Selvarani Kanagarasu, a daily wage labourer from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has shunned marriage so that she can take care of a prize-fighting bull. BBC Tamil’s Pramila Krishnan talks to her about her life.
Ms Kanagarasu, now 48, was only a teenager when she decided that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, who raised bulls that competed in the state’s traditional bull taming contests known as Jallikattu.
Jallikattu has been popular for centuries in Tamil Nadu and is traditionally practised during the harvest festival of Pongal in January. Thousands of men chase bulls to grab prizes tied to their horns.
The sport was not practised for two years, following a ban by the Supreme Court on the grounds of animal cruelty. But following mass protests in the state, the federal government cleared the way for it to resume in January 2017, bypassing the ban.
“My father and grandfather both raised bulls and also considered them their children,” she says.The task of continuing the family tradition would have ordinarily fallen to Ms Kanagarasu’s brothers, but she says they did not have the time to look after the animals. So she decided to step in.
The bull she looks after, Ramu, is an 18-year-old animal who is a legend in local Jallikattu circles.
Ramu has won five of the seven Jallikattu events he has participated in, netting prizes like silk sarees and a gold coin for his devoted owner.
”Ramu is a son to me. He won prizes but more importantly, he won honour for my family in the village,” she says, adding that Ramu is very “loving” despite his size and his temper in the Jallikattu arena.
Over the years, scores of people have been gored or trampled to death in the contests. Hundreds, including spectators, have been mauled or injured. In some arenas, coir matting from coconut trees cushions the impact of a fall – but it provides no defence against a raging bull.