On Sunday, hundreds of upper caste men—no women— in Tamil Nadu ran with bulls, who had no clue why they were being accosted and pounced on by these hordes. Thankfully, any animal’s survival skill is strong so the bulls in Rapoosal village in Pudukottal gored multiple people, killing two and injuring at least 90.
One man, while being saved from being gored, died of dehydration. These are the pitfalls of being traditional.
I know the murky waters of Jallikattu are best not ventured into, but the horror that has unfolded in the name of tradition and culture over the last week is impossible to ignore. In full disclosure, I not only eat most meats, I am quite the fan of a good sirloin steak. Therefore, of course, I am not allowed to speak on animal cruelty. The only difference is that I do not maim animals for sport or entertainment or in the name of culture. Animals which are killed for me, are for food. Not for blood sport.
Now that I have established my meat-eating credentials, let’s get back to Jallikattu—or the hugging of the bulls a.k.a. the bull-taming sport of Tamil Nadu. A sport in which prized bulls are released into crowds of people during Pongal and the crowds try and stop the bulls—by hanging onto its hump, pulling its tail, grabbing its ears. Just the way you should treat a confused, defenceless animal. This supposedly proves how strong the bulls are—and what big bullies humans can be.
Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014 along with bullock cart races in Maharashtra and Punjab, Kambala (buffalo race) in Karnataka and Dhirio (bull fight) in Goa. Following protests this year by students on Marina Beach and various film stars coming out in support of Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu promulgated an ordinance which was passed by the Centre and the President and the bulls were taken out for our merriment. This has been touted as a victory of democracy. I still have not understood how.
When it comes to Jallikattu, there are some basic facts other than the assault of the bulls which few people seem to be aware of or highlight, and which irk me the most. First, Jallikattu is a sport or tradition (call it what you will), which is practised only by upper castes. No Dalits or lower castes are allowed to participate. Second, no women are allowed to participate. This is a male tradition.
That educated students—I don’t put too much importance by the comments of film stars, including Kamal Haasan who wanted to ban biryani for some reason—and news channel anchors and editors, who all are coming out in support of a patriarchal, casteist “tradition" in 2017, is shocking beyond belief. Forget the bulls, after all they’re just animals, this is a tradition which discriminates among humans.
This is what people came out in support of in news studios and in hundreds on Marina Beach? Every woman who was part of the protest should be ashamed of herself, as should every individual who sees nothing wrong with asking for the propagation of a “tradition" which is casteist. And then we wonder why women and lower castes are treated like second class citizens, ironically like cattle.
It’s because our youngsters, opinion makers, journalists and politicians think there is nothing wrong with supporting patriarchy and casteism in the name of “Tamil tradition".
In certain castes in West Bengal, there was a “tradition" where newlywed brides would have to wash the feet of their husbands and then dry their husband’s feet using their hair. This didn’t harm anyone. Other than for wetting your hair a little bit. But if someone were to fight for the promotion of this non-violent “tradition" in Bengal today, I’m assuming people would be appalled. Fighting for anything in the name of tradition is worrying. Slavery was part of white America’s tradition. Sati was part of Hindu tradition. Marital rape and “honour" killings are a part of Indian tradition—a binding factor across religions. Dowry is an Indian tradition.
Going by the tenuous logic of “tradition" being the reason for carrying on an outdated and (in the case of Jallikattu) brutal practice, let’s bring all these back.
I’m not being flippant here. It is firstly ludicrous that people do not understand that it is a form of torture and bravado to surround any animal, in hordes. Animals, including the very wise Jallikattu bull, does not know why it is being pounced on or surrounded. It is no fun for the animal. The logic, which I heard on many news panels—that these bulls are bought by the farmers and loved by them, and therefore when they mistreat them it’s actually a show of affection for the bull, is the same shoddy logic that was used earlier for women. Because our fathers and husbands love us and “keep" us, they can do what they want with us – including marry us off to whoever they want or force themselves sexually on us. This is how you diminish someone’s worth to property.
But say you don’t care for animals or animal rights. One would think that in a seemingly evolved world, you do care for breaking down patriarchy and casteism. Should you really be promoting any sport, practice, tradition or culture, which shuns lower castes and women? It seems the answer is a resounding yes. No pun intended, that’s a lot of bull.
And at least while doing so, don’t call it “tradition" and attribute it to an entire state’s ethos.
Read other columns of Rajyasree Sen here.