Jallikattu debate: Despite dark days, India still has a chance to prove its compassion

Our nation state is one that has been exalted on democratic systems and the rule of law.

While India has battled many challenges from poverty to illiteracy to a lack of public health care and sanitation, our democratic systems have remained robust and our faith in the pillars of our democracy has remained unshakable. Today, this great nation has been held ransom by misguided protesters from Tamil Nadu who are crying foul, three years after the Supreme Court has prohibited Jallikattu. The Jallikattu case has been litigated for over 10 years and the Supreme Court has given a detailed judgment after exhausting every other remedy including regulating Jallikattu. These protesters have ignored the rule of law and due process that is so central to the Indian democracy and seek to subvert and undermine the greatest champion of democratic rights our judiciary.

The Jallikattu bulls endure unspeakable cruelty in name of this taming. Bulls are domesticated peaceful animals. They are animals of prey and in a situation of fight or flight they chose to run away from a situation of danger or threat. A bull would not run out of the vaadi vaasal into the Jallikattu arena where there are several men waiting to jump at him. The animal needs to be provoked. The provoking involves biting tails, poking rods into the animal, inserting chillies in the anus and eyes and force feeding alcohol to the animal. The animals run into the arena are sacred and are running out of fear and not pleasure or joy. There are pictures of men holding onto the tail of the bull and trying to stop the animal without even realizing the agony the animal feels. The tail is the extension of the vertebrae and is like pulling the animal by the spine.

The first public interest litigation against Jallikattu was filed by A Nagaraja a man who lost his son to the blood sport. He filed a petition in 2006 as his son N Marimuthu was killed during a Jallikattu event. N Marimuthu was an artist who was sitting in a gallery and sketching the entire event. A bull a desperate escape a chasing crowd trampled over the young man who got terribly injured and unfortunately succumbed to his injuries and died. A bereaved father not wanting to see other parents in his position moved the courts seeking a prohibition on the blood sport.

 Jallikattu debate: Despite dark days, India still has a chance to prove its compassion

Representational image. AFP

The issue was litigated for over ten years and still continues to be before the Supreme Court. While the single bench of the Madras High Court held in A Nagaraja’s favour and prohibited Jallikattu on appeal the division bench allowed Jallikattu with stringent conditions. This was then challenged and the matter made its way to the Supreme Court. After years of documenting Jallikattu take place with conditions imposed, in 2014, the apex court came to the conclusion that Jallikattu is inherently cruel and must be prohibited. In 2016, the executive passed a notification permitting Jallikattu which was challenged by several NGOs and was stayed. It is essential to note that the petition is still pending before the Supreme Court.

There is a judgment of the Supreme Court against Jallikattu. A review against the 2014 judgment has also been dismissed. People interested in promoting Jallikattu have taken every legal recourse possible and have been guided by and have the best legal minds in India appearing for them in court. During the proceedings, articles from The Constitution and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 were argued and studied in depth. The 2014 judgment has been cited by courts the world over and has been exalted as a path changing ruling that has altered the way the world sees its non-human citizens. The sentience of animals has been recognised and for the first time their right to live without fear has taken precedence to a human activity that causes them pain and anguish.

After studying, not just the reports of the observers appointed by it, but also reports of other officials, the Supreme Court considered the anatomy of bulls in depth. It then came to the conclusion that bulls do not enjoy running. They are draught and pack animals with barrel shaped bodies not suited for running. They have to be cruelly goaded into running out of the vaadi vaasal where a huge crowd — shouting cheering jeering — awaits them. The 'sport' cannot be conducted without tormenting them. It is inherently cruel, and therefore, 'regulation' is not possible.

The movement for environmental and animal rights began as a human right to a healthy environment or a human right to share this planet with animals so that we may learn from them and enjoy their presence on the planet. The environment and animals always had a secondary right through human beings. Jurisprudence has taken a new turn now. With data showing animal intelligence, their ability to feel emotions like affection and fear, they are now being viewed as sentient beings. Their status in the eyes of the law is changing. Even in the case of animals being killed for food, major changes are on the horizon. The environmental impact of animals used for food is so heavy and with the report of the Food and Agricultural Organization titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” reliance on meat as a source of protein is reducing. With the vegan movement on the rise and millions being invested by visionaries like Bill Gates into research on in vitro-meat, it won’t be long before animals have their own rights and are no longer subservient to humans and part of the human abuse chain be it for food or culture.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (a statutory body whose members dutifully reported the cruelty involved in Jallikattu) and every NGO who has dared to speak for animals is under attack. We have been accused of being foreign funded despite it being repeatedly enforced that every advocate who appeared in the case has worked totally pro bono. We have been accused of supporting foreign cattle. When every animal rights NGO in India advocated veganism and has saved animals from going to slaughter. While the protesters maybe extremely interested in the conservation of one type of bull, they are neglecting the thousands of bovines who are overcrowded into trucks and taken for hammer slaughter into Kerala on a daily basis in neglect of their very own Tamil Nadu Animal Preservation Act, 1958. A campaign fearlessly worked on by most of India’s NGOs who risk their lives rescuing the animals on a daily basis. The fact is the animal rights movement is always under attack by one lobby or another. Animals don’t vote and cant speak and no matter how harsh the criticism or allegations if those who have been given the gift of compassion keep quiet and don’t speak for animals then there are dark days ahead for humanity.

The Makkal Movement is being hailed a people’s movement which has attained victory and made the political structure accountable. When one looks at the large issues facing India how I wish these 20,000 people had come out to fight black money or for farmers rights it is essential to note that 140 formers have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu and no protestor is talking about that. It is truly sad that those spearheading the Makkal Movement have not realized that they are seeking to undermine the greatest guardian of our democratic rights the Supreme Court. At each step overwhelming evidence has been shown that Jalikattu cannot take place without exposing the animals to extreme cruelty. The Makkal Movement is reveling in a tradition which causes animals tremendous cruelty and pain. While one cannot help but laud the fact that Indian citizens have come out to have their voice heard it is tragic that rather than coming out against serious social evils facing India they have been misguided and have come out against our democratic process and our weakest citizens –the animals.

The movement is being seen as Gandhian when the father of the nation was one of the greatest champions of animal rights and said that “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” By Gandhiji’s definition of greatness, India is not fairing very well today.

The author is an advocate and legal advisor to People for Animals

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2019 12:42:12 IST