Ab tera kya hoga, Dhirio?

By Ashwin Tombat
22 January 2017 18:33 IST

FOR FIVE days now, lakhs of young people have gathered daily at Chennai’s Marina Beach to demand that Tamil Nadu’s traditional bull-taming sport of Jallikattu be allowed, and the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – which campaigned for prohibiting this traditional sport – be banned.

The protestors aren’t religious or conservative – they’re highly educated – techies and students. And they’re driving away politicians that seek to cash in on the protest, which reminds one of the India Against Corruption (IAC) protests led by Anna Hazare in New Delhi five years ago.

The loftiest intellectuals and the biggest names in the Tamil film industry – Chess wizard Vishwanathan Anand, Actor Kamal Hassan and ace Musician A R Rehman, among hundreds of others – support these protests.

In short, nearly all of Tamil Nadu is in revolt against a Supreme Court judgment that bans Jallikattu. Why? They say it is an assault on Tamil culture.

Jallikattu is a part of Pongal, the harvest festival that is Tamil Nadu’s biggest – like Diwali in North India, Durga Puja in East India or ‘Chowoth’ in Goa and Konkan. What would be the reaction in North India if fire crackers were banned during Diwali because they cause ‘pollution’…?

Which brings us to that other country facing controversies over bull fighting – Spain. Bullfighting was banned by the parliament of the Spanish state of Catalonia, in 2012. On 5 October 2016, the ban was struck down for being unconstitutional by Spain's highest court.

In sharp contrast to India’s Supreme Court, nine of the 12 judges of Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that the “preservation of common cultural heritage” was the responsibility of the state, and that the Catalan parliament had exceeded its authority.

PETA, the animal welfare organization that spearheaded the call for a ban, itself has a very dodgy record. In 2014, PETA took 3,017 animals into its shelters in Virginia, USA, of which 2,455 (81 per cent) were killed, just 162 were adopted, 353 were released to other shelters, and 6 were reclaimed by their original owners. Another animal shelter in Virginia took in about the same number of animals as PETA, but saved 94 per cent.

Animal shelters in hundreds of cities and towns across America routinely save over 90 per cent of the animals they take in, on a fraction of PETA’s financial resources ($50 million – Rs350 crore a year), while PETA kills close to 90 per cent of the animals it takes in. PETA has its justifications, but the figures speak for themselves.

There are many conspiracy theories about why the Tamil Nadu protests are coming up only now, with AIADMK supremo Jayalaltitha having recently passed away, DMK patriarch Karunanidhi being in extremely poor health, and there being no undisputed second line of leadership in either of the state’s two leading political parties.

But that is neither here nor there. Millions of young, modern, forward-looking people are standing up for their traditional culture. They deserve to be heard…

There are similar conspiracy theories about Catalonia’s ban on bullfights. The region has been demanding independence from Spain, and the ban has been derided for being motivated more by political nationalism than animal welfare.

Critics point out that Catalonia’s laws exempt the region’s own traditional festivals, called ‘Correbous’ – where bulls are pursued, often with flaming torches attached to their horns – from the ban. Minus the flames, that sounds a lot like Jallikattu.

Which brings us home. Is anybody willing to stand up for the traditional Goan cultural sport of ‘Dhirio’, which its supporters say is much less cruel to bulls than any of the above, but has come under the same ban as Jallikattu?

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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