Jallikattu – the popular sentiment & ‘The Kiss of Judas Bull’ incident

In light of the popular uprising supporting the re-authorisation of a Tamil sport, Jallikattu, on 18th January, some points come to mind.

The matter relating to re-authorisation of this contentious sport is pending in the land’s apex court. It has been seen often that the apex court has come to the service of the common people of India by taking up issues and examining them thoroughly before passing verdict based on points of law, and the evidences presented.

These verdicts, often in the form of PILs and suo moto cases, have often provided the people the succor they have desperately desired in life. So far, judicial activism, as it is called by some, and “tyranny of the un-elected” by others, has mostly found favourable support of the people at large.

Now the banning of Jallikattu  seems to have elicited severe indignation among the people of Tamilnadu only because they feel slighted that anybody at all should have any say against their ‘tradition’. They expressed it in the form of a spontaneous protest with tens of thousands converging at Marina Beach to register their strong sentiment on the issue.

The surging mobs have even been likened to the protests against imposition of Hindi language in days of yore. That may have been a civil agitation with a meaningful purpose. But this protest, supporting a tradition as practiced these days, and which is said to be loaded with near-impossible to monitor scope for unethical treatment of the hapless bulls, and for which foolproof safeguards can hardly be put in place, is in fact only a burst of emotion of volatile youthful minds, along with a differently motivated sprinkling of approval from some old-school fundamentalists for good measure.

Combine the two, and you could be looking to answer the aggressive question that ‘all – young and old’, want the ban on Jallikattu reversed.

To vent their ire, the protestors have decided that PETA is the ‘villain’. Actually, PETA merely presents itself as the softest, and thus most convenient, of the entities that could be made a target. And so it was done. Unfortunately.

The argument is put forth that the animals are treated as family, are loved and nurtured by their owners throughout the year, and the traditional sport Jallikattu is just for one day, and that the bulls are not killed as in the infamous bullfights of Spain.

The counter-argument is that screaming crowds, gathered to witness a traditional sport, get so carried away with the excitement of the moment, that the ill-treatment the bulls are subjected to, to get them really agitated –  like poking, prodding, twisting their tails (to the point of breaking the bone), putting chilli in their nostrils, etc. – are common acts that go unnoticed by the onlookers. The bulls are thus physically tormented to get the most fun out of the bout.

It reminds one of an ignoble incident dubbed as ‘The Kiss of Judas Bull’ incident.

The Kiss of Judas Bull

In Spain, a person raised a bull from birth, and when fully grown, sold it for a bullfight. He was at the stadium during his bull’s fight when the poor creature was lanced and speared during the fight. Injured, bleeding, and flabbergasted, the bull sensed that his master was present there and somehow ran towards him. This man – the bull’s master – who had reared him since birth and now mercilessly pushed him towards a painful end, came down to the ringside and planted a kiss on the bull, but did nothing to stop the attendants dragging the bull back to the fight, and to his imminent death.

The parting kiss of the man to his desperate pet who had frantically sought his help to save him, and the piteous look in the terrified bull’s eyes are recorded in photographs which had gone viral on Facebook at that time. The cruelty and treachery of this man to his ‘loved-as-family’ pet bull became internationally known as ‘The Kiss of Judas Bull’ incident.

One is inclined to believe those who say that the special Jallikattu bulls are loved by their owners as family. But – how then can these pet lovers stand by and allow their loved bulls to be tormented (even on that one day of the year)? Does that love not compel one to disallow any harm – physical or mental – to befall their ‘loved family member’?

As for the ‘spontaneous’ protests in Tamilnadu at the Marina Beach on Wednesday, one may consider the fallibility of this yardstick to justify ‘popular sentiment’. It is common knowledge that when a few thousands have started collecting to make a protest, the news spreads, and even those people join in who may not have done so if they’d had the time to think the situation out calmly. And when the call is for “regional pride”, and also a soft target like PETA is identified, it only accelerates the drawing-in process – like iron files to a magnet.

That film stars and politicians are among those seen to publicly voice their support, is a case of grandstanding. On the one hand it serves to get one noticed in ‘the right light’, and on the other – no one wants to be seen as swimming against the current.

The original tradition of Jallikattu entailed just one or two persons trying to grab a pouch of gold coins tied to the bull’s horns. But these days it has turned to twenty or even more boys chasing an (often) ill-treated bull, unimaginably frightened and alarmed, and even dazed by intoxication.

Worldwide, our South Indian brethren (the clubbing of southern states here is used appreciatively), and Tamilians included of course, are known for their intellectual acuity. One trusts that giving time to think out the whole matter calmly and in its entirety will culminate in a situation that is fair to all concerned. After all, there are traditions we would be proud to keep up – like our pride of culture, our love for animals and the prevention of any scope for their mistreatment, and above all – our respect for the Supreme Court and the innumerable occasions when they have served the interests of the people very well indeed.

Defying the Supreme Court verdicts would open the floodgates of a very unhealthy trend, and embolden people in authority who didn’t like judicial activism in the first place, to manipulate this against the people’s interests.

The Supreme Court’s ‘activism’ – or whatever you name it – has served the people very well. Let us not help forces who don’t favour it, use it to our detriment.

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