Various layers like coverage, sense and sensibility go on to prove if the ban on Hori Habba stands a chance.
Madhu Gangappa, (name changed on request), was the hero of his village, last year. While he does not want to reveal the name of his village or be traced, he does not shy away from the appreciation he has been getting ever since he won the Hori Habba last year. While there were not many people from his village to cheer him at the event that took place in Jade last October, celebrations at his home and among his friends did not stop for quite a while. Not only did he just win the race, he took home a really good prize.
It was a pretty normal day, a day of festivities and rejoicing on October 22nd, when hoards of people from in and around Jade village thronged the roads of Jade to witness this yearly event that is celebrated with pomp, pride and joy. The event began with people and bulls racing and spectators cheering, when the cops from Anavatti Police Station arrived to stop this event from taking place.
A ban on Hori Habba was imposed by the district administration in Shimoga, last year in January, after two men were gored to death by a bull, during the course of the sport in Tallur village, Soraba Taluk.
As the sport was in progress, the villagers grew violent and attacked the police, leaving four policemen and a villager injured. At least 15 people were arrested on October 22, 2017 on the grounds of violating the ban on Hori Habba and were later released on bail. Parameswaran Nagappa, resident and the vice president of the Panchayat in Jade village, Soraba taluk, despite not wanting to be a part of Hori Habba, was dragged into it. “Ever since this got banned, I feared being a part of this. This time too, the villagers wrote my name as a participant without my knowledge”, he said.
Parameswaran Nagappa, somehow, managed to escape.
“Hori” in Kannada literally translates to “bull” and “Habba” translates to “festival”. This sport is celebrated just weeks after the festival of Diwali, in some villages. It is celebrated across various taluks / villages in Karnataka like Shikaripura, Hanagallu, Haveri, Bilagi, Ranebennur, Soraba, amongst many others after the annual harvest of crops. The sport involves bulls, whose necks have coconuts tied to them, being made to run along a stretch of 2km amidst a cheering/ roaring crowd of hundreds of villagers. The bull that gets to the finish line first and the man that first gets the coconut from any of the bulls’ neck and reaches the finish line, are both declared winners. It was Madhu Gangappa this time. The owner of the bull that wins and the man that gets the coconut are given either TV sets or refrigerators or bikes or tractors as prizes for winning.
This, apparently, is meant to be a form of recreation for the farmers after the “tiring” work from the harvesting. “Farmers from nearby villages (sometimes, far off too), get their bulls to participate in the event and people from the village and other places too, come to participate in the sport or watch the sport. There are people standing alongside the 2km stretch in hundreds and thousands rooting for their bull or man to win,” Anant said. The organisers are not responsible for any injuries either to the bull or men and/or other mishaps that might take shape during the sport. And this declaration asking participants to join at their own risk, is announced right before the sport begins.
The bulls that take part are not trained, unlike other bull taming sports across the country. Neither do these bulls’ winning signify anything, again, unlike this sport in other parts of India. What happens to the bulls after the event? They’re taken back by their owners doing what they did before the event- ploughing, grazing etc.
Hence, Hori Habba is different from other bull taming sports in India, in that, it involves no prior training of the bull or men, no betting, no scientific or breeding significance (just cultural recreation) and does not involve bulls being forced to get drunk or being castrated or sent to slaughterhouses once they lose the sport and is not a hands-on one. (This is the form of Hori Habba in at least most parts of Karnataka, because there were two reports of incidents where the bulls are made to get drunk, but again, Hori Habba essentially does not involve this, said Parameswaran Nagappa.)
Surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu, a hands-on bull taming sport that involves harsh repercussions on the bulls that do not win the sport (the bulls that lose are sometimes either castrated or sent to slaughter houses) and the ban on Kambala, another buffalo race (celebrated in some parts of Dakshina Kannada district and Udupi) that involves the animal being whipped in order to run faster and finish first, have both been lifted. However, the ban on Hori Habba, that does not intentionally harm the animal in any way, has not been lifted till date, despite constant protests and demands by the people of Karnataka and their appeals to former Karnataka chief minister BS Yedyyurappa to intervene, for he had earlier helped lift the ban on Kambala. “We don’t mean harm to any animal, not just a bull. And when people tried reaching the former CM (through protests and memorandums) for help to intervene, it was not successful,” Nagappa said.
While there were reports earlier that a bull’s horn was injured during the course of the Hori Habba, there were not many such claims or incidents prior or later that news. The villagers believe accidents can happen any time and argue that any sporting event involving just men too, could result in injuries. And they assure that no animal is hurt during this sport.
Dr. T K Ghosh, a veterinarian at a clinic in Bangalore, said that bulls that break their horns accidentally, experience pain but treatment can get them better soon and easily. “Farmers usually want to get their bulls dehorned for various purposes like safety and other economical reasons. Treatment for a broken horn is easier than for the one after the dehorning process,” he said. “While an untreated broken horn can cause diseases, a treatment will leave it healed with no side effects at all,” he assured. “But in advanced and rare cases, if not taken proper care of, the disease might spread to the brain and affect the bull.” Talking about psychological consequences in a bull after it breaks its horn, Dr. Ghosh said that, “The bull would react the same way it would to any other injuries to its body. Treatment and care will help get over them all, immediately and easily. We can’t really stress more about this, because it is an animal and it can’t really share what and how it feels.”
Asked if he cared about the bulls that participated in the sport along with him and other men, winner Madhu Gangappa said that he only focuses on the sport and winning it, like any other player would. He said that as much as the bull must be scared for its life, if it does, that is, he says that men that participate in the sport are scared too. He believes that a bull is, any day, stronger than a man and a good mind game is the key to win. “Man and bull are at an equal risk,” argues Parameshwaran.
As many go about arguing that it is almost harmless, there arises, of course, the question of the bulls’ consent to being a part of the race that the animal activists have, all along, pointed out. But villagers believe that since their bulls are a part of the event for many consecutive years, they know what happens and are visibly excited sometimes too, a farmer from Jade said about other farmers’ bulls.
Unfortunately, a thorough and careful look at the statistics of the mishaps that occurred during Hori Habba, show that men were injured and/or killed during this sport. Just last year saw the death of three men at two various Hori Habba events, where they were gored to death by the bulls. While two died at Hori Habba event in Tallur village, early January, (2017), another man was killed at Hori Habba in Ayanur village on November 13, 2017.
Come to think of it, it also makes one wonder how only bull taming sports garner more attention and protests against, when compared to horse races. There were barely any complaints/ imposition of bans against horse races in the past few years in India. After all, these horses, more often than not, are drugged, unlike the bulls in Hori Habba. They are trained and chained and sometimes beaten, again, unlike the bulls in Hori Habba.
In fact, according to an article in Times of India, “ The former Chief Minister of Karnataka and the present Union Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation, once argued how animal rights activists are only targeting bull races and not ones that involve horses, when he was talking against the ban imposed on Kambala. “PETA’s intention is not justifiable. They should study about Kambala. What do they know about buffaloes nurturing and feeding? Every day thousands of buffaloes are killed in slaughterhouses, but why is PETA not protesting about that cruelty? Why don’t they raise their voice against horse race?” Gowda asked.”
Despite not being as harmful to a bull as the other bull taming sports in India, whose bans have been lifted by the government in the past years, Hori Habba stands unfair. The reason, could be, the politicisation of the issue. Jallikattu and Kambala received enough or maybe attention that is more than just enough in their respective states – Tamil Nadu andKarnatakaand in Jallikattu’s case, all over India and worldwide. Protests were big and strong and so were the politicians’ stance on the issue. Bigger was the media coverage and support coming from big names in the film and other industries. Hori Habba, sadly, never saw any of these.
Forget other states; most people in Bangalore have no idea about Hori Habba. And the very few that did, tended to confuse it with Jallikattu.
Tulsi Ramshetty, who is pursuing her Masters in Media and Communication Studies at Manipal University, said that she had never even come across the name of Hori Habba, let alone knowing what it was. After having read up about it, she realised how different and harmless this bull taming sport is. “When compared to other bull taming sports across the country and the bans imposed on them being lifted, I find the ban imposed on Hori Habba senseless, especially after I found that if there were any harmed, it was more of men than the bull.”
Sheetal Keith Reddy, a resident of Jalahalli, Bangalore, said that she was clueless about the sport too. “Irrespective of whether or not I choose to support the ban, I would like to be well informed about it. This would help me take my stand. I doubt if there were enough articles or information available in public domains to help both people and the netas help affect the making of a decision,” the working professional opined.
A Google search about Jallikattu will show you 25,00,000 results and one about Kambala, 17,50,000 results. Unsurprisingly now, a Google search about Hori Habba would give you just 22,000 results. This is just one of the many ways that goes to prove how many documents and news articles there are on the world wide web, about Hori Habba.
The villagers believe that it, (Hori Habba), is an important part of their culture and losing it would mean losing a huge chunk of this yearly tradition of theirs. “This is just an activity of recreation that does not harm anyone. This event helps bring people of our village and others’ together,” said Ms. Bharati, a resident of Jade and a shopkeeper. They intend to continue hosting Hori Habba every year, either by urging their leader to help influence lift the ban on Hori Habba or by seeking official permission to hold this festival with proper security and medical care during the event. “We cannot let go of this event, it holds such an important place in the history of our village and lives,” said Anant, a farmer and resident of Jade.
The ban, which was opposed and protested against, by people in Soraba was never given due attention, cry villagers. The protests, which were lead by Hori Habba Abhimani Balaga, never saw much coverage and interest by the media and people respectively, they believe. The ban which was imposed because Hori Habba was against the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals rule, prevent the people of Soraba taluk and any other land in Karnataka from celebrating, encouraging, participating (or being a part of any of these), in Hori Habba. While the villagers stand by their decision to not stop observing this cultural festival of theirs and continuing to host these every year, they live in the hope that someday, soon, the sun will shine brighter on their side and the ban on Hori Habba will be lifted and they will be able to celebrate it peacefully, without any guilt or fear.