Jallikattu has been in the news for the past few years. While proponents of the bull-taming sport see it as a cultural tradition, animal rights activists decry the torture it spells for the hapless animals. As the debate continues, the constitutional validity of Tamil Nadu’s amended law to make Jallikattu legal awaits judgment by the Supreme Court.
Rubbing chilli powder into eyes and noses, yanking and dragging the helpless animals with a rope, prodding and poking them with pointed objects, biting, pulling, twisting and breaking of tails, beating and kicking, chopping ears off, injuries, deaths… put all these together and you get a picture of Jallikattu. The bull-taming sport was in full swing in Tamil Nadu, as the state ‘celebrated’ Pongal 2019. Although the bulls underwent yet another season of torture, animal welfare organisations, lawyers and activists alike, are silently observing it at a distance, placing their utmost faith in the country’s judiciary system.
It should be noted that the sport has been in and out of the legal ambit since 2011. It all started with a notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in July 2011, when the government body banned the use of bulls as performing animals. Consequently, Jallikattu, Kambala, bullock cart races and other similar events were also prohibited. Following the notice and petitions filed by animal welfare organisations and individuals, the Supreme Court (SC) imposed a ban on the sport in January 2014, citing cruelty subjected to the animal. However, post a state-wide protest on the ban, the Tamil Nadu government, in order to appease popular sentiment, decided to sway towards ‘culture’ and went ahead to amend its state act in January 2017. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 received presidential assent in January 2017 allowing Jallikattu in the state. The constitutional validity of TN’s newly amended law to make Jallikattu legal is presently under challenge before the SC.
“The fix that the TN government opted for is not permanent. The issue has been referred to a constitutional bench of five judges by the SC. We feel that the amendment is bad in law and will be struck down,” said N G Jayasimha, director, Centre for Animal Law, NALSAR University, Hyderabad.
The optimism among the animal welfare lawyers’ community regarding the pending judgement on Jallikattu stems from one of the SC’s previous judgement in 2014. “In its judgment titled Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors., it was observed that it is a fact that during performance of Jallikattu bulls are treated with cruelty which is contrary to the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA 1960) as well as the Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in our Constitution. In fact the SC went to the extent of expanding the Right to Life under Article 21 to animals as well,” says Sidharth Luthra, senior advocate, SC.
While proponents of the cruel sport have been advocating a regulated Jallikattu, according to animal welfare lawyers and organisations, cruelty is inherent to Jallikattu and thus efforts to regulate the sport to filter out cruelty will not be fruitful.
“In the Nagaraja case, the SC held that Jallikattu is cruel and the reports post 2016 have and will only help prove that the event cannot be regulated. While It’s wrong to speculate on the judgement, we have a strong case . We hope that the bench is constituted at the earliest and the matter is heard,” said Jayasimha.
Agrees Nikunj Sharma, associate director of policy, People for Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA), India. “Year after year, investigation after investigation since Jallikattu was legalised by Tamil Nadu government reveals the same thing: deliberate cruelty, injury, and deaths are inherent to Jallikattu, and no amount of regulation can change that, which is why the SC banned it in the first place. This cruelty is simply indefensible. We have challenged the constitutional validity of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017. This state law appears to stand in contradiction to the central government PCA act 1960 which makes it illegal to cause animals unnecessary suffering, and violates Article 51A(g) of the constitution – which makes it the mandate of every Indian citizen to have compassion for animals. We are submitting evidence to the court every year to prove that Jallikattu is inherently cruel and no amount of regulation can prevent the suffering to the animal involved,” says Nikunj.
While Jallikattu proponents have been crying foul and addressing the concerns of animals as a question of culture being seen narrowly through the prism of animal rights, animal welfare lawyers are upset with the little efforts by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).
As animal welfare lawyer Anupama Hebbar says, “AWBI appears to want to work with the government to regulate Jallikattu, rather than ban it. In my opinion, the ‘sport’ is barbaric, cruel, an unnecessary practice and should be banned. I believe that even if the government establishes its cultural significance (as they’ve argued), the obvious cruelty in the conduct of Jallikattu should override such considerations and we should do right by these animals.”
Jayasimha adds, “It’s a pity that AWBI is not acting as per the statutory mandate. Please note that the AWBI had challenged the notification of MoEF – only when the ministry changed the constitution of AWBI they changed the stance. AWBI should be guided by the statute and not politics.”
While emotions on both sides soar high, the challenge to TN’s newly amended law to legalise Jallikattu in 2017 has been referred to a constitution bench of the Court comprising of five judges for considering following issues:
i. Whether the amendment allowing Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of the state. ii Whether the amendment is ensuring the survival and well-being of the native breed of bulls.
“Article 29 of the constitution provides that any section of citizens has the right to conserve their culture. Article 48 requires that the State shall endeavour to improve the breeds of animals; however, there may not be cogent evidence to substantiate the same. The issue to be decided is whether the performance of Jallikattu may satisfy the test of being a cultural right and its interplay with the Article 21 rights of individuals as well as interpreted in A Nagaraja case,” said Sidharth.
PETA’s investigation report
After Jallikattu partisans argued and advocated that there can be a Jallikattu which is strictly monitored and independently audited to ensure no cruelty, the SC passed the judgment to conduct the sport under regulated environment. The measure was said to have been enacted to amend the PCA act, 1960, in order to “preserve the cultural heritage of the state of Tamil Nadu and to ensure the survival and well-being of the native breeds of bulls”.
However, the ground reality, as investigated by PETA, narrates a different story. According to various media reports, more than 3,000 and 30 humans have been injured and died respectively and as many as 11 bulls died during the two Jallikattu seasons of 2017 and 2018. In just one year – between January 2017 to February 2018 – 10 bulls and 25 humans died during Jallikattu events and 2,795 humans were injured. In January and February 2018 alone, 757 humans have been injured, 10 humans and 5 bulls have lost their lives.
In fact, PETA’s investigation during the Jallikattu seasons of 2017 and 2018 shows that such events are inherently cruel, cause bulls unnecessary suffering, and are apparently in direct violation of the provisions of Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA act 1960. As per the report, the sport takes advantage of bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they’re forced to run away from those they rightly perceive as dangerous and a threat to their lives.
Glaring violation during Jallikattu 2017 & 2018
Here’s an in-depth look at what the law says and the violations that actually took place. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 and the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules, 2017 were enacted to regulate the sport by bringing in certain rules and regulations to ensure a cruelty free Jallikattu. The following are some of the rules under the above-mentioned acts and the violations during Jallikattu 2017 and 2018:
Rule 3.7: “The organisers shall conduct Jallikattu in an open ground.
Note: Except for the Jallikattu event in Thirunallur, the events were held on patches of land among homes and on streets inside the hearts of the tiny villages. In Avaniapuram and Maravapatti, Jallikattu was held on the main streets located in the villages.
Rule 3.7 (a): “The bulls shall be provided rest for a minimum of 20 minutes before they are brought into the arena”
Note: The bulls weren’t allowed to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes at any of the Jallikattu venues investigated. Reluctant, scared, and agitated bulls – without shade, food, or water, were forced to stand for hours – were forced into the vaadi vaasal from the bull-holding area, were under mental stress, and were dragged by their nose ropes. Their tails were twisted, whacked, and bitten. Those that collapsed because of dehydration and exhaustion and those that broke out of the queues in distress were also forced into the vaadivaasal and nto the arena, without any rest.
Rule 3.7 (d): “The bulls shall be thoroughly observed for any physical injuries to the body parts like mutilated ears, fractured tail, etc. by Veterinarians of the Animal Husbandry Department. If any injury is found, they shall not be permitted to participate in the event and shall be sent back”
Note: Some bulls with visible injuries, including cut ears (i.e., a mutilation) were found in the queue near the vaadi vaasal, past the bull- examination area, where they should have been rejected.
Rule 3.7 (e): “The bull holding area shall be provided with adequate roofing (shamiana/thatched roof) so as to protect the bulls from rain or sunlight
Note: Organisers failed to provide the basic requirements, such as a roof (shamiana/thatched roof), listed in the rules at all five events that PETA investigated during Jallikattu 2018.
Rule 4.2: “The participating bulls shall be examined for general health by clinical examination. Bulls showing symptoms fatigue, dehydration, restlessness, etc. shall be identified and not permitted to participate further in the event” [emphasis added]. – Violated.
Note: At all five events, bulls with symptoms dehydration, restlessness, fatigue were still forced to participate in Jallikattu. Officials and qualified veterinarians of the Animal Husbandry Department turned a blind eye to the violations of this rule. Many bulls which were blindfolded to suppress their anxiety were given clearance by veterinarians in the bull-examination area. Furthermore, many bulls which were dehydrated, exhausted, or fatigued and which collapsed after being given a clean chit by veterinarians in the bull-examination area were forced by their owners to participate in the event. In Thirunallur, bulls’ tails were bitten and bulls were whacked to get them back on their feet. The dehydrated, exhausted animals were then forced to run through the vaadi vaasal as tamers pounced on them. Then unruly spectators hit them in the bull-run area.
PETA’s reports and the SC’s impending judgment
However, will all the reports and on-the-ground investigations really help? According to experts, while reports by PETA might provide ground realities and thus a holistic view at the time of the hearing of the case, such material may not be relevant before the constitution bench.
“PETA and animal welfare workers (if parties or impleaded) may provide on-ground information and facts to the SC at the time of hearing of the matter for the Court to have a holistic view. The SC has in previous matters considered reports filed by PETA and AWBI regarding the treatment of animals and any further reports may receive due consideration by the Court. However, before the constitution bench, such material may not have much relevance as what is to be determined in the first instance is the legal (constitutional) issue,” said Sidharth.
Meanwhile, even as some Jallikattu proponents might cite Spain’s bull racing and hail the country for preserving its traditional sport, it is upon us to decide if we want to emulate others and sway towards tradition following cruel procedures or restore the faith in humanity by freeing animals of unreasonable torture.