Presenting cultural practices independent of the time and context they evolved in and propagating them without considering changed socioeconomic and political realities, is an age-old tendency of all right-wing movements. The Modi government’s ill-advised move to allow Jallikattu, the bull taming festival of Tamil Nadu, reinforces this fact. At a time when the state is gearing up for the Assembly election, the move has yet again shown the ulterior motives of the BJP, which is finding it hard to make its presence felt in a state dominated by Dravidian parties. Part of the harvest festival of Pongal, Jallikattu was banned last year by the Supreme Court, which cited that it perpetuates cruelty towards animals and endangers the lives of the participants.
A modern and progressive outlook prompted the apex court to ban this ‘traditional sport’, which is evidently influenced by feudal values. Social scientists have observed that the sport seeks to celebrate the pride of the dominant castes in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Thevars are the dominant caste in the areas where the event is popular. It is not a big event in other parts of the state. Thus, by invoking the ‘cultural sentiments’ of dominant caste groups among the Tamils when elections are fast approaching, the BJP exposes its intentions. The Thevars, along with other major communities, are thought of as capable of influencing the electoral fortunes of major political parties and the BJP has been desperately trying to woo as many caste groups as possible in the state. The latest notification by the Modi government to circumvent the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu is to be seen in this context.
Among the several reasons it has given for the beef ban, the Sangh Parivar has often cited cruelty towards animals as a major one. The irony is that the same Sangh does not have any qualms in treating the bulls cruelly. This apart, by invoking a festival of the feudal era, the Modi government is mocking the modern value system which prohibits cruelty towards animals. The central government’s notification granting permission to conduct the festival has given the regional parties and caste organisations a chance to whip up regionalism in the run up to the polls. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has already written to the Centre asking them to promulgate an ordinance to save a ‘traditional sport’. Now, after the apex court has rejected the notification, the onus is on the Centre to clarify whether or not it will allow the celebration of a custom that endangers the lives of participants and perpetuates cruelty towards animals. This will once and for all put to rest the controversy around Jallikattu.