Twenty six-year-old Thirunavakarasu, a student pursuing aeronautical engineering in Delhi, had been among the many spectators excited to witness the 'grandiose' bull taming sport that has come to be associated with Tamil culture.
According to reports, the organisers were setting a “Jallikattu record” by releasing 560 bulls into the vadi vasal in just eight hours. But for Thirunavakarasu, this attempt to set a record at M Pudhur in Sivagangai district, proved to be fatal.
One of the bulls charging at the participants entered the spectator arena and gored the student to death. He was not the only victim – a 40-year-old spectator, Baskaran from Pazhanivasal, reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest, triggered by a bull charging towards him.
These deaths have only added to the increasing number of casualties Tamil Nadu has seen since the ordinance allowing Jallikattu was promulgated on 21 February. Two days after the ordinance was enforced, the Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously passed the Jallikattu bill, allowing the sport to be conducted.
Going merely by the casualties reported by the media, so far there have been at least 15 deaths and 340 persons injured in less than three months. This is over one third of the total deaths that were seen between 2008 and 2014.
According to statistics provided by the Animal Welfare Board of India, as many as 43 people lost their lives in those six years. Four bulls also reportedly died over the same period.
The ‘cruelty’ shown to animals had prompted the Supreme Court to ban the sport in May 2014. But following massive protests in Tamil Nadu in January 2017, the Government was forced to take the ordinance route to allow the sport to be conducted. However, during the ban, the subsequent protests and the ‘citizen’s victory’ that followed, the loss to human life was a subject widely neglected.
While the regulations enforced under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules, 2017 were aimed at protecting bulls, scant attention has been paid to the risk posed to participants and spectators.
On 12 February alone, seven people died across Tamil Nadu in Jallikattu events. Just 10 days earlier, 74 people had been injured during an event in Madurai's Alanganallur. In fact, a day after the ordinance was promulgated, two bull tamers died and 129 others were injured in a Jallikattu event in Rapoosal in Pudhukottai district.
The deceased were in their mid-20s. One of them suffered an injury to his stomach when he attempted to hold the bull by its hump. The other’s ribs were reportedly pierced when he tried to tame the bull. Ironically, the event was flagged off by Health Minister C Vijay Bhaskar.
While one might argue that participants and bull tamers are cognisant of the risks the sport poses, the question of casualties among spectators will continue to loom.
In some instances, lax standards in building the enclosures into which bulls are released, led to bystanders being gored. In others, non-participants found themselves suddenly pulled into the fray, or injured by crowds attempting to escape from charging bulls.
When The News Minute asked the M Pudhur police about the course of action to be taken against the organisers of the Jallikattu episode following the death of these spectators, we were told, "One FIR has been filed over the death of the student."
However, when questioned about what sections they were booked under, the Inspector refused to respond. When further asked as to why there was no FIR in connection to the second death, the call was disconnected.
(This story was first published in The News Minute)