Last Sunday, amidst the freeze and jostles of Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square gathered a group of Tamils including students, families with toddlers and working professionals armed with placards carrying messages such as, ‘Save Jallikatu’, ‘Jallikatu is our culture and identity’, ‘PETA stay out of our culture’.
The Toronto Tamil community, part of the estimated 74 million people from the group which comes from Sri Lanka and India, was supporting a two-week long protest that had been taking place in Marina, Chennai (south India) where thousands of young people along with popular celebrities spoke out against a PETA-supported ban of the 3000-year-old tradition of ‘bull taming’.
Jallikatu is a traditional sport where the bull is released into a crowd of youngsters who try to catch the hump of the bull while being able to remove the flags from its horns. The animal is not killed.
The activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had successfully lobbied in India to ban the practice. The ban was enacted in 2014 and upheld by the Supreme Court last January.
“The practice is identified as a tradition held for thousands of years, not to mention (the ban) also stigmatizes the Tamil culture and anything to deal with culture should be left unharmed. PETA should understand that no bulls are hurt, hence they should release the ban,” said Gurjeet Sohi, Humber College staff worker for international recruitment.
Tamils regard the act as ‘bull embracing’ symbolic to the celebration of Mattu Pongal where people thank the native cattle, especially the bulls, for their aid in agriculture.
PETA argues that the tradition harms the animal, but the protest organizer for the Toronto gathering disagreed.
“The tradition is not only identical to the culture, but saves the Kangayam breed of bulls” (which are maintained for the celebration), said RJ Balaji, a theatre manager for Cineplex.
“If PETA imposes a ban they should fully screen the festival at all possible angles, weighing both sides before they interfere into anybody’s culture,” said Dhruvin Parikh, an information technologies solution student at Humber.