A stand against reason

December 31, 2015 01:15 am | Updated November 17, 2021 02:17 am IST

Risk-taking, possible grievous injury and testing the limits of physical and mental exhaustion have always been part of competitive sport, and the resultant tension has held the imagination of participants and spectators alike. But the participants have a choice in partaking in the risk and are aware of the consequences — intended or unintended — of their actions even as they engage in the sport with adequate precautions and take steps to mitigate unnecessary risks. Jallikattu, the popular bull “taming” sport conducted every year during the “Pongal season” in Tamil Nadu, also engages young participants and spectators in a violent and irrational risk-taking endeavour, requiring the taming of a raging bull at the risk of even fatal injury. Yet the bull itself is a “silent” participant, goaded into frenzy in this “sport” and subjected deliberately to gruesome injury in the process. The rush of adrenaline, in fact, drives participants to abandon caution, and many get gored, resulting in violent injuries and even deaths. Spectators are not spared either as the temporary barricades that separate them from the bull run are mostly weak and unsteady. Jallikattu might be a popular tradition having evolved from a single man-bull combat in the past to the random spectacle that it is today, but that it is both irrational and against animal rights is beyond question.

In a judgment last year, the Supreme Court for this very reason had banned jallikattu along with bullock cart races in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, ignoring the argument for tradition and “culture”. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Tamil Nadu government has urged the Centre to pass legislation — even through the route of promulgation of an ordinance — to amend the laws for the conduct of jallikattu. Surprisingly, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has responded positively to this request. Traditional belief systems and customs have been invoked by proponents of jallikattu to seek revocation of the ban. Only those aspects of the customary rituals that put the well-being of participants and animals at disproportionate risk were considered in the Supreme Court decision in banning jallikattu. It would have been appropriate for the Tamil Nadu government to absorb this reasoning and explain it to rural youth who have complained about the loss of their traditional “sport”; instead, it has acceded to irrational demands and sought to have the ban overturned. Dominant political forces in the State of Tamil Nadu had, in the previous century, sought to contest irrational tradition by espousing rational values. The ideological decay and loss of fervour in promoting such values is evident in the recent plea made by the State government and the support this has received from opposition parties. The festive atmosphere during Pongal and the traditions of community bonding and competition can still be easily retained without the irrational practice of jallikattu.

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