RECAP: ‘Jallikattu’, Tamil Nadu’s Bull Taming Tradition Case

Jallikatu could be referred to as bull taming event typically practiced in the state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day that is the third day of the four-day Pongal festival. The term ‘jallikattu’ is derived from the tamil words ‘jalli’ and ‘kattu’.  Jalli refers to gold or silver coins. Kattu means ‘tied’. Therefore, combined together it refers to coins being tied to the bulls’ horns, which is considered the prize for whoever tames the bull. Jallikattu is an annual festival in which thousands of men chase the bulls to grab prizes tied to their horns. The bull that wins is used to service numerous cows preserving the native breed. It is renowned as an ancient ‘sport’, believed to have been practised some 2500 years ago. It is controversial because the sport often results in major injuries and even deaths.


Stud bulls are reared by people of Tamil Nadu mainly for jallikattu. The ones that win in Jallikattu are much in demand for servicing the cows. Small farmers cannot afford to keep stud bulls since they are very costly, so each village has a common temple bull which services the cows of the village. Jallikattu is the show where bulls are brought and displayed. The ones which are most agile and active are preferred by farmers. The calves from such bulls remain in demand.

The tangled connect between these events and farming can be seen from the chronological order in which showcase events like jallikattu happens first, then the shandies and then starts main farming season. Once harvesting is done, farmers take their bulls to participate in such events like jallikattu over the next few months; spectators and visitors make a note of the top bulls and take them out in sandhais (cattle shandies/markets) which happen from December till April all over Tamil Nadu.

Native cows do not yield much milk as the imported breeds do. So, that is why they don’t have a supportive or sponsored breeding programme. Artificial measures or means are not adopted for native breeds. So if Jallikattu is banned then these breeds will soon fade away and become extinct.

Death of a temple bull causes a lot of grief to the village people. The funeral is conducted with a lot of respect with women mourning and village priests carrying out rituals. 

Under article 48 of the Indian constitution the state has a duty to protect the animals of the region and also to endeavor to preserve and improve the breeds and prevent slaughter of cows and calves and other draught and milk cattle. Hence, the Union government has to intervene in this issue.

In recent times, Jallikattu has attracted protests from many animal rights organizations in India. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Federation of India Animal Protection Agencies (FIAPA) have been at the forefront of opposing Jallikattu since as long as 2004.


The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) first filed a case in the Supreme Court of India for an absolute ban on Jallikattu because of the cruelty to animals and the threat to public safety involved. The AWBI argued that the sport of Jalikattu exploits the bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation and forcing them to run away. It also argued that, spectators get injured or even die. There have also been many cases of bulls getting injured.




On November 27, 2010, the Supreme Court allowed the Tamil Nadu government to allow Jallikattu for five months in a year, and directed the District Collectors to make sure that the animals that participate in Jallikattu are registered with the Animal Welfare Board. An AWBI representative was also permitted to be present at Jallikattu events.


However, in 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned the use of bulls for sport, thereby effectively banning the festival of Jalikattu. However, the special act of the state called Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act 2009 enabled Jallikattu to carry on unabated in the state.


Between the time period of 2010 and 2014, at least 17 people were killed and 1000-odd injured during Jallikattu events in the state, which led to protests and ban.


Finally, in May 2014, the Supreme Court of India struck down the 2009 Act, and banned the practice. It further said that any flouting of the ban would result in punishments and fines under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Apex Court also ruled that “Cruelty is inherent in these events, as bulls are not anatomically suited for such activities and undergo ‘unnecessary pain and suffering’ as a result of the festival.”



The war between the apex court and the Central government continued however, the government on January 8, 2016 allowed the practice of Jallikattu under certain conditions, through a notification. The Supreme Court then reimposed the ban on the event in July of the same year.

Protests in favour of Jallikattu began once again in early January 2017, before the festival of Pongal. The Supreme Court on January 12, 2017 rejected a plea by lawyers seeking urgent ruling on a batch of petitions filed before it against the ban on Jallikattu. This prevented Jallikattu from taking place during Pongal and angered large sections of the Tamil Nadu population.

Against the Supreme Court ban, the event was held in some places in the state, especially in Madurai, where the police arrested hundreds of people for participating in the event. The protest which began in the rural areas, soon found support from the youth, IT professionals, the salaried and even sports persons and actors in urban areas.

The top court, however, once against refused to rule on the issue on 19th January and asked the petitioner to approach the Madras High Court.

An investigation by the Animal Welfare Board of India concluded that “jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals”.


AWBI, the expert statutory body has taken up the stand that events like Jallikattu, Bullock-cart race etc. inherently involve pain and suffering, which involves both physical and mental components, including fear and distress.

Every species has a right to life and security, subject to the law of the land, which includes depriving its life, out of human necessity. Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word “life” has been given an expanded definition and any disturbance from the basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animal life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution.

Jallikattu and other forms of Bulls race, as the various reports indicate, causes considerable pain, stress and strain on the bulls. Bulls, in such events, not only do move their head showing that they do not want to go to the arena but, as pain is being inflicted in the vadivasal is so much, they have no other go but to flee to a situation which is adverse to them. Bulls, in that situation, are stressed, exhausted, injured and humiliated. Frustration of the Bulls is noticeable in their vocalization and, looking at the facial expression of the bulls, ethologist or an ordinary man can easily sense their suffering.

Supreme Court was therefore, of the view that Sections 21, 22 of the PCA Act and the relevant provisions have to be understood in the light of the rights conferred on animals under Section 3, read with Sections 11(1)(a) & (o) and Articles 51A(g) and (h) of the Constitution, and if so read, in their view, Bulls cannot be used as a Performing Animals for Jallikattu and Bullock-cart Race, since they are basically draught and pack animals, not anatomically designed for such performances.

Therefore, TNRJ Act was found repugnant to PCA Act, which is a welfare legislation, hence held constitutionally void, being violative or Article 254(1) of the Constitution of India.

Therefore Supreme Court held that AWBI is right in its stand that Jallikattu, Bullock-cart Race and such events per se violate Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(m)(ii) of PCA Act and hence upheld the notification dated 11.7.2011 issued by the Central Government, consequently, Bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for the Jallikattu events or Bullock-cart Races in the State of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.

[1] Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja & Ors., 2017


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