The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked activists what they found wrong in Tamil Nadu's jallikattu law when it protects animals from "unnecessary pain" and sought to preserve the "culture and traditions" of the people in the State.
A Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph pointed to provisions in the law which calls for definitive preventive measures against cruelty to animals used in the bull-taming sport.
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 also recognised the culture and traditions of the people as a fundamental right.
"What is the constitutional right you want to protect here?" Justice Ajay Rastogi, on the Bench, asked the petitioners.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, for the petitioners, said "a mere activity does not give a fundamental right status because of an assertion". He said there was no material to justify jallikattu as a part of culture.
He referred to how practices like Sati, dowry, widow re-marriage, child marriage, etc, were once recognised as part of culture and stopped through legislation.
At this, Justice Aniruddha Bose said these practices were stopped by legislations and not through judicial orders.
Justice Bose said legislations had all along categorised which animal should be totally free from cruelty and which could be exposed to partial cruelty.
"What is so special about these legislations [Tamil Nadu Act and Rules] that you are attacking?" Justice Bose asked.
Justice Joseph said an Article 32 petition is usually filed to protect the fundamental rights of “persons”. “When you talk about persons and say animals are entitled to personhood under Article 21, what about plants then?” he asked.
Justice Bose said then even the act of animals grazing could be a violation of the fundamental right of plants.
Mr. Luthra said animal life was inextricably connected to the lives of humans, and harm caused to them would eventually affect human life, too.
He said the Tamil Nadu Act was brought to circumvent the ban on jallikattu imposed by the apex court.
But Justice Bose said that would be a “permissible activity” of the lawmaker. Court orders were not for all time to come.
To this, Mr. Luthra said the legislation should then be able to remove the basis of the court’s decision.
“The subsequent legislation should be able to deal with the rationale of the judgment, cure the defects… Mere bringing of a legislation to outwit a court order is not enough,” he argued.
The Tamil Nadu government, in its affidavit, had described jallikattu as a “practice which is centuries old and symbolic of a community’s identity… It will be viewed as hostile to culture and against the sensitivities of the community. The people of Tamil Nadu have a right to preserve their traditions and culture”.
“Jallikattu does not violate the principles of compassion and humanism… The traditional and cultural significance of Jallikattu and its intertwining with the sociocultural milieu is taught in the high school curriculum so that the significance is maintained beyond generations,” the State had said in its written submissions to the Constitution Bench.