On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected a plea, seeking a judgment on the bull-taming/embracing (depending on which side of the debate one belongs to) sport of Jallikattu before Saturday. In other words, the practice will continue to be banned this Pongal if the Centre does not intervene and pass an ordinance. Jallikatu is a traditional rural event organised as part of the five-day Pongal celebrations, which begins on January 14 this year. Unlike in the bull-fighting event in Spain, the bull is not killed, and the object is to pluck bundles of money or gold tied to the animal’s sharpened horns. In 2014, the sport was banned by the Supreme Court following objections from animal rights activists, citing animal cruelty and a threat to public safety. Ever since the judgment, the court has been hearing petitions supporting this traditional event. Last July, the court had said Jallikattu might be 5,000 years old, but it was for the judiciary to decide whether the practice could continue. “We have to show compassion to the animals. It is our constitutional obligation,” it said. Reports indicate that the court’s position has angered many in the state of Tamil Nadu, who believe that a ban on tramples on not only their traditions but also effectively destroys entire native livestock breeds that depend on the event. On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pass an ordinance to allow Jallikattu during the Pongal festival.
Animal welfare activists have long demanded a ban on the event/sport for the significant levels of cruelty and torture, the bull undergoes. In a column, Poorva Joshipura, the CEO of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, wrote: “During Jallikattu, bulls are deliberately terrified and forced into menacing crowds through various cruel means. They are purposefully disoriented through substances like alcohol; have their tails twisted and bitten; are stabbed and jabbed by sickles, spears, knives or sticks; have their nose ropes painfully yanked; are punched, jumped on and dragged to the ground.” In Jallikatu-like events across India, many humans also suffer severe injuries or even die from participating or watching the sport. In this decade, until the ban came into force, there were reportedly more than 1100 injuries and approximately 17 deaths, including that of a child. The apex court’s position on the subject is if culture or tradition is ‘not in sync with the law’, then the latter takes precedence.
Unlike the apex court, the Centre has taken a favourable position, arguing that Jallikattu is a centuries-old traditional practise. The Centre respects these practices, although it has asked organisers to ensure that there is no cruelty. Animal welfare activists have mocked this position, but local activists against the ban have argued that the event is not about taming bulls, as much as embracing them. In a recent post on social media, Balakumar Somu, an animal’s rights activist from Coimbatore, who has started a website to fight the ban, wrote on the subject. “To honour those who bring up the stud bulls and to demonstrate the strength of the bulls annual sports of sorts are organised: one of these sports is Jallikattu. This is not taming the bull as is often misunderstood. It is actually embracing the bulls. The men should embrace the speeding bull and hold on to it as long as he can. In Spanish bullfights, the participating bulls are killed. But here in India, the bulls become much-celebrated beings of the village and the families,” he writes. Arguments citing animal cruelty are either over exaggerated or wholly fabricated, say supporters of the event. Himakiran Anugula, an organic farmer and entrepreneur, based in Chennai, presents ecological and economic reasons against the ban. In a recent post on a news website, he writes: “If Jallikattu is prohibited, livestock keepers will be forced to abandon the raising of native livestock, which already stands threatened due to the extensive use of motor pumps, tractors and mechanised agriculture. If the sport is banned, it would be the death knell of native cattle species in Tamil Nadu. We will lose not only our breeds but also our self-sufficiency in milk production as well as the promotion of organic farming. If we lose our breeds and import foreign breeds, multinational commercial companies will dominate the dairy industry in India. The livelihood of millions in rural India is at stake here. People who want a ban on Jallikattu are far removed from village life and do not know how this chain works.” Going by the arguments presented above, it would seem as if a complete ban on Jallikattu seems a tad unreasonable. If there are instances of animal cruelty, tighter regulations should be introduced and enforced to ensure their safety, as well for those people attending these events. Any attempt to ban such traditional practices often suffers from plenty of pushback from those directly affected. How does one enforce a ban, when the people and the entire state machinery stand opposed to the court’s diktat? Moreover, if animal cruelty is going to be cited to prohibit certain events or products, then our courts will have to go way beyond Jallikattu, starting with leather goods and fast food franchises. Will the court ban leather goods or McDonald burgers, as well?