Tamil Nadu bull-run ends, officials heave sigh of relief


Alanganallur (Tamil Nadu) : More than 100,000 people, including foreign tourists, Thursday witnessed traditional bull-run or jallikattu in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, under the watchful eyes of officials, animal welfare activists and closed circuit cameras.

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The Supreme Court of India Jan 12 banned jallikattu (kattu means taming), saying the ritual was “barbaric”. But later allowed the traditional Pongal ritual but only under specific guidelines.

Amidst large-scale protests from the villages in southern districts of the state that believe that the bulls must be tamed to please the local goddess Muthalamman, the apex court finally allowed the run Jan 15, saying it must be closely monitored by the government to ensure that “no animal was hurt” during the event.

Bull taming is observed mainly in three villages of Madurai district, Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avanyapuram, and in Tiruchirapally, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Theni and Salem districts during the harvesting festival of Pongal.

People of the village of Chorikkampatti, about 20 km from the town of Madurai, even have a temple dedicated to a jallikattu hero, Azhagathevar, who died a 100 years ago, during such a bull taming session.

Wednesday, after the apex court’s nod, 397 bulls were made to run along a specially designated track Palamedu and Avanyapuram, under supervision of the police and veterinary officials.

As many as 339 young men took part in the event, which despite all precautions left at least 189 people injured, including 14 seriously wounded.

Thursday, 500-odd bulls took part in the jallikattu at Alanganallur, 25 km south of Madurai, and 400 braved the bulls, in a festival marked with greater fervour by the local people after the face-off with the highest court in the country.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) under the union ministry of environment and forest, along with the Blue Cross of India had first gone to court in 2004, in an attempt to stop the event, after a bull killed a 14-year-old.

The courts have now insisted that the bulls are not fed alcohol or incited in any way nor their eyes sprinkled with lemon juice or chili powder, as is the common practice. The men participating in the event were tested for alcohol.

Closed circuit TV footage showed several men trying to tame the bull at a time, and even twisting its tail, despite the court’s caution.

If a man can hang on to its hump, the bull gets down to its knees. This is what is done during the two-minute run for each bull.

Yet, it was obvious this year that the organisers, youth dressed in black shirts from political outfits affiliated to the Dravida Kazhagam and champions of Dravidian culture, and members of Tamizhaga Veeravilayaatu Paathukaapu Kuzhu in yellow were in the forefront of the events.

Authorities said, at least 150,000 witnessed the bull runs in the southern districts in these two days.

Animal rights organisation, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), protested the lifting of the apex court ban on jallikattu.

PETA chief Ingrid Newkirk, in a statement issued in Coimbatore, said, “There are bad and good traditions worldwide, but this is a bolt on Tamil Nadu”.

Blue Cross president Chinni Krishna told IANS, “You have seen nearly 200 were injured on Wednesday, god knows how many more got hurt in the Alanganallur event. We will only know the numbers later. This is not Tamil culture!”

AWBI secretary D. Rajasekar told the media the board would see the TV footage closely and decide if any cruelty to animals took place.