Running with the bulls (and PETA) in Tamil Nadu

A day the bullocks look forward to? A chance to sharpen horns and get some payback? See for yourself

By Andrew Leonard
January 18, 2008 11:14PM (UTC)
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Call me a sucker for PETA marketing stunts, but when I see a headline like "PETA chief arrested for blindfolding Gandhiji statue" I just can't resist. On Thursday, Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was arrested in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on charges of "creating religious ill-feeling, defaming the national leader, trespassing" and under the "Tamil Nadu Open Places Prevention of Disfigurement Act."

Newkirk was protesting a recent Indian supreme court decision to rescind its ban on "jallikattu" -- kind of a Tamil version of bullfighting, albeit with some major differences from its Spanish cousin. For starters, in jallikattu, the bulls aren't killed, and the matadors aren't armed. The goal is to "tame" the bulls, and usually, it is the would-be tamers who get injured.


For centuries jallikattu has been a fixture of the Pongal harvest festival, but the tradition of chasing bulls goes back thousands of years in southern India, say defenders of the practice, citing ancient cave paintings as proof.

Indeed, if you read the Wikipedia page for jallikattu, you will be tempted to scoff at PETA's hijinks as culturally insensitive, and, even worse, aimed at depriving the bulls of their chance for some payback against their longtime torturers! Or as one critic of the Supreme Court's initial ban, declared, "This is the day these bulls have been waiting for all year."

If cattle could talk, almost all of them would say, "I want to be a jallikattu bull instead of hauling load all over town as a bullock." The amount of care the owners give to these bulls need to be seen. These bulls do almost no work, they get fed the best food and typically loiter all over the village. Almost everyone leaves them alone, because they know this is a bad un with a foul temper. As they acquire reputation every Pongal, they become highly sought after for stud services. This process is iterated over the years and thereby enhances the genetics of the livestock. The bulls in turn have to prove themselves at precisely this event, only once a year, every Pongal.

Ah, but it is the wonder of the Internet that fifteen minutes after being introduced, for the first time, to the existence of jallikattu, How the World Works was watching it on YouTube. And I defy anyone to say that this particular bull was having fun. I'm lining up with PETA on this one.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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