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Bullying the bull

 | January 27, 2012

About 200 men have died in the past 20 years trying to take the bull by its horns, literally.


India’s bullfight has hit the bull’s eye all right. Called Jallikattu and played in Tamil Nadu, it has invited the wrath of animals lovers.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has condemned this sport, an Indian variant of Spanish bullfight, by terming it a stain on the reputation of the world’s most populous democracy.

Ireland’s Animal Rights Action Network will begin a campaign urging tourists to boycott India. Sarcasm drips when the organisation quips that the Tourism Ministry’s campaign should now read “Incredible Cruelty”, not “Incredible India”.

Although advocates of Jallikattu may feel vindicated after the Madras High Court lifted the ban on the game just before the recent Tamil harvest festival of Pongal, the irrefutable fact is that bullfight is both cruel and dangerous.

It is during the days of Pongal that the Tamil Nadu districts of Madurai (also renowned as one of the country’s leading religious centres), Pudukkottai and Ramanathapuram witness a sport that is nothing short of barbaric.

Tens of young men attack angry bulls leading to unnecessary loss of life.  Many are hurt, some are crippled for ever. About 200 men have died in the past 20 years trying to take the bull by its horns, literally.

Yet, these men who battle in a do-or-die mood feel that the blood and gore are worth the risk and the pain.

At the most celebrated Jallikattu in Aranganallur, both the men and the beasts who triumph in the ring win fantastic prizes. What is more, they become heroes and part of  the local folklore with probably every woman falling in love with them.

While the critics of the sport point out how the bulls (nobody knows how many have been butchered) with their horns sharpened are driven to maniacal rage by intoxicating them and stuffing their eyes with red hot chilli powder, the advocates rubbish these by arguing that the animals are looked after well, and the game is an obeisance to the animal, an integral part of the overwhelming large farming community in India.

Curiously, man has always fought animals. First, it was for food. Later, it was for game.

Roughly around 264 BC, Roman gladiators fought one another at the obsequies of Junius Brutus. In 106 AD, gladiators battled beasts: Roman emperor Trajan organised 123 days of gladiator sport in which 10,000 men tussled with wild animals like lions and tigers, killing 11,000 of them.

Often considered an archaic reminiscence of Italic religious rites of human sacrifices once asked by Saturn and other gods, these bloody bouts with animals still continue, despite the world having moved from caves to castles.

Even as men (and women too!) tussle with bulls in Spain, efforts, though in vain, are made to stop such cruelty.

Some years ago, when I was in Madrid, my desire to watch a bullfight was gently, but firmly discouraged by the locals. Somehow, I never got around – or could get around – buying a ticket for a show.

But Jallikattu is not a ticket show. And more the men, the merrier it is.  For, every fighter on the field wants to display his ripping muscles and his Samsonic strength.

A leading Chennai psychiatrist, Dr N Rangarajan, avers that man has always had this inherent urge to show off by “overpowering something”.  This something can be another man, a woman or an animal. And the bull is particularly desirable because it is a symbol of virility.

Bully the bull and be a man!

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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