“Can the entertainment of a gathering be a justification for inflicting pain upon bulls is a question to be posed to the consciousness (sic) of society,” Justice R. Banumathi (now a Supreme Court judge) said while banning jallikattu for the first time during her stint at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on March 29, 2006.
Ten years after the judge raised the question, people of Tamil Nadu have answered it now through large-scale protests against the ban. Denying the charge of subjecting bulls to cruelty and claiming a right to play with bulls reared by them with of love and affection, the protesters have premised their demand to conduct jallikattu on culture and tradition.
This demands a deeper look at what went through the minds of the judges when they dealt with the jallikattu case and whether the issues being raised now by the people were ever considered by the courts or not.
Rejecting the argument based on culture in her 2006 judgement itself, Ms. Justice Banumathi said: “We cannot talk about culture and civilisation if we do not uphold the dignity of life.”
Why should we allow such inhuman act on dumb animals when they enjoyed statutory protection under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960? the judge asked, and went on to lament: “We have become insensitive to violence and cruelty. We do not give a thought or a second glance although we see it every day around us. Once one becomes inured to cruelty, the form it takes becomes irrelevant. Cruelty to animals can easily be replicated towards people too.”
Wondering why should animals also not enjoy fundamental rights, the judge said: “Man may have dominion over the animals but that dominion should not extend to causing cruelty under the guise of conducting jallikattu, rekla (bullock cart) race and oxen race.”
However, when her judgement was taken on appeal, a Division Bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and P.P.S. Janarthana Raja had a different take on it on March 9, 2007. The Bench said: “There can be no second opinion of the fact that the said sport events are part and parcel of Tamil village culture and are closely wedded to the lifestyle of the villagers. The imagination or visualisation of the harvest season in villages in the State of Tamil Nadu would be incomplete without jallikattu, manjuvirattu, rekla race and so on.
“When the traditional and cultural lifestyle of India, more particularly the lifestyle of the villagers, is being rapidly effaced by the influence of the western culture, it is imperative that our traditional and cultural events are preserved and maintained... At the same time, we are also not unmindful of the fact that the conduct of such sport events results in a large number of fatalities and injuries.
“Equally, the allegations of cruelty to animals in such sport events also cannot be brushed aside as without substance. There are overwhelming materials to prove violent and cruel treatment of the animals in such sport events.
“In such matters where the interests of the villagers and the animal lovers are pitted against each other, we are of the view that every endeavour should be made by all concerned to strike a proper balance safeguarding the interests of every one including the animals. In our opinion, such balance could be struck by regulating the conduct of the said sport events by appropriate legislation by the State and strict implementation thereof by the district administration and the police.”
When this judgement was taken on appeal, the Supreme Court set it aside on May 7, 2014 by examining the issue with the welfare and well-being of the animals in mind and not from the standpoint of the organisers, bull tamers, racers, spectators, participants or the governments since Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose felt that they were dealing with “a welfare legislation of a sentient being over which human beings have domination.”
Referring to the exemptions granted by Parliament from applying the penal provisions in the PCA Act to activities such as de-horning of cattle, destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers, castration, branding or nose-roping of any animal in a prescribed manner or killing any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community, the apex court said: “The standard we have to apply in deciding the issue on hand is the species’ best interest, subject to just exceptions out of human necessity.”
Taking note of bulls’ behavioural ethology of exhibiting a fight or flight response when exposed to perceived threat, the judges said: “This instinctual response to a perceived threat is what is being exploited in jallikattu or bullock cart races... Jallikattu demonstrates a link between actions of humans and the fear, distress and pain experienced by bulls.”
Finally on the crucial ground of culture and tradition, the apex court said: “Jallikattu or bullock cart race, as practised now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu. Welfare and the well-being of the bull is Tamil culture and tradition. They do not approve of infliction of any pain or suffering on the bulls. Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered the vehicle of Lord Siva.
“Yeru Thazhuvu, in Tamil tradition, is to embrace bulls and not overpowering them to show human bravery.”
The court avoided an anthropocentric approach and took an eco-centric approach before holding that jallikattu was not only in violation of the PCA Act but also against the fundamental duties imposed on the citizens, under Articles 51A(g) and (h) of the Constitution, to develop humanism and have compassion for living creatures.
Most important of all, the Supreme Court judges took note of a report filed by Animal Welfare Board of India with respect to cruelty meted out to the bulls despite court imposed guidelines in 2013 and said: “We are sorry to note, in spite of the various directions issued by this Court... the situation is the same and no action is being taken by the District Collectors, police officials and others to see that those directions are properly and effectively complied with and the animals are not being subjected to torture and cruelty. Being dumb and helpless, they suffer in silence.”