Commercialization of jallikattu: Saviours of sport say it weakens legal case for sport

Sponsorship by big brands, efforts to conduct sport in Chennai and plans to create league causes worry.
Commercialization of jallikattu: Saviours of sport say it weakens legal case for sport
Commercialization of jallikattu: Saviours of sport say it weakens legal case for sport

Tamil Nadu has given a grand welcome to jallikattu, a year after people occupied Marina beach in an effort to preserve the traditional sport. This year, an improved, better organised and corporate sponsored show of machismo created a lot of buzz. But those who fought for the right to play the sport worry that it is losing the tag of 'tradition' that protects it. 

In 2014, the Supreme Court had banned jallikattu on the grounds of torture and cruelty to the bulls. Following the large-scale protests at Alanganallur, Marina beach and the rest of Tamil Nadu last year, the state government hurriedly passed an ordinance lifting the ban on jallikattu after receiving the assent of the Home Ministry, the President and the Governor. 

But following this the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India approached the Supreme Court of India to strike down the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 (PCA) – which allows jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. 

Over 500 centres across the state in 14 districts hosted the bull taming sport this year and are reportedly sponsored by companies such as Poorvika, Naga foods and Anil Semiiya amongst other native brands. Big prizes are being offered to tamers and bull owners for their feats on the field. In addition to this, efforts are being made to identify new places in Chennai to hold the sport. 

Opposing the current form in which the sport is being held, Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, one of the prominent faces of the pro-Jallikattu protests and Managing Trustee of Senapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation tells TNM, that this apparent commercialisation and shift from traditional methods of conducting a ‘league like event’, will prove detrimental to it. 

"When the SC banned Jallikattu over animal cruelty, we brought it back saying that is a traditional sport. We used the culture argument to preserve it. But the case is not over yet. PETA has argued that the PCA in its current form contravenes the SC judgment. And the Apex court has referred the matter to a constitutional bench," he says. 

This bench will be hearing the matter in February this year. 

"When they do, PETA will argue that we are not following tradition by holding it in the usual venues. They will say we have commercialised the sport and are making money from it. Bulls are listed under the performing animals list along with lions and elephants. So, even a slight tilt from tradition can put an end to Jallikattu," he says. 

PETA argues that 'animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way'. The organisation documented cruelty to bulls and other apparent legal violations during jallikattu events in February 2017. 

"In addition to roping in big brands, efforts to conduct Jallikattu in Chennai are dangerous because it was not traditionally conducted in the city. So, it will become a huge problem for us when the constitutional bench looks into the matter,” Karthikeya Sivasenapathy adds. 

'IPL like tournament'

According to T Rajesh of the Veera Villaiyattu Meetpu Kalagam, efforts were made by some organisers like the Jallikattu Peravai to hold the sport in a format similar to the Indian Premier League. He further furnished a video where a man is purportedly explaining how Jallikattu 'league' will function.

The State President of Jallikattu Peravai, P Rajasekharan, who is one of the main organisers of the sport, is also seen in the video.

The competition 'Chennaiyil Jallikattu', a ToI report says was planned in a plot opposite the Madras Crocodile Bank on East Coast Road by the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai and Chennai Jallikattu Amaipu. They had even unveiled the logo for the event in Chennai.

"There will five rounds and every round 20 bulls will be released. Members of one team will have to tame the bulls. There will be five such rounds. We will make a points chart for five rounds and eliminate those teams with the least marks after all rounds. The bulls and men with most marks will get a grand prize just like in the IPL," says the presenter in the video. 

'Plans to sell teams'

A source who worked closely with the organisers ahead of efforts to commercialise the sport, tells TNM that, "They were planning to sell six Jallikattu teams for Rs.40 lakh each. Imagine if you compare a traditional sport to a commercial venture like the IPL. We would lose all credibility in front of the court."

And Rajesh alleges they Jallikattu Peravai would have gone ahead with the move, if not for strong opposition from within their own circle. 

"We told them over and over again that commercialisation will prove fatal to the sport. They dropped the plan only when we protested," he says. 

Protests to stop commercialisation

Agitations were held close to 10 days ago outside the Poorvika showroom in Kodambakkam. "It is one thing to sponsor gifts but to create teams and sell them is unacceptable," says Rajesh. "Moreover Chennai is not listed in the notified areas to conduct Jallikattu. It is usually held as an extension of temple carnivals. Only if keep that format alive, the sport will survive," he adds. 

P Rajasekharan of the Jallikattu Peravai however dismisses these allegations. 

"There were no efforts to create an IPL like tournament," he says. "We wanted to conduct Jallikattu in Chennai to show our gratitude to the students and professionals who protested to save the sport. The agitations we held in Madurai did not protect Jallikattu, it was the Marina protest that did, and that is our only motivation," he adds.

Rajasekharan further argues that he couldn't hold auctions even if he wanted to. "The collector of every district conducts and oversees the sport. He decides how many bulls are released or how many people enter the ring. If we do anything against the law, the district administrators will be watching," says the organiser. 

The reason that the sport hasn't been held in Chennai yet, according to Rajasekharan, is because the police did not grant permission for conducting it in a plot identified on the East Coast road. "We are now looking for a different venue," he says. 

As far as allegations of commercialisation are concerned, he says that only 'small' gifts and t-shirts are given by companies.

"And these companies are not corporates. They are native to Tamil Nadu and want to get publicity out of this," he reasons. "We have no registration fees for the bull or spectator fees, so we need companies to reward those who participate. Gifts given include sarees or veshtis. This will not create any problems at the court," he adds.

AWBI keeps a close watch

Animal Welfare Board of India  Chairman S P Gupta tells TNM that a close watch is being kept on the ongoing sporting festival.

“We do not want to hurt the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu but if there are violation we have to report it,” he says.  “As far as the ongoing case in the SC is concerned. Commercialisation will definitely weaken Tamil Nadu’s argument of tradition. With bulls still under the performing animals list, it could amount to cruelty,” he adds.

Jallikattu ‘saviours’ unconvinced

"PETA has been fighting the matter in an intellectual manner. All we have is emotion and tradition associated to the sport and if we let that fizzle out, we won't stand a fighting chance," says Rajesh. 

Karthikeya Sivasenapathy meanwhile says that he entered this fight to help the voice of the common man in villages reach the nation. "The Government of India has kept its promise, reinstated the Animal Welfare Board of India and allowed to carry out the sport without cruelty. But by trying to move it away from the traditional venues and by making it commercial, we are not keeping our side of the bargain," he rues. 

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