Judging Jallikattu: On the Supreme Court Verdict


    In Context

    • The Supreme Court has recently upheld the changes made by the Tamil Nadu Assembly, as well as the cultural sentiment behind Jallikattu.

    About Jallikattu

    • About:
      • Jallikattu is a bull-taming sport that has traditionally been part of the festival of Pongal
      • The festival is a celebration of nature, and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, of which cattle-worship is part.
      • Contests in Avaniapuram, Peelamedu and Alanganallur, villages neighbouring Madurai, set the tone for the season, which continues until April.
    • How is it played?
      • The elite Jallikattu breeds test the strength and guile of farm hands in especially-constructed arenas. 
      • It is a violent sport, and there is only one winner, man or bull. 
    • What is the conflict?
      • There has been an endless conflict between activists and proponents of the game.
        • The activists argue that any sport involving a physical contest between man and bull violates animal rights.
        • While, the other camp contends that none should stop something that is part of the State’s tradition and culture.

    Debate around the sport

    • Arguments in favour of the sport:
      • The political economy of Jallikattu: 
        • 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. 
        • Jallikattu is a cultural manifestation of this political economy.
      • Act of cultural resistance to an urban modernity:
        • For agrarian communities like Thevars and Maravars, Jallikattu is one of the few markers of their social standing and identity in a fast-changing world. 
        • The contest, which evidently celebrates masculinity, is almost an act of cultural resistance to an urban modernity that tends to marginalise rural and agrarian values.
    • Arguments against the sport:
      • Harming both, bulls & humans:
        • The practice of Jallikattu has long been contested, with animal rights groups and the courts concerned over issues of cruelty to animals and the bloody and dangerous nature of the sport that causes death and injuries to both the bulls and human participants.
      • Apex Court’s view & the Upanishadic wisdom:
        • In 2014, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, “over-shadows or overrides the so-called tradition and culture”. 
        • The court drew upon Upanishadic wisdom and advised Parliament to “elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights so as to protect their dignity and honour”.
        • “Bulls are beaten, poked, prodded, harassed and jumped on by numerous people. They have their tails bitten and twisted and their eyes and noses filled with irritating chemicals,” the judgment said.

    Legal battle over the sport 

    • Ban of 2014:
      • In 2014, the Supreme Court, in the A. Nagaraja judgment had held Jallikattu as cruelty to bulls.
        • The bone of contention is 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, which had re-opened the gates for the conduct of the popular bull-taming sport in the name of culture and tradition despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court.
        • The primary question involved was whether Jallikattu should be granted constitutional protection as a collective cultural right under Article 29 (1).
    • State government’s response:
      • The State government responded to the ban by amending the central Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, in its application to the State, and obtained the President’s assent

    Supreme Court’s current judgement 

    • The verdict of the five-judge Bench is anchored to two key findings: 
      • That the fresh regulations minimise the game’s potential for cruelty and pain formed the basis for the 2014 judgment. 
        • Those conditions were no more prevalent
      • Second, the Court has accepted the legislature’s view that jallikattu is a sport conducted every year to follow tradition and culture. 
    • Significance:
      • The has accepted the legislature’s wisdom on what constitutes cultural heritage, holding that the Court cannot embark on such an inquiry. 
      • However, it does not mean the Court has in any way diluted the part of the earlier Bench’s verdict reading into Indian law the full import of international rules in favour of animal rights
      • Rather, it has deferred to the cultural sentiment underlying the legislative scheme by which sports such as jallikattu, kambala, a buffalo race in Karnataka, and bullock-cart racing in Maharashtra are not interdicted by the law preventing animal cruelty. 

    Way ahead

    • The judgment means organisers as well as the respective governments, still bear the burden to prevent infliction of pain and cruelty on animals
      • These sports also pose an undeniable hazard to humans too; to the participants mainly, but sometimes spectators too. 
    • It may be time for organisers to mandate protective gear for the participants and strictly enforce rules for proper barricades to keep spectators safe. 
    • Cultural assertion, and kindness to animals and adherence to safety norms need not be mutually exclusive.

    Constitutional provisions protecting animal rights in India

    • Article 21:
      • Under Article 21 of the Constitution, the expression ‘life’ has been expanded to include all forms of life including animal life which is essential for human life. Moreover, the Right to Dignity and fair treatment is also significant to animal rights.
    • Article 29 (1):
      • Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
    • Article 48 
      • Article 48 of the Constitution of India is one of the Directive Principles which directs the state to make efforts for banning animal slaughtering of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. 
      • It further states to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
    • Article 51 A (g):
      • Article 51 A (g) states that every citizen has a fundamental duty to safeguard and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and animals as well as to have compassion for living creatures.
      • These Constitutional provisions were introduced by the 42nd amendment in 1976.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What is the significance of Apex Court’s recent judgement on Jallikattu and similar  bull-taming sports in India? What are the different ways to maintain safety of animals & humans involved in these sports?