Jallikattu: Hitting the Bull’s Eye

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The argument that Jallikattu was a cultural event and hence could not be curtailed was not accepted by the apex court
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The Supreme Court has once again shown its humane side by dismissing a petition of the Tamil Nadu government asking it to lift the ban on Jallikattu 

By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai 

Despite a Supreme Court judgment on May 7, 2014, banning the centuries-old Jallikattu or bull taming sport in Tamil Nadu, the state government filed a review petition praying that the ban be lifted. But as expected, the apex court dismissed it on November 16.

A division bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Rohinton Nariman said it found no ground for a review of the 2014 judgment. “India cannot import Roman gladiator like sport. Animals may not have rights. But humans cannot negate their obligation enshrined under the Constitution. One can use computer for indulging in bull fighting, why tame bulls for it,” the bench asked.

The bench also warned the center that it cannot remove the very basis of the May 7, 2014, judgment by making a notification which allowed bulls to be removed from the list of performing animals either for Jallikattu or for bullock-cart races in states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc. In fact, animal rights activists submitted to the Court that there was clear video evidence of how the animals were assaulted, intoxicated and subjected to all forms of cruelty. This included lime juice being squeezed into their eyes and chilli powder being rubbed on their genitals to make them ferocious. Incidentally, Jallikattu is part of the four-day Pongal festival in January.

 jallikattu-2On May 7, 2014, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice KS Radhakrishnan had struck down the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act 2009 which had paved the way for this cruel sport. The bench had then said: “Forcing a bull and keeping it in the waiting area and subjecting it to the scorching sun are not for the animal’s wellbeing. Forcing and pulling the animal by a nose rope in to the closed, narrow enclosure ‘Vaadivasal’ (entry point) subjecting it to all forms of torture, pain and suffering by forcing it to go in the arena and overpowering it in the arena by bull tamers are not for the well being of the animal.” It added: “The Parliament, it is expected, would elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights as done by many other countries, to protect their dignity and honor.” 

The apex court ruling came on a clutch of petitions filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), PETA and others against the ruling of the Madras High Court which allowed the sport to continue. The bench said: “The AWBI had submitted with adequate proof that how much cruelty was inflicted on the animals while conducting Jallikattu. The organizers deprived the animals of their rights guaranteed under Section 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. Perversity and sadism are writ large in the actions of the organizers of Jallikattu and the event is not meant for the wellbeing of the animal but for the pleasure and enjoyment of human beings.”

Reacting to the argument that Jallikattu was a cultural event and hence cannot be curtailed, the bench said: “Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act 1960 is a welfare Act and it was a settled position in law that if there is a clash between an activity connected with culture and a welfare Act, it is the later which shall prevail.”

After the 2014 judgment, Jallikattu was not held in the state. In January 7, 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change issued a notification removing bulls from the list of animals which can’t be exhibited or trained for performance and attempted to pave the way for Jallikattu. This notification was stayed by the apex court on January 12, 2016.

Though political parties have been clamoring for the sport, it is interesting to note the role of the state BJP in this. During the last Pongal, the BJP promised that “come what may, we will have Jallikattu this year”. This was probably done keeping the May 2016 assembly elections in mind. The party commands around 2 percent of the votes in the state. But the SC’s decision has poured cold water on its plans.  

Like last year, in 2016 too, a section of the state BJP is toying with the idea of pleading with their national leadership for an ordinance to facilitate Jallikattu. MG Deivasahyam, former chief secretary of Haryana, said: “The Modi government’s experiments with ordinances are bitter. The Jallikattu issue is complicated. If an ordinance is brought against an SC judgment, it will amount to a direct confrontation with it. I don’t think that at this juncture when the center is facing many problems, it will embark on this path.”

Interestingly, a powerful section of Dalits is opposing the revival of this sport as they are not encouraged or allowed to participate in it. “A deep-seated, anti-Dalit bias is inherent in Jallikattu. Dominant castes don’t relish their bulls being touched by Dalits. There are several instances of riots after a Dalit overpowered a bull. As the top echelons of the district administration are dominated by the oppressing classes, one can gauge the agony of Dalits during Jallikattu,” said CM Krishnan, a Dalit activist and writer.    

Truly, this sport is a class apart.

Lead picture:  The argument that Jallikattu was a cultural event and hence could not be curtailed was not accepted by the apex court

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