About Vidyut

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

A senior citizen describes his ordeal when he is asked to submit his Aadhaar if he wants to continue receiving pension, followed by his scramble to get an Aadhaar card made. Note: there are many instances of the government making Aadhaar mandatory as well as instances of various authorities and service providers requiring Aadhaar or refusing, even in the absence of it being officially mandatory - for example, getting a disability certificate. This results in the violation of rights of citizens. This is in direct violation of the Supreme Court order that states "the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other"

I am just writing down my experience in enrolling for the Aadhar card which the so called Govt.of India is making it mandatory for everything if one has to survive in India. It is very healthy for a country to have a system in place but the process down the line is like "left hand does not know what the right hand is doing".

Some time in 2013, I enrolled for my Aadhar card, in the Taluk office in Thanjavur, along with my wife. While the Aadhar card in my wife's name was received after couple of months, mine was "rejected due to technical error" as per online search. I was told that I have apply afresh for no fault of mine. Owing to some personal reasons, I had to move to New Delhi from Thanjavur. To my understanding, Aadhar card can be obtained at any place in India with ID and address proofs.

I called up a toll free number of Aadhar from Delhi. I got a call on my mobile after few minutes from somebody asking me to choose any option either come personally to an address (I do not recollect the address anyway) for which I would be charged RS.500/- or if I want someone to visit me at my residence and take details with photograph etc. I would have to pay RS.1000/-. I was shocked as to how the information of my requirement was leaked out to an agency (I never knew that such agencies also exist for Aadhar also), through a Govt call center. I did not pay attention as I was not sure if it was genuine call.

In December 2016, I came to Chennai to submit my existence or life certificate to ensure I keep getting my pension. When I asked for the blank form prescribed by pension department (apparently the form is not same every year and I first collect the form and then go to my bank miles away, get it certified and come back to pension office to submit which I am used to every year !!!) I was told that as per present process laid down by Govt. I need to submit my Aadhar card if I have to receive my pension. So I went back to Delhi.

I was searching for an aadhar center near to my residence so that I need not travel much being aged 65 yrs. Luckily in the month of December 2016 I found one address through my online search and visited that place only to be told that I have to check after 10 days. Since I planned to visit Thanjavur again, I thought of enrolling in Thanjavur thinking it would be easier in a town rather than in the city and also my address proof is of Thanjavur. I visited the same Taluk office in Thanjavur where I originally enrolled and got rejected. I was told that I have to go to a different office as my area where I live comes in that office's jurisdiction. I went there and I was told that I have to fill in a form but they do not have stock of forms. Somebody in the queue advised me to collect the form from Taluk office center and submit. I again went to that center and requested for the form. They told me that I cannot use this form at other center as both forms are different !!!. It was shocking that for a single purpose, at the same town how can there be two different forms ? Only Govt. knows.

I came back to the center after few days to get the form but I was told that I should come only between 9.30 am and 10 am to get the form and they distribute only 20 forms in that half an hour time. So I should be lucky enough to be one of 20 !!. What a fun !!. Since I have been struggling for couple of years to get Aadhar card, I got irritated but politely told that young boy at the center that I came last time but he told there was no stock of forms and I came all the way from Delhi for this and requested him to consider and give the form as a special case. He was adamant and said if I had not seen the notice outside, without any respect that he was talking to an elderly man and senior citizen. He said I should come only at the given time and after submitting the filled in form they would give me a date as to when I have to come for the photograph and biometric. I can understand if they have to face huge crowd and get upset..But there were hardly 10-15 people in the queue for them to handle. As I said that I came from Delhi and have to leave after 4 days, he half hearted Lugol's me to go to Collectors office which is more than 15 kms away and they would do the needful if I am in a hurry. I am really thankful to that boy even he refused my plea for giving me this information which turned out to be vital for me at that point of time.

I went to that office and could enroll finally without waiting for more than 45 minutes. During my wait time, I felt very bad to see a girl physically and mentally handicapped, brought in a wheel chair for Aadhar card. She cannot lift her head to look at the camera even with somebody's help. The boy sitting there to do this job was very patient and tried his best to capture her picture but failed. After seeing that girl I felt that my problem is nothing. I have also met few old people who told me about their futile attempts to get their Aadhar cards.I was questioning to myself who will take such kind of hardship people are facing to follow the rules of Govt. Are we really living in a democratic country ? Is India fit to be called so?

Now I am sitting with my fingers crossed waiting to receive my Aadhar card without getting rejected again for no fault of mine, so that I can submit it to pension office.

2

As the jallikattu debate heats up and protests rage in Tamil Nadu, there are a lot of ignorant arguments being made in favor of the ban. Trying to dispel some of them.

Bulls are not naturally aggressive

There is also this absurd Facebook video doing the rounds to "prove" it.

This Teacher Showed The True Cruelty Of Bullfighting

Say no to bullfighting!

Posted by The Holidog Times on 20hb Disember 2016

This video is an extremely misleading JOKE. To copy from the last time I commented on it:

This video is extremely misleading bullshit. The “bull” in the video is a calf. Watch him run – all legs, no bulk, total frisky. Still has his baby coat of hair. Adorable max, but really he wouldn’t do anything even if the students petted him. Likely around a year to a year and half old, though guesstimate – not familiar with the development of that breed. The male aggressive behavior is a part of sexual maturity. You won’t see it in calfs!

This is like saying dogs don't bite, because you didn't meet one that did. Describing this in terms of dogs, because more people are familiar with dogs.

There are many breeds of dogs. Some are great companions and pets. Others are better working dogs. Even among working dogs, there is the question of temperament. There's a reason why there are entire breeds called some or the other "shepherd" - these dogs have good protective instincts and stamina. Some dogs are easier to train. Think labradors and retrievers making great dogs for sniffing trails/drugs/etc. Others have a strong fight instinct - they are great for protection work - think rottweilers, German Shepherds, Doberman... You can train a German Shepherd for precise obedience work. They will be harder than a Lab. Expect a lot of cocked heads asking "WHY" - a dog's way of arguing/challenging in "conversation". The occasional pet may save owner's baby in a fire. Only a fool would start using that breed for protection work as a result. It is aptitude. A lot of it is genes and it is taken further with temperament of the individual dog. That is what breeding is about. And then what training is about.

It is similar with horses. Draught horses have stocky and large bodies. Fantastic for pulling. The long legged thoroughbred will beat it for speed, always. A Shetland pony may do neither, but is way safer for your kids to get acquainted to horses with. Mountain ponies would suffer in the heat of the plains, but their surefootedness will have them outperform other breeds on a mountain.

Among cattle, you have distinctions between beef and dairy cattle abroad. Beef cattle are stockier, yield more meat, less milk in comparison with dairy breeds. And so on. Similarly..... breeds of bulls used for sporting events are high spirited. You don't exactly race a bull that wants to plod along. These are the breeds used for sport for any success. Among them, those with aptitude will be raised for sport. Good feeding, possibly some training on what to expect, excellent care. You don't enter an abused creature for a sporting event. These are prime animals selected and brought to form - hardly the sign of an abusive owner!

The cattle are abused by being forced to stand in crowd, etc

And form, in a herbivore is excellent health so the animal responds to the slightest stimulus. Probably the easiest "visual" for an urban person might be... racehorses. Primed, prancing, ready to go. This is rural India and cattle, so "prancing" won't be visibly evident, but they will be restless and reactive to stimulus. This is not abuse, it is BRILLIANT CARE!!! Yes, this means they will react to the slightest thing and will be difficult to control and rebellious. That is how a high spirited animal is. If you want a half dead flogged ox who placidly stands there as the chaos of traffic flows past, you'll find plenty at your neighbourhood garbage dump! Clap a hand next to them, nothing will happen. Clap one next to these bulls, they will react! Not because they are abused, but because they have an excess of energy waiting to DO something. Even if it is not as evident in cattle as in horses. Think of it as your hyper 7 year old in great health restless and bouncing off walls in a place he's made to stand still. Compare with when he's ill. Are you really ABUSING him if he is in good enough health to be bored and restless to GO and you should keep him feverish and placid so no one thinks he's being abused?

Here's a simple test you could try without "animal abuse". Follow a cattle transporter around. See which animals give trouble being loaded in a truck. The half dead ones will walk in. They don't have the energy to react to everything - auto pilot. The better the health is, the more they will resist being loaded on a truck. They will find it unfamiliar and have all the energy they need to be appropriately mistrustful and resist. Is transporting animals abuse? Debatable point.

A large part of the "abuse" videos are this. Controlling cattle to stand in assigned place waiting for their turn. If they stood quiet and didn't need to be controlled, they'd be useless to compete! That just is not how health in herbivorous animals works. A healthy herbivore will take effort to be made to stand in place. Calling that abuse is like saying you prefer them to be half dead and docilely standing where told so you don't have to see them being forced to stand in one place!

Pro-animals, anti-humans

The people being accused of abuse are the same people that got the bulls to fighting condition. It is the same trusted owner holding the bull in place who got him in great health enough to compete! How do I know this? Because only an idiot would presume to handle a bull they aren't familiar with and  only an idiot would allow a prize animal to be handled by strangers. And no livestock would be calmed while restless in a crowd by a stranger. Anyone who owns livestock would know that they aren't strangers harassing bulls they got off eBay to torture, but the owners/carers standing with their prize entries!

The idea that you love those animals more than the people who spend their lives caring for them is little more than your intoxication with yourself as a little know-it-all.

You can fake abuse, you can't fake care

Anyone who owns livestock will tell you that it is impossible to fake good health in an animal. You simply have to do it. Spend time, money, effort, and again and again till they shine and bounce with health. That is the only way to do it. There are no hacks, no shortcuts. If those animals stand there in good condition, you can't convince a livestock owner that they are abused. Abuse doesn't result in animals like that. But you sure can convince an urban person with no perspective beyond their own that the strength needed to control a bull is, in fact abuse.

Livestock are not pets, they are property

Like you wouldn't allow your best, most expensive car to be vandalized because a cheering mob thinks it fun, a bull owner won't allow his bull to be deliberately injured. If it happens once, would you bring your car to such events over and over? So wouldn't a bull owner.

Participants are not film villains, they are people

Bulls have enormous strength. it would take a particularly suicidal person to want to engage with a bull driven out of control with pain. The chances of there being hordes of them at every event are nill to none. Because what sounds like a great evil script to an urban mind is suicidal absurdity to someone who has worked with large animals. These are animals that leap in the air with two people hanging on to them under normal circumstances. Who the hell needs them to be crazed and even more aggressive? If driving them mindless with pain were standard practice, participants would refuse to risk it! Which parents would allow their sons to play with maddened bulls? Note, these animals weigh between 450 kilos for the lightest to around 650 for the heaviest - that is at least five times the weight of any participant in the arena. And with more legs, even more times the power. You don't need a maddened bull going out of control. A normal bull is plenty challenge!

Those bulls can be put to other use

What other use? Castrated oxen are way easier to handle for stuff like ploughing and pulling carts. They could be abandoned on the streets, and likely will. God save the farmer who tries to chase them out of fields they wander into. Of course, the farmer not engaging in a fair "sport" would use weapons. Which goushala will want bulls that will attack the other cattle they have to taken in? What can aggressive bulls do to each other? Here's an example. Also an example of just how much hitting a bull can take without - forget injury - without even losing focus once it has something on its mind. Also handy for a perspective on the "hitting" during jallikattu to control the bulls. What would likely break your and my limbs is barely a deterrent for large livestock. They are stronger. I don't think urban minds fully comprehend what that means in terms of force needed in different situations. So here are two bulls. One of them being hit mercilessly by people with sticks with all their strength. Note how much impact it has on the bull.

I guess this is a good time to mention in comments what use you'd put aggressive sporting breeds to, if not sport.

It is also a good time to understand why I laugh when bleeding hearts claim that prize bulls are terrified of the men in the arena. I most certainly don't support animal abuse. I have personally never used sticks with my animals, but I also spent time with them 24/7 as a nomad and had all the time in the world to train them. I did use stones and I can throw stones like nobody's business. And this is livestock I literally lived in poverty to pamper. Hardly hated them! They were my life! But unlike a couch activist, I KNOW what hurts them and what amounts to little more than a rap to get them to obey. The point is that the amount of force used with a stick is directly proportional to the need for control. This is an extreme situation and you have three people hitting all out, usually, there will be just one. But the "hit" will never be gentle enough for a human. It would be no deterrent whatsoever. That hitting with sticks in the above video is an extreme example and shared more for a sense of how much force can a bull take as compared with the average person's idea of force, but you got to be demented if you think a rap or a poke with a stick injures a bull any more than a hard tap on your shoulder injures you.

At the end of that video, both "brutalized" bulls race off leaving the humans exhausted from hitting one of them staring. THAT is how powerful they are.

Does this mean no abuse happens?

No, of course not. Where there are humans, there will be abuse. But the prevalence of abuse is likely extremely exaggerated because of a lot of urban minds simply having no frame of reference for what is normal. There will be abuse. There will be rich people who may buy prize animals days before events to enter for kicks and don't mind what is done to make the bull more aggressive. But these cannot be the vast majority. Mind you, even among people who buy good animals to enter the events, most will value the bulls. Very few will be rich enough to treat a bull worth lakhs as disposable. Most of those with the best animals will be seeking to enter multiple events and win prizes and fame, not destroy the animals and render them unfit for further use.

There will be people who will be entering random bulls rendered useless by modernization on a lark thinking that they are useless anyway and good if they win something and doesn't matter if they are injured. Such people may even be fine torturing a bull so that it goes out in a blind fight for survival thinking it improves their chances of winning.

The good bulls definitely enjoy the challenge and use serious strategies

Yet, if you see winning bulls, they are strategizing. They know exactly what they are doing and they avoid letting players get into a position to attempt to hold them at all as a first strategy. Study their fights and you will see that they approach it with a more "kabbadi" mindset. Keep an eye on getting a clear exit, feint and move to prevent being caught, find an opening, take it. Stuff like this comes with tremendous training and care. And make no mistake, the bull enjoys the challenge. Aptitude can't be faked and it can't be developed to such extents without the bull being a partner in the process.

This bull, for example has a clear strategy. If he can't be touched, he can't be caught. Full kabbaddi approach to his game. He spins and feints in very fast circles, keeping people at bay (incidentally showing just how much sideways movement a sports bull is capable off - not torture!). Tosses over a few people (notel, he is not goring them), but doesn't let himself get distracted by an easy target. His eye is always on having a clear run out of the area. Holds participants at bay till he gets an opening out and takes it. Over and over. Another bull has a less elegant but equally effective strategy. Aggression. Several times, he gets the first person to approach near the gate and then pretty much brute forces his way through. Proactive overreactions are his deterrent. Note how he catches participants by surprise almost every time till the last, where they simply give him a wide berth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap1SFWeVGc8

I have purposely used compilations about individual bulls, so you are able to recognize their strategy being played over and over with complete confidence. These aren't random defensive actions, this is training at work. Note that the people they hold back effortlessly have also trained and have strategies to catch bulls - that fail.

Any of these entries could easily be confused for a scared bull if seen one off. Compilations like these show how it is a consistent - and winning strategy individual for tbe bull. Far from being a scared victim, the bull is trouncing his opponents with great skill/strength and definite strategy. There are others that come out of the arena rearing on their hindlegs so that their rump is high out of reach for the initial crowd and those attempting are extremely vulnerable to the bull. These are strategies.

Not just do they know exactly what they are doing I even saw a couple of videos where bulls who mostly had a straight run through the participants stop and turn back as though disappointed and expecting more! Animals aren't idiots. That bull knows it could have been more fun. And high adrenaline action is indeed fun for animals with energy to spare. That is why healthy horses NEED regular exercise or they go restless (and usually create trouble by deciding how to spend that energy on their own). That is why grazing animals in peak health often have mock fights with each other. A brisk tussle that they know how to handle is not just not abuse, it is invigorating.

Political psyops against PETA

This is crucially important. It must be said here that the calls to ban PETA are flat out wrong. I see these calls to ban PETA as a standard political practice of using polarization against "foreign oppressor" to consolidate people in solidarity - for politics. Standard extremism script. That it is an anonymous "apolitical" protest suddenly exploded to massive sizes and having very expert social media support stinks of exactly one party that has used strategies like this in the past. That it comes in the wake of a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu makes it all the more certain. Targeting of rights organizations and NGOs interested in protecting animals is not the sign of animal lovers. On the other hand it is very much a sign of a party given to attacks on NGOs, "apolitical" protests against existing governments (note, BJP is in the center and supporting the protests - whoever thinks this is a Tamil uprising against Hindi hedgemony is merely being exploited by their emotions for a political agenda, while the TN government that did everything to allow the practice to continue is being attacked. Subtly, now, but "where is Paneerselvam" is already appearing on protest posters). Remember the IAC protests. Tamilians being led by their anti-Hindi sentiments should note that they are neither the first nor the last to be used in such a manner. Hatred by "animal lovers" for organizations protecting animal rights ought to be a warning signal that all isn't as it appears.

Abuse must be identified and targeted and prosecuted.

PETA have definitely nailed abuse in their videos even if all of it is not abuse. Sharp weapons, irritants rubbed into eyes, etc are 100% abuse. Another channel had done an independent expose showing crackers being burst, tobacco being put into eyes, and the commentary doesn't mention it, but my experienced eye caught a limping bull - a limping bull has no place in "sport". These practices need to be stopped - non-negotiable. And the "massive" protests are a very real risk that political games will bulldoze away all gains made toward regulating them.

But it can't happen if everything gets objected to as abuse. These are neither stupid animals and nor are they as unprepared for sport as the average urban viewer discovering it on youtube. Those on the ground will call you nuts and dismiss you the minute you begin with all the bulls being scared - they so totally are not! Bring the law down on their heads and they will call you the enemy for misrepresenting them and harming their practices.

Which is what we see happening.

There is a very real and urgent need for finding middle ground in the interest of animal rights.

Does the survival of indigenous species really depend on jallikattu?

Well, not all indigenous species. From having over 120 indigenous species, India is down to some less than 40 (these are numbers off my head, but on the conservative side, real likely to be worse). But for the species used specifically in jallikattu, particularly the Kangayam and Pulikulam, it can be the death knell. Let us face it, there would remain no need to breed bulls suitable only for sport if the sport were banned. Far tamer species would be more useful for work. At best, most bulls would be castrated at early age to make them easier to handle. There would be no reason to pay stud fees for expensive bulls if cheap artificial insemination would also mean breeding cattle with higher milk yields. In other words, they would be too much trouble for no use = no one would want = extinction. Like the many other species that no longer exist in India. So, in my view, judging jallikattu irretrievably cruel to animals also means saying that those animals in excellent form are better off not existing at all. The question is, there are plenty of videos on youtube. Do you really see animals that should go extinct?

"Do YOU have any ideas to make jallikattu safer?"

Frankly, as an outsider, I don't think I am the best person to make helicopter recommendations, but from what I see, the following ideas come to mind. I bet local enthusiasts and best breeders will have more.

  • Mandatory safety fencing strong enough to contain a bull that leads to a pen for bulls to escape to and cool down, where only owners/caregivers registered will be allowed to enter. This should be out of sight of the main arena (up/down a slope, around something, etc - up is best - will burn some excess energy off in reaching). This will prevent a lot of the injuries by keeping the bulls in full adrenaline mode away from people and giving them a place to calm down safely (without running into vehicles or breaking limbs on obstacles).
  • Mandatory animal lover/village vet/respected animal lover elder serving as a "referee" kind of character, who will call a halt to all attempts on a bull if it shows signs of undue distress or aggression (no, bursting out of a holding area or bucking people off, isn't distress or aggression - it is reflex). If an animal appears to be going in circles trying to escape and unable to find way out, or if an animal starts attacking the participants, time to call it a day for that animal and let him be led/herded out of the area to the pen. Participants to persist after the referee declares a halt should be disqualified from further presence.
  • Tranquilizer darts and person competent in using them. An animal showing excessive distress or aggression and being beyond control should be tranquilized and taken to the pen to recover instead of risking his or participant's safety with further provocation in the form of attemtps to control it. This is not an ideal solution and shouldn't be standard practice, but more like a "last resort" to prevent injuries.

I will add to this if I can think of something, but frankly, for someone who has no direct stake, I've already said too much. There are too damn many sheharis talking and not enough bull owners.

18

Animal Rahat is a sister concern of PETA. Dr Manilal Valliyate heads Animal Rahat and has added the following response to the ongoing discussion (article my me on Jallikattu, Response by Poorva Joshipura, CEO of PETA, my response to that article):

Hi Vidyut,

Apologies for taking this long to get back to you.

Introducing myself, I am a veterinarian who worked for nearly two decades trying to improve the welfare of animals in India, particularly working animals such as horses and cattle, is a son to a farmer and father to a 12 year old boy.

Let me share my perspective as a veterinarian and also a person having some basic understanding about large animal behaviour and welfare. Considering the broad category of animals- prey and predators- I am sure we all will agree that, bulls are prey animals. More than describing whether they are aggressive or docile, what we need to understand is when they are cornered or their movements are restricted, they have to either chose to ‘fight’ or adopt a ‘flight’ behaviour. Usually a fight scenario comes into picture, when they can’t escape from a difficult situation. Otherwise these ruminants would ideally, graze for hours or eat food, lie down and ruminate (chewing the cud- a process of digestion) unless bothered by a predator, which I think some humans are. A bull simply charging at people would be an exceptional situation. Yes, they would do it when they don’t have any other choice of responding to a stimuli of fear, pain or distress. In jallikattu, that’s exactly what people exploit. One of the globally accepted definition of animal welfare mandates, ‘freedom from’ pain, injury, disease, fear and distress so as to achieve reasonable welfare. When we know that jallikattu do not protect the bulls from any of these, there is no point in calling such events as our culture or tradition. Simply because, I don’t think we want our culture and tradition to labelled as ‘cruel’. I have been part of inspections of many jallikattu events from 2011 to 2013 and the bottom line is, one has to induce fear and pain and agitate a bull to push him out of the vadi-vasal (I call it a torture chamber) and face the tamers! Otherwise, if the people around the bull are not causing any harm, the bulls would simply eat, stand or lie down and chew the cud just as mentioned above. Probably, one can easily find such a harmless bull freely wandering in any urban area like Delhi, Lucknow or Noida, not because they chose to be in a chaos of traffic, but simply because they represent the unwanted by-product of the dairy industry abandoned on the roads.

My father was a farmer before he joined the police force in 70s. He still remember the ‘Kalapoottu’ (bull race) competition in Kerala which he had witnessed and was part of. While he used to plough his agricultural field with a pair of bulls he had and he also allowed them to be used for competition during the harvest festival. However, today I don’t think he supports such events anymore. Just because, he came to know more about the animals, the way they feel threatened and feel pain just like we all do. What I know now is he has taken a compassionate stand now based on his own learning of life and he no more support any such events that (ab)use animals.

My son, maybe because of my work and interests, has been watching the debate on jallikattu covered by the media. What I remember is, he telling me- can’t these people see that the bulls are frightened and are running for life and actually are in no mood to “play” with the people? He continues- it doesn’t make any sense at all, when people supporting jallikattu says, there is no cruelty! It’s right in front of you actually! You just need the eyes to see it. For my son, it is simple common sense. He says, people are using stupid excuses to justify their actions. What they need to think is, what if these bulls were actually their sons and daughters left to a mob to manhandle? It is surprising that, some people do claim that the bulls are like their children; but the truth is these children are often send to slaughter when they are useless, except for meat.

Though my views above are more on ethology and ethics, what I would like to emphasise is that, there is a law of the land, enacted in 1960 and under Section 3, it very clearly sates, “It shall be the duty of every person having the care or charge of any animal to take all reasonable measures to ensure the well-being of such animal and to prevent the infliction upon such animal of unnecessary pain or suffering.” There are Rules framed under the same PCA Act which very clearly says what is necessary suffering. But Jallikattu is not part of that exception, so is many other form of cruel animal entertainment. And most importantly why can’t we respect and implement the judgement of the topmost court of the country which ban jallikattu and similar events!  The Apex court has also stated that when culture and tradition are at variance with the law enacted by Parliament, the law takes precedence.

I can also confidentially say that, my arguments above can be scientifically demonstrated and that is what we do exactly at Animal Rahat- a sister organisation of PETA striving to improve the quality of life of working bulls in Maharashtra.

You may print this response, if you find it appropriate and helps the discussion.

Thank you.

Kind regards

Dr Manilal Valliyate

7

I am neither defending nor opposing jallikattu. Nor do I intend this to be an adverserial discussion. Bear with me, it is slightly long. The downside of describing behavior of bulls to those not trained to see it is that each picture seems to take a thousand words.

My response to the response by Poorva Joshipura, CEO of PETA India to my article on Jallikattu

While I don't agree with PETA India's view about the ban, I agree that the rights of animals must be protected. My main issue is that it does not seem familiar with the body language of cattle and sees everything as abuse, even when the bulls themselves clearly don't.

On the similarities between jallikattu and bullfighting—since you raised the point—there are many. You say weapons are used in bullfights—well guess what, they are also used during jallikattu events. During jallikattu, in the holding area, participants stab and jab bulls with sickles, spears, knives and sticks in order to force them to run toward the mob of men (which goes against their desire, which is to flee in the opposite direction). In bullfighting, the bulls are often deliberately disoriented. For jallikattu, bulls may be force-fed alcohol for the same purpose. Jallikattu participants also cause bulls intense pain by yanking their nose ropes, and jallikattu participants also punch, jump on and drag bulls to the ground and twist and bite their tails.

I will post here the video you refer to, that was included in my original article as visuals of the abuse Poorva mentions. An attempt to let bulls speak for themselves, so to say.

Sticks are commonly used to control livestock.If you have to use a stick through a narrow gap, your use is pretty much limited to "poke". This doesn't mean you're skewering the animal. Not something I like, but it is a fact of cattle rearing not limited to jallikattu. Also tail pulling, it is easy to see that the bull's movement is being controlled to angle him into a narrow space, except the last instance where it is to hold him back. To someone unaware of how cattle move or are moved, this may appear as random harassment, but this is likely shot outside the narrow pen the wary bull has to get into. Precise positioning using vulnerable body parts is normal. Not ideal. But not a jallikattu special either. Ask cattle transporters or... vets.

You claim jallikattu is similar to bullfighting, because weapons are used in the holding area. It may be possible, but so far I have yet to see blood on a bull entering the arena in any jallikattu video. It is also extremely unlikely that the cattle owners will take kindly to prime livestock being cut or injured by a mob. So I am just going to pass on this till I have some evidence it is prevalent.

About the "alcohol". The video is not certain it is alcohol. Supporters of jallikattu claim it is glucose water for a burst of energy. Whatever it is, the bull is drinking it willingly in the video. I don't think much will need to be done to make the bulls agitated. Not having control in a situation with a loud crowd and other bulls around will do the trick for most bulls.. Add to it the nature of the activity - youths dispersing when bull faces them, approaching in peripheral vision, pouncing - this sort of thing spooks all herbivores and is enough to make them flee. This is more along the line of harassment than brutality.

Few of the bulls appear intimidated by the men, though resentfully resigned to the control.Jallikattu or not, these are the same people they live with for the rest of the year, who care for them and are trusted, even if they are making freaky demands. Incidentally the same people who have cared for them well - you don't get these kind of bulls from neglect and brutality. Most of them are just extremely alert (watch ear and tail movements - ears pricked forward is alert, twitching back and forth is nervous, tucked tail is fear, head lowered is aggression). This is not fear, it is wariness. They burst out, get away from the youth and that is that. You will see it if you approach livestock at pasture. The more an animal is in the prime of health, the more it will startle, react. So bursting out of that area is about as normal as a racehorse bursting out of a gate. Some bulls are scared, definitely, where they go around trying to gore people. That is fear/anger behavior. And usually you'll find the crowd rapidly switch to calming the animal. Not always, not always successful. Basically the bull has "snapped". The bull has no idea which way is safety, feels cornered, so gets aggressive and does the next best thing, evicts people (the threat) from the arena. Or bulldozes through any and everything to get out of there leading to injuries for people and bulls. There ought to be safety protocols for handling this sort of thing, including the possibility of a referee kind of character who calls it a day for that bull if the men persist.

Cattle have strong flight responses. While they flee a threat, they aren't too scared unless they get trapped. It is a reflex. The bucking off of people trying to catch it. Left alone without further irritation, they will calm rapidly. For animals, "threat" is not how we interpret it. Anything from the unfamiliar to outright attack is a "threat". The usual response is a burst of adrenaline and a gallop away from the source. This really doesn't mean they are intimidated - reflex kind of thing. Spooked. Like we jump when someone goes "boo" is irritating, but not abuse - unlikely thought it may seem to someone not used to them. Or it would be impossible to have thousands of years of sport and get that same reaction over and over.

This is not to say it is "right" to play with them or that it is ethical. There is a need to engage with breeders of prime bulls, veterinarians, animal rights activists such as yourself, lawmakers and get perspectives and contribute to evolving more sustainable practices instead of helicoptering in with the "right interpretation" that those on the ground don't recognize. There will be negotiation. The worst of the practices will have to be chipped away. There will need to be convincing, not ordering. That is possible only when you have the buy in of those engaged in them.

But the most important thing from this video as well as others on the internet is the importance of a sturdy arena that the bull cannot exit and injure others or himself. Possibly with a little pen at the opposite end of the arena with view of arena blocked for the bulls to cool down where people other than owners should not be allowed. I repeat, I am not an expert or even familiar with jallikattu but it certainly appears that an area for bulls to escape to and cool down safely will largely reduce injuries for all. Regulation can actually achieve things of this sort if a determined effort is made to identify them.

There are other things, but my point is that there is a mix of abuse and normal behavior with cattle in the objections, which makes it difficult to tell what the prevalence of abuse because of jallikattu is. While this approach is very healthily pro-animals, it is hostile to their owners and considers them malicious by default to the point of making breeding and owning bulls at all unviable. This is a problematic view - that the animals who are clearly in excellent condition are better off not existing at all, because of your views on how they are treated on one day. These are bulls worth lakhs that you are consigning to being no better than butcher meat. And they will face worse injuries, because if more money is not to be spent on them, they will have to be provably economically unviable to be butchered. Not the few that accidentally get injured, but deliberate neglect and potentially injury by owners unable to sell them or earn from them anymore. Because here is a thing. An owner loves an animal he takes pride in, not one he has to feed at the cost of necessities for his own home. Livestock are not pets, they are property. Check out the vanishing male cattle in Maharashtra. There is a complete ban on slaughter now, but the law was similar to Tamil Nadu when these numbers happened - no slaughter of cows, only slaughter of economically unviable males. They get abandoned or starved to death now. They got butchered earlier, but every successive rural hardship has led to a decline in their numbers. Such are the alternatives you are recommending when you remove the one thing that makes them desirable and economically viable. With a  ban on jallikattu there remains little need for an indigenous cow owner to opt for continuing - this often includes stud fees that are 20 times the fees of artificial insemination - with imported sperm. You are wrong when you say it is entirely determined by dairy industry. It is, if there is no other use for non-dairy cattle, which you are ensuring.

You also claim the bulls used for jallikattu are “aggressive by nature and prone to attack”. Are you sure you’re not talking about the jallikattu players? The bulls run helter-skelter not because they are aggressive, but because they are scared. They are so scared they need to be coerced to participate through weapons and the cruel methods as described above.

In fact, a teacher in Mexico conducted an experiment to prove it is not the bulls, but the humans, who are aggressive. The teacher had the students stand in a bullfighting arena where a bull was let loose and matadors used red flags as they do during bullfights. As you can see in the video, the bull just wants to find a way out, and is working on doing so, without hurting anyone:

https://www.facebook.com/HolidogTimes/videos/vb.1077612508960066/1197700626951253/

The video shows bulls will not attack if not provoked.

You seem to think of bulls as terrified, timid creatures. They are not. They are capable of fear, of course, but they are perfectly capable of attacking people if they feel cornered- or, for that matter, otherwise. I have to disagree completely here to the point of DON'T TRY THIS. This video is extremely misleading bullshit. The "bull" in the video is a calf. Watch him run - all legs, no bulk, total frisky. Still has his baby coat of hair. Adorable max, but really he wouldn't do anything even if the students petted him. Likely around a year to a year and half old, though guesstimate - not familiar with the development of that breed. The male aggressive behavior is a part of sexual maturity. You won't see it in calfs! It wouldn't matter even if the students moved all they want or got aggressive. The calf would shy away. There is a reason bulls are castrated as a medical practice. It is because adult males can be very aggressive and territorial. Never mind me. If you can trust the University of Wisconsin Department of Dairy Science to not have an agenda of protecting jallikattu or any other bullfighting, here's an excerpt from their Farm Safety Fact Sheets. This excerpt is on page 2.

I also have no idea why you think bulls aren't aggressive. I've met many bulls who would dispute that. Heck I know a couple that went out of their way to make that point. Strangers couldn't pass one of those damned critters without risking getting gored. Zero provocation. Just existence was enough. Magnificent animal, but liked people about as much as I do, was just less inhibited about it. Loved him. From a distance. To the best of my knowledge, he was never mistreated. Was the darling of the family, whom he never attacked. Put him in that Facebook video and it would never get uploaded. There would be a news headline "Bull gores x students in an attempt at a Facebook video gone horrily wrong." Just like good temperament, bad temperament too is a combination of nature and nurture. And sometimes just the personality of the animal. Most bulls fall somewhere in the middle, though all are territorial to some degree unless castrated. They can also be trained otherwise, but this is unnatural behavior, not easy and cannot be relied on with anyone other than their trainer. They may be trained for fights too, but you cannot invent aggression in an animal. Only train discipline or how to channel aggression.

This is one thing I want to insist - regardless of jallikattu or bullfighting. Please stop spreading disinformation that could put people at risk. You are a voice of authority related with animals. The chances are that you could get a gullible urban supporter gored. Rural folks who know bulls won't believe.

You have concluded your piece by mentioning that other animals suffer—but the existence of one type of suffering cannot justify another. If it did, setting animal rights aside, even human rights would never progress. You, as a woman, or me as a woman, would likely never have been educated or have the opportunities we have today if people thought this way.

It is a minor point, but defending my honor here. The article is public. You are implying I conclude the article justifying jallikattu by bringing in other instances of animal suffering. Actually, that is not how the article ends. The PETA video which actually makes the opposite argument comes after that. Entirely voluntarily. Why would I do that if I wanted to conclude with justifications of jallikattu and ignore harm to cattle as something other animals go through too?

The rights of animals aren't a negotiable issue for me. My disagreement is with what constitutes abuse as well as whether the alternative is better or worse. I am also concerned about people and their livelihoods. And I am not concluding that jallikattu does not involve abuse. I am trying to find out more. I am trying to decode the complaints and see what appear to be genuine areas of concern and what appears to be a misunderstanding. I am interested in knowing whether there is a possibility that allows all to thrive without harming another.

15

The following is the response by Poorva Joshipura, CEO of PETA India to my article on Jallikattu published yesterday. Obviously PETA India disagrees with those wanting jallikattu to not be banned, but Poorva asserts a similarity between jallikattu and bullfighting, raises questions about injuries to humans and animals and questions the validity of the argument that a ban on jallikattu would harm the survival of indigenous breeds of cattle. 

Dear Vidyut,

I am the CEO of PETA India and I have read your article essentially defending jallikattu.

Please know that nobody ever said jallikattu is bullfighting nor used arguments against bullfighting for jallikattu—jallikattu is jallikattu, a cruelty on its own (which admittedly has some similarities to bullfighting). Jallikattu is a spectacle in which a mob of grown men taunt, chase and deliberately terrify bulls. These animals become so panicked they slip, fall, run into barriers and traffic, and even jump off cliffs, so desperate are they to escape. They also accidentally run smack straight into people while attempting to flee, causing numerous human injuries and deaths. From 2010 to 2014, media outlets reported that there were some 1,100 human injuries and 17 deaths caused by jallikattu-style events, including the death of a child. The actual number is probably higher since many injuries likely weren’t reported in the news.

Your piece, which claims “[jallikattu] is by no means a fight that endangers the animals” and that “the worst a bull will usually come to is exhaustion and injuries” is false, as bulls not only commonly break their bones, but some bulls like some humans also lose their lives. In any case, causing unnecessary suffering and injuries to bulls is also rightly against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960. Your point that “I don’t think even PETA will dispute this” is also, therefore, false. It would be nice for you to contact PETA rather than to assume anything and write what you think PETA would say.

On the similarities between jallikattu and bullfighting—since you raised the point—there are many. You say weapons are used in bullfights—well guess what, they are also used during jallikattu events. During jallikattu, in the holding area, participants stab and jab bulls with sickles, spears, knives and sticks in order to force them to run toward the mob of men (which goes against their desire, which is to flee in the opposite direction). In bullfighting, the bulls are often deliberately disoriented. For jallikattu, bulls may be force-fed alcohol for the same purpose. Jallikattu participants also cause bulls intense pain by yanking their nose ropes, and jallikattu participants also punch, jump on and drag bulls to the ground and twist and bite their tails.

You also claim the bulls used for jallikattu are “aggressive by nature and prone to attack”. Are you sure you’re not talking about the jallikattu players? The bulls run helter-skelter not because they are aggressive, but because they are scared. They are so scared they need to be coerced to participate through weapons and the cruel methods as described above.

In fact, a teacher in Mexico conducted an experiment to prove it is not the bulls, but the humans, who are aggressive. The teacher had the students stand in a bullfighting arena where a bull was let loose and matadors used red flags as they do during bullfights. As you can see in the video, the bull just wants to find a way out, and is working on doing so, without hurting anyone:

This Teacher Showed The True Cruelty Of Bullfighting

Say no to bullfighting!

Posted by The Holidog Times on 20hb Disember 2016

The video shows bulls will not attack if not provoked.

So desperate have jallikattu supporters become to be allowed to taunt bulls, they have come up with all sorts of ridiculous arguments, such as that jallikattu is somehow a native breed conservation scheme. Ha! Nothing can be further from the truth. The prevalence of various breeds of cattle used by humans in India is almost entirely determined by the choices of the country’s dairy industry. This is because humans manipulate domesticated breeds to suit their own purposes, such as increased milk production. The industry was determining which types of cow were bred in India long before the Supreme Court confirmed a ban on jallikattu in 2014. In other words, where there is an interest in choosing native breeds over those who are foreign or cross-bred, the influence has to be put on the dairy industry, and that is happening elsewhere. And of course the ban on the use of bulls in performances is just that—it does not prevent anyone from keeping cattle for other purposes should they choose.

You have concluded your piece by mentioning that other animals suffer—but the existence of one type of suffering cannot justify another. If it did, setting animal rights aside, even human rights would never progress. You, as a woman, or me as a woman, would likely never have been educated or have the opportunities we have today if people thought this way.

Thank you very much for including the video shared with you by Sachin at the end, but your inclusion of it will not undo the damage your piece may otherwise do to bulls who need all of the support they get. And by the way, those videos were taken at a time when jallikattu was conducted under established rules and regulations. Pro-jallikattu advocates already made the arguments to the Supreme Court that the spectacle can once again be conducted under such rules, but the court has acknowledged that causing bulls fear and forcing them to run this way is not only the infliction of unnecessary suffering, which is against Indian law, but also incredibly hard on this species of animal in particular. To understand more about jallikattu, please read the attached Supreme Court order.

By the way, it’s not only jallikattu which is banned under Indian law but also dogfighting, cockfighting, bull racing, bullfighting, the use of certain species of animals in performances like circuses and film and more and the bans apply India-wide, not only in Tamil Nadu. That’s because just as it would be wrong to get kicks off of the expense of abusing a woman or a child, it is wrong to get kicks off of the abuse of animals just because they are vulnerable and unlike humans, cannot speak up for themselves.

And for anyone who really wants to show their strength, I invite them to join PETA India. It takes much more strength to stand up for what’s right, than to be part of a mob taunting an animal who has not chosen to be there.

I do wish you would not glorify cruelty to animals, and quite frankly I wish you would take your piece down or modify it. It’s the animals who are the victims here, and the animals desperately need us on their side. Anyway, you have my direct email address now. Please do feel free to touch base with me in the future.

Kindest regards,
Poorva Joshipura
CEO
PETA India

She has also attached: Jallikattu judgement SSC

I will respond to Poorva Joshipura, PETA India separately later without detracting from it in any way here. My hope is to find a middle ground that does justice to both animals and man. I welcome your views as well. A dialogue of this nature can only enrich our collective awareness and thoughtfulness with regard to issues that impact lives, regardless of conclusion.

5

I have refrained from commenting on jallikattu for a long time, mainly because I don't have any real experience or concrete insight on the subject (yes, that does prevent me from making opinions known). However, after several debates, reading up, arguments and a lot of thinking, I can definitely say that a middle way needs to be found. A ban is not an answer and animal rights must be upheld to the best of our capacity (which can be considerable if we make an effort).

I think it is quite harmful to import PETA arguments against bullfighting and slap them onto Jallikattu for a handy halo of standards for animals. While I still am not expert enough to provide a "solution" that I can robustly defend without doubt, here is my thinking on several aspects of the issue.

What is jallikattu?

A youth hanging onto a bull during jallikattu.
A youth hanging onto a bull during jallikattu performed in Alanganallur, Madurai. Photo: Iamkarna

Jallikattu is a part of the celebrations of Pongal in Tamil Nadu, where youth of a village engage in a bull taming match, where a bull trained to buck them off is sent into the arena and the objective is to hang on to the bull by the rump, while the bull tries to buck them off. There are no weapons or rope involved and only bare hands may be used to hold on to the bull. Injuries to contestants are more likely (and prevalent in reality) than to bulls. If the bull succeeds in bucking them off, it wins, or the youth to hang on to the end wins.Like many other rites of passage seen in tribal societies worldwide, it is a test of the man's strength and skill in going barehanded against a bull. It is also a process of selecting the best bull for breeding. The event has been criticized due objections about cruelty to the bulls.

What is bullfighting?

A matador before the final strike at Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, Madrid, Spain 2005
A matador before the final strike at Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, Madrid, Spain 2005. Photo: Manuel González Olaechea y Franco

For the purposes of this discussion, bullfighting would be what is practiced in Spain. Another cultural tradition. However, in this, the bull is repeatedly "hooked" at the hump with lances and finally when weakened with loss of blood and pain and defeated, it is killed with a sword. The bullfight invariably ends with the death of the bull. In rare instances, a bull that fights exceptionally well may be spared the final strike (but not the injuries). There is no competition involved. It is a traditional "art form" slaughter. The bull's struggle to evade a certain death is entertainment. There is no option for the bull to escape the injuries or death, usually.

How is jallikattu different from bullfighting?

In case the difference is still not evident, jallikattu pits the strength of a 60 kilo man against a 400+ kilo bull and the bull has far more power and horns. It is by no means a fight that endangers the animals - though of course accidents are possible in everything involving reflexes. The worst a bull will usually come to is exhaustion and injuries. I don't think even PETA will dispute this. In contrast, in bullfighting, the animal is pitted against people with weapons, some of them mounted on horses. When bulls disemboweled more horses than bulls getting killed, they started protecting the horses. There is no question of allowing a bull to win, merely making a spectacle of its death. Whatever our stands on what constitutes animal rights, the factual dissimilarities are glaring enough that arguments for or against cannot be copy-pasted between the two as currently appears to be happening.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Beyond this, I am looking specifically at jallikattu rather than bringing bullfighting into it. What considerations are there? What lives and livelihoods are involved?

The jallikattu bull

The bulls used in jallikattu are primarily from the kangayam breed of cattle. They are aggressive by nature and prone to attack. They are further trained for the sport, it is true, but these bulls are not preferred for work with far more docile breeds being easily available. They are, however good for breeding because of generations of stock selected for strength and reflexes. It is very common in rural societies for the males of herd animals to be castrated (horses, bulls, bullocks... even goats if there are more than one male!). The reason for this is that herd behavior dictates that males fight among themselves for dominance. This is natural behavior. Leaving the best of each generation with the temple as "public property" of sorts for all breeding needs of the village solves issues related to access or individuals maintaining their own breeding males (who will fight and do damage if they encounter each other). The jallikattu serves to identify the strongest stock for this purpose.

The ecology and economy of jallikattu

P. Muthukarupan of Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu breed bulls for jallikattu
P. Muthukarupan of Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu breed bulls for jallikattu. Photo: Aparna Karthikeyan, PARI Network

Where there is a feat of strength, you have a crowd of men to watch. It is easy for testosterone to dominate the narrative where the only thing visible about jallikattu is the fight or perhaps, due to hot debates on the subject, the question of breeding stock. But there is more to that. There are lives, livelihoods and the survival of an entire indigenous species tied in closely with the sport. Small farmers like P. Muthukarupan of Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu breed bulls for jallikattu. Their cattle will lose value. Jallikattu is an important area where indigenous cattle of India continue to be supported and preferred.

In a country where successive government policies have endangered indigenous cattle breeds, the sport not only provides robust and preferred survival to a few, it generates public awareness and interest in their well being and qualities. Two decades ago, P. Sainath's tragicomic epic "Everybody Loves a Good Drought" already described vanishing indigenous breeds as an established problem. The first section of the book "Still crazy after all these years - A brief introduction to the Indian absurd" sets the tone for a book that is relentless in portrayal of the gloriously hilarious and tragic mismatch between government policies and people's realities. The first story "Very few specimens - but a lot of bull" described the haphazard processes of introduction of "superior breeds of cattle" in Odisha that wiped out the famed Khairar bull in the Komna region.

This is a situation that has repeated all over the country in the name of increased milk production. In 2015, he reported the efforts to reverse such damage in Kerala with the dawning awareness that many Indian indigenous breeds are at threat of extinction. But many other pressures are in play. The holy cow is a big deal in India. There is increasing resistance to cow slaughter rendering non-milk-producing cattle a liability. This further reduces the demand for indigenous species, as their milk production is lower than the imported and hybrid breeds. Ironically, the indigenous cattle actually give much better returns in comparison witht he expense and effort that goes into maintaining them, vis-a-vis the more exotic breeds.

So far, jallikattu has protected the native breeds that are engaged in the activities from going the same way as the rest of the indigenous breeds. The jallikattu ban threatens to change that. But it isn't that simple either. The bulls bred for jallikattu are naturally aggressive, and most cow shelters don't want them - they wren't exactly bred to meekly accept marginal care and be no trouble! They can be aggressive and hostile and a lot of trouble to care for. With the restrictions on cattle slaughter, there won't be much help from those quarters either. There will be no real reason left for the survival of some prize breeds from India.

Of course, the question of survival of indigenous breeds of cattle is larger than jallikattu. I am merely noting that this will add another breed to the mix.

What constitutes animal abuse and where is the line?

Man and animals have coexisted for a long time. Man has harnessed and often exploted animals for daily needs. From eating chicken that are grown more like a vegetable than a bird to using police dogs for risky work like bomb detection or protection. Animals are leading less than optimal lives and facing danger, injury or death to enable our lives all the time. Horses have often been injured beyond recovery at the very young ages they participate in horse races. Bullock carts, ploughs, saddles have caused sores on livestock since time immemorial. Reluctant animals have been flogged to work, patient horses have stood amid exploding firecrackers in marriage processions. Not to mention the national assault on the hearing of dogs every Diwali. Sheepdogs work alongside their masters come snow or sunshine. Cows, buffaloes, goats get their teats pulled with varying degrees of gentleness and efficiency twice a day. The garbage of our lives overflows to kill countless animals, while our "progress" destroys their ecosystems. I am not trying to justify anything here. I am trying to create a larger picture of an interconnected system, where many species of animals often live in harmony with man. Often not even found in nature at all. Witness the silkworm.

Witness the story of "Shaktiman", the police horse who turned out to be a mare who broke her leg while at work on an aggressive protest. I knew that horse was dead, only a matter of time the minute I saw the hind leg broken. It is unlikely that the veternarians caring for Shaktiman didn't know it. A horse bears most of the weight of its body on its hind legs. The horse's hoof also has a spongy pad inside (not getting into medical technicalities) that help pumps blood back up to the heart when it walks, so it is also important for blood circulation in the body. A horse does not burp. Walking helps speed digestion, so trapped gasses escape as farts (yep, stinky). A horse with three legs can perhaps hobble briefly if the injured leg is a foreleg, because the hindlegs easily take up most of the weight. A horse with a missing hindleg cannot walk. And a horse that doesn't walk is a matter of waiting for the compromised digestion and circulation to fail, because there is no way the forelegs can compensate for the missing power of a hindleg. There will be terrible back pain from that enormous weight now being supported only on one side of the spine. The kindest "treatment" for her was a mercy killing. Yet she was subjected to a long drawn and painful death going through a political circus of journalists and prosthetics and what not till the inevitable happened. In the line of duty. Not just the injury, but the manner of death.

The need to bring in this kind of perspective is because a lot of people doing these debates have actually never come close to livestock. They have no idea of the realities of their needs, the threats they face or even their power. While the idea of an adult man hanging on to a bull feels remarkably threatening, the only power of a body most people know is human. How powerful is a bull?

Bull taming at jallikattu, Allangur, India
Bull taming at jallikattu, Allangur, India. Photo: எஸ்ஸார்

That is two people trying to wrestle down a bull at once. Very alarming. Two aggressive men? We are practically conditioned to think of this as unfair. But wait a minute. The bull has all four feet in the air and the two men, in fact, appear to be pulled up. What would the weight of the people have to be if two of them hung on you and you had to jump off the ground? That is what the weight of people is like to a bull. And you don't have to believe me. Please do a google image search for jallikattu to see if you spot pics that even remotely look like an overpowered bull. There are several of boys about to be gored, though.

Does wrestling with a 60 kilo unarmed man cause a 400 kilo bull any significant harm? I don't know personally. From my experience with horses, I can say even a 200 kilo filly cannot be overpowered without at least a couple of people, rope and serious technique. That is why the Spanish bullfights use weapons and that is why without weapons, the goal in jallikattu cannot exceed "hanging on". And trust me, hanging on is going to do little more than irritate a bull that can pull a few hundred kilos easy. That is my thinking.

But there are other serious issues. For example, injuries to tails, stories of bulls being fed liquor or sedatives to make them more aggressive. Man is a pretty cruel animal and a man in a crowd eager for a spectacle... Here is a good documentary about the cruelty to bulls to get them agitated. Please note, that this is a collection of recorded cruelty as opposed to a documentary on the standard practice. Many of these practices need to go. (The link to this film was kindly provided by Sachin Bangera, who works with PETA India. Thank you, Sachin.)

Frankly, I don't think the liquor is going to harm a bull any more than it would harm a person. People who do attend the fights say that it is glucose water for a burst of engergy and not alcohol at all. Rubbing irritants, injuring them and more will harm. Consulting with veterinarians on safety is important. Establishing an arena and disallowing unofficial street chasing is important. I think a lot of good could come out of creating a set of rules that must be followed, failing which the animal or youth could be banned from the proceedings. We already have laws against cruelty to animals for that. We do not need a ban on jallikattu to prevent cruelty. This would be more useful than putting everyone out of work. Competition and peer pressure would ensure better practices or loss of face and overall improve safety standards, like in any other dangerous sport. Substances that cannot be fed, blood tests in the event of doubt (or as a matter of course), protective clothing for participants, disqualification on holding tail, etc. Whatever. Seniors of the field must be consulted.

Which brings us to the bigger risk.

Convention on Biological Diversity

India is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global miltilateral treaty that obliges us to "develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity". While I have no legal understanding and no doubt it could be debated up and down the street, it does seem to my limited understanding that a ban on jallikattu that jeopardizes the future of the indigenous species used in it, violates the spirit of the agreement. And how serious is the risk? Very. From over a hundred indigenous cattle breeds in India, we have less than 40 left and those too are under threatas resistance to cattle slaughter increases and in turn increases the liability that cattle threaten to be. This makes people reluctant to own cattle altogether as well as prefer higher yielding cattle for their investment. Any move that reduces the utility of male cattle will add to the threat of extinction faced by our indigenous breeds.

Injuries and deaths of youths who participate in jallikattu.

These are actually more common than injuries to bulls. My views on this are twofold. The first is that best practices and preventative measures must be established where possible. The second is that like all sports with threat of life, the choice eventually must rest on the participant. If countless adventure sports are not banned, then jallikattu must not be either, on account of safety of participants.

This last, I am quite certain of. The rest needs debate. But more importantly, it needs debate that includes people who participate in the sport, instead of the same five talking heads representing "people like us" having an opinion on everything. People like us are conditioned to fear whatever looks darkskinned and sweaty and dirty and male and loud. However, our fears cannot dictate the practices of other people in another place in a shared country.

This article keeps getting updated as I add any important information brough to my notice. If you are interested in the subject, do keep checking back.