What are we celebrating? The ‘Harvest festival’?

Pongal. Uzhavar Thirunaal. Farmers’ day.

Usually, the night before Pongal, I patiently sit and watch Amma finish the outline of the kolam while I impatiently wait for my cue. “You can fill now”, she says and I happily take the bright pink colour podi and start filling inside the kolam. Pongal is my favourite festival because in Tamil Nadu we get a four-day long holiday.

This time it won’t be any different, will it? Forcing sugarcanes to perform the balancing act on either side of the padayal (offering) for the morning prayer, getting new clothes with turmeric on the crisp collars, shouting “Pongal-O-Pongal” when Pongal pot overflows, pretending to help around the home while Amma does all the work, flipping channels between breaks because there are so many Pongal special programmes on TV, also checking in on Facebook to state that you’re “watching Bairava with 5 others”.

And the most important thing, eating Pongal like there’s no tomorrow! No, seriously. The main part of Pongal is to celebrate food and to thank the farmers who gave us the food. We also have one special day called Maatu Pongal to thank the bulls and cows who worked hard in the farm to give us this food. It is the harvest festival after all!

Will this be Pongal for us this time? No. It will be different! It has to be. Because what are we actually celebrating? The farmers and the cows? When farmers are dying due to failed monsoon and a whole breed of indigenous bulls are about to die.

kangeyam-bull

(Image Source: Senaapathy Cattle research foundation)

See the majestic hump on this bull? This is the mighty Kangeyam bull. But the question of the hour is that “will this breed live on”?

Jallikattu or Manju Virattu or Eru Thazhuvudhal – in Tamil translates to ‘embracing the bull’. And not ‘bullfight’ according to a ‘I-choose-to-live-under-a-rock-with-my-WiFi’ type millennial, living in a city, who has never visited a village. He or she would say, “I stand against animal cruelty and so I support Jallikattu ban”. And such is the level of ignorance from the same people who applauded and shared Leonardo Di Caprio’s famous Oscar acceptance speech about indigenous people and livelihoods. And I have heard several people of my age talk with ignorance about Jallikattu. If you’ve never watched the sport in person, at least learn the real information just like I did and support this cause.

Jallikattu is a sport where individuals compete with each other to stay the longest with the bull. Individuals who can vault to the hump of the bull and stay for a particular distance or stay for three bull jumps are declared the champions. It’s an ancient sport played since Sangam Tamil period (3rd till 4th century) with poetry and carved stones at museums to show as evidence. Jallikattu is cultural pride of Tamilians. It is a bloodless sport and the only ones who get injured are the humans. This is a little similar to the running of the bulls and not the bullfight of spain!

Kangeyam has low yield of milk around 3 litres a day while Jersey can give atleast a dozen litres a day. So there is low demand for Kangeyam cows, forget the bulls! Raising bulls for beef is also illegal in TN and so the Kangeyam bulls have high value only for Jallikattu. With that no more, these bulls are a lost cause because the small farmers who breed them have no use anymore. And moreover it costs around Rs.500 a day to take care of these special Jallikattu bulls.

The farmers who raise these bulls take care of them as their children. Animal cruelty much? Raising bulls only to slaughter them for beef is alright, but Jallikattu is animal cruelty. Hypocrisy much? SC said that these animals are not anatomically designed for such sport. Decades of careful breeding of indigenous stocks has been done for the mighty Kangeyam bull that we now see. So farmers without a college degree don’t know anatomy?

Jallikattu is our pride and these are our bulls.

This ban on Jallikattu championed by animal rights activists is not giving these bulls any mercy at all. It has only endangered the future of Kangeyam bulls as now rural population have no livelihood to make with the bulls and they will reduce in number. If there are no bulls to breed, then the extinction of the whole breed will follow suit soon. Our majestic bull is dying and so will a part of our identity.

Our farmers and crops are dying. Just today, three days before Pongal, our CM declares TN as a drought-hit state. 144 farmers have ended their lives in the last three months of 2016 and this is majorly due to poor monsoon and inability to pay loans. Source: IndiaSpend

City folk will realise this alarming situation when one day they walk into Anjappar and realise that their biriyani is now made of Basmati rice and not Seeraga Samba. The farmers in the Thanjavur belt who cultivated the crops have stopped because there is no Cauvery water or have quit or worse.

Pongal is also the beginning of a new Tamil month called Thai. “Thai pirandha vazhi pirakkum (When Thai is born, a new beginning is born)” goes the Tamil saying. This is the correct time to do our bit, a small step towards a bigger problem. Maybe, as the first step, as conscious consumers we can take the initiative to buy and encourage indigenous products and also be ecologically responsible.

Wishing you a very Happy Pongal!

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