Hindu nationalists defy Supreme Court & Animal Welfare Board of India
CHENNAI, India––Stampeding bulls, rampaging young men and the blood of both are again flowing through the streets of cities in participant bullfights called jallikattu conducted throughout Tamil Nadu state, India.
Held in the name of celebrating harvest festivals, the resurrection of jallikattu represents a defeat for the authority of the Indian judiciary and the Animal Welfare Board of India, and a victory for the Hindu nationalist movement led by prime minister Nahrendra Modi.
Modi aligned with Trump
Heading a far-right populist coalition emphasizing cultural traditionalism, fear of Islam, and opposition to business regulation, Modi was among the first leaders of other nations to confer with U.S. President Donald Trump after Trump’s inauguration.
Prohibiting jallikattu in 2007, as an unconstitutional form of cruelty to animals, the Animal Welfare Board of India fought for nine years in court to enforce the prohibition.
The Animal Welfare Board of India won what appeared to be a definitive ruling against jallikattu from the Supreme Court of India in 2014, reinforced by a second Supreme Court of India ruling in November 2016.
Personally ordered bullfights to proceed
But, in defiance of the Supreme Court of India, Modi on January 20, 2017 personally ordered that jallikattu should proceed.
The Modi order was ratified on January 21, 2017 by the Tamil Nadu legislature, who amended the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to exclude jallikattu, with the endorsement of Tamil Nadu governor Vidyasagar Rao.
The legislature and governor were backed by as many as 7,000 jallikattu enthusiasts who camped for the week at Marina Beach in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu state capital.
Police injured, cars burned
Chennai police on January 23, 2017 tried to evict the jallikattu fans. Ninety-four police officers were injured, mostly by flying rocks, and 51 police vehicles were damaged, many of them burned, Chennai police commissioner S. George told Ashok Sharma of Associated Press.
Forty demonstrators were arrested.
The Animal Welfare Board of India on January 24, 2017 appealed again to the Supreme Court of India, but less than a day later, according to Krishnadas Rajagopal of The Hindu, AWBI secretary M. Ravikumar under apparent political duress wrote to AWBI member and lawyer Anjali Sharma ordering that the appeal be withdrawn.
That left practitioners and proponents of jallikattu free––until the political pendulum swings, anyhow––to resume being gored and run down in great numbers while tormenting bulls by various means.
Emboldened by the success of the jallikattu advocates, factions aligned with Modi in Karnataka and Assam states moved to amend those states’ anti-cruelty legislation to re-authorize bullock cart racing and buffalo fights.
Both had been prohibited in 2011, along with jallikattu, when former federal 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, and was recently expanded again to include elephants.
Bag of coins
The incentive to participate in jallikattu, historically, was the opportunity to grab a bag of coins tied between the horns of a bull who was released to run in a village street or square. Affluent people and civic organizations would donate the bags of coins and the use of surplus bulls, much as counterparts elsewhere might sponsor other public entertainments.
But as the value of a bag of coins declined in India, even to the poorest of the poor, jallikattu long ago degenerated into an orgy of public bull torture, with much being done to bulls that could not even remotely be linked to improving the odds of someone grabbing the coin bag: tossing pepper into the bulls’ eyes, twisting their tails, and pouring alcohol down their throats, among other offenses often videotaped in recent years.
Eight dead, 600 injured in just three weeks
The bulls, though often injured, are seldom killed outright in jallikattu, and they do fight back.
Among the casualties of the return of jallikattu were police officer M. Shankar, 30, gored on January 23, 2017 in Virudhunagar, leaving a widow and two children, ages three and five; a man named Karupaiah, killed at Rapoosal; and Karthik, 22, a farmer who was fatally gored by a bull on February 11, 2017 near the Sri Mariamman temple in Tirunallur village.
The Sri Mariamman temple jallikattu injured at least 89 other people: nearly 10% of those who participated.
Another five people were reportedly killed and 89 more people injured in jallikattu events on February 12 alone.
Health minister presides over bloodiest of all
One might logically expect the Tamil Nadu health minister, at least, to try to discourage activities bringing so many pointless deaths and injuries.
Instead, Tamil Nadu health minister C. Vijaya Baskar personally “flagged off” a jallikattu at which 129 of 194 participants were injured: 67%.
That was the highest reported rate of injury of the season.
Forty-seven people, about 5% of the participants, were injured at a jallikattu on February 10, 2017 at Alanganallur, near Madurai. About half of the injured reportedly suffered head wounds or injuries to their rib cages.
Body count mounts
The preceding weekend, 74 people––more than 10% of the participants plus some observers––were injured, among whom 18 were hospitalized, four in critical condition, during a jallikattu at Avaniyapuram, also near Madurai. Forty-three people were injured the same day at a jallikattu in Dindigul.
A week before that, on January 27, 2017, 80 people were hurt during a jallikattu at Palinganatham village, which local authorities had tried to prevent as unsafe for spectators.
Another 37 people were reportedly injured, one severely, at a jallikattu in Karunkulam village.
43 deaths, 5,000 injuries in 2008-2014
PETA India chief executive Poorva Joshipura told the South China Morning Post that jallikattu led to 43 human deaths and more than 5,000 injuries in the six years 2008-2014 alone
“PETA India’s position is that cruelty to animals, children, the elderly and others is morally repugnant,” Joshipura told the South China Morning Post.
Jallikattu advocates responded by demonstrating on January 23, 2017 outside the PETA world headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.
Waiter tries to ban PETA from India
A 32-year-old Chennai waiter named M. Dinesh meanwhile asked the Madras High Court to ban the existence of PETA India in the public interest. Dinesh alleged that PETA has published “sexist advertisements,” hosted a pornography web site, and acts contrary to the “sovereignty and integrity of India by filing vexatious public interest litigation,” against “general public interest,” creating “disharmony between communities.”
Responded Chief Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice M. Sundar, “We are troubled by the tenor of the petition which seeks to suggest that the entertaining of petitions by the Supreme Court filed by PETA amounts to a violation of the sovereignty and integrity of India, and because PETA sought to challenge a statutory law made in India, it should be banned. In our view, this is contemptuous of the Supreme Court.”
Concerning the alleged pornographic PETA web site content, the judges responded, “On a perusal, we find nothing of this sort. There are photographs of women sparsely clad propagating non use of fur and such other materials which affect the rights of animals,” Kaul and Sundar observed, but noted that “nothing compels the petitioner to visit the website and then claim that he is provoked by its content.”