India

Jallikattu: India court says Tamil Nadu bullfighting ban remains

Jallikattu contest in Tamil Nadu (file photo) Image copyright J Suresh
Image caption Animal rights activists says Jallikattu is a "cruel sport"

The Indian Supreme Court has put on hold a recent government order lifting a ban on Jallikattu, a form of bullfighting which has been popular for centuries in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The order came after activists challenged the government decision on grounds of cruelty to animals.

Tuesday's court order means there will be no Jallikattu festival this year.

The Jallikattu festival was scheduled to begin on 15 January across the state. No events were held last year.

At the annual festival held in January, thousands of men chase the bulls to grab prizes tied to their horns.

Read more: The state that loves bullfighting but isn't Spain

The Supreme Court banned the festival in 2014 after objections from animal rights activists.

In its order at the time, the Supreme Court had said that the use of bulls in the sport "severely harmed" the animals and was an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Unlike in Spain, however, the bulls are not killed in the contests in Tamil Nadu.

Political influence

However, last Friday the government issued an order lifting the ban.

Many believe local political parties had lobbied to have the ban lifted with an eye on this year's state elections.

Also, the Thevar community of Tamil Nadu is politically and economically influential in at least five districts where the sport is popular and no political party wants to antagonise them.

Correspondents say Tuesday's order is a setback for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in Delhi, which had lifted the top court's ban last week using an executive order.

"With this single act of thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court, the BJP - like the Congress before - has sent the unfortunate signal once again that court orders are binding only upon ordinary citizens, and governments are above the law; lifting the ban on Jallikattu by circumventing the order of the apex court has put the executive on a collision course with the judiciary," a commentator wrote in The Wire website last week.

Tuesday's order shows that India's top court has again reasserted the judiciary's position, many observers believe.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The sport is popular in at least five districts of Tamil Nadu
Image copyright J Suresh
Image caption Jallikattu is more than 2,000 years old and considered to be one of the oldest sports still practised in the modern era

On Monday, the Animal Welfare Board of India, animal rights groups and activists had filed six petitions in the court, challenging the "cruel sport".

The petitioners have welcomed the court's order.

The court, however, has made it clear that the order was an "interim measure", pending further hearings which will begin in February.

In Jallikattu, bulls are released from pens, with bullfighters supposed to hold on to the animal's hump for about 15-20 metres or three jumps of the bull to win the prize.

The ban had been criticised by political parties and cultural organisations in Tamil Nadu who had argued that Jallikattu was a part of their cultural tradition.

Jallikattu is more than 2,000 years old and considered to be one of the oldest sports still practised in the modern era.

Over the years, scores of people have been gored or trampled to death in the contests.

Hundreds, including spectators, have been mauled or injured.

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