The Tamil people’s fight for lifting the ban on Jallikattu, the game of taming fierce bulls, has taken a strange turn – it became a leaderless, directionless, violent, agitation with new demands being added to it every day.
It took an ugly turn with the National Flag burnt and slogans raised against Prime Minister Modi. A film actress who had supported the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was so badly trolled on social media that she literally surrendered.
Many parts of the State are drought-hit. Farmers are committing suicide. But there was no agitation on the issue. Holy cows are more important than humans.
Anyone who was someone important in that southern State of India, almost all popular film actors and politicians, sided with the “fight to preserve the ancient tradition of Tamils and their legacy”. It was touted as a movement for preservation of native breeds of cattle as against foreign breeds whose milk they said was unhealthy
How many of these actors and politicians ever faced a fierce bull or could tell one breed from another is anyone’s guess.
Many felt the issue was so important that they even threatened that the State would secede fr0m India if the cruel sport is banned. A mass hysteria was worked up.
The agitation, at Marina beach in Chennai and in some other towns, continued even after the demand was conceded by the Central government. An ordinance issued by the State was ratified by a special session of the legislature. Prohibitory orders had to be issued on January 29 banning assembly of people at the beach for a fortnight .
Obviously the agitation, launched by some well-meaning people, has been hijacked by politicians. Only a small fraction of the lakhs of people who took part in it might have seen a bullfight and fewer still participated in it. Emotions were worked up and it was made an issue of Tamil prestige.
From a cruel sport it was turned into a campaign against foreign breeds of cow and their milk which, it is argued, was harmful to health.
It is argued that TN had six native breeds, out of which one (Alambadi) is already declared extinct.The others are Kangayam, Pulikulam, Umbalacheri, Barugur and Malai Maadu.
The main opposition to Jallikattu, it is argued, came not from the advocates of kindness to animals but from the dairy lobby, which wants all native breeds to be eradicated. They want to set up commercial dairy farms with imported breeds just like Jersey.
The supporters of Jallikattu say that stud bulls are reared by people only for Jallikattu and that winning bulls are much in demand for breeding cows. “Small farmers cannot afford to keep stud bulls, so each village has a common temple bull which services the cows of the village. Jallikattu is the show where bulls are brought and exhibited,” they say.
“If Jallikattu is stopped , bulls will be sold to slaughterhouses so there will be no native breed left. Drinking the Jersey cow milk is a main cause for many health issues,” a WhatsApp post that reached several hundred thousand phones said. “Please google for it,” the post added.
A link by Google said that health problems are linked to a tiny protein fragment that is formed when humans digest ‘A1’ β-casein, a milk protein produced by many cows which is difficult to digest by most. Milk that contains A1 β-casein is commonly known as A1 milk, milk that does not is called A2.
“In older breeds of cows, such as Jersey, Asian and African cows (called A2 cows), the beta-casein contains an amino acid called proline. This is important because beta-casein also contains an amino acid called BCM-7, which is a powerful opiate linked to negative health effects,” another site says.
One in four Americans exhibit symptoms of lactose intolerance. An emerging body of research suggests that many of them could, instead, be unable to digest A1, a protein most often found in milk from the high-producing Holstein cows favored by American and some European industrial dairies. The A1 protein is much less prevalent in milk from Jersey, Guernsey, and most Asian and African cow breeds, where, instead, the A2 protein predominates.
The agitators did not, perhaps, know that India has a National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Hyderabad, also in the South. Has anyone ever referred the matter to the institute? Did Hyderabad journalist try to find out?
Tamil Nadu is the first State in India, under C. Rajagopalachari, to have taken over the administration of temples by creating an Endowments Department. The agitators admit that most of the temples have stud bulls. If preservation of the bulls was really their aim, the temples, rich with more and more money pouring into the ‘hundi’ in the conservative and religious South, could be made to spend for the conservation of the good breeds.
There is no doubt that good local breeds should be preserved. I remember wiring an article over 50 years ago on the need to preserve ‘Gaulau’ breed of cows native to Vidarbha region. Native breeds adapt themselves to the local conditions better than Jersey or Holstein cows that need costly maintenance; I have seen Jersey cows in an air conditioned shed.
Instead of agitations based on notions of regional pride and culture, veterinary science departments of the scores of agriculture universities in the country could be made to take up the issue and NIN asked to study the health aspects.
A socialite who has no idea of Jallikattu or cattle breeding sent me a long post supporting it. “Let’s make a point: saving native breeds is as important as saving our traditions. Do share this and spread the awareness. It is a problem which affects the future generation of this country,” she wrote.
At the end was the usual note “Forwarded as received”. WhatsApp culture believes in just forwarding as received, without bothering to verify or check facts.
A few others exhibited bravado by opposing Jallikattu. One forwarded me a clip, from a Kannada film, of the hero singing a song before a stud bull. “You know why it was banned?
After seeing such cruelty towards bulls, I can never bear it,” he said, adding that anyone who watched the video clip would never support Jallikattu..
I fully agreed with him. Animal sports are cruel. (But the video attached did not show the bull being tortured – unless he felt that the song and the acting of the star were so bad that they amounted to torture).
Now Karnataka imitates TN to revive Kambala or buffalo racing. Andhra wants cockfights again. Many others will follow. Kolkata’s Kalighat Kali temple used to see scores of goats sacrificed before the deity for centuries – certainly a ‘tradition’.
Some may say human and animal sacrifices were a tradition and so must be allowed. Why not revive child marriage? Or Sati (where the wife was burnt or buried alive with the dead husband)?
Should we move with the times or adhere to customs just because they were a tradition?