The Supreme Court stayed a January 7 notification issued by the Centre allowing jallikattu, despite the ban imposed by the court in 2014 on the sport, which it had called “inherently cruel.”
A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and N.V. Ramana refused to budge despite impassioned arguments from the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government that a festival intrinsic to the culture and tradition of a State could not be prohibited, especially when the notification had put in place safeguards to regulate jallikattu and prevent cruel treatment of animals.
“What is the necessity of such a festival… there was no festival for four years,” Justice Misra asked, referring to an earlier notification issued by the Centre on July 11, 2011, prohibiting jallikattu and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2014. Justice Misra observed that the “2011 notification was in consonance with the fundamental duties of the state.”
Jallikattu or Manju virattu, is an ancient bull taming ritual required for reproduction of cows and bulls which is required Tamil Nadu as part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.
The term Jallikattu comes from the term salli kacu (coins) and kattu (meaning a package) tied to the horns of the bulls as the prize money. This is one of the oldest living ancient tradition seen in the modern era. It is held in the villages of Tamil Nadu as a part of the village festival.
A painting of bull chasing on a massive rock surface at Karikkiyur in the Nilgiris. These pictures, according to specialists in rock art, are dateable to 2,000 B.C. to 1,500 B.C. Bulls are bred specifically for the event and a specific breed of cattle bred for this purpose is known as “Jellicut”.
In Tamil Nadu, protests erupted in villages near Madurai after the Supreme Court stayed the Centre’s notification. Roads connecting Alanganallur and Palamedu were blocked by protesters.
Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to consider bringing an ordinance to allow Jallikattu during the Pongal harvest festival.
Reminding the Prime Minister that the Pongal festival begins on January 14, Jayalalithaa said it is very important that the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu be respected since they have deep attachment to the conduct of Jallikattu.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi also demanded that the Centre take necessary steps to facilitate the event.
With its order, the Supreme Court has revived its ban on Jallikattu, first imposed in May 2014 when it held that use of bulls in such events severely harmed animals and constituted an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Representing the Centre, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi sought to defend the notification by arguing that the apex court had not totally prohibited the participation of bulls in Jallikattu but only desired that care is taken so that bulls are not treated with cruelty.
He also raised questions over the maintainability of the petitions by animal rights groups. But the bench said it would not entertain such an argument at this stage since such petitions had already been entertained in the past.
While the Attorney General argued that Jallikattu is not like bull fighting in Spain and that conditions have been provided in the notification so that cruelty to participating animals is avoided, the bench noted that the real issue should be at what stage can it be made sure that harm to animals is completely avoided.
The interim order has been issued on a batch of petitions moved by the Animal Welfare Board of India, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), People For Animals and other animal rights groups.
Besides the applications to stay the Centre’s January 7 notification, two contempt petitions have also been filed, contending that the notification is in violation of the Supreme Court’s 2014 order. These groups argued that Jallikattu is torturous and cruel to animals and all such sport should be completely banned.