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Jallikattu has become a sacred rite now. What was until recently a sporting pastime, a fun activity and a quirk from the past has become an all consuming passion after the ban and protests. If only the Supreme Court had not banned it, Jallikattu may have tamped down on its own and become a tame affair except maybe in Alanganallur.
Not long ago, villages that saw accidents during the bull run would stop having the event next year. If, after Jallikattu, trouble broke out between winners and losers, as was often the case, the village elders would come together and decide not to hold it in future. These were practical decisions and were common. Jallikattu was becoming a vestige of the past that was out of sync with modern life.
Now Jallikattu has acquired a political and cultural significance far beyond what it actually is. No one dares to stop it for practical reasons.
For instance, Jallikattu has become an event that helps to conserve indigeneous cow and bull breeds. Not too long ago, desi cows were considered unsuitable for India’s milk needs and foreign breeds were brought here and cross-bred to boost milk production. It’s more common to find the cross breed these days than the pure bred. This year, however, the government has banned the cross breed from competing in Jallikattu. There is a practical side, too, to it. The cross bred doesn’t have humps and the horns are short but dangerously pointy, making them difficult customers for bull tamers.
The symbolic and real associations of Jallikattu have only grown in recent years. And that is the reason we are having Jallikattu this time despite the raging pandemic. Banning it was not an option for the government. It would have been quickly dubbed an anti-Tamil act, a betrayal. In any case, at least some of the ardent advocates of Jallikattu are also typically vaccine skeptics. The two attitudes are co-terminus or rather of same origin. They both cater to the same urge to look for answers in the past and hold one’s past and traditions as sacred. Banning Jallikattu would have meant riling those who are already not so happy with the vaccine mandate.
The government, of course, assures of precautions. Only the vaccinated can take part in the sport, it says. And outsiders are discouraged from going to the events to reduce rush. But this year’s Jallikattu would make a mockery of social distancing. The fast spreading Omicron would only love the crowds. The saving grace is that Omicron may well not be not much more than a flu despite the reports of deaths of elderly patients with co-morbidities.
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