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How political hyporcrisy could legalise the brutal sport of bull-fighting in India

Bull-taming or Jallikattu was banned in 2014 by the Supreme Court, but protests in Tamil Nadu could see the 'sport' return in February.

Jallikatu or bull taming is a traditional sport in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu

In May 7, 2014, the Supreme Court of India decided to ban all traditional sports which involved any form of animal cruelty. The list included Jallikattu (bull-taming) from Tamil Nadu, Bullock cart racing from Maharashtra and Dhirio from Goa. However, these sports could soon return to South India, with petty politics legitimising the notion of inhumanity and torture.

The landmark ruling brought an end to centuries of violence perpetrated on the basis of culture and religion. The verdict stated, “We, therefore, hold that Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is right in its stand that jallikattu, bullock-cart race and such events per-se violate Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(m)(ii) of PCA Act and hence we uphold the notification dated 11.7.2011 issued by the Central Government, consequently, Bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for the Jallikattu events or Bullock-cart Races in the State of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.”

Torturing bulls in the name of sport

Jallikattu enthusiasts from around Tamil Nadu often argued about the inherent safety within the primitive sport. But conclusive evidence produced by the Animal Welfare Board indicated close to 100-150 buffalo deaths a year due to the sport.

The Supreme Court verdict also stated the severe potential for human deaths in the sport, using cases from 2010 as an example. Between 2010 and 2014, 17 people died and close to 1,100 people got injured. This was only the monitored amount; the actual unregistered numbers could be much higher.

The Central government is currently contemplating legalising Jallikattu in February. Several animal activists have stated that the political relaxation of the issue is just an attempt to garner votes prior to elections later this year.

A source close to the government told Sportskeeda, “We are currently working on a structure to make the sport safer for the bulls. We are also looking to install a proper monitoring mechanism and that should be announced next week.” On being asked about the potential danger for both the bull and people, the source stated, “Every sport has potential risks involved, but our system will help reduce injuries.”

A Chennai-based activist Anuradha spoke about the issue with dismay. She said, “The government itself is being contradictory, on one hand you state that you can’t slaughter cows and eat beef. On the other you allow, the sheer physical mass man-handling of animals.

Tamil Nadu’s most important festival Pongal goes hand in hand with the sport. Alanganallur, a small town in Madurai, is where the sport holds its roots. The people there have vehemently opposed the ban, and have threatened to celebrate a ‘black Pongal’ if Jallikattu is excluded.

A local from the village stated, “I promise you, since I’ve been playing the sport there has not been a single bull death. This is a part of our religious tradition, they cannot just remove it. We will take part and no one can do anything about it.”

The Federation of Tamil Nadu Agriculturalists’ Association also held a meeting to discuss a potential protest, prior to Pongal.  

Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to revoke the ban. However, the political pressure fails to nullify the fact that the ‘sport’ is more about cruelty, rather than primitive taming, which is what its supporters claim it to be.

A Vadi Vasla where the bulls are kept and tortured

Prior to every Jallikattu event, the bulls are made to line up in a queue. Then they are dragged by their nose rings into tiny enclosures known as Vadi Vasals. They are then hit with sticks, bitten by the people, before eventually being released to a crowd of close to 100 people, whose only goal is to tame the bull to its knees at any cost. The entire process sees the bull go through unquantifiable physical torture, which on several occasions lead to death.

You will hear the good news on Jallikattu legalisation soon: Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar

Earlier last year, the government decided to ban the selling and consumption of beef in Maharashtra. However, their move to legalise Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu to please voters is a hypocritical stance on the issue. On one hand, consumption is being derided and on the other, torture/death is being celebrated.

A bull’s tail being bitten prior to the event to agitate him

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is now under serious pressure from two fronts – the Tamil Nadu state government, along with the state’s BJP extension, and the Animal Welfare Board, who want the 2014 judgement to be upheld.

A source from within Tamil Nadu’s BJP extension stated, “The problem is even if the Central government gives a thumbs up, it will be challenged by AWBI in court. So we need to move on this immediately.”  However, Javadekar remains positive and promised the people of Tamil Nadu that they would ‘receive the good news’ very soon.

During the same interaction, the Minister stated that Jallikattu was an essential part of Tamil Nadu’s ‘tradition’.

Both sport and tradition have a long history.  However, cruelty has never been a cornerstone for proliferation. If Jallikattu is legalised, it could mark a black day for sport in India.

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