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HomeThePrint EssentialJallikattu begins today — the ‘barbaric sport’ that celebrates hard-working Tamil farmer

Jallikattu begins today — the ‘barbaric sport’ that celebrates hard-working Tamil farmer

As thousands of bulls are readied for jallikattu once again, ThePrint revisits the debate around the barbaric ‘bull-taming’ sport.

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New Delhi: The four-day harvest festival of Pongal begins today, also marking the start of jallikattu, a controversial bull-taming “sport” that involves aggressive confrontation between cattle and humans and is popular in Tamil Nadu.

Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014, but the Tamil Nadu and central governments stepped in to reverse the bar amid widespread protests in the state.

The ban, many fans argued, was an assault on Tamil pride. Supporters also claim that jallikattu helps them identify strong bulls for breeding.

As thousands of bulls are readied for “battle” once again, ThePrint looks back at the debate around jallikattu, which critics see as a barbaric sport that often results in the death of its animal and human participants.

Also read: Modi govt to hike penalty for cruelty to animals by 120 times

A bloody sport

Jallikattu traces its genesis to the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC).

The term jallikattu comes from the Tamil words “salli kaasu” — while “salli” means coins, “kattu” is the package tied to a bull’s horns as prize money.

Typically, bulls of specific varieties are let out into a crowd of human participants, who attempt to grab the animal by its hump and stop it from escaping.

For farmers, jallikattu holds enormous cultural significance. It is a moment to exhibit their own strength and those of their bulls, whom they claim to love.

Supporters say the sport celebrates the spirit of the hard-working Tamil farmer, who toils day and night on the farm with the help of his bulls.

However, animal rights activists claim bulls are almost invariably assaulted during the sport and often intoxicated.

It has been alleged that bull owners often rub lime juice and chilli powder into the animal’s eyes and genitals to make them ferocious — because, activists ask, how else can bulls be made to run?

Moreover, animal rights organisations claim bulls are often stabbed with knives or sticks, punched, jumped on and swept across the floor as the human participants try to tame them.

The court ban and how it was overturned

In May 2014, after a decade-long battle by animal welfare organisations like the Federation of India Animal Protection Agencies (FIAPO) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Supreme Court banned the sport and imposed penalties on its practice.

The order was upheld in 2016, when Tamil Nadu was bound for assembly elections, after the central government sought to reverse the ban by effecting certain conditions.

It triggered massive outrage and protests in Tamil Nadu.

In January 2017, when the Supreme Court rejected a plea seeking an urgent hearing on a clutch of petitions seeking permission for jallikattu that year, the protests became louder.

Marina beach in Chennai became the centre of protests, which were attended by thousands, and veteran Tamil superstars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth spoke in support of jallikattu.

The protests Tamil Nadu witnessed were compared to the violent demonstrations of the 1960s, when the central government attempted to make Hindi the official language of India.

The ruling AIADMK and opposition parties backed pro-Jallikattu groups.

After more than a week of protests, the Tamil Nadu government passed an amendment to the central government’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 to allow jallikattu. The amendment was subsequently approved by the President of India, effectively overturning the Supreme Court ban and allowing the sport to be played without any legal hurdle.

Also read: Kerala eyes jallikattu lesson from Tamil Nadu to resolve Sabarimala row


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  1. Why don’t you all become vegetarians. Barbaric slaughter of animals can be prevented. Soon one day your culture, tradition and religion will be taken away from you in the name of promoting civilized humans. Let’s see how you react to that.

    Get your facts right before you report.

  2. And every day Thousands of Cows, Buffaloes are slaughtered by Muslims and Christians. But you can’t speak even a word against them bcoz all know Next day you will made to reach to 72 hoors।।
    Btw Jallikattu is Bull embracing not bull taming

  3. Witer of this article sir/mam can you please reply me on this question why PETA and any other animal right activist don’t say about Bakrid where many thousands of goats slaughtered? ??????????????
    Waiting for your ans
    Specially wanna see the reply of arfa Khanum ma’am ????

  4. This is absolute abuse of Tamils and their sport it’s not a bull taming game it’s just bull embracing game. It is not as barbaric as the content creator. It is played with all due safety and precautions with medics around the corner anytime. It’s a tradition of choosing bull for breeding.
    The World famous alanganallur jallikattu welcomes you to witness the marvelous game.

  5. Sanya Dhingra, you should educate yourself on age old Tamil culture and history before you pontificate. There is nothing ‘barbaric’ about the sport. The self-righteous and condescending animal rights ‘activists’ and the Indian judiciary went overboard only to be overturned by the political reality. It’s more important to provide modern infrastructure, ensure adequate forest cover and clean air, create jobs and address crime rather than interfere with age-old custom where there’s no killing nor exploitation of fellow human beings. Jallikattu is a glorious Tamil sport and the Indian judiciary demeaned itself by rushing into subjects it little understood. Thankfully it was put in its place!

  6. Politicians who blindly supported this event for vote banks were punished cruelly by god before their deaths in the past.The present politicians should learn from that and ban it immediately.What you sow ‘ll be reaped by you.Nobody is an exception.

  7. I am also a Tamil .Certainly it is a brutal event supported by brutes.It is a shame that humans without humanity are competing with gentle animals having only five senses.

  8. “Barbaric” & “Battle”

    Sanya Dhingra you better learn English language once again by going to a “good” English Grammar school.

    First “study” the culture & science behind bull “tamming”.

    There are calculations during taming of bulls. You get on field & understand the sport rather writing out of word of mouth.

  9. Moron Sanya Dhingra! stop using abusive language!!
    have some decency and learn tamil history of this prestigious sport!!
    Warning THe Print media to apologise and correct!!

  10. Sanya Dhingra. It’s easy to call a sport you know nothing about Barbaric! With no knowledge if the history behind the sport or the people associated with it, you have written this shoddy piece. The sport goes back longer than ur biased, narrow minded brain can imagine. And before you go up in arms on cruelty to animals, which you won’t had you taken the pain to research or try to be neutral, the sport needs to be regulated as does every other sport. Not a blanket ban which ignoramus like your self would prefer.
    Note – equating working class to barbaric; check, your hypocrisy and privilege is showing

    • Sanya dingra better stop writing if you are unable to be a journo, are you aware of the meaning of barbaric and blood sport, jusr because you need not show up don’t think you can write anything without knowing it’s history and the reasons behind it, and why hindi here, do you know the history of origination of hindi, can you least compare it with tamil and it’s culture. Do you know your origin, I meant the people from north, go learn things properly before you comment on someone else’s life and way of living. This is a land of culture and tradition, do not demean it, that also shows the culture you ppl grow up in, learn to respect others, before anything else

  11. Excellent article about a Tamil ethinic, But the veteran Tamil superstars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth spoke in support of jallikattu had nothing to do with massive outrage of support to conduct the event.

  12. Sanya, ‘barbaric sport’? Then what is your crazy religion? Is it Most Civilized / Modern? Stop this nonsense please….

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