PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The day before the Supreme Court of India softened its stand on the “barbaric” taming–of-the-bull festival jallikattu, a former SC judge, who is now with the National Human Rights Commission, was participating in a village festival in Northern Karnataka, where, in an equally reprehensible ritual, devotees flung infant sheep like bananas and coconuts in an annual expression of thanks to the presiding deity.
To be sure, eyewitnesses say Justice Shivaraj V. Patil did not himself hurl the baby sheep or take part in the January 14 procession during which the sheep were thrown; he was only present at the festival held 105 km from Gulbarga. In fact, Shivaram Asundi, a reporter for Eenadu Television who obtained a soundbyte from Justice Patil, says the NHRC deputy chief, who attends the festival every three years, was actually unaware of such a practice being held in the village.
But approximately 4,000 baby sheep—between three and six months of age—were thrown by bystanders as the pallaki carrying the diety Mallaiah and his “wife” Malagamma were taken in the kilometre-long procession from the temple atop a hillock to the lake down below. Some 50,000 devotees from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh took part in the Mylaralingana jatre, held in Mylapur in Yadgir taluk on the same date every year.
ETV visuals, captured by cameraman Sheikh Sha Vali, showed several innocent animals getting cruelly trampled during the 30-minute procession, some of them under the feet of the marchers and some out of plain fear. Whether any of them perished in the melee is unclear because the animals were quickly collected by the winner of the Rs 375,000 tender floated by the State government’s muzrai department, which runs the temple.
M. Thimmappa, assistant commissioner of Yadgir taluk, was quoted as saying that the custom was not inhuman because the animals were only being “offered” to the deities, and not being sacrificed. But eyewitnesses said it was an eerie feeling to see the tiny animals being hurled by devotees sitting on top of the hillock and by those waiting by the side of the procession route, like fruits thrown by devotees at car festivals in the old Mysore region.
Since there is no manufactured conflict between man and animal, and since no blood is deliberately spilt, it can be argued that the Mylapur festival is much less brutal than the Madurai festival. But surely, if a government department is in charge of the temple and the festival, it can think of a more humane way of accepting the “offering”, regardless of whether a high judicial official is in attendance, without hurting the feeling of devotees or the meek animals?