Jallikattu Ban: ‘Send Them to the Butchers’ Is Now the Only Option
The ban on Jallikattu isn’t an act of mercy on bulls. It hastens the road to the destruction of local breeds, which started with the government’s cross-breeding (with foreign breeds) programme in the 60s.
I visit the cattle market in rural Madurai for a ground report.
From Jallikattu to the Meat Factory
It takes anywhere between Rs 250 to Rs 800 each day to feed a bull that is reared for Jallikattu. Freshly squeezed sesame oil, a combination of prime farm produce, ‘malai’, bananas (a variety that costs Rs 10 per piece) and more, are part of its daily diet. There’s also regular baths and horn massages.
There was a time (pre 2009) when even lower income farmers could afford to raise a Jallikattu bull, since they were assured a good price at the cattle fair because of the prospects of winning a game. Now only large landowners raise the bulls, since they’ve been doing it for generations. Even here, only one bull – out of the five or six – is kept, and the rest are sold.
Usually, a Jallikattu bull would fetch anywhere between 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh. But in the absence of the sport, the price drops to Rs 60,000, or less.
A Jallikattu bull is practically untamed, and is fit only for breeding, and playing the sport.
This two-year-old 'Kovil Kaalai’ has never seen a Jallikattu. It will be sold into the meat market and will fetch base price.
Every village will have a ‘Kovil Kaalai’ (Temple Bull). It will be a pure breed, virile and well looked after. It will run first in all Jallikattu events, and will not be stopped by anyone. It will often be called to breed – depending on the breed, health and physicality of the cow.
It is through such meticulous systems that ‘breeding tracks’ developed, where pure breeds were developed and their traits strengthened over generations.
Keepers of the Cattle Market
In a sense, the Vadipatti cattle market is like a grand stage. Every Tuesday, between 6 am and 9 am, hundreds of cattle and people play their brief parts and depart. But there are those, who are present in every scene, each week.
I look good in the photo. I look beautiful? That’s because my name is ‘Alagu’ (beauty). I’ve been here for so many years. You asked for a Jallikattu bull, there he is. Everyone is selling theirs off, this time. There’s no Jallikattu, you see. So why did you come all the way from Delhi to see some cows?Alagu – beedi, cigarette and rope store owner
The floor of the truck is padded with hay, plant waste and coconut husk, to dampen the sound of hooves and keep the cattle calm. This time, the cows and bulls are paid for their weight in meat, and not by their worth.
The Jersey Lie
‘Desi’ breeds of cow are dying out. This becomes less of a random sentence, more of an obvious fact, just by driving a few miles out from the city, in any direction.
At the cattle fair, it looms large.
Sarkari crossbreeding programmes, right from the bilateral (Indo-Swiss) programme of 1963 to the present, have been lopsided; The focus has been higher milk yields, to the exclusion of all else.
By the 1980s, breeds like ‘Karan Swiss’ could produce 6,000 Kgs of milk in nine months (local breeds average at a little over 1,000 Kgs).
But, it necessitates grain, feed and other supplements that need to be imported.
Also, this milk isn’t suitable for those prone to diabetes, unlike the ‘desi’ variety.
After the first generation of crossbreeds, the succeeding generations have continually failed to live up to the expected milk production capacity, ability to fight off infections or acclimatise.
The cons of unscientific breeding programs grossly outweigh the higher milk yield:
1. After five decades of crossbreeding, there is still no stable, viable, economical breed of milch cow.
2. Crossbreeds are prone to a plethora of diseases, susceptible to shock and need a temperature-controlled environment; all beyond the reach of small farmers.
3. Crossbreed bulls are usually culled (slaughtered) due to poor libido and semen quality. They are worth almost nothing at the meat market.
4. High dependence on artificial insemination, through imported semen, which works one out of ten times. Each ‘injection’ costs around Rs 100.
The Jallikattu bulls are not allowed to mate, as long as they are part of the sport. By the time they are nine-years-old, they retire and are then used for breeding alone. Every village protects its own breed of bull and meticulously monitors the breeding process. This is why local breeds are so acclimatised to their surroundings.
Crossbreeding (with other local breeds) is a science which the government has ignored thus far.
With Pongal barely a few days away, Tamil Nadu Chief Minster O Panneerselvam has written to the Centre, seeking a lift on the ban. Too little. Too late.