Jallikattu is an annual sport held in southern Tamil Nadu, mostly in villages around the temple city Madurai. The sport which claims a three thousand year history involves men trying to hold on to a bull for a fixed distance and successful men bag prizes that can be anything from cash to furniture. It is essentially a village sport, confined only to certain villages in Tamil Nadu. The term Jallikattu is said to have originated from the concept of tying (Kattu) bags of coins (Salli) to the horn of cow and the person who had held onto the cow till the winning mark gets the bag.
There is no denial that certain practices of cruelty are inflicted both before and during this bull related sport. Supreme Court had banned this sport on April 2014 citing the fact that it amounts to cruelty on animals and it is illegal. So, the point of Bharatiya Janata Party trying to revoke the ban or the suggestion of the Tamil political parties to pass an urgent ordinance to bring back the sport might be on the grounds of either valid concern for the tradition or with an eye on elections in next quarter of 2016. This should again be battled on the legal grounds, with ‘freedom to play sport’ on one side and ‘cruelty to animals’ on other side.
Clearing myself out of this legal and traditional viewpoints, this article attempts to analyze the conflicting views that the ‘animal rights’ activists uphold when it comes to differing situations.
If animal sports face protests for cruelty, why are slaughtering of animals not meeting a protest of such huge magnitude?
Be it Jallikattu or the cock fight, animal rights activists of India had been on the forefront calling for its ban. But were they so fierce when it comes to calling for a ban on slaughter of animals for food? Few of them had turned vegans and few of them had showed concerns for few animals, but we have not seen a full fledged protest against slaughter houses. While their protests against cruelty to animals in the form of sports is agreeable, what does their silence on the slaughter of animals convey?
Every day, thousands of chickens, goats, cows and pigs get slaughtered ruthlessly in slaughter houses to appease all our non-vegetarian tummies. Per year, number of bulls or any other animals used for sport or entertainment purposes getting killed is very very negligible. Is this not a misplaced priority in our protest?
One might argue that slaughter of poultry was meant to feed us but using animals for entertainment purpose is not humane. And, we are not getting the consent of the animal to use it for sport or entertainment. Exactly! We are of course getting permission from a cow or chicken or goat before we slaughter it for meat or leather, aren’t we?
One might argue that we are at the top of food chain and hence we ought to be eating the meat, no matter whether we have moral conflicts or not. As per a recent research, we are noway near the top of food chain, we are somewhere below the middle and we are more a herbivore than a carnivore. Our diet still consists of more vegetarian components than non-vegetarian components. Like other predators, we do not hunt and eat. We eat what others had hunted, if we consider factory farming as an innovation of hunting.
In conventional hunting, prey moves in random motion and predator had to use all its available intelligence to catch hold of the prey. But in meat factories, the prey is grown, fed and slaughtered by a third person, who can be a part of predator or not, and is then sold to predators who chew their prey at hotels or at their homes without any intelligence required to hunt it down. Yes, we do have the intelligence to earn money which is required to buy out our processed prey. So, we cannot claim that we are part-carnivore or an omnivore by habit. Unlike our fellow meat-eating animals, we do not eat raw meat. If humans could eat uncooked raw meat, then they can claim that meat eating is natural and humans are omnivores. We are meat eaters by accident and our nearby cousins such as ape, monkeys are still less meat-eaters which proves that we are accidental non-vegetarians.
With so many voices protesting against Jallikattu where there is cruelty but no death and the almost absolute silence over slaughtering of animals for food, does this not expose the hypocrisy of our ‘animal rights’ activists? We get a disclaimer at the end of most of the movies that ‘No animals were harmed in the making of this film’, but we overlook the fact that most of its cast had eaten hundreds of chickens or goats or sea foods during the production of film. Does that not count under ‘harm to animals’? Are the meats that they show in dinner tables in the movie made using animation?
Do the members of Animal Welfare groups not eat meat or use leather purses or belts? They might answer that we are concerned only with the Animal Welfare and not with Animal Rights. They are partly right, because there is a difference between Animal Welfare and Animal Rights.
Animal Welfare Vs Animal Rights
Animal Welfare is ‘the concern about whether animals are well treated and not harmed unnecessarily’. It also means that you can slaughter it for food or leather because that harm falls under ‘necessary’. It also means that ‘you need to take care of animals, feed it and take it to slaughter houses, eat it’. So, Animal Welfare is only about welfare of animals till it is alive and it does not care about the rights of animals. It snatches away the rights of animals and puts it under the brackets of ‘useful to man’ and ‘not useful to man’. Animals that are useful to man like dog, cat gets more attention from Animal Welfare groups than animals that are ‘not useful to man’ like chicken, goat and cattle. So, the groups that cry when dogs are killed and not when cows are slaughtered fall under Animal Welfare group, which asks for good space and proper treatment of animals in slaughter houses, but also suggest the cook to add more spice and treat the meat properly when it lands in their plates.
Animal Rights activism takes from the spot where Animal Welfare activism abandons its cause. Animal Rights group holds the view that animals do have rights and anything done to animal is cruelty. Be it slaughter or for sports or entertainments purposes, they consider that animals should never be stripped off their rights. PETA is one such group which had voiced their support for beef ban and called upon India to ban all its slaughter houses for all kinds of meat. And they have also raised their voice for bull fighting across the world, including Jallikattu in India. In my opinion, only PETA has acted responsibly without any shred of hypocrisy.
Personally, I might go a step ahead than Animal Rights activism and call that ‘domesticating any animal is a violation of their rights’. Dogs had been there in Earth (as non-domesticated Wolf) even before Homo Sapiens strolled and they are very well equipped (thanks to evolution) to take care of themselves. Dogs do not need humans and it is human beings who need dogs. A progeny of any animal can survive without its mother, but a human child alone is helpless at birth. So, if any care and affection needs to be given, it must be to us humans and not to any other animals which came before us. By making a dog or cat your pet, you induce a form of slavery, which can be with chains or without it. If dogs are part of your family, can it inherit your property?
If you can show your concern to animals, why just show it to dog and why not to chicken or goat?
When there is discrimination based on different skin colors of the same human species, it is called Racism. When one discriminates based on the species, it can be called speciesism. We humans who had practiced racism with such ruthlessness in the previous centuries tried to get past that mentality and is now trying to promote concept of ‘One Human race’. But have we ever given a thought about the speciesism prevalent across the world? It is speciesism when you show too much sympathy to a dog, but not to a fowl or cattle. We consider eating dogs as taboo because Britishers considered it. We do not eat horse meat because Britishers did not enjoy Horse meat. Western world treats East Asians who eat dogs with disdain because “dog is a [Christian] man’s best friend”. Applying the same analogy, Hindus can look at Western world with disdain for eating beef, because here “cow is a Hindu man’s best friend”. If you have your empathy flowing for a dog, but not for a more bulky cow, does it not reeks of speciesism? If your heart bleeds when someone tastes tiger meat, but not when someone tastes goat meat, does it not make you a speciesist? If there occurs a movement for speciesism in near future, would not the future activists mock you and call you ‘an uncivilized’ for showing such speciesist attitudes?
At the same rate, Hindus who want to ban just cow meat, but allow mutton and chicken to be served at their own houses, can also be called speciesist. Either ban all animal meat or let all animal meat be devoured by anyone who wants to have it. Freedom to Eat does not mean only certain animals can be slaughtered to appease a particular population, but it means any citizen can eat any animal meat, be it deer or tiger or beef or pork. When you claim ‘Freedom to Eat’ just beef or mutton, but spew fury at those who eat dog or deer, it is pure ‘speciesism’.
This doesn’t make vegetarians more humane, because plants are also living things. Insects and even bacteria are living things. But there is still a difference between animal meat and an apple. Animals whose meat we relish has more or less a similar organ system as us. We share the similar cell structure. But, a plant or insect do not have the similar organ system as us. So, a human eating an animal meat is more or less a group of animal cells eating another group of animal cells, but the same cannot be applied to a human eating any part of plant.
If cows can be slaughtered in a country for feeding a few, why can’t bulls be used for entertaining a few? If goats can be subjected to cruelty for a tradition of few and does not face protest, why protest happens only when bulls are subjected to cruelty for the tradition of few? Are we again involved in selective sympathy for tradition of few and not for tradition of ‘some other’ few? Can we coin this attitude as ‘Discrimitradition’?
Other forms of bull fight
Compared to the bull fighting taking place in Spanish & Portuguese-speaking countries, this Jallikattu does not involve killing the bull. Though this sport definitely involves inflicting minor to major injuries to the bull, very rarely is the bull getting killed as a result. In Spanish form of bull fighting, a bull is first stabbed in the shoulder and back and then finally, the game finishes with bull being stabbed and killed after the bull fight gets over. In Jallikattu, if the bull was not controlled within that short distance, it is declared as the winner and its owner is pampered with gifts. Yet, there is no denial that bulls are subjected to cruelty before and during the sport. But, what about horse racing and polo? What about bullock carts and horse carts? Are we paying those animals or do they have labor laws protecting them? The same logic can be extended to elephants being chained in temples. If all these things are still in practice, then how can Jallikattu alone be banned on the grounds of cruelty to animals? Why not ban all the activities that end up in cruelty to animals without discriminating the usefulness of those animals to human? Is this discrimination not an extension of ‘Us vs They’ which our progressive liberals vehemently oppose?
I do not claim here that animal cruelty should be allowed in the form of any traditional sport. However, I try to raise the hypocrisy in our empathy towards animals and our selective outrage for different forms of cruelty to animals.
So please take some time out and think – are you opposing Jallikattu just because it seems “modern” and “compassionate” to do that? If so, have you thought over the above inherent contradictions in the position you’ve taken? Do you still support a blanket ban without analysing the above issues?
The solution doesn’t lie in banning it altogether, but making it consistent with other issues listed above.