The Jallikattu Effect – Cheena Kapoor


Cheena KapoorWhile activists continue to fight for animal rights and the government bans certain traditions like Jallikattu that involve animal torture, believers continue to do what they always have—firm in their belief that religion and tradition back them. The right education and empathy is what is required to help people understand that God does not demand the killing of animals, activists point out. – Cheena Kapoor

For reasons of religion, tradition or just plain sport, festivals and other celebrations can often be bloodthirsty carnivals with animals being tortured or slaughtered. The age-old issue—of the conflict between tradition and humaneness, animal suffering and vested interests—is back in the spotlight with the Supreme Court rejecting a plea to allow Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s bull-taming sport it had banned in 2014.

The ruling has led to uproar in the state, with thousands courting arrest and asking for revocation of the ban, politicians and celebrities offering their support to the event, and animal rights activists saying that the ‘sport’ epitomises cruelty and must be stopped.

Traditionally held during the four-day Pongal festival (celebrated last week), Jallikattu, where the ‘player’ hangs on to the hump of the bull, began as a way to stop the animals from ruining their fields. Over time, it became a way to demonstrate bravery (and getting tagged as such in the marriage market); prize money was introduced and the gladiatorial sport got commercialised.

In a video, animal rights group PETA showed how bulls are tortured. Their tails are cut, the animals are stabbed with sharp objects, and sometimes even given alcohol to blunt their senses. Between 2010 and 2014, 17 people were killed and 1,100 injured.

“Jallikattu exploits the bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they’re forced to run away from those they perceive as predators. Countless Tamil PETA India supporters are against Jallikattu and are saddened by those who call harming bulls Tamil ‘culture’. India’s culture is one of kindness, not cruelty,” says PETA’s Nikunj Sharma.

Not just Jallikattu

As protests in Tamil Nadu over ‘tradition and pride’ spiral and thousands gather at various places, including in Chennai’s Marina Beach, activists point out that Jallikattu is not the only such sport. And it’s not about a specific region or religion either. Be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians or tribals, in Himachal Pradesh or Odisha, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, all are known to indulge in such rituals.

If animals are sacrificed during Bakr Eid, they are also slaughtered during Durga Pooja and Dussehra celebrations in several parts of India. Besides, buffaloes, cocks, goats, and sheep are ritually sacrificed in the hundreds, and their flesh consumed as prasad.

“Religion should be a force teaching people to remain calm and show kindness towards other living beings, but has instead become a way to justify killing them brutally,” says animal rights activist Navamita Mukherjee. And sometimes, it’s about plain fun.

Like a cock-fight where razor-sharp blades are tied to the legs of roosters that are made to fight while bets are placed. Bred for fighting, these birds are grievously wounded and left untreated after a fight or thrown away as garbage.

In the villages of Andhra Pradesh, however, cock-fight are considered a part of the Makar Sankranti festivities.

Divine sacrifice

Animal sacrifices are performed in many cultures mainly to please the divine. From Greeks to Romans, all have been known to practice it.

In Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, buffaloes are killed in honour of the goddess Manju Bhog. The animals are bathed and made to run in panic as village youth make them stumble midway. On the main day, they are made to run towards the temple and many die on the steep slopes. Those that manage to reach the top are sacrificed by the villagers.

The Kandha people of Odisha believe that the deity Kandhan Budhi grants them every wish. So, every year during the Kandhan Budhi Yatra (September-October), many animals are ritually sacrificed before the deity. The main crowd pleaser of this yatra, however, is the ‘Ghusuri (pig) uuja’. A young pig is smeared in oil and turmeric after which its ears and tail are chopped off. The pig is killed three years later in the temple.

At the Kedu (buffalo) festival, also in Odisha, the Kondhs similarly anoint a buffalo and tether it to a tree. It is brutally attacked with sharp instruments to the chant of mantras and beating of drums. The animal squeals in agony, its eyes bulging, but is unable to flee. There is a mad rush to hack off pieces of its flesh.

Animals are not the only beings with a such a fate. Bird slaughter is equally rampant. All 32 species of Indian owls are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Nonetheless, there have been numerous instances of birds, which are closely related to goddess Lakshmi according to mythology, being sacrificed on the eve of Diwali, said a doctor at a charity bird hospital in Delhi.

Bulbul fights are also common in Assam during Makar Sakranti. The bird is mutilated after the fight.

The law

According to law, animals can only be slaughtered at a slaughter-house. The only exception is the ritual slaughter during Bakr Eid, which should only involve goats or sheep. However, it is increasingly common to see animals like camels and buffaloes being slaughtered during the festival.

In 2011, a video showing camel slaughter inside Delhi’s Jama Masjid drew the attention of activists. Camels are mostly sourced from Rajasthan, where the animal was granted ‘heritage’ status in 2014. But the animal is sent to places as far as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for slaughter. In September 2016, the Madras High Court passed an interim order just before Bakr Eid to ban camel slaughter for religious purposes.

Suffering not tradition

“Our nation is built on the principle of constitutional morality and thus the constitution comes first. I am glad that animals are finding place in this and slowly and steadily sapient traditions that abuse these innocent beings are getting phased out,” says Jayasimha, lawyer and managing director of Humane Society International, India.

There are eight states in India where strict laws have been passed against animal sacrifice. Though illegal killings have not stopped, they have definitely come down.

While activists continue to fight for animal rights and the government bans certain traditions like Jallikattu that involve animal torture, believers continue to do what they always have—firm in their belief that religion and tradition back them.

The right education and empathy is what is required to help people understand that God does not demand the killing of animals, activists point out.

As Jayasimha put it, “It is hypocrisy to demand human rights for ourselves while refusing to give a basic right of life to other beings.”

Mapping animal cruelty

1. During the Ooru Habba festival in Karnataka, two buffaloes and two goats are sacrificed outside the Bannerghatta National Park near Bengaluru. The animals are pierced with a trident and their blood drunk.

2. Myoko, the monsoon festival, is celebrated by Apatanis—a major tribe of Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro valley—with a mithun (an important bovine species) being ritually sacrificed on sacred ground by a priest.

3. At the annual Mailapur village fair in Karnataka’s Yadgir district, worshippers throw live lambs at the palanquin of Mailareshwara. In the melee, hundreds of devotees trample and kill the young animals.

4. During the annual rath yatra, about 1,500 goats are sacrificed at the Shree Yedumata Temple in Pimpledari village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. The sacrifice takes place every year, despite protests.

5. In 2012, on Day 17 of the Chithirai month according to the Tamil calendar, 5,000 baby goats were sacrificed during a temple festival at Poosariyur, near Anthiyur in Tamil Nadu. The blood was consumed by the priests and devotees.

6. At the shrine dedicated to the tribal idol Baba Dongar in Ranapur of Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district, around 500 animals, typically goats and chicken are illegally slaughtered by priests on devotees’ requests.

7. In 2015, animal rights activist and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi wrote to the Defence Ministry against live animals being air-dropped so troops posted in remote areas were able to get fresh meat.

8. Festivals like Shand and Bhunda involve a huge number of animals being killed using a knife by a man known as Beda to please goddess Kali and to ward off evil spirits, at the entrance of temples near Shimla.

9. In regions around Pune, goats and fowls are sacrificed to the God Vetala. In western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the sacred groves.

10. In West Bengal’s Kalighat, thousands of sheep are sacrificed every year. In other parts too, a priest recites the Gayatri Mantra in the ear of the animal to be sacrificed in order to free the animal from the cycle of life and death.

11. Nihangs and Hazuri Sikhs sacrifice goats during the festivals of Diwali and Hola Mohalla and distribute it as mahaprashad among the congregates. Anyone converting to a Nihang Sikh has to sacrifice an animal.

12. In Terekol of Goa, the barbaric custom of teenage boys biting a piglet to death in celebration of St John’s baptism ended in 1989 following protests by animal rights activists, charitable trusts and NGOs. – DNA, 19 January 2016

» Cheena Kapoor is a senior photo journalist for DNA and Zee in New Delhi.

4 Responses

  1. Day After Ordinance, Jallikattu Returns In Tamil Nadu Today Amid Demands For Permanent Solution – Edited by Raija Susan Panicker – NDTV – January 22, 2017

    CHENNAI: A day after Tamil Nadu government issued an executive order or ordinance which will allow Jallikattu to be held in the state; protesters in Alanganallur village in Madurai continue to remain adamant to not allow the bull-taming festival to take place till a permanent solution is found. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, who has arrived in Madurai, will inaugurate the festival celebrations at Alanganallur today morning. The Centre, on Friday evening, gave a nod to Tamil Nadu government’s ordinance on Jallikattu, which was banned by Supreme Court in 2014, as the state saw massive protests in support of the festival.

    1. Preparations for Jallikattu have taken a hit with villagers of Allanganallur blocking the roads, not allowing any vehicles to enter the village.

    2. All Tamil Nadu ministers will inaugurate Jallikattu in their districts today at 11 am. “I urge the youths, students and the general public to make the Jallikattu events across Tamil Nadu a grand success by participating in large numbers,” the Chief Minister said.

    3. Dismissing claims that the Jallikattu ordinance was a temporary way out, Mr Panneerselvam on Saturday said it was towards ensuring a permanent solution. Though the ordinance was valid for 6 months, the Chief Minister said a bill will be introduced in the state assembly and it will be adopted replacing the ordinance.

    4. Mr Panneerselvam said the assent of President Pranab Mukherjee to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 by Tamil Nadu was received on Friday night. “The assent for the ordinance (amending the PCA Act) has been obtained from Governor also,” he said, adding, “our dream to conduct Jallikattu this year has come true.”

    5. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday said that all efforts are being made to fulfil the cultural aspirations of Tamil people. “We are very proud of the rich culture of Tamil Nadu,” PM Modi said in a tweet, adding, “Central Government is fully committed to the progress of Tamil Nadu and will always work to ensure the state scales new avenues of progress.

    6. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to not deliver its verdict in the next week, as requested by the centre, which pointed out that a decision could create law and order problems. Jallikattu, which sees young men wrestling with a bull in an open field during the harvest festival of Pongal, was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014.

    7. Animal rights activists say bulls are abused, tortured, taunted with chillis flung in their eyes, and are doped on liquor. Lakhs in Tamil Nadu say that’s not correct and that those who oppose Jallikattu do not understand the region’s culture or respect it.

    8. Last year, the centre allowed the sport, but that decision has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Pongal was held last week. Hundreds of people who defied the ban to hold local competitions in parts of Tamil Nadu were arrested, triggering a massive backlash.

    9. Students took the lead in rallying people across the state. In Chennai, on the shoreline, they gathered in thousands, their numbers growing everyday with the extensive use of social media. Students have ensured that the protests remain apolitical and peaceful. Many of the demonstrators have helped clean up litter along the beach. Politicians who tried to join the mass demonstration were asked to leave.

    10. In Jallikattu, young men struggle to grab the bulls by their sharpened horns or jump on their backs as the muscular animals, festooned with marigolds, charge down the road.

    With inputs from PTI


  2. AWBI vice-chairman Chinny Krishna

    “It is unfortunate that now a section of people call us anti-Tamils. We have been practising peace and animal welfare for past so many decades,” said S. Chinny Krishna, Vice-Chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India.

    Chennai: Animal activists in the state are upset with the state administration and political parties for not supporting their cause and feel unsafe due to the growing outrage against welfare organisations. “It is unfortunate that now a section of people call us anti-Tamils. We have been practising peace and animal welfare for past so many decades,” said S. Chinny Krishna, Vice-Chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India.

    “The worst part is that in a democratic country those who had lent their voice in support of voiceless animals are now threatened with dire consequences. I am also sad for whatever was trolled against actor Trisha,” he said. “Several volunteers particularly women who have been involved in rescue of cattle and dogs are now being ill-treated and inflammatory comments are posted against them in social media. Is this our culture?” asks Arun Prasanna, founder, People for Cattle in India.

    Vested interests are now targeting animal activists without understanding the science and facts. “Our volunteers in the past few years have saved more than 1,600 cattle including cows but today we are portrayed as money launderers,” he rued. “Animal activism is beyond PeTA and bulls. We are practicising what Mahatma Gandhiji preached—the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals—but today due to misrepresentation of facts, anger against jallikattu ban is directed against animal lovers,” he said. There are threatening phone calls to us by our own brethren who are supposed to protect us from cattle mafia, he rued.


  3. Panneerselvam and the Pongal cowboys should be patient. BJP government will soon reverse its position. It is a party of mummy’s boys that is long on slogans and short on principles. It will give into the bull tormentors eventually, whatever the Supreme Court says. Just wait and see.

    Jallikattu: How the Modi Sarkar spread disinformation and insulted the courts – Radha Rajan


  4. PM Modi gives no commitment for ordinance on Jallikattu to Tamil Nadu CM O Panneerselvam – Express News Service – 19th January 2017

    CHENNAI: Has the Centre washed its hands off on Tamil Nadu’s demand for an ordinance to circumvent Supreme Court on conducting jallikattu?

    After a meeting with Chief Minister O Panneerselvam who rushed to Delhi after the youth protest against the ban on jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the Centre would be “supportive of steps taken by the State government”. What does it mean?

    The ban on jallikattu was imposed by the Supreme Court, which is presently seized of the matter. The draft of the order on the latest round of litigation is ready but yet to be pronounced; which means as the Madras High Court pointed out on Wednesday, neither any court nor the State government is in a position to do anything within the framework of Indian Constitution. Or risk being dismissed.

    The only way out is promulgation of an ordinance, which only the Centre can do — which it declined. Not in so many words. “While appreciating the cultural significance of Jallikattu, the Prime Minister observed that the matter is presently sub-judice,” said the PMO in one of the official handle’s tweets.

    Bringing out an ordinance at this juncture, when the high command of judiciary and executive are seemingly looking to come out of a frosty period, is perhaps not feasible for the Centre.

    It remains to be seen what effect this would have on the protests across Tamil Nadu, especially in its capital Chennai where hundreds have gathered on the beach front in protest.


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