Supreme Court upholds laws allowing Jallikattu, Kambala

‘Jallikattu’, also known as ‘Eruthazhuvuthal’, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival

May 18, 2023 11:24 am | Updated 05:40 pm IST - New Delhi

“Jallikattu”, also known as “Eruthazhuvuthal”, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival. File

“Jallikattu”, also known as “Eruthazhuvuthal”, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival. File | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

The Supreme Court on May 18 upheld the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017, saying that the traditional bull-taming sport ‘Jallikattu’ has been going on in Tamil Nadu for the last century.

Explained | Jallikattu: cultural practice or cruelty?

The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice K. M. Joseph, however, did not deliver into the question whether Jallikattu was an “integral” part of the culture of Tamil Nadu. Justice Bose held that this question cannot be answered through judicial proceedings and requires greater study, representation and participation of the people.

Bullfighters trying to tame a bull at the ‘jallikattu’ held at Sakkudi near Madurai on March 11, 2023.

Bullfighters trying to tame a bull at the ‘jallikattu’ held at Sakkudi near Madurai on March 11, 2023. | Photo Credit: MOORTHY G

"Jallikattu", also known as "Eruthazhuvuthal", is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival.

The judgment, authored by Justice Aniruddha Bose, holds that the 2017 Amendment Act and Rules on Jallikattu are in time with Entry 17 (prevention of cruelty to animals) of the Concurrent List, Article 51A(g) (compassion to loving creatures) of the Constitution.

The court said the Amendment Act “substantially reduced pain and cruelty” to the participating animals. The Amendment Act and Rules, passed after the Nagaraja judgment which banned Jallikattu in 2014, has to be strictly followed. The Act heralds a sea change in the way Jallikattu is conducted as an event, bringing stringent safeguards into place to avoid danger to both man and animal.

The court said any violation of the statutory law, in this case, the 2017 law, in the name of “cultural tradition”, would attract the penal law. Cultural tradition will not be defence if the practice offends the law, it said.

“The Amendment Act leaves little room for cruelty to the animals. It remedies the mischiefs which were in vogue before the legislation came into existence,” the top court said delivering the judgement on a batch of pleas challenging Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra laws allowing the sport.

“The State law does not violate Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Petitioners had even argued that animals to had the right to live with dignity,” it said.

On the question of whether Jallikattu was a cultural heritage, the court said this was best decided in the House of the People of the State. Such a question cannot be conclusively determined by a court of law in a writ petition.

Bullfighters trying to tame a bull at the ‘jallikattu’ held at Chathirapatti near Madurai on April 30, 2023.

Bullfighters trying to tame a bull at the ‘jallikattu’ held at Chathirapatti near Madurai on April 30, 2023. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Animal Welfare Board was the main petitioner. The petitions, including one filed by animal rights body PETA, challenged the State law that allowed the bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu. The respondents included several individuals and organisations linked to Jallikattu events in Tamil Nadu, including the Bull Owners Association, represented by senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani and advocate Tomy Chacko.

The Supreme Court had earlier said the petitions against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, needed to be decided by a larger Bench since they involved substantial questions relating to the interpretation of the Constitution.

The Bench framed five questions to be adjudicated upon by the larger Bench.

The Supreme Court had said that notwithstanding the cruelty involved in Jallikattu, it cannot be termed a blood sport as nobody is using any weapon and the blood may only be an incidental thing.

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