by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of people, mostly youth, gathered in southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday demanding lifting of ban on Jallikattu, a bullfighting sport.
The protesters have gathered on Marina beach in Chennai, capital city of Tamil Nadu, since Tuesday night.
"Jallikattu has been a popular sport for centuries in the state and we are simply demanding revocation of ban that Supreme Court of India has imposed on it," Ramesh Srinivasan, a protester told Xinhua via telephone from the Marina beach.
"We are peacefully staging the protest and have decided to go on with it indefinitely unless state government intervenes and sorts the matter with the government in New Delhi."
Most of the protesters are college and university students who made it to the venue through appeals for protest posted on social media.
Reports said similar protests were being organized in other parts of the state.
The protesters are carrying banners that read, "Lift ban on Jallikattu","Ban PETA."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a U.S.-based animal rights organization and operates in India as well.
Reports said many celebrities from the state including Vijay, G. V. Prakash Kumar and Suriya have backed protesters.
Locals said Jallikattu is a form of bullfighting which has been popular for centuries in Tamil Nadu.
"Jallikattu is part of Tamil culture and pride," Uttam Rajshekhar another protester said. "We will not allow others, whosoever it may be, to destroy our identity."
Jallikattu was banned since 2014 after animal rights activists seeking prevention of cruelty to animals cited to India's top court that bulls in the sport were "severely harmed".
Last year, India's federal government amended its order and issued a notification saying bulls may continue to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu subject to conditions and proper supervision. The government order evoked strong condemnation from animal rights bodies.
However, the Supreme Court of India upheld the ban in 2016 and suspended the federal government notification of allowing Jallikattu after various bodies including Animal Welfare Board of India filed petitions to challenge it.
Following the ban, no major Jallikattu events were organized in the past two years. However, during the past few days, media reports said people at many places tried to organize Jallikattu in defiance of the Supreme Court order, however, they were chased away by the police forces that were deployed across the state.
Police also detained hundreds of the people who tried to defy the ban.
The sport was traditionally practised as part of the harvest festival of Pongal. Jallikattu involves men chasing bull attempting to grab its hump and ride it for as long as possible or stop it and remove piece of cloth affixed to its horns.
Over the years, many people have been gored or trampled to death during the sport. Even bulls suffered injures and sometimes get killed in the contests.
Nikunj Sharma, spokesperson for PETA in India told Xinhua, they stand against all forms of cruelty inflicted on animals. According to Sharma people indulge in inflicting cruelty on the animals during Jallikatu.
"PETA is not against Jallikatu but we are against any animal cruelty against animals as a whole. Our job is to present facts to the court and then leave it to the wisdom of the judges there to make decisions," Sharma said.
"People force fed bulls with alcohol, poke them with sharp objects and even twist their tails in order to make them run faster."
Sharma said his organization had anticipated such protests and have written to the president and prime minister of India.
"It is unfortunate that political parties in the state are pitching people against PETA and one can see how much complacent they are in all this affair," Sharma said.
On Monday evening, a 40-year-old man was gored to death by a bull during a bull race in Vellore district, local media reported.
Last week, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu demanded the federal government to promulgate an ordinance to revive the banned Jallikattu.
The party head of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagham (AIADMK), V. K. Sasikala has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to bring an ordinance to revive the sport.
Besides, a delegation of AIADMK lawmakers submitted a memorandum at Prime Minister's office in New Delhi, seeking removal of bulls from the list of performing animals through an ordinance for the smooth conduct of Jallikattu.