The sport of Jallikattu, recently, has sparked the old concern among the animal rights activists. Native to the state of Tamil Nadu, it is acclaimed as a cultural pride by its people and celebrated as a part of its harvest festival, Pongal.
One of the participants in the contest is a bull which is tamed and overpowered in order to pluck the bundles of money or gold tied to its horn. Though not as perilous as the bull-fighting festival of Spain, it is certainly capable of stoking fear about the safety of the animal as well as of the humans themselves. And, the reasons are manifold.
The bulls are opiated and made disoriented with a suspicious liquid, their tails are bitten, and bodies poked, jabbed with sharp instruments and rubbed with chilies.
This is a cruelty of grave degree and unacceptable to the humane conscience, which is primarily why the Supreme Court outlawed the sport in 2014 and again in 2016, after the government pandered to the entreaties of the pro-Jallikattu groups.
However, the 2016 order also failed to budge the government and to intermit the holding of the event.
The Tamil Nadu and the central government hustled to promulgate the ordinance for legitimizing it, espousing its justification on the ground that it traces its existence to some 2000years back and that such an entrenched tradition could not be uprooted easily.
Another prong of their argument is that the sport ensures the preservation of bulls, which would otherwise become extinct.
However, these reasons are utterly misplaced and the reaction of the indigenous mob and the government is a glaring example of the truculent disregard of the apex court's rightful worries.
There is a difference between the ordinary sports of the ilk of hockey or cricket and the one which involves the willful bashing of animals and hazards the safety of spectators and participants.
The Indian Constitution casts the fundamental duty upon its citizens to display compassion towards animals and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is an offshoot legislation of this constitutional mandate.
The court had extended the protection to the animals by recognizing it to be our fundamental right under Article.21.
The importance of the relation between humans and animals isn't hard to fathom. The environment is as much theirs as it is ours and the balance has to be constantly maintained. The feeling of compassion not only for our human mates but for all the living beings is an essence of human dignity.
The constitutional ideals cannot be allowed to be subverted in the garb emotional clench to one's customs and traditions. Although, it is true that the law has to take care of the principles and interests of its subjects, but that is not always an inviolable rule; rather, sometimes it needs to be ahead of these and influence the progressive way of life.
The abominable practices of sati, dowry and child marriage which once held sway in the Indian society were similarly banned as these are antagonistic to the pledge of upholding human rights and dignity, and do not carry any tune in the symphony of the constitutional notes.
Nevertheless, despite the entire clamor, it was the mob of Tamil Nadu which romped to victory and it is worthwhile to ponder over its fallout.
Firstly, the way the government invoked its legislative power sets a dangerous precedent in the form of executive activism and shows its inability to allay the turmoil.
Secondly, it has prompted the domino effect with the state of Karnataka legalizing 'Kambala' in which the buffalos are whipped.
The central government's intent behind ushering in the Uniform Civil Code is also being questioned, and its zeal to ban cow slaughter frowned over and labeled as double standards.
Thirdly, the recent surge in flouting the orders of apex court imperils the future of law and order in the society. It is unsettling that the irrational demands of people are given into instead of devising ways to generate veneration for constitutional goals. It shows how the rights of minorities in future could be warped if such tendency is not contained.
In a democratic fabric, the will of the people, which is founded in constitution, is supreme. But this case of Jallikattu reflects it was not the will, but the mobocracy that prevailed. It is hoped that the court will reinstate the efficacy of its previous orders and forestall the possibility of blatant defiance of the humanistic principles of our society.
- BHARTI GARG