Baba’s Explainer – Jallikattu & the controversy

  • IASbaba
  • January 6, 2023
  • 0
Economics, Governance, History and Art and Culture
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  • GS-1: Indian Society and History
  • GS-2: Federalism; Judiciary
  • GS-3: Animal Conservation and Rural Economy

Context: With the Supreme Court recommencing its work after the winter vacation, all eyes in Tamil Nadu are on the verdict of a five-member Constitution Bench of the Court on a batch of petitions seeking to strike down a 2017 Tamil Nadu law that protects jallikattu, a traditional event involving bulls.

  • As the conduct of the event will coincide with the Pongal festival, the Supreme Court’s verdict is keenly watched.
What is Jallikattu?
  • A tradition over 2,000 years old, Jallikattu is a competitive sport as well as an event to honour bull owners who rear them for mating.
  • It is a violent sport in which contestants try to tame a bull for a prize; if they fail, the bull owner wins the prize.
  • In an age when the farm sector is largely mechanised, there are no major monetary benefits for bull owners in breeding Jallikattu bulls other than the prizes they get during the Jallikattu events.
  • Traditionally, these used to be a dhoti, a towel, betel leaves, bananas and a cash prize of Rs 101. Over the last two decades, the prizes have included grinders, a fridge and small furniture.
  • The bull-taming sport is popular in Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul districts — known as the Jallikattu belt.
  • Jallikattu is celebrated in the second week of January, during the Tamil harvest festival, Pongal.
  • It is a controversial sport which has faced long legal battles over cruelty to animals, and which at the same time is a symbol of Tamil culture.
Is there any historical evidence of Jallikattu being conducted since ancient times?
  • Jallikattu has been known to be practiced during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC).
  • It was common among the Ayyar people who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country.
  • Later, it became a platform for display of bravery and prize money was introduced for participation encouragemen
  • A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization depicting the practice is preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi.
  • A cave painting in white kaolin discovered near Madurai depicting a lone man trying to control a bull is estimated to be about 1,500 years old.
Why is Jallikattu important in Tamil culture?
  • Preservation of Native Breeds: Jallikattu is considered a traditional way for the peasant community to preserve their pure-breed native bulls.
  • Prevents Slaughtering: At a time when cattle breeding is often an artificial process, conservationists and peasants argue that Jallikattu is a way to protect these male animals which are otherwise used only for meat if not for ploughing.
  • Pride associated with rearing premium breeds: Kangayam, Pulikulam, Umbalachery, Barugur and Malai Maadu are among the popular native cattle breeds used for Jallikattu. The owners of these premium breeds command respect locally.
  • Agrarian Economy: The political economy of such games is about showcasing the quality of cattle, the breeding skills of cattle rearers, the centrality of cattle in an agrarian economy, and the power and pride they bring to farmers.
  • Symbol of Tamil Culture: Jallikattu’s linkages with Pongal has lifted it above its regional and community origins and transformed it into a symbol of Tamil culture and pride. Such games are a cultural manifestation of this political economy. As a tradition, it links an agrarian people to the elemental aspect of their vocation.
  • Shapes Political Discourse: Pride in Tamil culture is central to Dravidian nationalism, which continues to shape the political discourse in Tamil Nadu.
  • Cultural Representation & Continuity: There exists tangible evidence to show that this battle between man and beast is a cultural representation.
What are the arguments against the Jallikattu?
  • Ethical issues: An investigation by the Animal Welfare Board of India concluded that “Jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals”.
  • Human deaths: The event has caused several human deaths and injuries and there are several instances of fatalities to the bulls.
  • Cruelty to animal: A report submitted by the AWBI before the Supreme Court in this case highlighted unimaginable torture inflicted- tails twisted and fractured, chemicals poured into eyes, ears mutilated, sharp edged weapons used to poke the animal.
  • Manhandling of animals: Animal welfare concerns are related to the handling of the bulls before they are released and also during the competitor’s attempts to subdue the bull.
What is the legal battle that Jallikattu is facing?
  • In India, legal battles surrounding animal rights issues emerged in the early 1990s.
  • A notification from the Environment Ministry in 1991 banned the training and exhibition of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and dogs, which was challenged by the Indian Circus Organisation in the Delhi High Court.
    • In 1998, dogs were excluded from the notification.
  • Jallikattu first came under legal scrutiny in 2007 when the Animal Welfare Board of India and the animal rights group PETA moved petitions in the Supreme Court against Jallikattu as well as bullock cart races.
  • The Tamil Nadu government, however, worked its way out of the ban by passing a law in 2009, which was signed by the Governor.
  • In 2011, the UPA regime at the Centre added bulls to the list of animals whose training and exhibition is prohibited.
  • The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and PETA filed a petition in the Supreme Court again and contested that – the regulations were not being followed and that bulls were indeed being subjected to cruelty as defined under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
  • In May 2014, days before the BJP was elected to power, the Supreme Court banned the bull-taming sport, ruling on a petition that cited the 2011 notification
  • In January 2016, in what could be seen as a clearly political move, the union environment ministry revoked the ban by issuing a notification months before the elections in Tamil Nadu were due to be held.
  • The Supreme Court stayed this 2016 Union Government notification, as it was challenged by the Animal Welfare Board of India(AWBI) and PETA.
    • PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – is an international NGO (having presence in India as well) founded in 1980 and is dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals.
    • PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way
  • In January 2017, several hundreds of protesters conducted a rally at Chennai Marina opposing the ban on Jallikattu.
  • Tamil Nadu passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017.
  • The statutes had re-opened the gates for the conduct of the popular bull-taming sport in the name of culture and tradition despite the 2014 ban by the Supreme Court.
  • In the aftermath of Jallikattu comeback due to Tamil Nādu legislation the Supreme Court had referred a bunch of petitions to the Constitution Bench in February 2018.
    • The main question to be resolved is whether the Jallikattu tradition can be protected as a cultural right of the people of Tamil Nadu which is a fundamental right.
    • Article 29 (1) mandates that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.
How is the case being presented now?
  • The primary question involved is whether jallikattu should be granted constitutional protection as a collective cultural right under Article 29 (1) — a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
  • The court examined if the laws — the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 — “perpetuate cruelty to animals” or were actually a means to ensure “the survival and well-being of the native breed of bulls”.
  • This assumes relevance in the context of the Court quashing 2014 the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009, which had allowed jallikattu.
  • The Court had then talked of how bulls were being “tortured to the hilt” in the process of performing for the event.
  • The apex court then scrutinised the question of whether the new jallikattu laws were “relatable” to Article 48 of the Constitution which urged the state to endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
  • The Constitution Bench also looked into whether jallikattu and bullock-cart race laws of Karnataka and Maharashtra would actually sub-serve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.

Main Practice Question: What is Jallikattu and what are the legal challenges it is facing?

Note: Write answer his question in the comment section.

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