Nandi Ethics: When Newkirk Found Jallikattu

For those who are aware of it, this past week (specifically January 14th and 15th) was generally a time for celebration–Thai Pongal Usually, in my own family, this just means pongal rice, a “Happy Thai Pongal, darling!” from various overseas relatives and thus it remains one of those ever-dwindling, absolutely pure links to my childhood. Or so I thought. Another part of the festivities in India, aside from thanking Bhumi Devi for the year’s bounty, involves the snatching of treats and trinkets from the body of a bewildered bull by people one could only describe as foolhardy. In my militant lacto-vegetarian days, quite unaware of the hypocrisy in animal ethics this stance represented, on trips abroad I would often attempt to shame my poor relatives who were trying to enjoy their egg/chicken/mutton in peace. Like the loving relatives that they were, they indulged my illogical rantings and kept on eating the Bambi/Babe/Nemo till the loud belches that signify true satisfaction were heard.

I often equate PETA with the crusader of my childhood, running into any ideological fray with shrill and often crass symbolic protestations of what they see as intolerable injustices. In the case of Jallikattu, however, I’m a bit more charitable towards their latest (via Newstab) stunt: blindfolding a statue of Gandhi in Coimbatore, to shield him from this rather pathetic scene:

To be clear, Jallikattu seems to involve no spears or other sharpened instruments used to slowly break the will of an animal better suited to eating/mating/sleeping than mortal combat and it is also very dissimilar to the American rodeo, where riders attempt to hold on for a few wretched seconds or lasso a smaller animal. It does, however, represent a set of questions for us all:

  1. How effective can Ingrid Newkirk be in influencing the people who enjoy Jallikattu to gradually abandon this practice? I am permanently struck by the parallel of Margaret Sanger getting the semi-cold shoulder from Gandhi and finding a more sympathetic ear in Nehru and Tagore.

  2. What does she think when she sees the villagers shouting and clapping and hopping with glee every time the bull nearly misses a jumki-snatching bravo?

  3. If you disapprove, what organizations in India will stump for the bull? I certainly did not read about the Hindutva crowd running to rescue Nandi-ji from the spectacle or to break Ingrid out of jail.

  4. If you don’t give a toss, or like a good bull-baiting, what’s the utilitarian value that one derives from this practice? There are innumerable adrenaline-generating activities to puff the chest, firm the upper lip and improve the posture that don’t involve a whiff of animal cruelty.

  5. Descriptions of Jallikattu in the western press are beginning to incorporate charges of feeding alcohol to the bulls and introducing chilli powder to various orifices(nose, mouth, ears) in an effort to spice up the baiting. Is there any Jallikattu enthusiast who can verify this?

Personally, I hold no great love for the baiting of animals for sport/kicks/reaffirming your place in the food chain. I would be far more impressed if the participants were tangling with a Belgian Blue, an Elephant or Tatiana. But then, of course, there would have been far too many human deaths for the activity to be ongoing and popular.

143 thoughts on “Nandi Ethics: When Newkirk Found Jallikattu

  1. About the practice, yes it sounds quite cruel, but part of me is amused by just how badass a tradition it is. Bet you can’t beat it northies; and don’t tell me about your bhaang-drinking during holi. It doesn’t come close.

    I recall Rang De Basanti showing some sort of Punjabi folk contest where Aamir Khan rides a pony (and not in that way). Of course, the scene duly irritated some people who asked for it to be excised.

  2. Fitty says

    Yes.. unlike those who live in the west, who buy their meat in Styrofoam packets ,….

    dude! I think a lot of your commentary was sarcasm. It’s too deep for me man and I didnt understand. My point boils down to that I dont see have any issues, moral or legal, with jallikatu. I am not even sure if it is cruel to bulls if the rest of the year is spent bulking/training them up for the event. If it is a socially regressive/ primitive practice, then that judgement is best left to those who are part of the society. Peta has no business to meddle in it.

  3. 3. You support the humane treatment of animals until they are butchered for food or clothing or used as beasts of burden where no other option is available. (yes or no). I assumed that your answers to the above 3 questions are “yes” and asked you to add “jallikattu” to the list of things you supported since no other option is available as of this moment. WHAA? Food, clothing, shelter, and jalikattu are now the basic necessities of mankind?

    WHAA the mapping of “food / clothing” is OK, but “shelter” unfortunately cannot be mapped to being a “beast of burden”. These are portmanteau’s words (and since she bailed out and you are taking up her cudgels), maybe you can try to explain why it is Ok to be used as a beast of burden in “unavoidable” circumstances and not Ok to be used in “jallikattu”

  4. This argument doesn’t make sense to me; are you saying that bulls/cows have the capacity to voluntarily and knowingly get drunk and then voluntarily put pepper up their noses? The “safety” argument seems to be the least important, really. I am totally unfamiliar with jallikattu, but this doesn’t sound like kabaddi; it sounds more analogous to the running of the bulls.

    It would be nice to add the quotes related to my comments. That was in reply to this

    There is lots of support in Tamil Nadu for banning Jallikattu. The issue comes up every year, even among religious leaders. It’s not as if PETA is the first on the scene. Beyond what farm hands to do bulls (the descriptions in point #5, about the alcohol and the chilly powder, are accurate) participants are maimed and killed in these events.

    There are two strands of arguments. Let me try to simplify.

    A. Jallikattu is against animal rights. (concerning animals) B. Jallikattu is injurious to the participants and onlookers. (concerning human beings)

    The opponents can be grouped into three categories. Opponents of jallikattu who oppose 1) for reason A. 2) for reason B. 3) for reasons A and B.

    From your comments, it looks like you fall into the category 1. So arguments to refute category 2 people won’t make sense to you. For you I think comment no. 53 would apply.

    you make so many exceptions, why not add one more, atleast in this case the animal is not killed and treated with respect before and after the game

    And for some extra convincing refer the Newyork Times article by the “travel reporter”.

    I think I should quit the “code coolie” job and sign up for a “law” course.

  5. WHAA the mapping of “food / clothing” is OK, but “shelter” unfortunately cannot be mapped to being a “beast of burden”. These are portmanteau’s words (and since she bailed out and you are taking up her cudgels), maybe you can try to explain why it is Ok to be used as a beast of burden in “unavoidable” circumstances and not Ok to be used in “jallikattu”

    PS, since clearly it is the word shelter that you take issue with, I will amend the word to “livelihood”, if you prefer. And, of course, lest we forget, the use of animals as beasts of burden causes them as much suffering as the wounding they undergo during jallikattu, so it is impossible to distinguish the two scenarios.

    This argument is degenerating into pin-land, though, if all we are debating is the right category to lump “beasts of burden” under, and you see no qualitative difference between that necessity, and the entertainment of jallikattu.

  6. Since there have been language issues in this thread, I should specify that the second sentence of my previous comment is meant sarcastically.

  7. Chiming in very late.

    Some of us here may remember Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola (I was thirteen when it happened). Following that crash, there was some moderately heated debate about whether Formula One (and some other types of motor racing) should be banned or not. In the end, it was decided to keep it going, mainly due to concerns that banning it would push it underground, throwing all safety practices out the window [and also not making any money for the FIA].

    I will only offer this caveat: whatever you may feel about Jallikattu (or Formula One for that matter), whatever it is that disturbs you, it will not be solved or eliminated by banning it. If you really want to keep it reasonably safe and humane, it’s probably better to go with regulation, either legally-driven or self-imposed.

  8. The problem is that you cannot dictate the farmers / rural youth what is necessary and what is not, that too based on flimsy evidence. Again, not to be over repetitive, this sport is not a “gladiatorial sport” where one party or the other gets killed. Asking for better healthcare / humane treatment sounds fine and I support it. But asking for a ban is taking it too far. This is a fun sport and there is nothing wrong with it.

    I wonder how many of you have had the experience of your milkman celebrating the birth of a new “kannukutti” (calf) and sharing with you the “first milk” (ofcourse after providing for the calf). I should admit that it is very tasty and full of nutrients. They take good care of the cows (it is their livelihood). As “pamaran” commented earlier, cows and bulls are part of the farming family in the village and there is no reason to suspect they illtreat the bulls for “jallikattu”.

  9. I think the history of modern India shows, if you care about the bulls, banning jallikattu is NOT the way to go.

  10. 110 · nala said

    I think the history of modern India shows, if you care about the bulls, banning jallikattu is NOT the way to go.

    are you referring to some other incident/practice, nala? i’m not sure i get what you mean :(

  11. and thus it remains one of those ever-dwindling, absolutely pure links to my childhood.

    Quite apart from the controversy about the bulls, I found the above line to be compelling and thought-provoking; although I can’t think of a SPECIFIC example right now (it’s kind of late), but I do have a GENERAL sense that many links to my childhood have dwindled. And I think that if you extrapolate that to India as a whole (although I didn’t grow up there), or even to ABDs such as myself, many of us might have that feeling…that links to our cultural past are fast-dwindling. Does anyone want to expand or share on that?

  12. The problem is that you cannot dictate the farmers / rural youth what is necessary and what is not, that too based on flimsy evidence.

    I find this argument more compelling for things like the whale or seal hunts which seem essential to the livelihood of the tribal peoples, but far more slippery when it comes to cultural practices that are more for sport or entertainment. As for evidence that this sport is harmful to bulls and that they are subjected to various kinds of violence in an attempt to make it exciting, it is certainly not flimsy. Overstate the essentialness or necessity of Jallikattu, or minimizing the negative impact on the animals, is not a done thing in this Animal Farm.

    You might claim, as you do, that this level of injury to animals is acceptable to give humans a fun time. If that is your position, so be it, but many reasonable people will disagree.

    I wonder how many of you have had the experience of your milkman celebrating the birth of a new “kannukutti” (calf) and sharing with you the “first milk” (ofcourse after providing for the calf). I should admit that it is very tasty and full of nutrients. They take good care of the cows (it is their livelihood). As “pamaran” commented earlier, cows and bulls are part of the farming family in the village and there is no reason to suspect they illtreat the bulls for “jallikattu”.

    When I have visited, I have also seen milkmen who promptly separate the calf from the lactating cow, and instead keep its milk production stimulated with a straw calf effigy. So, let’s not make milkmen out to be messianic in their devotion to their cows, or being a Jallikatu bull the bovine ideal.

    What I do think, and I have said this earlier, is that, in general, making Jallikatu a lightning rod issue is unproductive because it is not a daily or regular occurence, and this fight, even if successful, will have only minimal impact on the plight of livestock in India.

    I think the history of modern India shows, if you care about the bulls, banning jallikattu is NOT the way to go.

    Your comment about why banning is perverse - how come it is not in verse?

  13. are you referring to some other incident/practice, nala? i’m not sure i get what you mean :(

    I mean in the sense that government intervention isn’t very effective in general.

  14. Your comment about why banning is perverse - how come it is not in verse?

    I just realized that #110 rhymed, damn it, it’s like my brain is stuck in time. Shame on you for not catching it, Rahul, as punishment I think you should befriend a bull.

  15. … milkman celebrating the birth of a new “kannukutti” (calf) and sharing with you the “first milk” (ofcourse after providing for the calf). I should admit that it is very tasty and full of nutrients.

    that reminds me of a friend telling me why he was REALLY excited about having another kid.

  16. As for evidence that this sport is harmful to bulls and that they are subjected to various kinds of violence in an attempt to make it exciting, it is certainly not flimsy. Overstate the essentialness or necessity of Jallikattu, or minimizing the negative impact on the animals, is not a done thing in this Animal Farm.

    Did you read the Newyork Times report?. Veterinary doctors are put in place to check the condition of the animals before and after the game. Actually I have highlighted the comment in #44. Looks like I need to repeat it again and again and again and…

    But that was before the death of the 14-year-old boy prompted a chorus of criticisms from newspaper editors, lawmakers and activists who complained that the sport was backward, dangerous, a violation of animals’ rights and detrimental to India’s modernizing image. This year, medical checkups were given to bullfighters and bulls, doctors were on call to treat injuries and two tiers of shoulder-high bamboo fences were erected between the bullfighters and spectators.

    Aren’t you overstating the negative impact on the animals. Is that a done thing in your version of the Animal Farm ?.

  17. 117 · khoofia said

    … I should admit that it is very tasty and full of nutrients.
    that reminds me of a friend telling me why he was REALLY excited about having another kid.

    I do think babies are sweet, and none so tough that a little boiling won’t fix, but really, khoof, wasn’t your friend being a bit too macabre?

  18. … milkman celebrating the birth of a new “kannukutti” (calf) and sharing with you the “first milk” (ofcourse after providing for the calf). I should admit that it is very tasty and full of nutrients. that reminds me of a friend telling me why he was REALLY excited about having another kid.

    The technical word is “colostrum”. milk secreted for a few days after parturition and characterized by high protein and antibody content.

  19. 119 · Rahul said

    I do think babies are sweet, and none so tough that a little boiling won’t fix, but really, khoof, wasn’t your friend being a bit too macabre?

    You ass :-)

  20. More info. on colostrum

    It turns out that when an elderly person drinks colostrum, even though the cow has not been specifically treated, the person’s immune system is greatly improved, and it is the recognition factor which is improved.

    I doubt if the villagers / milkmen know all this technical stuff. But they do know that it’s good for humans and supply this to their clients. It is called a different name (I forgot the name, maybe “kadum paal” ).

  21. the rest – fasts, observances for widows, dietary restrictions, sacrifices, appeasing brahmins, donations to religious causes rather than to charity – i don’t care for.

    come on, port – are you not counting down the days to karva chauth 2008?

    khoofia – yowza ;)

    Quite apart from the controversy about the bulls, I found the above line to be compelling and thought-provoking; although I can’t think of a SPECIFIC example right now (it’s kind of late), but I do have a GENERAL sense that many links to my childhood have dwindled. And I think that if you extrapolate that to India as a whole (although I didn’t grow up there), or even to ABDs such as myself, many of us might have that feeling…that links to our cultural past are fast-dwindling. Does anyone want to expand or share on that?

    interesting. would this in and of itself be compelling enough to argue against a ban? i don’t think i have anything to contribute either way, since many have made convincing assertions throughout this thread. even though i’ve been to india numerous times for pongal (and always in our village), i have never seen jallikattu, nor i am complaining about that fact. though, re childhood traditions – i associate pongal largely with being forced to keep my grandfather company in front of the cauldron, essentially leading to tearful and burning eyes for hours at a stretch. still, it’s my favourite indian holiday :)

  22. Did you read the Newyork Times report?. Veterinary doctors are put in place to check the condition of the animals before and after the game.

    Thanks for repeating it again and again and again, PS. I too have read it again and again and again. While this article paints a (relatively) rosy picture of the bull run in the primary location, Alanganallur, in 2007, even a cursory Google search of “jallikattu 2008″ brings up several articles about maulings, injuries and deaths of humans in a variety of other locations.

    Forgive me for not sharing your touching faith in humanity and not believing that the monitored and restricted behavior in Alanganallur, which will be used by the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow the event to continue in future years, is representative of the restraint that folks elsewhere exercised and will exercise in their treatment of these animals, especially in the specific aspect that contributes to the visceral thrill and excitement of the event. Or maybe it is just easier on our conscience, and for marketing this event to cling to the romanticized image of man’s relationship with cows presented by our beloved Sooperstar. I am the milkman and I have come now to sing praises of the noble cow. If you give it grass, it will give you milk, Brother, are you of the same ilk?

    (and so on. nala, howeezit?)

  23. (and so on. nala, howeezit?)

    rahul, please stop baiting my freestyle, especially when attached to a comment so full of guile. you located those articles and the rajni clip so seamlessly, i’m tempted to believe that you maneuvered the youtube/google merger single-handedly.

    btw, does naan = cow, and dhaan = milk? i think i have it totally wrong.

  24. 39 · Preston said

    were injured. Police complain about the inability to control

    There’s lot of interest in getting rid of our underperforming politicians, but then their continuity is necessary for our cultural dna. Similarly, please don’t get rid of Jallikattu.

  25. Or maybe it is just easier on our conscience, and for marketing this event to cling to the romanticized image of man’s relationship with cows presented by our beloved Sooperstar.

    Come on Rahul,

    It’s “intellectual snobbery” to give weightage to some foreign dude “Kant” on his views on “moral status” of animals and ignore our local “thalaivar” Rajini Kant and our “captain” Vijay Kant. :-)

  26. 83 · mirabilis said

    mirabi

    Good. Keep telling yourself that when you comment on my next post. And the next…and the next…and the next…Obsessive critics are, in a very twisted way, some of a blogger’s best fans.

  27. Am I the only one who finds the anti-high-risk-behavior comments unsettling? This is a very American perspective and should not be thrust upon all humanity, specially based on moral grounds. In any case, my personal ideal includes risk, high risk, and even folly – not in exchange for glory or anything but just because life wouldn’t be worth living without a little bit of madness thrown in for good measure.

    That said, I wasn’t able to watch the entire clip and agree with the comments that call for regulation and humane treatment of animals.

  28. In this sport (custom, tradition, whatever), you can’t feel bad about injuries or deaths to people who deliberately chose to be there. On the other hand if some innocent dude was just walking down the street minding his own business and suddenly gets gored because he forgot that it was jallikattu day, THEN we have a problem. Or if someone gets gored because the bulls get out of control and enter an area where they are not supposed to be.

  29. 123 · ak said

    come on, port – are you not counting down the days to karva chauth 2008?

    i’m north indian, but some folks don’t do karva chauth, although they did say, kant sometimes helps your morals. pardon me, if northie shorty pass on sooperstar’s froth; i’d say more, but ain’t in the mood for prolonged quarrels. as for risks, they be the spiky masala in my daily broth but it’s not fair to hurt, in a personal quest for laurels.

    nice that you’re back, ak genuine welcome, not jk.

  30. 129 · Divya said

    Am I the only one who finds the anti-high-risk-behavior comments unsettling? This is a very American perspective and should not be thrust upon all humanity, specially based on moral grounds. In any case, my personal ideal includes risk, high risk, and even folly – not in exchange for glory or anything but just because life wouldn’t be worth living without a little bit of madness thrown in for good measure. That said, I wasn’t able to watch the entire clip and agree with the comments that call for regulation and humane treatment of animals.

    That risk-averse attitude has been cultivated by the litigiousness of the american context–alot of jobs in the insurance industry, for example, wouldn’t exist but for the liability issues that the litigiousness generates.

    I think Amitabh stated the middle-ground moral position very well and i will extrapolate that to policy prescription: we can’t make sweeping regulatory changes on the behalf of people who know it’s dangerous and attend anyways.

    I do wonder how you can tell if a bull/cow is having fun. Even after you remove the chilli powder and alcohol goads from the situation, does the bull really have fun chasing the participants?

  31. i’m north indian, but some folks don’t do karva chauth, although they did say, kant sometimes helps your morals. pardon me, if northie shorty pass on sooperstar’s froth; i’d say more, but ain’t in the mood for prolonged quarrels. as for risks, they be the spiky masala in my daily broth but it’s not fair to hurt, in a personal quest for laurels.

    we’re from the south, so no karva chath for me but i doubt that i would observe even if i were punjabi pati-vrata and all that is not in my logic i’d rather have a man who serves me gin and tonic!

    port, i’m not really back – work has made me ‘demote’ myself into more of a lurker, at best. but nice to know that i was missed, and that, too, by you.

  32. I do wonder how you can tell if a bull/cow is having fun. Even after you remove the chilli powder and alcohol goads from the situation, does the bull really have fun chasing the participants?

    I remember from times begone, A bull could chase you for no reasons but his own. Yet it is hard to surmise, For say, who would it surprise, If he didn’t do it for fun, but for exercise.

  33. Louisiana just banned cockfighting. This hasn’t stopped folks from carrying on the practise illegally. Nor have dog fights been appropriately taken care of; poor little puppies are often thrown out of speeding cars on highways once their owners’ operation is shut down.

    People are dumb.

  34. it’s a poor man’s roller coaster. sad to see the hindu-baiting continue here nonstop.

  35. 137 · jkhtgghilj;l said

    sad to see the hindu-baiting continue here nonstop.

    Dearest troll, prithee enlighten us as to exactly where you see evidence of this alleged persecution of our kind, aside from the flame-bait you’ve pulled out of your ass?

  36. Here is a good clip of Jallikattu in progress. You watch. You decide. I find it immature and I am usually an immature person, especially the way they keep making the bull turn around in circles. But it does not make me lose sleep.

  37. Apparently they do this sort of thing in Colombia, too:

    NYTimes article

    The rural poor, the urban unemployed, testosterone-filled adolescents, drifters, shopkeepers, mechanics — as long as they are undaunted by the possibility of severe injury or death — enter an arena on Sincelejo’s outskirts made from lumber and discarded pieces of wood. From 2 to 6 p.m. each day in the ring, hundreds of these “manteros,” including a handful of women, waved red capes advertising spirits (Harris Whisky, anyone?) or the candidacies of local politicians. One middle-aged man ran around the arena dressed in a yellow Speedo. Another participant, a transvestite, wore a miniskirt and green knee socks. Others lighted small fires in the ring, brewing coffee as if they were at a picnic. One man wandered the ring with a sign that said, “If you like war, send your son to war.”
    Anthropologists say the corralejas reflect a rigid social hierarchy, with the rich amusing themselves by watching the poor risk their lives. But the festivals, thought to date to the first half of the 19th century, go deeper than that.
  38. it is 2010 and yet bulls have died in name of sport and entertainment. it is an irony that man prays to this creature and also tortures it to death

  39. I usually cheer for the bulls. Especially the bulls in Spain and other countries that have bull fights.

  40. People suck:

    From that NYT articles in #140 “…The ring was more like a battlefield than a picnic. Periodically, a bull was released into the crowd, a total of 40 bulls over the four hours. The bulls were harassed by about two dozen horsemen carrying barbed sticks called banderillas, used to prod them into lunging madly into the throng. This worked well, resulting in many wounded manteros.

    The bulls are not killed in the corralejas as they typically are in bullfights in Colombia. But if a bull is exhausted or, as often happens, tripped up by a rope held by the participants, the crowd swarms in, pelting it with rocks, kicking it, slapping it, spitting on it and pulling its tail.

    Observing this in the stands are cattlemen and others of the moneyed classes. They throw 2,000-peso notes (about $1) and bottles of rum to the most popular manteros…”

    The Jallikattu seems closer to American rodeos http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallikattu , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodeo