A 19-year-old spectator was gored to death at Madurai in Tamil Nadu during Jallikattu or bull-taming festivities, in which scores of young men wrestle with bulls in a tradition to celebrate the harvest.
The incident took place at the Palamedu village, at a point where bulls are tethered by their owners after they complete their run across the arena. The incident, which took place despite a double barricade separating the arena from the gallery, has raised questions about public safety.
Around 1,200 bulls were used and an equal number of policemen were posted to guard against any accident.
Yesterday, around 79 people, including spectators, were injured in the season’s first Jallikattu held at Avaniyapuram, also in Madurai.
The Supreme Court banned Jallikattu in 2014 after activists said it constitutes extreme animal cruelty. Last year, after massive protests in which over 50,000 people campaigned for Jallikattu from the Marina Beach, Tamil Nadu enacted a law to bypass the top court’s verdict.
This time, bull-tamers were administered an oath against cruelty by the administration. The district administration has also banned the pulling of the bulls by their tail, clinging to bulls and multiple tamers pouncing on the bulls.
Five bull-tamers were disqualified earlier today for animal cruelty; they were seen clinging to a bull’s horns as multiple people set upon each animal at the same time.
Jallikattu, a hugely controversial sport, is a staple in parts of Tamil Nadu during the celebration of a harvest festival for cows, Maattu Pongal. Bulls, cows and other cattle are decked up, their horns painted and served Pongal in an acknowledgement of their role in cultivation and harvest.
The bull-taming, say locals, is the most popular tradition of the harvest celebrations. Prizes for participants include gold coins, cash, two-wheelers and LED TVs. Madurai-based Revenue Minister RB Udhayakumar donated several gold coins for winners. Addressing a huge gathering, he said “Jallikattu is Amma’s (Late Jayalalithaa’s) Pongal gift”.
Only bulls examined and certified by veterinarians are allowed to participate, says the government. They are thoroughly checked for cruelty and intoxication. Volunteers from the Animal Welfare Board also monitor and video record the event.
A huge money-spinner, Jallikattu has also become hunting ground for brands and advertisers. Spectators are charged Rs. 200 to 1,000 for vantage points on the galleries put up by private companies.