Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu is erroneous

bannerby Senthil on 14 Jun 2014

The ban on Jallikattu by the Supreme Court seems more in the nature an inquisition rather than a judgment. The religious, social, and cultural festival of Jallikattu, followed for thousands of years throughout Tamil Nadu, has been banned for allegedly violating provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, written in the 1960s. This is comparable to the Goa Inquisition where native Hindu traditions were banned by the ruling Portuguese Catholics because their faith could not tolerate the existence of another. The Supreme Court has similarly brutalised a huge segment of native society in order to conform to laws made by urban elites with little knowledge, empathy or tolerance for others’ way of life.


The judgment reflects a disconnect between rural and urban India. The Indian Government and its institutions have a colonial origin, and even laws enacted after 1947 are based on colonial perspectives and elitism. The PCA Act is one such.  The Supreme Court judgment on Jallikattu, based on this PCA Act, has a heavy colonial bias as it assumes that rural people are implicitly barbaric and need to be controlled by urban enlightened (sic) India.


PCA Act and its amendment


The PCA Act was first introduced by the British in 1890 to prevent exploitation of domesticated animals and captured animals in municipalities. This was sensible, considering the fact that bullock carts were a prominent medium of transportation in cities and there were instances of the bulls not being properly cared for. It also applied to captured animals used in circuses for entertainment purposes. The colonial rulers did not apply it to any of the native traditions, even though the entire Tamil Nadu was under their direct rule.

In 1960, the Act was amended to cover all types of animals and has been indiscriminately applied to all, which does not make any sense. The native religious and socio-cultural traditions of the rural people were not considered by the urban elites headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, though India was 90 per cent rural (meaning traditional and native). The PCA Act was amended and enacted by 10 per cent urban elites without consultation with the majority population.


Misconceptions on Jallikattu

Jallikattu is not the Spanish bull fight. The Macaulay mindset always sees native traditions through a Western cultural and social prism, which has proved fatal in many cases and Jallikattu is the latest example. It is being compared to the Spanish bull fight, where the bulls are killed at the end of the event. But this is nowhere near the Indian reality.

To begin with, Jallikattu is not a fight between bulls and humans, but a game where the players are required to embrace the running bulls by hanging on to their hump for as long as possible. The players are unarmed; the bulls are freed of the nose rope before letting into the arena, and led away by the owners afterwards. The bulls are trained not to let the village youth clamber on to their humps. In no case is the bull injured or killed later on, in sharp contrast to the Spanish bull fight where the players insert a sword into the spine of the bull and inflict a slow and painful death.

Jallikattu is a socio-religious festival, and not entertainment, though it has come to be seen as an entertainment sport by urban people who have started witnessing the event in recent years due to exposure by the media. But it is essentially a religious tradition. The Tamil people conduct this festival as an offering / commitment to theirgrama devata; they believe that conducting this festival brings a good harvest and negates bad omens.

In Alanganallur, Jallikattu is conducted for the Muniyandi and the first bull which runs off in the arena is the divine bull (dedicated to the temple) which no player touches. Only subsequent bulls can be embraced by the players. This native tradition has been converted into a tourist sport only by the Tamil Nadu Government, just as it converted every temple into a tourist spot. This has led to the urban (mis)perception of Jallikattu as some kind of entertainment sport, but Tamil society is in no way responsible for this.

The Madurai Nayaks, who started ruling Madurai independently, elevated Jallikattu into a martial sport to boost the bravery of its army men. They announced a price tag (hence the name Jallikattu). Their army was made up of pastoral communities (of Andhra, like Gollas) who had a natural affinity to this bull festival. Brave men who successfully embraced the bull were appointed army chiefs. Even today, many Jallikattu players are police men.

The judgment reflects the stark disconnect between an anglicized India and a native Bharat.  Urban Indians exposed to European culture tend to view our native systems and festivals from a western cultural prism. They still operate from a legal system based on European perspective; hence, instead of viewing Jallikattu from our own historical perspective, they interpret it as the Spanish bull fight!


Overview of the judgment

The judgment starts with a summary of the case; the arguments from both sides; the behaviour of the bulls and a description of Jallikattu. It quotes the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) investigation on January 2013 Jallikattu, but this report is not an investigative report but an inquisitive report, because it was prepared with the pre-conceived notion that bulls are tortured in Jallikattu; there was no study to find out if the bulls are indeed tortured or not. Many conclusions are ridiculous, as we shall see.

This AWBI report comprises of welfare implications and violations of laws; cruel practices and violations of law based on AWBI report; and a conclusion which is an interpretation. It explains the Jallikattu arena at three locations (Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram, Palamedu) and how bulls are tortured in each arena. Terms like “brutally beaten”, “tortured” are used freely, along with vague phrases like “several bulls, many bulls”, to manipulate the incident.

There is mention of the bullock cart race in Maharashtra, which also is projected as cruel. The judgment quotes the Maharashtra executive order banning the race, which was opposed in the High Court, which issued judgment in favour of the Government.

The judicial evaluation of the PCA Act is a lecture on how the Court has a moral duty to prevent cruelty; it concludes that Jallikattu organisers are depriving the rights of animals and accuses the organisers as sadist and perverts. DM Broom of the University of Cambridge is quoted to maintain that the pain experienced by bulls is the same as the pain felt by humans.

Ironically, the judgment upholds the killing of animals for food by the doctrine of necessity and killing for religion as necessity. The judgment upholds animal rights and dignity and says that all living creatures have inherent dignity and a right to live peacefully and right to protect their well-being which encompasses protection from beating, kicking, over-driving, over-loading, tortures, pain and suffering etc. It compares bulls with performing animals like those in a circus and concludes that bulls are performing animals. The organisers protested that no tickets were sold and hence Jallikattu and the bulls used in these festivals could not be termed performing animals, but the Court rejected this.

AWBI calls Jallikattu extremely cruel and barbaric. It says the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act only deals with culture and tradition and not with religion; that Tamil culture does not approve of the infliction of pain and hence does not approve of Jallikattu in the present tradition. The PCA Act is defended on grounds that the Act does away with evil practices and Jallikattu is one such evil. The Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare and World Society for the Protection of Animals and the World Health Organisation of Animal Health are quoted approvingly, and Jallikattu is declared a non-essential activity. The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act is held to be repugnant to the PCA Act, and in this manner the State Government is denied the right to regulate its own traditions! More pertinently, the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act was specifically meant to regulate Jallikattu and is not in conflict with the PCA Act.

The description of bull ethology (behaviour) in the judgment is theoretical and idealistic, with little relation to ground realities and no understanding of the dynamics of human-cow relationship. There are three kinds of cattle in our country. [1] The cattle of forests which include forest cows that graze on their own and are not maintained by humans, for instance, in mountain regions and dense forests and in remote rural areas adjacent to forests. They roam free but are attached to tribals who have a symbiotic relationship with them. These cattle or bulls are not used for Jallikattu.

[2] Semi-domesticated cattle include cows and bulls reared by pastoral communities (Konar in Tamil Nadu, Golla of Andhra, Yadav of north India etc) as herds. These cows are always mobile, grazing on pastoral lands and travel over a long area. The pastoral community looking after these cows lives a nomadic life and moves along with the animals. [3] Fully domesticated cattle are reared by the farming community. These cows and bulls are not allowed to roam freely as they would graze on farm crops, but are fed with fodder by the farmers.

Jallikattu is conducted predominantly by the pastoral communities. Since the bulls in their herds are untied and roam freely, they have to tame the bulls whenever they go out of control. The Konar community has the tradition of marrying daughters to youth who successfully control the bull (part of their occupational requirement). It is they who conduct this festival every year in their respective villages.

Tamil literature contains references to Krishna taming seven bulls to marry Nappinnai, a Konar bride. Indeed, Tamil literature has many references to the Konar (also called Idaiyar, or Aayar) and their bull festival, “Yeru Thaluvuthal” (bull embracing). All these qualify the bull festival to be recognised as a bio-cultural community protocol as defined by the United Nations’ Bio-Cultural Community Protocols


The Supreme Court judgment has failed to appreciate these ground realities and cultural and historic perspective and confined itself to some idealistic ‘scientific’ theories. The bulls are ferocious animals, always ready for a fight; they do not flee on seeing humans but try to attack anyone who comes before them. That is why (the bulls maintained by farmers) are tied with two ropes on both sides of their face by the bull owners (though not the bulls in pastoral herds). The un-castrated bulls become extremely uncontrollable and aggressive if not regularly mated with cows.

The Supreme Court judgment rests on several misinterpretations. It says, “People, in the earlier time, used to fight to get at the money placed around the bulls’ horns which depicted as an act of bravery. Later, it became a sport conducted for entertainment and was called “Yeruthu Kattu”, in which a fast moving bull was corralled with ropes around its neck”.

This is wrong. The Jallikattu was conducted in the same manner as during the pre-British period, with minor change. The vadi vasal and religious festival remains the same. It has always been a socio-religious festival conducted as part of Pongal celebrations, only urban westernised society began to see it as some kind of entertainment like the Spanish bull fight. The State Government promoted this as tourism and the people had no say in the matter. The media too commercialised the event for money making.

Jallikattu, however, was only a festival involving bulls, with people of different regions and different villages conducting their own festival according to their local tradition. The Jallikattu of Alanganallur is not the same as Manju Virattu of other regions, where the bulls are allowed to run freely and people just chase them. Neither the bulls nor the people are injured. Some pastoral communities maintain divine bulls in each village, the “Saami Maadu” or oormadu (bulls of villages). The apex court did not take cognizance of the various local traditions. Instead, it accepted the AWBI report without scrutiny and delivered the judgment solely on the basis of this report, without heeding the opposite viewpoint.

As AWBI was sent as an observer, it should have documented the happenings as they took place. But it took a biased view and submitted a report with pre-conceived notions that the bulls are tortured.


Critical analysis of AWBI report

The AWBI report consists of two sections, one on welfare implications, and the second on Cruel Practices. Instead of finding out if there is any harm to animals in the event, the AWBI seemed to be seeking reasons to ban the event. For instance, it charged that 80 per cent of the bulls had their ear pinna cut. The organisers say this is true but the figure given is wrong and anyway was drastically reduced after the 2008 regulations, and that the reason is that normally, the cows and bulls of the pastoral communities (called pattimadu), are herded in the forests and could be attacked by forest animals (like foxes) from behind. Hence, the pastoral communities would cut the lower part of the ear so that the cows/bulls could have a backward vision, which normally would be blocked by the ear pinna. For cows, the ear pinna would be torn where the lower part will be hanging. For bulls which participate in Jallikattu, it is completely removed as there is danger of this lower part getting torn down. This is not done for cows or bulls reared by farmers on their farms. As Jallikattu bulls are from these pastoral communities, their ear pinna is seen cut. The ear pinna is also cut for castrated bulls used for transport, and is thus not specific to Jallikattu, as AWBI tries to project.

Yet the AWBI report used words like “mutilation”, deliberating manipulating the context. The ear pinna is a soft tissue and does not cause any psychological and behavioural change as claimed. Moreover, the ear cutting is done at the calf stage; there is no neuro-endocrine change in the animals, as alleged. Nor is there any proof of this allegation; all bulls participating in the Jallikattu are perfectly healthy and did not have any behavioral changes.

A ridiculous aspect of the judgment is the claim that bulls are made to stand on their own faeces, and exposes the mischief by AWBI. They used the term “faeces” to alter the context as the term “dung” is considered sacred in our society and is used traditionally for laying the floors of houses and temples. But AWBI raised fake concerns stating, “No sanitation facilities were made available, and bulls were forced to stand together in the accumulated faeces and urine for hours. The accumulated waste attracts flies that bother the animals and cause them discomfort. The eggs laid by the flies may lead to maggot infestation of any wounds the bulls may have”.

In reality, the animals do not stand for long enough to catch any infection and infected animals do not enter the race. If AWBI report is taken seriously, the entire rural India would be surrounded with flies and suffer from maggot infestation, as cow dung is used for laying floors in every household and temple. Can the dung and urine, which are used as an effective dis-infectant and anti-bacterial agent by our traditional society, harm Jallikattu bulls alone? An observer noted that farm animals standing in their dung have no maggot infestation in their hoofs; but this is not true of animals that stand on concrete floors in urban areas.

The AWBI report further says, “Many bulls suffered from dislocated or even amputated tails caused by deliberate pulling and twisting”. Bull-owners say that some bulls have bended tails, but that did not happen in Jallikattu, but at the pastoral communities’ cow pen (patti) itself. As the bulls grow as herds, there are occasions that their tails are tramped upon by other animals, leading to dislocation of tail bones. This is has no relevance to Jallikattu, as projected. Nor does the AWBI report mention how many bulls suffered from this problem, or provide evidence of the same. The usage of the term “many” is deliberately done to mislead the court and the people.

The organisers say that every bull is registered before participating in the Jallikattu, that hardly one or two animals have bended tails, and challenge the AWBI or PETA to substantiate their allegations with the bull’s registration number(s).


Injuries and Deaths

The AWBI could highlight ONLY injuries caused to the bulls after coming out of the arena and none before or inside the arena. So these injuries have no relevance to the Jallikattu event. The AWBI report deliberately ignored the fact that the injured bulls are taken care of by the bull owners themselves from their own money and these accidents are beyond the control of the organisers and are an exception rather than rule. Out of 600 bulls participating in an event, barely a few are affected by such accidents; the AWBI could cite only one bull which died due to accident with a truck (bringing urban visitors to the venue), and few other bulls which got injured.

The district administration should make arrangements for the event by diverting traffic for this important Pongal festival. The Government supports urban-centric sports with all facilities, but traditional festivals of historic importance are neglected. Fifty years ago, the vaadi vaasal (forest area) was uncongested, with enough free lands. But the State Government allowed uncontrolled settlements without caring about local cultural aspects. The government should have allocated enough space for Jallikattu festival so that the local culture was not affected by infrastructure projects. This kind of development is destroying local communities.

Other allegations, like forcing bulls to drink liquor, may have existed before 2008, but not after the Tamil Nadu Government enforced strict regulations. Bulls cannot be maintained without nose ropes, as anyone with knowledge of the subject would know, and slightly twisting the tail to make the animal move forward cannot be misrepresented as cruelty, when it is also a standard practice in dairy farming.


Questioning the fundamentals

 The judgment is thus flawed as it is based on wrong fundamentals, misconstrued idealism and an ideological prism. Bulls are powerful animals and cannot be tamed without some use of force, which is not the same as cruelty. The same Supreme Court quotes the PCA Act for the doctrine of necessity which states that slaughtering bulls for food is necessary, slaughtering bulls for religion (for minorities) is necessary, but using bulls for a traditional festival is not necessary. This is a weird logic. Since Jallikattu is also an intrinsic part of local religion and culture, it deserves the same respect.

The judgment equates speciesm to racism and casteism which is absurd. Cows and bulls are part of the family in our traditional society. The concept of Speciesm does not apply here, and is a product of industrialisation in western countries, where the industrial forces started colonising every living and non-living entity.

All accusations by PETA refer to the period before 2008, when the festival was conducted spontaneously. Thereafter the Government laid down strict guidelines under Court order, but PETA persisted with its false accusations. The organisers claim that the photographs and videos given by PETA were taken before 2008, but the Court failed to take cognisance of the same. Instead, it struck down the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act on grounds that it contradicts the PCA Act, whereas in reality, TNRJ has been complementary to the PCA Act, aiming to reduce the hardships of both bulls and players. The suspicion arises that Jallikattu has been banned just because it is not an elite sport.

The festivals of traditional society have to be seen against the backdrop of their lifestyle and social customs. The pastoral and farming communities spend the whole year rearing their herds and organise the bull embracing festival once in a year, where they cherish playing with the bulls. This is not mere entertainment, but a social gathering of rural people, and they are passionate about it. Banning native traditions conveys the message that rural people cannot have any fun or activity that is not liked by urban people. It is a modern form of colonial slavery.

The legal persecution of Jallikattu is the work of the American-funded PETA and its desi supporters. The organisers of Jallikattu formed an organisation to protect native martial sports and successfully thwarted the malicious attempts of these dubious animal rights activists in the lower courts. The State Government, realising the historic and cultural importance of this festival, formed Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act to correct some deficiencies in the festival, which PETA used as argument to ban it, even though Jallikattu was streamlined and successfully conducted without any major incident. But the Court struck down the TNRJ Act itself.

This news article has been reproduced from “” (Online edition) – dated  14 Jun 2014.
The original article can be accessed at :


Jallikattu bulls go for a pittance

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MADURAI, May 21, 2014                      Updated: May 21, 2014 03:05 IST

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A jallikattu bull being loaded onto a lorry at the Vadipatti shandi on Tuesday after it was sold for a meagre sum. Photo: S. James

They used to fetch their owners over Rs. 1 lakh before the sport was banned

The ferocious bulls of Madurai district, who stalked jallikattu arenas like champions, are now boarding goods vehicles on their way to slaughterhouses.

K. Karupasamy’s family of Ilamanur has been rearing jallikattu bulls for several generations. On Tuesday, Mr. Karupasamy sold his bull at the Vadipatti weekly shandy for a paltry Rs. 22,000.

The sale of these bulls normally fetched more than Rs. 1 lakh until the Supreme Court banned the traditional sport. Since then, the Vadipatti shandi has witnessed a surge in the number of jallikattu bulls, also called Naattu Maddu, being sold to agents, who take them to slaughterhouses. “My bull had won nearly 15 prizes in jallikattu held in Madurai and Tiruchi districts. When the future of the sport itself is bleak, what is the point of rearing bulls?” Mr. Karupasamy said, parting with his proud possession.

V. Veluchamy, a bull tamer from Sakkimangalam, sold the bull that he had been rearing for eight years for Rs. 25,000 on Tuesday.

“I had three bulls, and I have sold all of them after the Supreme Court’s order. It is distressing to sell them, given that they have done me proud, winning several prizes in manjuvirattu, (another form of bull taming). The only reason for selling the bulls is high rearing cost,” he said.

According to bull rearers, they have to spend between Rs. 300 and Rs. 500 on each bull every day for fodder and maintenance.

With jallikattu’s future uncertain, the rearers were reluctant to expend anything on the animals they dearly brought up, said R. Sundarapandian, a van driver, who has been transporting bulls to the shandi of late.

Agents like S. Annakodi bought bulls from rearers in villages of Madurai and brought them to the shandi for sale.

“The maximum amount that could be got from the sale of a jallikattu bull for slaughter is Rs. 35,000. No one has ever sold the bulls for slaughter when there was no ban,” he said.

The fierce bulls were seen being manhandled by agents and transporters at the shandy to get them to board the lorries. “Most of them would be taken to Kerala for slaughter. If there is no jallikattu, they will be of no use,” said C. Thirumalai Nambi Rajan, another agent.

This news article has been reproduced from “The Hindu” (Online edition) – dated  May 21, 2014.

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Does PETA aim to destroy Indian Native Cattle Breeds?

A fine specimen

A fine specimen of Indian native breed bull

The recent ban to conduct Jallikattu by the Supreme Court of India has resulted in an exodus of hundreds of healthy, pure-breed native cattle being sent to the slaughter houses. It is painful to see these highly cherished, exotic, drought-resistant, low-maintenance, A2 milk-type breed of Indian native cattle fast disappearing from the face of the earth. Is it a well-orchestrated move by PETA to destroy native Indian cattle breeds?

PETA has succeeded in getting the Supreme Court of India to ban Jallikattu, a 4000 year old traditional bull embracing sport of India. Observers have been taken aback by the vigour with which PETA has been pushing this case. The multinational animal rights organisation, has been alleging that a lot of cruelty and abuse is meted out to the bulls participating in the once-a-year event while these allegations have been vehemently denied by the Jallikattu Organisers.

An unarmed sportsman embracing a bull during a Jallikattu event

An unarmed sportsman embracing a bull during a Jallikattu event

Jallikattu is a human-animal contact sport wherein an unarmed sportsman tries to embrace the bull by its hump – catching the bull by its horns, tail, legs or neck will invite instant disqualification – for a period of about 2 secs to a maximum of 10 seconds while the bull crosses the finish line about 50 feet away. Supreme Court had laid down strict rules and regulations for the game, after PETA, along with the Animal Welfare Board of India, approached the court seeking a ban alleging atrocities. According to the organisers of the sport, each bull is given an identity card and certified that it is free of any communicable disease. The bull is further tested for any sign of physical abuse, tested for drugs, liquour or performance enhancers, its horns are blunted and sent into the arena for its 10 seconds of fame, by none other than Government Veterinarians! The bull is again tested by the team of veterinarians for any signs of injury and abuse after the event too. “With both pre-event and post-event medical tests, where is the window for animal abuse?”, ask the organisers. Similar rules have been laid out for the sportsmen – should be physically fit, undergo medical test for drugs, liquor, performance enhancers etc.

The organisers say that not a single sportsman and not a single bull has died during the event after these new rules and regulations have been put in place, based on the Tamilnadu Jallikattu Act 2009.

Jallikattu events have seen a steep decline from over 3000 events recorded before 2006 – when the animal welfare groups went to court – to just 22 events in 2014. The number of Indian native bulls (and cows) have consequentially declined steeply from several thousands to less than a 1000 pure breed native bulls from 2006 to 2014, in direct co-relation to the drop in the number of events! The new rules and regulations have also been strangling this rural sport causing a steep drop in the number of events. A total ban on the sport would surely mean the extinction of these exotic cattle breeds!

 Why is Jallikattu necessary to preserve native cattle breeds?
With the advent of tractors, machines and automobiles, the bull is no more required for agriculture, transport etc. Jallikattu is the ONLY event that uses uncastrated bulls of native breeds. The imported or hybrid breeds cannot be used in this sport as they do hot have a hump, unlike the highly drought-resistant Indian native cattle breeds. These uncastrated native bulls are the local stud bulls uses for procreation and once-a-year, they participate in the sport for their few seconds of fame. Ownig a Jallikattu bull is considered a pride of the family. The Indian native cattle breeds produce A2 type milk which helps prevent incidence of diabetes, heart-disease and schizophernia.

Since negligible or no abuse has been reported over the past few years during the Jallikattu events, one tends to wonder why PETA is displaying a very high level of aggression and vehemence to ban Jallikattu. PETA has been advocating extinction of cattle for quite sometime now (refer: . Rumour mills are rife with suspicion that PETA, with its deep pockets and wide connections – may be pursuing this case of banning Jallikattu with the sole aim of destroying Indian native cattle breeds!

Opinion by Balakumar Somu

ஜல்லிக்கட்டு தடையை எதிர்த்து தமிழக அரசு மறு சீராய்வு மனு தாக்கல்!

Posted by: Mayura Akilan Published: Monday, May 19, 2014, 16:13 [IST]

டெல்லி: ஜல்லிக்கட்டு போட்டிக்கு விதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ள தடையை எதிர்த்து தமிழக அரசு உச்ச நீதிமன்றத்தில் மறு சீராய்வு மனு தாக்கல் செய்துள்ளது. ஜல்லிக்கட்டு போட்டிக்கு உச்ச நீதிமன்றம் நடந்த 7ஆம் தேதி தடை விதித்தது. இந்த தடை உத்தரவை எதிர்த்து மதுரை, புதுக்கோட்டை, திருச்சி உள்ளிட்ட பல்வேறு மாவட்டங்களில் போராட்டம் நடந்து வருகிறது. கறுப்புக்கொடி ஏற்றியும், கடைகளை அடைத்தும் தங்களின் எதிர்ப்பினை ஜல்லிக்கட்டு ஆர்வலர்கள் பதிவு செய்து வருகின்றனர். இந்நிலையில், தடையை எதிர்த்து தமிழக அரசு உச்ச நீதிமன்றத்தில் இன்று மறுசீராய்வு மனு தாக்கல் செய்துள்ளது. தமிழக அரசின் வழக்கறிஞர் யோகேஷ் கண்ணா தாக்கல் செய்துள்ள மனுவில், ஜல்லிக்கட்டு போட்டிக்கு தடை விதித்தது தவறு என்றும், ஒழுங்கு நெறிமுறைகளை வகுத்து ஜல்லிக்கட்டு போட்டிக்கு அனுமதி தர வேண்டும் என்றும் கோரிக்கை வைத்துள்ளார்.

This news article has been reproduced from
Oneindia Tamil (Online edition) – dated  May 19, 2014.

To grab a bull by the horns is now illegal in India

Men try to tame a bull at a traditional bull taming festival called 'Jallikattu' in Palamedu near Madurai, India. AFP Photo

May 14, 2014 Updated: May 15, 2014 20:54:00

NEW DELHI // The decision to ban the ancient sport of bull wrestling in Tamil Nadu has been hailed as a “landmark victory” by animal rights activists but has upset traditionalists who see it as an important cultural institution.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of a petition by the Animal Welfare Board of India last week, a two-judge bench said the sport, known as jallikattu, was “a barbaric event involving unnecessary pain and suffering for the animals”.

Jallikattu and bullock cart racing – also banned by in the same decision – are the main events in harvest festivals celebrated in districts across Tamil Nadu every January and February. Young bulls, bred to compete in these events, bolt out of enclosures in a rage.

Young men, cheered on by the crowd, try to take down the animal in a number of ways – by trying to clasp and hold on to the bull for the longest time, or by attempting to grab prizes tied to the bull’s horns, or by banding together to “tame” the bull.

The goal is not to kill the animal. However, the bulls are often badly injured.

“Forcing a bull and keeping it in the waiting area for hours and subjecting it to the scorching sun is not for the animal’s well-being,” the judges said. “Forcing and pulling the bull by a nose rope into the narrow, closed enclosure … subjecting it to all forms of torture, fear, pain and suffering by forcing it to go to the arena and also overpowering it in the arena … are not for the well-being of the animal.”

Jallikattu had been banned temporarily by other courts, but the ban was always lifted after the Tamil Nadu government promised a stricter enforcement of laws to govern the sport. In 2009, Tamil Nadu regulated the sport for the first time.

The Supreme Court’s verdict “is a landmark victory for animals in India”, said a statement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). “Year after year, court guidelines or laws were violated during jallikattu and bull races, and countless bulls and people have suffered and even painfully died.”

Jallikattu was born out of the desire, on the part of cattle breeders, to showcase the best bulls in their village.

In its heyday a few decades ago, jallikattu was staged in nearly 3,000 towns in Tamil Nadu, with each event parading up to 50 bulls. But a gradual tightening of the rules has forced this number to dwindle. This year, only 15 or 20 towns hosted jallikattu meets.

M Karunanidhi, the president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the leading opposition party in Tamil Nadu, has urged the state government to ask the Supreme Court to review its decision.

On Sunday, Mr Karunanidhi said jallikattu dated back to the classical Sangam era of Tamil culture, between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD.

Unlike the bullfighting customs of Spain, Mr Karunanidhi said, jallikattu does not require the slaying of animals. “Only bravery is given importance, and utmost care is taken to ensure the safety of the fighters and the bulls.”

However, the sport has recorded at least two deaths this year.

In January, a 55-year-old male spectator was gored to death in the Sivaganga district, and roughly 300 people – spectators as well as participants – were injured over the course of a week.

A boy, 12, died and 23 people were injured in a jallikattu event in Dindigul in February.

There is no comprehensive estimate of the number of fatalities and injuries caused by jallikattu over the years.

Balakumar Somu, a jallikattu aficionado, admits that the sport is a dangerous one, loaded against its human contestants.

“But accidents happen everywhere,” Mr Somu, a software engineer in the town of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, told The National. “Do we ban road traffic because people die in car accidents? We don’t.”

When he was in college, roughly 25 years ago, Mr Somu participated in a jallikattu event, which he said was well organised. A bull was released into an open ground, and a melee of 50-60 young men competed to whisk away a towel tied to the animal’s horns.

“There was no stress on the animal.”

The sport has changed since his youth, Mr Somu said. Jallikattu now involves more bruising contact with bulls, and the prizes have grown richer.

But he insisted that it was played cleanly, with little pain inflicted on the bull.

The 2009 act, in particular, did a fine job of deploying veterinarians at each meet to monitor the health and welfare of the bulls, he said.

This contradicted the findings of Peta, which in an investigation of seven jallikattu events this year, found evidence of cruelty to bulls.

Photographs released by Peta allegedly show abuse of the bulls, including owners and spectators prodding the bull with sticks, twisting or biting its tail, whipping, or feeding it liquor.

Mr Somu rejected these claims, saying he had never seen such practices.

“I’m an animal-rights activist myself,” Mr Somu said. “But we’re making a mistake by viewing this as a sport. We need to see it as a glue that holds together the fabric of rural Tamil Nadu.”

This news article has been reproduced from “The National” (Online edition) – dated  May 14, 2014.

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