The Centre may allow popular rural sport Jallikattu, where competitors try to grab and hold specially-bred running bulls, in poll-bound Tamil Nadu for a limited period in mid-January despite opposition from animal right activists, who called the proposed relaxation a political stunt.
The Supreme Court banned in 2014 the bull-taming sport that has been an integral part of Pongal festivities, following demands from rights groups who pointed to animal cruelty and human deaths during the event. The ban was based on guidelines prescribed by the Animal Welfare Board of India.
Government sources told Hindustan Times new guidelines to ensure protection of animals in the sport would be announced next week by the environment ministry. “It will have steps to be taken by the organisers and a proper monitoring mechanism,” said a ministry official.
The guidelines were being worked out in consultation with animal right experts and legal advisers so that these don’t violate the Supreme Court order imposing restrictions on Jallikattu.
But ministry officials believe that the order also provides a way out to conduct animal sports provided there was no cruelty to animals.
Arun Prasanna of People for Cattle in India, an NGO, said it was high time cruelty to bulls in the name of tradition was stopped. Political parties have raised the Jallikattu issue with an eye on assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, he said.
Another Chennai-based activist, Anuradha, asked that if there was a ban on beef eating, why not one on cruelty to animals?
“Any tradition that threatens animal or human dignity can be considered uncivilised,” said Laasya, another animal rights activist.
Unmindful of the debate, people in Allanganallur, which is famous for Jallikattu, held a protest seeking reversal of the ban on the sport and threatened to observe a “black Pongal”.
They said Jallikattu has been around for so long and still there have been no reports of any bull dying during an event.
Their argument was in line with a groundswell of popular opinion on the sport, which was not held during the harvest festival in January 2015 because of the ban.
Political parties too have stepped up pressure on the Centre while organisations in and around Madurai are keeping their fingers crossed.
Chief minister J Jayalalithaa has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to consider promulgating an ordinance to let people hold Jallikattu during Pongal. Other political parties, including arch-rival DMK, and the BJP have made similar demands.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar who was in Tamil Nadu recently pledged his support, saying that “you will hear good news” soon. Sources said his assurance would translate into action by next week.