Most of us are familiar with Spanish bullfighting, or toreo. What few – beyond the Indian subcontinent – know is that in the southernmost province of India, a similar event was held for hundreds of years, until a Supreme Court decision finally banned the practice in 2016.
Tamil Nadu is one of the most prosperous states in India. It is home to the Tamil people, who have populated the area for thousands of years. Tamil people, part of the Dravidian ethnic group, share a rich history and culture, and a proud tradition in both old and modern times (Tamil cinema is the second biggest Indian film industry, second only to the Hindi cinema of Bollywood).
Part of this Tamil culture is the Jallikattu, or bull-baiting. Every year, during the harvest festival of Pongal (mid-January), bulls would be set loose on a crowd of young men. The men would try to tame the bulls, by grabbing on to their shoulders. The practice is ingrained in Tamil culture, with some saying it traces back to similar practices in the second millenium B.C. (though others say jallikattu is ‘only’ 500 years old).
It’s a controversial practice, and animal rights activists have long protested against it. They say they have reason to believe the bulls suffer from the event. Defenders of jallikattu say it is an inherent part of Tamil culture, and many families depend on the tradition. Another supposed argument for the bullfighting is that the violent bulls would otherwise be brought to slaughter.
Nonetheless, in early January this year, the Supreme Court of India restated its ban on the event, calling on The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. The Supreme Court already banned jallikattu in 2014, but a few days before the 2016 Pongal festival, the government allowed for the sport to happen anyway. Many suspect the political parties softened their stance because of the upcoming regional elections in May.
The video below is from a New Delhi Television report on the government lifting the ban, a few days before the Supreme Court intervened.
What are your thoughts on this? Should a tradition like this be preserved as intangible heritage? Or should this be banned for probable animal cruelty? Leave a comment below, or let us know via Facebook or Twitter!