The discussion surrounding Jallikattu has been hijacked by ethno-nationalists and urban based liberal activists which has completely eclipsed the farmers’ perspective of these essentially agrarian festivals. I am not trying to pass any judgement through this article regarding which group or groups are correct but I am just trying to look at the issue from the farmers’ point of view.
The Supreme Court ruling which banned Jallikattu or bull taming festival of Tamil Nadu also banned Moh Juz or bull fighting festival of Assam in 2014. Both these festivals are held in exactly the same time of the year under two different overarching festivals called Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Magh or Bhogali Bihu in Assam. But both Jallikattu and Moh Juz have the same objective- protection of the farmers’ cattle.
To understand these two festivals we have to remember that none of these two festivals include killing of the bulls which participate in them.
Next we have to understand that Pongal and Magh Bihu are essentially post-harvest festivals where the farmers thank their Gods, ancestors etc. for the harvest and prepare meals from the freshly gathered food grains and consume it with their family, clansmen or kinsmen.
Here we also need to understand that farmers use bulls mainly for ploughing the land and thus they (bulls) have been mostly idle for at least the last 2 months. This is also the time of the year when the bulls will be in heat. This will result in several bulls being very aggressive. These aggressive bulls become a danger to the entire cattle herd. They cannot be kept with other bulls for the fear of one killing the other in an unprovoked attack and these bulls cannot be used for mating for the physical danger they pose to the cows.
We see a similar thing happening with elephants in Kerala, where the bull elephants in heat are kept outside for a time period. But the bulls in a farmers’ cattle herd cannot be kept outside because they are not as sturdy as elephants and while these elephants are used only during temple festivals the bulls will soon need to be used during the kharif sowing season.
Of course these problems can be solved by building different shelters for each of the bulls in heat or with better restraining facilities. But, given the last 30 years’ excessive economic stress in the agricultural sector and massive debts resulting in huge increase in farmer suicides, the investments needed for these facilities cannot be easily procured.
But now let us talk about the opportunity cost. The Tamils and the Assamese did not really have to look for other means to solve this problem because they had already found a highly socially entertaining means to solve this problem hundreds of years back. These were festivals like Jallikattu and Moh Juz, where the farmers will bring their aggressive bulls to take part in some very aggressive sport which will help to divert the hardly repressed violent sexual energy into something else and after the event is over they are safely transported back with their owners and introduced back to the herd from which it was kept separated for the last several days or weeks.
The side effects of the 2014 ban on these bull festivals have been very dangerous politically in Assam and economically in Tamil Nadu. Many farmers in Tamil Nadu found it cheaper to kill these aggressive bulls rather than to keep them and risk life and limb of both themselves and the rest of the herd, resulting in massive economic losses because usually the most aggressive bulls are also the most capable ones when it came to working the fields.
In Assam the Hindu right wing pointed it out to the people that the government had stopped a festival which did not result in death of cattle (Moh Juz)but protected the Muslim festivals which involve slaughtering cattle. This resulted in worsening the communal relations in many places and also played a part in bringing the BJP to power in a state with over 30% Muslim population last year.