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Is Jallikattu Sacred

Last year the Jallikattu protests had snowballed into an upsurge, forcing Tamil Nadu
to shut down. A sea of protesters had gathered on Chennai’s Marina demanding that
the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government take legal steps to hold jallikattu. Unable
to withstand the pressure, The state government had promulgated an ordinance to
amend the Prevention of Cruelty Act to override the SC’s directive against holding
jallikattu. Now it is back with a vengeance with the alleged blessings of the state
ministers, It has already taken its toll. Two onlookers have died and several injured
in the events in Palamedu and Avvarangadu as the barricades separating the
spectators and the arena were not strong enough. Two others were killed in the
manjuvirattu (a variant of jallikattu) at Siravayal when the bulls were unleashed
outside the earmarked area due to security lapses causing death and injury. Such is
the obsession that loss of life is no deterrence and does not seem to dampen the spirit
of the participants for the game. Let us look at the issue in the right perspective

“ We like to see ourselves as something more than animals. As animals plus. The plus
of animality, i.e. culture, conscience, morality. The problem is that it exalts humans,
and human nature, relegating the rest, plants and animals alike, to some kind of
mindless substrate” ( Lyall Watson). Even though, man is subject to certain natural
controls, he acts as the dominant force in his endeavour to appropriate nature for his
various pursuits. The urge to dominate and to subjugate nature has also created, in
the process, a highly polarized world of appalling contrasts. For the rich people it is a
world of consumer's paradise of immediate gratification, of hot images and cool
gadgets. On the other hand, one fifth of the world's population, viz. over one billion
people exist in conditions of absolute poverty and are unable to feed, clothe and
house themselves properly. The fate of most of the animals is no different.

We have the general mass of people, the ‘wretched of the earth’, (euphemistically
called the cattle class) who, like many unfortunate animals, are no better than aliens
in the system. Violent prison beatings, policemen torturing suspects, for example, are
brutalities which are accepted as normal behaviour in-spite of Amnesty international
chronicling bloodcurdling details of extensive human rights violations in criminal-
justice system all over the world. The amnesty report has painted a picture of
crowded and inhuman prisons inhabited overwhelmingly by the poor, where rapes
and torture are frequent. In one California state prison, guards were alleged to have
staged “gladiator” fights between inmates and placed bets on the outcome. In Texas,
videotapes captured guards kicking and beating inmates, shooting them with stun
guns and coaxing dogs to bite them. During the war in Iraq in 2003, personnel of the
United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of
human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. All
invading armies behave the same way. Many civic organisations contend that
political expediency makes government’s attempt to crack down on brutality
deliberately feeble. It is saga of institutionalised servitude inflicting untold miseries
on the hapless victims of slavery from ancient times to sweat shops.
Even though, “slavery is unlawful in all countries, slavery continues through such
practices as debt bondage, serfdom, domestic servants kept in captivity, children
forced to work as slaves, child soldiers, human trafficking, and forced marriages.
Accordingly, there are more slaves today than at any time in history, with an
estimated 45 million slaves worldwide” ( Wiki). Of course women have more than
their share of indignities heaped on them. The crime against women is rampant and
continues to escalate exponentially. “There are women in Manipur, in Kashmir, in
Chhattisgarh who face the violence of the state. There are Dalit women across India
who face the violence of the upper castes. There are women born into poverty who
face the violence of a heartless economy that excludes them.” (Hindu magazine). The
Rape, sexual assault, everyday violence that millions of Indian women suffer with a
sense of resignation every single day.

Significantly, the contrast does not manifest merely in the divide between man and
animals. Worldwide, billions of dollars are spent on animal pets to provide food,
shelter, saloons, hospitals, hotels and exclusive parks, which would be a subject of
envy for most humans. A report from the Labor Department, for example, shows that
Americans spent over $61 billion on their pets in 2011, with the average household
spending just over $500 on their pets during the year. That's more than the average
household spent on alcohol, men's clothing, or telephones. But like the privileged
humans, these animals constitute a small fraction of the total animal population.

The rest, like the humans who are ‘wretched of the earth’, are treated with no
consideration at all. Animals are now our playthings and our hapless food. Spare a
thought for the hen that laid your breakfast. In all probability, she is a battery hen.
She is confined to a tiny cage for her entire life, her beak cut off with a red-hot-blade
to prevent her pecking out her neighbours, a natural instinct. Such is the fate of
animals in modern “animal farming” and in scientific research. Calves shoved from
lorries, bulls suspended by one broken leg, then dropped from a height to a hard
deck below, a man in apron kicking a pig, again and again, and the pig shrieking from
pain, cows dying of starvation in goshalas.

On the top of it we have the performing animals to entertain us: animal acrobatics in
circuses, Elephants, tigers, and other animals that circuses use to entertain audiences
do not stand on their heads, jump through hoops, or balance on pedestals because
they want to. They perform these and other difficult tricks because they’re afraid of
what will happen if they don’t. To force animals to perform, circus trainers abuse
them with whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, batons and other painful tools
of the circus trade. Human organisations investigating circuses around the world
have found that trainers starve and beat animals to make them obey. Animals go
from fear and pain during performances and training to the excruciating boredom of
their cages. This pattern often results in neurotic behaviour, such as endless pacing,
self-mutilation and constant rocking.

People wager a bet on cockfight, the customary winter pastime of people in Andhra
Pradesh as part of Sankranti festivities. Though a banned sport, it continue to be
organised many parts the country, especially in rural areas. It is a bloody sport in
which two trained roosters tied with razor sharp blades on their claws are placed in a
ring to slash each other to fight like gladiators. Thousands of frenzied people
participate-rooting for their feathered gladiators. The sport has acquired a new
dimension this year. It has caught the fancy of the fair sex who made a beeline for the
venues in many parts of the Godavari district to take centre stage to witness the
‘spectacle’. People enjoy the festival with their families because of the cock fights,
‘gundata’ and cards. Big businessmen, politicians and rich farmers bet huge money
on these roosters. The business this year was a whopping Rs, 600 crore to 700 crors
in the two Godavari districts with gundata alone accounting for 50 crors These
examples can be repeated ad infinitum.

These images are troubling to many people who denounce suffering of animals as
outrageous. But not everybody agrees. It is a debate which seems to frown upon
moderation. There is no dearth of people who hold the view that torturing an animal
is morally equivalent to chopping wood. it raises no ethical issues at all. So long as
human beings remain deeply divided, the answers must remain a matter of personal
conscience. It sounds very well to say that individuals must wrestle with their
conscience-but only if their consciences are awake and informed. Industrial society
invariably hides animal’s suffering. Many people who wear fur-lined coats have
barely heard of leg-hold traps, much less seen one in use; milk drinkers have never
watched calves torn from cows.

The irony is that brutality has become a matter of personal sensibilities, and
therefore debate. Arguing from the view that humans are a class apart from animals
in every conceivable aspect, extremist of this kind believe that animals lie outside the
area of ethical choice. Any concern for the suffering of animals is perceived as a
displacement of feelings that should be directed to other humans. This is a false
choice. The fundamental question is this: without agreement on the rights of people,
arguing about the rights of animals is fruitless, and vice versa. The most elementary
form of moral reasoning is to weigh other’s interests against one’s own, humans or
animals, is not the issue. This in turn requires sympathy and compassion without
which there is no capacity for moral thought. Compassion is all pervasive and cannot
be compartmentalized, cannot be sectarian. It is bizarre logic that we have human
rights groups and animal rights activists operate as specialists, completely oblivious
of each other’s concern.

Even in more ingenious times, the tyrant razed cities for his own glory, the slaves
chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets,
enemies were thrown to the wild animals in front of the assembled people, gladiators
were coerced in to a fight to the finish as a spectacle of sport while the crowd merrily
played the cheerleaders. These feudal traditions, rooted in hedonism, have survived
in modern, progressive India in the name of masculine valour and cultural pride.
Cruelty as evil is rooted in the bullying psychology. Bullying is a distinctive pattern
of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller,
weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. Bullying is a
deliberate and repeated attempt to cause harm to others of lesser power. Many
studies show that bullies lack prosocial behaviour, are untroubled by anxiety, and do
not understand others' feelings. Bullies couldn't exist without victims, and they don't
pick on just anyone; those singled out lack power to retaliate and radiate fear, like
the bull in a sea of crowd.

But we are in murky territory here. And navigating through it is made no easier by
labelling such behaviour as aberrant. It is obviously unusual, but it may not be
unnatural. We need to know a great deal more about its biological roots. Evil is
commonplace and widespread, perhaps not even confined to our species. But such an
insight has the danger of misinterpretation and we should not leap to unwarranted
conclusions. It may not be easy to deal with evil, but it is necessary that we should
confront it. We need to take a long hard look at what progress and civilisations
means and ponder over our evolutionary journey from the primordial soup to human
beings. There are evil acts and evil individuals. Torture is undeniably wicked, surely,
whatever its motives. There are no good wars. We can’t be ambivalent about
wickedness and cruelty howsoever uncomfortable it might be to face it. It is
dangerous to look the other way, for it will pave the way for sanctioning it by law or
custom and will glorify it as sacred.

Women watching cockfights in Rajupalem village of Mummidivaram mandal in East


Godavari.S. RAMBABU