Alanganallur and Palmedu in Madurai district braced for grand celebrations. It had been nearly three weeks since the Tamil Nadu government had promulgated an ordinance resuming jallikattu, and the two villages that became popular over the years for hosting the bull-taming sport were thrilled. People had arrived from afar to take part in the event – bull owners participating in these villages are as commended as the players.
The media were there too, despite the unpacking political fracas in Chennai, to make sure that they covered the action. Space at the makeshift galleries was insubstantial, and very often, locals lost out to the droves of outsiders in the jostle for the best seats in the stands.
Aware of the watchful eye of animal rights groups, the organisers had made conscious efforts to ensure the safety of the animals and players. And yet, the expected happened: at least 100 players out of the 1,500 who participated were injured, some seriously. A few bulls, terrified after the game, ran into the nearby fields to escape the crowds.
Jallikattu at Alanganallur and Palmedu on February 9 and 10 showed the limitations in regulating the traditional sport, despite all the promises.
At least seven people – bystanders and participants – have died after being knocked down by bulls since the state government overturned the two-year ban on jallikattu on January 21. On February 15, for instance, at least 34 persons were injured in Pugaiyilaipatti village, where the main road was converted into an arena that was not fenced properly, reported The Hindu. Just a day earlier, on February 14, thirteen spectators were injured in Thanjavur district at the jallikattu event, including the Deputy Director of Health. The toll wasn’t restricted to the humans. Three of the bulls used in the event fell into an open well after being let loose – one of them died.
Over the coming few months, across the southern and southwestern regions of Tamil Nadu, jallikattu arenas will spring up in several villages. And it is likely that in the boisterous celebrations, the disturbing news of injuries and deaths will get little notice.
All photographs courtesy Shawn Sebastian.