Insights into Editorial: Jallikattu protests- What is the uproar in Tamil Nadu all about?
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tamil Nadu to demand removal of the ban imposed by the Supreme court in 2014 on the traditional bull taming sport of Jallikattu.
- The effects of the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu were also felt in Delhi as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an ordinance allowing the traditional bull-taming report.
The environment ministry in 2011 had added bulls to its 1991 notification banning the training and exhibition of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and dogs. The notification was challenged in the Supreme Court and was upheld in 2014. Protesters across Tamil Nadu have been demanding lifting of the ban imposed on Jallikattu by the apex court.
What is Jallikattu ?
Also known as Eruthazhuvuthal or Manju virattu, Jallikattu is a traditional bull-taming sport organised in Tamil Nadu during Pongal. According to some historical accounts, the practice dates back to as far as 2000 years ago.
It mainly was active in the districts of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul of Tamil Nadu until its ban in 2011.
How is it played?
The sport involves a natively reared stud that is set free inside an arena filled with young participants. The challenge lies in taming the bull with bare hands. Participants often try to grab the bull by its horns or tail and wrestle it into submission. A few also tend to latch on to the bull by clinging to the hump at the back of its neck. Calves are specially reared to become bulls fit for Jallikattu by feeding them a special diet.
The controversy over Jallikattu:
In recent times, Jallikattu has attracted protests from animal rights organizations in India. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Federation of India Animal Protection Agencies (FIAPA) have been at the forefront of opposing Jallikattu since as long back as 2004.
- The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) first filed a case in the Supreme Court of India for an outright ban on Jallikattu because of the cruelty to animals and the threat to public safety involved. The AWBI argued that the sport exploits the bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation and forcing them to run away. It also pointed out that sometimes, spectators get injured or even die. There have also been cases of bulls getting injured.
- On November 27, 2010, the Supreme Court permitted the Tamil Nadu government to allow Jallikattu for five months in a year, and directed the District Collectors to make sure that the animals that participate in Jallikattu are registered to the Animal Welfare Board. An AWBI representative was also allowed to be present at Jallikattu events.
- However, in 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests under the UPA government banned the use of bulls for sport, thereby effectively banning the festival. However, the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act 2009 enabled Jallikattu to carry on unabated in the state.
- Between 2010 and 2014, at least 17 people were killed and 1000-odd injured during Jallikattu events.
- Finally, in May 2014, the apex court struck down the 2009 Act, and banned the practice. It further said that any flouting of the ban would result in penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The Supreme Court also ruled that cruelty is inherent in these events, as bulls are not anatomically suited for such activities and undergo ‘unnecessary pain and suffering’ as a result of the festival.
- The tug of war between the apex court and the Central government continued however, with the government on January 8, 2016 allowing the practice of Jallikattu under certain conditions, through a notification. The Supreme Court then reimposed the ban on the event in July of the same year.
Why did the Supreme Court ban Jallikattu?
The Supreme Court 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.”
- The SC order also identified “the five freedoms” of animals, including freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.
- Also, through various reports, affidavits and photographs, The Animal Welfare Board of India(AWIB) had argued that Jallikattu bulls are physically and mentally tortured for the pleasure and enjoyment of human beings. They had also produced visual evidence for torture and cruelty to bullocks in Maharashtra’s bullock-cart races.
- According to AWBI, Jallikattu or bullock-cart races conducted in this way have no historical, cultural or religious significance in Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, and that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, must supersede any such practice.
- A research conducted by PETA’s investigators also found that the bulls were being disoriented, deliberately. The bulls’ tails were allegedly bitten and twisted; stabbed, punched and dragged on the ground.
What’s the present outrage all about?
In 2016, the Environment Ministry modified its earlier notification and declared that the sport could continue despite the existing ban. This was in direct contravention with the top court order, and was duly challenged by animal welfare organisation such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
- Subsequently, a stay order was issued by the court. Questioning the “necessity of such festivals”, the Supreme Court bench had restrained the Tamil Nadu government from conducting Jallikattu.
- Protests in favour of Jallikattu began once again in early January 2017, before Pongal. The Supreme Court on January 12 rejected a plea by lawyers seeking urgent ruling on a batch of petitions filed before it against the ban on Jallikattu. This prevented Jallikattu from taking place during Pongal and infuriated large sections of the Tamil Nadu populace.
- Defying the Supreme Court ban, the event was held in some places in the state, especially in Madurai, where the police arrested hundreds of people. The protest which began in the rural areas, soon found support from the students, IT professionals and even sports persons and actors in urban areas.
Why are Tamilians protesting the ban on Jallikattu?
- They consider it symbolic of Tamilian pride as it is an ancient tradition that has been carried on for years. Jallikattu witnesses thousands of participants, attempting to tame the bulls by latching to their horns or humps. Its innumerable references could be found in Dravidian Literature and the indigenous population of Tamilnadu has held this event for years. The Jallikattu protests are fuelled by the view that the ban impinges on the cultural identity of the populace.
- The Supreme Court’s decision to ban Jallikattu has brought down prices of the sport bulls. From Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh, they began selling at mere Rs 5,000. This has stirred anger amongst the people.
- Apart from the cultural angle, there is a small economy involved. Rearing of sport bulls not only give small farmers and the rural poor a chance to make a low investment in a calf and get a big return if it performs well in a Jallikattu; rearing a Jallikattu bull also supports a range of rural poor who make accessories for the bull.
- Decades ago, the government started discouraging rearing of native breeds of bulls through various laws. Cows of the native breed yield far less milk than the cross-bred cows such as Jersey and Holstein Friesian. Increasing foreign cattle breeds was one government measure to raise milk yield in India. But supporters of native breeds argue that foreign breeds might not be a better option in the long run. And Jallikattu is one big way people keep on rearing native cattle.
- Also, since the government wanted to encourage cross-bred cattle, it had forcibly neutered native bulls to decrease the number of native cows or put stringent controls on breeding through native bulls. The supporters of native breeds argue that this has led to foreign companies creating monopoly on semen. Artificial insemination, where semen from one bull can impregnate scores of cows, is criticised because it is believed to destroy the genetic diversity of cattle. Events such as Jallikattu incentivise people to rear native bulls which ultimately helps preserve genetic diversity.
- The milk of native breeds is also believed to be more nutritious than of the foreign breeds. In the future, the low-yield milk of native cows can generate a huge demand as increasingly people perceive it to be more nutritious. If native breeds are preserved, as Jallikattu does, it can lead to a new phenomenon in the dairy sector in future. People may be willing to pay more for the milk of a native cow which can offset the loss due to low yield.
Tamil Nadu Governor has now promulgated an ordinance for the conduct of jallikattu. The Union government has also cleared the state’s draft ordinance to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, enabling the conduct of jallikattu.
The state government has issued ordinance after obtaining the necessary prior instructions of the President as envisaged under Article 213 of the Constitution. Now, the jallikattu will be conducted with the customary fervour all over the state with all necessary safeguards.
The protesters say their fight is for their culture and Tamil pride and reject the allegation that Jallikattu is cruel to the bulls. They have also demanded that animal rights organisation PETA, which has lobbied against Jallikatu, be banished from the state. The protesters say the law on cruelty to animals must be amended to include Jallikattu bulls on a list of trained animals used in the military or for educational and scientific purposes.
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.
The proper course for the Centre and the State government is to persuade the Supreme Court that a jallikattu that does not involve, or at least almost eliminates, cruelty to animals and that guarantees the safety of spectators and participants alike is indeed possible. It is all right if popular sentiment can influence legislation, but it cannot undermine the rule of law.