India lifts ban on bull taming festival

Participants attempting to hold down a bull during the Jallikattu festival. On Thursday, India lifted a ban on the controversial bull taming festival, angering animal rights activists who say it is cruel and abusive. The event was cancelled last year
Participants attempting to hold down a bull during the Jallikattu festival. On Thursday, India lifted a ban on the controversial bull taming festival, angering animal rights activists who say it is cruel and abusive. The event was cancelled last year after the previous government imposed a ban, citing cruelty.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHENNAI • India has lifted a ban on a popular, but controversial, bull running festival, angering animal rights activists who say it is cruel and abusive.

A government order said the event, held every January to mark the winter harvest in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, would be allowed to go ahead this year after it was cancelled last year.

"Bulls may... continue to be exhibited, or trained, as a performing animal at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu," said the order, published by the environment ministry on Thursday, using the local name for the event.

In the centuries-old festival of Jallikattu, which means "bull taming", bulls are let loose and young men compete to subdue them.

The event was cancelled last year for the first time, after the previous government imposed a ban, citing cruelty.

Unlike bull-fighting in Spain, the aim is not to kill the animals. But critics say they are fed liquor and have chilli powder thrown into their eyes, before they are released from a holding pen and chased by revellers.

There have also been reports of bulls having their horns sharpened with broken glass, while the "taming" can lead to serious injury and a painful death for the animals.

Over the years, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in the event. The government ordered a ban in 2011, but it was not implemented until last year, after the Supreme Court had dismissed a slew of legal challenges.

Ms Poorva Joshipura, chief executive of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) in India, said the group would challenge the move.

The government's decision to lift the ban reportedly followed pressure from local politicians, including Tamil Nadu's controversial Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, ahead of planned protests.

Local media reports said it may have been motivated by upcoming state elections. Tamil historians claim the sport dates back to the second century AD and predates the Spanish matadors.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'India lifts ban on bull taming festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe