Karthikeya Sivasenapathy is a cattle rights and biodiversity activist from Tamil Nadu. While the entire state is now protesting the ban against jallikattu, the traditional sport, this is an old battle for Sivasenapathy.
Sivasenapathy heads the Senaapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation near Tirupur. Along with Himakiran Alagula, a bull owner and professional from Chennai, Balakumar Shomu, a businessman for Coimbatore, and others like P Rajasekharan, the president of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Federation, Sivasenapathy has been fighting the opposition to the sport since 2013.
Speaking to The News Minute from Delhi, where he had gone along with others, to meet Rajnanth Singh, the Home Minister, and apprise him of the situation in Tamil Nadu and the need for the ban to be revoked, Sivasenapathy expresses joy and surprise at the turn of events.
"My voice is broken because of the continuous talks and protests over the past 15 days," he says. "The protest is because of the injustice meted out to the farmers and livestock keepers. It is not actually a problem of Tamil Nadu alone. Thirteen breeds in 8-9 states of India have been threatened because of the ban."
Stating that he never expected this to become a mass movement, Sivasenapathy says, "It's the cultural identity of the people. As you know, Tamils are a very emotional people. They are rooted to their nativity, wherever they are. Let them work for NASA or Microsoft...anywhere. People from 79 countries have been protesting. This is because they feel this is injustice. The Honorable Supreme Court should have had a stakeholder consultation and understood the nuances of culture, livestock and the rural farming system before coming to a judgment like this."
However, the discourse surrounding jallikattu has largely been about culture and Tamil pride. Does he feel the point about preserving native breeds is getting lost somewhere in the melee?
"I believe in culture, honour and all that other jallikattu supporters have been speaking about," says Sivasenapathy. "Anybody's culture for that matter is to be respected, whether it's Rajasthan, Gujarat or Tamil Nadu. Traditions are to be maintained."
Pointing out that Indian laws as well as international ones exist to protect the cultural rights of people, Sivasenapathy says that his primary concern, however, has always been that the ban threatens animal genetic resources and native livestock.
"Our accusation is very clear. The animal rights groups are working in collusion with lots of people who want to wipe out the organic farming movement, the zero budget natural farming movement, native livestock. There is a profit motive behind all these animal welfare groups. The court has banned it with good intentions but it has to lift the ban," he declares.
Calling the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), "one of the most corrupt organisations of the country for the past 10-12 years", Sivasenapathy alleges that the entire animal rights scene in India is controlled by a "single family".
"We have been asking for a CBI investigation in this regard. Yesterday, I met the Honorable Home Minister Mr Rajnath Singh and apprised him of the situation with respect to animal welfare in India. We also met the Environment Minister because it comes under his ministry. He agreed with us and assured us of his intervention. He also said that the Chairman has been replaced at the AWBI and that things will now improve," he says.
Asked if it was feasible at any point for jallikattu to be replaced by an alternative, say, using a vet to identify the stud bull, Sivasenapathy says that there's no need for anyone to suggest other ways of doing this.
"We went to the Supreme Court to lift the ban, not to get advice on what else could be done," he shoots back. "There is a system - preserving these breeds needs an interplay of nature and culture. Livestock keeping is an art and a science. You can't let a veterinarian decide that."
Sivasenapathy believes that the Supreme Court's judgment goes against the National Biodiversity Act of 2002, asserting that jallikattu is necessary for "interspecies" and "intraspecies" to thrive, given the cultural importance that the sport has.
But what about a regulated jallikattu which will keep cruelty in check?
"If there is cruelty, it certainly needs to be looked into. It has to be eradicated. No second thoughts about it. No farmer or livestock keeper or pastoralist will support animal cruelty," he says.
Sivasenapathy also says that it is rural women who will be most affected if livestock is wiped out. "It is sustainability and income for them. The plan is that this kind of livestock keeping should be wiped out and industrialised dairy farming is brought in. Even last week, the National Dairy Development Board of India has imported 100 bulls from Denmark. What's the purpose?"
The TN government's actions have come under criticism from the public. Sivasenapathy says, "The TN government has done all that it can now. We should thank them for it. But they should have done this earlier. They should have a grassroots connection. They cannot be an elitist government."
Sivasenapathy recently resigned from his post at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University because he'd been demanding that all the MPs from TN resign and wanted to lead by example.
"I'm on my way to Chennai now. I will be heading to Marina straight. I hope to speak to the protesters around 8 pm. I will be addressing the issues with them. We will see what we can do best," says Sivasenapathy.
The protesters at the Marina and other places in Tamil Nadu appear to be in no mood to leave as they see the ordinance to be a temporary solution. What does he feel about this?
"As the Parliament is not in session now, it's not possible to bring in an amendment. The judgment is still awaited from the Honorable Supreme Court, so that has to be considered. The PM, the Home Minister, the Environment Minister and the Minister for State, Pon Radhakrishnan, have assured that they will do everything possible to take care of the legal issues. We will have to take their word. If not the PM, whom can we believe?" he asks.