Political opportunism in an election year often takes the form of dubious actions by the executive, and inevitably runs into a judicial barrier. By staying the Union government’s >recent notification aimed at permitting jallikattu, the popular bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu, along with bullock cart races in some other States, the Supreme Court >has stopped the Centre’s needless misadventure in its tracks. The festivities associated with the harvest festival of Pongal in Tamil Nadu went off without jallikattu in 2015 after the >Supreme Court’s May 2014 judgment prohibiting the sport on the ground that it perpetrates cruelty on animals and endangers the lives of the participants. The State government ensured peace and prevented any unrest last year, despite considerable unease and anger among the rural population. There is no reason why it could not have continued to practise the same restraint and wisdom in accepting the court verdict. On the contrary, the issue became politicised in the >run-up to the Assembly election that is due in a few months from now. Political parties stoked popular sentiment in favour of reviving jallikattu by demanding measures to circumvent the judicial bar. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, looking to find a foothold in the political fray in Tamil Nadu, made a calculated move by amending a 2011 notification that prevented bulls from being exhibited or trained as performing animals, by exempting bulls deployed in jallikattu and cart-racing from its purview. The party will now have to live with the criticism that it knew that the notification would be stayed, and all it was looking for was some political capital.
The Centre will have to explain why it tried to get around a court verdict through a mere executive notification, when it is common knowledge that it can be done only through legislation that removes the basis for the judgment and not merely by tweaking some regulations. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has now >urged the Centre to promulgate an ordinance to save the traditional sport, but even that may be no solution. The law laid down by the Supreme Court is fortified by several legal formulations. In a harmonious reading of animal rights in the context of the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (UDAW), the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Constitution, the court has ruled that animals have a right against human beings inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on them. In effect, the entire sport has been declared violative of the law against cruelty. Treating animals in a humane, non-exploitative way is now a constitutional requirement for any executive action related to them. The State’s earlier regulatory Act on jallikattu was dismissed as an anthropocentric law that was repugnant to the eco-centric law against cruelty to animals. Instead of continuing this artificial confrontation between tradition and modern law, Tamil Nadu would do well to stop spearheading the cause of jallikattu, which is but a relic of a feudal past.