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Jallikattu: Amending laws without due inquiry on the basis of outrage sets a dangerous precedent

The Tamil Nadu government's proposal to bring an ordinance to allow the conduct of jallikattu and the central government's agreement to facilitate presidential assent to such an ordinance, sets a rather dangerous precedent when it comes to the law relating to animal welfare in India. As outlined earlier, our prevailing laws on animal rights are progressive and based on sound jurisprudence. Overturning it in the name of appealing to the cultural sentiment of the people will set the law many step backwards.

If one looks at the Supreme Court's order that upheld the prohibition of the use of bulls as performing animals, the Supreme Court has examined the report of the Animal Welfare Board of India as to how the sport was being conducted. Further, the Supreme Court also considered the scientific evidence as to why bulls could not be used as performing animals. There is no change in the underlying information regarding this finding. The only thing that has changed is that these underlying scientific conclusions do not suit the public sentiment and therefore they must be ignored by the law.

Students protesting to lift the ban on Jallikattu. PTI

Students protesting to lift the ban on Jallikattu. PTI

India has been guilty of many things, including failing to reform it's laws to meet current scientific consensus on various issues. However, wantonly changing laws to reverse scientific consensus on certain issues is something India has been seldom guilty of. And an ordinance of this nature will make India guilty of such an act. Is a tradition that is practiced by twenty villages in southern Tamil Nadu really worth putting India among nations that actively deny the existence of things such as global warming? Because that is what we will be guilty of doing if we go through with the ordinance. The science says the bull feels pain and trauma when used as performing animal. Reason says that according to that evidence, it should be added to the list of animals that should not be used as such. However, the law is going to reverse that in the name of cultural sentiment, because people are uncomfortable with that finding.

This is a very dangerous precedent to set for any country. What if tomorrow we find out that there are certain cultural practices that cause human beings medical harm, will we then overturn bans on them as well because they affect the overwhelming public sentiments? Yes, a democracy means that a government exists to listen to the will of the people, but a democracy does not mean that the government must always bend and bow to the will of the people. A government must also apply it's mind and do what is right.

Article 51(A)(h) of the Constitution of India states that it shall be one of the fundamental duties of an Indian citizen to:

"To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform"

To ignore the scientific evidence that a bull cannot be a performing animal and amend the act via an ordinance, without due inquiry and debate, merely because there is public outrage, defeats the very fundamental character of India's Constitution. It is a dangerous presentment and a perverse exercise of power conferred by the Constitution to the President of India and the Governors. The central and the state government need to think this one through before doing anything hasty.


Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 17:32 PM

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