After the Narendra Modi government lifted the ban on controversial bull-taming festival Jallikattu in a notification issued on Thursday, animal welfare activists vowed to challenge the order and slammed the move, which is being seen as political opportunism ahead of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
The Centre made amendments to the 2011 Ministry of Environment notification, allowing bulls to be used for Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and for bullock cart races in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala, where they are popular.
Jallikattu is a traditional sport that has gone on for several centuries during the Pongal harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, in which bulls are chased by large crowds of men who attempt to tame the animals. The festival has come to be criticised for cruelty against the animals, with activists claiming the bulls are punched, stabbed, and even bitten in all the frenzy.
Animal welfare activists and organisations that were instrumental in getting a ban on Jallikattu slammed the government's decision to revoke it on Friday.
"I am a traditional Tamil, but my culture does not support cruelty," S Krishna, the vice-chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), told IBTimes India.
"AWBI lawyers are now studying the notification and we will take legal remedies to bring back the ban," he said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, which has documented horrific accounts of animal abuse during the bull-taming festival, has said it will move the Supreme Court against the Centre's order.
"Our phones have been ringing off the hook this morning, with calls from BJP supporters and others who are horrified that the same authorities who claim to care about cattle are now allowing the cruelty to cattle that was already banned by the highest court of India," PETA India Chief Executive Officer Poorva Joshipura said in a statement released by the organisation.
The sport had been banned in 2011 by the Central government, which had said animals such as bulls, bears, monkeys, as well as tigers and lions, should not be exhibited or trained as performing animals. The Supreme Court had upheld the ban in 2014.
However, several enthusiasts of the sport had been urging the government to allow the festival, and activists are now questioning the timing of the government's move ahead of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections this year.
"It is definitely a political move. They have the upcoming elections in mind," Krishna said, referring to the BJP, which is seeking to make inroads in Tamil Nadu.
But regional political goals may not serve well for India's image internationally, Joshipura said.
"Lifting the protection against cruelty shown to bulls is a black mark on our nation, which has always been looked up to by people around the world for our cultural reverence for animals. India will now be considered archaic and backward as sensibilities around the world are changing in favour of animal protection," said the PETA India head.