2 killed in bull-wrestling event after Modi lifts ban

A bull charging through a crowd during Jallikattu on the outskirts of Madurai in Tamil Nadu earlier this month. Most villages had complied with the ban, but a few continued to defy it.
A bull charging through a crowd during Jallikattu on the outskirts of Madurai in Tamil Nadu earlier this month. Most villages had complied with the ban, but a few continued to defy it.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indian PM allowed event after protests in Tamil Nadu over ban on grounds of cruelty to animals

NEW DELHI • Two people were reported gored to death in a bull-wrestling festival in the state of Tamil Nadu yesterday, soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi overturned a Supreme Court ban on the event.

The ban had fuelled massive protests in the southern state by people who denounced it as an attack on their culture.

The Jallikattu festival is just one of several centuries-old cultural traditions that have come to underline a new constant in India: the tension between the hold of established cultural practices and new efforts by activists to safeguard rights, whether minority, individual or animal.

India's Supreme Court outlawed the festival last year after a plea by animal rights groups, which have long accused participants in the event - held every year in different parts of the southern Tamil Nadu state - of cruelty to the animals.

Most villages complied with the ban, but a few had defied it.

Critics say that organisers lace the bulls' feed with liquor to make them less steady on their feet and throw chilli powder in their faces to send them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from the holding pen.

Tensions escalated last week as protesters gathered in the state capital Chennai and other cities.

Thousands of people, including youth and women, had been gathering at Marina Beach in Chennai since Tuesday, demanding that the government scrap the ban on Jallikattu. A strike call was given by traders, transporters and other bodies in support of the protest.

Opposition political parties threatened to impose a rail blockade, forcing railway officials to divert several trains.

Artists and film personalities also came out in support of the protesters. India's Oscar-winning music composer A.R. Rahman announced on Thursday that he would be observing a fast to lend support to the cause. "I'm fasting tomorrow to support the spirit of Tamil Nadu," Mr Rahman wrote on his Twitter account.

Another superstar, film actor Rajinikanth, participated in the protest against the ban.

The growing protests prompted Tamil Nadu's chief minister to travel to New Delhi earlier last week to ask Mr Modi to overturn the ban, which he did late on Friday.

"We are very proud of the rich culture of Tamil Nadu. All efforts are being made to fulfil the cultural aspirations of Tamil people," Mr Modi posted on Twitter on Saturday.

The Tamil Nadu governor promulgated Mr Modi's executive order on Saturday, paving the way for Jallikattu to resume yesterday.

Jallikattu was traditionally practised as part of the harvest festival of Pongal. On the day of the festival, villages across the state typically conduct competitions where the bulls are tied and kept in an excitable state until doors are opened. As the bulls run out, participants chase them and try to tame them by holding on to their humps.

Critics say that organisers lace the bulls' feed with liquor to make them less steady on their feet and throw chilli powder in their faces to send them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from the holding pen.

Animal welfare group Peta, which has been among those at the forefront of the campaign against Jallikattu, said that the purpose of the annual harvest festival was "to thank nature and celebrate life, something that can't be achieved by tormenting bulls and causing human and bull injuries and deaths".

But organisers of the centuries- old festival insist the animals suffer no harm, calling the event an established part of Tamil culture.

"These bulls are like children in our families, we do not torture them. This is how we play with them," said Ms C.R. Lakshmi, spokesman for the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the party that is in power in Tamil Nadu. "This festival goes back thousands of years, and this is an integral part of our harvest festival. Women in the ancient tales would say they would only marry the men who can tame the bulls," she added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline '2 killed in bull-wrestling event after Modi lifts ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe