Jallikattu: Pointer to a Pan-India malady

Until three days back I viewed Jallikattu– the Bull Taming Sport of Tamilnadu– as a game of torture for both men and the animals, I summarily hated the game as it resulted in many ‘avoidable’ deaths and injuries. This changed when I saw a strong contingent of 7000-8000 students calmly protesting outside a college in Chennai’s IT corridor in support of reinstating the sport. Wondered how the lakhs of protesting commoners across the state, supported by the who-is-who in Tamilnadu, could be wrong about fighting for the restoration of their ‘cultural pride’?

The investigation led to the revelation of a few systemic problems that have crept in over the decades, perhaps due to lack of control in the modus operandi that India adopted to improve the availability of much needed milk to its ever growing population. These are not problems of just one state, Tamilnadu, but of the entire nation. Here I have tried to establish the link between Jallikattu and sustenance of native breeds in Tamilnadu.

A1 and A2 Types of Milk

India’s native breeds of cows produce A2-type milk which is superior in several respects to A1-type milk from cows crossbred with imported bulls of species like Holstein Friesian and Jersey or through artificial insemination. This fact which was not widely known earlier is now being propagated by individuals and through social media. The claim is that A1-type milk currently consumed by a majority of Indians is causing long term health issues. The video by Dr. Anuj Shrivastav, a consultant Cardiologist reveals more on this. In several developed countries they now market A2 milk exclusively stating the above facts, which tantamount to acceptance of the facts about the harms caused by A1 milk.

It is astonishing to note that India has had a traditional advantage for producing nutritious and superior A2 milk for its underprivileged masses, but it seems to have been allowed to slip. In my opinion a national action is required to study this further and recoup from what is available before all is lost.

Breeding of Indigenous Cattle

The above fact, when accepted, will give rise to the next question ‘Are we doing enough to sustain growth of purebred native species of cows?’ Sadly, the answer seems to be a ‘No’.

The Operation Flood launched in the 1970s paved the way to cross breeding in an effort to enhance dairy farming but it appears to have harmed the native cattle population.  In fact the research report published by Dr. Subha Ganguly of IJETAE claims, “In the absence of clear-cut breeding plans and programs, further breeding of F1 progeny has resulted in subsequent generations of F2 and beyond in F2 generations the advantages observed in the F1 generation have markedly deteriorated, causing great disappointment among livestock farmer society regarding the value of cross breeding”. It makes us wonder whether our successive governments have not even realized the existence of this problem.

A 2012 report of Working Group on Animal Husbandry and Dairying in its Annexure-V states, “Most of the states failed to operationalize the breeding policy due to inefficient breeding network, non-availability of quality bulls and poor economics of indigenous breeds and lack of farmer’s awareness to use good quality bulls”.

This is amply supported by the Livestock Census Data from Ministry of Agriculture, India. The following facts are evident from this statistics:

One, there has been a substantial reduction in Indigenous cattle, especially the males over the last 2 decades; Two, the growth of the male population (both indigenous and crossbred) is not keeping pace with the overall cattle population. Three, the reproductive indigenous males are getting decimated at a high rate.

(numbers in Thousands, includes non-milk-producing cattle also)

Cattle19921997200320072012Growth from ’92Average Growth per year
Crossbred Cattle1521520099246863306039732161%8.1%
Indigenous Cattle189369178782160495166015151172-20%-1.0%
Total Cattle204584198881185181199075190904-7%-0.3%
Crossbred Males4658534449456844597128%1.4%
Indigenous Males9693890202775347677961949-36%-1.8%

It also states “The native cattle breeds exhibit a distinct superiority in utilizing poor quality feed and are adapted to withstand heat stress and show better resistance to tropical diseases.” In comparison, the crossbred cattle fare poorly on these fronts.

Jallikattu’s role in Breeding

Accordingly Mr. Himakiran Anugula of Kangeyam Cattle Research Foundation the sport of Jallikattu interwoven into traditions to help the rural economic activity, by motivating the farmers to rear bulls for reproduction which are otherwise uneconomical. An article by him beautifully brings out how Jallikattu has helped the farmers to keep their bulls agile and virile so that it will be economical to spend on rearing them. Also it explains how over the years when Jallikattu is banned, the farmers were forced to sell their bulls for a pittance to be slaughtered in the neighbouring Kerala state, after the game was banned by Honourable Supreme Court of India against a law suit filed by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).

But why would anyone sane ban a sport? It appears that the Supreme court’s verdict in 2014 was purely based on the evidences presented by (AWBI) about the cruelty meted out to the animals in the name of sport not just in Tamil Nadu but also in other states including Maharashtra. Obviously, the outcome of a lawsuit depends on the charges made, the sections of IPC involved, the strength of the evidences presented and how well the defense and prosecution argued their cases. From my reading of this verdict, it appears that nowhere the relationship of Jallikattu to breeding of native species of cows is brought forth.

Among these arguments, is it right to demand restoration of Jallikattu as it is ‘the cultural pride’ of Tamilnadu? In my opinion, that could be a very weak argument before the court of law as it has been accused of causing harm to hapless animals. If we have to accept this demand, someone else will come forward asking for allowing ‘child marriages’ as it is their tradition. Obviously, no forward-looking person will accept that. But presenting it as a cost-effective measure in maintaining virility of Animals would be a better argument.

Future Course

It is quite possible that the Jallikattu is restored in some manner very soon but it could become a temporary succor unless it is clearly established in the court of law that it will be controlled through an appropriate mechanism to maintain sanity and justice to the animals involved. Simultaneously the need for expansion of the native breeds across the country, not just in Tamil Nadu, should be addressed to ensure availability of A2 milk for the Indian populace.

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