As I write this, the jallikattu protest has entered its fourth day. Social media is congratulating itself and the citizens. People power and youth power are phrases being strewn about. Heritage, culture, judicial interference, North Indian chauvinism, Tamil pride, native cattle breeds — all these have been invoked. There are other strands — the protest is peaceful, beaches are clean, volunteers regulate traffic and distribute food, the students are emotional, the women are safe, the sentiments are beautiful…
It is hard to sort out the jumbled threads of this unfolding narrative and make sense of the emerging tapestry.
First, look at the protest qua protest. That it has morphed into a fantastic, democratic, peaceful mass movement is clear. The young are driving it, with energy and sentiment, just as they did the Nirbhaya protest.
The protest is so beautiful in fact that it is hard to accept or even see that perhaps what is being fought for is not as beautiful. Mixing up the mechanics of the protest with the underlying cause makes it difficult to understand the multiple motivations driving it.
If we tease out the anger alone, we still don’t find a single thread — it’s all muddled fury. One stream is directed at brash, new-age animal lovers like PETA. Second, the Supreme Court and North India and the Centre are all easily conflated to create one big, bad Hindi-speaking villain who is against all things Tamil. Another note is about agriculturists and Tamil culture and preserving native cattle breeds. It all adds up to a simmering, amorphous resentment, for which the jallikattu ban was the tinderbox.
But the Supreme Court ban came in 2014. Why are we angry now? If we find out why, we might see that this is perhaps not as spontaneous and apolitical as we are desperately trying to believe.
One message, though, comes through loud and clear. As a country, we have absolutely no respect for the rule of law. We are demanding that the Supreme Court judgement and a sub-judice appeal be subverted by some instant, quick-fix order.
Karnataka defies the Supreme Court, the BCCI pushes its luck, lawyers throw stones in court and noble protesters flout the national anthem ruling. Civil disobedience has never been misused with so much abandon, with so little judgement.
Where is all this energy when a young man in Tamil Nadu is slain in public for marrying a girl outside his caste? When Dalit villages are burnt down? When there are callous, man-made floods?
I think it’s missing then because those causes aren’t important enough.
Honour killing and untouchability might be legally wrong, but socially we think they are right. We believe in caste and gender inequalities and religious beliefs and customs much more than we do in the law.
Thus, even though driving bulls into a frenzy of pain and fear and making them run amok is obviously not the humane way to preserve either tradition or cattle breeds, we are fine with anointing it as the epitome of Tamil-ness.
I don’t think the bull wants its species to be protected like this, but unfortunately it cannot speak for itself.
Civilisation means speaking for the bull.
Civilisation is not just candlelight marches and knowing our rights. It is first and essentially about accepting that all living creatures, human and animal, deserve humanity. That is why Abu Ghraib and Apartheid and elephant poaching and dogfights are deemed deeply, ethically, inherently wrong.
As meat-eaters sitting on top of the food chain, we breed and slaughter cattle for food. The reason why we have laws even for the humane transportation of cattle headed to the abattoir is because we are expected to behave like civilised beings up until the very last minute. It is because we would like to believe that humanity is the quality that sets us apart and makes us deserving of the high seat at Nature’s table. That and respect for the rule of law.
Somewhere, in the romance and excitement of protest, we have lost sight of that.