This past 2 weeks the Indian judiciary, the Tamil Nadu government and the people in Chennai have been in a clash over the ban imposed by the Supreme Court on Jallikattu — an annual festival which involves a local breed of Bull being released into a crowd of people and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. (Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallikattu).
The issue reached epic proportions with the citizens organizing protests — which escalated from peaceful to not-so-much — at the Marina Beach in Chennai. The Supreme Court’s rationale to impose the ban was to protect the bulls which are often subjected to injuries (sometimes leading to death). The same is the case with the participants.
The counter argument by people is that the ban is an interference with their tradition and culture. Also, historically, the festival was responsible for healthy breeding of native livestock in the state.
With intervention from the CM O. Panneerselvam, who reached out to the Central Government to lift the ban (which it did) to people not being happy with an ad-hoc measure like this and resorting to protests again, leads and leaves us with a lot of questions.
Questions largely around lines and where, when and how do we draw them:
First, culture and tradition is subjective: Then who decides what is culturally appropriate? Whose appropriation is right? And at what cost? Here the cost is loss of lives — both, animals and humans.
Second, who’s your daddy? While the Supreme Court’s views are appreciated, and in most matters also solicited, the question becomes increasingly complex in a country like India, as to where do we draw a line?
Third, what classifies as offense? These days, with offense being the most natural course or response, to pretty much everything, what truly is offensive anymore? With social media, which thrives on virality, and fuels a lot of such debates and arguments, it also blurs a lot of lines.
Fourth, role play: There has been an intense agitation against nonprofit organizations like PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of animals) who is leading efforts against the lifting of the ban, to be banned in the state, it calls for a dialogue evaluating the role of different institutions (civil society organizations, NGOs, citizen groups, government and the judiciary) in issues which affect us.
Like with most issues these days, what we are lacking is an exchange of healthy question and answer — because the premise of every argument it seems is answers and answers alone. We need questions more than ever. Some might lead to answers, a lot to more questions but none to violence.