The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday decided to let Jallikattu, the traditional bull taming sport and a symbol of Tamil culture, albeit one denounced as barbaric by animal rights activists, go ahead during the harvest festival of Pongal in January provided participants adhere to restrictions imposed to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
All participants must undergo a Covid-19 test at a government laboratory and produce a negative certificate, said a statement by the government. The number of participants, or bull tamers, will be limited to 150 at an event.
Spectators cannot exceed 50% of the capacity of the venue so that social distancing norms are followed and all of them will have to wear masks. All entrants will be screened using a thermal scanner to check their body temperature, the statement said.
Jallikattu has been controversial and been banned temporarily several times in the past. In 2014, the Supreme Court banned the sport on a plea filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The ban was lifted in 2017 with an amendment to the law after protests across the state.
Animal welfare groups have called the sport barbaric. Tamil Nadu’s political parties and supporters of the sport say it is a part of the state’s tradition.
The decision to allow the sport even amid the pandemic comes ahead of assembly elections due to take place in Tamil Nadu in early 2021 and some see political overtones to the move by the state’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government.
“We are disappointed. It is a political decision with elections around the corner,” said Chennai-based Dr Chinni Krishna, former vice-chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India. “We want a total ban on Jallikattu from the point of view of humans and animals involved.”
Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai, a body representing the participants in the sport, welcomed the decision
“Every year during December we get our bulls and trainers ready, but we were doubtful if Jallikattu will happen this year due to the pandemic so we are happy that the government has taken a good decision,” said PR Rajasekaran, president of Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai.
“A fitness test with doctors is usually done for bull tamers about three days before the event; this year we will put them through a Covid-19 test as well.”
Jallikattu is particularly popular in Madurai, Dindigul, Theni, Thanjavur and Perambalur districts.
In 2017, protests erupted across the state for the ban against Jallikattu to be lifted. But the Tamil Nadu government unanimously enacted a legislation to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 to preserve the state’s cultural heritage and ensure survival of native breeds of bulls.