What Kamal Haasan meant when he said, ‘If you want a ban on jallikattu, ban biriyani too’ is to respect Tamil culture with an open mind

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New Delhi | Published: January 9, 2017 11:25:09 PM

Jallikattu is a hot topic and every educated Indian suddenly has an opinion on this. Are you wondering why every Indian including those who love their plate of fish, lamb and beef are suddenly talking about protecting animals?

Kamal Haasan is known as one of the most progressive voices in Indian cinema - so why has he taken this stand on Jallikkattu? (Reuters)Kamal Haasan is known as one of the most progressive voices in Indian cinema – so why has he taken this stand on Jallikkattu? (Reuters)

Jallikattu is a hot topic and every educated Indian suddenly has an opinion on this. Are you wondering why every Indian including those who love their plate of fish, lamb and beef are suddenly talking about protecting animals? Here’s a clue – Kamal Haasan’s statement.

When an iconic actor like Kamal Haasan states that jallikattu is not harmful, that it has always been a part of Tamil Nadu’s culture and that he loves ”jallikattu’, you can bet that he is not talking about something he has no idea about. He knows that what he has said will have widespread political implications. However, Kamal Haasan did not shy away from stating what he felt strongly about. And yes, the topic will trend for days and provoke extreme and mixed reactions from people.

Kamal Haasan also stated, “If you want a ban on jallikattu, ban biriyani too.”

This statement has again triggered extreme and mixed reactions – a lot of people would want to slam the iconic actor for speaking his mind, even the Left-centric and liberal individuals who repeatedly pitch for “freedom of expression” in the country.

Now, why would an iconic actor who is credited with a sharp and intelligent mind, make a controversial statement supporting jallikkattu? Animal activists, hold your rants. Kamal Haasan is not against animal rights nor is the actor propagating anything against or for any religion or political party.

Kamal Haasan is known as one of the most progressive voices in Indian cinema – so why has he taken this stand on Jallikkattu? He is voicing the pulse of the people of Tamil Nadu and presenting a different alternative to the main narrative presented by animal rights activists and others who oppose jallikkattu.

Also, how many of us understand what Jallikattu is? If we think that it is just a bull-fighting sport as bloody as the one in Spain, we are not grasping the concept entirely. With a completely incorrect comparison, we kill the debate altogether.

What exactly is jallikkattu? Firstly, it is unique to Tamil Nadu, which is why urban India may not quite understand its rural significance.

The word “Jallikkattu” comes from the Tamil word “callikkattu” whereby “calli” means coins and “kattu” means package. Jallikkattu refers to silver or gold coins tied on the bull’s horns and in olden times, people used to fight to get the money placed around the horn and that used to be equated as an act of bravery. Later, it became a form of sport, namely, a bull racing event.

Many Tamilians support ”jallikkattu” as a cultural celebration of their community.
Here are some arguments they put forward to justify it:

1. Bull owners invest in the upkeep of their bulls – which means they spend money, human resources and more to maintain their bulls in good condition. Think rationally – why would they want to squander away their investment by letting these bulls get mauled brutally?

2. Jallikkattu is not celebrated every day or every week – it is celebrated during the Pongal festival, which is Tamil Nadu’s traditional harvest festival. On the day of Mattu Pongal, the bulls are worshipped, decorated and then taken for Jallikkattu – a bull racing event. This time-tested custom did not envisage any acts of cruelty to the bulls because it had one man to bravely fight and tame a bull in front of the audience. Over the years, it became a cultural event and a sport.

3. A ban on jallikattu would be a death knell for the native cattle species because livestock keepers will be forced to stop raising native livestock.

4. Losing native livestock is detrimental for the economy as a whole. Wondering why? Self-sufficiency in dairy production will go for a toss and hit rural jobs.

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5. Who will benefit if jallikkattu is banned? Many Tamilians say that it is the private dairy companies that will benefit because they can get away without native livestock breeding and opt for an easier short cut – enter the dairy industry with imported foreign breeds.

6. Every bull is registered with the concerned authorities with details of the owner provided? In fact, the jallikkattu participants have to be checked by a government official. If the purpose of jallikkattu is to have the bulls badly mauled and killed, why would owners details be registered with the authorities or the bulls examined by officials?

For Tamilians, jallikkattu has everything to do with the celebration of their unique cultural identity, it is a celebration of their beliefs, their evolution of rural communities that have lived for centuries together in a state of harmony and the rare coming together of farmers and rural traders at a grand annual event.

Cultural symbolism is integral to the Tamilian way of life. Respect Tamil Nadu’s culture with an open mind – this is what Kamal Haasan has conveyed by nailing it aptly with his powerful statement, “If you want a ban on jallikattu, ban biriyani too.”

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