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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.