Taking Jallikattu bull by the horns: Protests in TN and the many legal twists and turns

Supporters say it’s a way of life; animal rights activists call it undisguised cruelty.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Updated: February 13, 2017 11:52:55 am
Jallikattu, Jallikattu protests, Jallikattu case, Jallikattu verdict, Jallikattu judgement, Jallikattu Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu latest, Tamil Nad news, India news Jallikattu is practised by agrarian communities in the central and south Tamil Nadu districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul. (AP Photo/File)

What explains the protests in Tamil Nadu?

On January 14 last year, the Supreme Court passed an interim order banning Jallikattu — a traditional bull-taming sport practised by agrarian communities in the central and south Tamil Nadu districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul — citing cruelty to the animals. Since the festival is usually held in the second week of January to coincide with the harvest festival of Pongal, Jallikattu supporters approached the apex court again, seeking an urgent hearing, but the Supreme Court refused to entertain them. That set off stray protests in the state’s ‘Jallikattu belt’. The immediate trigger for the state-wide protests was the arrest of 200 youngsters who were protesting against the Jallikattu ban at Alanganallur in Madurai district on January 16. The arrests sparked off a social media campaign, leading to protests across the state, with around 6,000 people turning up at Chennai’s Marina Beach alone by Tuesday evening.

WATCH VIDEO | Tamil Nadu CM O Panneerselvam Assures Protesters, Says Jallikattu Likely In 2 Days

While the ban on Jallikattu was what held them together, many of the protesters at Marina Beach said their anger was the result of pent-up frustration against what they saw as a threat to “Tamil identity”. They point to the Centre’s recent demonetisation move and the Supreme Court’s order on the national anthem as decisions “imposed” on them.

What is the background to the court’s ban on Jallikattu?

Legal battles over Jallikattu have pit animal activists against bull owners since the early 1990s. The case first reached the Supreme Court after animal rights organisations, Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), decided to challenge a 2007 division bench judgment of the Madras High Court in favour of Jallikattu. In 2011, the Ministry of Environment issued a notification, modifying its earlier 1991 notification, which had banned the training and exhibition of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and dogs, by adding “bulls” to the list.

In May 2014, on a petition by PETA and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), the Supreme Court upheld the 2011 notification and said, “Bulls cannot be allowed as performing animals, either for Jallikattu events or bullock-cart races in the state of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.”

In January 2016, ahead of Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, the Centre, seeking to overturn the SC ban, modified its 2011 notification and issued a new one which said Jallikattu can be held in 2016. After AWBI and PETA challenged the Centre’s move in SC, the court gave an interim stay, preventing Jallikattu. The sport’s supporters believe that had the Centre issued an Ordinance instead of a notification in 2016, it would have survived in court.

What are the arguments against Jallikattu?

The two parties who have opposed Jallikattu in court, AWBI and PETA, had submitted various reports, affidavits and photographs to prove “cruelty” involved in the event. The AWBI argued that Jallikattu bulls are “physically and mentally tortured” for “human pleasure”. By no stretch of imagination, AWBI said, can it be said that Jallikattu or bullock-cart races have any historical, cultural or religious significance, either in Tamil Nadu or in Maharashtra, and argued that the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act should supersede any such practices.

What do supporters have to say?

Jallikattu organisers, and now the protesters, argue that the ‘sport’ is a way of life in these parts and that it is a tradition that goes back over 2,000 years. They counter the cruelty argument by saying that Jallikattu bulls are specifically identified, trained and nourished for these events and that owners spend considerable amount money for their upkeep. More often than not, they say, the bulls are part of the farmer’s family and they wouldn’t subject the animals to any cruelty.

Besides, they say, banning Jallikattu will destroy the native breed since the sport is probably the only reason farmers keep these animals. For some years now, with modernisation and farm mechanisation, the native breeds of Tamil Nadu such as Kangayam and Pulikulam have been under threat. The ban on Jallikattu, say activists, will complete the rout.

What’s next?

Supporters of Jallikattu are banking on an early hearing and a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court or the Centre issuing an Ordinance to bring back Jallikattu. With the Centre on Thursday turning down Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s request for an Ordinance, the protests have intensified.

The state has already sought legal opinion on passing a law with immediate effect. “This is to facilitate Jallikattu within a few days. If there are no larger consequences to such a law, we will go ahead,” said a source.

Top AIADMK leaders say that if the government cannot facilitate the event, the party will do it. “Let the government then appoint a Village Administrative Officer to probe the violation, let the police register a case in the local magistrate court and let the law take its course. Even if the Centre and SC are indifferent, we cannot ignore this problem or suppress it using force,” says a leader.

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