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'We'll let loose 300 bulls. What'll the cops do?'
A Ganesh Nadar in Alanganallur | January 15, 2008 03:29 IST
A day before the Tamil harvest festival Pongal, Alanganallur village, 18 km from Madurai district, is abuzz with festive anticipation.
A huge mandap greets you in the village centre. At least a hundred villagers -- many of them women -- are sitting there, protesting against the Supreme Court verdict banning Jallikattu, where bulls are made to run through a narrow stretch of over 500 metres and youngsters vie to tame them before they reach the finish line.
Monday is the third day of their hunger strike.
Terming it as being cruel to the bulls, the Supreme Court had on Friday banned the event, which draws locals as well as foreigners in large numbers.
The protesting villagers say it is a four-century-old tradition and that the Supreme Court has no right to interfere.
They are so contemptuous of the court that one of them asked: "When Kerala [Images] regularly ignores the Supreme Court's orders over the Mullaperiyar dam issue, why should we follow the court's diktats."
Another said: "Have you watched the rekla race (While banning Jallikattu, the Supreme Court said these races could go on) where two bulls dragging a bullock cart race for miles. There is one fellow in the cart and four others on the sides with whips. They whip the bulls from start to finish. The court allows that. In Jallikattu the bull runs for less than three minutes and there is no whipping. Which is cruel?"
Asked if people rub chilly powder to the bull's genitals and intoxicate it with arrack, the villagers laugh. "After it races through the stipulated stretch, the owner has to catch the bull. You think he would be able to do that if there was chilly powder in the bull's eyes. We want the bull to run fast. Alcohol would make it lethargic. We would never do something stupid like that," a villager said.
In the mandap, the village panchayat president Alagu Umadevi sat stoically with her supporters. Her husband Periaswamy did all the talking. "We are expecting a good verdict from the highest court. If we don't get it, we will fast unto death. This is the democratic way," he said.
The youngsters, however, did not show any tact. Some of them were protesting by sporting flowers. They said for them it is as good as being girls if they do not tame bulls. Other youngsters were shaving their heads. One man was shouting at the barber. "Please remove my moustache too. Without Jallikattu I might was well look like a girl. Who needs a moustache?" he said.
Yet others were all set to defy the ban. One of them, Muthiah, said: "On that day we will let loose 300 bulls on the streets. Let's see what the cops do. If they can catch the bulls, we will give them prizes. If they arrest us, we have lawyers to bail us out."
The Jallikattu bulls are prized possessions. They are fed well and do no work throughout the year. Thus they are strong. As they are kept in isolation throughout the year, they react strongly when touched by others.
Ramaswamy, who owns once such bull, warned me: "Yesterday, one reporter went to see a bull. He went too close. The bull bit his hand." The bull was ambling in a large guava garden.
The lady of the house went and got it. She tied it to a peg that did not look strong enough to hold it. The boys of the house stood on either side to be photographed. They said outsiders can not come anywhere near their bull. In the last five years, it had earned over a lakh in prizes. One of the boys said: "We should cut off the heads of anyone who tries to stop Jallikattu."
Five km from Alanganallur is Pallamedu. Jallikattu is a rage there too. Protests were on there too. But the villagers were protesting quietly without the drama that was being enacted in Alanganallur. One of them said, "Tamil Nadu is the only place in the world where the cow is celebrated and worshipped. You think we would mistreat bulls. It is a healthy sport." They were not as vocal as their neighbouring villagers and did not say what they would do if the Supreme Court did not vacate the ban. "The village elders will decide and till then we will continue to fast," one of them said.
But the youngsters were as angry as the ones in Alanganallur. One of them said: "One woman is the cause for all this nonsense. That Maneka Gandhi will never mind her own business. She can't stop Muslims from eating cows but stops us from racing with them."