The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the validity of the amended act of Tamil Nadu allowing the bull-taming sport Jallikattu, with state political parties welcoming the verdict while animal rights activists expressed disappointment and insisted they will look for legal remedies.
The spectacle sport coinciding with the Tamil harvest festival Pongal in January draws national and international audience. The southern town of Madurai hosts jallikattu at Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniyapuram, where the raging bulls charge out of 'Vaadivasal' (the entry point) to take on the tamers who invest a lot of pride in subduing the beast. "Jallikattu" is also known as "eruthazhuvuthal".
On Thursday, the apex court also showed the green flag to Maharashtra and Karnataka for their bullock-cart races and buffalo racing sport "Kambala", respectively.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph, which delivered a unanimous verdict, dealt with five questions referred to it by a two-judge bench of the apex court in 2018.
"Our decision on the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act would also guide the Maharashtra and Karnataka Amendment Acts and we find all the three amendment Acts to be valid legislations," said the bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar.
The bench delivered its verdict on a batch of pleas which had challenged the Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka amendment laws allowing "Jallikattu", bullock-cart races and "Kambala".
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Reading out the operative portion of the judgement, Justice Bose said that law contained in these Acts, rules and notifications shall be strictly enforced by the authorities.
"The Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is not a piece of colourable legislation. It relates in pith and substance to Entry 17 of List III of Seventh schedule to the Constitution of India," the apex court said, adding it minimises cruelty to animals in the concerned sports.
The bench said "Jallikattu" is a type of bovine sports and it is satisfied on the basis of materials disclosed before the court that it is going on in Tamil Nadu for at least last few centuries.
"But whether this has become integral part of Tamil culture or not requires religious, cultural and social analysis in greater detail, which in our opinion is an exercise that can't be undertaken by the judiciary," it said.
"The question as to whether the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is to preserve the cultural heritage of a particular state is a debatable issue which has to be concluded in the house of the people," it added.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin and AIADMK leader K Palaniswami among others hailed the verdict.
"The verdict delivered by the Supreme Court bench that there is no ban on holding jallikattu, a sport reflecting Tamils' bravery and culture is worth engraving in gold in the history of Tamil Nadu," Stalin tweeted.
It was a "huge victory" to the legal battle taken forward by the Tamil Nadu government, he noted.
"We are constructing a massive jallikattu arena in Alanganallur. We will celebrate a victory event during Pongal" in January 2024, he added.
Panneerselvam, during whose term as CM the law was amended in 2017, described the verdict as a "victory to Tamil Nadu's culture" and said the sustained efforts initiated by his government led to the court reinstating the state's sport of valour.
Palaniswami credited the "various efforts by the Amma government" for TN securing a favourable verdict in the matter.
In 2017, a days-long massive protest was held at the Marina, mainly by the youth against the ban on jallikattu but it ended on a violent note with arsoning and stone-pelting, and police lathicharge on protesters.
Meanwhile, BJP Tamil Nadu president K Annamalai tweeted, "on behalf of @BJP4TamilNadu & the people of Tamil Nadu, we thank our Hon PM Thiru @narendramodi avl for his persistent effort to ensure the ban on the cultural sport of TN, Jallikattu was lifted in its entirety."
Pattali Makkal Katchi founder Dr S Ramadoss, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary T T V Dhinakaran, CPI state secretary R Mutharasan and Makkal Neethi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan hailed the verdict.
Animal rights groups expressed disappointment over the ruling.
PETA India said it is exploring legal remedies to protect bulls after the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the amendment act. Animal rights groups, led by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), had challenged these practices in the top court.
PETA called on everyone to steer clear of "shameful spectacles" that exploit bulls and buffaloes as "we explore legal remedies to protect these long-suffering animals".
Gauri Maulekhi, trustee of People for Animals (PFA), said Jallikattu, Kambala and other such practices are nothing but unnecessary suffering and pain for the animals.
"We're deeply disappointed by today's judgment. Morality cannot be compromised in the guise of culture. The same court interprets culture differently when it is about same sex marriages but people being gored to death in Jallikattu events seem like a precious tradition that they wish to preserve," Maulekhi told PTI.
Terming the SC order as an "unfortunate," People for Cattle in India (PFCI) founder G Arun Prasanna said though substantial evidence was submitted by all the intervenors saying there were casualties, this was not looked upon and was "set aside."
"This particular order is taking us back to several years of hard work and is a big blow to several years of animal rights movement in India," he said.
"To say that I and other animal protection advocates are disappointed, is an understatement. For over a decade, there has been more evidence than ever that Jallikattu is not only harmful to the bulls involved but several people who have been injured or have had their loved one die because of it," Alokparna Sengupta, managing director, Humane Society International/India, said.
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