When years of tradition are challenged in a country as fiercely diverse as India, the results are usually volatile. Jallikattu—the sport of bull-fighting observed in Tamil Nadu for the four days of the Pongal festival, has become the latest bone of contention in a state that’s headed for elections this year. The Centre lifted the ban on this ‘seemingly cruel’ sport which entails the taming of a bull on the loose—a move supported by the state government.
People who indulge in the sport are awarded cash prizes and declared heroes, should they succeed in the task. The risks include maiming oneself for life. Television talk shows have held debates for and against jallikattu, where those against the sport spoke of how inhuman the sport is and how it sometimes involves rubbing chilli powder in the animal’s genitals to turn it more ferocious. Those in favour included a man with over 90 stitches on his body and a permanently disfigured arm, and another proponent who said he indulged in it to curry favour with the ladies. Some argued that if the slaughter of animals for human consumption is not seen as inhuman, why should a sport that involves the taming of such an animal be deemed so?
What seems opportunistic, however, is the timing of the ban’s lifting—seen as a tactic to woo the votes of local enthusiasts (some have gone on to say, ‘No jallikattu, no vote’). While Tamil Nadu is busy with preparations for the sport, the Supreme Court has played the proverbial wet blanket by issuing a stay order on the Centre’s notification. Stoutly denouncing the revival of the controversial sport in the interest of upholding animal rights, the interim stay till 15 March has also banned bullock cart races in Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab.