Jallikattu: Cultural Practice or Cruelty?


    In News

    • A five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court (SC) is going to announce its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking to strike down a 2017 Tamil Nadu law that protects Jallikattu

    Key Points

    • Background, Objective & Origin of Petition: 
      • A massive agitation erupted in 2017, demanding that the Central and State governments come up with a law that would annul the Supreme Court’s ban on jallikattu.
        • It was imposed through a judgment in May 2014 in the Animal Welfare Board of India vs A. Nagaraja case
      • Apart from demanding that the event be allowed again, the protesters had raised the issue of “redeeming Tamil identity and culture.” 
    • Present Scenario:
      • The primary question involved is whether jallikattu should be granted constitutional protection as a collective cultural right under Article 29 (1).
        • A fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens. 
    • Laws involved: 
      • The court examined if the laws perpetuated cruelty to animals” or were actually a means to ensure “the survival and well-being of the native breed of bulls”. 
        • The laws are: 
          • The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and 
          • The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017.
    • Lens of Harm to Bulls:
      • How bulls were being “tortured to the hilt” in the process of performing for the event. 
      • Whether the new jallikattu laws were “relatable” to Article 48 of the Constitution which urged the state to endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. 
      • Whether jallikattu and bullock-cart race laws of Karnataka and Maharashtra would actually sub-serve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.



    • History: 
      • Jallikattu has been known to be practiced during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BCE).
      • It was common among the Ayar people who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of ancient Tamil Nadu.
    • About: 
      • Jallikattu is a bull-taming sport. 
      • The festival is a celebration of nature, and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, of which cattle-worship is part.
      • It is a violent sport: and there is only one winner, man or bull.
      • Traditional event in which a bull such as the Pulikulam or Kangayam breeds is released   into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the bull’s back with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape.
      • Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop.
      • In some cases, participants must ride long enough to remove flags on the bull’s horns.



    • Culture: It is about showcasing the quality of cattle, the breeding skills of cattle rearers, the centrality of cattle in an agrarian economy, and the power and pride they bring to farmers and land-owning castes in rural Tamil Nadu.
    • Article 29(1): Governments at the state and Centre have wrestled with formulating a regulatory mechanism for Jallikattu, and a matter relating to whether Tamil Nadu can conserve it as a cultural right under Article 29(1) of the Constitution.
      • Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
    • Vaadivaasal: Perhaps the best guide to the cultural universe of Jallikattu is C S Chellappa’s brilliant novell, ‘Vaadivaasal’ (Arena), a slim volume written in the 1940s, with a handful of male characters and bulls.

    Arguments For and Against Jallikattu

    • For: 
      • In Tamil Nadu, jallikattu is both a religious and cultural event celebrated by the people of the State and its influence extends beyond the confines of caste and creed. 
      • A practice which is centuries-old and symbolic of a community’s identity can be regulated and reformed as the human race evolves rather than being completely obliterated. 
      • Jallikattu is seen as “a tool for conserving this precious indigenous breed of livestock
      • It is intertwined with the sociocultural milieu being taught in high school curriculum so that the significance is maintained beyond generations.
    • Against: 
      • Animal life was inextricably connected to the lives of humans. 
      • Liberty is inherent in every living being, whether it be in any form of life. 
      • There were various media reports about deaths and injuries caused to humans as well as bulls which had taken place in several districts of the State while conducting jallikattu.
      • Extreme cruelty is inflicted on the animals. 
      • There was no material to justify jallikattu as a part of culture. 
      • The critics had equated the event with practices such as sati and dowry, which were also once recognised as part of culture and stopped through legislation.

    Way Ahead

    • Any ban on such a practice would be viewed as “hostile to culture and against the sensitivities of the community.
    • Any effort at securing animal welfare will have to be grounded in our own rights as human beings. 
      • If such a reading of Article 21 allows for a kinder, more compassionate society, where animals are treated with dignity, it is perhaps the interpretation that the Supreme Court must prefer. 
    • The court’s venture must be to independently construe Article 21, to see whether a finding that the right partakes freedom to live in a society free of animal cruelty fits with India’s larger constitutional design. 
    • Lastly, How the court chooses to resolve the questions posed to it could come to have a deep bearing on the future of animal rights and safety in our country.

    Source: TH