Jallikattu protests: If we can eat animals, why does it matter how we treat them?

Recently, there have been a wave of civil protests across Tamil Nadu over the fact that this year's Pongal celebrations could not include a bull taming sport known as jallikattu. The jalikattu, is a bull-taming sport that is carried out across certain villages in south Tamil Nadu and proponents of the sport claim that it is an integral part of Tamil Culture. The sport involves releasing a bull into a public arena and the players must hold on to the horns of the bull for at least three jumps before they can be declared winners.

The uproar over the prohibition has led to fierce clashes over social media between defenders of the practice and animal welfare activists. Defenders of the practice claim that prohibiting the sport infringes on their cultural rights and will lead to the elimination of the native breeds of the cattle, while animal welfare activists state that the sport will subject bulls to unnecessary cruelty and excessive cruelty and therefore the ban is justified.

 Jallikattu protests: If we can eat animals, why does it matter how we treat them?

Representational image. AP

Animals can only benefit from rights but cannot be held to any obligations. Unlike human beings. This is a deviation from the rights as they are normally understood, with each right having a corresponding obligation. In this aspect, the law treats them in the same way the law would treat minors — animals, being subject to the domination of others, require particular protection. The theory of 'species-ism' is embedded into this theory of animal rights. Human beings as the dominant species on the planet therefore have a duty towards animal welfare and any cruelty that they may subject animals to, must only be the minimal necessary to serve a justified purpose. Animal Cruelty laws in India find their place both in the Constitution and in legislation such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. Both, the Constitution and Legislative Enactments, recognise this peculiar situation that animals find themselves in.

If one reads the Supreme Court judgement upholding the decision of the Animal Welfare Board of India to ban the use of bulls as performing animals and therefore in effect banning the practice of jallikattu, one will find that the Supreme Court has dealt with this aspect of the law extensively.

To quote from the judgement at Paragraph 60:

[..]So far as animals are concerned, Section 3 of the Act confers right on animals so also rights under Section 11 not to be subjected to cruelty. When such statutory rights have been conferred on animals, we can always judge as to whether they are being exploited by human-beings. As already indicated, an enlightened society, of late, condemned slavery, racism, castism, sexism etc. through constitutional amendments, laws etc. but, though late, through PCA Act, Parliament has recognized the rights of animals, of course, without not sacrificing the interest of human beings under the Doctrine of necessity, like experiments on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants and also destruction of animals for food under Section 11(3) of the PCA Act. Legislature through Section 28 also saved the manner of killing of animals in the manner prescribed by religions, those are, in our view, reasonable restrictions on the rights enjoyed by the animals under Section 3 read with Section 11(1). Evidently, those restrictions are the direct inevitable consequences or the effects which could be said to have been in the contemplation of the legislature for human benefit, since they are unavoidable. Further, animals like Cows, Bulls etc. are all freely used for farming, transporting loads etc., that too, for the benefit of human beings, thereby subjecting them to some pain and suffering which is also unavoidable, but permitted by the Rules framed under the PCA Act." [..]

The Supreme Court further discusses the pressure the bull would be put under while this sport was being played. Particularly, it discusses why the bull in specific cannot be used as performing animal. It may be noted here, that the argument of the sport being played with guidelines was also one that was discussed extensively by the court in it's judgement. The Ministry of Environment and Forests had framed draft guidelines for the conduct of jallikattu and had placed them before the court however, the Animal Welfare Board of India had sent inspectors that year to see how the sport was being conducted and the court recorded it's observations regarding the same. The court noted that the conduct of jallikattu had been flouting the various directions that had been issued by the court.

Indian law, permits cruelty to animals only under the doctrine of necessity. Even then, the Constitution of India is a forward thinking document and our laws' approach to animal rights has also been a strongly progressive one. Even the killing of animals for the purpose of human consumption is one that is strictly regulated by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001 because Indian law recognises that the cruelty inflicted on animals has to be the absolute minimum to serve the doctrine of necessity.

The Right to Life under the Indian Constitution also extends to animals and animals may not be deprived of that life in the name of culture. The Supreme Court in it's judgement deals with that argument as well.  It goes on to state:

"43. PCA Act, a welfare legislation, in our view, over-shadows or overrides the so-called tradition and culture. Jallikattu and Bullock cart races, the manner in which they are conducted, have no support of Tamil tradition or culture. Assuming, it has been in vogue for quite some time, in our view, the same should give way to the welfare legislation, like the PCA Act which has been enacted to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and confer duties and obligations on persons in-charge of animals. Of late, there are some attempts at certain quarters, to reap maximum gains and the animals are being exploited by the human beings by using coercive methods and inflicting unnecessary pain for the pleasure, amusement and enjoyment. We have a history of doing away with such evil practices in the society, assuming such practices have the support of culture and tradition, as tried to be projected in the TNRJ Act.” [Emphasis Supplied]

Many traditions, across all religions in India have undergone a change over a period of time to keep up with the changing times. For example, there is no e-darshan on television for senior citizens who cannot make the pilgrimage to holy shrines. Prasadam (sacred food) is now delivered via the postal service. Especially in Tamil Nadu, where barriers of gender and caste have been broken with respect to temple entry and priesthood. Culture constantly undergoes reform and changes depend on the context of the society concerned. In a country like India with a very strong backbone of animal rights jurisprudence and activism, originally spearheaded by the likes of Rukmini Devi Arundale who founded the Animal Welfare Board of India, it is sad that in the name of culture practices like jallikattu continue to be defended.


Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 12:38:00 IST