The southern state of Tamil Nadu celebrated the holy festival of Pongal on Sunday. The festival, which is an embodiment of the hard work put in by farmers, was celebrated with great pomp. On one hand, it brings with it a wave of happiness for the farmers while on the other, it carries with it the torturous doom for bulls in the sport of Jallikattu – a game of fun and merrymaking or so it is said to be.
The sport is characterised by bulls being unleashed on people who need to save themselves from being hit by the animal. The term ‘Jallikattu’ stands for ‘hugging the bull’, but nothing close to hugging or embracing happens here, as what follows is a horrific encounter for the bulls.
To incite the bulls for running, powders that have a burning effect are applied on their private parts. They are chained and beaten among other inhuman practices causing them extreme trauma. This event takes place every year in the name of ‘essential practice’ and ‘custom’ of the communities. Recently, the Supreme Court banned the same on grounds of animal cruelty, attracting severe criticism from the Tamil Nadu government, so much so that the Chief Minister requested the Centre to intervene.
Justifying the Sport in the Name of Custom
In the light of the same, India Today conducted a conclave wherein the dignitaries were invited to debate upon the gruesome practice. The house witnessed divided opinions, wherein one side argued continuation of the ban on grounds of animal rights with the other side led by RJ Balaji remaining adamant on lifting the ban on grounds of its custom and usage.
The first argument put forth by the opposition lay in the erroneous belief that Article 13, the provision in the Constitution granting protection to customs, would shield such a practice from prohibition of any kind. It is pertinent to note that this is not absolute as customs opposing public policy or detrimental to public welfare can be struck down by the Courts [Gherulal v. Mahadeodas, 1959 AIR 781 (India)].
The event of Jallikattu is one that carries with it the risk of death for the participants and even the audience, thereby making it detrimental to public welfare or health. Hence, the Supreme Court was completely justified in the ban as the same was detrimental to the lives of the surrounding public at large.
Animals Do Have a Right to Live
The opposition substantiated their stance by stating that no cruelty is inflicted on the bulls in the sport. This argument even gained support from a retired Supreme Court judge, who galvanised such belief by stating that the animals have no fundamental rights. I humbly differ from the same as both appear legally incorrect.
Animal cruelty is an act specially prohibited under the Prevention of Cruelty Act [PCA], 1960. This prohibition has its roots in the Constituent Assembly debates wherein Shri Algu Rai Shastri, on 21 November 1949, mentioned the dire need for a legislation, prohibiting cruelty on animals.
This prohibition even derives international recognition from conventions such as the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes, International Convention for the Protection of Animals and Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare. This prohibition has attained the level of a right wherein the courts on multiple occasions have held that animals have a fundamental right against infliction of pain. Hence, there exists no doubt about the status of such right being absolute.
Cruelty Inflicted on Bulls
Further confirming that the practice of Jallikattu fulfils the criteria of cruelty under the PCA. Section 13 of the PCA provides for punishment wherein any person beats, kicks, tortures or treats any animal subjecting it to unnecessary pain or suffering. A PETA study conducted recently points out that the bulls involved in Jallikattu endure the biting of their tail, breaking of tail vertebrae, poking by spears, bleeding nostrils, forceful consumption of liquor etc . The same qualifies for savagery, let alone cruelty.
One understands the resentment of the communities against a ban on their old and traditional custom, but the question of whether it is really necessary to continue a sport that brings only pain to an animal is also important. Is it really necessary to allow the harsh customs prevail over fundamental rights of animals? The Supreme Court thinks the contrary, and the same in my view is justified both morally and legally.
 N R Nair v. Union of India, 2001 (4) SCALE 20; Animal Welfare Board v. A. Nagaraj, Civil Appeal No. 5387 of 2014
 PETA India
(The author is a law student at the National Law University, Jodhpur. He can be reached S_Tripathi07. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)