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Jallikattu Ban: ‘Send Them to the Butchers’ Is Now the Only Option

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Jallikattu Ban: ‘Send Them to the Butchers’ Is Now the Only Option
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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.

Virumandi stands with his ‘son’, Ayyanar. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

This two-year-old ‘Kovil Kaalai’ has never seen a Jallikattu. It will be sold into the meat market and will fetch base price.

He has seen more than a thousand Jallikattus. There have been no rains this year. I cannot feed him anymore. No one has laid a single scratch on him so far, you know? Virumandi – Farmer, Jallikattu bull owner

Raja with Rajan. Who’s who? I’ll leave that to you. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

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.

Beauty. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

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

‘I’ve never accepted 500s. Never needed them.’ (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

Friendly, raunchy banter at the cattle market. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

 Friendly, raunchy banter at the cattle market. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)  

Happy feet. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

During the ‘Jallikattu’, hundreds of bulls will be tethered to pickets on the fields. Their dung would help replenish the soil for many harvests over. Floor disinfectant, to manure to fuel; dung is never wasted, and always in demand.

Rs 90 to buy. Rs 90 to sell. The price of transacting at the marketplace. Without his receipt, you cannot leave. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

Rs 90 to buy. Rs 90 to sell. The price of transacting at the marketplace. Without his receipt, you cannot leave. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

‘What the f***k are you looking at?’ (loose translation). A buyer loads the cows and is ready to depart. He doesn’t like where I’ve placed the shot. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)
‘Bargain’. Under the towel, the buyer quotes his price with his fingers, and the seller will either nod or quote his asking price. The price of cattle is not spoken about aloud. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)
‘Bargain’. Under the towel, the buyer quotes his price with his fingers, and the seller will either nod or quote his asking price. The price of cattle is not spoken about aloud. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)
Truckload of meat. This is where most of the cattle bought or sold at the market this time, will end up. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

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.

The First Indian Crossbreed Cow
Was born near Patna, around 1857, when a Short Horn bull (north east of England) was made to mate with local cows. That’s how the ‘Taylor’ breed was born.
‘Buy a Jersey (cow), hire a doctor’. Vetrivel jokes about how prone crossbreeds are to infections. There’s been a drought this year. He isn’t hoping for much. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)
‘Buy a Jersey (cow), hire a doctor’. Vetrivel jokes about how prone crossbreeds are to infections. There’s been a drought this year. He isn’t hoping for much. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)
 

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.

‘Otraiyaru’ – named after the village, this is a pure breed. The bull is an extremely hardy plough animal. The cow yields milk even in drought conditions. There was only one pair in the market. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

‘Otraiyaru’ – named after the village, this is a pure breed. The bull is an extremely hardy plough animal. The cow yields milk even in drought conditions. There was only one pair in the market. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

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.

A horned issue. Today, over 80% of stray cattle is mixed breed. Soon, the Vadivasal market may not feel the hooves of a local breed of bull. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

A horned issue. Today, over 80% of stray cattle is mixed breed. Soon, the Vadivasal market may not feel the hooves of a local breed of bull. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

India’s average milk yield has been deliberately misrepresented, by including both mixed and drought breeds with milch breeds. This facilitates such short sighted decisions as the import of hundred holstein cows and 300 Jersey bulls between 2013 and 2018.

Virumandi will sell his Jallikattu bull, ‘Ayyanar’ for Rs 30,000 or less. It will travel across the border, into Kerala, to be butchered. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

Virumandi will sell his Jallikattu bull, ‘Ayyanar’ for Rs 30,000 or less. It will travel across the border, into Kerala, to be butchered. (Photo: Vikram Venkateswaran)

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.

Dwindling numbers of local breeds, the colossal failure of unscientific crossbreeding and the ban on folk traditions such as Rekla, Jallikattu and cock fights, which have been traditional patrons of local breeds.

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.

Vikram Venkateswaran
The Quint 

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