The death of four persons in Tamil Nadu at Jallikattu events has exposed the failure of authorities in ensuring public safety during the traditional Pongal-eve bull-taming sport. All the deaths occurred when the raging bulls smashed barricades and attacked spectators. It is no longer an issue of cruelty to animals but an inherent danger involved in the bull-taming spectacle that puts the people at a huge risk. Despite the clearly laid down regulations, the local authorities have failed to monitor the events properly. With some of the events involving more than 400 bulls and almost twice as many tamers, Jallikattu has become a dangerous tradition fraught with risks to human life. There were massive protests across Tamil Nadu last year against the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu, prompting the Central government to hurriedly issue an ordinance allowing the conduct of the events under strict supervision of district administration. Clearly, the safety arrangements made by the local authorities were woefully inadequate, exposing the risks involved in the conduct of the annual ritual. All the victims this year were onlookers. With political parties across the spectrum and social organisations of all hues unequivocally coming out in support of Jallikattu in the name of preserving an ancient tradition and the native breeds of bulls, it would be impossible for any government to impose a ban. The ritual is linked to Tamil pride, heritage and a collective sense of cultural ethos. The spontaneous outburst of anti-ban protests across the State last year, with support from all political parties, bore a testimony to this.
With a history tracing back to Indus Valley civilisation, Jallikattu, a warrior sport where a man matches wit and sinew with a raging bull and grabs a small bag of coins (Jalli) tied to its horns, has over the centuries become an integral part of Tamil rural life. It is about celebration of courage and masculinity. If any custom or tradition is found to militate against basic tenets of humanity, it needs to be regulated and monitored. There is a need to strike a delicate balance between respecting the age-old tradition and ensuring safety of animals, tamers and spectators during the ritual. Stringent regulation must be in place to prevent any sort of cruelty against the animals and injuries to people. The events must be organised under the direct supervision of district authorities, conforming to a set of conditions, and with the involvement of the Animal Welfare Board of India. The apex court had banned the ritual in 2014 based on concerns expressed by the animal rights activists. Ancient practices like Jallikattu should serve as an abiding symbol of harmonious co-existence but not of confrontation between man and animal.