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 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!
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.
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.