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Jallikattu protests, is there more to what meets the eye? A parent’s take!

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The youth of Tamilnadu had gone on a mass protest against Jallikattu ban in a way we have never seen before, peaceful and in a collective way.

Seeing the level of protest made me think is there something more than what meets the eye. Believe me, it was an eye opener. Here is what I discovered.

It’s been there for years and even survived the Colonial period!!!

Ancient Tamil Sangams described the practice as ‘YERU THAZHUVUTHAL’, literally “bull embracing”. The modern term Jallikattu is derived from SALLI (coins) and KATTU (package), which refers to a prize of coins that are tied to the bull’s horns and that participants attempt to retrieve. Jallikattu has been known to be practiced during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC). It was common among the ancient people AAYARS who lived in the ‘MULLAI’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country. Later, it became a platform for display of bravery and prize money was introduced to encourage participation.

Is Bull Taming (Jallikattu) specific to 2 communities or 6 Districts of Tamil Nadu?

Well, for some point of time it was envisaged as a cultural aspect of the Thevars and the Gounder communities of Tamil Nadu. The prominently known events are conducted in the districts of Madurai, Sivagangai and Pudukkottai. The Kongu belt comprising of Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Erode engage in a sport called Rekla race. Every district seems to have some sport associated with bulls in smaller ways. Sports involving Bulls vary in Tamilnadu. Jallikattu, Manjuvirattu, Velivirattu, Vativirattu, Vatam manjuviratu.
It has other forms in other parts of India with native variations of course – Kaalapoottu, Kannupoottu and Maramadi in Kerala, Kambala in Karnataka, Bailgada in Maharashtra, Pasuvula Panduga in Andhra, Dhiri in Goa. Similar sports are reported from Assam (during Bihu festival), Himachal Pradesh (Sair fair), Madhya Pradesh (during Govardhan puja), Meghalaya (during autumn festival), Punjab (Kila Raipur is known for ‘local olympics’), Rajasthan (during Nagaur and Pushkar fairs), Sikkim (Rang Ghar), Daman & Diu, Gujarat (Fairs in Baleswar, Mekan dada shrine at Dhang in Kutch, Drang fair at Bhuj, Tarnetar fair in Surendranagar and Masitiya village of Jamnagar).
That kind of explains why the Supreme Court issued a Blanket ban on performing with bulls.

The Ecosystem behind the sports for the Bulls

Stud bulls are reared by people for Sports like Jallikattu. The ones that win are much in demand for servicing the cows. Small farmers cannot afford to keep stud bulls, so each village has a common temple bull which services the cows of the village. During village shows these bulls are brought and exhibited. The ones which are most agile (and virile) are preferred by farmers. The calves from such bulls are also in demand.

Once harvest is done, farmers take their bulls to participate in such events over the next few months; spectators and visitors make a note of the top bulls and seek them out in cattle markets which happen from December till April all over Tamil Nadu. Stud bulls need to be alert, virile, and agile. In the peak of their reproductive period, they need to secrete the necessary male hormones and experience adrenalin rushes and pumping hearts. They need this for them to be virile. This is in the interest of the species as selective breeding is done to propagate the species.

Coming to the question: ‘Do bulls never have adrenaline rush without a sport?’- Research reveals they do, but the success rate of mating is very low.

The cattle have been an integral part of farming, especially for small and marginal farmers as they serve multiple purposes like ploughing, transportation, source for farmyard manure, organic treatments like PANCHAGAVYA, JEEVAMRITHAM, and as a source of A2 milk. The native cattle were both an input as well as insurance to the livestock keepers. The dung from these native breeds formed good form of manure and the agricultural soil had good fertility. The Native breeds did not need any specifically made fodder. They survived on green grass, husk, crop residues and naturally available fodder. The usage of manure or urea in agricultural lands or pesticides was very limited as long as the traditional forms of agriculture were followed.

The Green Revolution, the promotion of jersey cows for higher milk yield, the usage of tractors for soil tilling, added to the woes of the native breeds. These had a short term benefit. These are now seen as factors contributing to the rapid disappearance of green fields and the steady decline of native cattle breeds. Not to mention inter-state water sharing issues, labour shortage, population migration being more prominently known factors which have only added their fair share of troubles for the current farmers who don’t have ‘other options’.

Coming back to the issues of the bulls, without the sport, the entire economy of these livestock keepers has come down and so has the steady decline of native breeds. Prior to the ban, the cost of the bull was really as high as Rs. 50000. Now they are sold for Rs. 15000 to the butchers directly. Globally, non-milking cattle go to the slaughter house. Traditionally farmers only sold male buffaloes or spent females. But now despite the beef ban policies, several illegal slaughter houses do continue to function. Male calves and especially old bulls are either abandoned or sold to slaughterhouses where, along with spent cows, they are processed for leather, meat or for the rennet in their stomachs that is used for cheese making.

The same is reported from other states as well. There was a ‘DHARNA’ by Members of Punjab’s bullock cart foundation in Ludhiana on 28th Jan 2016. They have raised concerns of how the blanket ban has affected the lives of families dependent on Cattle.

A heavy promotion of exotic, high-yielding breeds by the government has led to reliance on high inputs and aftercare, medication and water, all with detrimental consequences on their livelihoods and the environment. Traditional pastoralist communities are completely under threat—their grazing/common lands have disappeared, and they are forced to ‘settle’, fenced out of areas that traditionally belonged to them, many shifting to other occupations. Grazing areas surrounding forests too have been blocked by the forest bureaucracy.

Some information about the Native Breeds of India and their downfall

About 100 years ago, India had 130+ cattle breeds in India. Now India has only 37 pure cattle breeds. Five of these — Sahiwal, Gir, Red Sindhi, Tharparkar and Rathi — are known for their milking prowess. A few others, such as Kankrej, Ongole and Hariana, belong to dual breeds that have both milch and draught qualities; i.e., they are good plough animals. The rest are pure draught breeds. Each breed has evolved in perfect harmony with its local region. Tamil Nadu had six cattle breeds earlier and now we have lost the Alambadi breed. The remaining breeds are Kangayam, Pulikulam, Umbalachery, Barugur and Malai Maadu.

A recent investigation by the Tehelka magazine  arrived at the conclusion that in 10 years, India will be forced to start importing milk, and that Indian cow will cease to exist. Why? Due to several reasons:

  • India, over the past few decades, imported several exotic cow varieties to gain a boost in milk production. In Punjab, for example, 80% of the state’s one lakh stray cattle are exotic breeds. These breeds theoretically produce a lot of milk, but are not well-adapted to Indian conditions.
  • 69% of Indian cows are owned by the economically poor strata of the society. These folks cannot afford to house these exotic breeds in regulated climate conditions.
  • The government has significantly mismanaged cow breeding. The average milk yield per animal in India is just 3.2 kgs, compared to a global average of 6.6 kgs. The dairy policy and outlook is highly outdated and needs to be replaced with modern, evidence-based thinking.

According to the National Dairy Development Board, in 1970 India had 178 million cattle, and produced 20 million tonnes of milk. By 2012, it had 190 million cattle, and produced 132 million tonnes of milk—a six-fold increase in production with only a small increase in the cattle population. This confirms much of the productive gain is down to the replacement of indigenous cattle with exotic and interbred cattle, and the market incentives that drive that trend remain unchanged. Prior to the ban, the cow-to-bull ratio was 4:1, but now it has gone lower than 8:1.

Apparently the import of Jersey Cow started as part of the Third Five year plan in 1960s and is regulated to allow import them every once in two years. As on 18th January 2017 Tamilnadu imported 540 Jersey cows from Switzerland.

The indigenous breed of cow is easily differentiated by its hump and throat skin which are absent in exotic breeds. The Indian native breed such as Gir can reproduce up to 15 times whereas the foreign breeds can only reproduce up to 3-4 times.

In fact the Rajasthan Government, backed by the Central Government had announced artificial insemination of Indian native cows to increase the population of indigenous cows.

The decline in native breeds due to various reasons has been reported in other states as well.
Kerala – https://naturalfarmerskerala.com/effects-of-visionless-keralas-cattle-breeding-policy/
Punjab – http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ludhiana/punjab-team-to-visit-brazil-to-study-indigenous-cows/
Karnataka – http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/A-new-lease-of-life-for-Deoni-breed-of-cattle/article15243619.ece

But then, Why artificial insemination and not a natural breeding?

It is again a commercial ball game wherein the dairy farmers, department and the whole lot believe that this method improves productivity and profitability of dairy enterprise (http://vikaspedia.in/agriculture/livestock/cattle-buffalo/breeding-management-1/importance-of-artificial-insemination-in-dairy-farming). There also seems to be a patent awarded on the method of artificial insemination of cows to some Carlos Alberto BARCELO ROJAS.

Over the years, indigenous breeds have been subjected to indiscriminate breeding with bulls of foreign breeds. As a result, what we see today in numbers is mostly cross breeds. The resultant situation is grave. As for the farmers, they undergo hardships like – heavy expenses incurring in maintenance of exotic breeds, dearth of cow dung as natural fertilizer, lack of suitable livestock for draught purposes and intake of A1 beta-casein in exotic cow’s milk are all together making a toll not just in the house of Indian farmer but on the overall Indian agriculture as well as the national economy.

There is a real need for improvement in pure breed of Indian native cattle. Improved breed quality is directly proportional to enhanced milk production and longevity that means increased number of lactations in total lifetime.

Row over the Milk quality produced

The immunity of Indian cow breeds is high and they can resist infections along with other diseases that are common occurrence in Jersey or Holiestien varieties.

The Indian cow and buffalo breeds possess a rich A2 allele gene that provides a better and healthier quality of milk than foreign breeds, according to a new study. The pure Indian breed cow produces A2 milk, which contains less Betacosmophorine-7 (BCM-7), as opposed to the hybrid cows which generally produce A1 milk.

Studies suggest that milk from cows with A2 genes is far healthier than their A1 counterparts. Evidence linking A1 milk to ill-health is building up. These include conditions like type-1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (IHD), delayed psychomotor development among children, autism, schizophrenia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) auto-immune diseases, intolerances and allergies.

There are increasing levels of early puberty in female children especially in urban areas and alarmingly this is a known issue in US, UK and other countries that genetically altered milk, hormones in food, pesticides in produce are contributing to this.

There is a rising awareness and the demand for A2 milk has gone up phenomenally in countries like Australia, UK and NZ. But India seems nowhere.

Our wealth of indigenous cattle breeds have failed to benefit those who are conserving them – the poor farmers, herders and nomadic pastoralists who produce 70 per cent of the milk that finds its way to the market – in the absence of scientific information on the benefits of Indian native cow milk. Despite the government having a conservation policy to safeguard native breeds, with the environmental and social support systems crucial for the survival of these breeds degrading fast, and the resultant poverty, more and more indigenous cattle are finding their way to the slaughter-houses, and once-proud breeders are giving up in despair.

Role of Corporate

Corporate companies charge almost the double of what they pay to the milk producers – cost paid by Maharashtra dairy department – Vs. cost reported in Pune.

Reports of FDI into Indian Dairy market also seem true and alarming in one sense. Though the beef ban in few states of India has made a mark that does not make India completely un-lucrative.  They look for 50-60% ROI per cow!! Holy Cow!! They look for the ROI in terms of yield – while living or while dying. So they definitely are not inclined to promote the Indian Native breeds.

The war with PeTA & the Government

Apparently there is a lot of war of words going between PeTA and their opponents.

The Legal war is even worse.

The matter is sub judice. But looking at various reports, it only seems like the verdict has been the ‘survival of the fittest’. The justifications from the native side has not been presented ‘appropriately’ and given adequate ‘consideration’ for reasons best known to the concerned persons on either side of the case.

Why are the Youth protesting only for Jallikattu and no other issues

Well, over a period of time, the faith on the judiciary for fair hearing, faith on the local governance has taken a steep fall. The Youth protesting now are literate and are not fooled by so called ‘animal lovers’. Many of them come from families of the fallen agriculturists. They had to migrate and find lucrative jobs as agriculture is no longer viable and lands have become havens for the realtors. Many of the educated youth want to go back to cultivation at some point of time in their life. They live in a constant fear of being ‘too late’. It is now an apolitical Movement about retaining some of our indigenous aspects beyond the need for being ‘progressive’. The Government and Judiciary are watching as they have been pretty disciplined in showing their ‘anger’ and voicing their ‘concern’. They aren’t against regulating, but definitely against blanket ban and refusal to listen.

Concern of a Parent not just a Tamilian

I am not a farmer or come from an agricultural family. Forget the fact that I am a Tamilian. River sharing issues affects me. Demonetization affects me. Terrorism affects me. Inflation affects me. Role of sand mafia affects me. De-forestation – culling of trees – Drought affects me. One thing definitely surpasses it all. As a parent, I am seriously concerned that I am now Guilty – even if the law of the land cannot prosecute me, myself conscience says – I am guilty of feeding something really dangerous to my own child! And I am desperate for a change!! I want something absolutely danger free for her to eat and grow!!!

I am actually getting access only to A1 milk for my child (not just the tetra packed or packaged milk, but my milk-woman is also supplying milk from a genetically altered cow that is not of native breed). Typically children are dependent on Milk products for their protein needs and  that is definitely increasing the health risk for her. .

So is this just a Tamilian Issue…

After reading all these, I don’t think this is just a Tamilian issue (though the media projections and some factions protests slogans also seem to indicate that). Jallikattu ban may seem like a non-issue to nationalists and others outside Tamil Nadu, but the deeper meaning and impact I have come to experience is a different… It’s for the future of our children.. and our country.

Manjula Narasimhan

Professionally a Chartered Accountant. Constantly in search of a challenge and a difference. Often love to have a regression test of all my talents. Strongly believe in the words "Winners don't do different thing... They do things differently"

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