At the core of the present row over Jallikattu lies a question of morality and subjectivity. That we need to keep a common minimum baseline of reality is of prime importance. Let’s face it, human society has survived and in fact, evolved over ages by means of employing animals for various self-centred purposes. To use the language of conflict, human life is marked with ‘oppression’ of animals in one form or another- for we are aware that some delicacies that end up on our dining table come after having to stab or chop off the head of a sentient animal, not to mention the food grains that are grown by means of employing cattle to painful labour over the fields.
However, the prominence gained by libertarian ideas and philosophy in 17th century Europe, and the consequent proliferation of such thoughts in socio-political life spawned spin-off movements, like in the case of ‘animal rights’. It would be wrong to assume that I intend to look down upon ‘animal rights’ as a movement. On the contrary, being a vegetarian, I have always held that humanity should move in the direction of lesser violence on animals. Regardless, progress cannot be achieved by commenting derogatory words and restricting anything that violates your own magna carta of morality. That, when more obvious and systemic oppression is being meted out to animals in slaughter houses.
It only takes a few clicks to see how hollow the liberal commitments of (il)liberal public figures like Shobhaa de are. One cannot stop contemplating how it is sensible to hold that consuming beef constitutes progress while performing traditional events like jallikattu is “barbaric”.
That Shobhaa de believes that the daily slaughtering of thousands of cattle across the world is morally justifiable while once-in-a-year jallikattu event is “cruel” only shows how individualistic and self-centred the liberal commitments of India’s beloved liberal columnists are.
Jallikattu:Barbaric,brutal,medieval.Must be challenged,banned,no matter what! Betting money of politicians involved in this cruel 'sport'.
— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) January 9, 2016
If it is being felt that exposing the incongruence of the irrelevant comments made by the likes of Shobhaa de cannot be seen as a ‘justification of jallikattu’, the reader is to be reminded at this point that traditional practices are, by and large, more significant for human societies than what modernity and its morality suggests. This is reflected in the position of Shobhaa de herself. For, one can also conceive of a future wherein consumption of animal meat will be seen as ‘barbaric’, as the slowly budding vegan movement in the West already suggests. However, when liberals gloss over vegan arguments against slaughtering animals for food using the token of individual liberty, they should remember that the same principle of liberty applies for communities that engage in traditional events like jallikattu. Besides, the Tamizhans deserve accolades for registering the protest in a peaceful and mature manner by silently assembling at the Marina Beach in Chennai. One can only wish if the elite beef warriors would show the same standard in expressing disagreement.
Apart from this, it is worth to mention that practices like jallikattu crystallized in association with the importance cattle holds for agricultural and pastoral communities in Tamil Nadu. In comparison with the famed bull-fighting sport of Spaniards wherein the bull is slaughtered after the event, jallikattu comes off as a modest practice. That jallikattu should be seen distinct from the animal rights discourse against Spanish bull-fighting and the larger vegan accusations on non-vegetarianism stems from the fact that humans engage with bulls on a level playing field in jallikattu, unlike the treatment of animals merely as a commodity in the meat industry. This tells us that assessing jallikattu through the lens of modernity is wrong approach to begin with. As such, there is ample evidence to suggest that banning jallikattu should not be the priority for animal rights organizations like PETA. But then, so is the case with meat industry. Animals as a food source are as common as petrol as a fuel source. Because eco-friendly and renewal sources exist does not give you the discretion for outright rejection and restriction on petrol.
This takes us to our conclusion. India is a country in which hundreds of communities thrive that is at different levels of progress and possesses their own subjective take on morality. When Shobhaa de terms Tamizhans’ jallikkattu as ‘barbaric’, Vegans would feel the same about her ‘barbaric’ act of consuming animal meat.
However, what people of India have slowly exhibited is the appetite and patience for coexisting within an often compromised, yet highly valued democratic spirit. With the same spirit, it is also strongly felt that Tamizhans who assembled at Marina Beach would also take into account the gory human deaths that happen at jallikattu events. For, loss of human life, in the priority order of morality, comes as an alarm – and transcends the traditional value of the event. It is up to the common Tamilians, the civil society and the State govt there to see to it that jallikattu does not cross the limits ending up in human death. While polytheist (or sometimes ‘pagan’) civilizations like the Greek or the Aztec ones were restricted to the annals of history texts over time, what helped Hindu civilization exist is its openness and the ability to adapt over time.
These adaptations were not results of over-night libertarian nirvana, but convictions imbibed from interaction and discourse. That is why it is important that although the knee-jerk ban on jallikattu has been overridden with the ordinance, it is high time Indians took the quest for social progress from the post-enlightenment Europe’s practice of pitting liberal against conservative towards collective sensitization and consensus-based progress. A prominent yet almost forgotten public intellectual and thinker from the colonial period, Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya, once warned in a lecture about being held captive between an “imaginary progressivism” and “unthinking conservatism”. The discourse on jallikattu presents us with an opportunity to rediscover the principles of mutual respect and democratic discussion through debunking of the mindless hate propaganda of self styled liberals and a consensus building approach in order to discourage the general conservative instinct to overlook wrongs in tradition.