'I like bulls more than people'

Kumar has practiced Jallikattu, South India's controversial bull-taming sport, since he was a boy.

by

    Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India - Thousands of men, women and children lined the village street and rooftops as distorted Tamil movie soundtracks echoed out of broken loud speakers. A group of 10 men jerked a rope tied around the neck of a well-decorated bull.

    When the camera came out of its case, thousands of eyes turned in our direction. The air was thick with the the sweat of South Indian summer and the smell of bootleg liquor.

    "Are you filming for PETA?" One man asked in Tamil.

    "No, of course not! It's a documentary." My fixer forced a smile. The man smiled back and grabbed my wrist and forced me forward through the crowd. If I was not with PETA, I was clearly there to tell the true story of this man's culture.

    One year before, PETA worked to impose a ban on all sports involving these bulls. The ban caused a week of fierce protesting, including one torched police station. Many in Tamil Nadu argued that the sport is an essential part of their culture, however, PETA claims that the sport tortures the animals involved.

    The presence of the camera signified the imposing eyes of distant and judgemental cultures. To these men, their culture, hobby and joy came from competing with bulls. However, the sport's recent ban, PETA's animal cruelty protests, and the opinion of foreigners has greatly impacted their lives.

    Our documentary follows Kumar, a bull-trainer who considers the sport the most important part of his culture.

    If a man is able to hold on to the bull's hump for a short period of time before it crosses the finish line, they win a prize. [Joe Hill/Al Jazeera]

    What is Jallikattu?

    In Tamil Nadu, there are several distinct sports played using bulls. This video features footage from a Manju Viratu event.

    1. Manju Viratu literally translates to "Bull Chasing". The bull is timed from its release to when it crosses a finish line at the other end of the crowd. The trainers who release the fastest bull win the event. Often, the bulls' horns are wrapped with fabric. If someone in the crowd stops the bull and retrieves the fabric, they win a prize from the bull's trainer.

    2. Jallikattu - trainers release their bull into the crowd. If a man is able to hold on to the bull's hump for a short period of time before it crosses the finish line, they win a prize. Jallikattu is generally considered the most dangerous sporting event in the country and, for that reason, awards the most honour and creates controversy.

    The prizes can be almost anything, including money, gold coins, refrigerators, bicycles and more.

    Filmed by Joe Hill

    Editor: Andrew Phillips

    Executive Producer: Yasir Khan

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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