Beyond Bull Fight

Behind Jallikattu

Mainak Mouli Panja

Jallikattu, an ancient Tamil bull taming festival, deeply rooted in Tamil culture which dates back to nearly 400 BC is currently facing the brunt of PETA, AWBI and other animal welfare activists. The seals of the Indus Valley civilization depict it. The event typically practiced in Tamil Nadu involves participants in a closed arena trying to grab a piece of cloth or pouch tied to bull's horns by grabbing on to the bull's hump. The format of the game is derived from the name Jallikattu where Jalli means coins and Kattu means tied.

Jallikattu has been a matter of discussion since 2004 when PETA started protesting against the practice. On 27th November 2010, the Supreme Court replying to a petition filed by PETA, had allowed Jallikattu only on certain terms and conditions. But again in 2014 the Supreme Court of India ordered that Jallikattu should be banned citing animal welfare issues. On 8 January 2016, the Government of India passed an order exempting Jallikattu from all performances where bulls cannot be used, effectively reversing the ban. However, on 14 January, 2016, the Supreme Court of India upheld its ban on the event, leading to protests all over Tamil Nadu. On 8 January 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests permitted the continuation of the tradition under certain conditions, effectively ending the ban, however that was overturned by the Supreme Court on 26 July 2016.

Now, bullfight or an event involving bulls, is not something that is only practiced in India. There are different styles of bullfight across the world like Spanish, French and Portuguese. The rodeo clowns of the United States have been into bullfight since the early 1900s. Tanzania, Japan's "Okinawan bullfighting", Balkan's "korida", Turkey's "boga guifesi" and other countries like Kenya, Gulf countries, all practice a bullfighting event in some form or the other. The major name in this is certainly Spain. Spanish-style bullfighting is not only fatal for the bull, but it is also dangerous for the matador. Over the past three centuries 534 professional bullfighters have died in the arena. Very recently Victor Barrio, a Spanish award winning matador was gored to death on 10th July 2016 in front of a live audience. On the contrary, Jallikattu is rather a harmless event where there are hardly any fatalities and only a few scattered cases of injury are reported across Tamil Nadu. So, if this is the case, then what is PETA and a few other activists so adamant to ban Jallikattu. What has riled up the nation? Why Tamil Nadu has come to a halt? Why students, academicians, actors, industrialists and other big names have come to the street demanding a ban on PETA India. There might be a few underlying reasons to it.

Farmers in India have been using bulls for farming and other agricultural uses. They are used to plough fields, haul water from deep wells and as a source of natural farmyard manure. But with the advent of machines in farming, they have found themselves less useful in fields and eventually their demand has dried up. Bulls are now reared by some small farmers, co-operative societies and people who can afford to, and for them rearing bulls have become a matter of pride and status. Stud bulls are also reared by people for Jallikattu and Rekla race. The ones that win are much in demand for servicing the cows. Poor farmers cannot afford to keep stud bulls, so each village has a common temple bull which services the cows of the village. Jallikattu is one event where bulls are brought and exhibited. The ones which are most agile and virile are preferred by farmers. Price of a bull would start from Rs 1.5 lakh to a whopping Rs 2.5 lakh. With the ban of these events by Supreme Court, there are hardly any reason left to breed these indigenous bulls. The 19th livestock census in 2012 shows some surprising statistics regarding native breeds. The population of indigenous cattle—the 37 indigenous Indian breeds recognized by the NBAGR (National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources) dipped by 8.94 percent since 2007. The only numbers to rise were of "exotic" cattle—that is, animals of European descent—and of exotic-indigenous crossbreeds, which together shot up by 20.18 percent. There have been speculations that all this protest by PETA regarding Jallikattu is for the pitching of west's dairy industry lobby's agenda. The western dairy industry is trying to enter India's dairy market. As per the statistics provided by the Basic Animal Husbandry Statistics (2004), India is the largest producer of milk worldwide with a production estimated at more than 100 million tons. India has excellent options to explore foreign markets. For example, countries like Japan has per capita consumption of 70kg, which is a tremendous jump from a mere 20kg in the sixties. Naturally these nations are currently seeing a deficit in milk production, a gap that can be bridged by India in the upcoming years. While the ratio of indigenous cattle to exotic cattle was 93:7 in 1992, it is now 79:21 in 2012. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu is the state which has incurred a loss of 21.22 percent in the population of native breeds. The European or the Australian bred cows are slowly making their way in the dairy business in India. The native bred cows which can give only 3-4 kg of milk per day lacks far behind its exotic counterpart that can produce up to 8 kg per day. There have been cases in Punjab where an exotic cow has produced up to 11 kg milk in a day. The only silver lining to this issue is the quality of milk by the native breeds. All Indian and African bred cattle produce A2 type milk along with an amino acid called Proline. The hybrid or the exotic bred cows like the Holstein, Friesian and Ayrshire has seen alteration of genes over the years resulting in the production of Al type milk and an amino acid called Histidine, which is a converted version of Proline. The Proline in A2 milk holds a strong bond with a protein called BCM-7 which prevents it from getting into the milk whereas the bond with BCM-7 is very weak with histidine in A1 milk. Researchers have found BCM-7 in A1 type milk passes through the GI tract of the cow and eventually enters the human body after consumption. This BCM-7 leads to late psycho-motor development in infants. A1 milk is also known to be associated as a risk factor for type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease and mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia. It has been approved that the A1 milk contains certain unwanted proteins or peptides may cause digestive disorders. But the low yields on a regular basis makes the native breed unpopular in the dairy industry. This has brought the country to a situation today where the desi cow has become a dying breed in India. Imagine this—the Gir cow, which is a Gujarati breed, is now being imported from Brazil and the Brahmi Bull, which is another pure breed, is more popular in Australia, America and Latin America. It's ironic that people in these countries are drinking better quality milk from cows native to this country.

Is it only the western cattle lobby going to profit from this Jallikattu ban? On a closer inspection, it can be seen that the slaughter houses are also going to be benefited with this. Generally male calves are sold and taken for slaughter in a few days. Only in regions where there are events like Jallikattu and Rekla race are they kept. In case of an imported exotic bred cow the owner will like it to deliver a female calf. If she does, it's a boon or else he will have no use for it and he has to feed it to the slaughter houses. It goes to the slaughter house for a very meagre amount. Keeping male calves- for beef or leather is impossible, since Tamil Nadu imposed strict regulations in 1958 banning the raising of cattle primarily for slaughter. But in case of an indigenous breed, both the female and male calves, have to go the slaughterhouse since there is no use of them. Neither they are very useful in the dairy industry nor they are used in farming nowadays. With a ban on Jallikattu, the price of bull falls to rock bottom. There is a huge demand for Bos Indicus variety beef in the Gulf, Malaysia and Western countries. It is considered an exotic, tasty and healthy meat, just like country chicken.

Does this mean that all of PETA and AWBI's claims are baseless? The answer will be no. There are several cases of violating the IPC, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960), where bulls are beaten, poked, prodded, their tails bitten and twisted. Sometimes alcohol is forced down the throats before taking them out. Ban is certainly not a solution to it. Cruelty to animals is done worldwide. Proper supervision, administration and monitoring should happen in the events. Absolute transparency in handling and treating the bulls should be adopted. Hefty amount of fine and punishment should be slapped for those who don't abide by the rules. There were 130 or so cattle breeds in India 100 years ago, and now there are only 37. Unless people engage with the traditional livestock keepers and support them, India will soon lose these breeds as well as lay the ground for commercial cattle based dairies and slaughter houses to dominate the country. India will not only lose its breeds but also self-sufficiency in milk production as well as promotion of organic farming. Panchagayya–Jeevamritham is an Ayurvedic medicine from the native breeds, people have been using it for centuries. Many livestock farmers will have to face the outcomes to this ban. Immediate scientific action must be taken to preserve the native breeds or else ten years from now all of India's native breeds will be lost, or will exist only in zoos or museums.

Vol. 49, No.32, Feb 12 - 18, 2017