The Centre’s apparent reluctance to meet the Tamil Nadu government’s demand for an ordinance to allow the conduct of Jallikattu events is understandable. A verdict in the case is due from the Supreme Court. For the executive to intervene at this stage and promulgate an ordinance under pressure could amount to disrespect to the judiciary and due process.
In 2014, the SC had banned Jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming sport held in rural Tamil Nadu during Pongal festivities, on grounds of cruelty to animals. A review plea by the state government was dismissed by the court, which also held the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009 as violative of the provisions of the Constitution.
WATCH VIDEO | Tamil Nadu CM O Panneerselvam Assures Protesters, Says Jallikattu Likely In 2 Days
The Centre then issued a notification allowing the event to be held under strict supervision, which has been challenged in the apex court by Animal Welfare Board of India, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, an animal rights NGO and others. However, the SC, while refusing to accept the argument that Jallikattu was a tradition and hence above legal reproach, had agreed to let its supporters press their case in the court. At this juncture, the protestors and the political establishment should wait for the judicial process to be completed and not insist on an executive order.
The Jallikattu debate raises questions about the viability of judicial diktat in reforming traditional practices and customs. Jallikattu has been an age-old — some claim a history of over 2,000 years — communitarian sport with deep cultural roots. The legal battle has transformed it into a matter of Tamil pride. Those who argue for a ban on the sport on the premise of animal rights have refused to engage with the social and cultural arguments raised in its support.
The latter, of course, do not make a case for ill-treatment of animals: The SC ruling against Jallikattu had underlined the need to move towards a bio-centric ethics, instead of an anthropomorphic vision of rights. However, such course correction is impossible by diktat. A top-down approach that does not recognise communitarian sentiments is only likely to harden the conservative position and make reforms near impossible.
In the case of Jallikattu, the state government had initiated steps to monitor the rearing the bulls to ensure that they are not ill-treated, as alleged by animal rights activists.
The regulation of the sport, rather than an outright ban, may be a better way ahead, given that those in favour of Jallikattu now frame the debate as an assault on Tamil culture and tradition by a deracinated urban elite.
The Jallikattu has emerged as a lightning rod for a spectrum of issues, ranging from drought relief to farm debt in the state. In fact, protestors across Tamil Nadu have hinted that their passion for Jallikattu stems from anguish over rural distress. In dealing with the street protests, the political establishment in Tamil Nadu ought not to be blind to the big picture.
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