Jallikattu Debate

Jallikattu Debate

TN govt gives nod for Jallikattu


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Debate over Jallikattu

The Tamil Nadu government has permitted Jallikattu to be held across the state during the upcoming Pongal season.

51A (g) of the Constitution of India mandates every citizen to protect forests, lakes, rivers, wild animals etc. Apart from that, the Constitution also reminds us to show compassion towards birds and animals.

What is Jallikattu?

  • It is a bull-taming sport and a disputed traditional event in which a bull such is released into a crowd of people.
  • Multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the bull’s back with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape.
  • Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. In some cases, participants must ride long enough to remove flags on the bull’s horns.
  • It is typically practised in the state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal (harvest) celebrations in January.

A historic sport

  • Jallikattu has been known to be practised during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BCE).
  • It was common among the Ayar people who lived in the ‘Mullai (pastoral)’ division of the ancient Tamil country.
  • Later, it became a platform for the display of bravery, and prize money was introduced for participation encouragement.
  • A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization depicting the practise is preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi.

Why it is disputed?

  • As there were incidents of injury and death associated with the sport, both to the participants and to the animals forced into it, animal rights organizations have called for a ban to the sport.
  • This has resulted in the court banning it several times over the past years.
  • However, with protest from the people against the ban, a new ordinance was made in 2017 to continue the sport.

Various concerns

  • The event has caused several human deaths and injuries and there are several instances of fatalities to the bulls.
  • Animal welfare concerns are related to the handling of the bulls before they are released and also during the competitor’s attempts to subdue the bull.
  • Practices, before the bull is released, include prodding the bull with sharp sticks or scythes, extreme bending of the tail which can fracture the vertebrae, and biting of the bull’s tail.
  • There are also reports of the bulls being forced to drink alcohol to disorient them, or chilli peppers being rubbed in their eyes to aggravate the bull.
  • During attempts to subdue the bull, they are stabbed by various implements such as knives or sticks, punched, jumped on and dragged to the ground.

Why activists seek a ban over it?

  • Animal rights activists argue that Jallikattu exploits the bull’s natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation.
  • They are forced to run away from the competitors whom they perceive as predators and the practice effectively involves catching a terrified animal.
  • Along with human injuries and fatalities, bulls themselves sometimes sustain injuries or die, which people may interpret as a bad omen for the village.
  • An investigation by the Animal Welfare Board of India concluded that “Jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals”.

Arguments in favour of the sport

  • According to its protagonists, it is not a leisure sport available but a way to promote and preserve the native livestock.
  • Some believe that the sport also symbolizes a cordial man-animal relationship.
  • Jallikattu is a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.

  • Jallikattu is derived from the words ‘calli’ (coins) and ‘kattu’ (tie), which means a bundle of coins is tied to the bull’s horns. In older times, the tamer sought to remove this bundle from the animal’s head to win gold or silver.

  • The southern parts of Tamil Nadu witness bull-taming the most, with Alanganallur near Madurai hosting the largest and most famous of these events.


  • Background
  • Factors against the ban
  • Arguments favouring the ban
  • View of SC
  • What can government do?
  • International experience
  • Way ahead

Factors against the ban

  • Jallikattu is an ancient sport which has continued since colonial times. So it is an ancient tradition which should be preserved and not banned.
  • In Jallikattu, the objective is to obtain the ‘Jallikattu’ a pouch which contains the reward coins called ‘Jalli’ tied to the horns of the bulls. While the players are not allowed to carry weapons of any kind or wear protective gears, the bulls on the other hand will not have nose rings or ropes.
  • Plus, they’re equipped with a pair of sharp horns which can gore a human within seconds. So it’s actually the bull which has the upper hand in this match.
  • Jallikattu is what’s keeping the native breed of cows from going extinct, according to some local people which is a huge problem for western cattle industry.

Arguments favouring the ban

  • During Jallikattu, bulls are purposefully scared and petrified and then made to run across the crowd, destroying anything that would come in their way. Various cruel means are adopted to scare and anger the bull like pinching, nailing, stabbing with sticks that have nails at the edges, twisting their tails and even forcefully making them drink alcohol and other drugs. The ropes around their nose are painfully yanked and then they are dragged into the crowd of people who further anger the bull.
  • According to the documents by PETA, these bulls also break their bones in order to escape from the crowd continuously trying to toture them. Casualty and death of humans are also alarmingly high during this game.
  • What started as a simple act of bravado has become an act of cruelty towards animals.
  • The bulls are kept in the waiting area for hours, subjecting it to the scorching sun. The bulls used in the sport are also denied food and water.
  • Due to this sport, innumerable human lives, both of the participants and the audience, have also been lost, as the bulls try to flee from the pain.

View of SC

  • Supreme court in 2014 banned the sport jallikattu as it violates provisions of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) and militates the constitutional duty of treating animals with compassion, Article 51A (g).
  • It also reiterated the expansive reading it had given in the past, to Article 21 (Right to Life), which prohibits any disturbance to the environment, including animals, considered essential for human life.

What can government do?

The Government must find alternate methods to continue it without hurting the animal or people. Following are some of the alternatives:

  1. Follow the famous Spanish bullfighting example where measures taken to avoid lethal damage
  2. Put effective protection (barricades, speaker announcements, clear demarcation) so that people are not hurt
  3. Create awareness regarding apathy faced by animals. Sports personalities, film stars, eminent jurists can come forward

International experience

  • The tradition of bullfighting in Spain is cited to legitimise the conduct of Jallikattu and present it as a viable tourist attraction.
  • It is significant that the Spanish state of Catalonia banned the sport in 2012 after a prolonged ‘culture versus rights’ debate.
  • In 2002, Germany took animal rights to a new level by giving animals constitutional protection.

Way ahead

  • Those who want the sport to be legalised have called for an amendment to the PCA Act and measures to revoke the 2011 notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which barred the use of bulls as performing animals.
  • Trying to allow an event that legitimises cruelty to animals would be a direct insult to the carefully reasoned writ of the Supreme Court, a complete negation of the PCA Act and its objectives, and would take the country back by a few steps in the crucial area of Right to Life.
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