SC’s Cattle Slaughter Embargo: ‘Dravidian’ Tropes and Jallikattu
Tamil Nadu is headed for yet another protest. The Supreme Court's measures to ensure an organised system of sale, purchase and slaughter of cattle has been stayed for four weeks by the Madurai high court. Tamil Nadu's politicians, meanwhile aren't playing up the ‘protection of culture’ rhetoric, or even the ‘freedom of choice’ spiel. They've got something better up their sleeve; Dravidian Identity.
Textbook Vote-Bank Politics
This is a textbook example of identity politics that has won votes in Tamil Nadu for over four decades now.
MK Stalin’s statement, and stance, follow his anti-Hindi vitriol of last month, when a few milestones along the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border suddenly bore Hindi script.
The Centre’s involvement in cattle trade (which is clearly a state issue) is questionable. But there is no ambiguity in the fact that the new PCA rules do not ban slaughter, nor do they eschew consumption of beef.
While both factions of the AIDMK are silent on the issue, it is only a matter of time before they declare their undying love and solidarity for the ‘Dravidian’ way of life.
Yes, the New Rules are Problematic
The government and the judiciary seem quite intent on protecting India’s bovines. But bearing down on the local markets instead of banning beef exports sends conflicting signals.
Also, some of the new regulations are either too vague, or too impractical to benefit either the farmer, or the cow.
1. Cattle must not be brought in using ropes that pass through the nostrils.
2. Markets must provide housing, sufficient food and water, feed storage areas, water troughs, ramps, enclosures for sick animals, veterinary care, lighting, bedding, toilets, proper drainage and other facilities.
3. Cattle must not be bought or sold at a cattle market for the purpose of slaughter.
The Impractical and the Joke
Boring a hole through the nostrils of a cow or a buffalo is considered torture by animal rights activists. But to farmers and traditional livestock owners, this is basic procedure, and a form of conditioning of the cattle.
Cattle markets in general are so crowded that it is often impossible to walk through the heads of cattle from one end of the market to the other. The SC’s directive to ensure separate shelters, water troughs, bedding, etc. are far removed from this chaotic, bustling reality.
Cattle markets are part of the ecosystem of the agrarian way of life. It is here that even a desperate farmer who seeks to sell off a healthy cow or bull due to drought, will find a reasonable buyer.
While farmers worry themselves sick over these and more issues with the new law, Kamal Hasan’s statements at a public gathering on his birthday in 2015 are being bandied about on social media as the last word on the ‘beef ban’ issue.
At IIT-Madras, regardless of which ideology you support, you can be sure as sunrise there’ll be a ‘study group’ of like-minded individuals.
It is between students of such study groups that violence erupted, in which Sooraj, a PhD research scholar (Ambedkar-Periyar study group) was severely injured.
Both sides misunderstood the new directives from the SC to mean a ban on beef. And instantly, a communal stance was taken.
The issue here is illegal trafficking of cattle, upon which the beef industry in India currently depends for 90% of its needs. Torture of cattle by stuffing green chillies in the eyes, biting and breaking the tail; all these are so the cattle don’t sit down during 14 hour journeys, where they’re neither given food, nor water nor care of any kind.
The new regulations in the PCAA may eliminate illegal slaughter, but they will also snuff out local breeds in the process.
Cattle is bought and sold in the cattle market.
This has been so from before the invention of money. There are references in Sangam literature (1st - 5th BCE) of markets where cattle were traded for millet and other commodities.
To suddenly ask farmers to change their way of life is neither fair nor practical.
Death Knell for Jallikattu?
To the uninitiated, this might seem far-fetched. But what the new regulations imply is a rapid decline in a farmer’s ability to buy or sell cattle. This will in turn result in import of milk and animal protein, as well as an industrialised system of animal husbandry, which corporates will own, not farmers.
Pro-Jallikattu activists like Karthikeya Sivasenapathy (founder, Senapathy Kangeyam Cattle Research Foundation), who started off the Jallikattu protests, see the SC’s notice as a death knell for local breeds.
When the four-week stay on the SC’s directive comes to an end, Dravidian politics and communal rhetoric will fly high once again in Tamil Nadu.
A proper reading of the SC’s guidelines, followed by informed debates across the board, is the need of the hour.
But, when even students from IIT-M – supposedly the creme de la creme of the state – resort to reactionary, misinformed feuds, it just might be too much to ask for.