Indian protesters urge Modi to allow ancient bull-taming rite

By Rupam Jain | NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Protests by thousands of people demanding the resumption of a traditional Indian bull-taming festival have disrupted daily life across the southern state of Tamil Nadu, forcing its leader to urge intervention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Protesters want the federal government to reverse a Supreme Court ban on “jallikattu”, a hazardous rite in which youths and men wrestle rampaging bulls, and have made a request to Modi to permit it.

Thousands of small factories, shops and schools were closed across Tamil Nadu for a second day on Thursday by widespread protests against the ban, with the largest crowd gathering on the Marina beach of the state capital, Chennai.

Children carried placards blaming the judiciary and animal rights groups for the ban on what they view as a sport forming a key part of the Pongal harvest festival, which some Hindus celebrate after the winter solstice.

“It is a primitive sport and we love it. No one has the right to stop a sporting activity,” said Kanimozhi Subramanian, 23, a university student spearheading youth protests.

The state’s chief minister, O. Panneerselvam, flew to the capital New Delhi to ask Modi to issue an ordinance allowing the festival this year.

Talks between the state government and protest leaders on Tuesday failed to find a solution allowing the event to be held.

Political parties, college students and cultural groups refused to disperse, leaving police struggling to rein in the protests.

“We fear that the protests could get violent or a stampede could lead to loss of lives. It is hard to contain the outrage,” said Deputy Police Commissioner G. Shasshank Sai.

Animal rights activists have urged Modi to back the ban on a sport in which bullfighters must retain hold of the hump of a bucking animal for three jumps to win a prize. Modi declined to intervene, however.

“While appreciating the cultural significance of ‘jallikattu’, the Prime Minister observed that the matter is presently sub judice,” his office said in a statement.

The reference was to a final ruling awaited from India’s highest court on a 2016 federal measure that permitted the rite.

Hundreds of raging bulls are injured annually because participants twist their tails, beat them and even stab them with knives to control the animals.

More than 1,200 spectators have been injured at such events between 2010 and 2014, says animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“A cruel tradition cannot be part of Indian culture,” said Manilal Valliyate, PETA’s director of veterinary affairs.

“The ban should be respected.”

(Reporting by Rupam Jain Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez)