Manoj Oswal's report was instrumental in the court banning jallikattu, but he says the sport can be played in a certain way.

Heres an idea to save jallikattu from the official whose report got it banned
news Jallikattu Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 19:50

The jallikattu protests were a picture of contrast. The sun, sand and waves of the Marina Beach against the dusty roads of villages in southern Tamil Nadu; the protesting students and IT employees in Chennai versus the rural folk demonstrating with their bulls. Thousands lent support to the jallikattu cause arguing against the Supreme Court’s 2014 order that ruled the bull-taming sport as inherently cruel to the animals.    

The News Minute spoke to Manoj Oswal, animal welfare officer at Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), who was appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor jallikattu in Tamil Nadu between 2010 and 2012. Manoj’s reports together with his colleague Prakash Sasha were instrumental in the apex court ordering the ban on the sport in 2014.

“Prior to 2010, there was no organised way to hold jallikattu. Each arena held the sport in its own way, there was no system to the conduct of the bull-taming sport,” says Manoj

It was in 2009 that then Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan ruled that sport could go ahead on the condition that animal cruelty is curbed. As per the apex court’s orders, AWBI would monitor the sport and then prepare a report on the ground realities.  

As part of his field reports, he travelled to the five districts that hold jallikattu - Madurai, Sivaganga, Trichy, Dindigul and Salem – using photographers and videographers to document the events. After comparing earlier reports, Manoj and his colleague analysed data and presented it to the top court. 

Manoj recalls, “I had noted how the organisation of jallikattu had considerably improved since 2010. There were a lot of positive measures taken by the state government to conduct the event which made it less dangerous for people including ensuring barricades to prevent spectators from participating in jallikattu.”  

The apex court banned jallikattu as these regulations were not followed in 2014, but Manoj believes that there is a way out.

Can jallikattu be held without inflicting much cruelty on the animal?

Yes, says Manoj. Though there have reams of opinions written on the sport, the man who has perhaps observed this the most believes that building stadiums is the only solution. 

“What is required is a big stadium, like a football or cricket field, where the bull can run around and so can the participants. It will lead to healthy competition. Spectators can be controlled and cruelty can also be curbed with bulls being taken care of before and after,” he says.

How can a stadium solve the problem?

To understand Manoj’s suggestion and the apex court’s ban, one needs to first understand the crux of the problem, the four centres of the sport.   

Queuing area

“The most stressful time for the animals is the long wait, particularly when events are back to back,” states Manoj’s 2012 report to the Supreme Court. He explains that between 80 to 500 bulls are brought in as early as 1am and are made to stand for hours, squeezed together with no space, food or water. Adding to the cruelty, the bulls are tied tightly with ropes, giving them no room to move even an inch.

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

A specific recommendation was made by Manoj and his team to create sheds for the animals, so they can not only be fed and given water but also saved the misery of standing under the blazing sun for hours together. While it was accepted by the Supreme Court, the animal welfare officer notes that implementation was poor.

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

Vaadivasal

Ahead of its release, the bulls are brought into a corridor with a narrow entrance and exit.  “When the bull sees a huge crowd, and hears the noise from the arena, it doesn’t want to go into such a place. The bull is scared and shy of people. This is when cruelty is unimaginable,” Manoj observes. He adds that contrary to popular belief, the bull is not an aggressive animal, it is docile.

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

The 2012 report states, “The only way to get it go before the crowd is to prod it and threaten it. Cause the animal so much pain and fear that it believes that going before the thousands of people is a better escape than being tortured here in the small box like enclosure.”

For the bull to become aggressive, the animal welfare officer had observed that it is intoxicated, stabbed, has its tail bitten to force it out of the vaadivasal or the entrance gate to the main arena.

If the sport can be conducted in a stadium, there would be no need for a vaadivasal.

Arena

“Once the bull goes into the arena, 30 or 40 participants try to jump on it. But it’s not easy to catch a bull. Only one out of 10 bulls will be caught,” points out Manoj. He says that a tamer, if successful, holds the hump or horns for about a minute before being declared a winner.  

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

While much of the focus over cruelty to the bulls has been at the arena, the animal rights activist points out that the act of catching the bull is in fact not as “painful” as what happens in other stages of jallikattu.

“With the entire world watching at the events, it was not expected that the animals will be harassed in the arena. The animals got a respite from physical abuse in the arena that was well covered by media, however, as soon as they left the main arena, the tale of torture remained the same what it has been for long,” says the report to the SC.

Outside the arena

Once the bull finishes its run in the makeshift arena, it then runs into the village where hundreds of people wait. Many of these spectators, who are intoxicated, harm the bull. Many bulls sustain injuries or even die in accidents.

Manoj says that most of the cruelty to the bull takes place outside the arena. He explains, “Once the bull the is out, the crowds try to catch the bull. Anyone can do anything here. The bull runs into the street, and into people’s houses. People hit it, attack it with sickles. Bulls have fallen into wells and broken their legs. They can be killed in accidents with vehicles.”

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

Highlighting the fact that very few participants die or are injured in jallikattu, Manoj points to statistics to show that it’s mostly spectators who are victims in the sport as they are not trained.

Having the sport in a controlled atmosphere can eliminate this problem altogether.

But the animal welfare officer concludes, “It is clearly a distant dream. It won’t be acceptable to spectators as a stadium won’t satisfy them. They are there to fight bulls. People will lose in interest in jallikattu.”

Image Courtesy: Prakash Sasha's 'Jallikattu 2012' report

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