Jallikattu, moral relativism and the rights of bacteria.


Last year I’d gone to Kullu in Himachal Pradesh to observe the Dushehra celebrations there.  I had heard that at the festival 5 animals were typically slaughtered  before being offered to the gods and then consumed.

The Raja of Kullu had made the point that “what we did is no different to what a butcher does”.  (I wrote about my experience here.)

Still, the practice was banned by the Himachal High Court in 2014, who took the position that “it is a grey area whether the animal sacrifice can be termed as religious practice or not……. The faith, rituals and its continuation must change in the modern era”.

The underlying message was: it is OK to cull animals by the hundreds of thousands and put them in your modern-era-McDonald’s- burgers, but it is archaic to do the same thing at the village level in the name of your beliefs.

Even if in both cases, the animal ends up just as dead, and just as consumed.

A similar sort of double standard underlies the faux-outrage I see in many urban sophisticates apropos the present Jallikattu-ban debate.

When in a society the slaughter of animals is considered acceptable for the purposes of consumption and commodification (leather), and where livestock is routinely used to plough fields and transport goods, often in dreadful if perilous conditions no less, as has been the case for millennia, not to mention be made to march in parades, on what basis can one argue that a festival in which a running bull is released into a crowd, with participants attempting to grab its hump (not unlike, but far less brutal than the Spanish bull run I believe– as there is no bullfight), is particularly cruel?

Why and how is it any crueler than so many other things we do all the time to animals without batting an eyelid?

I get the argument to put in place greater controls and regulations so as to minimize abuse and improve general safety, but to ban the practice altogether seems like another example of moral/cultural imperialism under the guise of egalitarianism.

Or is it that we are so rigidly convinced about the superiority of our own value system that we take it as given that our beliefs must be applied without question to all subcultures in a land as multicultural as India?

There is a time and place for taking an absolute stand on morals of course –Sati and Cannibalism shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere (for example), and everybody generally thinks so because we have arrived at a point where we as a society don’t just believe in the sanctity of human life but strictly adhere to the principle in practice too—but this selective outrage at a custom that is supposedly ‘regressive’ seems both conceited and hypocritical.

It is not as if we yet live in a culture in which everybody is overwhelmingly virtuous, vegan (seeing as the use of livestock for dairy harms animals, too, it has been argued) and totally eschews antibiotics.

Because bacteria are life too.

And by the same token shouldn’t microbes also have rights?

If the world current affairs are any indicator as to how bizarre reality can actually become, maybe it isn’t so absurd to think that our ethics will in fact evolve to such a degree. Someday.


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