If Prakash Javadekar who has been promoted to Cabinet rank on Tuesday is moved out of the ministry of Environment and Forests, this may well be seen as a farewell gift to Jallikattu lovers. A note prepared by his ministry that paves the way for the return of Jallikattu, the bull taming sport practised in southern Tamil Nadu around Pongal in January, was vetted by the Law Ministry on 21 June, for it to be presented before the Cabinet.
If passed by the Cabinet, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) (amendment) Bill 2016, could be introduced in Parliament during the monsoon session. A clear indication that Narendra Modi's government with support from the entire political class and film industry of Tamil Nadu, is taking the animal rights activist lobby by its horns.
The key section that is being amended is Section 22 of the PCA Act 1960 which deals with restrictions on exhibition and training of performing animals. At the moment, the section specifies that "as a performing animal, any animal which the central government may, by notification in the official gazette, specify as an animal shall not be exhibited or trained as a performing animal.”
According to the note, a copy of which has been seen by Firstpost, the ministry wants to insert a new sub section (iii) after sub section (ii) of Section 22 of the PCA Act. It says: “Any animal notified in the official gazette, in exercise of the powers conferred under sub section (II) of section 22 of the Act shall continue to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events, in a manner prescribed the religion of any community, or practiced traditionally under the customs or as a part of the culture, in any part of the country. These events may, inter-alia, include Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat, etc,”
The note signed by Dr R S Shrinet, Assistant Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Law and Justice, points out that "Parliament has the power to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960'' and adds there appears to be "no legal or constitutional objection to the proposal, hence we may concur in the proposal.''
In July 2011, the ministry had specified that animals like bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls "shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animals.'' It was after this that the Supreme Court banned the sport, after activists pointed out that bulls were subjected to unimaginable cruelty during Jallikattu.
Subsequently, the court reiterated its opposition to Jallikattu twice, once in May 2014 and then again in January 2016. The second order was after Javedekar with an eye on the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, just days before Pongal, brought in an order allowing Jallikattu and bullock cart races. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) approached the Supreme Court which struck down the order. Ever since the board and the ministry have been at loggerheads, with the latter even asking the board members, who are incidentally appointed by the ministry, to step down. The board members refused to fall in line and the ministry's plan to reportedly appoint pliant members did not succeed.
Extending an olive branch to the animal rights activists, the note also says : "Amend the relevant provisions of PCA Act 1960 to enhance the fine for infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals to make it more deterrent.''
But that is not likely to satisfy the animal activists and the government can be prepared for a legal confrontation. "Of course, we will move the court against the amendment as and when it is passed by Parliament,'' says N G Jayasimha, member of AWBI.
Enhanced fine can hardly be deterrent, argue animal lovers. Chinny Krishna, vice-chairman of the AWBI says, "Jallikattu has seen cruelty of the worst kind. Of animals being poked with knives, chilly powder being thrown in their anus, bulls being forced to drink liquor and all kind of irritants including castor oil put in their eyes so that they cant see properly. There have been instances we have recorded where the animal's tail is broken and stabbed with a knife and it is confronted with drunken louts who just jump on the bull and try to bring it down.''
Jallikattu lovers disagree, arguing why would they harm their own bulls, who is like a "family member''. "The activists mistake vermilion for chilly powder. Make the rules stringent but allow us to conduct Jallikattu,'' pleads P Rajasekhar, president of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Federation.
During the election campaign in Tamil Nadu, all political parties had promised that they would bring back Jallikattu. In Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's long list of demands to the Prime Minister after returning to power, Jallikattu figured prominently.
Locals in Alanganallur, the ground zero of Jallikattu in Madurai region, defiantly ask how a 69-year-old institution (Supreme Court) can rule over a 450-year-old traditional sport. Illogical as it may sound, it finds ready takers in this patch of India. Which is why several smaller outfits let loose their bulls, both this Pongal and last year, in an informal defiance of the court order. The district police, on the horns of a dilemma on how to control the animals on the rampage as per the court order, are caught between a bull and a hard place.
As Vijay, a 20-year-old bull tamer in Alanganallur says in half-Tamil, half-English, "Jallikattu is banned, Long Live Jallikattu.''