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Jallikattu: A Traditional Spectacle Or An Atrocity Tool

The traditional bull-chasing sport of Tamil Nadu, has been permitted to be held once again, as described in the press release issued by the Chennai information and public relations department on 21st Jan.

Jallikattu began in parts of Tamil Nadu today, including Tiruchirappalli district, with traditional fervour even as protests continued at Alanganallur in Madurai, where people refused to hold the famous sport seeking a “permanent solution”


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“To ban or not to ban.. that is the question” | ~Not-William-Shakespeare | Source: News Today



It’s been awhile since this epic debate began and it hasn’t taken a back seat ever since. You’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the thousands of people who were protesting at Marina Beach in Chennai, demanding revocation of ban on Jallikattu imposed by the Supreme Court in 2014, or just be another North Indian following the paparazzi driven news channels.

So, here’s the lowdown on all you should know about the sport and the controversy:


Jalli.. what? 

Jallikattu or as it is alternatively known with the names like Sallikkattu and Eru thazhuvuthal which means ‘bull embracing’, is a traditional bull-chasing sport of Tamil Nadu which is organised during the harvest festival Pongal.

The term Jallikattu is derived from salli (coins) and kattu (package), which refers to a prize of coins that are tied to the bull’s horns and that participants attempt to retrieve.


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The game.

The main aim of the sport is to subdue or embrace the bull. The sport which is more than two millennia old starts when a bull, commonly of the Kangayam breed, is released into a crowd of people. Multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. In some cases, participants must ride long enough to remove flags on the bull’s horns.


What’s with the controversy?

-It is controversial because the sport often results in major injuries and even deaths. It was acknowledged that it is inherently cruel “as bulls are not anatomically suited to such activities, and forcing them to participate subjects them to unnecessary pain and suffering”, as quoted by Supreme Court.

-It was first challenged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in 2004 followed by imposing a ban on the sport which celebrated the ancient tradition of the state by the Supreme Court., in the year 2014.

-Last year, the Environment Ministry amended its earlier notification, initially issued by UPA in 2011, and declared that the sport could carry on irrespective of the imposed ban. This direct contravention of Supreme Court’s orders aggravated the welfare organisation like PETA and led to a research, conducted by PETA’s investigators which allegedly declared the bulls were being disoriented, deliberately.

-A review petition was filed by the Tamil Nadu government to lift the ban but the court dismissed it in November 2016. A fresh appeal was made to allow Jallikattu during Pongal by O. Paneerselvam after he took charge as the chief minister in January but the bench declined to issue any interim order.


What PETA thinks.

PETA insists that ‘cruelty’ is not limited to slaughter but includes unnecessary suffering and torture-induced on animals for the purpose of human entertainment. PETA and other many animal rights activists say the sport is cruel not only because the bulls are violently tamed but also because sometimes they are made to consume alcohol and chillies are rubbed into their eyes to provoke them. The bulls are not just subdued; their tails are twisted and even bitten in most painful manner.


Why protect it?

Jallikattu is symbolic of Tamilian pride as it is an ancient tradition that has been carried on for years. Jallikattu witnesses thousands of participants, attempting to tame the bulls by latching to their horns or humps. Its innumerable references could be found in Dravidian Literature and the indigenous population of Tamilnadu has held this event for years.

Also, Native cows do not yield as much milk as the imported breeds. So they don’t have a supportive or sponsored breeding programme. So, If the sport is banned, farmers will be forced to abandon the raising of native livestock, which already stands threatened due to the extensive use of motor pumps, tractors and mechanised agriculture.

It’s Only in regions where there are events like Jallikattu are the male calves kept. The owner of an imported cow will always ask for a delivery of a female calf. If it’s a male calf then he will have no use for it and It will go to the slaughter house for a price.


But it’s cruel to animals?

It is said that cruelty is meted out to animals by giving them alcohol, beating them, confining them in a dark, suffocating place in order to enrage them. However, The sport in India is not about baiting or injuring the bull but of “embracing the bull”.

Amidst all the regulations and scrutiny, which bull owner will risk giving alcohol to the bulls? Glucose water is given to them for stamina. Out of the 10,000 instances of bulls let out a year, the anti-jallikattu activists have produced images/videos of maybe 7-8 bulls where an offence might have taken place. Since, Each bull is registered with the authorities, with photographs as well as the owner’s information. Action can be taken against them under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, by identifying the owner.


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Protests | Source: The Indian Express


The protests’ timeline.

-On 16 January 2017, villagers of Alanganallur protested at Alanganallur ‘Vaadi vaasal’-The Arena, the place famous for the Jallikattu sport – on that date, the sport was also practised in defiance of the ban. This led to the mass arrest of protesters.

In support of those arrested, students gathered in Marina Beach. The crowds started swelling for the night and few Hundred spent their night in Beach and the crowds continued to gather strength throughout the next day. The protest erupted around the state including Salem, Coimbatore, Thiruchrapalli, Puducherry.

-On Jan 19, many volunteer groups and individuals once again gathered at the Marina beach for overnight protests. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O.Paneerselvam met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pushed for an Ordinance. With no sign of protests relenting the centre suggested Ordinance by Tamil Nadu Government.

-On Jan 20, The Draft ordinance was approved by Home, Environmental and Cultural Ministry. the law has been drafted and sent to the Central Government, stating, “There are full chances that Jallikattu will be organised within 1-2 days.” The Hindustan Times reported that the Centre approved the bill without recommending any changes and that all that remains now is for it to be signed by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee.

On 20th Jan, the Marina beach Witnessed around 20 lakh protesters on peaceful Occupy Marina protest alone with lacs thronging various cities of the state. The day witnessed a virtual shutdown in the state as most organisation downed their shutters expressing solidarity for the cause.

-On Jan 21, the protests still continued demanding a permanent solution. Some politicians of the opposition parties started fasting as a sign of protest. The State Government promulgated the ordinance and announced that it would conduct the event the next day. However, the protesters refused to budge to the temporary respite as it has weak legal footing as the original Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act is not amended.

-On Jan 22, The government tried to conduct the sport despite the opposition from the local people in Analganallur and other parts of Tamil Nadu.[30] The protesters had successfully blocked the sport from being conducted as Government festival.

By Vasundhra Aggarwal