“Mannuyir ompi arulaalvaarkku illenpa thannuyir anjum vinai”— Thiruvalluvar
[For he who treats other living beings with kindness, In his own soul the dreaded guilt of sin shall never feel]
This is the 244th verse in the Thirukkural, the great ethical treatise penned over 2,000 years ago by the Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar, and held in high reverence even by modern Tamilians.
But the words of the ancients seem to be falling on deaf ears as far as the fight over the ancient bull-wrestling sport of jallikattu is concerned. In recent years, a few days before Pongal, social media is abuzz with discussions around jallikattu. This year has been no different, as many people aired their discontent about the Supreme Court’s decision last January to uphold the ban on jallikattu.
Their attempt to rationalise a regressive, barbaric custom in the name of a culture is deeply insulting to a civilisation that takes pride in being among the world’s oldest.
It is indeed disheartening to see the land of Thiruvalluvar fighting against the ban on jallikattu – a sport that revels in cruelty and proves bravado by fighting bulls in agony.
I am a Tamilian who has always been proud of her roots and her culture. However, I hang my head in shame every time a non-Tamilian asks me about jallikattu.
Perhaps I need help in understanding the perspective of my Tamilian brethren. What is this bravado and manliness that you are trying to show off by tackling a bull that was raised in domestitude and is unmitigably terrified by the noise and crowds that he has been thrust in the middle of?
A question of manliness
What manliness is it to intoxicate a bull with alcohol and then win over him? What is the bravado in handicapping a bull with lime juice in his eyes and chilli powder rubbed on his genitals?
Wouldn’t your bravado and manliness be on better show if you are able to help the farmers who are committing suicide due to the failure of their winter harvest and mounting financial debts?
There have been strong protests against the ban on jallikattu by a handful individuals who are more bothered about vote banks than voters. The political interests get vested in this and it has come to the point when every non-Tamilian considers all Tamilians to be pro-jallikattu. The culture itself has come to be identified with this vile sport that holds no meaning in today’s world.
No civilisation or culture can advocate cruelty against animals. If they did, they would cease to be civilisations or cultures.
Backing for jallikattu comes from the people of a culture raised on the legend of Manu Needhi Chozhan. The legend has it that the king executed his own son to provide justice to a cow whose calf was killed under the wheels of the prince’s chariot.
A culture that traded with every corner of the known ancient world and exported its culture, practices and language across a large swath of humanity is now fighting for the right to bully scared animals.
Rajeshwari Ganesan works at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.