Jallikattu: What we see as a Religious Tradition might be a Regressive Custom?

jallikattu bull

Jallikattu is a traditional practice, celebrated during the festival of Pongal, mainly in Tamil Nadu. It is a sport where a bull is released into a crowd of people who then try to subdue the bull by holding onto its hump or horns. There has been a lot of controversy regarding Jallikattu; while one side says that it should be banned on grounds of it being cruel to the bull, the opposing side says that it is an old Tamil tradition that has deep cultural significance and therefore should be preserved.

Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014 when the court struck down the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act No 27 of 2009 that permitted it to be practiced in spite of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. On 8 January 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests allowed the continuation of Jallikattu under certain conditions, effectively ending the ban. In response to this, the Animal Welfare Board of India and PETA India then filed a petition in the Supreme Court following which the Supreme Court issued a stay on the order of the Ministry, thereby upholding the ban. Since then there have been widespread protests all over Tamil Nadu asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

After prolonged protests, on 21 January 2017, the Governor of Tamil Nadu finally issued an ordinance that authorised the continuation of Jallikattu events. Jallikattu was celebrated on January 15 this year.

The most popular form of Jallikattu involves the bull being released from a closed space. Following this the contestants attempt to wrap their arms or hands around the hump of the bull and hold on to it to win the reward. Practices, before the bull is released, include prodding the bull with sharp sticks or scythes, rubbing chilli peppers in their eyes or forcing them to drink alcohol to disorient and aggravate the bull. During attempts to tame the bull, they are stabbed by knives, punched jumped on and dragged to the ground. Animal rights activists suggest that Jallikattu exploits the bull’s natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation, in which they are forced to run away.

This practice not only endangers the bull that is exploited and mistreated, but it also puts the spectators in danger. A 19 year old was gored to death after the raging bull reportedly jumped into the packed grandstands in Madurai on Monday. In yet another instance of bulls going berserk beyond the Jallikattu arena and even the collection point, a 45-year-old man was gored to death by a charging bull at Vedamalappur in Pudukkottai district on Wednesday.

Apart from being extremely dangerous, Jallikattu is also inherently misogynistic. In the ancient Tamil country, the man who successfully overpowered the bull would be awarded with the status of the alpha and he would be offered a woman as reward for his conquest. This year, a supposedly drunk announcer declared that a 21-year-old woman would be offered as the prize in the mega Jallikattu event at Periya Anaikaraipatti village.

This is reflective of the masculinised nature of the tradition. Although Jallikattu is a religious tradition that has cultural significance to the Tamil people, it is a deeply misogynist as well as dangerous practice that needs to be reformed. It is no different than any other social evil like Sati or child marriage and should therefore be abolished.

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About Alokabho Pal 11 Articles
Alokabho Pal is a 20 year old English major obsessed with TV shows and Web-series’. He has the occasional urge to express himself through writing and when not doing so he can found either watching TV or with his head buried inside a book. He blogs at https://queerphilia.wordpress.com