A notification issued Thursday evening by the Environment Ministry modifies its own 2011 order that included bulls in the list of animals that “shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animal”. A Supreme Court order in 2014 had backed the ban on Jallikattu.
The new notification says that “bulls may be continued to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal — at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat — in the manner by the customs of any community or practiced traditionally under the customs or as a part of culture, in any part of the country”. The notification mentions that this exemption is subject to the condition that bulls are treated properly and not subjected to cruelty.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Centre’s decision, while activists and NGOs said they would approach the court next week to get the decision revoked. MDMK leader Vaiko and Dalit party VCK’s leader Thirumavalavan were among the first to thank the Centre. They were followed by Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief E V K S Elangovan, PMK leader S Ramadoss and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Ever since the Supreme Court backed the Jallikattu ban, citing cruelty to animals as the reason, all parties in the state have been demanding that the Centre restore the event through an Ordinance. MoS Pon Radhakrishnan was the first to tweet about the decision Friday morning, after he was informed about it by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.
The decision by the NDA government comes three months before Assembly elections in the state, where the BJP is attempting to strike an alliance with the AIADMK or the PMK. BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan said the decision will help them in the polls. She claimed party chief Amit Shah had met Javadekar several times, which led to the Centre’s decision. “There was a view in Tamil Nadu that only regional parties understand regional sentiments. The BJP has proved otherwise,” she said.
Jallikattu is popular in the districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul — a region also known as the Jallikattu belt, which has a sizeable population of OBCs. The event begins with bulls being released into an arena. Participants then tackle the animal by its hump and try to hang on till they cross the finishing line.
In the last one decade, Jallikattu has gained in popularity — among citizens and politicians alike. For instance, in Madurai, once the stronghold of M K Alagiri, bull tamers would wear T-shirts with his picture.
“It may not be a deciding factor in the polls but it plays a major role in rural areas,” said a senior DMK leader, who said he personally does not favour the event. “I have seen bulls being beaten, poked with spiked instruments and given electric shocks. But the logic of animal cruelty does not work in politics.”
Don Williams of Blue Cross, an animal welfare organisation, said the ban has not been lifted by the Supreme Court but only by politicians. “It seems the animals have to start speaking for themselves. Learned judges of the court had banned it in the interest of both humans and animals. Politicians have lifted the ban. We will challenge it,” he said.
“About 95 per cent of bull tamers are illiterate and unemployed rural youth, who are indulging in animal cruelty and risking their own lives,” said A Narayanan, an activist who has researched on the subject.