As the Jallikattu issue has finally come to an end, I think It is time to reassess and look at some of the claims associated with the protest objectively. Remember, that the issues discussed in this piece aren’t necessarily about supporting or standing against the sport. The key question is, how much of the protest was fueled by facts and how much by pure misinformation?
If the claim is about preserving cultural heritage or tradition, I won’t dispute or argue on that right now as it is not a dispute over facts, but over perception and feeling of identity. If the claim is about a conspiracy by PETA, questions over farmer’s issues, then we have can look at the data and discuss.
The claim that PETA is trying to ban Jallikattu to remove native cow breeds and sell foreign milch breeds is perhaps the most easily debunkable claim. I am not a fan of PETA by any measure, but to claim that a pro-Vegan entity that asks people to give up milk is trying to promote mechanized dairy farming via foreign cows is a laughable claim.
Sophisticated claims over Indian cows producing A2 milk and that of foreign cows making A1 milk, the various claims over their health effects can be traced to a New Zealand based company called A2 Corporation promoting A2 milk at higher costs and making these claims. Several independent researchers from various countries have analyzed the claims of the supposed benefits of A2 milk and have failed to provide any significant difference between them other than digestion process related variations till date. Yet, viral videos and speeches at the protest sites kept reiterating claims of A1 milk being poisonous, cancer inducing and autism generating despite having no evidence to back these claims. This is so persistent that, anti-science groups have started selling unpasteurized raw milk as a ‘healthy’ alternative to pasteurized milk in Chennai. These milk products, sold at higher costs, pose a health risk to the consumer.
The claim that Jallikattu saves native milch breeds falls flat on several counts.
1. More than 60% of household milk used in India come from buffaloes. This is an often (conveniently) forgotten fact in any discussion related to milk production and Jallikattu.
2. The predominantly used breeds used in Jallikattu are draught breeds and are not used in milk production in any way. If there is a foreign conspiracy to destroy Indian milch breeds, they have targeted the wrong sport.
The fake news phenomenon is not limited to the proponents of Jallikattu. Fake rumors about terrorists being the stimulus behind the jallikattu protests were shared widely by people who stood against the sport.
Fake quotes from PETA, fake transcripts of conversations between politicians and officials, morphed images surrounding various celebrities in the protests, claims that UNESCO declared Jallikattu as a world heritage sport were shared by powerful social media accounts with large followings.
The prevalence of fake news took a dangerous turn when rumors regarding the legal status of the Jallikattu law was questioned even after the Tamil Nadu assembly had passed the bill. Repeated, rumors claiming that law was not passed and that there is a secret agenda to sneak the bill out of effect were peddled with zero evidence. We saw unnecessary violence and later, police brutality as an aftermath of these. It could have easily escalated to situations that lead to the death of innocent protesters.
When we stick to a stand, we tend to have a cognitive bias to accept any piece of information that supports our stance. The large-scale mobilization of people for a single issue is a good sign that we have a society that values action and sends a clear message to politicians that the society is paying attention. Large scale action that relies on rumors and fake news also sends the message that the public can be easily manipulated by misinformation. In the age of instant WhatsApp and social media meme pages driving the wheels of information, it is necessary to take time to question, analyze, fact check and challenge what we read. Fact checking is not a tedious task. For most rumors, a cursory check or a quick mental recap is enough to debunk the claims, others require a bit of reading to verify. But as we continue to slip further into the post-truth era, this makes all the difference.