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Jallikattu: The legal battle
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Jallikattu: The legal battle

Murali Krishnan

The word ‘Jallikattu’ literally translates to silver or gold coins tied on the bulls’ horns. The practice of Jallikattu was an age-old tradition where people in Tamil Nadu used to try and get the money placed around the bulls’ horns, which was depicted as an act of bravery.

Later, it became a sport called Yeruthu Kattu, in which a fast moving bull was corralled with ropes around its neck. It later assumed different forms and shapes like Jallikattu (in the present form), Bull Race etc.

The practice was regulated by the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation (TNJR) Act of 2009 which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2014.

The trigger for legal battle in Supreme Court was a notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest on July 11, 2011 banning use of various animals including bulls as performing animals. A Division Bench of Supreme Court was called upon to examine the same along with a number of other legal questions including the validity of the TNJR Act.

The matter involved writ petition filed before the Supreme Court as well as appeals from Bombay High Court and Madras High Court. The Bombay High Court had upheld the validity of the notification of July 11 while the Madras High Court had upheld the validity of the TNJR Act. All these cases were heard together by a Bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and PC Ghose of Supreme Court.

Here is a time line of the events that ensued.

May 7, 2014: Supreme Court delivers judgment in the case Animal Welfare Board of India v. A Nagaraja and Others [2014) 7 SCC 547]. It upholds the validity of the notification issued by the Central government holding that Jallikattu, Bullock-cart Race and such events violate Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(m)(ii) of Prevention of Cruelty Act. The court also holds that the TNRJ Act, 2009, is repugnant to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and it, consequently, strikes it down as unconstitutional and void. Thus, the Bombay High Court judgment is upheld while the Madras High Court judgment is set aside.

In the 106-page verdict, Radhakrishnan J. delves deep into the matter, touching upon subjects like animal psychology, anatomy and international animal rights. He says that bulls were never meant to be performing animals. In fact, they are recognized as Draught and Pack animals in the Prevention of Cruelty to Draught and Pack Animals Rules, 1965. He also goes into how bulls are forced to run, contrary to their instinct.

“Bulls, in those events, are observed to carry out a “flight response” running away from the crowd as well as from the Bull tamers, since they are in fear and distress, this natural instinct is being exploited.”

But what about culture and tradition?

One of the main grounds for protest now is the contention that Jallikattu is part of the culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu. In the 2014 judgment, the apex court had dealt with the same and stated that the evolved practice is not part of tradition or culture.

“Jallikattu means, silver or gold coins tied to the bulls horns and in olden days those who get at the money to the bulls horns would marry the daughter of the owner. Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practised now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu.”

December 17, 2014: Justice KS Radhakrishnan is named PETA “Man of the Year” in recognition of the judgment by penned by him on Jallikattu.

January 7, 2016: Central government issues a new notification in suppression of its 2011 notification. The new notification carves out an exception for Jallikkattu and bullock cart races stating the following:

“Provided that bulls may be continue 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 above exception also came with a number of conditions to ensure that “no unnecessary pain or suffering is inflicted or caused, in any manner, whatsoever, during the course of such events, or in preparation”.

The safeguards included:

“(i) such event shall take place in any District where it is being traditionally held annually, at such place explicitly permitted by the District Collector or the District Magistrate;

(ii) bullock cart race shall be organised on a proper track, which shall not exceed two kilometres. In case of Jallikattu, the moment the bull leaves the enclosure, it shall be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metre;

(iii) ensure that the bulls are put to proper testing by the authorities of the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department to ensure that they are in good physical condition to participate in the event and performance enhancement drugs are not administered to the bulls in any form; and

(iv) ensure that the rights conferred upon the animals under section 3 and clause (a) and clause (m) of sub-section (1) of section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and five freedoms declared by the Hon’ble Supreme Court…”

January 12, 2016: A batch of petitions challenging the said notification comes up for hearing before Supreme Court. Justice Banumathi recuses from the case since she had heard the matter as a judge of Madras High Court. Matter posted before another Bench presided by Justice Dipak Misra which issues notice to the Centre and stays the notification.

November 16, 2016: Tamil Nadu’s Review Petition against Jallikattu judgment of 2014 dismissed by Supreme Court.

December 7, 2016: Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Rohinton Nariman reserves judgment in the petitions challenging the new notification by the Centre.

2017: Protests in Tamil Nadu intensifies against the ban on Jallikattu.

January 20, 2017: Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi requests Supreme Court not to deliver judgment in the Jallikattu notification challenge for a week.

“The Centre and the state are in talks to find a way out in the matter and our request is that the court should not deliver the judgement for at least a week,” he said. Court accedes to the request.

Central government approves draft ordinance on Jallikattu by Tamil Nadu. The draft Ordinance was approved by the following Ministries – Home, Law, Environment, Culture and Agriculture. The ordinance seeks to exempt Jalliakttu from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

With protests in Tamil Nadu intensifying, and the State now taking the ordinance route, the impact of judgment of the Supreme Court remains to be seen.