Jallikattu verdict spurred a flood of animal rights cases in Supreme Court

In recent years, the Supreme Court has upheld the rights of animals and birds to lead a life of “intrinsic worth, honour and dignity,” even at the cost of popular faith and practices of human beings.

The starting point of the trend dates back to May 7, 2014 — the day of pronouncement of the judgment banning jallikattu, a bull taming sport practised in Tamil Nadu.

In Animal Welfare Board of India versus A. Nagaraja, the Supreme Court historically extended the fundamental right to life to animals. It held that bulls have the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to live in a healthy and clean atmosphere, not to be beaten, kicked, bitten, tortured, plied with alcohol by humans or made to stand in narrow enclosures amidst bellows and jeers from crowds. In short, the Supreme Court declared that animals have a right to protect their life and dignity from human excesses.

Article 21, till then, had been confined to only human life and dignity. In May 2014, with its jallikattu verdict, the Supreme Court Bench of Justice (as he was then) K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice P.C. Ghose stretched the fundamental right to include “every species.”

Since May 2014, the court has heard a flood of cases dealing with the rights of the animal world ranging from bulls, elephants, horses, dogs, roosters to even exotic birds.

Treating with compassion

The apex court has spent precious judicial hours contemplating how to induce humans to treat animals with compassion. Often, the court has played a game-changing role in the way animals are treated during religious events and festivities.

In the jallikattu case, the court had held that the sport, even though has cultural significance, was an act of “inherent cruelty.”

In Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court did not lift the ban on rooster fights conducted during the Makarsankranthi festival. The court only stayed the power of the police to arbitrarily raid farmsteads and private property for prize roosters.

In both jallikattu and cock fight cases, the Supreme Court refused to heed the common argument that a ban would destroy the livelihoods of farmers and end the indigenous species of bulls and roosters, respectively.

Thrissur Pooram

In another case dealing with the rights of captive elephants used in Kerala for temple festivals like Thrissur Pooram, the Supreme Court put temple managements and private owners of the elephants on a tight leash, threatening them with criminal prosecution and “severe consequences” if they were found torturing the animals merely for the sake of the grandeur of the festival.

In December 2015, in another case, the Supreme Court asked the Central government to clarify whether it was cruelty to employ elephants for joyrides.

A month prior to that, in November 2015, the court had also asked the government to respond on whether exotic pet birds were safer in cages or do they have a fundamental right to fly.

This debate was between the right to livelihood of pet shop owners and the right of birds to live freely. Animal lovers want the apex court to ban practices like ringing, tagging and stamping of birds.

Stray dogs

Again, a “shocked” Supreme Court recently found out that its message of compassion for stray dogs had been blatantly ignored in Kerala. The top court has for the past one year been trying to find a balance between saving stray dogs from torture and death in the hands of an enraged population in Kerala, where there has been rising incidents of fatal dog bites, especially among the economically-disadvantaged sections of society, women and children.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 4:29:33 PM |

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