Bull owners and bull tamers are gearing up for the controversial Jallikattu, the sport of bull taming, with a month to go before the Pongal festival, as the sport takes place every year in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district.
This year, however, there is uncertainty as the case is once again being heard in the Supreme Court, where animal rights groups have filed several petitions against Jallikattu, arguing that it is cruelty, while the Tamil Nadu government has argued that it is part of it. culture and tradition of the state. The harvest festival of Pongal will be celebrated from January 15 to 18 next year and Jallikattu is usually held on the first day.
“Only a few of us are concerned about the case, the rest of the people are far away and preparations are in full swing,” says PR Rajasekaran, president of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai, the body representing participating dressage sports. He is also involved in the case in court. Ever since the massive protests to lift the jallikattu ban in Tamil Nadu in 2017, people associated with the sport believe it is now out of touch, says Rajasekaran. “But that’s the wrong way to think. We must respect the law. We don’t know what the Supreme Court will decide.”
A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court on December 8 reserved its verdict on a petition challenging three state laws allowing jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and jallikattu and buffalo races in Maharashtra and Karnataka. But, interested parties are ready to see bulls and taming athletics. Petitions are being made to the Madurai district collector seeking permission to hold the event at various places such as Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram and Palamedu.
The bulls are given nutritious meals and regular exercise to give them strength. Rajasekaran has 12 jallikattu bulls and the cost of maintaining one bull per day is anywhere. ₹200 and ₹300. “A Jallikattu kaalai (bull) will do no other work as other cows and bulls are wont to do. They are specially bred and groomed just to participate in Jallikattu,” he says. Bull owners like him walk 4 km every evening and swim every other day in the nearby lakes. “Experienced and mature people will do 8 to 10 laps easily. We can judge their speed and strength by the way they swim,” says Rajasekaran, adding that he has two families and four men to feed and maintain these bulls.
“It’s costing us all a lot of money and there’s no going back. We have been doing this since childhood and we continue because it is our pride and culture,” says Rajasekaran.
Meanwhile, taming bulls also undergo strict diet and exercise. They are worried about the ongoing lawsuit, but hope that somehow the event will happen as usual.
Vinod Kumar, a 30-year-old civil lawyer who practices in the high court and lower courts in Madurai, will focus solely on preparing for Jallikattu next month. He started participating in 2008 and has tamed around 70 bulls so far. “There is a little fear that it may not happen this year because of the case, but I also believe that the Tamil Nadu government will not give up our culture,” says Vadipattik Kumar of Madurai. “So I’m training as if the event is going to happen for sure. We will stay ‘clean’ by bathing in the mornings like going to the Sabarimala temple (Kerala) fasting, abstaining from non-vegetarian food and liquor.”
Vinod walks at least 10 kilometers a day apart from swimming to keep up with the bulls.
There are calls to ban jallikattu every year and it was banned in Tamil Nadu between 2014 and 2016 due to a Supreme Court order. This was after Tamil Nadu passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct in Jallikattu) Rules, 2017 to overcome the ban following the protests.
Political parties and sections of people in the state have said that Jallikattu is a part of Tamil Nadu’s tradition and culture and should continue. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the state government has allowed Jallikattu with Covid-19 protocols, such that all participants undergo a test at a government laboratory 48 hours before the event for a negative certificate. This year, the government has not yet imposed any conditions, which will also be subject to the Supreme Court’s order.