On January 21, the Indian federal government responded to statewide protests by temporarily lifting a ban on Jallikattu bullfighting. Jallikattu, a traditional sport originating in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is practiced annually in celebration of Pongal, an ancient harvest festival. Participants attempt to hang from the hump of a bull until the animal passes a thirty-foot marker. If successful, the competitor is awarded a prize, while failure generally results in a prize for the bull’s owner. For many young men, leaving the arena victorious is the only opportunity to bring pride and glory to their families. The festival attracts up to 200 competitors and thousands of spectators each year, despite the risks involved. Twenty men have been fatally stabbed by the bull’s horns, and hundreds, including bystanders, have been mauled or trampled. In 2004, a 14-year old spectator died after a rampant bull charged into the crowd, instigating a decade-long exchange of legislation addressing the issue.
On May 7th, 2014, the Indian Supreme Court banned Jallikattu in response to a series of petitions by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and the Animal Welfare Board of India on the grounds of animal abuse. Bull owners frequently rub lemon juice into the eyes of their animals, inject them with chili powder, and feed them alcohol in an attempt to agitate them before a fight. In addition, videos surfaced of men stabbing bulls with sharp objects and biting or severely bending their tails.
Since the 2014 ban, the fighting bulls have remained idle. Supporters of Jallikattu argue that the sport protects many species of bull, including the Kangayam bull, from extinction. According to Karthikeyan Siva Senaapathy, a Kangayam bull breeder, “We had over one million Kangayam bulls in 1990. The population has fallen to 15,000 now.” The bulls have no use outside the bullfighting ring. Agricultural farmers in the region rely upon mechanical plows, while dairy farmers prefer cows.
If the ban is reinstated, Tamil Nadu families will not likely be able to afford to keep their bulls as pets. In spite of the ban, Jallikattu competitions were held on Saturday, January 14. As a result, 200 men were arrested, sparking statewide outrage. The following Tuesday, over 4,000 people gathered on Marina beach in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai to protest the injunction. The demonstrators, mostly young college students and workers, slept on the beach and cleaned up after themselves the next morning. Though the Chennai protest was rather subdued, schools and colleges were compelled to close for the millions of protesters outside the capital. From across the country, prominent Indian celebrities tweeted their support while city elites denounced Jallikattu as barbaric and uncivilized. Regardless, the government determined they must ensure the “survival and well-being of the native breed of bulls and preserv[e] cultural traditions” by allowing Jallikattu to remain, according to an official.