your view that we need to work on ensuring rules are complied with rather than banning a sport!
    Well written!

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