There has been national outcry in Southern India as protests against a bull-taming ban have reached critical levels. The sport, jallikattu, involves a bull being released into a crowd of people who then attempt to grab its hump and hold on until the bull comes to a standstill – but claims of severe animal cruelty in the sport led to a ban on the sport in 2014.
Triggered by the initial arrest of 200 pro-jallikattu protesters, the movement has spread from its origins in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai to as far as Singapore, a city which has strict restrictions on public protests and has acted with intolerance towards activists.
The protests have become a leading priority for political leaders, who were eventually pressured into temporarily legalising the sport last week – a move which came to no avail. As protesters continued to be met with what they believed to be unnecessary police aggression, some began to change their tactics.
Protesters have refused to back down, having “torched a police station and pelted officers with rocks after being forcibly removed from a beach in the state capital of Chennai” as reported by the South China Morning Post.
Vishal Vijay, a Singaporean national in Chennai at the time on business, claims that “the city has come to a standstill, with business shut and traffic clogged up, the effects of which don’t really benefit anyone”. Some are even calling it India’s Arab Spring.
The initial decision to instate the ban emerged from the Animal Welfare Board of India’s plea to the Supreme Court urging that the distress, injury and also often fatality it posed to the bulls had become cruel to a point that it no longer aligned with the country’s position on animal rights and welfare.
This is a position which has been heavily supported by the likes of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who have stressed torture methods used to ready bulls for the sport, including intoxication with alcohol and chillies rubbed into their eyes. While many argue that this only occurs in a handful of isolated instances and that the bulls are by and large well cared for, supporters of the ban are not so sure.
It is important to recognise the weight that this ban bears on Tamil culture. The jallikattu contests are a ritualised practice which has been around for 2,000 years, providing many with occupation and sport. In incurring the ban, the government has taken away people’s livelihoods, and this is where the true problem lies.
The widespread anger has a lot less to do with bull-taming and a lot more to do with the state of the wider Indian political climate than first impressions might suggest. It is a protest against long-standing incongruity between the politicians and the people as much as it is about the bull-fights.
According to Sayitha Moorthy, a researcher in Chennai associated with the Observer Research Foundation think tank, “the jallikattu protest is a manifestation of Tamil angst against the establishment over a number of longstanding issues”. This includes the government’s neglect to initiate essential dam-building projects to aid farmers in dire need of improved access to water on their land.
As jallikattu also provides farmers with trade in rearing the bulls, the agricultural industry has been left feeling like an afterthought by political leaders. Moreover, the recent currency ban, leaving millions out of pocket, has left no shortage of ill-will and angst among the Indian population.
The Indian government has found itself in a powerless position against the force of the masses. What had begun as a contained, peaceful protest has since erupted into chaos.
Both the protestors and those who oppose them have plenty to say, and plenty to be considered by their government. What is missing, and what is causing such great anger and disruption, is a severe lack of communication between the government and the population and a swift resolution is not in sight.
Image: Wikimedia Commons