Legitimising sports using animals will increase acts of cruelty
The description of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as anti-India and anti-Hindu by saffron netizens is not surprising in a country which is patently regressing into the earlier centuries where animal rights are concerned.
For instance, the calls for legalising the bull-taming “sport” of Jallikattu, which is said to represent Tamil Nadu’s tradition and culture, have been made since the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s time.
If her interest was to bolster her political position via a show of respect for the “ancient” pastime, the reason why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sided with her — as also with the O. Panneerselvam government at present — is to forge a direct or indirect alliance with the ruling AIADMK in order to secure a foothold in the state’s politics.
That the issue of animal rights will take a back seat as a result of this entanglement of politics with culture is only to be expected.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has lost no time to exploit the heady mixture of electoral calculations — the assembly polls are just over a year away — and support for traditional sports by saying that the state will revive buffalo racing in line with the legitimisation of Jallikattu.
His enthusiasm for the “game” is starkly different from the government’s indifference to the problem of child marriage considering that Karnataka accounts for 23.2 per cent of all the underage marriages in the country.
There are reports that in line with the current trend in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, politicians elsewhere are preparing to breathe life into other such instances of fun and games even if these violate judicial diktats.
Among the currently outlawed sports which may be revived are bullock cart racing in Maharashtra, buffalo fights in Assam and cockfights in Andhra Pradesh.
Since the politicians are generally perceived as corrupt — India is 79th among 176 countries, according to Transparency International — and not seen as being highly educated, it will be naive to expect the rather esoteric subject of animal rights to be high on their list of priorities, given their obsession with winning elections by any means.
But it will be wrong to blame politicians alone. As has been seen in Tamil Nadu, it is not just the unwashed masses who rooted for Jallikattu but also the state’s well-regarded personalities ranging from film stars to chess players to cricketers.
Even the Tamilian anchor of a Delhi-based English news channel went so much overboard in his zeal for tradition that he sided entirely with the pro-Jallikattu crowd in Chennai’s Marina beach and berated the PETA for not listening to the voice of the people.
There was not the slightest attempt to present what is known in the profession as “the other side”, which would have included the charges about the tails of the bulls being twisted or even broken prior to their entry into the “sporting” arena to enrage them and of chilly powder being put into their eyes.
The supporters of Jallikattu claim that the “sport” provides an incentive to villagers to rear strong bulls — much like the Roman practice of favouring brawny gladiators for the purpose of entertaining spectators with their fighting prowess. The supporters say that these cattle breeds will die out if Jallikattu is outlawed.
In support of their case, a former cricketer said that the bulls are treated like “children” or the “gods” much like what is said about women being worshipped in India notwithstanding the palpable threats they face on the streets.
As it is, the very fact that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is only half-a-century old shows that the concept of being kind to animals is a new one.
According to Wikipedia, the idea owes much to a 1965 article by novelist Brigid Brophy, where she stated that “the relationship of homo sapiens (humans) to the other animals is one of unremitting exploitation. We employ their work; we eat and wear them”.
Official and non-official efforts have been made, therefore, at least to restrict, if not put an end to, the use of animals for food, clothing, medical research and entertainment. Even as there are no easy answers to the vegetarian vs non-vegetarian debate, the ban on shahtoosh shawls and mink coats shows that some progress has been made to limit the killing of chirus (Tibetan antelopes) and of minks for making clothes.
It is the entertainment aspect, however, which is of immediate interest if only because it represents a backward step towards a time when kindness towards dumb creatures was considered an oddity, if not contemptuously derided. The absence of other forms of entertainment in the earlier centuries evidently led to such sports being encouraged.
It is to India’s credit that it was quicker off the block than other countries to penalise the acts of cruelty towards animals. However, as the Humane Society International has pointed out, the law has been largely ineffective because of the paltry sums which it has prescribed for offenders.
Now, the scene can get worse if the animal sports are legitimised.
(Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)