NEW DELHI:  India’s Supreme Court upheld on Thursday a state government’s decision to lift the ban on a popular bull-taming festival long blighted by allegations of animal cruelty. Animal rights groups had petitioned the court after the southern state of Tamil Nadu amended a law in 2017 to allow the traditional Jallikattu festival.

“The Tamil Nadu law is a valid piece of legislation and there is no flaw in it,” Justice Aniruddha Bose declared on behalf of a five-member bench. During Jallikattu, young men try to grab charging bulls by their sharpened horns or jump on their backs.

Unlike in traditional Spanish bullfighting, the animals are let loose into open fields where young men compete to subdue them bare-handed. Critics say organisers lace the bulls’ feed with liquor to make them less steady on their feet, and throw chilli powder in their faces to send them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from a holding pen. There have also been reports of bulls having their horns sharpened with broken glass, while the “taming” can lead to serious injury and painful death for the animals. Over the years, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded during the festival.

Organisers of the centuries-old event insist the animals suffer no harm, calling the event an established part of Tamil culture. Jallikattu is celebrated in January during the Tamil harvest festival, Pongal. In 2014, the Supreme Court banned the sport, saying it inflicted “extreme cruelty” on the animals.

The ban led to massive street protests and hundreds of people were detained by police for organising Jallikatu contests in defiance of the court order. In 2017, the Tamil Nadu government lifted the restriction, paving the way for Jallikattu to resume across the state. – AFP