Are we justified in expecting animals to provide us entertainment at the cost of their lives?… One of the best things that’s happened for animals recently is the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu and cattle races…
Jallikattu is an annual event in Tamil Nadu wherein young men chase and torment a bull to make him run. The idea is to “grab the bull by the horns” and hold on. The terror and injury caused to the animal is a clear violation of the animal protection laws. Cattle races have been banned because they are equally cruel. Bullocks and oxen are not horses. They are slow gentle creatures. Already worn out by a hard day’s work, they are forced to run by rubbing chillies into their eyes and anuses, jabbing them in their privates with nailed sticks, lashing them with steel whips and forcing alcohol down their throats. The purpose is to so enrage the animal that he will rush full tilt ahead. Many die immediately from the alcohol, stress and injuries, more a few days later when their hearts collapse from the exertion.
Cattle racing is not a traditional farmers’ sport. It has been invented in the last 10 years mainly by local liquor and betting mafias. I expect that within two years it will become a thing of the past. One such race was recently organised in Ghaziabad along 20 km of highway amidst dense vehicular traffic. Hundreds of people gathered at the spot to run behind the animals. The organisers collected Rs 2.5 lakh in bets. The animals that lost were to be killed and the meat distributed. The local administration stopped the race and eleven people were arrested.
In Maharashtra, which holds a lot of these races, the authorities had successfully cracked down on them in 2005. A city court too had banned a bullock cart race held annually by Pune’s Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation. But after the corporators threatened a mass agitation and trucked in goons, the police capitulated and the race was illegally held. Photographers reporting the crime were thrashed by these corporators who emboldened by the success of their pressure tactics, vowed to stage even bigger races henceforth. Even worse, a secretary of the Animal Welfare Board, currently under investigation for corruption, on his own dashed off a letter to the Maharashtra Government permitting such races.
The result was that after two years, the races re-started in Maharashtra. 300 bullocks took part in a race in village Landewadi. The area MP claimed the races were being held “to honour the animals’ and announced prizes of Rs 50,000 and gold ornaments enticing participants from all over the Ambegaon district. 30 animals died whilst being so ‘honoured’ ! Another race in Wardha owned by the local MLA who makes money whilst pretending to do it for farmers, was held last year in spite of being banned by the DM.
Beauty Without Cruelty’s investigation of similar racing events held across Maharashtra reveals shocking cruelty. In Pune and Ahmednagar, it found that the bullocks were locked in dark rooms for nearly a week so that they ran out in sheer panic. They were force fed alcohol and beaten with sticks studded with nails. Any animal injured and rendered unfit for work was killed. One race at Bahadarpur village in Ahmednagar district had carts pulled not by two bulls but by one bull and one horse! The difference in the height and speed of both animals caused enormous pain to both and often resulted in the death of one or the other. Among the methods used to get them to run was constant lashing, twisting and biting the tails, and spitting tobacco into their eyes. Before the race, ants were put into the ears of the animals driving them mad with irritation. Manhandling and yanking at the nose cords to cause bleeding was common.
In Belgaum, Karnataka, there is no effort to disguise it as a farmer’s event. Organised in the name of god by a religious trust headed by Jains, people are charged Rs 600 to watch the race. The local politicians collect a lot of money which is promised to be spent on “developmental works”, and naturally never seen again.
Another place where bullock cart races take place, this time under the guise of rural sports, is Kila Raipur in Punjab. The Kila Raipur Rural Olympics was envisaged as an annual meet for Punjab farmers to test their physical prowess. Today it is simply a moneyspinning event where one bets on bullock cart races. There is so much local opposition to this cruelty that the police have to oversee and guard the race. In 2000, an official GOI letter alerted the DC Ludhiana to the cruelties being perpetrated during this race. After an investigation confirming this, the DC cancelled the race. “All animal contests where one animal is pitted against the other are completely illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The organisers, participants as well as the persons providing space for such activities are liable for punishment under section 11 sub sections (a), (n) and (o) of the said Act. In view of the provisions contained in the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, animal contests like ram fights, cock fights, bullock cart races and dog races are banned in the district till further orders.”
Predictably, there was a furore in the name of “tradition”. Local politicians claimed that bullock racing was important because it kept farmers busy during an “idle” period, thereby keeping them from becoming terrorists! The organisers of a cattle race in Phalewal got veterinarians to certify that cattle races prevented cattle diseases (reminds me of the doctors who defended smoking). In Andhra Pradesh where these races require the animals to carry boulders of 1000-2000 kg, the High Court had banned ox racing in 1989. The organisers defended them by saying that if the ban was not lifted, farmers would no longer rear bulls causing their extinction, while the association of cattle breeders (animal traders and butchers) urged the CM to declare these races a tourism necessity!
Kerala’s main cattle race held in Kakkur, Ernakulam and owned by the local MLA, was banned by the District Collector in 2005 as being extremely cruel. The organisers got a stay on the ban on certain conditions “No stick of metal or wood will be allowed. The racers’ hands should be examined to see they are not carrying anything. Neither animal nor man can be allowed to race if they have imbibed alcohol. No vehicles will be allowed on the racetrack to collide with the carts. No loads should be put in the carts. No twisting or biting of tails will be allowed”. A video of the race showed a violation of every one of these directives. The authorities banned the race. The politician found a “compliant” member of the Animal Welfare Board of India to inaugurate it in 2006!
Again on December 8, in defiance of the ban, the Communist Government introduced a bullock cart race in Thrissur organised by its party’s youth wing. Yoked together, cattle had to run through deep muddy water whilst being kicked and beaten. The Supreme Court ban has finally put an end to all this unevenness. As district officials become aware of the law, and a few of them are held for contempt, we will finally put an end to this pernicious practice. Are we justified in expecting animals to provide us entertainment at the cost of their lives? Would we condone rounding up children for a race against their wishes, physically abusing them to make them run knowing it is beyond their capacities, and then awarding a prize to that ‘agent’ whose child won the race?