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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Jallikattu SC ban lifted ! Virumandi bull

Jallikattu is a South Indian sport involving bull taming, not exactly comparable with the Western concept - the Spanish running of the bulls. It is held in the villages of Tamil Nadu on the eve of Mattu Pongal, one of the four days of Pongal festival (usually January 15 on the Western calendar). Those held in Alanganallur & Paalamedu , near Madurai,  are  popular. 

photo credit : Dinamalar
Last year it did not happen due to Court ban and now the mood is upbeat. A notification issued Thursday evening by the Environment Ministry modifies its own 2011 order that included bulls in the list of animals that “shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animal”. A Supreme Court order in 2014 had backed the ban on Jallikattu. The new notification says that “bulls may be continued to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal — at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat — in the manner by the customs of any community or practiced traditionally under the customs or as a part of culture, in any part of the country”. The notification mentions that this exemption is subject to the condition that bulls are treated properly and not subjected to cruelty.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu have welcomed the Centre’s decision, while activists and NGOs state that it is dangerous to people involved and cruel to the animals and stated that they would approach the court next week to get the decision revoked.

It is not only folklore – often portrayed in Cinemas as a sport for the mighty and powerful ones.  The 2004 released movie starring Kamal – Virumaandi, glorified it.  The movie-line revolves around the interview of two prison inmates,  one a lifer and the other to be hanged.   The bull had a pride of place in the movie and reportedly a few choicest rugged bulls were selected along with trainers and bull fighters.  Not only the trainers, but the villagers who were familiar with the events were transported from the villages to the shooting spot to be part of the epoch-making event. Two special Kangeyam bulls were carefully trained with great difficulties for the movie.

Ramu, the bull, that starred the movie was a celebrity for some years – later, its owner went bankrupt and abandoned the bull.  After changing hands, Ramu was headed for the slaughter house before he was providentially rescued by the Cattle Care Welfare Trust in Coimbatore.  Currently a resident of the Velliangiri Goshala along with 206 other Jallikattu bulls and 10 rekhala bull racers, Ramu and others  have been living a less sedate life with the lifting of the ban as a flagging interest in the sport revives in the state.
20 years old, Ramu is still impressive and stands at an impressive 14 hands (1.42 m) and weighs 1,200 kgs. With his massive horns, the karuppu mayil (his coat colour) is still a raging tornado, according to his caretakers at Velliangiri. "He's got a bad temper and doesn't let any strangers come near him. He doesn't mind tossing up the boys into the air just for fun - of course it isn't so much fun for the boys," says A Nizamuddin, president, Cattle Care Welfare Trust.

Ramu was owned by one V Santhosh from Virudhunagar, who had to give up the bull to Kannan in 2011 as he was under financial stress following the persistent ban on the sport. Kannan, who had the bull for another four years, also could not handle the bull's maintenance and upkeep - which can roughly range from Rs 3,500-Rs 5000 a month for feed alone, including labour.  Ramu or Virumandi as he's now affectionately called has taken part in more than 100 vadi vasals (starting gate) or Jallikattu events. In his prime, he must have weighed much less than 750-800 kgs as a Jallikattu bull has to be sleek and dexterous, says Ellango Kallanai, a farmer in Madurai.  "See paruthi vethai (cotton seed) sells at 40 Rs a kg, kaddala punnaku (groundnut residue) Rs 43 a kg, karuppeti (palm sugar) Rs 150 a kg, paccharusi (raw rice) Rs 30 a kg and gouthama thavuda Rs 28 a kg. It runs into quite a bit of money to maintain an adult Jallikattu bull, so farmers can't be seen as villainous for having sold them or sending to slaughter houses. They also have to survive," says Kallanai.

Ramu like most Kangeyam breeds gets restless. Since walking exercises haven't been enough for him to work off his spleen, the goshala caretakers have been forced to tie him-up next to coconut or palm trees so that he vents his anger on them instead of other bulls tied at the goshala.

Times of India, from which Ramu article has been excerpted – further adds that a Jallikattu winning bull can go for as high as Rs 1.5 lakh. Normally bulls above two years of age are used for the sport and they are roughly priced from Rs 25,000 to Rs 35,000. "But if they were going to the slaughter house, the bull's weight will be taken into account and it can go for as little as Rs 6,000- Rs 7,000," says C Vivekanandan of NGO SEVA (Sustainable Agriculture & Environment Voluntary Action). And it is from such an ignomious fate that Ramu was saved from because of local interest in saving native cattle breeds.

So – one hit film does not change the life of cattle !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
9th Jan 2016

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