NEW DELHI––“The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960…in our view overshadows or overrides so-called tradition and culture,” ruled a two-judge panel representing the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 2014.
The decision that prevention of cruelty trumps “tradition and culture” in Indian law came in a verdict against jallikattu, a form of participatory bullfighting practiced primarily in Tamil Nadu state.
The verdict and strong language supporting it could become a landmark decision for animal welfare in India––if it holds up against a likely appeal to the full 28-judge Supreme Court of India bench by jallikattu promoters, the government of Tamil Nadu, and the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
Potential cause for an appeal might include allegations that Justices K.S. Radhaskrishnan and Pinak Chandra Ghose insufficiently considered legal evidence in support of the primacy of traditional and culture, given barely two pages of their 95-page decision.
A similar ruling issued in 2007 by a two-judge Supreme Court of India panel was amended in 2008 by a three-judge panel, then reinstated in 2009, and reinforced in 2011 when former minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh accepted the recommendation of the Animal Welfare Board of India that bulls should be added to the list of animals who may not be used in public performances.
Created in 1991 by incorporating into the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act enforcement regulations a list of protected wildlife species, the animals not to be used in performance already included lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, bears, and monkeys.
“Subsequently,” explained AWBI member and longtime Blue Cross of India chief executive Chinny Krishna, “the Tamil Nadu government permitted jallikattu through the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act of 2009,” while Ramesh’s successor, Veerappa Moily, withdrew bulls from the list of animals not to be used in performance. Moily argued that the wildlife protection law used to exclude lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, bears, and monkeys from public performance could not be used to exclude bulls, who are a single gender of a domesticated species.
This argument might also be used in an appeal of the Radhaskrishnan and Ghose verdict, since they extensively discussed why bulls should not be considered animals suitable for performance use, but not whether the language in the Prevention of Creutly to Animals Act enforcement regulations pertaining to protected wildlife species can be applied to bulls.
“The Animal Welfare Board of India refused to go along [with Moily] and fought the Tamil Nadu government, the Jallikattu Federation, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the Supreme Court,” Krishna continued. “By its historic verdict, the Supreme Court has vindicated Jairam Ramesh’s position and upheld the ban.”
But the Supreme Court panel verdict was immediately protested by jallikattu enthusiasts, including factions associated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatija Janata Party. The BJP is almost certain to form the next Indian government, to take office upon completion of the national election cycle on May 17, 2014.
The next Indian prime minister is expected to be BJP party president Narendra Modi, 63, a pro-development populist known for incendiary statements about Muslims, with little history involving animals except in support of the dairy industry, the source of the bulls used in jallikattu, bullock cart racing, and other now prohibited public entertainments involving bulls.
India only produces about two-thirds as much milk per year as the U.S., but Indian dairy cows birth 48.3 million calves per year to yield that volume of dairy output, while U.S. dairy cattle, giving six times more milk apiece on average, birth only 9.2 million calves. Bull calves in the U.S. are mostly raised and sold for beef. Slaughtering cattle is illegal in most of India, but abandoning bull calves at temples as “sacrifices,” covertly exporting them for slaughter, and abusing bulls to death in violent entertainment are widely practiced.
Much of the BJP platform is likely to come under review by the Supreme Court of India if enacted. Jallikattu and other spectacles involving bulls have symbolic prominence in parts of India, including Tamil Nadu, that could be exploited as the BJP strives to rally public support for changing the policies of the Congress Party government that has ruled India since 2009.
Altogether, the Congress Party has governed India for 49 of the 67 years since India won independence from the British Empire in 1947––and the Supreme Court of India is dominated by appointments made during Congress rule.
The Supreme Court case decided on May 7, 2014 pitted the authority of the Animal Welfare Board of India against the ability of the Ministry of Environment & Forests to opt out of enforcing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 after the AWBI and the ministry have agreed that the PCA Act is applicable to a particular practice––in this case jallikattu, but potentially any practice involving animal abuse.
The PCA Act 1960 is the Indian equivalent of the U.S. federal Animal Welfare Act. The AWBI is an appointed advisory commission with no close parallel in any other nation. The AWBI has neither law-making nor judiciary authority, but AWBI recommendations are often implemented as government policy, and was in the case of jallikattu.
AWBI members serve for three-year terms. The current AWBI members were appointed in March 2014 by Veerappa Moily, the same Congress Party minister of environment and forests who declined to enforce the prohibition of the use of bulls in performance. Though the AWBI is officially nonpartisan, most of the Moily appointees have had more visible associations with Congress than with the BJP.
Moily, when Congress turns over the government to the BJP, is to be succeeded by a Modi appointment, who is expected to be no more enthusiastic about enforcing prohibition of jallikattu than was Moily.
One exception among Moily’s possible successors would be Maneka Gandhi, a senior BJP legislator who founded the Indian national animal advocacy organization People for Animals in 1984 and still heads it. Maneka Gandhi previously served as minister for environment and forests under both Congress and BJP governments, and has long been friendly with many current AWBI members, as well as outspokenly opposed to jallikattu. Maneka Gandhi, however, is believed to be more likely to be named health minister, since her environmental policies would conflict with Modi’s pro-development positions.
It’s about money
“Jallikattu is a Tamil word,” explained Radhaskrishnan and Ghose in the May 7, 2014 verdict, “which comes from the term ‘Callikattu,’ where ‘Calli’ means coins and ‘Kattu’ means a package. Jallikattu refers to silver or gold coins tied on the bulls’ horns.”
Participants in jallikattu try to untie the bag of coins strung between the horns. Hundreds of men may surround each bull, and a succession of dozens or even hundreds of bulls may be released into the streets as part of each jallikattu event. Both the bulls and the human participants are frequently injured. Twenty-one people were killed and at least 1,614 were injured in January 2009 jallikattu events, four years after 13 people were killed and 350 injured in a single weekend.
New restrictions introduced in response to the 2009 Supreme Court of India ruling reduced the number of jallikattu events, cutting the 2010 toll in Tamil Nadu to six people killed, 442 injured. Three people were killed and 161 injured, however, during the first weekend of jallikattu contests in 2011.
The jallikattu rules introduced in 2009 required organizers to obtain permits a month in advance. Jallikattu sites were to be fenced, with spectator galleries certified as safe a week in advance by the local public works department. Deposits were required against the possible costs of deaths and injuries. Participants were to be at least 21 years old and were to wear uniforms excluding the color white. The bulls were to be certified as fit by government veterinarians, and were not to be tranquilized or tormented.
But AWBI inspectors Manilal Vallyate and Abhishek Raje detailed extensive violations in the Tamil Nadu cities of Avnlapuram, Palamedu, and Alanganullur in January 2013. Supreme Court Justices Radhaskrishnan and Ghose incorporated Vallyate and Raje’s findings into their verdict.
“Organizers of jallikattu and bullock cart races, individually and collectively, took up the stand that these events take place at the end of harvest season (January and February) and sometimes during temple festivals which are traditionally and closely associated with village life, especially in the southern districts of the state of Tamil Nadu,” Radhaskrishnan and Ghose summarized.
“Organizers of bullock cart races in the state of Maharashtra also took the stand that the same is going on for the last more than 300 years by way of custom and tradition and that extreme care and protection are being taken not to cause any injury or pain to the bullocks who participate. Organizers also submitted that such sport events attract large numbers of persons, which generates revenue for the state as well as enjoyment to the participants. Further, it was also stated that no cruelty is meted out to the performing bulls in bullock cart races,” a contention that Radhaskrishnan and Ghose found to be contradicted by factual evidence.
No religious significance
“The Statement of Objects and Reasons for the Tamu Regulation of Jallikattu Act refers to ancient culture and tradition and does not state that it has any religious significance,” Radhaskrishnan and Ghose wrote, disposing brusquely of the argument that prohibiting jallikattu might interfere with the practice of a religious ritual.
“Even the ancient culture and tradition do not support the conduct of jallikattu or bullock cart races in the form in which they are being conducted at present,” Radhaskrishnan and Ghose continued. “Welfare and the well-being of the bull is Tamil culture and tradition…Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva…Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practiced now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu.”
Concluded Radhaskrishnan and Ghose, “Bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for the jallikattu events or bullock-cart races in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.”
Chinny Krishna on behalf of the AWBI immediately wrote to the District Collectors (chief executives) of each administrative district in Tamil Nadu to advise them of the Supreme Court verdict “and the upholding of the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 and the Performing Animals Rules of 2001 under the PCA Act. Please ensure that your office ensures that no jallikattu events and similar atrocities are permitted in your district from this moment on,” Krishna asked. “Even if prior permission has been given, you are hereby requested to cancel the same. Failure to do so will amount to contempt of the Supreme Court and action will be taken against the organizers, as well as the District Administration for failure to comply with the orders of the Supreme Court.”
Argued The Hindu in a supporting editorial, “As in the case of many old traditions that have been given up as repugnant to modern day standards, the State would be better off without this relic from a feudal past.”
Elaborated Dalit author Stalin Rajangam for The Times of India, “Some see the ban on jallikattu as an obstacle to free expression of Tamil culture.” But jallikattu “ is not a pan-Tamil Nadu festival,” Rajangam objected. “Jallikattu can be said to be popular in Madurai, Sivaganga, Dindigul, and Pudukottai districts. It is not a big festival everywhere, but is restricted to areas in villages where certain castes live. Even today, the common areas in villages––where events like jallikattu are staged––are controlled by powerful castes. Those who don’t belong to powerful castes are often only spectators of jallikattu. Until today, dalits and other smaller castes do not participate much in these festivals. In many places the police had to intervene to tamp down caste tensions kicked off by jallikattu. Raising bulls and playing them in jallikattu is a form of power play by people who own bulls. Similarly, those who tame the bulls are taming the owners, in a sense. Those whose bulls get tamed in public feel they have lost respect.”
In Ludhiana, meanwhile, AWBI member and veterinarian Sandeep Kumar Jain on May 11, 2014 invoked the Radhaskrishnan and Ghose verdict to persuade local police to stop a bullock cart race at Humayunpur village. People for Animals/Ludhiana had stopped a bullock cart race in the same village in 2000, while the AWBI stopped a bullock cart race there in 2012.