Jallikattu gets intertwined with Tamil identity politics

There is a direct bond between cattle and their owners that city dwellers can know very little about.

The state is a cauldron of high emotions today. It has become pointless to discuss the real merits and demerits of holding jallikattu. Hailed a sport of valour, the bull taming exercise has been held in pockets of rural boroughs in the last few days to defy the Supreme Court order banning the sport. Such a huge campaign has been whipped up by forces that be in the state it has been made to appear that Pongal is not Pongal if jallikattu is not permitted.

The pulse of jallikattu is not easily felt by those living in cities. Mattu Pongal is a very eventful day in the rural calendar where honouring cattle takes various forms, incuding worship of cows. But it is only in and around Madurai that the real big jallikattu festivals are held in places like Avaniyapuram, Alanganallur and Palamedu, with the prizes for valour running into lakhs of rupees, although the tamers have to hang on to the bull for only a few defined metres to claim the prize, which in ancient times even used to include the bull owner's daughter.

There is a direct bond between cattle and their owners that city dwellers can know very little about. Domestic animals are such a part of the rural ecosystem that you can't separate man from animal without creating anxiety pangs. While cow worship is the overwhelming theme of everyday life in the rural economy, the bulls come into the ecosystem as symbols of virility — although in days of artificial insemination practised for decades now on cows such value is terribly diminished except that untamed bulls are still considered valuable to bring virility into the breeding chain. Their usefulness in pulling old farming implements, which may be still part of small intensive farming techniques prevalent in parts, has also diminished thanks to the ubiquitous tractor.

It is a moot point whether politicians whipped up this frenzy this year or if pent-up feelings after a couple of years of inaction on the jallikattu front have exploded to a point where it seems we were at a breaking point over the weekend.

The impression that television visuals of events in the state gave was one of grave despair about the turn of events. The involvement of students, which happened only as recently as last week, has given the issue a different dimension. The defiance of students and the demos they staged were a throwback to the days of the anti-Hindi agitation of the mid 1960s.

Politicians were certainly guilty of speaking with forked tongues as they kept egging the public sentiment on by saying jallikattu would he held come what may, but later expressed their helplessness against the majesty of the Supreme Court.

The BJP politicians of Tamil Nadu were freely expressing support for jallikattu fully well knowing their party could do nothing about it in New Delhi. To their credit, they did not run with the hares and hunt with the wolves, they simply supported jallikattu.

So intertwined had the issue got with identity politics in Tamil Nadu that it was like the 1960s all over again. If you were not against Hindi, you could not be considered as part of the state then and now it seems no Tamil can exist if he were so much as against jallikattu even on the principle that the sport may be cruel to the bulls. You were either with them or against them. A couple of years have been lost since the top court decreed that jallikattu could not be held and in that time the divisions have become very pronounced now.

Things seem to have been brought to a boil now and in such a manner that the holding of jallikattu is also being equated with Tamil nationalism. This is the new substitute for the elusive Eelam, the dreaming of which represented the coalescing of a common cause of a pan Tamil sentiment. Never mind if the jallikattu is essentially flawed in the way it perpetuates certain caste practices and prejudices prevalent in the deep South.

It has found acceptance as a means to an identity now, albeit an ancient one in the sense that the sport goes back some way in the history of the Tamils.

Would it be possible to conduct a strictly sanitized version of jallikattu wherein the bull is not harmed in the least and they are allowed to run in huge numbers as in Pamplona, but not to slaughter as it happens in Spain?

Policing the event and staving off the excesses would be a Herculean task. But then there is no such thing as self-regulation in India. And so the arguments will continue to rage on without a real solution in sight.

It is the collateral damage like that suffered by Trisha which is a pitiable consequence of extreme views. We didn't plan for a day when the rustic bull would become a symbol of divisions in Tamil society.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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