Friday, February 3, 2023

No More BULL

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The recent stay by the Supreme Court on the center’s notification lifting the ban on Jallikattu has given a breather to bulls. But for how long, given that it is an emotive and political issue in Tamil Nadu?
By Meha Mathur

Even before the debate over beef ban could end, the judiciary and the legislature find themselves engaged in another one—over Jallikattu, a traditional sport using bulls in Tamil Nadu. Ironically, while BJP members were vocal in their demand for a beef ban a few months ago, their government at the center issued a notification on January 7, 2016, allowing the brutal sport. While political parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed the notification and there were celebrations in the state, animal welfare organizations, including the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), promptly challenged it in the Supreme Court. And on January 12, the Court put a stay on this notification.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) notification had stated: “Provided that bulls may be continue to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat in the manner by the customs of any community or practiced traditionally under the customs or as a part of culture, in any part of the country.…”

While the BJP’s beef ban politics was driven by the need to assuage the feelings of its traditional vote-bank, this time it was driven by impending assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and the need to woo voters there. Each time, the party has been driven by populist agendas.

During Jallikattu, bulls are deliberately terrified and forced into menacing crowds through various cruel means. They are purposefully disoriented through substances like alcohol, their tails are twisted and bitten, they are stabbed and jabbed by sickles, spears, knives or sticks, their nose ropes painfully yanked and are punched, jumped on and dragged to the ground.



The game began as an act of bravery and derives from a Tamil term—“Callikattu”, where “Calli” means coins and “Kattu” means a package. Money would be placed around the bulls’ horns and people, in earlier times, would fight to get it. Later, it became a sport conducted mainly for entertainment.

The center’s notification reopened a debate which had been settled by the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014, in its Animal Welfare Board Of India vs A. Nagaraja & Ors, where the issue was approached by the Court “primarily keeping in mind the welfare and the well-being of the animals and not from the stand point of the Organizers, Bull tamers, Bull Racers, spectators, participants or the respective States or the Central Government, since we are dealing with a welfare legislation of a sentient-being, over which human-beings have domination….”

Justices KS Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose quoted extensively from The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, and the 2011 notification of MoEF, which had banned the exhibition of bulls as performing animals.

The Court had taken cognizance of first-hand information provided by the AWBI in three reports, where observers noticed instances of ear-cutting/mutilation, fracture and dislocation of tail bones due to continuous pushing and twitching, poking with knives and sticks, bulls standing for eight hours at a stretch in cramped spaces where they were denied food and water and forced to stand on their own waste, etc. This, they said, caused severe mental and physical anguish.

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One observer noted: “The events at the surface looked very organized and orderly but scratching a little below the surface showed that the abuse and violations now have been hidden away from the main arena…. The bull does not want to go into the arena. It does not like people and does not like the crowd. The only way to get it to go before the crowd is to prod it and threaten it. Cause the animal so much pain and fear that it believes that going before the thousands of people is a better escape than being tortured here in the small box like enclosure.

“The methods of torture vary, but the ess-ence remains the same. The bull has to run for its life. The bull is scared of both scenarios—the large crowd outside and the captive and painful life with the current owner. Given an opportunity, the bull prefers to stay in the small enclosure than run into a crowd of strangers, the way the bull is made to run is to give it immediate pain or restrain it unnaturally.”

While the BJP’s beef ban politics was driven by the need to assuage the feelings of its traditional vote-bank, in the Jallikattu case it was driven by impending assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and the need to woo voters there. Each time, the party has been driven by populist agendas.

The apex court asserted that anatomically, bulls are draught and pack animals, and “non-performing”. While they can be used for agriculture and transportation, their “barrel sha-pe” limits their ability to run. It also ruled out entertainment, exhibition and amusements as a matter of right under the doctrine of necessity (unlike, nutrition compulsions, research needs for human and animal life, etc).

More importantly, the Court invoked the right to life of every species, citing Article 21: “Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word ‘life’ has been given an expanded definition and any disturbance from the basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animal life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution.”

So far as animals are concerned, it said that in its view, “‘life’ means something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human-beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honour and dignity…. Animals have also a right against the human beings not to be tortured and against infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.”

Countering the claim that Jallikattu formed part of Tamil tradition, the Court observed that “Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Vishnu”. It cited Isha-Upanishads which professed: “The universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species.”

But at the same time, the Court said that even if a tradition has been in vogue, it should give way to welfare legislation. PCA Act is a welfare legislation which has to be construed bearing in mind the purpose and object of the Act and the Directive Principles of State Policy, it said.

Ruing that internationally, the UN had all these years, safeguarded only the rights of human beings, not the rights of other species like animals, the Court also cited the UNEP Biodiversity Convention (1992) which talked of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the “ecological, genetic, social, economic, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of biological diversity and its components” and the World Charter for Nature which proclaims that “every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man”.
For now, the bulls have got breathing space. But for how long?

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