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CHENNAI – Protesters in southern India set several vehicles and a police station on fire in support of a controversial bull-taming festival, known as jallikattu, hours before the government imposed a curfew in the state on Sunday.

The incidents of arson in Tamil Nadu state come a day after two people died during the sport which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014. But the government temporarily allowed the festival on Saturday, after large-scale protests.

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Arson attacks

In a crackdown, police on Monday started evicting scores of pro-jallikattu demonstrators from protest venues across the state, especially from the Marina Beach, epicentre of the stir for the past one week. But about 5,000 remain in the state’s capital, Chennai (Madras) who refused to leave the city’s iconic Marina beach, the Times of India reported.

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Police had cordoned off the area, and all roads leading to the beach had been blocked. Some protesters also reportedly clashed with police officials in Madurai city.

Meanwhile, a group of about 50 protesters set Ice House police station on fire. Around 15 bikes parked in front of the police station also went up in flames. The protesters hurled stones at the police station, and at least 22 policemen were injured in the stone-pelting, according to The Hindu.

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Railway authorities also cancelled 19 passenger trains on Sunday, fearing protests on the tracks. Meanwhile, several villages and towns in Tamil Nadu held jallikattu events on Sunday, attracting huge crowds.

Despite promulgation of an ordinance on Saturday for conducting the bull-taming sport, the demonstrators had vowed to carry on with their protest till a permanent solution was found to ensure that the sport is held annually without any hindrance.

Bull taming ritual

“Jallikattu” is an ancient bull taming ritual required for reproduction of cows and bulls, which is required Tamil Nadu as part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.

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Subduing angry bulls has long been practiced in the state as a sport and is a key part of the harvest festival.

The supreme court had banned jallikattu on the grounds that it was cruel to animals.

Animal rights activists say the spectacle causes unnecessary stress to the bulls who are released into a crowd and forced to fend off people trying to ride them.

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Many in Tamil Nadu, however, are against the ban as they see jallikattu as an important part of their cultural heritage, and also say it ensures the preservation of native breeds of bulls.

In recent days large demonstrations have been staged in the state capital, Chennai, calling for the practice to be fully re-legalized.

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Most ministers in the state government, including Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, as well as Tamil celebrities such as Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, support jallikattu.

Kamal Hassan, a famous Bollywood celebrity from Tamil Nadu, also appealed to the government not to harass the peaceful protestors.

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A special session of the Tamil Nadu assembly will be held at 5pm on Monday to pass a bill to replace an ordinance that amended the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The ordinance promulgated on Saturday has enabled the conduct of jallikattu.