Tamil Nadu approved a proposed law to allow an ancient bull-taming festival on Monday, hoping to end week-long protests in support of a sport banned by the Supreme Court on grounds of animal cruelty.
Hours before, police lobbed tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing protesters demanding the resumption of Jallikattu, a hazardous rite in which people wrestle rampaging bulls, sometimes leaving both men and animals fatally wounded.
The protests turned violent after police began evicting thousands of protesters from the Marina Beach, the iconic Chennai seafront that was the epicentre of the unrest for six days.
Authorities used riot police in armoured vehicles to disperse crowds after they attacked a police station with stones and set more than 30 vehicles on fire. About two dozen policemen were wounded in the rioting, and security was still tight at many police stations.
“Jallikattu will be celebrated. We urge the protesters to go back home immediately,” said senior police officer PK Kannan in Chennai, as crowds started to disperse.
The top court ruled the sport illegal in 2014 and refused to hear a challenge to that decision last week, leading to the protests which began peacefully but turned violent on Monday.
The new legal cover, ratified by the assembly within minutes, amends a 57-year-old anti-animal cruelty law to bypass the court ban on Jallikattu.
The bill has the blessing of the central government but remains open to judicial scrutiny. It is seen as a step to pacify Tamils, many of whom consider Jallikattu rituals an integral part of the community’s history and culture.
The state is witnessing political churning after the death of its popular chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, and national parties such as the BJP, which are weak in the state, are keen to make an impression on its voters.
Deciphering the proposed law, former judge Hari Parandhaman said it took into account concerns of animal rights activists as well.
For one, bulls used for Jallikattu cannot be drugged or abused, and the event can only be held in the presence of a team of veterinarians.
Earlier in the day top Tamil actors backed the Jallikattu fans and denounced the police.
Actor Kamal Haasan came out in support of the protesters, saying “aggressive police action on students’ passive resistance will not bear good results” and urged protesters not to resort to violence.
Opposition DMK working president MK Stalin demanded a judicial inquiry into the alleged police action. City police chief V George said they would look into the claims.
Chennai police had earlier said “anti-national elements” were involved in the violence, and that most of the students had peacefully dispersed.
Jallikattu involves releasing a bull into a crowd of people who attempt to grab it and ride it.
Animal rights activists call the sport cruel and unsafe to the animals, who often have chili powder rubbed into their eyes and have their tails broken as crowds try to grab them.