1. Jallikattu ban: Choosing sides in this debate is a Sisyphean task

Jallikattu ban: Choosing sides in this debate is a Sisyphean task

Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s version of ‘running of the bulls’ that has been banned by the Supreme Court, is back in the limelight once more.

By: | Published: January 11, 2017 6:25 AM
There is no doubt that jallikattu, translated as bull-hugging, is a cultural phenomenon singular to Tamil Nadu as is camel racing to Rajasthan or Gujarat or ritual animal sacrifice in Assam, none of the latter being banned practices. (PTI) There is no doubt that jallikattu, translated as bull-hugging, is a cultural phenomenon singular to Tamil Nadu as is camel racing to Rajasthan or Gujarat or ritual animal sacrifice in Assam, none of the latter being banned practices. (PTI)

Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s version of ‘running of the bulls’ that has been banned by the Supreme Court, is back in the limelight once more. Those who have batted for the “sport”, have usually done so saying it is part of the state’s culture—much in the manner gory bull-fights and Pamplona’s running of the bulls are in Spain or rodeo is in parts of the US. While chief minister O Panneerselvam has written to the prime minister—just days before the southern state celebrates Pongal—saying that the ban be revoked (through an ordinance, for now), cinema-star Kamal Haasan has weighed in on the issue saying he is a “proud Tamilian” and jallikattu is part of “our culture”. Haasan has even called for a ban on biriyani if the ban on jallikattu is to continue. There is also the argument that culling of weaker bulls is essential for ensuring a healthy gene-pool, and the sport helps identify the weaker bulls.

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There is no doubt that jallikattu, translated as bull-hugging, is a cultural phenomenon singular to Tamil Nadu as is camel racing to Rajasthan or Gujarat or ritual animal sacrifice in Assam, none of the latter being banned practices. The opposition centred on the danger to human life and health it poses—some runners will get gored—also falls flat given such danger is a part of other cultural or sporting feats, from the dahi handi celebrations and cheer-leading formations to the Produnova vault in gymnastics. So, if we celebrate risk-taking in one, we can’t really condemn it in the case of the other, can we? At the same time, it does involve difficult questions over ethical or humane treatment of animals—something that is complicated further by the documented violation of the provisions (on no injuring or kicking the animal) of the Tamil Regulation of Jallikattu Act. There is also the problem of animals being bred exclusively for the purpose of jallikattu. Choosing sides in this debate is a Sisyphean task.

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  1. K
    Jan 21, 2017 at 7:12 am
    Hi, this is not only for culture & ideny you need to look more. "Guys, I have had doubts related to how Jallikattu can help with preservation of native breeds and why can't breeders raise these even without events like Jallikattu. I was curious and enquired many people who were supporting Jallikattu. The answers that I got like it helps with financing the bull were not convincing. The only convincing answer in favor of Jallikattu was that it must be held for cultural reasons which most of the people parroted. But none of them were able to point me out to the actual reasons why this was beneficial. The videos that I was pointed out to described in great detail the advantages of A2 milk and how the preservation of native breeds which have the gene for producing A2 milk is important but none of them addressed the important question - How does Jallikattu help in their preservation and what is in it for native breeders. After seeing Senapathy's replies in an interview and after talking to Raja Manickam, I have finally managed to convince myself that Jallikattu is not just important from a cultural point of view but is more important from a farmer's point of view as it helps in preservation of native breeds. Here is my summary of how it helps. It is a long read but it will help the majority of those youngsters who are seeking such answers themselves and would enable them to be in a better position to defend the practice. A little bit of background is necessary before understanding this. There are two types of beta-casein protein which are the dominant casein proteins in cow's milk: A1 and A2 protein. Initially all cows produced milk rich in A2 protein. But 5000 years back when migration started happening to Europe, a genetic mutation caused cattle taken to Europe to produce milk where both A1 and A2 protein were present in approximately equal amounts or where A1 protein dominated. Most of the breeds in Europe, US and Australia produce milk rich in A1 protein while native breeds in Asia and Africa produce milk rich in A2 protein. But after effects of colonization and artificial insemination caused these differences to disappear and interbreeding of cattle resulted in cows' milk in Asia and Africa to also have both proteins. But pure breeds (ones with A2 milk) still do exist in Asia and Africa. Scientific research has established the differences in the way the human digestive system (and digestive enzymes) processes these two proteins. The digestive enzymes react to these proteins very differently. Based on these differences, many research articles have arrived at the conclusion (not established beyond reasonable doubt) that A1 milk protein could be the cause for various chronic diseases like type-1 diabetes and so on. There exists research to the contrary as well i.e. there is no correlation between A1 protein and chronic diseases. But the majoritarian view at the moment is that A2 milk is more beneficial than A1 milk. Here is a link to one such research paper ().There is one more important point to be made here. When we interbreed a bull and a cow (and if one or both of them were an offspring of a cow that produced milk rich in A1 protein) then the new offspring will also have this trait. It has been scientifically proven that the gene which causes cows to produce milk rich in A1 protein is a dominant gene and hence all offsprings will also have this trait. In India there are 37 native breeds (there were 150 a century ago) and of these 36 have the A2 protein gene in them. The only breed Malvi (common in Maharashtra) has the gene for A1 protein. But this bull is mostly used for ploughing and cows bred with this bull are average milk producers and hence not a cause for major concern. That essentially means that all the 6 native breeds found in Tamilnadu have the A2 protein gene in them which makes it all the more important for us to preserve them. Now before we address why Jallikattu helps in preserving native breed, let us understand what will happen if all these native breeds become extinct. We will then have to interbreed and rely heavily on artificial insemination. I have already mentioned the problems with inter breeding above. Artificial insemination is an expensive process and we rely on imported from countries like US, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand from Jersey bulls and other such breed known to have A1 protein as the dominant gene. This essentially means that our generation and future generation will then have to live with milk rich in A1 protein and also the ociated problems like type1 - diabetes, autism and so on. The other disadvantage with artificial insemination is that the offspring will not be healthy as its genetic pool lacks the genes that are required for it to adapt to the climate and local changes which a native breed has in a higher proportion.Now this brings into picture an MNC, A2 Milk Company with presence in US, Australia and New Zealand. This company holds patents for trivial things like genetically testing whether a cow has an A1 gene or A2 gene. But what is disturbing is the patent that they hold for artificial insemination of A2 gene bull's . They hold the patent for this method which causes A2 gene to become the dominant gene as opposed to A1 which happens naturally. It suppresses the dominant tendency of A1 gene. Now if all native breeds in India were destro then we may have to either make do with A1 milk or we may have to pay a hefty royalty to A2 Milk company for using its patented technique to produce cows rich in A2 gene. Now this is what is bothering most of these cattle breeders in TamilNadu. The question that is being raised is that when our breeds are perfectly capable of producing A2 milk, why must be force ourselves to be a slave to some other MNC company holding a patent for this. They also accuse this MNC of funding PETA which is unsubstantiated. But this organisation has been donating generously to PETA in US, Australia and New Zealand which is suious but doesn't establish that they are behind the protest in India.Now let us address why Jallikattu helps in preserving our native breed (I got this information from Senapathy and Raja Manickam). In TamilNadu, breeders rear bulls with the intention of showcasing them in Jallikattu. Most of the farmers can't afford to raise these bulls and are hence reliant on these breeders or on the common temple bull which is reared by the entire village rather than a single breeder. The bulls that fare well in the Jallikattu arena are in constant demand for servicing the cows. So we can think of Jallikattu as a marketplace for these bulls. Now this still doesn't answer as to why Jallikattu alone can help in this and why can't breeders breed these native bulls irrespective of whether Jallikattu happens or not.To understand that we will have to understand the chronology of events that lead to Jallikattu and events that happen thereafter. Jallikattu is held during Pongal time (i.e. mid January), the strong bulls are identified and mated with cows. After this the farming season starts. After harvesting is done, this cycle starts again where the breeders showcase their bulls in Jallikattu events. People with a keen eye for this then make note of the strongest bulls and then seek them out later in what is known as a sandhai (marketplace) in TamilNow how does Jallikattu help in the process? The bulls used for mating need to be virile. During the mating season (which is typically after Pongal), these bulls need to be at the top of their game i.e. they must be secreting all the necessary male hormones, experience adrenaline rush and also a fast beating heart. This is where Jallikattu comes in picture. The time when the bull is released from the Vaadi Vaasal (the small narrow gate from which the bulls are released) and till the time it manages to reach the other end (if it is not subdued) causes it to experience a great adrenaline rush which then boosts it's testosterone levels and also keeps its heart beating at a rate faster than normal levels. This increases their virility and this is one of the most fundamental of all necessities for selective breeding. Can this be done without an activity like Jallikattu? Possibly but then the number of matings a bull can accomplish decreases significantly. Jallikattu helps in increasing this which is of utmost importance to a farmer's wellbeing. Also because artificial insemination is not adapted for native breeds, the banning of an event like Jallikattu will lead to these native breeds getting destro which would then force our hands to rely on artificial insemination the very process which the farmers shunned to begin with.In places where events like Jallikattu are not held, the male calves (which are essentially useless unless there is demand for tasks like ploughing) are slaughtered. but in places where Jallikattu is held, these calves are held on to for the purpose of showcasing them and establishing their superiority. Now that convinces me of the necessity for an event like Jalikattu. Now I can truly empathise with these farmers and their struggle to retain this cultural event."

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