Bullfighting foes receive national honors even as Tamil Nadu state government drops charges against 26,450 bullfighting defenders & heads of both major national parties support bullfights
CHENNAI, Tamil Nadu, India––Jallikattu, the Tamil Nadu form of bullfighting in which mobs abuse the bulls as they run through the streets during harvest festivals, on February 20, 2021 won yet another of many endorsements from the Tamil Nadu state government––but not before Dipak Misra, former Chief Justice of India, issued a subtle yet emphatic rebuke to the pro-jallikattu parties in power, both in Tamil Nadu and at the Indian federal level.
Polls indicate that the All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation, the Hindu nationalist party that won majorities in the most recent seven Tamil Nadu state elections, is facing probable defeat in April 2021 by the opposition Dravidian Progressive Federation, a liberal party whose platform centers on defending democracy and seeking social justice.
Jallikattu-ists given “get out of jail free” card
Currying favor with a political base often compared to that of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation on February 20, 2021 dropped the prosecutions of 308 criminal cases registered against 26,460 individual jallikattu defenders.
The jallikattu defenders were charged after a series of January 2017 riots that followed a November 2016 Indian Supreme Court ruling upholding the authority of the Animal Welfare Board of India to ban jallikattu.
The All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation at the national level is aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Nahrendra Modi, prime minister of India since 2014.
Burned police cars
Modi, heading a far-right populist coalition emphasizing fear of Islam and opposition to business regulation, was among the first leaders of other nations to confer with Trump after Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
Acting in defiance of the Supreme Court of India, Modi on January 20, 2017 personally ordered that jallikattu should proceed, but Chennai police commissioner S. George tried to uphold the judicial ruling.
Emboldened by the support of both Modi and the Tamil Nadu state government, jallikattu supporters on January 23, 2017 injured at least ninety-four police officers and damaged 51 police vehicles, many of them burned, S. George told Ashok Sharma of Associated Press.
Here comes the judge
Dipak Misra, appointed to the Indian Supreme Court in October 2011, served from August 2017 until October 2018, when he reached mandatory retirement at age 65.
Best known for his many rulings upholding human rights, Misra presided as well over a series of rulings against jallikattu, the last of which, in February 2018, questioned whether jallikattu and bullock cart racing could legitimately claim constitutional protection as cultural traditions.
The Animal Welfare Board of India had already prohibited jallikattu in 2007, as an unconstitutional form of cruelty to animals, but the ban was not enforced during a nine-year series of appeals by jallikattu promoters.
Dipak Misra, two years after his retirement from the judiciary, was appointed to chair the jury considering nominations for the Prani Mitra [Animal Friend] awards periodically presented by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for lifetime service to animal welfare.
Who wins the Prani Mitra?
The most recent previous Prani Mitra recipient, honored in October 2020 by minister of environment and forests Prakash Javadekar, was Nandankanan Zoological Park biologist Rajesh Kumar Mohapatra, honored chiefly for his efforts to restore wild populations of the endangered gharial crocodile.
Among the best known previous winners were:
- Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986), a classical dancer turned legislator, who in 1953 authored the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the Indian equivalent of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, and in 1962 became first chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board of India, honored in 1968;
- Maneka Gandhi, the longtime legislator who founded the national organization People for Animals in 1988, and served from 1998 to 2003 as minister for animal welfare, honored in 1994; and
- Captain V. Sundaram (1916-1997). With his wife Usha Sundaram, V. Sundaram pioneered commercial aviation in India and in 1959 cofounded the Blue Cross of India. V. Sundaram was honored in 1997.
The Sundaram’s son the rocket scientist
The Sundaram’s son Chinny Krishna, an engineer who has long had a leading role in developing the Indian space program, has chaired the Blue Cross of India since 1964.
As well as developing the prototype for the national Animal Birth Control program to control the street dog population, in effect since 2003, Krishna is a three-time former vice chair of the Animal Welfare Board of India, and an outspoken and influential opponent of jallikattu.
Also long outspokenly opposing jallikattu is R.M. Kharb, a retired veterinarian and cavalry general in the Indian Army, who chaired the Animal Welfare Board of India from mid-2006 until his resignation during the last days of 2017.
As well as conflicting with the Modi government over jallikattu, both Krishna and Kharb have also repeatedly conflicted with the Indian pharmaceutical industry, the second largest in the world and hugely influential within the Modi regime, over animal use in biomedical research.
Awards to Krishna & Kharb thumb nose at Modi
Indian minister of environment and forests Prakash Javadekar in February 2017 removed Kharb from his position as the sole animal welfare representative on the 13-member Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, but did not get around to informing Kharb until May 2017.
Unknown to either Krishna or Kharb, Krishna told ANIMALS 24-7, Dipak Misra arranged for both Krishna and Kharb to receive the Prani Mitra award on February 16, 2021.
Having to present it might have been particularly embarrassing for Prakash Javadekar, but the animal welfare portfolio and duty of presenting the Prani Mitra award had recently been transferred to minister for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying Giriraj Singh.
“Work of the Blue Cross is recognized”
Said the award certificate presented to Krishna, “This Prani Mitra for lifetime animal service is in recognition of outstanding service rendered in the cause of animal welfare for more than fifty years,” including that Krishna “has extensively worked for preventing experimentation on animals.”
Responded Krishna, “I am really happy to get this award for three reasons. One is the early work and struggles regarding animal abuse in school labs, in colleges and in research institutes. I wish they had mentioned the computer programs we developed in the eighties to replace dissection, and the international conference we hosted in March 1965, but we cannot have everything!
“Second,” Krishna added, “My father was given the Prani Mitra in 1997, so it has special meaning for me.
“Thirdly,” Krishna finished, “the work of the Blue Cross of India, which gave me a platform to do all this, is recognized.”
“Votes at any cost”
Krishna said he did not read Kharb’s Prani Mitra citation, “and am not sure what it said, but his work as the head of the [Army] Remount & Veterinary Corps in getting veterinary services made available to areas surrounding their areas of operation, for dogs, cattle, etc.––would certainly be part of it. He was a great person to work with.”
The Prani Mitra awards for Krishna and Kharb were a further jab to the Nahrendra Modi regime, and to jallikattu defenders generally, because as Vijaita Singh of The Hindu reported on February 16, 2017, the Modi government had considered giving Krishna an award approximately equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Freedom, but “An official said Mr. Krishna’s name did not make it to the final list as he went against the government in the apex court” [Supreme Court] in opposing jallikattu.
Asked by ANIMALS 24-7 what he made of being honored by the pro- jallikattu national government only days before the equally pro- jallikattu Tamil Nadu state government dropped the charges against the 26,460 jallikattu defenders, Krishna responded, “We are never surprised when a doctor practices medicine or when a lawyer practices law or an engineer practices engineering. Why am I not surprised when politicians practice politics? Their mantra is votes at any cost.’”
What mischief will sneak into law revision?
Indian animal welfare politics are likely to take further twists and turns in the near future, as on February 8, 2021 the Nahendra Modi government introduced a draft bill that would update the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960.
“In 2010,” Krishna told NDTV 24×7 legal affairs columnist Sanjay Pinto, “we [the Animal Welfare Board of India then headed by Kharb] sent a draft new bill revising the statute to the government. Finally, last week, the authorities have finally announced that this bill is being introduced. The new version increases the measly 50 rupees maximum fine,” barely worth a U.S. dollar, to 75,000 rupees,” worth $1,033 U.S. dollars, with a jail term of up to five years.”
Reportage about the proposed update of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 has so far focused on the increased penalties.
Opening the law for revision, however, also offers the Modi government to slip in additional changes through last-minute amendments which could further protect jallikattu, undo the Animal Birth Control Program, additionally weaken protections for animals used in experimentation, and/or otherwise undo any other part of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 that has become either economically or politically inconvenient.
Opposition Congress Party backs jallikattu too?
The likelihood that attempts will be made to gut the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, especially in regard to jallikattu and other animal-using entertainments, appears to have increased since Rahul Gandhi, leader of the national opposition Congress partry, attended and praised the first jallikattu of the season at Avaniapuram, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, on January 15, 2021.
At least 80 participants were injured, The Hindu reported, while “the COVID-19 safety protocols issued by the government were flouted,” in a nation which has so far had more than 11 million COVID-19 cases, leading to more than 155,000 human deaths. Only Brazil, with 246,000 deaths, and the U.S., with 511,000, have had more.
How to tell the Gandhis apart without a scorecard
Rahul Gandhi, 50, is the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, who served from 1947 until his death in 1964; grandson of Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984; and son of Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India from 1984 until he was assassinated in 1989.
Rahul Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi headed the Congress Party from 1998 to 2017. She is the estranged sister-in-law of Maneka Gandhi, whose husband, Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi, was killed in the 1980 crash of a single-passenger airplane he was flying.
Maneka Gandhi, certain to resist any attempts to weaken the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, but from a politically isolated position, is affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Jallikattu & rodeo
Jallikattu, in India, holds approximately the same cultural significance as rodeo in the U.S., with the historical stronghold of jallikattu being in Tamil Nadu, much as the historical stronghold of rodeo is in the 10 westernmost of the “Lower 48” U.S. states, exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii.
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 U.S. counterparts might sponsor a rodeo, awarding a meaningful prize to the most successful bull or bronco rider.
As the value of a bag of coins declined in India, even to the poorest of the poor, relative to the risk of injury from jallikattu participation, jallikattu degenerated into an orgy of public bull torture, with much being done to bulls that has nothing to do with improving the odds of someone grabbing the coin bag.
Tossing pepper into the bulls’ eyes, twisting their tails, and pouring alcohol down their throats are among the most frequently videotaped offenses against bulls in recent years.
New regulations governing jallikattu, introduced since 2017, are said to have reduced the frequency of injury to both the bulls and the human participants, but more than 100 people were reportedly injured in just the first two jallikattus of 2021.