The Centre has shown that it is impossible to practice politics without some measure of subterfuge. In a notification dated 7 January 2016, the Central Government allowed the use of bulls in jallikattu and bullock cart races in the name of tradition, which is in flagrant opposition to a ruling by the Hon'ble Supreme Court that unequivocally banned the use of bulls in such events. Jallikattu is a popular practice in Tamil Nadu and the ability to ensure its continuation may be politically motivated. That the Centre has taken a desultory interest in animal welfare is evident from the fact that the very act of making bulls fight or race is itself contradictory to their welfare as noted by the Hon'ble court in its judgement.
The practice of jallikattu originated in an event where a pouch of coins was tied to the horns of a bull. Village youth were expected to "tame" the bull by grabbing the pouch while the animal gave chase. In its current form, it forms part of an annual celebration where bulls are especially selected and groomed for this event.
Many animals suffer from broken humps and bitten and twisted tails resulting in dislocation and amputation.
On a designated day, owners line up at the waiting area where bulls are made to stand for hours on end in their own waste, without any access to food and water in lines so narrow that they have to adopt an awkward sideways gait to move. Many animals are known to collapse from heat, hunger, fear and exhaustion. Instead of ensuring medical help, organisers, owners and in many cases, even government officials often violently kick, beat and poke the bulls into movement. Many animals suffer from broken humps and bitten and twisted tails resulting in dislocation and amputation. Unscrupulous owners rub irritants into their eyes and noses and force liquids alleged to be alcohol into their mouths.
As they run into the arena, "bull-tamers" launch themselves onto the hapless animals, oftentimes bringing them crashing to the ground, thus maiming them. Even as they run out of the arena, bull handlers catch them using crude lassos and often drag them by inserting fingers into their nostrils. Terrified bulls may also be chased onto the streets by frenzied spectators.
Officers of the Animal Welfare Board of India documented the races and the resulting cruelty inflicted upon bulls. The SC took cognizance of these reports in its ruling. In issuing the recent notification in favour of these events, the Centre has stated that they will be regulated as per Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(m)(ii) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, ostensibly to uphold the SC judgement. According to Section 3, persons in charge of animals are responsible for their well-being. Additionally, Section 11(1)(a) bans the inflicting of pain and suffering upon any animal while 11(1)(m)(ii) prohibits inciting an animal to fight for entertainment.
The fact that the Centre brazenly promotes such practices makes a mockery of the country's established laws, reducing them to mere words with no impact.
By this standard, jallikattu and other forms of bull races continue to remain illegal. These bull races also violate the internationally recognised five freedoms of animals alluded to in the SC judgement:
(1) Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
(2) Freedom from fear and distress
(3) Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort
(4) Freedom from pain, injury and disease
(5) Freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.
Photo Credit: Iamkarna' (Own work') via Wikimedia Commons
The fact remains that events like jallikattu are a form of abuse. Bulls are gentle, peaceful animals that are not prone to aggression unless wilfully provoked. As prey animals, their auditory senses are extremely sharp and hence, they are sensitive to loud sounds. In the presence of a perceived threat, they are known to exhibit a fight or flight response. The heinous physical abuse coupled with the haranguing crowds induces extreme fear thus forcing them to flee into the arena. Owing to their bulk, bulls are unsuited to run at high speeds for long distances, which adds to their physical distress. The fact that the Centre brazenly promotes such practices makes a mockery of the country's established laws, reducing them to mere words with no impact.
How then do the powers-that-be sanction cruelty against sentient animals and glorify it as heritage?
The opposition to this move doesn't stem from mawkish support of animal welfare; rather it questions the human behaviour of subjecting animals to pain and suffering for their entertainment. As humans, we pride ourselves on our ability to reason; as a nation we pride ourselves on our principles of ahimsa, and on our evolving outlook which saw the end of anachronistic practices like Sati and child marriage that would be considered anathema today. We demand that modern India be built on the foundations of growth, development and even the internet! How then do the powers-that-be sanction cruelty against sentient animals and glorify it as heritage? Should this come to pass, we will bequeath to future generations a heritage of cruelty. That burden will not be an easy one to bear.
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