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Jallikattu Is A Cruel Practice, But A Court Ban Is Not The Answer

The courts should leave it to the wisdom of society at large to decide on the continuance of traditions.

19/01/2017 2:23 PM IST | Updated 20/01/2017 8:56 AM IST
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The practice of jallikattu has been followed for centuries in Tamil Nadu. The earliest record shows that this practice, which a Tamil tradition today, started somewhere during the Sangam period between 100 BC and 400 BC.

In jallikattu (Tamil for the silver and gold coins tied to the bull), bulls are bred for special events that draw people from far off villages. The participants are required to embrace or grab the terrified bulls and prevent them from escaping. In the process many participants get seriously injured and in many cases so do the bulls. Prizes are awarded to those who succeed in taming the bulls.

If the organisers continue to brazen it out and hold jallikattu events, are we not undermining the judgment of the highest court of the land?

Animal activists and organisations like Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals (PETA) have been demanding a ban on jallikattu, as the practice not only involves cruelty to animals, but also endangers the participants. In fact, the Animal Welfare Board filed a case back in 2004 calling for a ban on the sport on the grounds of cruelty to animals. In November 2010, while allowing the continuance of the sport for a short period, the apex court directed the Tamil Nadu government to send representatives to all the events to monitor the event. In 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notice banning the event. Sadly, the notification has had no effect on the organisers of the event.

In May 2014, the Supreme Court banned the practice. On 8 January 2016, the Government of India issued a notification allowing the practice to continue on certain conditions, but the apex court on 16 January upheld its ban on the event. The judgment led to widespread protests in Tamil Nadu. The people feel as if their heritage and traditions are being attacked.

We have seen that in spite of stringent laws against "traditions" such as child marriage and dowry, these undesirable practices continue. It just goes to show that laws in such matters have a limited impact without a corresponding shift in mindset.

Even in the case of jallikattu, in spite of the apex court banning the event, the sport is continuing to be organised in several parts of Tamil Nadu. The state government and the police baulk at intervening as it may not only trigger widespread protests, but may also unseat elected governments in future polls.

Moreover, there's a level of hypocrisy in play. If jallikattu is to be banned on grounds of animal cruelty, what about qurbani during Eid-al-Adha, the sacrifice of goats at Kali temples in Bengal? Will the court ban these practices too and risk inviting public wrath?

Laws in such matters have a limited impact without a corresponding shift in mindset.

Another question that comes to mind: is jallikattu a priority for our courts when millions of cases have been languishing before them for decades? While this writer has the highest respect of our Supreme Court, it does appear that our judges are keen to give priority to high-profile cases, including frivolous PILs that waste precious time that could be spent on more important matters pertaining to women's rights, corruption and so on. Aren't such cases affecting millions of poor litigants, who have been waiting for decades to get justice?

It would have been better for the Supreme Court to have given direction to the state government to find ways to prevent cruelty to animals, and left it to them and society to decide what is right for them instead of just banning the sport. If the organisers continue to brazen it out and hold jallikattu events, are we not undermining the judgment of the highest court of the land?

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