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A stand against reason

Risk-taking, possible grievous injury and testing the limits of physical and mental exhaustion
have always been part of competitive sport, and the resultant tension has held the imagination
of participants and spectators alike. But the participants have a choice in partaking in the risk
and are aware of the consequences — intended or unintended — of their actions even as they
engage in the sport with adequate precautions and take steps to mitigate unnecessary risks.
Jallikattu, the popular bull “taming” sport conducted every year during the “Pongal season”
in Tamil Nadu, also engages young participants and spectators in a violent and irrational
risktaking endeavour, requiring the taming of a raging bull at the risk of even fatal injury. Yet
the bull itself is a “silent” participant, goaded into frenzy in this “sport” and subjected
deliberately to gruesome injury in the process. The rush of adrenaline, in fact, drives
participants to abandon caution, and many get gored, resulting in violent injuries and even
deaths. Spectators are not spared either as the temporary barricades that separate them from
the bull run are mostly weak and unsteady. Jallikattu might be a popular tradition having
evolved from a single manbull combat in the past to the random spectacle that it is today, but
that it is both irrational and against animal rights is beyond question.
In a judgment last year, the Supreme Court for this very reason had banned jallikattu along
with bullock cart races in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, ignoring the argument for tradition
and “culture”. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Tamil Nadu government has urged the
Centre to pass legislation — even through the route of promulgation of an ordinance — to
amend the laws for the conduct of jallikattu. Surprisingly, Union Environment Minister
Prakash Javadekar has responded positively to this request. Traditional belief systems and
customs have been invoked by proponents of jallikattu to seek revocation of the ban. Only
those aspects of the customary rituals that put the wellbeing of participants and animals at
disproportionate risk were considered in the Supreme Court decision in banning jallikattu. It
would have been appropriate for the Tamil Nadu government to absorb this reasoning and
explain it to rural youth who have complained about the loss of their traditional “sport”;
instead, it has acceded to irrational demands and sought to have the ban overturned.
Dominant political forces in the State of Tamil Nadu had, in the previous century, sought to
contest irrational tradition by espousing rational values. The ideological decay and loss of
fervour in promoting such values is evident in the recent plea made by the State government
and the support this has received from opposition parties. The festive atmosphere during
Pongal and the traditions of community bonding and competition can still be easily retained
without the irrational practice of jallikattu.