Kambala goes Jallikattu way; PETA plans to challenge
Moodbidri: When thousands of people lead by 200 buffalo owners chanting ‘’Kambala Ulisi’’ (Save Kambala) gathered in Moodbidri’s Kadalakere Nisargadhama grounds two weeks ago protesting the ban on Kambala, the State Government of Karnataka knew it had to act soon. After two weeks of discussions, the state assembly finally caved to the pressure as it passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Bill 2017, essentially legalising the traditional buffalo race.
The popular rural sport and the bullock cart races will now be kept outside the purview of the proposed law dealing with the prevention of cruelty to animals considering their “traditional nature”.
While Kambala was banned in 2016 after the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) approached the Karnataka High Court, the movement for the repeal of the ban picked up steam only last month after jallikattu was made legal in Tamil Nadu.
Buffalo owners turn up with prized buffalos to protest Kambala ban
Much like the jallikattu protesters in Madurai and other parts of Tamil Nadu had done, the protesting buffalo owners and workers gathered in Moodbidri to emphasise the hoary tradition and strong love for animals behind the sport. Alongside the owners, a number of agricultural labourers also participated in the protest two weeks ago, helping to care for the animals while the procession wound its way around Moodbidri. These labourers said that the ban on kambala was a crisis for them, both in denying them the work of caring for buffaloes and taking away one of their main cultural activities.
Purshottam, a labourer who works for Ramaiah Bhandari of the Kathyapadavu Thanda (team), from Punkedayadadi, said, “We have been doing this for 20-25 years. When kambala was banned, we stuck to agriculture, but what we really wanted was to continue the sport. It is out of our own interest that we are doing it.”
He conceded that the animals do face the stick during races, but compared Kambala favourably to sports such as horse racing. “We do hit the buffaloes, but unlike horse racing we don’t sit on top of them. The jockey runs behind,” he explained.
The protests in Moodbidri were preceded by protests in Mangaluru which saw a more urban crowd take to the streets. And while the feel at Moodbidri was much more traditional, demands of protesters were similar especially critical of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). ‘’Kambala has been in practise since the days of Koti and Chhennaya. PETA cannot reverse this part of our culture,’’ said Ravi Suvarna, a buffalo owner from Bailoor.
PETA slams new bill
However, according to PETA, a total of 65 non-cognisable offence complaints and one FIR were filed at just three events inspected by the AWBI during Kambala events in 2014 and 2015. “To believe the word of those with a vested interest in racing buffaloes that doing so does not hurt the animals would be like believing a child trafficker who says that slavery does not hurt children. It would be like believing a cigarette company that claims smoking does not contribute to lung cancer,” said Nikunj Sharma, Government Affairs Liaison at PETA India.
The inspection reports by PETA detail the various forms of cruelty faced by buffalos including shouting, hitting with hands, slapping on the face, violent pulling of thick nose ropes (in some cases two or three nose ropes inserted through the same hole in the nasal septum), other rough handling by pushing and pulling the animal, overpowering, tail pulling, and restricting the movements of the head using a wooden pole tied to the horns.
While the Karnataka High Court is yet to pass a judgement on the case, practitioners of the sport will undoubtedly be emboldened by the legislative victory, seeing as it allows for Kambala to be held freely. However, PETA plans to study the new bill and challenge it in the Supreme Court, so it remains to be seen if the sport will be legalised permanently.
Featured Photograph: Roopak Shetty
Edited by Prajwal Bhat