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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 thekangayam 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
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?
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.
Those who can not only get richer, but fleece the poor to get richer. It is like the curse of globalization. To become an international figure is the new vanity, and that needs a heck of a lot of money. Or perhaps it is simply human nature.
I had written earlier about the scams coming out of the woodwork. It seems that the political leadership of our country doesn't have any moral authority to remain, yet they will persist. Not because they care so desperately, but simply because the vastness and diversity of India as well as its "security" infrastructure pretty much guarantees that no movement large enough will happen that cannot be silenced.
Our moral compass itself is so external, that there are few who will simply stand up and declare that what is happening is not acceptable. People like Kiran Bedi, who could charge then PM Indira Gandhi a parking violation simply don't come along often.
Which brings to mind her continuing efforts to improve governance and transparency. In a world of much hyped activists, she is what is called a reformer. Who changes her world rather than criticizes the standards of others to defend the rights of someone else. She is speaking out strongly in support of Baba Amte's protest in favour of getting the LOKPAL bill passed, which of course, the politicians are not particularly enthusiastic about....
This bill is important. A vast country like India keeps developing revenue, potential and power. Misuse of it is like an axe in the hands of a monkey. No one knows what will happen, but its unlikely to be good. These revenues, if engaged for the country can transform the misery of its people. In that post about the scams, I had made a list of the many things we could tick off as blots on India's name, if the money from the scams were recovered.
We see this in many countries around the world. The Arab world is erupting in protest. Pakistan is suffering from its elites, India is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Africa.... everywhere, it seems like those in power are not interested in sharing the gains. Its like collecting money from your entire class so that you and your best friend can bunk classes to party.
Yet, is it such an impossible task without the greed surrounding it? What would it cost to feed everyone? Every. One. What would it cost to make sure that most people have some amount of money to live on?
Poverty is the lack of basic human needs, such as clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter, because of the inability to afford them. This is also referred to as absolute poverty or destitution. Relative poverty is the condition of having fewer resources or less income than others within a society or country, or compared to worldwide averages. About 1.7 billion people live in absolute poverty.
How much money would it take to end world hunger? World poverty? In most of the really poor parts of the world, a dollar or two can cover a day's expenses. Do the math. With the tremendous resources we have as a developing world, could it be possible to address these issues comprehensively before fighting our wars and other ambitious projects?
If India resolved Kashmir, it could literally afford to pay people out of poverty, as could Pakistan. If US spent on the world for food what it spends on war (and other assorted armed supports), WORLD HUNGER would be history.... with money to spare. But it seems our egos overtake our sense.