'In support of preserving the culture'   

INDIA: In this file photo, Bull tamers try to control a bull during an ancient heroic sporting event of the Tamils called Jallikattu, in Palamedu, about 575 kilometers south of Chennai, India. —AP

CHENNAI, India: A ban on a bull-taming festival, which has been blighted by allegations that the beasts are doped with liquor and then taunted with chili powder, triggered street protests in southern India yesterday. Demonstrators, mostly students, thronged the busy Marina Beach area in the city of Chennai to demand the lifting of the ban on the traditional Jallikattu event which is held during the winter harvest festival. "We are protesting against the ban and demand that it should be immediately lifted. We are here in support of preserving the culture of Tamils," Selva Kumar, a student leader at the protest site, said.

The protesters in Chennai, who began gathering on Tuesday night, say they will camp out until the authorities announce that the event will be allowed in future. India's Supreme Court outlawed Jallilkatu last year after a plea by animal rights groups which have long argued that the event-held every year in different parts of Tamil Nadu state-is cruel. Unlike in traditional Spanish bullfighting, the animals are let loose into open fields and young men then compete to subdue them bare-handed.

Critics say organizers lace the bulls' feed with liquor to make them less steady on their feet and chuck chili powder into their faces to throw them into a sudden frenzy as they are released from a holding pen. The rights group PETA has released footage it says shows bull farmers doping their animals ahead of the event. But organizers of the festival insist the animals suffer no harm and Jallilkatu is an established part of Tamil culture. Tensions have been escalating for the last week after hundreds of people were detained by police for allegedly organizing local Jallikatu contests in defiance of the court ban.

Police say the protests have remained peaceful so far but have spread to large parts of the state. Several popular Tamil film stars have voiced their support for the demonstrators as has India's leading spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin. Opposition and ruling parties in the state have also criticised the ban and want Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to have it overturned. A government led by Modi's predecessor did order a ban in 2011 but it was effectively ignored until last year's Supreme Court ruling.--AFP