Animal Instincts Go National

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The many dimensions of the taming of bulls

LOVE OF ANIMALS takes strange and surprising forms. It is deep affection for the cow that makes Rajasthan’s education minister reveal that it is the only being in the world that can both inhale and exhale oxygen, unwittingly making its lungs the most inefficient of all God’s creatures. Then there is the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has long done the male of the human species the favour of cladding beautiful semi-nude actresses in animal skins and thus encouraged the love of animals through lust of women. Or at least that is the intention. It would be generous to believe that when an 18-year-old sees Shilpa Shetty in leopard skin or Celina Jaitley with chains woven around her body, he is thinking of a better planet for animals. Also leading us to the question that if objectification of the female body is as inhuman as feminists claim, then what are the ethics of such a gimmick? PETA obviously has no self-doubt and that is unsurprising. All activism is a form of fundamentalism that believes that their end is the noblest one and so many means are justified. In the world as it is today, noise is supreme and almost nothing gives as much free publicity as a hot actress in blue lingerie talking of whips and chains and that too in the service of a good cause.

Almost nothing, because there is another powerful locomotive of publicity and that is to target popular festivals that use animals. Such symbolism is standard operating practice in competitive fields—the big stage is what gives movements scale. Remember Arvind Kejriwal standing against Sheila Dikshit, and Narendra Modi contesting from Varanasi? Same principle.

The successful campaign against the Tamil bull taming ritual Jallikattu, which led to the Supreme Court ban, falls in that category. Unlike bullfighting in Spain, bulls don’t get killed in Jallikattu and the cruelty extends for some hours in a day. It shouldn’t be such a big deal in a country like India with so much inherent violence among humans in its cultural events. Like the Lathmar Holi in two towns of Uttar Pradesh where women beat men with lathis. Or when it comes to animals, Bakri Eid is a time of large-scale ritual slaughter. Or poultry farms with their barbarous form of mass breeding and killing. The assumption is that human needs warrant it.

PETA’s concern with Jallikattu is hypocritical, but it is nothing compared to the political reaction against it in Tamil Nadu. The DMK Working President MK Stalin has called PETA ‘anti-national’ and he has been echoed by a number of superstars like Suriya and Vijay. There is obviously no definition of ‘anti-national’ which is why it is such a useful word, but even by the poor standards it upholds, this one is imaginative. For if a campaign against bull-taming is anti-national, then bull-taming must be a nationalist activity, like standing up for the National Anthem in cinema halls.