CHENNAI: An Indian state has lifted a Supreme Court ban on a popular bull-wrestling festival after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the event should be allowed to go ahead.
Modi overturned the ban on the festival after massive protests in southern India by demonstrators who called the court’s ruling an attack on their culture.
India’s Supreme Court outlawed the bull-wrestling Jallikattu festival last year after a plea by animal rights groups, which have long accused participants in the event — held annually across southern Tamil Nadu state — of cruelty to the animals.
Tensions have escalated in recent days with thousands of demonstrators gathering in state capital Chennai and other cities, demanding the ban on Jallikattu be lifted which they say is an attack on their culture and traditions.
The growing protests prompted Tamil Nadu’s chief minister to travel to Delhi earlier this week to ask Modi to overturn the ban, which he did late Friday.
Tamil Nadu’s governor then promulgated the executive order Saturday evening, paving the way for Jallikattu to resume on Sunday.
“Tamil Nadu Gov. Vidyasagar Rao approves Jallikattu ordinance,” the state’s ruling AIADMK party posted on Twitter.
Television footage from Chennai showed crowds erupting in joy, waving, giving the thumbs up and flashing peace signs as the news came in.
State Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam is set to kick off the traditional contest Sunday morning.
“Honorable CM Thiru O. Panneerselvam thanks the students, women and the public who staged agitations across the state to protect our culture,” the party said on Twitter.
In Jallikattu, young men struggle to grab the bulls by their sharpened horns or jump on their backs as the muscular animals, festooned with marigolds, charge down the road.
Unlike in traditional Spanish bullfighting, the animals are let loose into open fields where young men compete to subdue them bare-handed.
Critics say organizers throw chilli powder in the bulls’ faces to send them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from a holding pen.
Organizers of the centuries-old festival insist the animals suffer no harm, calling the event an established part of Tamil culture.