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.
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
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.
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