Saying no to jallikattu, again

November 18, 2016 11:01 pm | Updated November 19, 2016 02:43 am IST

It is no surprise that the Supreme Court has declined to review its 2014 judgment banning jallikattu , the popular bull-taming sport held alongside annual harvest festivities in rural Tamil Nadu. The original judgment had drawn on sound legal principles to conclude that the need to prevent cruelty to animals overrides the consideration that conducting the sport was necessary to preserve culture and tradition. More particularly, the court had found that a 2009 State law that sought to regulate jallikattu was repugnant to the 1960 central legislation to prevent cruelty towards animals. The former Act did contain stringent provisions, but animal rights activists contended that the element of cruelty could not be eliminated altogether. Despite evidence that the game caused distress and pain to the animals, and even led to injuries and occasional fatalities, political leaders in the State and sections of the public often make the claim that jallikattu has cultural and religious significance for the Tamil community. Jallikattu is construed as a macho sport in which intrepid young men demonstrate their valour by pouncing on fleeing bulls. It is also associated in the popular imagination with cultural pride. Over the years, the tradition was kept alive in many villages under the belief that not conducting jallikattu would invite divine wrath. As a result, the bull-baiting sport was invested with religious significance too.

It was unlikely that the court would have entertained a review merely on a claim that popular sentiment favoured the conduct of jallikattu and that its purported religious and cultural significance would provide constitutional protection to it. The Bench has rejected attempts to invoke the right of religious freedom guaranteed in Article 25 of the Constitution. It was unfathomable that there could be a connection between jallikattu and religious freedom, the court said. And it was held mainly for human entertainment at the expense of the animal. Apart from the State government’s review plea, the Centre had embarked on a misadventure in January by issuing a notification aimed at permitting jallikattu. The action was stayed immediately and a verdict on its validity is expected to come separately. However, given that the court is sticking to the stand that it would not allow any cruelty in the name of holding a rural sport, it is unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny. The Tamil Nadu government and like-minded sections at the Centre would do well to accept this ruling as final and stop espousing the cause. If there is one takeaway here, it is the futility of pursuing measures to preserve feudal traditions in the teeth of reasoned judicial opinion.

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