Dear Hindus: Don’t Forget these Precursors to the Sabarimala Judgment

First off, a huge and heartfelt congratulations to the entire Hindu community for its unprecedented solidarity in spontaneously hitting the roads in a massive wave of protest against the recent feminist-textbook judgement in the Sabarimala “case.” It hurts to even use words like “case,” “issue,” “controversy” and such other appellations. This judgement is perhaps a reflection of a judiciary which has lost touch with the fundamental ethos of this sacred land and has had to resort to sweeping theorising–indeed, at one level, it appears that it is much less a judicial verdict as we know it than it is an attempt to simply make a point.

Like I mentioned in my earlier essay, the Sabarimala verdict is the cumulative outcome of sustained backroom manoeuvring and pressure tactics by a vast and determined and well-funded and well-networked lobby of breaking India forces. But that is not just all. This verdict also has several similar precedents and precursors each of which met with success. We can examine just two representative samples.

On February 12, 2017, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, in a laudable move, passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2017, exempting Kambala and bullock-cart racing from the purview of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. This comes close on the heels of the Tamil Nadu government’s ordinance allowing Jallikattu, okayed by the Centre in January 2017.

When we consider the timeline of the events that resulted in the Supreme Court’s ban of Jallikattu and Kambala, what is clearly evident is this: until PETA (and similar organisations) came along, there was really no problem with regard to Jallikattu, Kambala etc.

By its own admission on its website, PETA opened shop in India in 2000. So it’s really astonishing that 14 years of incessant and loud activism and campaigning got it the Supreme Court’s attention and the consequent ban in May 2014.

But what has actually occurred as a social and cultural phenomenon is the fact that a new fault line has been created in an erstwhile harmonious society. 

At the risk of oversimplifying, this fault line can be defined as a clash between animal activists/sympathisers and those organising, participating, and patronising events like Kambala, etc. At one level, this phenomenon can also be regarded as a clash between the “urban” and the “rural.” But the biggest civilisational warning that emerged is the ban itself: in other words, the Jallikattu and Kambala prohibitions shows the precise extent to which the “native” Indian society has been deracinated and made rootless at the very top echelons.

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Why is it that almost every anti-Kambala/Jallikattu activist predominantly hails from urban centres and regards these dateless sports as inflicting cruelty to animals while those protesting against such activists regard it almost reverentially, as an integral cultural facet that needs to be protected, nurtured, and perpetuated? Even giving the benefit of doubt to the notorious PETA, if its intention behind getting these sports banned was based on compassion, did it think about what all would be destroyed as collateral damage?

Kambala

Of course, as the record shows, the intent of PETA is anything but compassionate as we shall see. Its 14 year-long and ongoing, targeted activism against Kambala, Jallikattu, etc begets a fundamental question: are we to believe that Indians as a people had no concept of kindness towards animals in all their 5000-plus years of history until PETA came along and agitated? But the real reason doesn’t seem to be PETA’s kindness towards animals, as David Frawley’s column shows:

Colonial powers used to pontificate over non-western cultures, claiming to civilise them – even India and China that already had older complex civilisations…Beneath the veneer of multiculturalism the fact is that traditional cultures in the world are rapidly disappearing owing to their domination by the forces of globalism, which serve to undermine local cultures. Modern multiculturalism appears to consist of people of all cultures being westernised The current effort to ban Jallikattu is but part of the ongoing attack on Hindu culture. It is not about protecting animals but about eliminating competing cultures. [Emphasis added]

It’s this westernisation aspect that I referred to earlier in my note on the clash between “urban” and “rural” India.

Besides, PETA is not a constitutional body that has any authority to interfere in and arrogate to itself the right to decide upon our festivals, traditions, and practices. It appears that PETA is accountable to none but has a self-given mandate to create mischief in foreign lands. The unfortunate fact is that the hollowed out Indian state has allowed such organisations to use precisely our own legal and judicial machinery to inflict this sort of cultural havoc upon us.

For all its animal activism, here’s the record of PETA for 2011:

Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713… As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanised 1,198… PETA also took in 58 other companion animals – including rabbits. It killed 54 of them. it kills 84 percent of supposedly “unadoptable” animals within 24 hours of their arrival… testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA’s hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster.

There exists voluminous information about the murkier activities of organisations like PETA. Given this, it’s incredible that our governmental and judicial systems perhaps didn’t do due diligence on such organisations before even allowing them to open their shops in India. Equally, when we notice a small selection of PETA’s activism in India, it becomes clear that the intent is to demonise and eventually eliminate valuable and timeless facets, traditions, practices and lifestyle elements of Hindu cultural heritage one at a time. And organisations like PETA are doing this using Hindus themselves as aids, tools, and pawns. So we have a brutal and tragic spectacle where Hindus are willing participants ushering their own destruction. Here’s the deadly PETA (partial) list.

1. It’s against the use of temple elephants in the Thrissur Pooram

2. It wants a snake-free Nag Panchami

3. It also wants a “vegan” Dahi Handi

In other words, it wants to remove the very ingredient that defines the festival or practice, akin to the clamour for “colourless/waterless Holi,” “cracker-less Diwali,” and so on. On the last subject, it has met with success in capturing popular imagination. The 2016 Telugu blockbuster, Janata Garage features the protagonist as an environment lover in the PETA mould, played by Junior NTR hamming his way throughout the movie in a state of perpetual hypertension. The scene in which he self-righteously delivers a condemnatory lecture against the “dangers of cracker-bursting” on Diwali is straight out of an ecoterrorist textbook.

As many have argued, if the ban on Jallikattu and Kambala is justified, so is a ban on derby and polo. In reality, events like Jallikattu, Kambala, Rekhla, bullock-cart races (in Andhra Pradesh held during Sankranti), buffalo racing (Pothu poottu matsaram) in Kerala, the bull racing festival in Indonesia (Karapan Sapi), and the Yak racing in Mongolia, Tibet and China are dateless. If one traces the history of these sports, the common underlying factor is the fact that most of these are rooted in celebrating and honouring agriculture, the origin of all culture. These are festivals of expressing gratitude to the various forces of nature that give us food. Purely within the context of India, these festivals are called by various names in various parts of the country, which is yet another instance showing our cultural unity rooted in and bound by Hinduism. The urban (alarmingly, of late, even Tier-2 cities) Indian has been near-totally cut off from the source of his/her sustenance. When the very basics like food and beverage have become mere products and brands, there is no mental and emotional space that admits the fundamental connection between the experiences of germination, growth, maturation and consumption of food. Such festivals foster and keep alive these experiences.

While there’s definite merit in the argument that sports like Jallikattu help preserve native cattle breeds, and sustains farming and cattle-rearing, there is also an economic angle to it. For instance, a good Kambala event is attended by 20,000 or more people during the season. The festival is also a massive fair with plenty of options for shopping, food, etc, which immensely boosts the local economies. This report gives a flair of the typical scene at a Kambala event.

At the primal level of the human experience, Kambala and Jallikattu are great outlets for channelising energy, which is expressed in promoting the competitive spirit and forging and strengthening community relationships. Even a simple Kushti bout brings together entire villages like nothing else does. Indeed, like every other civilisation that has a long history, the bedrock of Indian civilisation still remains the community, most visible in small towns and villages. To a great extent, the United States, which is the newest nation, was built upon the values of community living.

It’s not far from the truth to say that the anti-Kambala activists are largely experts in superficial theories and notions of what constitutes animal cruelty. If one actually spent time on the ground, a simple, verifiable truth would unravel: a village spends almost an entire year planning for say, Jallikattu, and the animals are carefully fed, tended, and the rest. The actual race event is only a small part of a whole of a culture built upon nurturing and preserving cattle. I refer the interested reader to Padmashri Dr SL Bhyrappa’s acclaimed novel, Tabbaliyu neenaade magane (My Son, You’re Orphaned) which explains this culture in vivid detail.

While both the Tamil Nadu and the Karnataka government’s legislations on the matter is welcome, it’s actually an eye-opener: that it finally took the masses of pro-Kambala protesters to wake the government up to the ongoing cultural destruction. However, what would the governments have done had the masses not agitated? Therein lies the story that has plagued much of post-Independence India’s history: of the appalling cultural apathy on the part of the ruling class which has proven itself culturally clueless with each succeeding generation To quote David Frawley’s warning again:

“This cultural war is real and much of India’s westernised media is supporting it. If Indians do not stand up against it, their culture will be eliminated like many other traditional cultures of the world have been already.”

Like I said, having tasted blood in these instances, these forces have only become more emboldened, more brazen. Hence, Sabarimala. Which is their latest success.

It’s up to the entire Hindu community across the globe to see how constructively best it can channelise the ongoing protest against the Sabarimala verdict.

|| Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa ||

Sandeep Balakrishna
Writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. Author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." He has translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.