Hindutva hypocrisy: Why is beef banned as food but bull torture allowed for sport?

The unbanning of jallikattu shows that Hindutva uses bovine welfare only as tool to vilify Muslims

The Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre on Friday, overruled a 2011 notification by the Manmohan Singh government, thus clearing the way for conduct of the bull baiting sport of jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.

Significantly, in May 2014, the Supreme Court had upheld this 2011 notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to include bulls in the category of animals that could not be exhibited or trained as performing animals for Jallikattu events.

Cruel sport

The Modi government's move comes after sustained pressure from Tamil Nadu politicians such as Chief Minister J Jayalalitha to lift the ban and allow the sport, given its popular position in Tamil culture. What makes the move even more interesting, is that apart from Tamil groups, the other source of sustained pressure on this topic was the Hindutva lobby, who view jallikattu as a Hindu practice and, therefore, a ban on it, as an attack on religious freedom, even as a humiliation of Hindu tradition.

Jallikattu was banned in the first place for being against animal welfare. The sport consists of baiting a bull, where the animal is let loose in an open area, as young men throw themselves onto the bull, in an effort to “tame” it and grab prizes or cash affixed on the animal’s body. During this activity, the bull is chased, beaten, stabbed, jumped on and some of the more enthusiastic participants even twist or bite the bull’s tail, in order to further agitate it. The animal is forcibly made to drink alcohol and many a times, its nose it ripped open, in order to drag it onto the play area. Regulations have often been proposed for jallikattu, but as many animal rights activist have pointed out, they are impractical since the sport cannot take place without the bull being terrified. It’s only a panicked bull which dashes about in terror that enables a jallikattu bout to take place.

Ironic stand

What is of course, extremely ironic in the Hindutva stand on jallikattu is that the movement simultaneously sees bovines as divine and has, across a number of states, lobbied for a ban on bull slaughter as a means to stop animal cruelty. Till now the BJP governments in four states – Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – have made slaughtering a bull a criminal offence with harsh penalties and jail sentences. In fact, much of the Hindutva movement is based on cow protection, with gau rakha samitis or cow protection societies providing the backbone of right wing mobilisation in India since the late 19th century. Even today, states like Haryana run gaushalas or bovine shelters out of state money and Rajasthan even has a minister for cow welfare.

If Hindutva and the Bharatiya Janata Party strive to even provide comfort for stray bovines, how can they simultaneously allow the torture of a bovine for sport and merriment?

Cow protection as a majoritarian tool

The answer to this paradox lies in the fact that cow protection politics in much of India has little to do with actual faith but is more to do with majoritarianism and Muslim-bashing. The cow is used as a symbol to politically mobilise by the Hindutva movement ­– even India’s first large-scale riot was driven by the issue of cow protection. But once the need for political mobilisation is satisfied, cow welfare per se is ignored.. This is why, apart from beef, other items which necessitate cow slaughter such as leather are left untouched by the law. In fact, two years back, in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP voted against a bill which sought to ban the sale of cow bones and fat.

It is this same double standard that is now being applied to jallikattu. Even as the BJP runs programmes for cow welfare elsewhere, in this case, it paradoxically promotes the torture of bulls for sport and pleasure.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

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Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.