The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a Constitution Bench to decide whether the people of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock-cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, in a judgment, formulated five questions for the Constitution Bench to decide on.
The judgment was authored by Justice Nariman for the Bench.
Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
Though commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, Article 29 (1) mandates that “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”.
If jallikattu is upheld by the Constitution Bench as a cultural right and part of the "collective culture" of the people of Tamil Nadu under Article 29 (1), provisions of other laws which undermine jallikattu may run the risk of being struck down.
“It has never been looked into whether a State can claim constitutional protection under Article 29 (1) for what it thinks is a cultural right,” Chief Justice Misra orally observed when reserving the case for final judgment in the previous hearing.
The Constitution Bench would also look into whether the 2017 jallikattu and bullock cart races laws of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra actually subserve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.
The Bench will also have to say whether the laws are really in consonance with the basic tenets of the 1960 Act.
'80% of Tamil Nadu people support the sport'
The Tamil Nadu government, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, argued that 80% of the population of the State supported jallikattu and the sport had strongholds in the rural parts.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the support for jallikattu was irrespective of religion or caste.
Justice Nariman referred to part of Article 29 (1) which says “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India”. “And Tamil Nadu is definitely a part of India,” Justice Nariman remarked.
Mr. Venugopal referred to the Supreme Court decision in the Ahmedabad St. Xavier's College Society case, in which it was pointed out that the scope of Article 29 (1) does not necessarily confine itself to the cultural rights of minorities but may well include the majority.
The court is hearing a batch of petitions, led by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), to quash the new jallikattu law passed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, which brought bulls back into the fold of “performing animals”.
The laws under challenge — The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 — 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.
In 2014, in the A. Nagaraja judgment, the Supreme Court held jallikattu as cruelty to bulls.
The PETA petition contends that the 2017 Jallikattu Act and Rules violate the five internationally recognised freedoms — the freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.