On Thursday, the Supreme Court affirmed the changes made by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Maharashtra to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. These amendments were enacted to permit the traditional sports of Jallikattu and Kambala, as well as bullock-cart racing. The five-judge Constitution bench, led by Justice K M Joseph, concluded that the amendments introduced by the states were in accordance with the Constitution and did not contravene the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision that prohibited Jallikattu.

What is Jallikattu?

Jallikattu, alternatively called eruthazhuvuthal, is a traditional sport in Tamil Nadu that involves the taming of bulls. It is typically played during the Pongal harvest festival, which serves as a commemoration of nature and gratitude for a fruitful harvest, wherein the veneration of cattle plays a role. Nonetheless, the practice of Jallikattu has faced ongoing debates, as animal rights organizations and the judicial system have expressed apprehensions about the mistreatment of animals and the violent and hazardous aspects of the sport, which occasionally result in fatalities and injuries for both the bulls and human participants.

In this particular instance, the individuals filing the petition questioned the Tamil Nadu amendment that permitted Jallikattu. Their argument was based on the fact that the central law prohibits animal cruelty, and therefore, an amending Act that upholds cruelty should not exist. The petition also included states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra as parties to the case, as they also have comparable sports involving bulls.

Supreme Court's Decision on Jallikattu
Image Source: India Today News

What was the 2014 ruling of the court on Jallikattu?

In the case known as Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, a bench of Supreme Court justices, namely K S Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose, made a significant ruling. They declared that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 takes precedence over the so-called tradition and culture, stating that it “overshadows or overrides” them. The justices recommended that Parliament should raise the status of animal rights to that of constitutional rights in order to safeguard their dignity and honour.

As a result of this judgment, the practice of Jallikattu was prohibited. The court observed that during Jallikattu, bulls were subjected to various forms of mistreatment, including being beaten, poked, prodded, harassed, and jumped on by numerous individuals. Additionally, their tails were bitten and twisted, and irritating chemicals were introduced into their eyes and noses.

The Animal Welfare Board of India, an official organization under the government, along with animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), presented documentary proof to the court, indicating that the animals involved in Jallikattu were subjected to physical and mental cruelty. As a result of this evidence, the mentioned action was taken.

Supreme Courts Recent Judgement

The panel of judges, including Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and C T Ravikumar, stated that in their previous ruling in 2014, Jallikattu was found to be subject to limitations under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act due to its previous implementation. However, the recent amendment aims to reduce the distress and harm inflicted upon animals. The judges also acknowledged that since the amendments have been approved by the President, they are free from any flaws or criticisms.

The court acknowledged that the sport has been in existence for at least a century. However, it refrained from addressing the issue of whether Jallikattu is an essential aspect of Tamil culture. The court stated that a thorough examination would be necessary to determine this, and suggested that the legislature would be better suited to undertake such an analysis.

The court asserted that Jallikattu has been practised in Tamil Nadu for over a hundred years, and the satisfaction regarding its materials is affirmed. However, determining whether Jallikattu is an inherent aspect of Tamil culture necessitates a thorough examination, a task that the judiciary is unable to perform.

The court expressed that if the legislature has officially recognized Jallikattu as a significant aspect of Tamil Nadu’s cultural heritage, the judiciary will not contradict this perspective. Additionally, the court disagreed with the previous 2014 ruling that Jallikattu is not part of the state’s cultural heritage, stating that there wasn’t enough evidence presented to support such a conclusion.

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