JALIKATTU: TRADITION v. ANIMAL RIGHTS By Abhishek Naharia from RGNUL, Patiala
“The greatness of the nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.
- MAHATMA GANDHI
The issue of an ancient blood spilling, bull-taming sport called as Jalikattu commonly dating back to 400 BC caught fire when people of Tamil Nadu claimed the violation of their fundamental rights of right to practice culture and tradition freely amongst other rights such as the right to religion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.[i] On one side of the battle where natives were demanding rights for them, on the other hand, animal rights activists were claiming rights of animals under Article 21 of the Constitution, i.e. right to life.[ii] The battle continues to persist in the Apex Court since 2004 when Animal Welfare Organizations such as PETA and AWBI filed petitions subsequently claiming animal rights and prevention of cruelty amongst it.
Jallikattu or “eru-thazhuvuthal” literally means “to embrace the bull”. It forms a major part of the mid-January harvest festival, Pongal[iii], thereby involves releasing a bull into a crowd of people where participants attempt to grab the bull’s hump and ride it as long as possible as per the rules of the game. Sometimes, participants also try to remove red flags attached to the bull’s horns.[iv] Safety of the bull, sportsmen, and spectators are a top priority. Special barricades and galleries are constructed to ensure the safety of the spectators. Government Veterinarians test the bull before and after the event to ensure the bull has not been abused, stressed or harmed in any way. The sportsmen also undergo a medical fitness test.[v] In the legal battle AWBI had won the argument when the SC decided upon the matter in A. Nagaraja v. Animal Welfare Board of India[vi], setting aside the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jalikattu (TNRJ) Act 2009; the State Act which had been supporting the claims of the Jalikattu Supporters. The Parent act cited in the judgment by Radhakrishnan J. and SP Ghose J. was PCA, 1960 (The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), where it was claimed by the petitioners (AWBI) that the bull taming sport prima facie violates Sections 3 and Section 11 (1) (a) and (m) of PCA Act, whereas the respondents claimed that in accordance with Articles 19(1), Article 25, Article 29(1), and Article 51A(f)(g) of the Constitution of India, they have the right to exercise their cultural and religious rights, furthering the contention by stating that it was also a fundamental duty under Article 51A to conserve and preserve animals and environment[vii]. The issue was catching fire day after day as 1100 injuries and 17 deaths were incurred as a result of Jalikattu.[viii] A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Misra said, “Forcing a bull and keeping it in the waiting area for hours and subjecting it to the scorching sun is not for the animal’s well-being. Forcing and pulling the bull by a nose rope into the narrow, closed enclosure or ‘vadi vassal’ (entry point), subjecting it to all forms of torture, fear, pain and suffering by forcing it to go the arena and also over-powering it in the arena by bull tamers, are not for the well-being of the animal.”[ix] The bench further noted that as the animals are subjected to such extreme cruelty, they cannot even revert back through any means and therefore unable to prove their innocence.
On the other side it is argued that animals cannot be given Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution because then this politically motivated brouhaha will catch fire more fiercely than it is at this stage as it would mean that animals are equivalent to humans and that the rights granted to them would be equivalent to those granted to human beings. Further, this issue is not just whether cruelty is inflicted on the bulls during the event or that the people should be provided with their fundamental rights; the issue persists to be the efforts which the natives are putting in to save the bulls from being slaughtered. The animal rights activists have seemed to be taken this point in negative, wherein they have ignored the fact that people are strictly against the slaughtering of bulls, and are therefore compelled to send them for training and breeding. Jallikattu is not just a sport! It is inter-twined in the Tamil rural eco-system in many ways than what meets the eye. The honour of the family bull participating in a Jallikattu is the sole reason for the bull not being sent to the slaughter-house. Since only local breed of bulls are best suited for the sport, villagers’ rear bulls of local breeds specifically suited for the purpose. Every village temple selects a bull as its official ‘Temple Bull’. The temple bull is essentially the common village stud bull, fed and reared by the whole village. It is allowed to roam free in the village. The temple bull is changed every three years to avoid in-breeding! During Jallikattu the temple bull is given the honour of entering the arena first and, by convention, nobody embraces it.[x]
With demands galore in the state for holding the bull-taming sport of ‘Jallikattu’ coinciding with ‘Pongal’ harvest festival, Tamil Nadu government today assures steps for conducting the popular event, including asking Centre to remove bulls from a specific list of animals to facilitate the same. Chief Minister O Panneerselvam said steps have been taken to expedite hearing on a review petition filed by the state government against a Supreme Court order of banning ‘Jallikattu.’[xi]. A recent development in the case has been that PETA has filed a fresh plea in the Apex Court challenging the constitutional validity of the amendments made in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Tamil Nadu) Act, 2017. [xii]
[i]Article 25, The Constitution of India, M.P. Jain 2016 Edition.
[ii]Article 21, The Constitution of India, M.P. Jain 2016 Edition.
[iii]Importance of Jalikattu to Tamil Nadu, GeographyAndYou Agriculture Livestock.
[iv]Ban protests; all you need to know about the festival and SC ruling, HindustanTimes, 2016.
[v]Jalikattu, the pinnacle of Tamil Culture; Jalikattu 2015.
[vi]A.Nagaraja V Animal Welfare Board of India, Supreme Court Cases (SCC) 2014.
[vii]When SC of India declared animal rights to be an issue of seminal importance, Strays (May 2015).
[viii]Why SC took the bull festival by horns all you should know, Zee News India 2016.
[ix]Supreme Court bans Jalikattu in Tamil Nadu, The Hindu..
[x]Jalikattu, the pinnacle of Tamil Culture; Jalikattu 2015.
[xi]Jalikattu, Daily News And Analysis, 2017
[xii]PETA moves Supreme Court against amendments in law to allow Jalikattu, Dna India (July 2017).
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