The Sunday Deep Dive

Of lives, limbs and the bull run

Grabbing the bull by its horns: Tamers trying to get hold of an animal during a jallikattu held at Palamedu in Madurai this year. The popular bull-taming sport is conducted during Pongal.

Grabbing the bull by its horns: Tamers trying to get hold of an animal during a jallikattu held at Palamedu in Madurai this year. The popular bull-taming sport is conducted during Pongal.

Life turned into a nightmare for P. Gurusamy, a 70-year-old resident of Uchaparambumedu in Madurai, after he attended a jallikattu event that was held at Avaniapuram during Pongal last year. He lost his 28-year-old son, G. Azhagar, who was gored to death by a bull.

“I have lost half of my soul since my son died,” said Mr. Gurusamy.

Recalling the tragic incident, Mr. Gurusamy said he and his son went to witness the jallikattu without a pass, which is necessary to gain access to the spectator’s gallery. Around half a kilometre from the vaadivasal (entry point to the arena), a group squeezed through a barricade to watch the event from within the arena.

“My son went through the barricade and I was just a few metres behind him. It was at that moment that a bull gored him right in front of my eyes,” he said.

Part of tradition: Tamers trying to hold on to a bull at Palamedu earlier this year.

Part of tradition: Tamers trying to hold on to a bull at Palamedu earlier this year.

 

Since the death of his son, Mr. Gurusamy has been taking up odd jobs to support his family. “My son was the breadwinner of the family. He used to work hard to earn around ₹900 a day. Since his death, our family is struggling to make ends meet. The incident has also taken a huge toll on our entire family’s mental health,” he added.

Such tragedies are not new to the jallikattu arena — the bull-taming sport that is held during the festival of Pongal. The sport, which is popular across south Tamil Nadu, is perceived as a symbol of pride for the Tamil male.

It was not too long ago that the entire State came to a standstill after the Marina jallikattu protest in Chennai made a strident point for its continuation, in view of attempts to ban animal sports. While the protests turned into a catalyst for many to promote several causes, the sport was not banned. Instead, it was regulated in order to minimise deaths and injuries.

Drop in deaths

There has been a significant drop in the number of deaths that have occurred inside the arena during the jallikattu events held at the three popular venues in Madurai — Avaniapuram, Palamedu and Alanganallur — after stringent regulations were put in place in 2017, officials from the Madurai district administration said. The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules, 2017, mandate the Collector to form a committee on jallikattu, which comprises officials from the Revenue, Animal Husbandry, Police and Health Departments, to oversee and monitor the sport.

As per the rules, the bull should undergo a medical check-up to ensure that no performance-enhancing drugs are fed to it. The animals must be free from diseases and intoxicants. Even if a small injury is found, the bull is not allowed to participate.

Crowds watching the event at Palamedu earlier this year.

Crowds watching the event at Palamedu earlier this year.

 

Participants face strict rules too. They are not allowed to hold on to the tails, horns or legs — actions that would restrict the movement of the bulls.

‘Only minor injuries’

District Joint Director of Animal Husbandry R. Rajathilagam said during the jallikattu events held in the last few years, the bulls had sustained only minor injuries. All the injured bulls were given proper treatment.

“Last year, a few bulls had accidentally fallen into shallow wells and were later rescued by personnel from the Fire and Rescue Services Department. Although we closed all the nearby wells this year, a bull fell into a small pit during the Palamedu jallikattu. But officials promptly rescued and treated it,” Mr. Rajathilagam said.

The conduct of medical check-ups for bull tamers before the event, which helped to ensure that they had not consumed alcohol, have also been made more stringent in recent years. As per the rules, all bull tamers have to carry identity cards and the entire event has to be videographed.

An official from the Madurai district administration said from 2017, the players were only allowed to participate in batches of 75, instead of everyone being allowed to enter the arena at the same time. This had actually helped bring down the number of deaths. “Earlier, hundreds of players used to swarm the arena throughout the event. This resulted in overcrowding inside the arena, and increased the risk of injuries to both the bulls and the tamers,” he added.

Deployment of volunteers from the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) during the events had also helped provide first aid to injured bull tamers, said A. Rajkumar, coordinator, IRCS. “This has helped reduce deaths caused by bleeding,” he added.

While there was a significant fall in the number of deaths caused within the arena, there were still casualties recorded at the collection point where the bulls exit the arena and the holding yards behind the vaadivasal , regular onlookers said.

This year, too, a 24-year-old man was gored by a bull near the vaadivasal during the Alanganallur jallikattu. He later succumbed to his injuries.

With the collection point out of sight from the vaadivasal , overseeing the movement of the bulls and the crowd becomes difficult, said a police officer who was deputed during the events. “A separate jallikattu event takes place at the collection point as scores of youth try to get hold of the bulls running amok,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gurusamy has moved the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, seeking appropriate compensation from the State for his son’s death.

His representation was turned down by the Madurai district administration, which stated that he was not eligible for compensation under the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund .

In his petition, Mr. Gurusamy urged the authorities to provide compensation of at least ₹2 lakh.

M. Malar Mannan, a bull tamer and owner from Alanganallur, stressed on the need for the government to ensure that all bull tamers are covered under a medical insurance scheme.

“Many of the players are from poor families. They participate in the jallikattu events out of love for the traditional sport. There have been multiple cases where players have become physically unfit to continue in their profession after being severely injured during the event,” he said.

However, the unpredictable and unsafe nature of the sport has not deterred bull tamers and owners from participating in the events.

M. Manirathinam, a 27-year-old bull tamer from Mudakathan in Madurai, lost vision in his left eye after sustaining injuries during a jallikattu held in 2014. Braving the injury, he has been rearing jallikattu bulls and has even sought permission to participate. “For most, participating in the events is a symbol of pride. This traditional sport of the Tamil culture must be carried forward to the future generations,” Mr. Manirathinam added.

During the pandemic

This passion towards the sport was visible during the jallikattu events held in Madurai amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a separate standard operating procedure (SOP) was issued by the government for conducting jallikattu events during the pandemic, most precautions were flouted.

Before the conduct of the event, the officials had said separate markings would be made at the spectators’ galleries to ensure compliance with physical distancing norms. However, the galleries were packed and most of the people failed to wear face masks. There were no arrangements made by the district administration for thermal screening of spectators, though that was also part of the SOP.

Hundreds thronged the arena for 10 minutes after the inauguration of the event at Palamedu, with total disregard to COVID-19 safety norms.

At Alanganallur, scores of spectators rushed to the galleries — neither wearing masks nor maintaining minimum physical distance — in the early hours before the commencement of the event.

Other formats

While the focus has always been on the jallikattu events held in Madurai, the events held at other places often escape scrutiny by animal rights groups.

Jallikattu and other formats of the sport — including ‘manjuvirattu’ and ‘vadamaadu’ — are held at numerous places across the State. In some places, venues often lack safety measures. In some instances, the events are held without obtaining any permission. The list of injured and dead players often goes unnoticed.

S. Sivakumar, a resident of Kambur village in Madurai, lost his 60-year-old uncle a couple of years ago during the ‘manjuvirattu’ event held at Araliparai in Sivaganga district. “He was the breadwinner and his death has deeply affected the family,” he added.

There is a pressing need to regulate all bull-taming sports that are held in various pockets of the State, said P. Ranjith Kumar, secretary of the Jallikattu Training Centre, a registered body that trains bull tamers. “The government must provide financial compensation to the families of bull tamers who have died during these events,” he added.


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Printable version | Jun 4, 2022 3:13:21 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/of-lives-limbs-and-the-bull-run/article33706160.ece