As a wave of protest sweep through Tamil Nadu over a ban on the bull-taming sport Jallikattu, an HT explainer on the sport and the controversy
What is Jallikattu
An ancient blood sport said to date back to 400 BC, Jallikattu is organised during the mid-January harvest festival, Pongal. It involves releasing a bull into a crowd of people when participants attempt to grab its hump and ride it as long as possible. Sometimes, participants must also try and remove red flags attached to the bull’s horns.
The SC ban
The Supreme Court banned the sport in 2014, upholding concerns raised by activists who said the Jallikattu amounted to cruelty to animal besides posing a threat to humans. Between 2010 and 2014, an estimated 17 people were killed and 1000-odd were injured during Jallikatu events. The Supreme Court said, “use of bulls in such events severely harmed the animals and constituted an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to the Animals Act.”
Though the ban was more or less effective in 2015, the Centre took note of requests from pro-Jallikattu groups and the Tamil Nadu government to pass and order in January, 2016, exempting the sport from performances where bulls cannot be used, reversing the ban. Just a few days later, the Supreme Court struck down the government order to uphold its ban.
On January 12, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by a group of lawyers seeking an urgent ruling on a clutch of petitions on Jallikattu so that the sport can be organised during this year’s Pongal celebrations. This infuriated large sections of Tamil Nadu’s population who perceive the ban as an affront to the state’s tradition and culture.
Defying the apex court ruling, people started organising the sport at many places as the ruling AIADMK and opposition parties backed the pro-Jallikattu groups. The protest which began in the rural areas, soon found support from the urban elite – students, IT professionals, the salaried and even sports persons and actors in capital Chennai. The iconic Marina Beach in Chennai has turned into a hub of pro-Jallikattu demonstrations since Tuesday with thousands of people camping at the seafront demanding lifting of the ban.
Political analysts say the growing anger was reminiscent of the anti-Centre sentiments in the late 1960s after Hindi was made the official language of the country. With the Dravidian parties supporting pro-Jallikattu groups, the protests have intensified over the past few days, posing a big challenge for the BJP-led government at the Centre. Chief Minister O Panneerselvam is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue.