Home Art/Culture Tamil Nadu villagers sore at bull-run ban

Tamil Nadu villagers sore at bull-run ban

By Ganesh Nadar, IANS

Alanganallur (Tamil Nadu) : Anger was simmering among the people of this Tamil Nadu village Monday, three days after the Supreme Court banned jallikattu, the traditional bullfight – rather bull-run – held during Pongal. Villagers resorted to hunger strikes, tonsured their heads, and some even discussed self-immolation in case the apex court turns down plea to review its ban.

Some villagers had flowers on their heads, others threatened violence against anyone who came in their way, while others hoisted black flags on top of their houses to register their protest.

Hundreds of villagers in Madurai, 20 km away, and other southern districts went on hunger strike to protest the ban.

Large contingents of police and security persons patrolled the villages in Madurai and other towns, fearing further tension ahead of the court hearing.

The apex court is to hear the review petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government Tuesday.

N. Alagu Umadevi, panchayat president or village head of Allaganallur, the main centre of the traditional bullfights, told reporters that jallikattu “is part and parcel of rural society in Tamil Nadu. People here cannot celebrate Pongal, the harvest festival, without a jallikattu.”

Locals said that business on jallikattu day, to be held on Mattu Pongal Jan 17, is equal to a month’s business and cancelling it would mean a huge loss to the local economy.

They also said that jallikattu bulls are fed throughout the year and not used for any work.

“All they have to do is to run for three minutes. If they are denied this, we will have no option but to sell them to the butchers in Kerala. The Supreme Court does not think of this. That is cruel,” said a distraught villager.

Jallikattu is taming the bull. Young men try to catch a bull as it races across a distance of half a kilometre by hanging onto its neck, horns or hump. This form of bullfight has been going on for 400 years in the state, mainly in the districts of Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga and Salem.

The villagers say that while the apex court has ruled ban on jallikattu, it has allowed ‘reckla race’, a race of bullock carts. Villagers maintain it is also cruel on the animals as the villagers whip the bulls to make them run faster.

“For reckla, the people whip the bulls from start to finish. Here, the bull runs on its own. The reckla race lasts for half an hour. The jallikattu run lasts for less than three minutes. What is cruel about it?” one asked.

Alagu Umadevi is leading villagers on a fast unto death. Her husband Perisamy said the villagers are hoping the apex court will give a favourable verdict during the review hearing Tuesday. “If the court verdict goes against us, we will continue our fast,” he said.

“Jallikattu is our village tradition, which has made us world famous. You come and see the number of white men here on that day. I have been participating since 1980, no one can stop us,” said a villager, Ramaswamy, who has shaved his head to protest the apex court order.

Muthiah, another villager, added: “We celebrate Mattu Pongal for the cows. You think we will hurt them? The Jallikattu bull is sacred to us. We worship it. We will never harm it.”

On the bulls goring people to death and also severely injuring many, he said: “There are groups of 10 people in a group. Only one of them tries to catch the bull. The others are there to look after him. If he falls and the bull turns against him, nine others will scare the bull away and pull him to safety.”

“How many people are killed in road accidents everyday?” asked another villager. “Less people die during jallikattu,” he said.

Villagers are also on fast in neighbouring Palamedu, where jallikattu is held on a large scale. Here the villagers were sitting quietly. They said the village elders would decide what to do in case the Supreme Court did not lift the ban.

Elders maintained that if the Supreme Court vacated the stay, they would hold jallikattu “in an orderly way”. Some threatened to let loose all the bulls on the streets in case the verdict went against them.

Alanganallur, which has a population of 19,000 people, has 600 bulls participating in the bull-run.

On Jan 12, the Supreme Court in a decision favouring the Blue Cross of India and the Animal Welfare Board, upheld a lower court ban on the traditional sport in Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil Nadu government Sunday filed a special leave petition, asking for a review of the court decision in view of public sentiment.