The bitter row over the ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu has earned a severe backlash for animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). But PETA is no stranger to controversy, having attacked a wide range of religious and dietary practices in the country for animal cruelty.
In Kerala, for instance, PETA India has evoked controversy for its longstanding opposition to the use of temple elephants in the Thrissur Pooram. In 2015, for instance, actor Pamela Anderson â€“ one of PETAâ€™s most famous members worldwide, had written to then Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy asking that temple elephants not be paraded in the Pooram. She had also offered to pay for the construction of 30 elephants from bamboo, wood and papier-mĂ˘chĂ© to replace the live ones. PETA had also filed a PIL asking that elephants not be paraded in the festival without permission or oversight from the Animal Welfare Board of India, but could not win the Kerala High Courtâ€™s approval for the move.
This is not the only source of ire against PETA for Keralites. PETA has also been one of the organisations taking a strong stand against stray dogs being culled in Kerala. This led to a massive controversy last year, after a series of fatal dog attacks were reported in the state.
The group has also, time and again, trained its sights on the use of snakes in the Nag Panchami festival. Each year, PETA issues a call for the festival to be celebrated snake-free, alleging that many of the snakes used in celebrations suffer injury and abuse at the hands of handlers and snake charmers.
PETA has also conducted a number of controversial campaigns calling for festivals like Bakrâ€™Id and Christmas to be transformed into vegetarian celebrations. In 2014, one such campaign went awry, when PETA volunteers campaigning for a vegan Bakrâ€™Id near a mosque in old Bhopal had to be rescued from an angry mob by the police. The volunteers were, however, reportedly taken into custody for inciting communal passions.
PETA has also stuck to an anti-meat stand, even supporting controversial decisions like the ban on beef by the Maharashtra government. Despite the death of Mohammed Akhlaq, a 50-year-old man lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh for allegedly eating beef, PETA founder and International President Ingrid Newkirk supported the beef ban. She argued that it carried a positive outcome, even if the motivations for it were proved to be communal.
PETA also lauded Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan for his controversial decision to keep eggs out of the mid-day meal scheme. While experts had argued that eggs were a crucial protein source in an area struggling with high malnutrition and criticised Chauhan for his â€śunscientific standâ€ť, PETA called the decision progressive and felicitated him with the Pragatisheel Award.
The group has also, famously, taken a strong stand against multinational chains such as KFC, whom they accuse of animal cruelty for the conditions in which chickens are raised and slaughtered. Among the various PETA campaigns, in 2009, PETA founder Newkirk locked herself inside a cage outside a KFC outlet in Bandra, Mumbai to protest against the chain.
While the merits and demerits of PETAâ€™s many campaigns and public positions could be argued, criticism that PETA has targeted the Jallikattu festival while staying silent on other practices doesnâ€™t hold water. In that, at least, PETA remains an equal-opportunity outrager, taking on every one it considers to be animal unfriendly.